How parents can help handling rejection

by Lee Shulman Bierer

Parents just want to help. The natural reaction when you see your child suffering is to try and make it better.

How do you help ease the pain of college rejection?

The first step is to accept that it’s complicated. It’s complicated by your child’s emotions, your emotions and each of your preconceived notions. It gets even more complicated when students feel pressure from their classmates. The worst is the judgment many students feel from their parents’ friends, as if they disappointed their parents. Parents need to know and accept that where their child chooses to go to college is not an assessment of their parenting skills.

Everybody wants the euphoria of the thick-envelope, the balloon-decorated mailbox and the sense of pride of the college sticker on the back windshield. But what happens when you  have to settle for Plan B, when there are no balloons, there’s just resignation. How do you help your child roll with reality.

Advice in these kinds of situations always sounds so cliché, but the truth is that, as resistant as your child may be, it works:

  • Don’t take it personally. Encourage your child to understand the big picture. If sharing stats of the number of students who applied to Stanford and were rejected helps, then use them. Not being accepted is the not the equivalent of “failure.” Colleges are consumed with fulfilling their institutional priorities by accepting students who are often underrepresented. Perhaps your child is a classic “over-represented” student. There just isn’t much you can do to change your demographics.
  • Don’t feel like this only happened to you. There are lots of other students whose dreams weren’t realized too. You’re not alone. Reach out to friends and commiserate together and then try to move on together. You’ll all appreciate the support.
  • Don’t get caught up with the prestige factor. It’s important to recognize that brand name doesn’t equal success, or more importantly, doesn’t equal happiness.Your performance during your undergraduate experience will be the biggest factor that determines your job placement.
  • Don’t obsess about the rejections.  Some students think they want big schools and realize they’ll have more opportunity to shine at a smaller school.
  • Be positive about other institutions. Don’t spend a lot of time agonizing, but instead, use the time and your energy to identify another school that you will like as much or more. Sometimes rejections can send a student to a different school, down a different path and unexpected opportunities can crop up.
  • Celebrate the acceptances!

The big picture here is that for many students the “rejection letter” may be the first time they have experienced serious disappointment. Their egos are bruised and the truth is, as all adults know, they’ll grow and they’ll get over it. Handling this rejection will make them better prepared for future obstacles. College rejection happens to most students, but it doesn’t need to define the rest of their life.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;