How to Help Your Child Survive College Rejection

The Day Harvard Rejected My Daughter

Today, more than ever before parents are vying for the top spots offered in all of the best colleges. Just because the school is ranked best overall, is it best for your child?

WAIT! Hold the presses.

Did I just say parents are vying for the top spots? Yes, I did indeed! Parents are dreaming dreams for their kids, that the kid may just not qualify for, or even want!

Middle of February, through March, is the time across America that high school seniors receive definitive admission answers from colleges and universities. All through March, and April 1, the cell phone buzzes, the e-mail arrives, and the snail mailbox is stuffed full. The “Yippee”, the “Wahoos”, and the painful tears from rejections.

For some, they are a tad more relaxed because they have already been accepted to the school of their dreams, and this part is merely ceremonial. At least, you would think. And then it happens. Your perfect child who did everything right hears via e-mail, text message, and snail mail that they are just not the right fit for such and such school.

Most schools are kind, and the guy that signs his name on the bottom of the letter understands the power he wields when he rejects your perfect specimen of a child. So he or she is gentle.

Your work, your resume, and your involvement have not gone unnoticed by our admissions committee. We have had our largest application pool ever in the history of our school, and I am so sorry we will not be offering you a place at this time. We have no doubt you will be a tremendous success in life, and many schools will be lucky to have you.

As you read the letter, and see the tears stream down your child’s face, you understand both sides. Secretly you are relieved, because really… how were you going to pay for that school? Harvard is a classy place, and they know it. They let you down gently. At least, you applied… And then the next envelope is opened, and again the rejection letter is read. This time, you want to call personally the very mean-spirited admissions director for their choice of words.

Whereas your 4.2 GPA is impressive, unfortunately, you are just not up to the caliber of the students we admit to our school. We wish you luck in your educational endeavors.

This last one seems extreme, but it truly was the words on of my second daughter’s rejection letters. And believe it or not, it was not IVY, nor a top-tier. That was one of those letters that when you read it, you could feel the sting of the imaginary slap across your face. Lucky for her, she had already been given a very lucrative financial package at the school of her second choice. Although her first choice had gently let her down and offered her ways of transfer, this last letter was from a school barely on her radar.

So that brings us to the question that looms. Did she give less of herself in the application process to this school? They could tell it was not her best, and so they let her have it, in the rejection letter? Who can know?

When it comes to the rejection, it is important to be present for your child. Let them speak when they want to. Don’t expect them to come right out with feelings or thoughts. They may not even know how they feel at the moment. What is important, is to encourage and support, and let them know that many great colleges exist in the world, and just because the school comes with a big name, does not mean it is the best fit.

The hard part of the whole process is if your kid attends a college prep high school, where admittance to top tier colleges is king. It is on the school campus itself that the pressure is toughest. There are shouts of ” I got into UCLA… I got into Princeton… I got into USC… I got into Johns Hopkins…” And with each new shout of a bigger and better acceptance come the oohs and aahs of adoration. Some real, some from defeat and sheer envy, even from adults who remember too well in their life this first week of March.

For parents that wield their children’s successes in everyone’s face, it is in poor taste to write on your car windows… “My kid just got into Stanford…and yours didn’t…”

Fast forward to June when the high school diploma is handed out. Everyone dissipates with promises of never forgetting one another and being BFF’s until the end of time. And a week or so later, reality sets in, and all of the accolades of a perfect high school career go into a memory box, and we set out to start new again.

In my house, neither daughter got the first choice in their quest for college admittance. But what did we know? Our physics major got into a top ten school for that major, and our film major got into the number two for her major. They both turned out to be perfect fits for their undergraduate years. Neither university sports huge money-making sports teams, or Greek societies on the front page of scandal making news. Parties abound, but it is not their thing.

It seemed such a let down on March 1st and 2nd, but it turned out to be a tremendous gift. Like perfectly tailored clothes, both girls headed into their respective dorms with confidence that they would succeed. And so far… so good! We went through this grueling process two years in a row. We survived, and I know you will as well.