Recently a parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook group said her son had fallen into a depression after being rejected from his dream school. He got into his #2 choice college, but did not get into his #1 (he was initially waitlisted but then rejected). Both schools are in the top five in the country, but even knowing he was able to get into one of them didn’t do much to lift her son’s spirits. She finished her post by asking other parents whose children were also rejected from their top college, “How long did the burnout phase last and what helped your child get over the “I failed” depression?”
Believe it or not, this is pretty common with many high-achieving students who were under the impression that if they checked all the right boxes they would have that #1 as an option, said fellow Paying for College group member Jess C, who is both a college counselor and a licensed professional counselor. Facing rejection when you’ve “checked all the boxes” can be disheartening, but it’s essential to remember that it’s not the end of anyone’s academic journey.
Here’s some great advice for parents whose students have been rejected from their top colleges:
Validate Their Disappointment About Getting Rejected From Their Top College
It’s perfectly normal for a student to feel disappointed, sad, or even angry. Let them take the time to process these emotions and let them know that it’s okay to grieve the loss of your initial plan.
Embrace The Opportunity to Teach Your Student About The Power of Resilience
Rejections can be powerful life lessons in resilience. As fellow Paying for College 101 parent Lexi W. said, “There’s going to be lots of situations like this in life (one example is job searching) where he will have to manage expectations.”
Encourage students to use this experience to build mental toughness and learn how to bounce back from setbacks. Unfortunately, this is not the last disappointment they will likely face in life, but using this as an opportunity to build resilience can help them get through the next one at least a little bit easier.
Remind them that college is just one phase of their life. It’s their choices, actions, and determination that will determine their overall happiness and success, not which school they attend.
Encourage Your Child Not to Take Rejection From Their Top School Personally
College admissions are highly competitive, and many factors come into play. “Have him read some sections of Who Gets in and Why,” suggested Paying for College 101 Facebook group member Athena M. “I just read this book and it was eye-opening about the behind-the-scenes admissions process. So much is out of their control. For a kid who’s used to making his own success, it’s very hard to accept that this didn’t happen but that book might explain why.”
Ultimately it’s important to remind them that rejection doesn’t define a student’s worth or potential, and admissions decisions are not a reflection of their character or abilities. Furthermore, a person’s choice of college does not determine their success. It’s all about the opportunities they create for themselves — in any academic setting.
Explore Alternative Paths to Their Dream School
If your student has been waitlisted, follow the college’s instructions for expressing continued interest. Send a letter or additional materials highlighting their passion for the school.
If they’ve been altogether rejected, allow them to lick their wounds a bit, then spend some time going over the other colleges to which they were accepted or waitlisted. Each school has unique strengths and opportunities, and this is a good time to go back and see if there is anything they may have overlooked.
If at all possible, a visit to one of these schools may bring it to life, so if you haven’t toured any of the schools yet, this may be a good time to start.
If their heart is still set on their dream college, have them consider reapplying as a transfer student after completing a year or two at another institution. It’s far easier to get into some colleges as a sophomore than a freshman, for example. Who knows? They may have a better chance the second time around.
If They Can’t Get Out Of Their Funk, Consider a Gap Year
Gap years are becoming more common, especially after the pandemic, which left so many students feeling behind and out of sorts. If a student is unsure about the options that are available to them or needs time to reassess their goals, a gap year can be an excellent choice. Use this time for personal growth, travel, volunteer work, or gaining new skills.
Some of the most famous people to take a gap year include entrepreneur Elon Musk, the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, former president Barack Obama’s eldest daughter Malia Obama, actor Mathew McConaughey, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, and Apple founder Steve Jobs.
Whatever they decide to do, it’s important to remind your child that life often takes unexpected turns. Most paths to success involve detours, and sometimes rejection can lead to unexpected growth and even more fulfilling opportunities.
“When I was a high school senior I also did not get into my #1 choice (Columbia), but rather my #2 (Northwestern),” said Paying for College 101 Facebook group member Jessie M. “I was devastated for a while and was *not* excited when I moved into my college dorm. It took about six weeks for me to snap out of it and start loving Northwestern. Now, I’m a college professor and I think going there is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The college a student attends is just one part of their journey. Ultimately, the effort, passion, and dedication they invest in their education and personal development will define their success, regardless of where they earn their degree.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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