Are you waiting for that acceptance letter from THAT school? You know, the one your son or daughter has been dreaming of attending since kindergarten?
Then, as a parent of a high school senior, you have probably been accompanying your son or daughter on the year-long journey through the college application process. Of course, this is the culmination of the efforts made for several years before now: building a solid GPA, participating in social or philanthropic clubs, collecting athletic and academic accolades. With all that effort, how could one possibly tolerate the idea that different schools focus on a range of qualities, and that student strengths may not align with the university’s decision to admit your star student? So, what do you do if that #1 school says “No”?
Handling Rejection—with Grace
Remembering that a failure is nothing more than a “correction” can help to lessen the impact of disappointment. If that school was not going to be an option, now you can move forward in the right direction, the way things are intended to go. It’s important to avoid personalizing a decision that ultimately may have very little to do with the applicant, and much more to do with the changing and unknowable institutional demands to which university admissions departments respond.
Helping Your Teen Weigh the Pros and Cons
It would be thrilling to get into your “reach” school, unless you consider the real possibility that you would now be in the big pond, as a little fish. Everyone around you will have been the best and brightest from their own respective high schools, and the prospect of keeping up with the competition for the next four years is daunting. For this reason alone, many students may be slightly relieved to readjust their sights to more manageable college matches. Being accepted at a (ahem, perhaps) less competitive, but nevertheless appealing school where a student can ideally thrive and grow can ultimately be a better experience. Although rejections are never the preference, ask your child what possible benefits might arise from crossing that school off the list?
Feel the Feelings
Most parents invest lots of energy teaching kids to be good sports when it comes to athletics and competitive activities—and that’s all good. But disappointment should be given a voice when big things go wrong. It’s ok for your teen to feel badly about a loss; try not to take that away from them by being too quick to cheer them up or tell them it doesn’t matter or to look on the bright side. They will get there, but first let them own their “sad” and “mad” feelings—perhaps even to indulge in them just a bit.
Although it’s distressing to watch your child struggle, unless it’s unusually prolonged or excessive in some way, it is natural and appropriate to “grieve” the loss of a dream. Allowing the time to navigate through the feelings will enable him to come out stronger on the other side.
Let it Go & Reframe
Once they’ve spent a sufficient amount of time emoting, a shift of perspective will follow. Re-framing a bad situation into something “less bad” is highly adaptive, and ultimately the recipe for a successful life, both in college and beyond.
Knowing how to accept rejections can be instrumental in building good coping skills. Instead of personalizing the rejection as a measure of self-worth, recognize that learning how to bounce back after a setback is one of the ways to become emotionally resilient!