For some students, there is no school that will be acceptable to attend except their dream school. Whether it's Yale or Texas A&M, it doesn't matter - being rejected by the top school on their list is a huge letdown for many, if not most high school seniors.
Here are some ways to deal with this disappointment.
Let them feel bad for 48 hours
It's a huge disappointment and possibly the first major letdown of your child's life, so give him room to feel sorry for himself - but not for too long.
If others have had better luck with their applications, encourage your child to congratulate his friends who are happier with their results than he is at the moment. After 2 days, get him up and going and looking at other options.
A letter of appeal
While parents may feel the urge to intervene with a phone call or a letter to the admissions office pleading their child's case, this is not a good idea. If anyone should write a letter of appeal it should be the student - and that's one course of action that might help the situation. There are other things that are more likely to have a good outcome that should also be done by your high school student.
Take a closer look at schools that want you.
There's something to be said about being invited to attend a school that genuinely wants you there. Often along with a letter of acceptance from a second (or third) choice school comes offers of financial support and honors college admission.
A dream school is just that - a dream - and reality needs to be considered during the decision making process.
Don't Take it (Too) Personally
There is most likely a very good reason why a student wasn't accepted at a dream school, and while admissions decisions may sometimes seem like a random process ("how did SHE get in?"), often the admissions officers spend a good deal of time considering each and every application, especially at smaller, more elite schools.
Often a school will have a particular personality for it's class in mind - not that everyone should be of a similar personality, but that the mix of students should make up a diverse and interesting group that will encourage creative thought and generate new ideas and goals for its members.
As William R. Fitzsimmons said in a New York Times article from 2009:
"Several hundred of our admitted students each year have the kind of stunning academic credentials — well beyond test scores and grades — that our faculty believe place them among the best potential scholars of their generation."
Consider a midyear enrollment
Many universities, overwhelmed with the sheer number of qualified applicants, offer those on the edge the possibility of second semester enrollment. While not ideal, this can be an excellent way to gain admission, and students can pick up credits at a local community college while waiting to begin at their dream school.
NOTE: Make sure that the community college credits will transfer to your school!
Is a gap year a good idea?
If your student won't budge about going to a dream school, perhaps a gap year is a sound idea. A year can be a long time in the life of a young adult, and time spent doing other things - working, traveling, volunteering - can bring some clarity of thought and a reassessment of priorities regarding education and the future.
If parents are concerned about their students losing momentum, write up an agreement that the student will accept and defer admission to at least one school and possibly apply to others to keep the ball rolling. For some students, a gap year can be a gift of time that parents may not even realize is needed.
Community college - an economical option
If a student wants to go to college but can't decide where after all of the acceptances have come in, community college is an excellent option. Many community colleges serve as feeder schools to universities, so research which would be the best path for your student before enrolling. In California, Santa Monica City College is known for being a great way to gain admission to both UCLA and USC, two of the most difficult schools to get into right out of high school.
Do some research about the best feeder schools for your child's top choice college. It can save you time and money.