Getting Over Rejection, From College

Most colleges and universities recently let anxious students know who is getting in —and who is not— for the next academic year. And many applicants are dealing with rejection from their dream school. Host Michel Martin talks with psychotherapist Diane Barth about what students are going through, and how parents can help them move on.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So let's move away from those who have the happy problem of figuring out how to succeed in college, presumably the college of their choice. What about the others? The others are going to be smarting from rejection letters this spring. Joining us now to talk about how to survive a college rejection is psychotherapist Diane Barth. She's written about this issue for the Off the Couch blog for Psychology Today magazine.

Thank you so much for joining us.

DIANE BARTH: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And, Diane, I have to confess that one of the reasons we're thinking about this is that we read this piece by a young woman named Suzy Lee Weiss. She's a student in Pittsburgh. She recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal called "To All the Colleges that Rejected Me" and she had some rather spicy and pointed words for people who - for the colleges that she did not get into and one of the things that she blames is diversity. She says that, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would gladly have worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet. I would have happily come out of it. I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker.

So she says now - she says that the piece was a satire, but she also says, yes. She is bitter. This is what she told "The Today Show." Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE TODAY SHOW")

SUZY LEE WEISS: I poured my whole life for, like, the past five years, into these college applications and - yeah - I was attracted to the sexy ivy leagues name, but I think the overall point is that anyone can relate to this. It doesn't matter what your dream school is.

MARTIN: Diane, is this typical to kind of stereotype, blame somebody else, basically, when you don't get in?

BARTH: Oh, sure. Sure. But you know, she actually put her finger on the problem, which your two previous guests were also talking about, which is that she poured her whole life into these college applications. I mean, that's part of the problem is these kids are not learning to live. They're not learning to learn. They're not learning to enjoy the process of life. They're focused every minute of every day of their lives on getting into the right college.

MARTIN: Nobody likes being rejected, but have you observed in your practice over time and talking with your colleagues - is there a particular profile of a student who's likely to take it harder than others?

BARTH: Oh, that's interesting. I haven't actually - no. I don't have a profile. I think that, in general, the kids who have worked so hard to get into, quote, unquote, "the right college" - and that's a very wide range of young people - take it very hard and very personally when they don't get into the right college or to the college they think is the right college.

MARTIN: They think is the right college. I want to get to that.

BARTH: Yeah.

MARTIN: I want to save some time to talk about that because you actually wrote about that in your piece. But this young lady also blames her parents. I mean, she's - for not pushing her hard enough to take on extracurriculars, for not being tiger moms, you know...

BARTH: Right.

MARTIN: ...as it were. I'm interested in your perspective on that. Again, she says that this is satire, but she also does say...

BARTH: Right.

MARTIN: ...that there is a grain of truth in this. They didn't push her to take on a lot of extracurriculars. She didn't create what she calls a fake charity and things of that sort.

BARTH: Yeah. You know, I think it's so hard. It's easy to blame parents. We all like to do it. It's never us. We're never the bad parents, but I think that, you know, parents are doing what they're doing to try to make their kids be what seems to be successful these days and we live in a culture that's very goal-directed and so we think that the thing that's going to make our children successful is if they get into the right college.

And youngsters think that, too. I would actually congratulate her parents because I think it's more - I mean, I think it's pretty neat that she was able to write a piece that got published in the Wall Street Journal. That, to me, is actually more interesting and more exciting than whether or not she got into the school she thought was the right school.

MARTIN: Her sister is a former assistant editor at the Journal. I just thought I'd mention that.

BARTH: OK.

MARTIN: Yes. So some family advantage there and, speaking of it...

BARTH: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: ...she was rejected or she told "The Today Show" she was rejected by Princeton, Yale, Vanderbilt and the University of Pennsylvania, but she was admitted to a number of fine schools, including, I think - let's see where: Penn State, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

BARTH: Right.

MARTIN: So she's got somebody to root for in the Final Four. That is of interest.

BARTH: Exactly.

MARTIN: Do you have some guidelines - some basic guidelines for talking about a student - somebody who just feels really crushed for whatever reason? Because, sometimes, kids have been told by people in their lives that this is the thing. You've got to go to the place your parents went or you've got to go to this particular school.

BARTH: Oh, sure. Yeah. I think that there are two things that I suggest. One is that parents think about, for themselves, what it is they want their child to accomplish and, usually, it's not that they think they have to go to that school so much as they think that that's what will give them a happy life and I think the parents have to really - either on their own or with help - have to rethink that and think about what's going to be the right education for their child or the right - you know, the experience that will be meaningful for their child. It may not be the school they went to and even if they think it might be that school, there's always the possibility their child won't get into that school, so they need to have other ways of thinking about what will make their child happy and successful, not that those two necessarily go together.

MARTIN: Well, you talked about that in your piece. You talked about the fact that you did not get into the school that you had wanted to because...

BARTH: Yes.

MARTIN: ...you didn't get into the school that your mother and uncle had gone to.

BARTH: Yes.

MARTIN: And you had been thinking about this your whole - you got into a pretty good school.

BARTH: Right.

MARTIN: But it didn't work out for you.

BARTH: Right.

MARTIN: What did you learn from that?

BARTH: Well, you're talking about the NCAA finals. I come from North Carolina. That's all we talked about. Right? So I wanted to go to Carolina because that was the school everybody in my family rooted for and I didn't get in who knows why. I went to Duke. I had a good experience at Duke. I didn't stay there because, really, it turned out that I was ready to leave North Carolina. Didn't know that when I applied to school. I think that's one of the things that's really important is that, at the age of 17 when you're applying to schools and 18 when you start, you are just beginning to change. You're developing into a new person, so I see over and over again people who have gone to one college. Sometimes, the college they absolutely desperately wanted to get into and, sometimes, a college that wasn't their first choice and who aren't happy there.

And one of the things that I think is really important is to be able to recognize that these choices are not made on really solid grounds, often. They're made on what you think is right for you or what your parents think is right for you, but often, as you grow, even if it was right in the first year, it may not be right in the second or third year.

MARTIN: So what is it that they say? It's gets better. Right? It can get better.

BARTH: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

MARTIN: Diane Barth is a psychotherapist who writes the "Off the Couch" blog for "Psychology Today" and she was kind enough to join us from Radio Foundation in New York City.

Diane Barth, thank you for joining us.

BARTH: Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.