Preparing for College

The May 1 College Decision Looms

High school seniors: Have you made you college enrollment decision yet? If not, you've got just over a week. May 1 is the almost universal response deadline for agreeing to attend a certain college. Some of you most fortunate applicants are sitting on a pile of attractive acceptances. Your decision will likely be more difficult than your peers who have just a handful of fat envelopes. Or, maybe it's the other way around, depending on local circumstances. In any event, if you haven't already made your decision, maybe the information in this post can help you.

One of the best articles I've seen recently about the college enrollment decision-making process appeared in a recent Patch.com post by Deborah Cossey, where she discusses National College Response Day and offers five questions that you should answer before making your college-choice decision.


- The financial questions: Have you and your family carefully evaluated the financial aid package or the total costs of the colleges on your list? Do you know the “average indebtedness at graduation” for each college (if not, check College Board)? Will you be able to afford this college for the four or five years until you graduate? Will the cost be a burden to you or your family?

- The academic question: Have you researched, talked to the departments and made sure that the colleges on your list have the academic departments that are of interest to you? We know that students often change their majors in college, but it helps if the colleges have a variety of departments within your range of interest.

- The social/activities question: What will it be like to be on this campus on the weekends? What do kids do for fun? If you like hiking or mountain biking, is it available? Do you want to have a city nearby? Is there easy access to the shops, restaurants and concerts that would be of interest to you? In general, can you see yourself being comfortable, involved and happy at this college?

- The distance question: Many of you started out seeking colleges as far away from home as possible. Now that reality has set in, is that still what you want?  How will you get to your college and how long will it take you?  Will you be taking a car and, if so, what are the parking costs (can be pricey!). How do students fair without a car? Now, in April of your senior year, how far away from home do you want to be?

- The personal question: Take away the hype and ask yourself what your “gut” says about this choice. Where will you be most comfortable, challenged, happy, involved, successful, and feel like you are “at home?”  In other words, really take time to evaluate what you want, not your parents, teachers, counselor, media or colleges. This is your biggest decision so far. Make the best one for you.

Assuming that the answers to these questions (and other factors) have led you to your best decision, what's next? Well, The College Board has the answers about that. Here are some highlights:

What to Do After Choosing a College

Next Steps

Congratulations — you know where you're going to go to college! The next few months are going to be incredibly busy and exciting as you prepare for the transition. Here's a list of things to take care of before you arrive on campus.

Read All College Materials Carefully

In addition to the acceptance letter, the college sends you information on orientation, financial aid, housing, meal plans and more . . .

Send the Tuition Deposit

If your college follows the National Candidates Reply Date Agreement, you have until May 1 to make your final decision and send in your deposit. Not all colleges participate in the agreement, though, so look for the reply date in your materials . . .

Your tuition deposit signals your acceptance of the college's offer of admission and reserves your place in the freshman class. Sending your deposit late (or not at all) can jeopardize your acceptance . . .

Accept the Financial Aid Offer

If you’ve been offered financial aid, you have to accept that separately. You’re not required to accept the entire aid package as is; for example, you might want to take out a smaller loan . . .

Take Care of Loan Paperwork

If student loans are offered as part of your aid package, and you accept them, you probably need to fill out a loan application before the start of the semester . . .

Choose Housing

If you won’t be living at home, decide whether you’ll be living in a dorm or in off-campus housing, if that’s an option. If you’re going to live in a dorm, your college will send you a housing contract and details such as move-in dates, roommate info, and resident rules and services . . .

Select a Meal Plan

Enrolling in a meal plan may be mandatory if you’re living on campus. Off-campus students may also have the option of signing up for a campus meal plan . . .

Send Your Final Transcript

Confirm with your counselor that your final high school transcript will be mailed to your college's admission office . . .

Attend Pre-Orientation Programs

Some colleges offer programs that let first-year students get to know one another on trips or community service projects . . .

Thank Your Supporters

Don't forget to express your gratitude to everyone who has helped you during the college application process — counselors, teachers, coaches, scholarship sponsors and especially your family.

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I hope these insights may be of value for those of you who are still pondering your college choices and those of you who have already made your choice and may not know all the proper steps of following through.

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.