12 Ways to Navigate College Admissions Decisions

At this point in the academic calendar, most high school seniors have applied to college, a process where they’ve put themselves “out there” with sincere personal essays and hard-earned grades. Now that it’s March, they’re starting to hear back about final college admissions decisions. Students around the world are checking their inboxes to see when there might be an email from a college notifying them of their admission decision. 

In this time of pressure and anxiety, parents need to be supportive, even if they’re suffering from anxiety, too. Now is the time students need their parents most. 

Below are some tips from International College Counselors on how to manage college admissions decisions expectations and disappointments:

1. Show your love. 

Your student has accomplished so much already just by reaching this important milestone. They’ve almost made it through high school, and they will soon be off to college. Let your child know how proud you are of them. Emphasize that you know they’ll have a great experience no matter where they go.

2. Offer support.

For students whose applications are turned down, this is likely the first time they’re dealing with major disappointment. Do not let this damage their self-esteem; remind them that the college had far too many applicants than spaces, and they have institutional priorities that are beyond your child’s control. For students who do get in, after the initial euphoria, they may start thinking about what college actually entails: leaving home, leaving friends, leaving a comfortable routine, and making their own way. Understandably, this may feel overwhelming.

3. Share this story.

Warren Buffett, the world-renowned investor, recounted being denied from Harvard’s Business School as a defining moment. Upon receiving the seemingly bad news, he recalls his first thought as, “What do I tell my dad?” One of his biggest fears was disappointing his father.

He then said, “It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.” Attending Columbia’s Business School instead, he worked with two professors who helped shape his approach to investing.

NOTE TO PARENTS: Even if you are disappointed, don’t show it. Getting rejected stings, but disappointing your parents just makes the experience more painful.

4. Listen and let your student vent. 

If your student’s application is denied, encourage your child to voice their emotions without judgement. By maintaining an open dialogue, you can turn this experience into a teachable moment about setbacks and resilience. One way to do this is by staying sensitive and acknowledging the hurt that comes with disappointment, keeping in mind that this is about your child—not you. Then help your child move forward with the opportunities that do present themselves. But wait a few days and let the disappointing news settle before moving on to the next steps.

5. Maintain perspective.

While getting into one’s first-choice college can feel euphoric, remind your child that it’s not a tragedy if they do not get in. Life is a long road, and college is one step; it is certainly not the final destination. There are many side streets and detours along the way. Remind your student that a lot of the college admission process is out of their control. For better or for worse, college admissions is subjective, perhaps even more than most students and parents realize.

6. Remind your child not to take it personally if their application is turned down. 

College admissions decisions aren’t personal. Someone at the college just didn’t think your child was the right fit at the time—or they did think the match was there, but the college does not have the space to admit all the students they’d like to. Your student may actually be better off someplace else, though it’s not apparent right now. We love this story that Kelly Corrigan shares every year around this time; it illustrates this exact point.

7. Give thanks to those who helped your student on their journey. 

Every student’s success is in large part thanks to a teacher writing a thoughtful college recommendation, a coach staying a little bit longer after practice to go over a drill, or a principal making sure your student got the classes they needed. No child gets into college on their own. Be sure to acknowledge their help, whether it’s through a verbal “thank you,” an email, or a small token of your appreciation.

8. Celebrate all college acceptance letters.

Getting into any college is not easy!

9. Think of others.

How will your child let their friends and peers know? Is this something that actually needs to go on social media? If they did get into their top choice school, talk through whether their happiness will lead to greater disappointment for others. How would they like to learn about good news from their peers? And, parents, if you’d like to share the college news on social media, ask for your student’s permission. It is their news, after all.

10. Understand that a student can always transfer. 

Our recommendation is to keep this as a quiet option and not as a goal. If your student goes to a college with the intent of transferring, they won’t be able to enjoy the full experience they can have. Many students find that once they settle in, they’re actually very happy.

11. Treat yourselves.

When all the notifications are in, celebrate the end of this intense time in whatever way works for your family. Make this time positive.

12. Call or meet with your student’s International College Counselors advisor.

Once all the results are in, you and your family can review the pros of the schools a student was admitted to. Discussions can also include any colleges still accepting applications.

We wish all of our students the best of luck with their admissions decisions!

For any and all help with college admissions decisions and/or with the college admissions process, contact International College Counselors. Visit https://internationalcollegecounselors.com/ or call 954-414-9986.