Managing Your Student's College Acceptance or Rejection


How to handle the fallout of both sides of the coin.

The last of our kids graduated from high school 4 years ago, but as the end of spring approaches I still get a pit in my stomach and wake up frightened.  You know that proverbial reoccurring nightmare that you slept through a final?  For me it’s reliving the anxiety, worry and concern while waiting for all those college acceptance notices!  Not worried so much about which would be a yes or no but how those letters would affect my kids.

With the high application rates at some schools it becomes a game of chance and luck to get accepted – it’s not possible to know, like or trust a kid accurately through the application. This year, UCLA received 80,472 freshman applications plus another 19,087 transfer-student applications for fall 2013 admission. That’s a total of 99,559 undergraduate applications! Clearly it’s impossible for admissions councilors to read and give great attention to each application. Add to that the amazing caliber of the applicants and you can understand luck has to be a part of getting accepted - it’s like splitting hairs on ‘greatness’.

Janina Montero, UCLA's vice chancellor for student affairs and interim admissions director, said “selecting the 2012 class will be a painstaking process, given the depth of talent and the stellar qualifications of the applicant pool.”

Unfortunately, for our kids and their peers, the acceptance/rejection process is the ultimate grade - the gold standard measurement for smarts and success. Seniors view it as the grading of their intellect and awesomeness as well as a leading indicator of their future success.  It becomes a ranking system among peers. “I got into x schools, how many did you get into?  I got into ABC University, did you?” 

The amount of prestige and pressure leveled at 18-year young adults is unbelievable!  Some kids will get into their top school and will celebrate.  But they will also feel held back as they see the hurt on their friend’s faces. Other kids will be angry and feel victimized by the process. This isn’t an easy road to navigate and many friendships can be at risk of ending once the letters arrive if feelings aren’t well managed.

Personally, I’ve parented on both sides of this equation. Today, lets deal with navigating the ‘winner circle’ storms. If your kid has been accepted to a highly sought after and prestigious college it will feel like life is good! But there will probably be bumps in the road and drama. A lot of articles talk about how to help a disappointed student but I also think as parents we need to help elated students too. (Tomorrow’s topic will focus on helping your disappointing student thrive in their new reality – so don’t miss it!)

  1. If your kid gets into their dream school, by all means celebrate as a family! It’s a big deal for your student. They’ve climbed for 4 years to reach this summit. Go out to dinner, call grandma and do the happy dance. 
  2. It is important to help your student manage his accomplishment. A great dinner conversation is to discuss how you will share the news and who with - especially friends and peers. If possible, it is best to not widely promote the news. Let it (and it will) leak out on its own. This takes some of the jealously out of the equation.
  3. Discuss, even role-play, a graceful way to acknowledge the college acceptance when peers (both parents and students) ask if it’s true. It may sound odd but how this acknowledgement is handled can be the difference between keeping and losing a friend.
  4. Now would also be a time to talk about how difficult it is for some students who were disappointed. Another great opportunity to role-play how it would have felt to be on the other side of the acceptance/rejection coin. Or perhaps talk about a time they were disappointed, how they felt and what others did or said that helped/hurt the situation. This is a great teaching experience for everyone. Learning to handle a ‘win’ with grace and ease is just as important as learning to gracefully handle a loss.
  5. Help your kid understand that anger and jealousy from others are usually not about him or her personally. The joy of the acceptance can be tarnished by reaction of peers.  I remember my daughter felt badly that she got into a highly competitive school that her friends did not. It wasn’t her dream school and she knew that it was their #1 choice, which made it more uncomfortable. Her friends didn’t think it was fair and she felt guilty. It was almost like survivor guilt. This kind of jealousy is a reflection of their hurt and loss – not your student’s success. A good question to ask is:  “If they’d been accepted to their dream school, would they still be upset that I got into this school?”  If the answer’s no, then it really isn’t about you. It’s about the circumstances. This can ease some of the hurtful words and looks.

If you have questions or would like to talk through your specific situation, please contact me.  I offer 30-minute complimentary laser coaching sessions. In the meantime keep your eyes open for Part 2 where I’ll dole out tips and suggestions for handling the disappointment of the college acceptance/rejection process.