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Helping Teens Handle College Rejection

For many teenagers, a college rejection can be a crushing disappointment. Not everyone knows what to do if they get rejected from university. Your Teen asked Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect, for her advice on helping teenagers handle it.

With reach schools in particular, it’s best for parents to be realistic when talking with their teens. “It is so important that parents don’t get caught up in their kid’s dreams. Don’t over-invest, because it’s possible that your child may not get into that school. You want to hold out that possibility in your conversations,” says Steiner-Adair.

So avoid saying, “That school is perfect for you!”

Instead, try “That school would be lucky to have you, but it can be crazy hard to get in there. Just remember there are so many other great schools where you can be happy.”

When rejection happens, help them deal with the disappointment. Support them by saying, “I know it’s really upsetting. I know how much you wanted to go there.” Once your teenager has had some time to process what happened, remind them that not getting into this school doesn’t determine the outcome of their life. “You will make college whatever you want it to be, wherever you go.”

“This idea that where you go to school is more important than who you are, or what you learn, or who you meet, is crazy,” says Steiner-Adair, “and you really have to help children understand that.”

Encourage them not to take the decision personally. It’s normal for teenagers to see rejection as a reflection of their self-worth. This is especially true when they have met all the admission benchmarks (grades, scores, etc.) for a particular school, but still got rejected.

It’s helpful to remind teenagers that there are often many more qualified applicants than a school can accept for its freshman class. Your student might have even gotten in last year, but this year, for whatever reason, they didn’t. And those reasons are often things your student can’t control, including where you live (the school may have decided it needed more students from the Midwest this year), gender (schools do try to balance this), and how many other students with similar backgrounds applied (there may have been many theater students this year. So your theater-loving student got passed over).

There are many factors that your teen simply cannot control.

Catherine Steiner-Adair

Learn more about Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair and The Big Disconnect at her website.