It’s a scenario no family wants to face. You and your high school student have done the right thing and applied to a variety of colleges. Next comes the waiting game. And when the letters do eventually trickle in, there is nothing quite like that sinking feeling of getting rejected by one of your top-choice schools.
It can be tempting to fight back. One North Carolina teen went so far as to pen her own rejection letter after Duke University turned her down. While that might be somewhat therapeutic, let me share a few more practical suggestions with you that you can apply immediately if your student is rejected by a school.
1. Don’t take it personally
In-demand institutions receive tens of thousands of applications each year. For example, the University of California Los Angeles received 86,548 applications for the fall 2014 semester and admitted only 16,059 of these students. A lot of times, your student might be right up there with the top performers, but there simply isn’t enough room to accommodate everyone. And with admission rates for many highly competitive schools in the 10% or lower range, chances are that your student will likely be rejected—or perhaps waitlisted—from at least one school where he or she applies.
2. Embrace feelings of disappointment
The truth is, rejection hurts. And if your student has been rejected by one of your top picks for a school, it hurts even more. But while the truth is we will all face disappointment at different points in life, the key is learning how to deal with rejection in healthy ways and be better prepared for real-life ups and downs. So as a family, go ahead and process your disappointment, but be prepared to move forward.
3. Realize it might not be because of your student’s academics
Often times, colleges are striving to put together a diverse student body, and that doesn’t mean that academics alone are the deciding factor for admissions. In fact, admission rates can vary widely depending on your student’s gender, race, age, disability, veteran’s status, income, state residency, nationality, and other non-merit factors. While there have been legal challenges to affirmative action quotas for some non-merit factors, courts have generally determined that the goal of achieving a level of student body diversity can overrule strictly merit-based criteria.
4. Look for weaknesses in your transcript
Rejection can be a good time to reflect on the strength of your high-school transcript. Are standardized test scores as good as they could be? Does your student have strong recommendation letters? Has he or she proven to be a varied student with lots of extracurricular activities? Don’t overthink it, but take an honest look at your transcript identify any weak points.
Once you’ve identified weaknesses, take steps to correct them. This may mean retaking a standardized test to raise a score. Or it might be a great opportunity to accept a summer internship or volunteer to broaden your student’s background.
5. Try applying for a later term
Sometimes a temporary setback can be the best thing that ever happened. And what often distinguishes successful people from others is dogged determination in the face of rejection and disappointment. When it comes to getting into college, this may mean re-applying to a school that rejected your student for a later term. Sometimes, admissions rates vary from fall to spring to summer semesters. While your student waits, he or she could get a job or internship to gain valuable work experience that will make a subsequent application even stronger.
6. Consider alternative options
Turn lemons into lemonade and remember that your family has other options. With their open enrollment policies, community colleges can be a good way to earn college credit and then later transfer to a four-year school. The good news is that going this route will likely mean big cost savings because community colleges are generally significantly less expensive than their four-year public and private counterparts. (Learn about 10 of the top-ranked community colleges in the U.S.)
Another option to consider is the military. Depending on your student’s field of interest, careers in the military often involve high-level training that can equal or exceed that of a college degree. And depending on the skill set acquired, men and women entering the workforce following a stint in the military are often highly sought after by private sector employers.
Finally, some students may want to consider taking a gap year. While gap years have traditionally been more widely embraced by Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, more Americans in recent years are choosing to take a break between high school and college to stretch themselves with some type of transformative cultural immersion—typically abroad, but perhaps even in the U.S.
With a gap year, your student can experience a variety of exciting and fulfilling experiences tailored to individual interests, including language immersion, non-profit volunteering, or even just travelling to broaden horizons and meet people from all over the world. For many students, gap years provide clarity and focus—enabling them to pursue their education goals with passion and enthusiasm upon returning home. Learn more about gap years here.