An Open Letter to Parents: Accepting Your Child’s College Rejection

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Jamie Spelling, Digital Daughter Ambassador, Writer & Journalist

(This story was contributed by my Digital Daughter Ambassador, Jamie Spelling.  To see this story in its original form and other great content, check out BC The Magazine.)

Dear Parents,

We, your children, regret to inform you that the college admissions committee has deemed us to be failures. Or at least that is what we have been raised to believe.

You see, we’ve grown up receiving applause for meeting mediocre expectations. In kindergarten, we received gold stars for writing our names. In 3rd grade soccer, we were given trophies for merely participating. In 5th grade, stickers that said “brilliant” were plastered on our aced spelling tests. In 8th grade, we paraded in silk gowns and plastic medals simply because we were moving on to high school. Yet, when the college decision letter arrives, both parent and child will realize that mediocrity is no longer good enough. Colleges do not give gold stars. When the time comes to experience our first legitimate encounter with failure, we will look to you.

Rejection is hard enough when it comes from the admissions committee. We will turn to you for support, but when we do, please proceed with caution. Do not be our guidance counselors; be our backbones. Do not position yourself above us; position yourself beside us. You are our parents, our nurturers and our strength. Navigate this position wisely.

Upon receiving word of our college rejection, take a step back. Remember, no one knows us better than you do. You know the best approach to consoling us. For some, it means having an intense conversation about self-worth. For others, it may mean a tub of ice cream with a scrawled message on the lid cursing the damned college. And sometimes, it is as simple as showing us that you are thinking of us through random, unrelated acts of support. Your role now is to be the outlet through which we can find comfort, so embrace it.

Do us a favor; do not sugarcoat this situation. Recognize when we deserved to get into a college and were unfairly robbed of an acceptance by some unexplainable methods employed by the admissions process. Admit when we simply did not have the credentials to get in. Allow us to experience failure while we still have the comfort of your support on which to fall back.

The college admissions process may be our first brush with rejection. We do not get a trophy for participation. Do not perpetuate our unrealistic outlook on life by providing us with one. Your job is not to protect and hide us from failure. Your job now is to teach us how to properly cope with it so it does not come to define us.

Remember that it is not the quality of the college your child will attend that implies successful parenting. It is the quality of the child you send off. Are we good people? Are we kind? Are we responsible? If responding “yes” to these questions is your goal as a parent, your child’s failure to be accepted to a college will seem barely like a failure at all.

We are young and still get butterflies at the thought of growing up. We are eager, however we may convey a sense of constant indifference. We are vulnerable, but we would never admit it. All the while, we face the grueling and potentially destructive process of college admissions. Often times, your reaction to our college rejection means more to us than the rejection itself. Upon receiving our decision letter, be the person we run to, not the person we hide from.

Mom, Dad—we are asking you, please, to teach us what SAT scores and GPAs can’t measure. Instill in us the characteristics that can’t be bulleted on a resume. Stand by our side and make us resilient as we make our first attempt at accepting rejection. And please help us to understand that just because we don’t get into our top school does not mean we will not get into the right school.

Jamie Spelling, a senior at Pascack Hills High School, is the managing editor of her school newspaper; she is an aspiring writer and journalist.

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