The Thin Envelope: Coping With College Rejection Letters

Big envelope or small -- dealing with college rejections.

ByABC News
March 31, 2011, 12:42 PM

April 1, 2011— -- Ah, April -- spring is in the air and college admissions letters are on the way to inboxes across the nation. With many schools reporting more applicants than ever, teens and parents are bracing for the news: will it be the proverbial "big envelope" or the sting of rejection?

Though rejection letters have always been par for the course for undergraduate hopefuls, plummeting acceptance rates and tough competition in the college market suggests that teens today are likely to face more rejection and higher emotional costs than their predecessors just a few years ago.

"We're getting more applications every year and unfortunately that leads to more rejections, more students and parents shocked because they believe they have done a lot to make sure they get into their college of choice. It's a growing problem," says Mabel Freeman, assistant vice president of Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience at Ohio State University.

And while there are plenty of colleges and universities out there – more than enough to offer a spot to all the students who wish to matriculate, says Freeman, "unfortunately we're in an era where high anxiety levels combine with the mindset that there are an elite number of schools that you can go to and still be successful after, and that's just not the case."

Add in a national obsession with ranking schools and the problem only gets worse for students' psyches, says Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University and author of "You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10 to 25."

How can parents and teens keep their sanity in this high-stakes atmosphere, especially when the dreaded, and usually inevitable, rejection letters come? Mental health professionals and college admissions officers weigh in.