The Envelope Please: How to Accept College Hits and Misses

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: Dr Amy Alamar

Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. 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 a parent support specialist with 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. Find out more about Amy and her work by visiting her website, amyalamar.com.

One Comment

OK Essay

State schools often disadvantage students by writing short and brutally honest evaluations of their strengths and weaknesses. I was a hall tutor at Bristol University some years ago and the references from the private schools were more detailed and (in general) more glowing than those from state schools. At the very least state schools should be writing more detailed, focused and more informed references. They should think about the skill set required by the university and write a reference based on that. A lot of the references I saw were vague and related to whether x was a nice kid or not rather than innate ability and other qualities.

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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