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When 17 year-old Fred received his third rejection letter from the total of ten universities he had applied to for next year, he began to really worry. He has spent his last two years of high school taking very difficult classes, including many AP (Advanced Placement) classes, in order to raise his GPA (Grade Point Average) to increase his chances of being accepted to one of his desired choice colleges. In fact, because his first two years of high school were somewhat difficult for him because he did not make the full connection between good grades and college acceptance, he had to work extra diligently the past two years to be competitive in the acceptance pool.
His dedicated efforts seemed to pay off. By the time he applied to college, he had an A average, sufficient community service, good test scores, and he even trained himself in golf to join the junior varsity golf team at his school just to have this as an asset on his resume. In addition, he had glowing letters of recommendation from three of his teachers and won a service award for volunteering with children earlier in the year. In other words, it seemed Fred did all the “right” things to get into college, but at this moment has been rejected by three schools he had imagined himself attending in the fall.
As with any experience of disappointment, Fred’s ego has been affected. He feels bad, worried, and guilty for not working harder his first two years of high school. Additionally, he is afraid he will also be rejected by his remaining seven schools and then does not know what he will do. For the past week, he has not been able to sleep, does not want to go to school, and has been isolating himself from his friends, many of which got accepted to their schools of choice, due to feeling embarrassed.
Fred’s parents feel terrible for his plight and have tried to be both supportive and encouraging. His father told him that things like this happen and that they will figure out a plan if he does not get accepted to any of the ten schools he applied to. Despite this loving and needed support from his parents, Fred continues to feel miserable and worried. He reasoned, “Why did I work so hard over the past two years to have something like this happen to me. Was it really worth it?”
Fred’s story is a template for the feelings of many high school seniors over the next few months awaiting and receiving their college acceptance and rejection letters filling households with either feelings of elation or disappointment. This is a period of time which moves the late adolescent into the next stage of their lives, namely moving away from home and onto the next stage of their lives, young adulthood. The importances of being accepted or rejected from a university can therefore not only have an effect on the individual’s self-esteem but also in reference to feelings about growing up and becoming more independent from mom and dad.
In most cases, the high school seniors are encouraged to apply to a number of schools rather than just a few due to the increased competition of acceptances these days due to a larger number of students applying to college as well as entrance requirements being much more difficult than in the years past. In fact, a recent statement from the University of California stated that the average GPA for admission into their system is above a 3.7 or an A average. Ten years ago the average admission was a 3.5 and twenty years ago, it was a 3.3. This year, UCLA rejected many students with a 4.2 GPA. These changes have put considerable pressure on both the high school student and their parents to “achieve” at very high levels. To assist with these changes, most high school counselors suggest that aside from applying to schools of desired choice, that the student also apply to what has been termed “safety schools”, just to ensure admission somewhere to allow the student to move forward in both their psychological and academic development.
Such school counselors also try to console their students about the reality of admission competition by educating them that many students either begin college at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university or in other cases a student may decide to transfer colleges after two years at a different four-year school if they are not satisfied with their education or experience.
Rejection from college or any other experience is a difficult one for anyone and manifests in a variety of manifestations including a temporary depletion of self-esteem, sadness, anger, and confusion and doubt. It is essential for the parents of the adolescent who is applying to college to discuss the difficult process of competition prior to the application process and also discuss back-up plans if their child does not get accepted to their preferred choices. The attitude of the parent needs to be both supportive, loving, positive, and guiding in helping their son or daughter get through a difficult period of their life. The parents who understand the multi-significance of college acceptance and rejection, namely that this period is not just about going to college, but has to do with the milestone of becoming an adult are the ones who become the most helpful to their child.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.