How Parents Can Help Their Teens through the Waiting Game of College Acceptance

The months spent waiting for college acceptance decisions can range from stressful to agonizing for most anxious teens and the parents who are trying to support them through the seemingly endless college waiting game. As a lifelong teacher, my husband Malcolm Gauld, President of Hyde School (, a leader in family-based character education, has spent more than thirty years guiding families through this academic journey and has compiled the following list of tips to assist parents in helping their teens manage the overwhelming emotions that accompany this quintessential rite of passage.

This approach places parents in a supportive yet advisory role, affording the student the best opportunity for personal growth:

  • Let Your Child Lead. Parents must support students without micro-managing their actions. Conveying a belief in their teenager’s abilities will help their child further develop enduring confidence.


  • Explain the System. Parents can help teenagers understand that a school’s decision isn’t necessarily a reflection of the applicant; rather, the outcome of a complicated system. Schools encourage more students to apply, so that they can be ultra-selective, while often narrowing their selection criteria to fill specific needs. It’s not you, it’s them!


  • Share Your Stories. Some students will take rejection personally even if they accept the arbitrary nature of the process. As doubt begins to rise, parents should reassure students with their own stories of uncertainty and rejection.


  • Teach Flexibility. Convey the message that there is no one perfect school. A solid education and a fulfilling college experience will be found wherever the student matriculates. Parents can impart a critical life lesson that staying flexible often can have positive results.


  • Expect the Unexpected. Parents must be aware of potential mishaps in the process. The increased use of computer-generated responses has resulted in some false notifications. Awareness can help prepare students while further conveying the message that much of what happens behind the scenes of college admissions is out of their control.


  • Remind Them of Options. Transferring schools is always an option for students who maintain a strong academic record. Students can be encouraged by the stories of famous transfer students, including Barack Obama.


  • Don’t Panic. Some teenagers may not be accepted to any college on their first try. This can be daunting, but it need not be devastating. Students can demonstrate a serious commitment to continuing their education by completing a postgraduate year, enrolling in a community college, or getting a job that teaches real life skills.


  • Stay Focused on Academics. Even after a student has applied to college, they can still positively impact admissions with grade updates. Schools often request mid-term reports and final transcripts, so parents should encourage their students to finish the year strong.


  • Keep Their Eye On the Prize.  Parents should continually remind their teenagers of what truly matters. The college they attend is far less important than the adult they will become. Struggles they endure now will help prepare them for life’s future challenges.


Find more parenting advice and resources at the Hyde School’s parenting website, The Biggest Job,