Handling the Stress of College Rejection Letters
A “no” from a college is hardly the end of a promising future
With the arrival of spring comes one of the most anticipated (and feared) periods in a high school senior’s life — that time of year when many of them will receive acceptance (or rejection) letters from colleges and universities across the country.
By April 1, most high school seniors will learn whether or not they made the college cut for the fall.
Like any rejection, being turned down by a college can sting.
“Receiving a rejection letter from the college of your choice can be a really difficult experience for high school students,” says Mark Montgomery, a former college professor and administrator and founder of Montgomery Consulting, a Denver, Colorado firm that helps families with the college admissions process. “For many talented students, this may be the first time they have ever been faced with rejection.”
If a letter says “no thanks,” it’s important for your teen to realize it’s not the end of the world. Montgomery offers these tips to help your teen survive and bounce back.
Don’t take it personally. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it’s also a fact that many talented students get rejected from colleges and universities every year.
“Try to give the situation context and explain to your teen that even though the rejection may feel intensely personal, it’s not,” Montgomery says. “The rejection isn’t based on anything your child did or did not do.”
Even those who excel in sports, have impressive SAT scores and boast stellar grade point averages often receive rejection letters from their dream colleges.
“Admission to a university doesn't mean that a particular student was better than the other applicants, it just means they fit into a particular spot in the school’s demographics scheme,” Montgomery says. “If the university needs a soccer goalie because the last one graduated, they will probably pick a soccer goalie over a star baseball player. And if a school feels it doesn’t have enough geographic diversity and has an applicant from Omaha, Nebraska, than it might accept that student over one from Arizona or New Jersey.”
Acknowledge her sadness. Receiving a rejection letter can elicit all kind of emotions. She might even feel humiliated at having to share the bad news with other family members and friends. The best thing parents can do is to listen, offer support and be a sounding board if she wants to talk or vent.
Don’t get angry yourself. “Often when a teen gets upset over receiving a college rejection, a parent becomes angry wondering why their child wasn’t accepted when several other kids in the neighborhood were. This type of reaction only makes the situation worse,” Montgomery says. “If you’re looking for fairness, you won’t always find it in the college admissions process. Every college has their own admissions criteria, timeline and process, and they don’t need to give students an explanation for why they were rejected.”
Help him explore other options. Journalist Meredith Vieira and billionaire Warren Buffett were both rejected from Harvard University and have since said in media interviews that while the rejection was difficult at the time, it resulted in them going on to establish successful careers.
“Where you attend college is not an indicator of success,” Montgomery says. “It’s what you do with your education and training. It’s the student who is responsible for their own success.”
If the college or university of your teen’s choice turns him down, chances are another one of his college applications will result in an acceptance.
Even if students are denied by all the colleges they applied to, there are still options. The United States boasts approximately 4,000 colleges, and some have late-admission policies and rolling deadlines. You can find colleges that are still accepting applications for the coming school year on The College Board website.
Consider a different path. For some students who are unhappy with their college options or who had their heart set on attending a specific university, Montgomery says the solution may be to take an alternative path.
“Some students find success attending a community college with the intention to transfer to a four-year college or university, working an internship or taking a gap year and then reapplying to college,” Montgomery says.
High-quality and affordable classes at community college are a draw for many high school students who choose to begin their quest for a bachelor’s degree there. In addition, many community colleges have guaranteed transfer agreements with dozens of public and private universities.
“The important thing for high school graduates to remember when they receive a college rejection letter is that they still have choices,” Montgomery says. “Rather than focusing on one particular dream college, students should look at the schools that best sync with their individual ambitions and goals.”