College rejection season

Not getting into dream school is a life lesson

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My daughter applied to 17 colleges, got into two, but neither were her top choices. I have children from my first marriage who weren’t nearly as sharp as this kid and who didn’t work as hard. Yet they got into their dream schools. My daughter is crushed. How can I help her through this?

Guide her through rejection as though it were a rite of passage (because, truthfully, it is). We don’t mature emotionally without learning how to handle rejection. We can’t uncover essential truths about ourselves without accepting that we don’t receive everything we desire or work toward. Sometimes a course correction is necessary.

We might be blinded by rhinestones and stretching toward that bling, while diamonds shimmer within reach. The universities your daughter applied to attend may have been her rhinestones—schools selected to impress others, or those believed to guarantee a career leading to a particular lifestyle. But the universities that have sent acceptance letters might be her diamonds. She can’t know until she lives through it.

Of course, it’s normal to be disappointed when expectations are unfulfilled. Your daughter might also struggle through denial, anger and depression. She may try to make bargains with God or the universe in the hope she will be granted acceptance to the university of her dreams. You might recognize four of the five stages of grief in the previous sentence. It’s true. Your daughter’s dream has died. She needs your help to understand that it’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of the belief that she is in complete control. Let her feel her emotions, but don’t let her steep. The adolescent brain lays tracks. Future thoughts whoosh along those tracks at supersonic speed. So when a teen doesn’t learn how to shake off her anger (or other emotion), she teaches her brain to cling to anger after a rejection.

It’s cool that you think your daughter is smarter and harder working than your other kids, but don’t tell her that now. Her adolescent mind will interpret your words as evidence the world is against her. If she’s smarter and harder working yet didn’t get what she wanted, why bother going for anything? If you persist in comparisons, she may respond by giving up on herself (and thinking you don’t have a clue about the world).

It’s also important for you to know that high school is more difficult than ever before. There is excessive (and often unnecessary) homework. Exams are more difficult. Coursework often mimics what students will do in college. Teachers, coaches, parents and administrators still use fear as motivation. Students use fear to motivate themselves and their peers. It’s no surprise that many teens struggle with anxiety and emotional depression. That’s why you need to help your daughter focus on the last stage of grief: acceptance. She can take a gap year, go to community college for two years then reapply to her dream university. Or she can accept an invitation from a university that is excited to have her on campus. So show her how to accept reality while still making empowered choices for her future.

Meditation of the Week

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an exam, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning,” said Jiddu Krishnamurti. What have you been teaching the world about you?