Managing Your Student's College Acceptance or Rejection, Pt.2

Heartbreak, Family

Cracking into the heart wrenching side of rejection.

In Part 1 I shared some tips and advice on managing the “acceptance letter winner’s circle”  .  Today, as promised, I want to share the heart wrenching side of parenting a disappointed student.

As Mama and Papa Bears, we can’t stand to see our cubs hurt.  Perspective gives us the ability to see that many of our ‘high achieving‘ high school friends underachieved at life.  While other ‘sleeper’ friends have gone on to be rich, famous and do great things for this world.  That being said, as a parent, we get caught up in the acceptance game (sometimes the web of prestige).  Dinner conversation centers on the unfairness of a friend who got into your kids dream college.  It’s hard to explain away the hurt. That it’s a numbers game doesn’t make it feel any better.  So the question is, what can parents do to help their kid transition through this phase of their high school career?  Here are some tips that might work for you:

  1. Allow your kid to grieve and feel angry.  Acknowledge the hurt, anger, feeling of unfairness, and fear.  She may feel like a victim.  Losing out on her favorite college can feel like the death of her dream…it is both sad and scary.  She is faced with the “now what question”:  “ Can I still be successful?”.  Some grieving is to be expected and is healthy but help move your student into the world of possibility. Focus on the fact that other schools do want her and know she can be successful by attending that school.  College admission officers are charged with making sure that admitted students WILL thrive on campus.  So any acceptance is a vote of confidence in favor of the future success of your kid.
  2. Avoid being an I Told You So- By all means, now is not the time to tell him that had he worked a little harder he could have….  Being right is not important or even, well, “right”.  Focus instead on helping your kid, given the facts.
  3. Revisit their criteria for college.  If you need help, here is a matrix to help your student understand what he or she wants out of the college experience. Really focus on the experience from his or her perspective - feel it and get excited about it!  My guess is that one of the schools in the YES pile will meet most of the vision.  That is why you chose to apply to those schools.  The transition will help change the focus to their desired college experience and help detach from the disappointment.   In fact, they may realize that the dream college didn’t really live up to their optimal college experience.
  4. Arrange to visit the college again.  Students will look at the campus through a very different lens. In fall, they may have thought they wanted to move across country but now it doesn’t seem like the best idea.  Or, as in the case with my son who attended an all boys’ school, he hadn’t realized how much he missed girls. When he walked around a campus filled with a lot of beautiful women and jocks tossing football in the quad, he realized that those two items were important in his college choice though they had not been on his original selection criteria. 
  5. I suggest buying some school apparel at each visit.  If they aren’t willing to buy any logo merchandise I think that is a good indicator they don’t see themselves on this campus.  On the flip side, watch what your kid wears when going out with his friends.  I found it was a good predictor of when our kids decided to attend college. 
  6. Your ride may be bumpy but have faith that this too shall pass.  When surveyed after the first year of college, most students say they can’t imagine going anywhere else.  The college they are attending is the perfect and right choice for them.  And remember that attending this college isn’t a life sentence.  There’s always the transfer option, but don’t be surprised if that other school goes forgotten!