My Son’s Rejection from College Is Difficult for Me

My son is smart, authentic and unusual, but his deepest feelings have been a mystery to me since he became a teenager. This makes his senior year and the college search and application process difficult for me.

That’s right…difficult for me.

He, on the other hand, is as cool as his bare arms are on a cold day even though I inevitably asked him several times to put on a jacket. On this particular day, his coolness comes in the form of working on his computer to put the finishing touches on a Google Document for his World History Class.

He does this just moments after reading that he didn’t make the cut at his early decision application to Swarthmore College. A not too well known, but very hard to get into, liberal arts college. It wasn’t only the denial, though, he also learned that his close friend since kindergarten was accepted.

My son’s college search process has been hard…on me. (Shutterstock Miljan Zivkovic)

Is my son wondering why his friend got in and he did not?

I wonder if he is questioning what about his friend is better than him or if he chooses to believe the college and his mother when we say there were so many applications, too many great applications, to accept everyone. I look at him as he works, with his long hair falling down his back and his serious, dark eyes focused on the blue baroque pattern he chose for the background of his slides.

I tell him that he now has something in common with President Obama as he, too, didn’t make the cut at Swarthmore. I let him know that I’m here if he’d like to talk and tell him I love him and that he should feel proud for having the courage to apply knowing the odds were not in his favor.     

I wish he would let me hug him like he did so easily when he was twelve but this is not about me no matter how much it feels like it is. I know tomorrow we will revisit the list we’ve compiled over the past couple of months and he will have to make the decision on whether or not to apply Early Decision II to a different school or ride the college application process until March through regular decision. I will reluctantly pay for every application he chooses to submit plus more money if he wants to submit his SAT scores or if the school requires a CSS Profile.

I wonder how my son with such strong credentials got rejected

In the meantime, I will question how a child who has scored so well on the SAT, and has a near perfect grade point average in advanced classes, a young man who comes alive with true passion and curiosity when talking about chemistry and literature, will face more denials ahead as he jockeys for a position at another college. If he is successful, he will then have to hope for merit aid or a school accepting him that awards aid on need without loans included, as 65k+ is the average cost a year for tuition at a private school.

He will also be required to write another ten or so essays and be attempting to express his authentic self in 250 words or less to an admission’s counselor who will assign scores based on their perception of what he has written.

Mainly he will get continued lessons in humility, continued to be bombarded by American college marketing, and the selective college system that favors the most educated and wealthy families, but couples this with a call for diversity and low-income access. Either this, or we will have the opportunity to take out $15k a year in loan for four years to try to cover what merit aid won’t cover at one of the state schools he has applied to as “safeties.”

We will need to take out loans for our son’s education

Why will we need loans? Unfortunately, we never had any money until I graduated college as an adult and our three kids were all old enough for me to work full time alongside my husband. This means our yearly income is currently high but our savings is low and having a savings account for college was not even a consideration at our previous income level. We are the misfit middle class.

These are tough lessons that we are lucky enough as a family to face together, all in good health. Gratitude is important, and I know he will figure it out and, in the end, find a place where he belongs. 

As I write this, I can hear him in his room laughing loudly. The sound fills me with instant joy and relief. I can guess he has already moved on from his school work to meet his friend online that just got into Swarthmore, and that they’re already onto another epic adventure together in game.

At the sound of this I tsk tsk myself. This balance of providing freedom while also loving from afar is so difficult. It is at least difficult for me, but I’m still learning too.

More Great Reading:

Pressure Cooker of College Admissions: Grades vs. Personal Growth

About Michele Rodriguez

Michele Rodriguez is a mom to three almost grown children ages 18, 23, and 27. Her youngest is currently navigating the high school to life transition. Her middle son is in the Air Force Reserves and still in college, and her daughter is a caregiver and advocate for neurodivergent children. Michele is also married to her brilliant husband for twenty-eight years. She is a program coordinator at embrella, a non-profit that embraces, supports and advocates for children, youth and families involved with child welfare, and working on her Masters of Social Work. Prior to embrella, Michele graduated Summa Cum Laude with her Bachelor of Social Work in 2017 from Rutgers University where she was part of the Baccalaureate Child Welfare Education Program.

Before deciding to become a social worker, Michele worked within non-profit and program development and founded and ran a youth volunteer organization to promote empathy and compassion through action. She has worked in advocacy roles at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) where she helped launch a youth transitions initiative, she has served on the Monmouth County Youth Service Commission and was a caseworker for the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). While in these roles, Michele received the honors of Court Appointed Special Advocate of the Year for Monmouth County and the DCF Special Commissioner’s Award. Michele is a certified ACE Interface presenter.

Read more posts by Michele

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