During admission season, we all know what the last thing anyone wants to see is the infamous “thin letter.” There are many reasons why this document can be scary or stressful to receive, one of the most obvious being that it can indicate a rejection or a waitlisted status from a beloved school. While this let-down is difficult for you as the parent, it may be hard for you to imagine or understand how your child is feeling during this time — especially if they are reluctant to communicate with you.
So how do you come to better understand your child without making them feel like you are prying? And how can you best support them when things don’t turn out exactly in their favor? While this thin letter may feel final, it is important to remember that no matter what, there are always alternatives and always other plans that can be made. Keep reading for some tips and tricks on helping your student cope with a rejection or wait list letter!
We know how you might be feeling right now: outraged, shocked, surprised, disappointed, upset. These are all really valid, after all, it’s a scary and stressful time!
While it’s ok (and normal) to be feeling this way, it’s important to take your child’s perspective into account — if you’re panicked, imagine how they must be feeling. After all, it’s their future in question, not yours.
It’s ok to for you to panic in private, but if you demonstrate that you’re very worried to your child, chances are you’ll make them even more worried, and no one needs that. Try venting to your friends, your spouse, and other adults that you trust, but try to manage your emotions in front of your child.
It might help you to keep your feelings of panic in check by reminding yourself that there are always alternatives!
Be There to Listen
In the case of a rejection or a wait list, be sure to let your child take the lead. If they bring up the rejection/waitlist letter, then that probably means they are ready to talk about it!
Listen to how they feel and be sure not to overshadow these feelings with your own. After all, it’s your child’s future, not your own. Take the time to talk to your child about their options — are they waiting on other admissions results? Did your child apply to a safety school? How high up on their list was the school they were rejected/waitlisted from? If they were waitlisted, are they considering taking a spot on the list?
While your child should be taking the lead in these conversations about admissions results, if your child doesn’t want to talk about it or seems closed off from discussing it, try gently bringing it up by asking questions. For example, you might say something like, “How did you feel about getting waitlisted from _______?”
Again, in these types of conversations, be sure to keep your own emotions in check and let your child lead the discussion—and also be sure to offer sympathy, support, and advice when your child needs it.
Recognize the positives
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives in these situations, it is important to keep things in perspective and celebrate every triumph during the tumultuous time that is admissions season.
Maybe your child got rejected from their first choice but was accepted to their second choice. Maybe they were only accepted to their safety school. Whatever the positives are, be sure to focus on them and let your child know how special you think they are.
You might even consider doing research about, say, a safety school and showing your child all the great programs/clubs/organizations they could participate in there. You might end up showing them how to look on the bright side and appreciate the options that are in front of them!
Talk about next steps
In situations where some factors are out of your control, it can be extremely helpful to make a plan and think about your next steps.
Sit down with your child and ask them what they plan to do. If it’s a waitlist, will they take the spot? If it’s a rejection, are there other college options? If your child hasn’t received any acceptances, have they considered alternative programs like a gap year/vocational school/service year/etc.?
Remember to be hopeful but realistic about your child’s options: in the case of planning, it might be a good idea to keep your expectations low but your head high. Making a plan with your child is also a good way to get them to open up and talk about their plans in a larger sense. Consider asking them about career paths they might be interested in as well as their larger hopes and dreams for the future!
Be sensitive & leave time to process
While you may want to jump ahead to the planning stage or simply power through this one small disappointment, remember to be sensitive to your child. Chances are, they might be feeling differently from you about their admissions results.
It is crucial that you allow your child (and yourself) time to process the disappointing news. This doesn’t mean that you must wallow in the negatives. Rather, you should allow time for the two of you to reflect and process the news.
Leaving time to process might mean acknowledging your disappointment from time to time. Sometimes one simply needs to be able to say “Well, this sucks!” and then move on. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes it’s simply not possible to move on overnight—and that’s okay!
There is no question that college admissions season is stressful and rejections are disappointing. Unfortunately, this will not be your child’s only time coping with disappointment in adult life, and the example that you set for them now might end up influencing them in the future. You should encourage your child to treat themselves kindly — emphasize self-care and sensitivity, while also encouraging communication, planning, and positive thinking.