“Ridiculously competitive.” That’s how college counselors, students and parents describe this year’s admissions cycle. The numbers tell a sobering story: Harvard sent acceptance letters to 2,032 students, just 5.9 percent of the applicant pool of 34,302. UNC received more than 29,400 applications, a jump of over 5,000 from last year; 19,000+ were from out-of-state students and roughly 10,000 from North Carolina residents. The admit rate for nonresidents was just 14%, much lower than expected, 48% of in-state students were accepted. Suffice to say, it was a very tough year.
Chances are that if you’re the parent of a high school senior you’ve felt the need to console your child whether they logged online to view a negative notification or when they received their “thin envelope” at home.
What’s the best way to handle rejection?
Rule No. 1 for parents is to remember that this isn’t about you. Your child’s college acceptance or rejection isn’t a referendum on your parenting skills. Try to read your child’s emotions – figure out how much private time and space they need to process what’s happened. Let them know you are there for them, whenever they want to talk. Let the news simmer a little.
What you shouldn’t do.
Don’t broadcast the news. Most students feel that college rejections are intensely personal. When in doubt, refer back to Rule No. 1 – this isn’t about you! College acceptances and rejections are their news to share as they choose. Don’t push them to make a decision about other colleges right away.
What you shouldn’t say.
I asked a group of seniors who had all experienced rejection in recent days and here are their nominations for the stupidest things people say when they hear you’ve been rejected. When talking with 17- and 18-year-olds who are dealing with rejection, it’s hard not to be cliché, but try to avoid the following:
- “It’s not the end of the world” – while true, it belittles the emotions students are grappling with.
- “This is a good learning experience. Nobody gets everything they want in life. Remember, rejection builds character.” This is probably not what a teenager wants to hear right now.
- “Maybe they made a mistake. Why don’t you call them and ask.” It’s very unlikely this will be a fruitful discussion.
- “You probably wouldn’t have been happy there anyway. I never wanted you to go to that school.” Right now, they probably don’t care too much about what you want.
- “If you had let me ask the man at church that plays golf with the brother of the admissions director, you probably would have gotten accepted!” – Blaming them is not a good strategy. Actually, in most cases, these kinds of letters of recommendation hurt more than they help.
It’s tough to not sound trite, but I’ve heard so many “rejection stories” that turn out to be blessings in disguise. One family wrote “we have learned it is better to seek the school that wants you, not necessarily the school you want.” Students who have chosen to attend a college that wasn’t their first choice often end up having more opportunities and a better academic experience than they ever expected.