Handling Denials—How Parents Can Help


Parents just want to help. The natural reaction when you see your child suffering is to try and make it better. Denials are inevitable in an atmosphere of increasingly selective admissions, so how can parents help ease the pain when their child is not chosen, for many reasons relating to the college’s priorities and needs?

The first step is to accept that it’s complicated. It’s complicated by your child’s emotions, your emotions and both of your preconceived notions. It gets even more complicated when students feel pressure from their classmates. The worst is the judgment many students feel from their parents’ friends, as if they disappointed their parents. Parents need to know and accept that where their child chooses to go to college is not an assessment of their parenting skills.

Everybody wants the euphoria of the thick envelope, the balloon-decorated mailbox and the sense of pride of the college sticker on the back windshield of the family car. But what happens when you have to settle for Plan B, when there are no balloons, there’s just resignation. How do you help your child roll with reality? Advice in these kinds of situations always sounds so cliché, but the truth is that, as resistant as your child may be, it can help.


Ideas to share with your child:

Don't take it personally. Encourage your child to understand the big picture. If sharing stats on the number of students who applied to Stanford and were denied helps, then use them. Not being accepted is not the equivalent of “failure.” Colleges are committed to fulfilling their institutional priorities by accepting students who are often underrepresented. Perhaps your child is a classic “over-represented” student. Or the college needs to increase their population of oboe players, classics majors or women golfers.

Don’t feel like this only happened to you. There are lots of other students whose dreams also weren’t realized. You’re not alone. Reach out to friends and commiserate together and then try to move on together. You’ll all appreciate the support.

Don’t get caught up with the prestige factor. It’s important to recognize that a brand name doesn't equal success or, more importantly, doesn’t equal happiness. Your performance during your undergraduate experience will be the biggest factor that determines your job placement opportunities.

Don’t obsess about the denials and do your best to be positive about your other options. Don't spend a lot of time agonizing but, in- stead, use the time and your energy to identify another school that you will like as much or more. Sometimes rejections can send a student to a different school, down a different path and in line for the unexpected opportunities that can crop up. Some students think they want big schools and realize they’ll have more opportunity to shine at a smaller school. Be positive about other institutions. Celebrate your acceptances!

The big picture here is that for many students the “denial letter” may be the first time they have experienced serious disappointment. Their egos are bruised and the truth is, as all adults know, they’ll grow and they’ll get over it. Handling this “no” will make them better prepared for future obstacles. College rejection happens to almost all students, but it doesn’t need to define the rest of their lives.

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