On university applications, the waiting game, rejection and self belief


“I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today, what I established yesterday…”

James Joyce, Irish novelist, 1842 – 1941

James Joyce

The UCAS process, university applications and that protracted waiting period leading up to offers, interview requests or rejections, has dominated my personal life of late.

I have a teenage daughter who will be making her UCAS applications in the next academic year and several friends, parents of teenagers, who are waiting on, or have received various offers or rejections from the universities of their choice.

Conversations at home have been interwoven by the beep of a mobile phone and my daughter proclaiming the outcome of this or that friend’s update on their respective university applications – rejected by Bristol, an offer from Birmingham, an interview with Sheffield..  I am conscious, also, of recent and disquieting conversations with friends who remain convinced their son or daughter will be rejected by every university they have applied to, on the basis of receiving one rejection letter.

It is a taxing time and one that demands, on the part of both student and parent, huge reserves of self confidence, a steely inner self-belief and great quantities of resilience, in order to withstand stormy times ahead. Rejection from a chosen university holds the potential to erode confidence in the belief each person holds about their own capacity to succeed.

How do we guard against the vagaries of life at this most challenging of times, and still retain a sense of confidence, of optimism and an expectation of positive outcomes?

I’ve come up with some pointers that may help safe-guard sanity in times of duress –

For parents – firstly some Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Do focus discussions on your son or daughter’s positive qualities and accomplisments, so that, in the event of a single or multiple rejections, it does not represent a statement of inadequacy, of failure to meet the mark, but is rather a reflection of a host of factors, some of which are outside of their control;
  2. Do keep discussions positive, on the various merits of each university. Avoid criticism and negative comment. The university you have bad-mouthed one day may well be the one that makes a positive offer the next, or the one a close friend of your off-spring regards as their ideal destination;
  3. Do keep discussions open so that, in the event of no university offer, there are other, constructive paths forward, including improving grades, employment and gap years, that remain viable and attractive alternatives;
  4. Do not allow your own fears and worries about your  son or daughter’s success to pervade the general conversation and erode their confidence and belief in themselves. Keep your fears, reservations and pessimistic forecasts of doom and gloom to yourself. Fear is contagious!
  5. Do not presume to be the first person to know the outcome of important news. Bide your time and heed body  language – incessant questionning is a sure way to spur the most placid of teenagers to rebellion and silence
  6. Do not burn bridges through frustration or despair – keep the lines of communication open so that you are not excluded from important or relevant discussions at crucial times.


For students –

  1. Do not get drawn into debate with friends regarding reasons why person A has been rejected, yet person B, of much lesser quality, has been accepted – let it go, and speak as you would be spoken about;
  2. Do not assume you have power or control over the application process and will be impervious to the content of letters that arrive on your doorstep. Anticipate that you will experience a myriad emotions, some positive, many negative, and prepare yourself;
  3. Do keep yourself busy and occupied and forward-thinking, with a focus on your own personal goals – what you do today, determines outcomes tomorrow (see the above James Joyce quote);
  4. Do keep an open mind about alternatives to university, if rejection does come your way. What can you do now that improves your chances of success in the long run? Think strategically – do not give up on your goals;
  5. Do store up huge reserves of tolerance for parents who will hound you to know every last detail of your offers or rejections and will doubtless trawl through the past six months to see what went wrong and when. Show patience, for one day, you may be a parent yourself and understand the agony.


Finally, my counsel always is to hold fast to your dreams. Do not allow others to sway you from your purpose when you know deep in your heart, what it is you have set out to achieve. Accept guidance, accept advice and the wisdom of older generations, but listen also to your own inner voice. Have confidence in yourself and your own ability – confidence borne from a true understanding of your strengths, weaknesses and qualities.

Finally, I can do no better than to call upon the words of a revered author and one I studied myself at univeristy, many, many moons ago – Mark Twain:

“Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Mark Twain, American Author and Humorist, 1835 – 1910.


2 responses »

  1. All super advice. I’ve had two daughters go through this, with all the ups and downs that follow. And a younger son to come. Calmness and patience are at a premium. Hope you’re well.


  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. You will by now, be well versed in the art of patience and maintaining an equilibrium through this demanding process. My daughter will be applying this Autumn – meetings re UCAS have already begun and it is a relentless time.

    All well thank you. Half way through chemotherapy, which is grim, bleak and to be endured. Regards to you. H


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