As a college counselor, I both enjoy and feel a slight sense of despair at this time of the year. Usually beginning in mid-December, colleges from around the country that choose to offer Early Decision or Early Action plans, will begin the process of notifying students of their admissions decisions. For some, the hard work of three years in high school and a rigorous college application process, paid off. For some, the hard work did not return the results they had hoped. The experience of rejection, especially when a student really “wanted” something like admission into a particular college, can be particularly disappointing, painful, and hard to overcome.
I strongly believe though that the things we think we want are not always the things we actually need. I work closely with my students to not just make sure they have a strong application, but that they can trust me as a person and an advocate throughout the final years of their high school experience. Developing a relationship of openness and honesty takes time, but I work with students to ensure their sense of self-worth and confidence is not wrapped up in the things they want (like a college acceptance), but rather in the things they have accomplished and the wonderful things they will do with that in the future.
When working with students, we are not going to quickly change their minds that failure or rejection is often a good thing to experience and needed to truly understand success. However, that does not mean that as educators, parents, friends, and advocates, we cannot promote the idea that there is always something to learn from failure and rejection and that accepting outcomes as they are only opens doors to opportunities that are meant to be.
Here are some tips to help your student with managing feelings of rejection, both in life and during the college admissions process:
Allow time for your student to feel the disappointment
- I often tell my students “to feel all the feels” of the moment and after 24 hours they need to begin the letting go process. It is important to support a student in their feelings when they have been rejected, but it is also important to re-focus their perspective after some time has passed. This will allow for acceptance of the situation and commitment to moving forward.
Remind your student to not take things personally
- As hard as this is to digest for many students, they need to be reminded that they are one of thousands of applicants for a limited number of available seats. It is as hard for the college admission officers to reject a student who is qualified but they just do not have the room to accept. A denied decision is not a personal rejection of talents, efforts, character, or personality but simply an outcome of a technical process.
Come up with a good plan moving forward
- When the college list is being built, make sure that there is more than one school on the list that your student is excited about. They might have their ideal college option, but encourage diverse options that they would be proud to attend if accepted. Also be sure that the options are reasonable and your student has a strong chance of being accepted.
Reevaluate the Priorities
- Sometimes after the shock of disappointment has gone away, students realize that they things that were important in their college application process are no longer the same. After the rejection subsides, re-evaluating priorities and interests can help to not just potentially apply to more schools but also help with decision-making later on.
Keep a Positive Outlook
- If we can teach our students to understand that everything happens for a reason, this might be the best lesson of all. Being consistent in supporting students to keep looking ahead and looking forward to opportunities that they have yet to realize are possible, will help them overcome the rejection and set them up for success in the future.