Facing a college rejection letter can be challenging for your student.

Even I felt gut-punched when my son received his first “no” from a college.

Despite their dedication to achieving good grades, meticulously completing applications, and crafting thoughtful essays, receiving a rejection can feel like a personal assessment of their abilities.

As a parent, you play an important role in guiding your child through this disappointment in a healthy and positive way. It’s an opportunity to instill a growth mindset, perseverance, and resilience.

Bad news for your teen can be painful, but how you respond in front of them can be very impactful.

Remember to celebrate the good – even if the acceptance is from a school your teen is not initially excited about.

To help you further, here are seven effective strategies to help your teen bounce back from a college rejection and navigate the emotions that come with it.

1. Allow your child to process the rejection

Your teen needs to ride out the emotion train rather than keep it inside. This helps with processing their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel sad. 

Sit down together, let any tears flow, and allow the different emotions to come out. They may feel like the world is bleak at first, but letting all the emotions out will help them feel better afterwards. 

Give your teen space if needed, but also don’t let them wallow in sadness for too long.

2. Show your teen unconditional love and remind your teen of how special they are

College rejection always feels deeply personal.

Let them know how proud you are of all their accomplishments and hard work. And emphasize that, more importantly, they should feel proud of themselves.

I’m constantly saying to my students: rejection doesn’t define their worth or potential, and admissions decisions are not a reflection of their character or abilities. 

3. Give your child some perspective 

Let them know that the college decision isn’t personal.

Schools have “institutional priorities” that often dictate the landscape of the new freshman class. 

Sometimes, factors beyond their control can influence the situation, even if all application criteria were met. Schools often vary their yearly admission targets based on capacity, resources, and other goals.

To understand more about institutional priorities, see my post on Why Is It Getting Harder to Get Into College Today?

4. Embrace the opportunity to talk to your teen about resilience

Your child will bounce back from this rejection.

Take this opportunity to talk about how to manage setbacks, because this is not the last disappointment they will face. Learning how to be resilient will set them up for future success.

“I’ve paid close attention to the educational biographies of successful people, and what I’ve seen in them – the only pattern – is how focused and flexible and energetic these people are.” – Frank Bruni, author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

Where your student goes to college does not determine their overall happiness and success, it’s about the opportunities they create for themselves – wherever they go. 

5. Distract your teen by doing something they love. 

Encourage your teen to engage in activities they are passionate about to provide a healthy distraction.

Doing activities they enjoy or exploring new ones can contribute to a positive mindset and help them regain a sense of balance.

Ask your child to take a temporary break from social media to minimize potential triggers and allow for a mental reset.

Encouraging these steps fosters a supportive environment for your teen to cope with the rejection while promoting mental and emotional well-being during this challenging time.

6. Focus on other college options. 

If your child has put together a balanced list of colleges, including reach, target, and safety schools, it’s important to reassure them that a rejection from one doesn’t limit their options. 

Remind them that there isn’t a single “perfect” college and that there are many excellent universities out there.

You can also talk to your teen to explore alternative paths, such as taking a gap year for personal growth before diving into college.

Encourage your teen to embrace the options that have offered them acceptance. Being open-minded frequently unlocks a world of amazing experiences.

7. Remain supportive and look ahead

Focus on being supportive and looking forward to the options that may not be known yet. 

And if your student has been waitlisted, here’s a post I wrote about How to Write a Letter of Continued Interest that Stands Out.

Some books I recommend reading about college admissions:

Whether your student has been waitlisted or is considering different paths, emphasize to your teen that life often takes unexpected turns. 

Reassure them their effort, passion, and dedication define their success, regardless of where they earn their degree.

Also, when you’re ready, here are three ways we can help you:

Working with Stodghill College Consulting, each high schooler showcases their unique skills and talents, discovers their own brilliant voice, and finds a college that will enable them to reach their full potential as young adults.