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Dealing With College Rejection: Helping Your Teenager Cope

Dealing With College Rejection

Spring is college acceptance and rejection letter time. For many teenagers, dealing with college rejection can be a crushing disappointment. Your Teen asked Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect, for her advice on helping teenagers handle college decisions.

How do you help a child process rejection?

Hopefully, leading up to that day, you haven’t over invested with their desire to go to a specific school. It is so important that parents don’t get caught up in their kids’ dreams and overinvest. Because it’s possible that your child may not get in to that dream school. And you want to hold out that possibility in your conversations. (“It’s possible you might not get in, honey, and there are so many other great schools.”)

And it’s mercurial. College admissions is not a meritocracy. Even if you met all the requirements, there are other kids out there with better grades, better qualifications. Help them deal with the disappointment (“I know it’s really upsetting, I know how much you wanted to go there”), but convey to them that this college denial letter doesn’t make your life. You are the person going to the school, wherever you go. You will make college whatever you want it to be.

Getting Rejected From College Is Not Failure

There is this craziness in our culture, this idea that the name brand of your child’s college actually determines your child’s future success. If you look at the Fortune 500 companies and the CEOs who run them, I think that maybe eleven, maybe sixteen of them went to Ivies. 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. And you really have to help children understand that whether they’re dealing with college rejection or not.

There is going to be tons of rejection in any life. And the kids for whom it is hardest are the ones who have never experienced rejection. The first time they do, it’s a real blow. I always say to parents if your kid has a number of things they’re really, really great at, make sure they also do something they are bad at so they know what it’s like to get a B or a C in a course, or to not be picked first in a sport, or to really struggle with something.

Eventually, you get over getting rejected from college. If your child can’t get over it, they can always take a gap year and re-apply. That might be the right thing for some kids. The most important thing for parents to convey is that it’s a mercurial process that isn’t fair, and that you totally believe that they can go to another college and have an amazing experience.

Catherine Steiner-Adair

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