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.

 If your teen winds up with a choice of schools...

To make their final decision, collect all relevant information to make sure that you are making fair comparisons. For example, you need to compare:

  • Financial Aid awards- they may change over four years so meet with a financial aid officer and ask questions
  • Academic offerings, even in programs that you may not be interested in. Chances are you may change your major, so can your college offer you opportunities that may be of interest to you in the future
  • Unique opportunities- explore what makes one campus different from another: How are the resources on campus? How is the academic advising? Career counseling? Alumni network?
  • Campus culture—do you feel that you can be part of that student body?
  • Surrounding community- you’ll be living there for four years, so explore resources off campus. Everything from restaurants, movie theaters, places to work or do community service
  • Location- campuses are always pretty in April. Do you like the weather in January? Also, how far do you want to be away from home?

Once your child has done the research, then ask her to follow his or her gut. Your child needs to imagine herself there for the next four years. Hopefully, your child knows a lot about her colleges at this point. Parents should provide advice when asked. Do not steer your child toward your favorite school or your alma mater. You won’t be attending the college, your child will!

No matter what the options, the college decision process is an emotionally stressful time for your teen. Cohen says teens should be reminded that they can be happy and successful at many colleges. "There is not only ONE college match for your child. Besides, college is what you make of the experience,” she says. Besides, reacting to setbacks (and moving on) is part of becoming an adult. And when your child sets out on her own path next year, that's exactly what she'll be. is an online college counseling program that helps students create a winning college application.  It is based on the methodology of Katherine Cohen, PhD., one of the country's leading admissions counselors and founder and CEO of IvyWise, the country's leading private college counseling company based in New York City.