Over the past several months student after student has peered into the mailbox only to find the dreaded “thin envelope”: that physical symbol of a college rejection letter. While “fat” envelopes have no doubt appeared as well, there are few things so crushing to a college-bound senior as getting dumped by his or her dream school.
Let’s face it–the college experience is full of disappointments: tough classes, lower grades, scholarship rejections, and the struggle to get into that dream internship, job, field, or graduate program. So this first injury to your student’s fragile ego may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Allowing the Mourning Process
You might be surprised to see how your student deals with his or her first big rejection, whether it is from a school or from that dream job he or she has been pursuing for years. It can be startlingly similar to the stages of a typical mourning process. After all, your child is, in essence, mourning the loss of that dazzling future he had dreamed of while delving into college guides and websites. It’s tough to comes to terms with the fact that you won’t be playing frisbee on that perfectly manicured lawn or rooting for the blue and gold or donning that much coveted college sweatshirt.
It’s tempting to encourage your child to adopt that “keep your chin-up!” attitude in an effort to cheer him up. Instead you may want to choose to take a step back and allow your child to try to deal with the initial shock as a young adult. If he wants to talk to you about it, or even mentions it in passing, resist giving your child the “everything will work out just fine” speech for the moment. Instead, acknowledge that you understand how hard it is to have to build a new dream, and simply be a good listener.
Some students will seek parent’s advice on their own, but if your child is floundering in that what-do-I-do-now phase, don’t be afraid to give it! Just keep in mind that your student is now entering adulthood; so while it may be tempting to point out your top choice for a new job or a backup school, try instead to focus on helping your child solve the problem for himself.
For example, if your child feels overwhelmed by having to select his final college choices from the remaining list because of a rejection from his dream school, offer to help plan for some final college visits. If your student didn’t get that job he or she was gunning for, brainstorm with him or her about what other avenues can be pursued to help get into that field like taking on an internship, networking with people in the field, or enrolling in some additional courses. Whatever you do, just make sure your child is the one in the driver’s seat.
Over-enthusiastic encouragement is another one of those parental instincts that is sometimes better quelled than indulged. Older teenagers can interpret too much encouragement as being disingenuous.
So instead of making a big fuss, focus on encouraging him as an adult. Let your child know that you have full confidence that he can tackle this new challenge and achieve his goals anyway. Remind him of those lifelong strengths that have gotten him this far. To sum up, leave behind the adolescent approach and focus instead on really empowering your child with some frank, adult-like encouragement.
The road to adulthood is long and arduous, but your child is closer now than ever before. Step back, provide a little moral support, and enjoy the ride–even when it gets a little bumpy.
All the best,