Expect the best, but prepare for the worst. That’s what your mother might advise as you wait for your college acceptance (or rejection) letters to arrive in the mail. Of course, college-bound students are not the only ones feeling anxious these days. Parents are too. Jennifer Stanley recently blogged that though she is used to rejection in her work as a writer, nothing prepared her for the pain she felt when her son was rejected by multiple private schools.

Writing for Psychology Today,  psychotherapist F. Diane Barth says both students and their parents can expect to go through three distinct stages if the dreaded college rejection letter does arrive:

  • Accepting that rejection hurts. There’s no question about it. A rejection letter feels very personal. Even though many of the top universities are overwhelmed with applications and must reject plenty of good students, it doesn’t lessen the hurt if that student happens to be you. Understand that your feelings are reasonable, even if they are not accurate.
  • Understanding meaning. If a rejection letter does arrive, reflect back on what you expected to accomplish by attending that particular school. Did it seem like the only way to reach a particular goal? Did it have special meaning for you or your family? As you reflect, keep in mind that no particular school holds the key to a student’s future, even though it may seem that way right now.
  • Changing direction. Anyone who has been through a major disappointment knows that it can often lead to new personal strength and an increased capacity for problem-solving. Take time to grieve over the rejection, but then think about what’s next. Make a plan and take action.

Barth shares that she herself was rejected by several schools during her college career. But looking back, she can see that the rejections had their benefits. “I believe that these failures were crucial to my development into the person and the therapist I am now. I learned from these experiences that while rejection really does hurt, it can lead to intellectual, personal and emotional growth. “