Your child has spent countless hours attaining excellent marks, crafting the perfect essay, participating in a multitude of extracurricular activities, and nervously mailing out college applications. After the applications have all been sent out, it becomes a "waiting game," where he hopefully awaits thick letters of acceptance--and anxiously dreads one-page rejections.
In case of the latter, it's best to be prepared ahead of time. Make sure you're not adding to your child's anxiety by piling on the pressure and stressing the importance of admittance to a particular school or group of schools. Also speak with her early about the possibility of not getting accepted by that top choice.
Getting rejected from a first choice can be hard. Because of this, "it makes sense to do a realistic appraisal of your chances [ahead of time]," said Mory Framer, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and trauma specialist.
If you know your child can't handle rejection, then maybe applying to a school way out of his league isn't the best idea. At the very least, you should make it clear that there's a good chance he won't get in.
Getting rejected by any school will make your child feel badly, but "the degree of [his] feeling might correlate directly to how much energy [he] put into getting into that school," said Framer. This means if your child spent all his time and energy trying to get into one reach school--and doesn't--he'd take it especially hard.
Rejection from any particular school can be hard, there's no doubt about it--but getting denied admission to every single school he applied to would be much worse.
"That can be pretty devastating," said Framer.
In fact, he believes that a slew of rejections might "knock them out from even trying to apply to a college again in the future," which is why it's important that your child applies to some safety schools where he has a significant chance of acceptance.
"Review the schools that they applied to and make sure that they were realistic and in line with their abilities," he said.
"What if you applied to all schools that were just absolutely out of your range? You're setting yourself up for failure, aren't you? So I think everyone should apply to a school that you're almost sure of getting into, even if it's a local community college."
Another expert agrees that total rejection is a significant setback, but not necessarily the end of the road.
"If you're rejected from all [of the schools you applied to], then you've got a problem, and it probably was created by the student himself," said Paul Vaughn, a Los Angeles-based education consultant.
Usually, that situation occurs when students don't apply to enough colleges. The average student should be applying to several different schools, a few of which should be shoo-ins.
In that case, Vaughn suggests that, rather than filling time by taking courses at a community college, students should consider a gap year, challenging themselves with a whole new experience. Visit Tibet, backpack across Europe, or go to "Tahiti and learn from the natives."
"Do something that you would have never thought you'd have done before, because you were so concentrated on going to college."
Your child can apply to college again the next year.
If they apply to several safety schools, however, students should never have to worry about such an eventuality.
"It's a waiting game, and you have to wait it out," said Vaughn, stressing that students shouldn't grieve before they've even been rejected.
"Not many people get rejected everywhere, but that there are some who do," he said.
As most people know, rejection letters are usually thin, acceptances thick.
"Refusals are usually one page, so if it's real skinny," said Vaughn, chuckling, "you might take a deep breath. But some of the [acceptance] envelopes are not overly thick because they send things later on."
And, if all goes well, your child will be getting some thick envelopes in the mail sometime soon.
"You're going to get them," if you sent applications to the right schools, he added.
"If you get the rejection, accept the fact that you are going to have some grief. You're going to have 24 hours of grief--especially for the one you really wanted to get into. That's not abnormal, that's normal. It's just like a death, and you've got to give yourself time."
While getting denied admission to some or all of your child's choices might get him down, rejection can also be a firm wakeup call.
"It can get them to work harder sometimes. They can mobilize, or they can get defeated--they can choose," said Framer. "Rejection is rejection--it doesn't mean you're bad, it just means you might not have fit the criteria at that point. It doesn't mean you can't improve and work towards it, if that's your goal."
A student with her heart set on a particular college, even if it's currently out of her league, can work on excelling and then try to transfer sometime later on. But, it's probably best for your child to find a safety school that she can be happy with and--if she doesn't get in anywhere else--try to make the best of the situation.
The college application process is a time of transition and growth, and rejection is part of that process. It's important for your child to accept rejection for what it is--a minor setback--and move forward. Remember, in the words of Nietzsche, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
Note: Even if you think your child hasn't yet applied to enough safety schools, it's still not too late. Plenty of colleges and universities are still accepting applications for the next few months. Try a Web search for "colleges with rolling admissions" to find out more.
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