It is one of the most stressful times in an adolescent’s life: the start of college admissions decisions. There’s the dreaded “we regret to inform you” versus the euphoric “I am delighted to inform you.” While the letters are black-and-white — the emotional toll is unpredictable.
College applications and admissions should be a discreet process. Just the student, parents, and high school guidance counselor should know the schools to which the student applied. There is no need to share that information with anyone else; it just escalates anxiety and potential humiliation.
Last year, a Westchester County, New York, student told his classmates that he had applied to the University of Pennsylvania — and when he did not get in, he skipped nearly a week of school. Public rejection can be crippling for kids. Likewise, when a student receives an acceptance letter, there is no need to post it all over social media. With so many classmates uncertain as to where they are going, especially at this early stage of the game for high school seniors — bragging is unnecessary.
Such insensitivity stirs up resentment throughout the community, and there is no need to initiate ill will. Recently, after a Westchester County student, a mediocre legacy applicant, posted her acceptance to an Ivy League School on Facebook, her car was egged by classmates who had been rejected.
Discretion goes for the parents as well. Many parents are too involved in the college application process overall. As one New York college admissions dean said, “Parents call the admissions office to check on the status more than the student applicants do.”
The admissions representatives know that many of these parents wrote the college essays for their child. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when these moms and dads take the rejection more personally than their child. As detailed by a Westchester County high school guidance counselor: “Parents perceive their children’s successes and failures as direct reflections of their parenting skills, to the point that a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from a college validates how successfully they raised their child.” Such parenting is deeply unhealthy and stagnates the child’s emotional development — yet it has become more prevalent in recent years.
When the acceptance letter arrives, the student should celebrate in a tasteful manner. Phone calls and texts should go out to family members, and a celebratory dinner at the student’s favorite restaurant is a wonderful way to rejoice with family. Ordering an official college sweatshirt from the school is the norm — but students who applied early decision (ED) should wait until that early decision period is officially over before wearing that item to school.
There is no need to rub it in classmates’ faces. If word gets out and a student receive congratulatory texts from friends, a simple “thank you” will suffice. There’s no need to overindulge in joy while friends remain in a state of uncertainty.
It is common for the rejected student to terrorize himself with “what ifs” — but this is never a good idea.
However, if students don’t get in, they shouldn’t take it personally. Easier said than done — but it is critical to keep the rejection in perspective.
The fact that “legacy” students (those whose relatives attended the school) and recruited athletes take up a significant proportion of ED acceptances is well-known. Even though the student may have been a very strong candidate, a similar applicant with legacy status usually gets the spot. The rejected student needs to come to terms with the disappointment and move on. While many parents tell their children that the college is losing out by not accepting them — such blame is unproductive. Rather, after allowing the child some time to let the news sink in, parents need to help him or her focus on the steps to get into one of his other top schools. As one Westchester County student said, “Being rejected doesn’t mean my dreams are over.”
It is common for the rejected student to terrorize himself with “what ifs” — but this is never a good idea. Parents need to remind their child that he submitted the best application possible in the time available — and students need to remind themselves that they worked as hard as they could. There is no going back — so focus on moving forward.
For students determined to attend a school that rejected them, a gap year has become the trend. Rather than go to a school that does not excite them, these students engage in year-long internships or research, or contribute to articles that enhance the scientific community. They travel or do charitable work. Such activities differentiates them from the pack when it comes to applying to their top school again. While there are no guarantees this will lead to an acceptance the following year — gap years have been successful for some students.
Those who are deferred may not know how to react. As one New York college counselor said, “A deferral means you’re still in the game.”
Deferred students should not give up. They should call the admissions office to ensure they’re placed on the waitlist, and they should keep up their grades because the college will take another look at them in the spring. It’s best to remain in touch with the admissions office to update them on major accomplishments. Many schools will also request a letter of continued interest. In the meantime, these students should make sure they’ve covered all bases by applying to other schools in case things do not work out in the spring.
Parents need to remind their high school senior — and themselves — that rejection builds character. No one gets everything he wants in life. And rather than allow self-pity to take over, remember: Success is the ultimate revenge to any rejection.
Daniel Riseman, founder of Riseman Educational Consulting in Irvington, New York, has been counseling students and working with families for 16 years.