How to Help if Your Child Doesn’t Get into Their Top Choice College

students holding a sign about the future


Social media is full of gleeful images of high school seniors and their parents celebrating college acceptances. Of course, few people post images of their children experiencing college rejection. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
With many top-tier colleges accepting only 5% of applicants, that means 95% of applicants were deferred or denied acceptance. At Penn State University, the acceptance rate is 51%. So, almost half of the applicants did not get accepted.
With a culture that glamorizes “dream schools,” it’s easy to see why receiving a rejection from your top choice school can be a devastating event for many kids. So, here we offer some wisdom and advice to assist you if your child doesn’t get into their first-choice school.

(Click here to learn more about steps to take If your child has been “waitlisted” or deferred.)

Honor their emotions

There are a million cliches and aphorisms you might want to say to help your child feel better. But at first, just validate their feelings. “This stinks.” Give them a little time and space to “grieve” over the loss of a college experience they’d imagined. It stings. It’s disappointing. It’s a setback. So, be patient. Be kind. Be supportive. Encourage them to talk to friends, stick with activities, and get outside. In a day or two, you can start to nudge them away from sad feelings of college rejection and toward hope and other opportunities.

Don’t pile on your emotions

We once heard about a parent who was so disappointed that their child didn’t get into their alma mater, that in fit of anger, the parent threw away all of their school-branded gear (there were A LOT of sweatshirts). Not only does this kind of reaction set a terrible example, but it also will make the child feel even worse – that they’ve disappointed you as well as themselves. Emotions are high. Keep your cool.

Know That This is Not the End of the Story
For many people, getting into a specific college or “tier” of college is a laser-focused goal. From SAT prep to community service, extra-curricular activities to AP classes, everything in high school was planned with the end in mind – acceptance to a top-choice school. But help your child remember that college admissions decisions are not the end of the story at all. College is a new beginning. The story hasn’t even started yet. You know what matters more than WHERE you go to school? What you do when you get there. The quality of your child’s college experience will depend on how active and engaged they are in classes, course of study, extra-curriculars, community-events, and new friendships. They hold the pen to write their own story, wherever they go to college.

Limit Social Media

This isn’t easy! But watching the “highlight reel” of other’s college acceptances is not going to be helpful when dealing with college rejection. At all.
Revisit Other College Options
Sometimes we’re so focused on a particular school that we don’t fully give our attention (or heart) to other schools. So, if your child is not accepted at their first-choice school, it’s time to re-examine the school(s) they did get into. Reach out to admissions, watch a virtual information session, schedule another tour. Look at other schools with an open mind and you all might be surprised that the best choice, wasn’t actually the “first choice.”

Choosing a college is a time of excitement and anxiety. For decades, we have been helping our client families navigate the application and admissions process. It’s not often a straightforward path, but it’s always a road filled with opportunity and promise. If you have questions or want more information, contact us at 610-422-3530.


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