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Handling Denials: How Parents Can Help

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Watching your teen's face crumble when they receive a college denial can be heartbreaking. Parents are inclined to try to make the situation feel better for their child. Remember, this is a time to listen and understand that your child’s experience of denial may be different than yours. For some students, there may be a sense of shock that they were rejected. Either way, it is important to watch their emotional cues and support them. If you seem upset or angry they may feel that they have disappointed you. Denials are inevitable in an atmosphere of increasingly selective admissions, but they can also be seen as an opportunity for growth.


The first step is to accept that dealing with denials are complicated by your child's emotions, your emotions, and both of your preconceived ideas, hopes, and dreams about college and the future. This becomes even more difficult when students feel pressure to fulfill expectations of their classmates. Worst is the judgment many students feel from their parents as a sense of disappointment in them and their efforts. Parents need to know and accept that where their child gets admitted and chooses to go to college is not a reflection of their parenting skills or an indication of their child's future success and well-being.


When your child is ready to talk, reframing the situation is helpful. They may feel this is the end of the world, but as we know, there are many paths one can take in life that lead us to our goals. Remind them that they are not the only ones who have been denied. The colleges do not know your child as a person and all they have to offer. Colleges base admission decisions on facts and figures, along with their institutional priorities that factor into who they will accept any given year.


Warren Buffett, the extremely successful chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said that, “Everything that happened in my life...that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.” One of those “events” is the rejection he received from Harvard Business School.


Don’t get caught up by the prestige factor. It’s important to recognize that a brand name doesn't equal success or, more importantly, doesn’t equal happiness. Your child’s performance during their undergraduate experience will be the biggest factor that determines their job placement opportunities. Sometimes denials can send a student to a different school, down a different path, and in line for unexpected opportunities. Some students think they want big schools and realize they’ll have more opportunities to shine at a smaller school. Be positive about other institutions. Celebrate your child’s acceptances!


For many students, the “denial letter” may be the first time they have experienced serious disappointment. Their egos are bruised, but the truth is, as all adults know, they’ll grow and they’ll get over it. Handling this “no” will make them better prepared for future obstacles. College rejections happen to almost all students, but they don’t need to define the rest of their lives.



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