Admissions

College Admissions Decisions: What Now?

Colleges have made their decisions and informed angst-filled applicants. Some results were amazing; some were disappointing. If you’re a high school senior heading to college, you’re probably sitting there with your big pile of decisions. You’re no doubt also comparing your financial aid awards with those decisions and, hopefully, with the cooperative help of your parents, trying to make the right choice. Striking the right balance between where you want to go and where you can reasonably afford to go can be tougher than walking a wire across the Grand Canyon. It takes a lot of hard thinking and embracing reality.

Of course, there’s also that sinister factor that sometimes gets overlooked amid all the excitement and rush of a coveted college acceptance: student loan debt. To give you an example of what I mean about loan debt reality vs. acceptance excitement, here a response to a client of mine who was thrilled by her acceptance to Boston University and New York University. She said that her parents informed her that any loan debt would be entirely her responsibility, so she agreed to accept that requirement. Here’s what I told her:

I can offer you a few thoughts on BU’s financial aid package. Since you will be responsible for all of your loans, that is, to pay them all back, you should really take a hard look at the loan situation from BU.


Their financial aid offer looks appealing at first glance. However, colleges have a nasty habit of what is called “front loading” financial aid. That means that they tend to give you their very best offer for freshman year. After that, there is no guarantee that they will continue to give you the same level of aid. Thus, it is rather likely that your aid packages in forthcoming years (after freshman year) will become less lucrative. That’s unfortunate, but–again– there are no guarantees.

Look at those loans in BU’s financial aid award letter (I’m always amused when a college lists a loan under “Other Awards”):

There are three loans in BU’s aid package: one Perkins loan and two Stafford loans, one subsidized, one unsubsidized. “Unsubsidized” means that interest will accrue while you are in college, thus making the final amount due larger than the face amount after graduation. The subsidized loan has the interest pain for by the Federal Government while you are in school. Here’s a link that explains that: http://studentaid.ed.gov/types/loans/subsidized-unsubsidized#what%27s-the-difference.

Adding up those three loans = $8,500 for freshman year. Let’s assume the unlikely scenario that these three loans will remain the same for all four years you’re at BU (assuming, of course, that you will graduate in four years). Not counting accrued interest (and that’s an important point), the mere face value of your loan indebtedness upon your graduation would be $34,000. I’m willing to bet that your debt will be significantly higher than that due to the front loading I mentioned, plus the accrued interest from the unsubsidized Stafford loan. It’s possible (although I hope it isn’t) that your loan debt at graduation could be in the $40-50,000 range.

If you’re planning on graduate school, you’ll be needing more aid. I think you’re getting the picture here. You could conceivably end up with a student loan debt that may take you decades to pay off, since interest never stops accruing. It’s like just paying the minimum payment on your credit card each month. Perpetual debt.

Once you see NYU’s “revised” offer, you may find it to be similar to BU’s. You have to do a projection of debt at graduation, keeping in mind that front loading factor, when you compare aid offers.

I know that it’s very hard for you now to focus on long-range debt consequences when you have the chance to go NYU or BU. However, student loan debt is completely out of control today. Here’s some good documentation on that: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/average-student-loan-debt.

I would be the last one to dissuade you from wanting to go to the college of your choice, but I would be the first person to ask you to consider the consequences of major loan debt. So, the choice is fully yours, since you are the one responsible for your loans.

So, that’s my sermon on student loan debt. 🙂

 

Making your college enrollment decision involves a number of considerations. I feel that the most important consideration is the consequence of loan debt. That’s why I wanted to address it first.

What else do you have to consider? Let’s take a look.

Russell Schaffer of Kaplan Test Prep sent me some savvy strategies for helping college applicants make their important college-choice decisions. With Russell’s permission, I’d like to share them with you.

“The teenage rite of passage of waiting for incoming college decisions may have changed from looking for the thin or fat envelope to hitting “refresh” on the Web browser — but the anxiety of college decision limbo has not. While many of this year’s two million-plus college applicants have earned admission into their top choice schools, many more are coping with the blow of rejection or being sent into waitlist mode, wondering what to do next. Meanwhile, even those fortunate enough to get accepted into their top choice schools are grappling with tough decisions. During this critical time, what should college applicants do and how can parents support their efforts? We offer the following advice for students to help navigate the most common college admissions scenarios.

I didn’t get accepted to my top choice schools. Don’t be discouraged. You’re far from alone. Many of the nation’s most competitive schools announced record low acceptance rates this year (e.g. 5.9% for Harvard University; 6.3% for Yale University; 8.6% for Brown University; 7.3% for Princeton University; 6.9% for Columbia University). Keep in mind that college admissions have an element of subjectivity; also, rejection can sometimes reflect more on a school’s desire to build a well-rounded and diverse class with limited spots than on your strength as an applicant. Ideally you’ve applied to multiple places, including “safety” schools, which means you should have options. Take another look at these schools. If you applied to them, you must have liked something about them. And remember that generations of college students before you didn’t get into their top choice schools, but ended up being happy with their college experience.

I’ve been waitlisted. Do I wait? The last thing you should do if you’ve been waitlisted is wait. Your first step: thank the school for keeping your application under continued consideration and send the admissions office new, relevant information that could aid your cause: midterm grades, awards, new leadership roles, etc. Make the case that you are a “must-have student.” That said, don’t be under any illusion that getting off the waitlist will be easy; in fact, it’s unlikely. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in the most recently surveyed year, colleges accepted an average of 25% of all students who chose to remain on waitlists – down from 31% the previous year. With that in mind, definitely revisit the schools that did say “We want you now.”

I got into my top college choice, but the amount of financial aid they offered me wasn’t enough. Don’t be afraid to ask for more aid. Unlike FAFSA offers, which are non-negotiable,  there may be flexibility in financial aid packages awarded directly by colleges. One strategy may be to show them a financial aid offer made by another college that accepted you and see if they’ll match it. Since they’ve already accepted you, they more than likely will work with you. Explain to them how your family’s financial situation may have changed since first applying or how your activities since applying warrant additional aid; the worst that can happen is that your request is denied.

I got into several of my top schools; how do I decide which one to attend? This is the best situation to be in, but that doesn’t mean the decision will be simple. Refer to the list of factors you considered when you first applied. If paying for college is an important factor, evaluate their financial aid packages. If you can, visit (or revisit) the campuses that are still in the running, talk to current students and/or alumni, consider what’s most important to you in your college experience and which school will be the best “fit” for your priorities. Then, discuss it with those who know you best and make an informed decision.

One more thing to keep in mind: Schools have the right to revoke your acceptance. While this is an uncommon occurrence, it does happen. Keep your grades up (according to a study by the NACAC, colleges say final grades are the reason for revoking admission 68.7 percent of the time); don’t get in trouble with the law or with your school; and be on your best behavior on social media.”

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Soon you will be closing in on final choice time. Make sure that you are conscientious about meeting the May 1 deadline. Colleges will give away your spot (and your financial aid) if you do not notify them by May 1 that you will attend. Even if you are waiting for a waitlist college, you must send a deposit somewhere by the deadline. This is also true if you are in the middle of a financial-aid appeal. Sometimes you get an extension, especially if you are in the middle of an aid appeal. But you should always get that extension in writing; email is fine.

If you have been waitlisted at a top-choice college and wish to remain on the list, you must be sure to notify that college immediately. The more selective the college, the longer those lists tend to be and the more futile the campaign, but I still think it can be worth doing. Otherwise you’ll always wonder what might have been.

If a college is pressuring you to send a decision (and, especially, a deposit) before May 1, the school is violating the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Candidates Reply Date Agreement. Mention this to your school counselor. Colleges will sometimes do anything they can to fill those dorm rooms.

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Finally, for those of you who have aspired to the most selective colleges in America, those in the Ivy League, I’d like to offer you some comforting wisdom from the College Confidential discussion forum. In a thread entitled Why do seemingly perfect students get rejected from Ivies?, parents and students add their perspectives about this often asked question. Here are several sample comments:

– During the last college process, I had a friend who graduated salutatorian of his high school (400+ students). He was of Asian descent and had a 2360 SAT score and participated in tons of extracurriculars. He applied to Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth, and was rejected by all four of them. Yes even Cornell, supposedly the least selective. As far as leadership positions, he was the VP of a local youth group and secretary of the math league.

We have all heard stories about how Ivies reject tons of perfect GPA or SAT students each year, but this guy seemed to have unbelievable bad luck all around, even after working hard in high school and people with lower scores were admitted. His essays were pretty good, and were reviewed by teachers and peers. Not sure about recs, but he was accepted to other prestigious non-ivies.

Just wanted to start a conversation for people at this stage, who find themselves having put in everything possible and yet find themselves falling short.

– From the little one can read for free, I think she is worth looking at: http://www.amazon.com/Admissions-Former-Stanford-Officers-College-ebook/dp/B0052MZEZC

It’s not all about stats.

If you want it to be all about stats, you may want to look at schools that select on that basis.For the record, we don’t know how your friend came across. Only that his stats did not guarantee him a coveted spot at an Ivy. Maybe he didn’t appear as great as you know him to be, maybe it was dumb luck that another, similar kid at another local hs seemed more “compelling.”

– Thank you, friends, for allowing me some “sour grapes” ranting! My son did apply early action and was deferred to regular decision, and then rejected. He believes strongly that a well-rounded education and his academic pursuits greatly inform his music, so he chose not to apply to conservatory-only programs, despite his interest in a professional music career. Instead he looked at dual-degree programs, or universities with strong music departments and top-notch cello teachers. It could be that Yale picked up on his intense interest in music and saw a kid that was going to end up in music school anyway. The good news: He has fantastic choices! Accepted with merit aid to CIM/Case Western, Eastman/Rochester, Oberlin, Vanderbilt (full tuition scholarship), and Indiana. He can’t go wrong. I luckily bypassed this whole issue with my older son, also a gifted student and writer (he was a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in writing). Early on he decided he wanted a small LAC in a rural setting. I was relieved; I knew on paper he didn’t have the bogus “leadership” positions and volunteering that Ivies want. His time was better spent writing, obviously! He ended up at Kenyon and has had an absolutely wonderful experience there. My biggest discovery during the college search process was how many really wonderful schools there are! So my cellist is already over it and on to making his very hard decision…

See the CC forum for the remaining comments on this long thread and also for insights and answers to almost all your other questions that will help you answer “What now?”

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Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.