The college experience is something that all teens anticipate with excitement. Parents often share in that excitement and help their children apply to universities, work out finances, and decide what and where they would like to study.
But what if things go wrong? What if your son or daughter is not accepted to university – or at least, not the one they had their heart set on? What if their ‘dream college’ is simply too expensive? What if, for a myriad of possible reasons, they are going to have to study at their second choice college?
Yes, going to university is a privilege… but before you give your kid the gratitude lecture, here are a few pointers on how to talk to them and make them feel a little better and more hopeful.
Remember, they’re still very young
Being 18 may seem very grown up, and your child may show loads of maturity, but remember that 18 is still a really young age. Your college-bound teen is just that – a teen. Teenagers experience swings in mood and emotion. If they have trouble facing rejection with maturity, it’s important to give them a little space and make a few allowances.
Being young means they have time
Your heartbroken child won’t realise it, but you know it. They have years ahead of them during which they can change study plans, make new ones, and decide the course of their life. Nothing needs to be set in stone right now. Although they may feel like they need to have their entire future mapped out – today, the reality is far from the truth. Their future is theirs to shape, and they have years in which to do it.
They can change their plans
There’s nothing wrong with taking a gap year. A student who is really disappointed about not going to the university of their choice may find taking a year off really helpful to gain some perspective. A gap year can give them a chance to save some money. The time out will allow them to evaluate their choices so that they can make a better decision about their career and study plans.
Depending on the course they want to study and the institution they attend, there is also the possibility of transferring to another campus after first year. So if they don’t get into their dream university first time round, they can re-apply for second year. Many students in the science and medical faculties have to go this route due to limited space.
Be comforting, but give them the truth
While it’s important to be supportive and caring as a parent, it’s equally important to provide firm boundaries and help with realistic options. Facing rejection is hard, but your teen won’t learn anything if you make promises that you can’t keep.
Let them speak with family or friends who have had similar experiences so they can see that even when things aren’t perfect, they have a way of working out for the best. At the same time, don’t swamp them with clinched statements like “It will all work out” unless you have relevant experience to share, or you’ve done some research.
Be honest about your financial capability, preferably before they apply to study. In this way, they know exactly how much help they can expect from you. Help them discover alternative study paths towards the career they want to pursue.
Be kind and show them as much love and support as you can. Remember, their disappointment is real, and it feels overwhelming to them. Show them that even though life may feel uncertain, they can rely on you for steadfast support, honesty and practical solutions to help them through.