College Acceptance – or Rejection – Letters: Ten Ways Parents Can Help Students Cope

The wait is over.  The envelope may be fat, or thin, or the news may have come via e-mail.  However it has arrived, your high school student has received word from his chosen colleges about whether he has been accepted, waitlisted, or rejected.  It is a defining moment for most students.

This may also be a defining moment for you as a parent as well.  You will need to think about how you react to any news, and how you support your student no matter what that news may be.  Your responses will help set the tone for your student.  Your reactions will send important messages to your student.  If the news is good, you’ll want to celebrate with him.  If the news is not what he had hoped for, you’ll need to help your student deal with his disappointment.

Giving thought in advance to how you will respond may help you to be prepared for any eventuality.  Here are ten suggestions of things to consider as you, as a parent, confront the college acceptance – or rejection letters.

  • Remember that this is your student’s process, not yours.  As parents, we often become so involved in the college application process that it feels as though the victory – or rejection – is ours.  We can’t help empathizing with our student, but we need to maintain some distance.  Take a breath.  Step back.
  • Mute your reactions and follow your student’s lead.  Whatever you feel, try to subdue your reactions at first.  Let your student have the first moment – whether she is elated or devastated. Validate whatever she is feeling.  Even an acceptance letter may provoke a mixed reaction.  It may not be from a first-choice school.  It may suddenly make the whole process very real.  Wait to see how your student reacts and take your cue from her.
  • Celebrate every acceptance.  Even if this is an acceptance from a last-choice college, it is an acknowledgement of your student’s abilities and it is an accomplishment.  Cheer for this moment.  Try not to let any moment feel second-rate.
  • Stay calm and hold your tongue.  Don’t panic.  There are always alternatives.  Don’t vent.  This won’t help your student.
  • Be a sounding board and ask probing questions.  When your student is ready, be there to listen. He may want to share his feelings – or he may not.  She may want to consider her options with you – or she may need to deal with decisions on her own.  Be available if needed.  Ask questions that will help him consider options and factors to be considered. Give him food for thought.
  • Try to be extra sensitive and take time Don’t try to talk to your student right away.  Give her time to process the information – good or bad.  Remember that your student may be feeling particularly vulnerable right now.  The college application process is inextricably linked with many students’ self esteem.  Your student may feel very exposed right now, and aware of the public nature of this acceptance or rejection.  He may now be feeling the pressure to make a final decision.
  • Let your student decide how to share the news with others.  This is her moment.  Resist the temptation to spread the word. Let her decide how and when she will tell others what she has heard.
  • Recognize that you can’t shield your student from this moment. Although, as parents, we always want to make things better for our children, your student must come to his own terms with the news he receives.  As difficult as this time may be, this is one of many steps toward independence and maturity that your child will face in the coming years.
  • Help your student consider the next steps.  Should he attend an Accepted Student Day or other college event to help make a decision?  Will he need to consider financial aid factors before deciding?  Does he need to revisit the campus to consider the “chemistry” of the school once again?
  • Give the process time.  Once your student receives her acceptance – and possibly rejection – letters, she will need to make some decisions. The ball will be in her court once again.   She will need to put things in perspective.  She will need to deal with her emotions.  This may take some time.  She will eventually need to make choices and take action, but she may not be ready immediately.  Respect her need for processing time.

Whether your student receives good news or unwelcome news when the college letters arrive, it may be difficult for you to step back and allow your student to deal with the process.   This will be one of many moments to come when you, as a parent – and future college parent – will need to consider carefully your role in the moment.  You will continue to be an important part of the college process for your student, and your reactions to that college notification letter may help to set the tone for your future role in the process.

Related Posts:

Waiting for the College Acceptance Letter: How Parents Can Help

Making Sense of Your Student’s College Financial Aid Package

Parents Can Help High School – and College – Students Deal With Disappointment

The College Waitlist: Should Your Child Just Wait?

The College Decision Dilemma


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