Tips for Parents to Help Kids Cope with College Rejection Letters

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It’s coming and I know that there is very little we can do to prevent it. At some point in the next couple of years for our family, the odds are pretty good that our bright and beautiful daughter will experience some academic humbling at the hands of a thin envelope from one of her top choices. She has more than a couple of Ivy League institutions on her short list already, and we have her in the top prep school in our part of the state, but what if she comes up short when the tally is finally due? What if some dumb school doesn’t want our superstar?

Thankfully we aren’t completely without support as parents. Darby Fox is a Child & Adolescent Family Therapist and she offers some great tips to those of us who are gearing up to keep watch over the mailbox in the coming weeks, months, and years. “Minimizing feelings of rejection should start early, ideally with the selection of colleges,” advises Darby. “While choosing a first choice school can have advantages, namely early decision opportunities, it’s important to get excited about multiple options. Parents should make sure the list of schools contains several colleges, and is not limited the applications to the child’s top choice.”

Darby Fox offers these steps to help a child through a college rejection letter:

1. Validate the Situation
There is no denying that rejection hurts, and parents shouldn’t minimize the situation. Allow the child to be upset and experience the loss before moving forward. Don’t let the child dwell on the rejection, but it is important that there feeling are recognized.

2. Look at The Facts
Rejection notices are given for a variety of reasons. However, a college rejection will stir up feelings of inadequacies. To help a child overcome feeling as if weren’t good enough, show them the school’s admission statistics. This helps the student better understand that the decision wasn’t personal, even though it likely feels that way.

3. Look at the Big Picture
Parents should help their student re-access how important is it to attend that specific institution. Chances are it won’t really make a difference in their long-term goals and they will ultimately be just as happy at an alternative school.

“To help with this step make a list of schools where your child has received acceptance letters,” says Darby. “For each of those schools make a list of pros and cons. Make sure to look at the actual academic offerings of the schools – core requirements, possible majors, and special programs. Chances are the student didn’t pay much attention to this initially, if focused on a different school.”

4. Explore the Options
Once the available choices are clearly laid out, parents should make it a point to take their child visit each school. If possible, they should go while the school is in session and wander around the surrounding community to get a better feel for the school’s environment.

“Once all the information is gathered the best decision maker is the student’s gut,” says Darby. “Let go of all the external voices and tell them to go with where they want and feel they belong. In the end, the environment that will help the student excel is the one that promotes a sense of belonging.”

So, good luck to us all! I want our daughter to get into her top choice, but more than anything I want her to get in somewhere that she feels comfortable and encouraged to explore her interests. There are a couple of schools that might make me cringe from the distance to home, but we have to get through one battle at a time, right?

What do you do to help your high schooler manage expectations?

About Darby Fox

Darby Fox, Child & Adolescent Family Therapist, has over 20 years of experience providing individual and group therapy in both non-profit and private settings. Darby takes a unique approach to counseling and looks beyond the presenting problem to make a real connection with the children and families. Through a variety of techniques, Darby helps children and families express what is troubling them when they haven’t mastered the language or awareness to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. She incorporates the family as a whole into the therapy to establish a framework to teach on-going problem solving skills and provides a corrective emotional experience that is necessary for healing.


Darby Fox earned her Master’s degree from Columbia University where she graduated summa cum laude after receiving a BA from Middlebury College. Since Columbia she’s pursued extensive post master’s specialized training from Columbia University, Yale Child Study Center, NYU Silver School of Social Work, Mel Levine’s All Kind’s Of Minds Institute, Harvard Medical School and The Ackerman Institute for the Family. She currently divides her time between pro-bono work for Horizon’s, a non-profit agency working with at-risk kids, and private practice.


  1. says

    I wish I had had more guidance when applying for colleges. I didn’t have a lot of experience with rejection only because I went to the community college just like everyone else in my small town did. :)

  2. says

    I have no children and haven’t had to go through the college admissions process, but I did work in the admissions office when I was in college. One thing I will say is having supportive parents is the key to moving forward and getting over a rejection letter.

  3. says

    My daughter is looking at colleges this year too. I personally urged her and her brother consider a community college first, especially, if there isn’t a free ride involved. College courses are so much different than high school. A community college would make a great transition school. Plus, it’s cheaper too.

  4. says

    I am going to be reading this post carefully to my youngest daughter. Next year she will be in her final year of high school and I know that there will be plenty of soul searching if she does not get into certain universities. It’s going to be a tough year. That is for sure.

  5. Jeanine says

    This is great. My kiddos aren’t quite at this age yet but when they get there this will be great to know. Really wonderful tips and I’m sure many will find them helpful!

  6. says

    These are wonderful tips for parents who approaching these milestones with their kids. We are not there yet but hopefully we play a vital and supportive role for our children when the time comes to keep them focused.

  7. Rebecca Swenor says

    This is indeed a great topic and something you really don’t hear about. Kudos to you for this post. These are great tips for parents to help kids cope with college rejection letters. Thanks for the tips.

  8. says

    i havent done a college application in over 10 years! i only applied to 1 and got accepted into it so I didnt go through the reject phase.

  9. says

    This is very helpful. I used to be a College Guide (put into a rural high school to help increase post-high school plans to 4 year universities or 2 year colleges) and dealing with rejection letters was so difficult.

  10. says

    This can be such a hard thing. I remember my first rejection letter. I didn’t want to leave my bed, and my parents weren’t very helpful. I will have to keep these in mind when the time comes for my son to start applying for college.

  11. says

    Funny my parents and I never really discussed what would happen if I ever got rejected to the universities I had applied to I think we were more focused on me actually getting the grades and thankfully all accepted me

  12. says

    As a former principal of a private high school, I had to be the guidance counselor, too. I have to say that these are all great ways to deal with college rejection. Preparing your child ahead of time for a possible rejection is so important. Exploring all options is important, too. This is great advice!

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