How to Help Your Student Through a College Rejection Letter

The college admissions process can be just as daunting for parents as it is for students. After all, it’s only natural that you’re invested in your child’s success and wants to be as supportive as possible, making it even more difficult when your child faces the difficulty of a college rejection. 

So how can parents support their child through a college rejection?

Accept the pain.

The first thing is to accept the emotional weight of a college rejection, both for a student and as a parent. Avoid trying to encourage your child to move past this moment right off the bat. As they think about the effort they put into their application, allow them to grieve the loss of their particular dream before encouraging them to move on to other options or trying to dissect where things went wrong. Similarly, allow yourself to be disappointed as well. It’s natural for parents to be invested in their child’s dream and it’s OK to feel sad, both for them and for yourself. 

Put things in perspective.

Remind your child not to take their rejection personally. The reality is that colleges will always have fewer seats available for admission than the number of applications they receive. For example, following the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities saw a decrease in admitted students, with many top schools falling below a 5% acceptance rate.

With this in mind, remind your child that they’re not alone. There are plenty of successful people who were rejected by their dream schools but still went on to accomplish great things.

Just to name a few: 

  1. Tina Fey was rejected by Princeton but went on to study drama at the University of Virginia. Katie Couric also attended UVA after she was rejected by Smith College.
  2. Similarly, former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was also rejected by Princeton and ended up attending his second pick, Georgetown University on a full scholarship where he graduated as class valedictorian.
  3. Former President Barack Obama was rejected by Swarthmore but ended up attending Occidental College before transferring to Columbia University.

The takeaway is that one school is not the end-all-be-all of your child’s success. It’s important to remember, and remind your child, that the goal of this process isn’t to get into the best school, but to find the school that is the best fit for them.

Explore other options

With time, your child will begin to understand that one college rejection does not have to impact their future. Help them get excited about the schools where they have been accepted. You can plan a visit to the campus and see what the surrounding city/town has to offer. Remember to check out our College Campus Tour Checklist before you go. Reach out to the admissions office as they can likely connect you with current students who can talk about their own experiences. 

Remind your child to stay open to new possibilities. Nearly half of undergrad students will change their major. Millions of students transfer colleges each year. Encourage them to make the best decision for them, but remind them that ultimately, you’ll support them if they decide to try something else. This will make the burden of making their final college decision feel a lot less harrowing. 


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