It’s mid-March, which means seniors will soon be hearing from colleges about whether they were admitted, if they haven’t heard already. Most colleges require students to enroll and submit a deposit by May 1, and these schools have to notify applicants of their admissions decisions by April 1. (The fact that this is April Fools’ Day seems like a cruel joke, but there you have it.)
As those decisions arrive, some students will be rejoicing over acceptances, some will be despairing over denials, and some may be doing both. Even students who are admitted to multiple schools may nonetheless be disappointed if they don’t get into their first choice.
As parents, it can be difficult to watch your kids experience the sting of rejection, and you may be wondering what you can do to help your son or daughter cope. Here are some suggestions:
Validate your child’s feelings. Rejection hurts, whether it involves being dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, not making the varsity team, or receiving a denial from the college of one’s choice. Rather than trying to downplay your teen’s emotions, acknowledge that whatever he is feeling is ok. As you probably know from your own experiences with rejection, telling someone to “just get over it” is not helpful.
Stay calm. Your child may react strongly to a denial; she may yell, cry, run into her bedroom and slam the door, etc. That doesn’t mean you should do the same. You can empathize with your son or daughter and acknowledge your own disappointment (as long as you express that you’re disappointed in the outcome, not in your child), but you also can and should be the voice of reason in this situation. Help your kid understand how difficult it can be to get into certain schools (if she is not already aware of this) and explain that a denial is not a reflection on her but on the competitiveness of the college admissions process.
Focus on the positive. Acknowledge your teen’s accomplishments. That could mean highlighting the colleges he has been admitted to and/or the achievements he’s had in high school. You could even offer to make a special dinner or take your teen on a fun outing to celebrate him and show him how proud you are of him.
Help your teen find productive ways to deal with their feelings. You can suggest such activities as journaling, exercising, and commiserating with friends. (It’s unlikely that your child will be the only one in his friend group who didn’t get into every school he applied to.) Don’t force your kid to talk with you about a denial until he’s ready; if he doesn’t want to discuss it at all, that’s ok, too. There are other, more important conversations that families need to have over the next several weeks, which brings me to my last point.
Help your child move forward. Allow your teen a reasonable amount of time and space to process the rejection, while also helping her take the next steps. As stated earlier, May 1 is the date by which most colleges require applicants to respond to an offer of admission. Thus, students need to think seriously about the acceptances and scholarship/financial aid offers they received and make a thoughtful, informed decision. You can help by reviewing the financial aid offers, facilitating discussions with your child, taking her to visit or revisit schools, etc. If your teen is really struggling with a rejection and can’t seem to move on, consider seeking outside help.
A college denial is unlikely to be the last disappointment in your child’s life. As a parent, you can set the stage for how your son or daughter handles rejection in the future.