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Parenting Through College Rejection: A Parent Perspective

Amber Gilsdorf March 20, 2019

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As a parent, there are few things worse than knowing your child has been rejected in some way. Whether the rejection comes from a person, a sports team, an audition, or a college, it cuts deep. In fact, we’re biologically programmed to protect our kids. Though, when it comes to college denials, your protection will look a little different.

This time of year, your senior may still be waiting on final decisions from schools with late March/early April notification timelines. As they (and you) prepare for the news that will round out their final list of prospects, read through what you can do to help your student prepare for (possible) rejection.

Get Ahead of the Curve

In the weeks and days leading up to the end of March, talk with your student about the possible outcomes they may experience. You can utilize leading questions like “What are you doing to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes?” or “Since rejection from ______ [insert school name] is a possibility, how do you think you will handle it?” and, my personal favorite, “If you do experience a denial, how can I help you work through it?” This forecasting helps you and your student anticipate reactions while also establishing boundaries and support.

Avoid Pre-Planning Celebrations

A note of caution! If your student shares what they will do if accepted (e.g. some kind of dinner celebration or other celebratory activity), instead redirect them with the idea of being spontaneous in that moment. Let your child know that you will figure out, together, a way to celebrate if an acceptance occurs.

Make a Plan

Once you have an idea of how your student anticipates they may react to rejection from their school(s) of choice, reinforce some helpful strategies. Such as, the 24 Hour Rule (see my post on Resilience Through Rejection: A Student Perspective!) and the 48 Hour Rule (also in that other blog post). It may also be a good idea to ask your student what provisions for the 24 Hour Rule you can have on hand to help them through the initial emotions.

Mitigate Your Reaction

We all know this as parents, but it bears repeating: your emotions will fuel your child’s emotions! If your student is denied from a school to which they were really hoping to attend, your role is to be a support and a sounding board. If you visibly show great anger or sadness, then it could reinforce any self-doubt or waning confidence your child is already experiencing. It is, of course, completely appropriate to validate your student’s feelings and say that you are sad for them too, but do not make it your own sadness or anger.

It’s Not Personal

Contrary to how it feels, this is not a personal rejection of who your child is as a human. Nor is a college rejection a referendum on whether or not you were a good parent to your teen. Not at all. Instead, there are greater factors influencing admission decisions than those over which you or your child have control.

Avoid the Quick Fix

Steer clear of the urge to take action and “fix” the situation. Phone calls and emails to the college from which your child was rejected will not change the outcome. Instead, channel your energy on helping your child refocus (during the 48 Hour Rule).

Read "Resilience Through Rejection: A Student Perspective" 

This post is rich with mantras and explanations for how to manage the shock, sadness, and anger on the coattails of a denial. It also has some helpful messaging for your student to tell themselves and for you to remind them to consider!

Together, you and your student will manage this hurdle. Your student will emerge with one more life experience and greater coping strategies for future setbacks. As the parent, you will have greater practice for your upcoming transition as a sounding board and mentor during your child’s college years.

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Tagged: college admission, college applications, college rejection, college decision

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