College Rejection: 6 Reasons Why Your Child Shouldn’t Take it Personally

College admissions is a complicated business that isn't always a reflection of a student's grades, hard work or accomplishments

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: College Rejection: 6 Reasons Why Your Child Shouldn’t Take it Personally

Written by: Marybeth Bock

It’s that time of year again when so many high school seniors are logging on to college admissions portals to find out if they’ve been accepted or denied to their college(s) of choice.

As a parent, I can tell you there’s nothing worse than standing next to your child when they receive a “We regret to inform you,” letter from a college. In fact, it’s downright agonizing – especially considering the years of hard work and dedication that go into creating a powerful college application that, hopefully, stands out from the rest.

We watch our kids lose sleep by staying up night after night doing homework and studying for tests. We see them pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion by taking rigorous Honors and AP courses. We drive them back and forth to endless practices, games, performances, and club meetings. We encourage them to get involved in their communities to make the world a better place. We watch them take on part-time jobs, enrichment courses, and even summer internships to round out their college resume.

However, as hard as it is for kids to receive a rejection letter, there are times they shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – especially if it was a reach school, if your child rushed through the application process or they didn’t meet the college’s entrance requirements. Still, for a lot of kids, it can be just as upsetting and soul-crushing to read it in black and white since (to them) it sends the message, “I just wasn’t good enough.” 

But it’s important for students to know that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in college admission offices. Overall, admission officers take a ton into consideration before accepting or denying an applicant, including criteria such as GPA, class rigor, extracurriculars, volunteer experience, letters of recommendation, and the personal essay.

They’re also trying to get a comprehensive sense of how a student will positively impact their college community and the impact they’ll have as a future alumnus. 

But what about those kids who meet or even exceed the criteria for a particular college? Why does it seem as though far too many highly qualified students who meet the academic threshold of a college are being rejected?

Before your child takes that letter of rejection to heart, here are a few facts about college rejection that your child truly needs to understand.

College Rejection: 6 Reasons Why Your Child Shouldn’t Take it Personally


#1 For Starters, Ditch the Concept of “Fair”

From as far back as I can remember, college admissions have never really been all that fair. But the process has become even more complicated and competitive within the last decade. In fact, according to a Best Colleges survey of 1,000 currently enrolled high school students, 77%  believe that the college admission process isn’t fair. 

According to the Huffington Post, “When most families start looking at colleges, they think the admission process is simple – take strong classes, get good grades, make sure your test scores are strong, join a few clubs, and you’re good to go. That perception works at a number of colleges, but many selective colleges have a process that’s less clear because they don’t have to take everyone who applies.” And, let’s face it, for those students who get rejected, it’s awfully difficult to figure out why they were denied with a 3.8 GPA and tons of extracurriculars, while their friend down the street was accepted with a 3.1 GPA and not one extracurricular. Bottom line, it’s important to remember, college admissions is big business and a ton of hidden factors (that don’t seem fair) go into the acceptance process. 

#2 The Numbers Game Has Changed

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the past twenty years, applications to colleges in the U.S. have increased 150%, yet the size of high school classes have remained relatively stable. Both the ease of the Common Application and the fact that so many more schools have gone test-optional mean that more students are applying to more schools, and those schools haven’t changed the size of first-year classes much at all.

Additionally, international applications rose this year once again after pandemic concerns lessened. Colleges and universities benefit from this in a big way – they make more money on application fees and gain greater “prestige” as their admittance rates decrease

#3 Institutional Priorities Come into Play

According to the Huffington Post, institutional priorities have a lot to do with the selection process. “If we’re graduating three hockey goalies this year, and you’re a high school senior applying as a hockey goalie, your chances of admission just went way up.” So what happens if the essays in the hockey goalie’s application don’t reveal a deep understanding of the school’s mission? Does that still make him a good fit? Well, it all boils down to the college’s institutional priorities and whether you fit into their admissions “puzzle.”

The same goes for filling slots in a particular major – “It depends on the particular need the college has that year for Philosophy majors or someone who wants to do Neuroscience research, for example.” Once all the slots are filled for an incoming freshman class, a student may be denied regardless of how stellar their application is. 

#4 It’s Harder to Get into Selective Colleges

My husband and I joke about it, but it’s true – neither one of us would get into our alma maters if we were applying to those colleges today. They have become far too competitive. According to the Atlantic, “The reality of college admission is a much more complicated picture than it was even a decade ago. The bad news is that getting into any specific school is less likely than it was a few years ago, and certainly more difficult than it was 15 years ago because the number of strong applicants to selective schools has mushroomed.” And, with average median standardized test scores on the rise, it makes it all that much harder.

According to Education Next, “With just a few exceptions, median SAT scores for selective institutions have risen significantly over the past generation, meaning, it really is harder to get into such schools today than thirty years ago.” Among the institutions they reviewed, the average median SAT score for the incoming freshman class increased by 93 points, from 1216 to 1309.

#5 Binding Early Decisions Have Created More Applications to Certain Schools and More Stress for High School Seniors

The sense of urgency to apply “early decision” surely benefits the colleges and leads many high school seniors to believe they must apply early to increase their chance of acceptance.

Selective colleges are filling more of their incoming classes early so that they can reduce the uncertainty of regular-decision cycles when students are likely weighing acceptances from multiple schools. It’s common now for many colleges to fill a substantial amount of their incoming first-year class through early decisions

#6 Diversity in All Areas is a Priority for Selective Colleges

The “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal helped advance the trend of ending most schools’ legacy admissions preferences. It’s also one of the reasons so many colleges are laser-focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This means that admittance rates continue to rise for first-generation college students, and those who represent more diversity in gender, disability, race, geography, and income. 

All of these realities factor into how a college decides who to invite into their incoming class. 

We need to remind high school seniors that the process is a paradox –  a college rejection letter so often has nothing to do with their abilities, accomplishments or hard work and that they can be more than qualified and poised for success at a certain school, yet, if they don’t fit into the college’s admissions puzzle, they can get rejected regardless of how qualified an applicant they are.

We also need to remind them not to take it personally. Let’s allow our kids to grieve their losses while assuring them that no college decision affects our love and support for them.  


Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.



If you enjoyed reading, “College Rejection: 6 Reasons Why Your Teen Shouldn’t Take it Personally,” you might also like reading:

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