When the Letter Arrives: What to Do About College Decisions

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Updated on Apr 22, 2014

It's that time of year when letters are coming back from colleges—some of them thick and some thin. The contents of that letter can seem like a life-altering verdict to your teen. But whether your child is accepted, waitlisted or denied from college, there are ways to prepare for the future. Katherine Cohen, PhD, is well-versed in creating these plans of action. She's the founder of two college counseling programs, ApplyWise and IvyWise, and the author of The Truth About Getting In.

Once those decisions letters come in, she says, your teen will have to make some tough choices. What can you do to help? For each possible scenario, Cohen offers this advice for parents:

If your teen is waitlisted...

  1. Make sure your dream school is still your first choice. Is it possible that a college lower on your list moves to your top choice when you are accepted? Remember, you can change your mind at any time. Make sure you send a deposit to your second choice school to guarantee that you’ll have a place to go to college this fall.
  2. If you are sure that you are still interested in your waitlisted school:
  • Write a letter to the admissions office. Be upbeat in your approach. If the college remains your first choice, write that if you get in, you will be enthusiastic to attend and send your deposit.
  • In the letter, have a paragraph explaining how you see yourself at this school. Include the courses you would like to pursue, the professors you want to study/research with, and the activities you would participate in. Show how you would enhance the campus community.
  • Be sure to update the college on everything important you have been doing in school and in the community since you submitted your application. Tell the college of any honors, awards, or new standardized test scores that you have received.
  • Be patient and wait. Schools may go to the waitlist as early as late April, or as late as July. In the meantime, be excited about the college that you’ll be attending. Remember, there are many schools that meet your needs.

If your teen is denied...

First of all, help your child realize that being denied is not a personal reflection of their value or worth. Once you’ve helped your child understand this, then the following step are recommended:

  1. Your child should have a conversation with his high school college counselor. The counselor can help assess what next steps are available.
  2. Only with the guidance counselor’s support, have your child call the admissions office. Your child can ask about what was weak in his or her application or how feasible it is to reapply.
  3. Research other programs. Some colleges may have spots available for the fall. Other colleges may have spots in the spring semester. There might be a gap year program that could enhance your application should you decide to reapply. Or, you can enroll in your second choice school and then submit a transfer application to your first choice school next year.
  4. Parents- do not call the admissions office to appeal a decision. Admissions committees spend a lot of time deliberating your child’s application. Admissions officers are there to communicate directly with applicants and guidance counselors. Remember, your child, not you, applied to college.
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