How to Help Your Teen Handle College Rejections

What-Do-You-Receive-College-Rejection-LetterOne of the most exciting, and potentially disappointing, times in your teen’s life is receiving word from the colleges to which he or she chose to apply. Around this time of year, your high school senior will begin to hear whether he or she has been accepted, waitlisted, or rejected. This is a defining moment for your teen, and, depending on the news, it will either be greeted with joyful celebration or wistful disappointment. You, as a parent, must be particularly careful about how you react to any news, and how you can best support your student. Your response will set the tone for your child.

If the news is good, it’s easy to celebrate, and you will likely have no problem setting a positive tone. The problem is that, most likely, your teen may face some rejection in this process. Teens can be particularly sensitive to the pain of a rejection because they have less life experience to know how to cope with rejection, and are more prone to feel embarrassed and unaccepted.

Rejection hurts. But it is a normal part of life and impossible to avoid completely. The key is to teach your teens some positive ways to cope in the face of rejection. Learning to cope is a healthier life skill than trying to avoid rejection because people who become too afraid of rejection hold back from going after something they want. As difficult as it is, your teen must learn to cope with rejection and this is one of many steps they must take towards independence and maturity.

Parent Tips for College Letters

When the college acceptance and rejection letters begin to arrive, parents should remember these suggestions:

  • Keep your distance.  It is easy for us, as parents, to become so involved in the college application process that the acceptance or rejection feels like our own. Although it is normal to empathize with your child, you must also maintain some distance. This is your teen’s process, not yours.
  • Follow your teen’s lead.  Whatever you feel when you see the letter, do not react first. Let your teen express themselves first – whether he or she is elated or devastated – and then take your cue from his or her reaction. Validate their feelings.
  • Allow time. Your teen will likely need time to process the information from the letter, regardless of whether it’s good or bad news. They may be feeling pressure in making a decision, or they may feel embarrassed by a rejection. Don’t try to talk to your teen right away.
  • Celebrate every acceptance.  Every acceptance, even if it’s from a last-choice college, is an accomplishment and worthy of celebration. Don’t make any acceptance feel not important.
  • Wait to share.  As parents, we are quick to want to spread the news about our children – whether it’s good or bad news – but you should resist the temptation. This is your teen’s moment. Let him or her decide how and when to tell others.
  • Consider the next steps.  The most important role a parent can play when hearing back from colleges is to help their teen consider their next steps. It’s important that you act as a sounding board and ask them many open-ended questions to help them make decisions, without deciding for them. Offer lots of options, such as making a pros and cons list between different schools, visiting colleges to help make a choice, or considering financial factors before moving forward.


Helping Teens Move Past Rejection

Getting past the sting of rejection can be difficult, especially if the school was your teen’s first choice. It’s always hard to watch our children deal with rejection, but remember that overcoming rejection makes your teen a more resilient person. They will need to deal with rejection throughout their lifetime as they apply for jobs and in other facets of their life, so treat it as a learning opportunity. Then, remind your teen of these truths:

  • The majority of students who apply to the most selective colleges are qualified to attend but there simply isn’t room.
  • Even if the college was your first choice, it’s quite possible the school would have been a poor fit for you. The admissions officers look at more than just academic performance and might have realized that you would have been uncomfortable in their culture.
  • There are literally thousands of wonderful colleges across the nation, and your second choice may be a better fit for you.


The real difficulty for a parent can come when a teen isn’t excited about any of the colleges that did accept them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be a sounding board for your teen. Listen to what he or she has to say and ask open ended questions to spur their thinking. Be very careful not to push your own agenda or agree that the acceptance schools aren’t good.
  • Remind your teen about what he or she liked in the first place about all the colleges he or she did get in to.
  • Revisit the colleges he or she is deciding between. Most colleges have special programs for admitted students, and these programs are very effective in getting students excited about that specific college. These programs can make a big difference, not only to learn more about the college, but also in meeting other prospective students, which can help them to form friendships that will raise their excitement again.

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