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Enrollment Choices

By Stephen Borkowski

June 04, 2008

Families face tough choices when acceptance and rejection letters arrive. “Any parent who’s shopped for a prom dress can tell you, window shopping is easy. It’s the actual decision that’s difficult,” says Sally Rubenstone, co-author of Panicked Parents Guide to College Admissions.

Rejection letters, expensive tuition, wait lists, reluctance to attend and an absence of acceptance letters are some of the toughest situations for parents.

The Rejection

“It’s the mother lode of disappointment,” Rubenstone says. But it’s probably not the first time your child has dealt with defeat. Parents should draw on their experience and use a strategy that eases the pain but keeps their child excited about their education. Give your child some space, talk up the schools they did get into and try not to take it personally.

Appealing rejections to admissions counselors has become more common, but Rubenstone advises parents to respect the decision of the school. Unless circumstances have changed tremendously since the original application, reversals are rare.

Too Expensive

It’s discouraging to have the grades but not the money. Ideally, families discuss affordability before applications are sent so that the child has realistic expectations.

But sometimes no amount of planning can prepare a family for the complexities of college financing. Should your child attend their fourth choice because they got a free ride? What if a divorced parent will only help fund one particular college?

A little creativity can remove some financial barriers. A financial aid package can be appealed. Families should approach school officials with a cooperative attitude. Beyond appeals, part-time jobs, selling a home or other property, reaching out to extended family, and applying for scholarships are just some ways families have come up with money.

The Wait List

After months of waiting the last thing anyone wants is more waiting. If your child decides the only school for them is the one that put them on a wait list, then “it’s time to go for broke,” Rubenstone says.

Return any paperwork required by the college to keep your name on the wait list. Rubenstone tells students to attach a supplementary letter telling the school how much they want to attend and why, citing specific reasons. Now is the time for your child to creatively draw positive attention to their application and show why they’re a good fit for the school.

Parents should probably budget for two deposits. “Don’t expect an extension from the school that admitted your child,” Rubenstone says. You’ll lose the deposit on the safety school in the event a student is accepted from the wait list.

The Reluctant Student

Suddenly your child treats the chance to enroll at their dream school like a prison sentence. What gives? “The student has changed, evolved or rethought [his or her] priorities,” Rubenstone says.

Find out if the reluctance is college specific, or part of a broader anxiety. Sometimes a follow-up visit to a campus is all it takes to rekindle the excitement.

A gap year between high school and college may smooth the transition. “I’ve never heard a school say no to a deferral,” Rubenstone says. Most schools will still ask for a deposit and families should get answers about the impact to financial aid. Parents and children should approach the gap year with concrete goals and realistic expectations in mind.

No Acceptance

Whether mediocre grades clouded your child’s transcripts or the safety schools weren’t safe enough, each spring some students wind up without an acceptance letter.

This doesn’t mean your child can’t pursue higher education. Every spring the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) posts a which lists schools that still have room for students.

Another option is to take a gap year and apply to a fresh list of schools next fall. Rubenstone advises students with spotty academic histories to take classes at a community college in the interim.

Keep it in Perspective

Though highly emotional and stressful, chances are that your child will have a fulfilling college experience no matter where they attend. “Never suggest that their future happiness or success is tied to a college decision,” Rubenstone says.


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