Being the top grad in your class doesn't guarantee you'll get hired over your classmates and/or at your #1 choice of hospital (ask me how I know). It does help make you a much stronger applicant than someone who didn't do as well academically, but it in no way guarantees a job.
First of all, the obvious: was your application to Dream Hospital complete? All required materials submitted? Forms filled out in full? Any chance you missed anything? If your application was incomplete, that's pretty much an automatic rejection.
Look at your resume: was it well-organized? Formatted properly (especially if printed)?Optimized for computer searches/screening programs? Error-free?
Any problems with any previous employment, academic info or references being verified? That was another lesson I learned the hard way (previous job claimed they had no record of my employment; luckily I had saved 5 years of pay stubs to prove otherwise). I didn't know about it until one of the employers who was verifying my information called to tell me. Who knows how many rejections that issue may have played a part in? Point being, were there any issues with YOURS?
Otherwise...for whatever reason, you weren't a considered a suitable applicant. This doesn't mean there was necessarily a problem with you. It could have been that:
- Other applicants were internal candidates at Dream Hospital
- Other applicants did their practicums/clinicals there
- Other applicants had better networking connections there
- Other applicants had more relevant work experience
- Other applicants brought something to the table that you didn't have (such as being bilingual) that they were looking for
- There was a cutoff (date/time, or number) for applications accepted for the program and yours came in too late. Cutoff criteria isn't always public knowledge.
- There were a limited number of spaces and too many qualified applicants (if there's only 10 spots, there's only 10 getting hired; the other just-as-qualified applicants will have to be told No)
- Plain old dumb luck. Sometimes there is no logical explanation why you didn't get picked
CrunchRN is 100% right in that new grads can't afford to be too picky. There's too much risk, as you've learned the hard way too.
Contact the other hospital to see if they can give you that opportunity back--the worst thing that can happen is that they say No. Or since that hospital thinks so highly of you, maybe they have other opportunities that you can apply for.
Apply everywhere else that you can. If you are able to relocate, consider applying to smaller job markets where you'll have a better chance.
Consider different specialities--not every critical care nurse starts out in critical care. Many work their way over from other specialties. And a lot of facilities offer internal training programs--such as for ICU--for nurses who want to switch specialities after they get some acute care experience first.
No one says that you have to stay at this first job forever--get your year of two of experience, then try to get back into Dream Hospital. Or you may find that after a couple of years elsewhere, Dream Hospital isn't quite as a dreamy as you thought it would be.
But most of all, focus on taking the NCLEX. All your work is for nothing if you don't get your license.
I feel for you because I've been there, done that, and got the T-shirt too. It sucks and it doesn't make sense. It's not logical at all. But it happens. And it's only the end IF you let it be. Sometimes the path to our dream just takes a different path than we planned. It took me several years to get to where I finally want to be, but I got here (and yes, I was told No by them on the first go-round). You will get there too.
Best of luck.