Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

The Envelope Please: How to Accept College Hits and Misses (by Amy Alamar)

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When the college admission process is in full swing, you and your kids will be making decisions that can impact their whole lives. So – what should you do if your kid gets the upsetting news that they did not get into their first choice school– or even their second? What if your child didn’t get into college at all or decides simply not to go? Well, take a big breath and think how you can help support your kid through this difficult process.

College rejections can pose a major disappointment for your child. They can also be a huge blow to you. Your initial reaction might be to downplay the importance of the event but instead, you should help your child put it in perspective and give them time to feel bad. You should recognize the fact that, if nothing else, your child is likely embarrassed. It’s hard to face those letters of rejection at the same time their friends are happily flaunting their letters of acceptance. Acknowledge the disappointment, the anger, the embarrassment and let your kid feel the pain. You can’t solve this for them – you can support them and help them find a solution, but you can’t control the outcome.

Dealing with  college rejection – taking it one step at a time.

Providing perspective.

As with any disappointment for you and your child, it’s important to get a grip. First, this isn’t do or die – there are always options. Is there perhaps a second, third or fourth choice school that’s worth looking into?

Embracing the gap.

Maybe your child should consider taking a year off and trying again. Taking time off between high school and college doesn’t mean your child will never go to college. Not to worry. A year off can be instrumental in helping your child focus on their interests and career path. However, parents must help to set expectations, so that the gap year doesn’t turn into a subsidized vacation. There should be goals and a timeline firmly set and adhered to.

Waiting it out.

If your child still wants to hit the books directly after high school, then it would be wise to check out wait lists and transfer policies for their top-choice schools. And, if you haven’t already investigated your local (or non local) community colleges, this is a great time to do that. There are also a variety of high-quality community colleges out there where your student can start their college credits. Remember, college is pricey, and a two-year program may be an affordable option and an opportunity for your student to explore different courses of study. These are a fantastic option for financial reasons, and also for kids who are struggling with the transition for various reasons.

Forward thinking.

Help your student understand that they have choices – even if they aren’t the ones they’d hoped for or anticipated. This decision process should be a priority, but it doesn’t have to suck up every conversation that you have. Shift your thinking to your available choices and what makes them special, not about what you can’t have. Help your child look forward – no use in looking back and blaming themselves now for a low test score or a late paper as the reason for the rejection. The truth is rejection feels awful – but when your child gets through it they will develop resilience and know they can handle it – even if they don’t want to.

Opting out.

And what if your child announces, “I don’t want to go to college?” This can be a harsh wake-up call for parents. We often have dreams for our kids that they may not share. Face it. College might not be for your 18-year old. I would encourage you to have a conversation about it – make it clear what you expect and hope for your child and keep an open mind. Really listen. Is this a passing moment, merely a reaction to the acceptance and rejection letter? Is this fear-driven by the anxiety of the college process or leaving home? You should discuss each and every one of those issues. Try to remain calm as you talk through the decision. And, if you feel it’s being made for the right reasons, support it. And keep in mind, this is not necessarily a final decision. . There are options for kids who aren’t ready for college and they should be researched and seriously considered. College is a huge investment of time and money and should not be pursued, at this time, if the student is not up for the challenge. And who knows? This could lead to a different positive opportunity.

This is your child’s journey – you are there to support and advise. Be a sounding board, acknowledge their excitement, disappointment, curiosity, anxiety, and fear. For your own mental wellbeing, and your child’s, it’s best to embrace this like a new adventure. Whatever the decision, it will represent your child’s next big step into independence – and there are many paths they can take, not just the one you’d envisioned. So I urge you to be flexible, responsive, supportive and to always enjoy the ride.


About the Author: Amy Alamar

In late 2014, Amy wrote Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice. The book is a comprehensive guide to becoming the most thoughtful and confident parent possible, with anecdotes and details relating to the guidance and support of children from infant to young adult. In 2016, Amy was an invited guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health. Amy is also a contributing author to the Disney parenting website, Babble.com and Yellowbrick.me . Amy is married and the mother of three children whom she learns from and enjoys each and every day. She is a resident of Avon, CT, where she serves on the board of the Avon Education Foundation, dedicated to promoting and enhancing excellence in education.

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