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How to Help Your Child Deal With College Rejection

By Rayma Griffin, MEd

At a Glance

  • Rejection can be harder on kids with learning and thinking differences.

  • It’s important to be prepared for your child’s reaction.

  • Being proactive and positive can shift your child’s outlook.

Emotions can run high for all kids who are waiting to find out if they got into their college of choice. No child wants to get rejected. But if that happens, the situation can be extra stressful for kids with learning and thinking differences.

After years of academic challenges, kids with learning and thinking differences may struggle with self-esteem more than other kids do. That’s why it’s important to be ready to step in and support your child if he receives a college rejection letter.

It’s natural to feel disappointed if your child doesn’t get into the college of his choice. But it’s important to control your own reactions. This can help you help your child keep the rejection in perspective.

Here are common college rejection situations, and how you can help your child.

1. Your child shuts down and refuses to talk.

A rejection letter can reinforce negative feelings kids have about their own self-worth. And some may shut down as a response. If this happens, respect his need to mourn for a short time. A day or two is acceptable, but anything beyond that can be paralyzing for a kid.

Try to be proactive and positive. Give him examples of successful people who didn’t get into their first choice for college. (Warren Buffett and Tom Brokaw are two you can use.)

Maybe you have family or close friends who didn’t start off successful in higher education. Remind your child that those same people now have strong careers.

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These stories can help soften the blow. They let kids know they’re not alone in receiving a rejection letter.

2. Your child is overly emotional and has an angry outburst.

Some kids may react by lashing out. Your child may blame his teachers or the college admissions team for his rejection. If this happens, give him some time to deal with his anger.

Try not to let him dwell on his anger for too long, though. And when he seems ready to hear it, give him an example of when you faced a hurtful rejection. Talk about how painful it was for you. Then offer a specific example of what you did to cope.

It’s also good to give your child some facts. Let him know that many schools have more qualified applicants than they can ever accept. Tell him that his rejection letter isn’t personal, even though it might feel that way.

It’s important to help him direct his energy toward next steps, too. Meet with his guidance counselor to discuss other colleges that might still be options, including colleges with programs for kids with learning and thinking differences.

3. Your child says he’s “stupid” and won’t ever get into college.

Kids with learning and thinking differences can be hard on themselves. They may take the rejection as a blanket statement that they’re “a loser” or too “stupid” for college.

Don’t try to discuss the rejection when your child is beating himself up and putting himself down. He may not be ready to hear other reasons why he didn’t get admitted. Let him know you feel his pain, but try not to engage in the rant. It will only reinforce his negative feelings.

It’s okay to walk away, too. After 15 minutes or so, come back to him ready to provide new ways to think about the rejection.

Bring up any recent academic successes. Maybe he had strong SAT scores or did well on midterm exams. You can also remind him of non-academic successes. For instance, maybe he did some important volunteer work. This can help him shift his focus away from the rejection to his strengths.

4. Your child is worried about telling his friends.

Your child may be nervous or embarrassed to tell his friends about getting rejected. And it’s extra tough if his friends are celebrating their acceptance letters at the same time.

Ask him if he wants to tell close family and friends about his situation. If he does, practice talking through what he’ll say. Remind him that family and friends support him, and encourage him not to feel ashamed.

No matter the scenario, you can help your child keep the rejection in perspective. Explain that he’s not the only kid who didn’t get into the college of his choice. Offer your hugs and a shoulder to cry on. But afterwards it’s time to move on and make a plan for the next step.

Make sure he understands that just because he got rejected from one school doesn’t mean that he can’t get into others. And if your child does get rejected from every school, let him know there are still many good options.

For example, if he’s tech savvy he might want to attend a vocational school for tech classes. If he likes the arts, he could volunteer at a local museum while taking some classes at a junior college or online. There may be a regional campus that offers transfers to a main campus after a semester. Or your child may want to look into an internship.

The most important thing is to help your child see this rejection as an isolated incident. It doesn’t mean he won’t be successful in life. Getting a college rejection letter is hard on kids, but teaching them how to deal with it gives them an important life lesson.

Learn more about college and career opportunities for kids with learning and thinking differences. Read about the importance of resilience and the  strengths that come from challenges. And discover ways to show empathy to kids with learning and thinking differences.

Key Takeaways

  • If your child gets a college rejection letter, he may shut down or get angry.

  • It can help to share your own experiences with rejection, and how you coped.

  • Remind your child of his strengths, and try to shift his focus to an action plan.


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  • Facebook
  • Twitter
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  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom