How to help your teen deal with post-secondary school rejection.

by Shandley McMurray

Rejection sucks at any age.
Yes, it’s an important lesson to learn. Yes, it helps kids to grow, become stronger and develop determination. But no matter how positively you look at it, being turned down can take a chunk out of your teen’s self-esteem. “Rejection is a part of life and it is always a possibility, especially when dealing with competitive schools and programs,” says Halifax psychologist Andrea Cook.
And with many high school graduates applying for their dream college or university, it’s bound to happen at least once. When it does, it’s important to stay calm and let your child take the driver’s seat.
Here’s how.

START PLANNING EARLY

Sit down with your teen a year before applications are due. Look at her grades, interests and career goals to decide where best to apply. If your kid struggles academically, Harvard may not be the most realistic choice—despite the fact that her mother and grandfather are distinguished alumni. “Being realistic from the start and having appropriate goals for the future sets the student up for success rather than failure,” says Cook. Apply to four or five schools with one guaranteed option to be safe, she recommends.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Whether your child intends to work, volunteer or go back to school; you need a Plan B in case things don’t work out the way you’d hoped. Getting a job in the industry your child hopes to work in can prove beneficial to getting into a program the following year, says Cook. “Some experience in the field often indicates to institutions that the student is serious about the coursework they are about to pursue.”

LET YOUR TEEN OPEN THE LETTER

Resist the urge to tear open the school’s envelope when it arrives. Instead, let your child decide if he wants to read the news first. “For many, this is their first step into adult life,” Cook says. It’s important for them to deal with the news first-hand.

DON’T FLUFF IT OFF

It’s tempting to say something soothing like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Everything will work out in the end,” but that’s not realistic, says Cook. “Rejection stings and [kids] need to hear that their parents understand their pain and that they will be emotionally supported through their journey, even if it is temporarily delayed.” Rejection offers kids a chance to persevere—a trait that will come in handy during adulthood.

HAVE YOUR KID CALL THE ADMISSIONS DEPARTMENT

This is your child’s education. It’s up to her to follow up with the school if she isn’t accepted. Let her calm down before placing the call to find out why she wasn’t accepted. The information could help her on future applications. Plus, Cook says, post-secondary schools frown upon parents who contact them on their child’s behalf. “This just demonstrates that the student is not ready to take their education into their own hands and does not encourage maturity and responsibility,” she says. You can role play before the call or proofread follow-up letters, but don’t take the lead on contacting the school.

KEEP THEM OCCUPIED

It’s easy to let things like schoolwork slide when battling the bite of rejection. Keep kids focused on short-term goals, such as the next science test, family holiday or upcoming prom. That way they’ll realize life doesn’t end with rejection, it just steers things in a different direction. “There’s something to that time-honoured saying, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’” says Cook.
Rejection hurts, but dealing with it in an appropriate and healthy way can help your teen mature and work harder for future goals.  ■