The Leading Edge - A College Rejection is Not the End of the World...or Your Life


After the initial disappointment of not getting into their top choice wears off,
most college students feel like failures not from the rejection.
It comes from internalizing the feeling they have let their parents down.
These are the parents who were over-invested in the result from the start,
who can't get over their disappointment
and will have a hard time hearing and accepting this.

- Dean of Admissions, Ivy League College

In my blog, "Did Your Kid Get Rejected from College?" I talked about turning college rejection into an opportunity for poise. I spoke too soon.

"Mark, you could provide a real service to students and their parents if you could suggest two things to them. I can't do it, because I am currently fielding the 'why not my kid?' calls that I am being flooded with. Few of them are ready to hear it and certainly not from me," a Dean of Admissions at an Ivy League college told me yesterday.

He explained that most college students that don't get into their top choice, feel deeply upset and disappointed at first. It is natural and even healthy to feel those feelings and even vent to their parents their upset. At that point parents should respond with: "Oh God, that's awful I can tell how upset you are and I'm sorry." Then the parents should stop talking and let their kids continue to vent. In most cases they will get it out of their systems in a matter of one to several days.

After their upset has peaked and is calming down, they should say something like: "I'm really excited about the choices you have from the colleges that did accept you and the next four years you're going to have will be amazing in ways you can't imagine." You don't want to say this too soon. If you do, it's as if you are trying to talk them out of being initial upset, which they have earned the right to feel after all the work they put in at high school and going through the application process.

The second suggestion had to do with something so very painful and so very unnecessary that he sees so often. Within a few days, children are usually ready and able to move on past their disappointment. They begin to envision and enthusiastically look forward to going to the college(s) they were accepted to.

What gets in the way are parents who can't get past their own disappointment in the college rejection. Rather than the parents and children accepting that college acceptance is very arbitrary and capricious, the parents continue to look chagrined and downcast. They say they feel badly for their children, when the parents are the ones feeling more upset and who can't move on. He said that in such situations, students tend to look at their parents and internalize their mother and father's disappointment into feeling as if the child has failed them.

The Dean concluded: "Getting parents to separate their own disappointment from that of their child's is the single greatest obstacle to the child getting over and past it."

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