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How to Support Your Teen Through Admission Decision Disappointment

December is a month often characterized by wishes and wonder. It’s candy canes and caroling. Lights and laughter.

But if you’re a high school senior (or the parent of one), December is also a month likely characterized by anticipation and anxiety. It’s nail biting and nervousness.

That’s because it’s when a majority of the early round of application decisions—that is, early action and early decision—are released. 

For some students, dreams will happily come to fruition. They'll dance that happy dance, run around the house, and cry tears of absolute bliss. But for many others, those dreams could morph into disappointment and discouragement, and those tears carry an entirely different meaning. 

If you’re a parent, you might find yourself struggling to find the best ways to support your teen through disappointing admission decisions, either now, this spring, or sometime in the future. Here are 3 critical things your teen must know: 

  1. College admission is an IMPERFECT PROCESS. And that's the honest truth. Remind your teen that admission officers must make difficult decisions, ones that sometimes won’t make sense. It is most decidedly not personal; an admission decision is not reflective of a student’s self-worth, and it’s not a judgment of a student’s character. Instead, it's more reflective of a college's institutional priorities at any given time. And in most cases, you'll never be able to make sense of admission decisions, try as you might. Please hear me on this one: Putting down other students who were admitted or playing the comparison game isn't going to help anyone.

  2. They DID put in their best effort, but despite that, the outcome is out of their control. The path ahead is still brilliant; it just might take a different route than the student had envisioned. Many students might feel like they are "not enough," but the truth is this: They are still the exquisitely unique kid they were before they submitted their application, and this decision certainly doesn't change that. Help them to see that even when we put in our very best effort, often we still have no control over the outcome; instead, we experience our most significant growth in managing setbacks.

  3. Research tells us that a student’s long-term success is best predicted by what they do in college, not where they go. I encourage you to check out Challenge Success’ fantastic work, which supports this notion. Communicate this important message to your teen. Indeed, seeking out mentors, getting hands-on experience, and joining campus organizations that align with a student's interests have more impact on a student’s future than the name of the college that a student attends. Help them to find comfort in this research-supported information.

No matter the decisions that you (the student) or your child receive, remember that this is an incredibly sensitive time for everyone. Consider refraining from excessive play-by-play social media posting, or—as many students do—taking a break from social media altogether.

I'd like to leave you with one last nugget: The regular round of admission is still to come, and you might find wishes and wonder yet. Indeed, a "no" from one school does not predict a "no" from another. Hang on tight—and try not to bite those nails!


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