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Helping Teens Deal with College Rejection

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Helping Teens Deal with College Rejection

Years ago, when parents told their teens that a letter had arrived from the college admissions office, the immediate question would be “thick or thin”? A thick envelope meant “acceptance” and a “thin” one unfortunately meant rejection.

While many schools have gone environmentally friendly and send out their initial decision letters online, there is nothing friendly about finding out that the college you are really into is just not that into you. Rejection hurts, especially when a teen has worked hard and has a strong desire to attend a particular school.

How Parents Can Help with College Rejection

How can parents help their teen deal with college rejections? I asked Robin Mamlet, former dean of admissions at Stanford University and co-author of the book, College Admissions; From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step to share some insights on this topic.

Randi: It feels like every year colleges will say, "We got a record number of applications," or you hear other parents/students say, "This was an especially tough year for college acceptances." Was this year exceptionally tough? Is it going to continue to get tougher?

Robin: The very most selective colleges are becoming even more selective – especially many of the Ivies, Stanford, MIT…But most colleges – there are over 3,000 and certainly over 12 good ones – have room for good students and even students who try but aren’t getting the top grades. Parents and students need to remember that there are more than a dozen colleges out there, and that it’s not about getting into Harvard or Stanford but about finding the college you are eager to attend that is equally eager to have you, and where you will thrive.

Randi: How can parents help students deal with rejection – especially from a 'dream' school or a school that they “should have gotten”?

Robin: It’s always hard to watch our students deal with rejection. It’s fine and even appropriate to let your student feel sad, but don’t encourage them to wallow in it for too long. Take the deny letter and burn it together, if that will help, and remind your teen that the majority of students who apply to the most selective colleges are qualified to attend but there simply isn’t room.

Randi: How can parents help teens make the most of their college choices if a teen is not excited about them?

Robin: The first step is helping our students acknowledge any disappointment about not getting in to a top-choice school. What we say in our book about this is, “Understand that while the application process is all about you and showing colleges who you are, the decision process is more often about the colleges and their priorities. Don’t take it personally. You weren’t denied – your application was.”

After that, it is critical to help your teen move forward productively. Be a sounding board for your student. Sit down and listen to what he or she has to say and reflect back what you are hearing. Try to be mindful of the words you are using (“safety school” is a term best avoided, for example) and try to be mindful of not pushing your own agenda. At the same time – and this is the tricky part – you want to be in a position to remind your teen about what he or she liked in the first place about all the colleges she did get in to.

Ultimately, you want your teen to visit the places he or she is deciding between. Most colleges have special programs for admitted students, and these programs are very effective in getting students excited about that specific college. Do what you can to get your student to those – they make a huge difference. Remember that in addition to learning more about the college, your student will also meet other admitted students. The friendships formed at these programs can be extremely helpful in regenerating excitement.

Parents need to remember that their ultimate responsibility is to help their children remain whole and even grow through this process. That means – and this can be hard – we have to put our own disappointment aside so we can be fully there for our kids.

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