In high school, my son participated in the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program and had high hopes of attending a military academy after graduation. However, due to less-than-stellar SAT scores and our family’s general lack of understanding about how the application process worked, he was denied admission to all of them.
If you’re the parent of a high school senior whose sights are set on a dream college, you can anticipate how devastating rejection might be. But you also know that, given the competitive and subjective nature of college admissions, rejection is possible…even likely.
I have a colleague who won’t call it “rejection” — he has dubbed the two decisions students receive an “offer of admission” and “no offer of admission.” Language like this might ease the blow somewhat, but your teen will not be comforted. The disappointment will be enormous, and real.
How do you handle your own feelings?
First of all, be ready. Those thin “no offer of admission” envelopes are on their way and even if you vow not to take a rejection personally (after all, you’re not the one applying to college) it’s nearly impossible not to. This is your child; you are bound up in his sorrows and joys. And his application was stellar! “How can they reject my student?” you will wonder in outrage, speculating about who may have gotten in instead and taken “his” spot. Suddenly you realize that you, too, had pinned hopes on a future that included Parents’ Weekend on a certain idyllic campus.
When we acknowledge our own disappointment, we can make sure it stays where it belongs — in our own hearts. The last thing we want is to magnify our student’s pain. He feels badly enough already without feeling that he has disappointed his parents.
How do you support your student’s feelings?
Every student reacts differently. Some will shrug off the rejection letters, understanding that it is just part of the process, but others will view a rejection (or two or three) as the end of the world. At the moment that your student is absorbing this news, all the truisms in the world (“Everything happens for a reason,” “It’ll work out,” “You don’t want to go there if they don’t want you,” etc.) won’t help. Hold him, hug him, and let him know that you share his pain. He needs time to express his emotions and deal with the disappointment in his own way.
What do you do after you’ve both had time to grieve?
Once some time has passed and your student is able to be objective, embrace the life lessons. Point out that disappointments often turn into opportunities (it shouldn’t be too hard to dig up some examples from your own life!). Assure him that success in college is more about his attitude than the name on the T-shirt, and even though College “A” didn’t work out, there is a place for him — a terrific school where he is wanted and where he will thrive. On that note, move on to the colleges that mailed the fat envelopes. If there is more than one, he now has the fun task of making a choice. He’s back in the driver’s seat.
When my son was turned down by the military academies, he turned to Plan B and enlisted in the U.S. Marines. After four years of service and the passage of time, he saw himself in a new light. He applied to college, was accepted, and graduated with honors. Back when he was a high school senior, the rejections seemed momentous. Later, he recognized that they had been merely a bump in the road and an opportunity to re-evaluate his goals.