Don’t Let College Rejections Stand in Your Child’s Way

| April 6, 2012 | 1,273 Comments

This is an incredibly emotional time of year as high school seniors receive their college admissions notifications. Most receive great news that they have been accepted to their dream college or to several awesome colleges from which they must choose one to accept. Others get wait-listed, the limbo of the college admissions process or get deferred for a semester or year from a match college.

Still some other high school seniors are rejected from many of the colleges they really wanted to attend.

Parents, we know you go through your own emotional roller coaster as you prepare for your child to go away, to pay for college, and to accept college decisions. We just ask that you find a way to quickly work through your own feelings to help your child navigate this very heart wrenching time of year.

I understand the pain. I got rejected from half of the schools to which I applied. I know I can’t complain, as I was accepted by several top colleges, but still I wanted to attend another college on my list even more. It took me some time, but with the help of my parents, friends, and school, I got to that point. And I never looked back.

May 1 is the national college decision day. So that means seniors and their families need to spend the next five weeks making some very powerful college decisions.

A Tough Year for College Admissions

We need to help teens understand this was and is an incredibly tough year for college admissions offices, who received record numbers of applications, especially many public universities. They received record numbers of applications because many are still relatively affordable for in state students. Unfortunately, budget cuts in many states have devastated public universities. One way they are combating huge budget losses is by accepting more out of state and international students. That means there are fewer slots for in state students. Other students applied to competitive colleges that accept 6-20% of applicants. That means 80 -94% of those applicants receive rejections.

It is never easy receiving a rejection. I have not gotten used to it. It is especially awful for teenagers, especially for teenagers whose college lists were unbalanced towards reach and stretch colleges.  They often go through the stages of grief. So we must help guide them through this process by accepting their anger and loss. We need to help them also see that they still have some great choices.

If the seniors truly feel misunderstood or that an error occurred, they may choose to file an appeal. They need to find the appeals process on each college’s website and follow each one’s specific requirements. But remind them that appeals rarely work. Maybe just the effort of submitting an appeal will make the students feel better.

Making Important Decisions

As students work through a huge range of emotions about their college acceptances and rejections, they must make some important decisions. Families, schools, and friends need to counsel these students patiently and remember that they are teenagers.

Blaming teachers, schools, counselors, colleges, or others for rejections is a natural first response, but it can’t be the only response. Students need to accept and work through this challenging process. I rarely ever see students who regret their ultimate choice of college.

Visiting Accepted Colleges Makes A Difference

Therefore, students need to look at the colleges that accepted them and explore several key factors, including affordability and fit. They need to visit colleges, speak to current and former students, attend classes and events, and spend nights in the dorms. Nothing can help make a decision more clear than a great visit. Most colleges have special programs for accepted students and even help pay for disadvantaged students to visit. Please do what you can to make those critical campus visits.

Short and Long Term Options

If your students are still truly unhappy May 1, then they need to take a deeper look at short and long term options. They can try to get off a wait list, but still need to be happy with their May 1 choice. They can go to a community college and try to transfer after one or two years. That is a more affordable option, but also risky as many community colleges are making draconian cuts and students can’t get easy access to all the classes they need and their social lives often suffer. If students can get into honors or scholars programs and keep up their grades and get engaged, then community colleges are okay. Another option is attending a four year college and making plans to transfer. Students following this option must finish their senior years strong, be active during the summer, and do extremely well freshman year. Then they must begin the college application process all over again.

Most likely, however, students will fall in love with the college they choose to attend freshman year.

We feel for high school seniors and their families going on the emotional roller coaster of college acceptances the next few weeks. We just ask that you help seniors work towards accepting a college that wants them. They can and will find happiness in their choices.

Dr. Joseph is a college access and admissions expert. A tenured professor at a local university, she believes that all students should have the option of a college education and does everything she can to help students, communities, and schools empower their students to make it to and through college. Visit her website,

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About the Author ()

Dr. Joseph is a college access and admissions expert. A tenured professor at a public university, she believes that all students should have the option of a college education and does everything she can to help students, communities, and schools empower their students to make it to and through college. She is an expert in college admissions, especially application essays, and writes ongoing tips to help prepare students, families, and college advocates throughout the complex college readiness and application process. She also volunteers at school sites, Upward Bound, and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to help their students write powerful college and scholarship application essays. Last year she released an IPhone and IPad app–All College Application Essays that provides all the college application essays students need to write for their applications.

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