Facing Rejection: Tips From A New York City Private School Advisor

Rejection in preschool and K-12 admissions may seem like an odd topic for someone who owns a large educational advisory firm. However, understanding rejection in the admissions process, starting with nursery school and going all the way to college, is essential for all parents and older students.

Rejection is something that no one, least of all parents on behalf of their own children, likes to think about. We hate hearing “no.” But some top private kindergartens get 1,000 applications for 60 or so open placements, with over half of those spots already spoken for: siblings and children of “legacies” are the first admits. Rejection is very, very real. It doesn’t matter if parents didn’t even really want to attend a school that rejected their child; it’s still perceived as a slap in the face. In New York, that slap happens as often as 90% of the time.

I know that rejection feels personal. Self-selection is natural, and we do feel entitled. After all, if Mom and Dad sweated through Wharton or Yale, and paid over $45 thousand for kindergarten, the payback should be Max or Dottie’s acceptance to a top-tier school, right? Not so. It’s a new ballgame when so many applicants’ parents attended Ivy Leagues, or have the finest connections at any given preschool or continuing school. As a result, these pedigrees are so numerous they become meaningless.

It’s hard to remember, but rejection from nursery schools, continuing schools — and even colleges — isn’t personal. When your son or your daughter is rejected from a school, it’s not reflective of him or her (or you), but of the 30, or 50, or 200 other children who applied.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that rejection should never (I repeat: never) alter how parents view their children, or how students view themselves. Sadly, it sometimes does. Rejection from a top choice school has no correlation to parenting skills, and parents whose kids have been rejected have in no way failed those children. No child is flawed simply because he or she didn’t get into their parents’ “top choice” school. The flaw is in not letting it go, and in refusing to fully participate in the opportunities held by the schools that do offer admission.

Similarly, a student (particularly at the middle or high school level) will naturally feel hurt and unhappy when he or she is rejected from a school. Many have never dealt with a heavy, personal rejection before. These feelings are natural, and also a part of growing up. Brilliant students at second-tier schools are still brilliant students. Likewise, lazy and underachieving students at our top-tier schools are simply that. Worse, students who managed to “get in” via the back doors of siblinghood, legacy, or the best recommendations, but are unprepared to attend an intellectually elite school, end up absolutely miserable.

Here’s an insider’s trick that’s so simple it sounds idiotic: to lessen the sting of rejection, cast a wide application net. Don’t only apply to schools you’ve heard are “the best.” Find out which schools are really the best for your student and your family. Look at schools you might never have considered because your friends and colleagues don’t send their kids there. Keep an open mind, and decide what works for your family; it might not be what works for that woman from the gym’s kids, your boss’s kids, or your mom’s friend’s grandchildren. If you remain open to all of the possibilities, you might love what you see; and, even better, your kid may well get in. After all, if love is the cure for hate, then acceptance is truly the remedy for rejection.