How Parents can Deal Positively with Rejection

After working on applications for months and their resumes for years, receiving a rejection letter can seem like the end of the world for many students.  But the stress of rejection affects more than just the student; it also affects you, the parent.

Parents of college-bound students often fall victim to their own dreams of getting pictures in the mail of their son or daughter in a Harvard sweatshirt.  They imagine telling friends with pride that their child is at the top of their class at Yale, or is studying biochemistry at Stanford. Hearing the news of rejection ends these fantasies, and it is easy to get caught up in the disappointment.  Remember, though, that your son or daughter had fantasies of their own and are just as disappointed as you are.  They also have another added stress: the fear of letting you down.

Always try to keep the perspective that your own disappointments are subsidiary to your child's.  Avoid projecting your own feelings of rejection and do all you can to resist the temptation of the told-you-so role.  The last thing a disappointed student wants to hear is, "I told you that you should have studied harder," or, "if only you had/hadn't done X".

Also resist any urge to contact the school and demand an explanation.  Don't laugh, because that does happen. Your son or daughter has become accustomed to the feeling of autonomy associated with college applications.  Swooping in to try to fight their battle again is both humiliating and demeaning.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to remain positive and supportive.  Right now, they don't want to hear about any logical, level-headed solutions you might have, so simply stand by to be a shoulder to cry on and a reassuring voice telling them that everything will be okay. To help you in this process, here are some more things to keep in mind to help you deal positively with a rejection:

  • Remember that competition in the college market is fierce and that rejections are inevitable.  Sometimes acceptance at a top school is little more than luck of the draw.  Do your best to keep your expectations in check and your fantasies under control so that you can be more readily prepared to deal with a disappointing rejection if it comes.
  • If you have come from an Ivy League school yourself, it may be hard to come to terms with your son or daughter not 'surpassing' you.  Remember that the modern selection process is a great deal more difficult and competitive than it used to be.  Columbia University, for instance, receives twice as many applications now as it did only ten years ago.
  • Be a listener.  Your child will express more of his or her worries and fears now than at any other time in the entire process of applying to colleges.  Validate their thoughts instead of dismissing them.  Spend some time empathizing before moving to cheering them up.
  • Any worry, anger, disappointment, or fear you have should take a back seat to whatever they are feeling.  They are just as confused and concerned as you are right now, and asking questions will only create more stress.  Wait until you both can be calmer and more level-headed before discussing the next step.

And remember, attendance at a lower-ranked state school doesn't mean that your son or daughter's future will be ruined.  The quality of the academics at any one college are likely just as good as those at any other.  And no matter what, ultimately it is character that fuels success, not the name of the school on the diploma.  There are many colleges that can meet a student's needs, and believe it or not, many non-Ivy Leagues can, too.

But if you are still stuck in the Harvard-or-bust mentality, remember that rejection now doesn't mean rejection forever.  About 20 percent of graduates from four-year universities actually began their college career at a different school.  There is no shame in starting somewhere -- even at a community college -- and later transferring to another program.

In the end, a rejection is just one step in the path toward eventual success.  It may seem catastrophic now, but with your support, your son or daughter will make it through.  Just make sure that, when it comes to rejection, you are not part of the problem, but rather part of the solution.

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Good tips here. That's why I never put too much pressure on my own kids. Everything that they do is a result of their own action so that if something doesn't go their way, they can't go around blaming other people. It teaches them to be more responsible for their own actions. So when they're old enough to go to college, I'm not going to pin my dreams on them. I'll let them follow their own dreams, whatever that may be, and I'll be happy for them.

- Patrick, 06/11/08 at 12:02 am

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