Parental Etiquette During College Acceptance and Rejection Season

The importance of showing sensitivity during this exciting and frustrating time.

In these next few weeks and months, your student will learn which colleges she’s been accepted to and whether she received enough financial aid to afford to attend any of them. This can be a time filled with lots to celebrate for your family or some disappointment. With that in mind, here’s advice on how to conduct yourself through the process.

Celebrate appropriately Lucky you if your teen keeps receiving acceptance after acceptance. But be aware that other kids, maybe your son’s best friend, ended up with a rejection from some of those same schools. So while you’re blasting praise on your teen all over social media for getting into another college, realize other parents are consoling devastated children who didn’t get into that same school, possibly their top choice. I’m sure you’ve shared your excitement and pride with your son in-person, so if you’re determined to spread the news publicly, post something along the lines of “it’s great to get some acceptances under our belt” and then announce your student’s final choice once he makes his decision in the spring. Send private messages or e-mails to family and friends who will want to hear the good news.

Don’t diminish someone else’s success I’ve heard too many parents look for excuses as to why their teens didn’t get into a certain college while someone else’s did. The admissions game isn’t clear-cut. Though colleges try to accept as many students as possible, they focus on creating a balanced, diverse and unique freshman class. It might turn out that your child doesn’t fit into the mix for some reason, or too many kids share a similar background and/or qualifications.

Knowing that, I strongly discourage you from talking behind other parents’ backs about how their children didn’t deserve their acceptance or blame it on their ethnicity, connection to someone at the college, etc. The same goes for financial aid packages. Try to negotiate with a college for more aid for your student instead of complaining about another kid’s award.

Consider that more than half of college students change their majors Pre-med. Pre-law. Business. Engineering. Theatre. Neuroscience. Education. All these majors sound impressive, but the chances of your teenager sticking with hers are 50-50. Learn to say your teen “plans to study [fill in the blank],” this way if she decides she’s better suited for another major later, it’s no big deal.

Support another kid’s choice of major, too. Sometimes a student’s abilities in the area don’t appear obvious, but remember, that’s why people go to college, to learn and develop the skills they need to succeed.

Don’t dismiss a student’s major as one that’s in a dying field, overly competitive, low paying, etc. I remember my daughter’s frustration listening to the negative comments adults made when she said she’d picked journalism as her major, one of those “dying fields” in which she’s been working steadily since she graduated. I think most of us would agree that being able to pay your bills and enjoying the work you do are good measures of success.

Recognize your student’s accomplishments Getting into just one college or choosing to attend the most affordable school is worthy of a celebration as much as being accepted into every college you applied to or having enough money to go to your top choice school. I’m of the belief that there isn’t a perfect college for every teen, though some schools are better fits than others, and loans should be the last choice to pay for college.

If your student finds her options limited even though she did all the right things—worked hard all four years of high school, met admissions and financial aid deadlines, etc.—be supportive and proud and help her find the positives, like that she’s going to college, which was the main goal. For kids who end up facing only disappointment, too many rejections and/or limited aid, read my post on how to quickly come up with Plan B.

This next step in the admissions process can put your household on an emotional roller coaster. Please remember to be considerate of others and I hope they do the same to you and your student.

If you have advice for other parents or want to share your experiences with admissions etiquette, please leave a comment below.

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