College Admissions Decisions: Helping Your Child Navigate the Good and the Bad

By Brooke Tevlin

Dealing with a college admissions decision—whether it’s a yes, no, or maybe—is not easy. It takes savvy and skills to navigate ambiguity well. Students need to manage the complex landscape of celebrating their successes while being sensitive to others who may have heard bad news. Or, they might need to manage their own negative emotions while trying to appear fine on the outside. They may feel genuinely happy for their friends, but also a little jealous. It’s difficult for everyone, but parents can be a great source of support and guidance for their high school senior. Below are some tips that may help.

A girl smiles while reading her college admission letter.

Be a source of moral support.

No matter what news the seniors in your life get, be there for them with a smile, hug, silence, ice cream, balloons, or whatever the occasion calls for. If your child got a dreaded rejection letter, remind them that when one door closes, another opens. Did you experience a similar situation in your life? How did you move forward and what did you learn? Now might be a good time to share those lessons. 

Celebrate their achievements. 

Completing college applications takes grit, dedication, attention to detail, and lots of self-reflection. Even if a student doesn't get the desired admissions decision from a particular school, it doesn't mean the process was a waste of time. Remind them of the good things they experienced along the way, big and small, and the value they gained from doing the work—like greater self-awareness, improved decision-making skills, and perseverance.

Let the senior determine when and how to talk about college. 

The months from December through March are really busy for high school seniors, with tests, quizzes, school project deadlines, holidays, family gatherings, and college decisions. The seniors in your life have a lot on their plate, and it doesn’t help to badger them about the college process. Let them take the lead on when and where to bring up college discussions. If there’s something you really want to discuss, ask your senior, “Do you mind if we talk about this now?” 

Students can deflect questions about college-talk from well-meaning family members by scripting a response ahead of time. For example, the senior can ask where they went to college, and how they made that decision, which is a great way to hear a different perspective.

The Golden Rule Applies

College admissions season is a big deal for many high school seniors. Remind your student that, no matter the outcomes of their own applications, the golden rule still applies: celebrate and commiserate with your peers as you hope they do with you. Be supportive and excited for your friends while being mindful of how you choose to share your own news.  

Don’t Compare and Despair

Remind your senior to focus on themselves and what they want out of their college experience, not what their best friend wants. When researching colleges, encourage your child to create a college list based on schools that will best fit the experiences they are seeking. As admission decisions come rolling in, keep that list in mind. 

About Brooke Tevlin

Brooke Tevlin is the associate director of College Guidance at University School of Milwaukee. She holds a master’s in education administration and social studies education from Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, and a bachelor’s in political science from Trinity University.

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