February 23 — 10:56 am, 2016

How to support a student who received a college rejection letter

supporting student

Last week, I attended a daylong workshop focusing on student resiliency and college readiness hosted by Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable. Discussions covered how best to support students coming from challenging home and school environments, and students spoke about the information and skills they wish they had before entering college.

With college admission letters rolling in, I left that day thinking about how resilient students are and need to be in the face of rejection and about how we as parents, educators and youth development professionals can better support them if they get that dreaded rejection letter in the mail.

Here are a few things that I do when working with a student who hasn’t been admitted to the college of their choice.

Change the language 

Personally, I don’t like the terms accepted or rejected. They both carry heavy connotations that a decision was made based on the student as a person, not based on a set of admissions criteria. One thing that we can all do is intentionally refer to these letters as “admission” letters. Using the word admission puts the onus back on the institution and diminishes that feeling of personal judgment.

Reframe rejection

For every non-admit letter my students bring me, I have a similar conversation with them and I usually cover three key points.

1. There is a “best fit” college or university or tech/trade school for every student. This institution doesn’t think it can best support you.

2. This simply means that this school can’t admit you now. We can work on next steps to better position you for admission in the future.

3. This letter is not an indication of your potential. The admission panel made a decision based on a set of criteria. Your goals, desires, and aspirations are still achievable. Let’s talk about how we can make them happen.

Make a plan 

Handling the blow of a non-admit letter can be devastating to some young people.

Put the power back in their hands. Sit with your child or student and help them come up with three concrete actions now that they are aware of this decision. Are they going to choose another school or college? Do they want to prepare for and retake a standardized test? Will they try to be admitted in the future as a transfer or graduate student?

As adults we have probably been denied access from something that we thought we wanted or needed – jobs, promotions, maybe even college. We can use those experiences in our conversations with young people to show them that resiliency does matter and a non-admit letter doesn’t have to mean “no” to their dreams.

How do you handle the tough college (non)admission conversations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Melissa A. Rowe, M.Ed., is founder of Capture  Greatness! – A Scholarship Writing & College Coaching  Initiative. As a writer, education advocate, and college counselor, she teaches young people how to write effectively to  fund their college educations. Recently,  she was recognized by WHYY as an American Graduate Champion for her work with students from under-resourced schools. 


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