5 Tips for Teens and Parents Receiving Letters of Non-Acceptance to College

Every year about this time there is a portion of the population that is dealing with a loss.  You wouldn’t know about it until it happens to you or someone you know well.  It affects much of the senior high school population and their loved ones, and the effects can range from minor malcontent to clinical depression.   Topic– College Letters of Non-Acceptance.

Like loss in general, this is a subject that’s generally not discussed.   In wake of the pandemic, our children have been exposed to loss in general more than classes before them, with family or friends who died or suffered ill fate from Covid-19.  Other losses, like going to school in person, cancelled sports, concerts, theater, dances and social gatherings that represent traditional high school rites of passage, can make loss more familiar to them than the graduating class of 2019 for example.  That and some prior losses-not making the team, or if on the team, not playing the position that is desired, not getting the part in the play, not winning the award, etc.  However, I’m not sure how much information is imparted to them (or us as parents) on what it feels like to get the dreaded letter that they will not be attending THAT school- or that one, or that one. For the student, it can be really hard.  Dreams of a life in a new community, new challenges, new friends, new opportunities in a setting they think is best, or what they “deserve,” have now been erased.  Countless hours studying, practicing, rehearsing, writing essays, gathering lists of accomplishments, doing everything “right,” can feel like time wasted. It can be difficult for parents too who witnessed and supported their efforts in countless ways.  And the dreaded “wait-list” option… that limbo-land existence, produces its own confusion and anxiety.

Conversations about “silver-linings” and “looking at the bright side” most likely will go on deaf ears right now.  It’s time to grieve the loss and deal with the thoughts and feelings at hand.  According to Lisa Demour, psychotherapist and author of “Untangled,” girls and boys generally process rejection differently, with girls internalizing their failure (e.g., “I’m not good enough.  There’s something wrong with me”) and boys externalizing the rejection (e.g., “There is something wrong with them, not me. They overlooked my successes.”) Both views are extremes and are flawed, as there is a myriad of complex reasons that seem to defy logic when it comes to application reviews.  Since grief skews rational thought, “feeling the feelings” is a good way to start processing the loss, according to grief expert David Kessler.  By giving a voice and outlet to these emotions, we can begin to accept the reality, and in time, move forward to finding new possibilities in a new future that could end up being better than the one previously imagined.

Below are 5 Tips to handle those letters of non-acceptance (for students and parents):

  • Allow yourself a safe time and space to feel all of the feelings associated with the loss.  Anger, frustration, sadness, fear – let yourself express it.  You can do this in whatever way works for you that is safe.  Talking, crying, writing, drawing whatever the feelings are for 10 minutes a day by yourself is a good start.  I encourage finding a place in your body where the loss is manifesting and moving that part of your body in any way that feels right to you.  Going for a walk or run, workout, dance, sports, yoga (all physical acts to release the emotions we store in our bodies) will be helpful in expressing your grief.  Stuffing it and not dealing with it not only doesn’t help with this loss but can build and make future losses even tougher to handle. It’s painful, but it helps in the long run and research shows actually allows for an eventual greater experience of purpose, meaning, and joy in life.
  • Connect with others. Find someone else to talk to about the loss.  A friend, a family member, a teacher, a counselor, even a pet can be a great source of support.  Sometimes people who have gone through the process can share their experience and lend perspective.
  • Do some sensory grounding. This is an aspect of mindfulness.  When you start to get a thought that bothers you (maybe one that causes you to worry), acknowledge it and then begin to focus on your senses.   Play the 5-4-3-2-1 game…name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.  This exercise helps your mind focus on the present and can give you some relief from repetitive thoughts.
  • Take action. Do an activity that you have been putting off that would bring you joy or a sense of accomplishment.  Planting a garden, running a new trail, helping a friend or family with a project are examples.  Make a list and pick one.
  • Explore options. Find one thing that may be okay or even good about the loss.  Maybe it’s a closer relationship with a friend, or a positive aspect of a different college that you had previously overlooked.  Like a seedling sprouting from a parched earth, your option with “nourishment” can in time turn into a beautiful and fruitful tree.  Acknowledge it, and know it’s fine and expected to have mixed feelings about it, possibly both hope and despair, sadness and excitement.

Loss is hard stuff and takes some time to process.  Give yourself the time and attention to heal.  See a counselor or mental health professional if you could use some extra support or if your thoughts and feelings put you or loved ones at risk.  Know that “this too shall pass,” and you will soon be able to find your place and purpose.  It’s what Spring reminds us of each year…new growth, new life.


Anne Marie Ruta Buchanan, LPCC, BC-DMT, NCC



17821 E. 17th Street Unit #260
Tustin, CA 92780

(714) 941-2257

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