College rejection hits hard for some parents

Parents of graduating seniors took college rejection in stride this year, upper school deans said.

The deans speculated that this year’s realistic expectations were a result of media attention on the intense competition of getting into college.

“These parents are aware of the competition,” Upper School Dean Vanna Cairns said.
Still, a minority of parents take rejection worse than their children do — Cairns said every year each dean has one or two families who are particularly disappointed.
Cairns has a simple explanation: parents aren’t seasoned in applying to college.

“What’s consistent about the [college application] process is the element of surprise,” Cairns said. “I’ve gone through it 25 times. They’ve only gone through it once.”

Upper School Dean Rose-Ellen Racanelli said she thinks parents often understand on an intellectual level how difficult it is to get into college, but they don’t accept it on an emotional level.

“Sometimes that sense of reality takes hold and sometimes it doesn’t,” Racanelli said.
The poor coping of parents can make it more difficult for students to get over rejection.

“Parents will say they are disappointed for their kids, but the kids will look at that disappointment and feel that their parents are disappointed in them,” said Dr. Mark Goulston (Billy ’08, Emily ’03, Lauren ’00), a psychiatrist.

Cairns tells parents to keep their negativity away from their children because the “negative energy” can make it harder for students to move on.

“If [students] can just feel it, it will pass pretty quickly,” Goulston said. “Parents will keep it alive.”

If parents want to know if they’re impeding their children’s process of moving on, he said parents should talk to their children.

“Rather than being defensive, ask your children, ‘Do you feel that I’m more disappointed in what happened or more disappointed for you?’” Goulston said.
If the child feels that the parent is more disappointed in what happened, then it’s time for the parent to “back off.”

“They have to let go of their attachment,” Goulston said.

Parents over invest in the college application process and in their children’s success in general, Goulston said. He blames projective identification.

“The parents will sort of project themselves into the kid and think the kid must be disappointed because they’re disappointed,” Goulston said.

Cairns and Racanelli agreed that once students start choosing their colleges, parents tend to get over their initial disappointment.

Cairns said that whoever isn’t over rejection by May 1 will get over it by November.
“I know that next November when the child is home for Thanksgiving and they knock on that door, they’ll be glowing,” Cairns said.