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What to Do When the Admissions Decisions Are In

Admit it; there was a part of you that didn’t really think this day would come.  And yet, suddenly, your mailbox (and/or your child’s inbox) is flooded with admissions decisions.  What once seemed like a hypothetical is quickly turning into reality and life beyond the confines of your house is beckoning your child.  Of course, after the immediate cheers (or, gulp, tears) subside, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Most schools will send out their letters sometime between late March and early April (for regular decision applicants).  And nearly all of those schools will expect your child to render a decision by May 1st or thereabouts.  This leaves your family with a month or so to contemplate your options.  At that time, you’ll need to confirm your acceptance by mailing in a deposit to your child’s chosen university.  If you fail to do so, your child will likely forfeit his admission.

As you begin to navigate the final leg of the college application journey, here are some points to consider after receiving those decisions:   

The Research Continues…

Just like your child, you probably hoped the college research was done the minute his list of schools was finalized.  However, if your child received multiple acceptances, you’ll still need to winnow down your options.  Therefore, it’s important to revisit the materials collected from various schools.  Moreover, if time and resources allow, we highly recommend visiting the top contenders.  Many schools hold special events designated solely for admitted students.  These are great opportunities to get a flavor of each school your child is seriously considering.  Remember - tastes, needs and desires could have changed over the course of the year.  Upon reflection, the school once considered a frontrunner might now have lost its luster.  And a college once thought to be a back-up might actually have some really desirable qualities.

Show Me the Money!

For many families, the financial aid package is just as important as the actual letter of admission. After all, many final decisions come down to which schools offer the most money.  Most colleges send the financial aid info along with the acceptance letter.  A small handful of schools might send them quickly on the heels of their admissions decisions.  If you haven’t received an award letter by mid-April, we suggest you contact the school.

Once you have aid letters from all of the colleges in hand, it’s time to compare packages. You’ll want to calculate your out-of-pocket expenses by subtracting the aid granted from the full cost of attendance.  You will also want to bear in mind the type of aid awarded. Loans must be paid back, while scholarships do not. In addition, some scholarships are given for all four years, (usually with strings attached, such as maintaining a minimum GPA), while others are only guaranteed for one year. Read the fine print! If you have any questions about the aid package offered, contact the financial aid office. Finally, be sure to read each document carefully as some financial aid offices require you to return signed papers within a relatively quick timeframe.

The Waiting List

Waiting list notification can be exceedingly frustrating for applicants (and their parents).  They spend several nerve-racking months anxiously awaiting a definitive response only to discover that they’re still stuck in limbo.  While some candidates decide to immediately write-off the college, others still desperately cling to the dream.  

If your child ends up on a waiting list, he must decide whether or not he’d like to remain on said list.  It’s important to recognize that while you and your child can take proactive measures such as sending the college in question appropriate supplemental material, it’s often difficult to get off of a waiting list.  Therefore, you should push your child to choose an alternate school.  If your child waits until he receives a definitive answer, most deadlines will have passed and then his options will be severely limited.  It’s better to send in a deposit somewhere and start getting psyched about that school.   Your child can always back out should he be fortunate enough to get off the waiting list (though the deposit will likely be forfeited).

Sometimes, students who don’t get accepted by their first choice schools contemplate taking time off and re-applying the following year.  We advise against that tactic.  While there is nothing wrong with pursuing a gap year, not getting into a dream school isn’t reason enough.  Without a really great plan for what will happen during that gap year that will make your child a stronger applicant, he is unlikely to be successful a second time. Additionally, it’s actually much easier to transfer from a second choice or a less prestigious school.  Instead of your child putting all of his focus into redoing an application, he should jump into his collegiate experience.  Tell him to work diligently and put academics on the front burner.  Your child will be a much more competitive candidate if he earns great grades once enrolled in college.  And he just might discover that his second choice is a dream school after all!

Back-Up Plans

Listen, college admissions is a fickle game and there’s no application strategy that is foolproof.  On occasion some students find themselves faced with the seemingly impossible – getting rejected from every school to which they applied (hence why your child should never apply to only one or two schools).  If your child finds himself in this unfortunate scenario, don’t let this stumbling block derail his academic plans.  Assure him that his dreams of higher education are not over.  At worst they are merely postponed.

Instead, have your child consider attending a two-year school.  Though community college might not be what your family initially envisioned, it’s a great way to ensure your child does not fall behind his peers.  It’s also a fabulous way to knock out core requirements, leaving your child time to explore new subjects when he enrolls in a four-year university.  Plus, community college will allow your family to save money.

Additionally, not all colleges and universities maintain a strict, singular deadline; you and your child can seek out schools that are still accepting applications. Schools with rolling admission continue to accept applications until all available slots are filled.  Other schools open up a late admission period if, after their regular admission cycle, they still have space remaining in the entering class.

Talk to your child’s guidance counselor about how to identify rolling and/or late admissions schools that might be a good fit for him.  You can also contact colleges directly to see if they are still accepting applications.  One thing of which you should be aware: the later your child applies, the smaller the pool of available financial aid.

Taking a Gap Year

Often times, parents are wary when they hear the phrase “gap year.”  They fear that any break in education could lead to indefinite postponement.  And it certainly doesn’t help that some parents probably entertain visions of their child lying on the couch for twelve months.  However, a gap year shouldn’t be confused with an extended vacation.  Frankly, if that’s your child’s intention we encourage you to put your foot down.  Nevertheless, gap years can actually be quite advantageous and expose your child to new ideas, interests and intellectual pursuits.  

If your child is feeling overly anxious about starting college or adamant about taking a break from the academic rat race, sit down and discuss plans for a gap year.  Your child could spend this time working, interning, traveling or volunteering (domestically or abroad).  And this brief respite might allow him to enter college with greater focus and clarity.

Most schools allow students the option of deferring enrollment for a semester or year (and in some cases longer).  Be aware that there are likely filing deadlines to meet so it’s best to contact your child’s university as soon as possible.

Don’t Let Them Slack!

It’s completely understandable if your child wants to kick back and bask in his accomplishments for a little while; after all the hard work, a little celebration is well-deserved.    However, don’t let him fully embraces slacker-dom.  A college’s offer of admission is conditional.  That’s right; a letter of admission isn’t binding; should grades fall dramatically or disciplinary issues arise, a college can revoke its offer of admission. A small drop in grades isn’t a cause for concern, just be sure your child makes a continued effort.  In other words, he must demonstrate that he is still the student the university eagerly admitted.

Additionally, the work does not end when the admissions decisions hit your mailbox.  While it’s certainly an exciting time, between notification and financial aid deadlines, housing forms, thank-you notes for teachers who wrote recommendations, etc. there’s still a lot to get done.  Make sure your child has everything in order so by the time graduation rolls around he is relaxed and ready to face the future.


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Don Munce