03/26/2012 07:55 am ET Updated May 26, 2012

Don't Let College Rejections Stand in Your Way

This is an incredibly emotional time of year as high school seniors receive their college admissions notifications. Most receive great news that they have been accepted to their dream college or to several awesome colleges from which they must choose one to accept. Others get wait-listed -- the limbo of the college admissions process -- or get deferred for a semester or year from a match college.

Still some other high school seniors are rejected from many of the colleges they really wanted to attend.

I feel their pain. I got rejected from half of the schools to which I applied. I know I can't complain, as I was accepted by several top colleges, but still I wanted to attend another college on my list even more. I found a way to make sense of my options. It took me some time, but with the help of my parents, friends and school, I got to that point. And I never looked back.

May 1 is the national college decision day. So that means seniors and their families need to spend the next five weeks making some very powerful college decisions.

A Tough Year for College Admissions

Rejections are often hard for teenagers to accept. They need to understand this was and is an incredibly tough year for college admissions offices, which received record numbers of applications, especially at many public universities. They received record numbers of applications because many are still relatively affordable for in-state students. Unfortunately, budget cuts in many states have devastated public universities. One way they are combating huge budget losses is by accepting more out-of-state and international students. That means there are fewer slots for in-state students. Other students applied to competitive colleges that accept 6 to 20 percent of applicants. That means 80 to 94 percent of those applicants receive rejections.

It is never easy receiving a rejection. I have not gotten used to it. It is especially awful for teenagers, and especially for teenagers whose college lists were unbalanced towards reach and stretch colleges. They often go through the stages of grief. So we must help guide them through this process by accepting their anger and loss. We need to help them also see that they still have some great choices.

If the seniors truly feel misunderstood or that an error occurred, they may choose to file an appeal. They need to find the appeals process on each college's website and follow each one's specific requirements. But remind them that appeals rarely work. Maybe just the effort of submitting an appeal will make the students feel better.

Making Important Decisions

As students work through a huge range of emotions about their college acceptances and rejections, they must make some important decisions. Families, schools and friends need to counsel these students patiently and remember that they are teenagers.

Blaming teachers, schools, counselors, colleges or others for rejections is a natural first response, but it can't be the only response. Students need to accept and work through this challenging process. I rarely ever see students who regret their ultimate choice of college.

Visiting Accepted Colleges Makes a Difference

Therefore, students need to look at the colleges that accepted them and explore several key factors, including affordability and fit. They need to visit colleges, speak to current and former students, attend classes and events, and spend nights in the dorms. Nothing can help make a decision more clear than a great visit. Most colleges have special programs for accepted students and even help pay for disadvantaged students to visit.

Short- and Long-Term Options

If students are still truly unhappy May 1, then they need to take a deeper look at short- and long-term options. They can try to get off a wait list, but still need to be happy with their May 1 choice. They can go to a community college and try to transfer after one or two years. That is a more affordable option, but also risky, as many community colleges are making draconian cuts and students can't get easy access to all the classes they need and their social lives often suffer. If students can get into honors or scholars programs and keep up their grades and get engaged, then community colleges are fine. Another option is attending a four-year college and making plans to transfer. Students following this option must finish their senior years strong, be active during the summer and do extremely well freshman year. Then they must begin the college application process all over again.

Most likely, however, students will fall in love with the college they choose to attend freshman year.

We feel for high school seniors and their families going on the emotional roller coaster of college acceptances the next few weeks. We just ask that you help seniors work toward accepting a college that wants them. They can -- and will -- find happiness in their choices.