Last week was a challenging week for some of my students (and myself). Nursing school admission decisions at my institution were sent out through email, so a handful of my freshmen and sophomores were impacted. Some were accepted into the nursing school, others were not, and a few found out their acceptances will be withdrawn due to a failing grade. While I enjoyed the easy part of that experience, congratulating my students who received full acceptances, the difficult, not-so-easy task followed: meeting one-on-one with the latter of the above students.
Admission into the nursing school at my institution is a highly selective and competitive process. Students are advised early on to focus on excellence in their academics and co-curricular experiences. With this being said, our highest-achieving pre-nursing students are applicants to the nursing school. Another piece of context I want to contribute is my pre-nursing students’ background prior to admission into their health care program of interest. They are all new to the college experience, being that they are freshmen and some are sophomores. In addition, from what I learned during my early advising sessions with most of them, these students have seen a huge amount of success during their K-12 experience through now. I have learned about their various academic and co-curricular honors/awards, leadership positions, and all of the colleges they were accepted to. For many of my students who were either not accepted or will have their acceptances withdrawn, this may be their first academic rejection. They don’t know how to deal with it. The following are some pieces of my advising sessions with those students. I highly recommend using some these points when working with your high-achieving students who are dealing with rejection:
- Tell students it is okay to be upset. That feeling is temporary and will pass once the student has the opportunity to carefully think through what just occurred. Make sure to let them know not to make any decisions about their college experience until the upset feelings have passed. One of my students, who currently has a 4.0, wanted to drop out of school when she found out she was rejected; so I quickly met with her.
- Let them know that rejection is not the “end of the road” for them but simply a “bump in the road”. Work with them to develop ways to move past that bump, such as discussing academic support options and alternative pathways toward their goals.
- Help students understand rejection does not mean they are bad students. They were accepted into college so they are great students. Many of my students who were rejected by the nursing school had wonderful GPAs, test scores, and health care experience, but the applicant pool was competitive and there are limited seats.
- Let students know that this was not their time, but their time will come as long as they continue to work hard and be goal-driven.
- When time permits, educate students’ parents/family about what just occurred and ways their students can move forward successfully. I have found that for some of my students, their upset feelings brought on by rejection can be attributed to feeling they have upset their family.
- Lastly, when I feel it is appropriate, I share my experiences dealing with rejection as a college student. I focus on my emotions at the time but mostly how I moved past rejection toward success. This may be something you want to include in your discussion with students as well.
To paraphrase a comment by Professor Melissa Harris-Perry: If you went through college and never got upset about anything, then you did not receive what you should have out of a college education. This is one piece of information we, as student affairs educators, need to help our students understand, especially our younger, high-achieving students. This information was helpful when speaking with my students last week. We need to tell students that college is great, but it won’t always be about fun and games. Students will face challenges, such as rejection, and will be upset sometimes. Nevertheless, learning comes out of challenges. These bumps in the road are beneficial parts of the journey toward the student’s destination.