Getting Over the Agony of Defeat: College Rejection Letters

Wondering how to help your child get over a college rejection? Wondering why your child got one in the first place?

Rejections don’t feel good. That’s the plain truth. But a rejection has often been the motivator or inspiration for many a successful career trajectory.

Students who are told “no, thank you” by the college of their choice now have an opportunity to work through the emotions that a change of dream entails. It’s important to acknowledge the pain while also having an eye toward next steps. Here are some you can share (and model) for your child:

Realize that there are some things we can change, but a whole lot of life is out of our control. For that reason, we can’t take it personally when an organization that doesn’t know us has made a decision that, frankly, probably has little to do with us. Colleges make decisions based on in-state vs out-of-state percentages, projected retention of the previous year’s freshmen, and the total number of students who have applied that are highly qualified. None of that was in your child’s control, and this is a good time to point that out!

While recognizing that there are factors we can’t control or understand, a piece of your child’s dream now needs some modification. Yes, this is now an opportunity to pursue something else, but allow your child time to grieve and fully feel the disappointment. Covering up the sadness with distractions and fake happy talk isn’t going to allow your child to fully process what happened, as that is absolutely necessary for next steps and growth.

Take some time to objectively analyze “What happened” to the best of your abilities. After the sting of the rejection letter has passed a bit, taking time to gain some objective perspective is an excellent exercise. None of the college acceptance process is in our control, but analyzing the strength of our application not only helps us understand what happened, but helps us concentrate on colleges that might be a much better fit.

Colleges might turn a student down for all the reasons listed above, plus there are academic thresholds that may not have been met (GPA or test scores) even before a real person looked at the application. Admissions officers also mention incomplete applications can count a student out, or simply the opinion that the school and student aren’t a good fit. Colleges ultimately want a student body that will stay, thrive and graduate from their institution, so even the highest achievers will be turned away if their interests and preferences can’t be met by the college. This is, believe it or not, a GOOD THING. It just takes some time to objectively see it (especially if you’re a 17-year-old with your heart set on one school).

Take a moment to honor the awesome person you are. While you already know how great your teenager is, a student rejected by a college is dealing with a very adult blow to their ego. Yes, it hurts, but not only is a student building up resistance to disappointments, but it’s also an opportunity to find other ways for the student to feel good about himself. The stories we tell ourselves have a huge impact, and that’s why we want to help our teenagers keep the narrative positive and focused on successes. Has your child done well in school, sports, music, church, a job or clubs? Reflect on those achievements! Have acceptance letters come in from other schools, even if not a first choice? Celebrate that!

Are there any options to just accepting the outcome? Yes, if a student just can’t let it go, she can explore asking the college to look at the application again. Maybe more information has come in (a stellar performance first semester of senior year, or higher ACT or SAT scores) that could change their minds. Students can also consider a gap year and reapply at a later date. The crucial piece of a gap year is that a student find something significant to do (and then include that in the new essay) that might lead the admissions officers to reconsider the initial rejection. Lastly, some students find success by attending another college first (community colleges or 4-year colleges) and then reapplying to the dream college as a transfer student after their sophomore year. Be sure to do the research to make sure credits will transfer AND make sure that the resulting GPA is as high as possible. A GPA lower than the student’s high school GPA would be a major red flag.

Rejection sucks and we all have to learn to deal with it. Make sure your child knows that you think they are a superstar no matter where they go to college. In fact, studies are showing that for most majors and careers, where you attend doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you do while you’re there. We hope students will choose to reflect and understand the process and avoid tormenting themselves with “what ifs.” There are so many opportunities in life and the grand majority of students will look back and be grateful that things worked out exactly as they did.

Pacific Learning Academy is a one-on-one school offering single courses and dual enrollment, as well as full-time middle and high school. Pacific Learning Academy is Washington State Approved via the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI — see listings HERE) and a nationally Accredited private school via AdvancED/Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC). High School coursework is approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). We also offer tutoring in all subjects from 6th to 12th grade, including test prep, either in-home or local libraries across the Eastside (Issaquah, Sammamish, etc…). See more at www.PacificLearningAcademy.com


April 12, 2018

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