How do you help your teenager move on from a rejected application to higher education or university?

Unfortunately, not everyone gets their 1st priority when it comes to education, and that can feel like a real gut punch. Especially if you don’t know where to turn to next. And it’s natural that parents might wonder how best to help their teenager. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help your teenager digest the news and move forward to a solution.

Firstly, remember that none of their choices is a dead end. All secondary education opens the door to a vast world of knowledge and new experiences for your child. And although the message can be a real shock in the moment there are plenty of ways to help your teenager move on. So what do you do as a parent of a student who suddenly finds themself in this situation?

Step 1: acknowledge the feelings that rejection brings up in your young person.

As parents, we need to recognise that children and teenagers feel things more deeply. What may feel like a small thing to you, because you have a wider frame of reference and experiences, actually feels super hard to a teenager. And that feeling is real. So, start by putting yourself in the young person’s shoes. Express that you can understand why your child feels the way they do, and it’s sad. But remember the right balance of empathy. If you look at the balance as a scale where 1 is ‘dry your eyes and get on with it’ and 10 is ‘sit and grieve and wring your hands with your child’, then the right balance is somewhere in the middle.

Step 2: time to act. So what do we do now?

After the acknowledgement phase, it’s time to act. The young person may not be able to see any alternatives to their first choice. As an adult, you can. But it’s important not just to rush into direct action, but to spend some time asking about the young person’s choices and considerations when prioritising education.

Understanding why the young person chose that path in the first place is particularly important in helping to find alternatives. For some young people, the decision on education can be preconceived, a notion deeply rooted in them, for instance going to XYZ is the ‘right path’ and for them it might seem like there are no other choices.

Here it can be a great help to put everything into a bigger perspective. Ask the young person what they really want in their future, and what is important to them, and then you can consider together what other choices can lead to their long term visions.

Step 3: someone to reflect with.

It’s good to have someone to look up to when you’re in the middle of something difficult. To feel you’re not alone. Maybe they can talk to an adult whose first choice of education was rejected but is now doing something they love, and are happy with the choice they made. Maybe it can be other students who are in the same boat but have moved forward to a new choice.

Step 4: show them that they DO have a bright future.

All roads lead to new life experiences and opportunities. There used to be only one way to become a student, today there are many.

It might also be helpful to contact other schools’ student counselling services for help understanding the doors that various courses open, just as it may also be useful to look at paths other than a university degree or baccalaureate and so on.

By helping them take a pause, reflect and consider their options you CAN help your teen see that it is not the end of the world and that they DO still have a bright future; just maybe a slightly different one to the one they had in mind.

Our teens can choose between so many education programmes, all of which provide access to, for example, an academy or university. Whichever path your teenager chooses, I wish them all the best for the future.

Best wishes,
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team