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7 Tips to Prepare for College Decision Day

January 27, 2021 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

7 Tips to Prepare for College Decision Day

After four years of hard work in high school, the college acceptance letters begin to roll in. If a student is lucky enough to receive multiple acceptance offers from colleges, then they have some big decisions to make.

Chances are, they will make that decision by May 1st—aka, College Decision Day. The first of May is the day most colleges require prospective students to accept their offer if they plan to attend their school in the fall.

Before the big decision day arrives, students and their families will generally want to prepare together. This is an important decision to make and there are a lot of important factors to consider. Keep reading for seven tips that could help students prepare for college decision day.

1. Get Organized and Know the Deadlines

The college application and acceptance process can be overwhelming. If a student has multiple offers to choose from, they may find they have a lot of paperwork and important deadlines on their hands. Corralling the following paperwork and deadlines should make the process easier and ensure no important details are overlooked:


•   Acceptance deadline (not all schools play by the May 1st rule)
•   FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, deadline (a key step in receiving financial aid)
•   Housing deadline


•   Acceptance letter
•   Financial aid offers
•   Copies of important submitted documentation like the FAFSA®

Keeping a separate folder, either physical or digital, for each school a student has been accepted to can be a helpful way to stay on top of any important paperwork. Marking key dates on the calendar as soon as the applicant comes across them can aid in relieving unnecessary confusion too.

2. Compare Financial Aid Offers

It’s no secret that college can get pretty darn expensive. Before officially deciding which college to attend, it’s important to compare any financial aid offers. Schools may have different policies and opportunities regarding financial aid such as scholarship and grants, so it’s worth comparing and contrasting any offers to see which school will be the most affordable. Money may not be the deciding factor for a student, but many will likely take the cost of attendance into consideration.

Once accepted to a college, the student can generally expect to receive a financial aid award letter that outlines what grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study options will be available to them. This can help families calculate the cost of attendance as well as help them understand what their financing options are.

This letter will only account for the first year of enrollment, so it can be worthwhile to request information from each school about how much tuition and fee prices have risen over the past few years.

3. Reserving Spots

To reserve a student’s spot at the college they’ve chosen to accept, they will generally need to pay an enrollment deposit fee. This fee is typically non-refundable, but guarantees the student has a spot at the school. The fee can vary in price from $100 to $1,000, depending on the school. Once school begins, this deposit is applied to the tuition bill or costs relating to housing, orientation, or school fees.

Students who are unable to afford the enrollment deposit, can apply for a waiver. The student can complete a form from The National Association for College Admission Counseling and submit it to their college admissions office explaining their unique circumstances and can inquire about any school-specific programs or policies that may be able to help.

Students who are struggling to make a decision about which college to attend may be tempted to put down multiple deposits to buy themselves some extra time to make a decision. This practice is referred to as “double depositing” and is generally frowned on and considered unethical as it can negatively affect the schools and students who have been waitlisted and are hoping a spot will open up at the college they are waitlisted at.

4. Mull Over the Waitlist

Making a decision about which college to attend can be tricky, especially if the student has been accepted to multiple schools that they are interested in attending. This decision can be even more challenging to make if a student is waiting to hear back from a dream college or has been waitlisted at one of their top picks.

If a student is still waitlisted at their dream school on National Decision Day, they generally will accept another choice, in the event that they do not make it off the waitlist at another school. Depending on the applicant and the school, getting off the waitlist and into the school can be competitive.

Even if a student makes it off the waitlist, that school may not be worth waiting for. Students who are accepted after being waitlisted may find that they receive less financial assistance in the form of grants or financial aid by the time they are admitted, as being waitlisted can put them to the back of the line for financial assistance.

5. When Decision Day Arrives

Ideally, making a final decision about which college to attend can happen before the national decision day. Waiting until the last minute offers very little wiggle room if something goes wrong with the acceptance process (say a computer glitch or busy phone lines).

That being said, if a student has not accepted their first choice college by May 1st or the specific acceptance dates of each college they received offers from, that should be their top priority. If they have already accepted a college offer, May 1st is a good day to double and triple check that they are officially enrolled. Better safe than sorry!

Next, rejecting the colleges the student won’t be accepting is another step to take. By not accepting the offer, the student will lose their spot, but the sooner they reject an offer, the sooner the college may be able to offer their spot to another student on the waitlist.

6. If a Student Misses the Deadline

Of course, missing the college decision deadline is not ideal and in many scenarios, missing this deadline can eliminate the student’s option of attending the school they are hoping to accept.

If a student misses the deadline, all hope is not lost. Some schools struggle to hit their enrollment targets by May 1st. Plus, many schools lose students during the summer due to “summer melt”. Summer melt occurs when an accepted college student does not show up in the fall. Because of this, some schools may have a bit of secret wiggle room in their acceptance policy.

Students who missed the acceptance deadline may want to contact the college’s admissions office as soon as possible to explain their particular situation, especially if there are unique circumstances that led them to missing the deadline. Start by calling the admissions office and follow up on the conversation with an email so that there is an official correspondence that can be tracked. Make sure to be respectful during this process as this is a big favor to ask. Trying won’t cause any harm and this last ditch effort may just pay off.

While most schools have a May 1st acceptance deadline, some schools are on different schedules. This is why it’s important for students to double check the deadlines for any schools they’ve been accepted to in case one varies. No one wants their dream school to slip through their fingers because they mixed up a deadline.

7. Financing a College Education

If paying for college is a concern, which it is for many families, there are options for easing the burden of paying for a pricey college education.

Once students have accepted a college offer and reviewed their financial aid package, they generally have a decent idea of how much they will need to borrow to fund their education. This is where student loans can come in handy. There are two types of student loans available: federal and private.

Federal student loans

This type of student loan is provided by the United States government. This means that federal student loans have terms and conditions that are legally set by the United States government. Private lenders do not have to offer the same terms, such as fixed interest rates and income-driven replacement plans, that students can get from federal student loans.

Private student loans

On the other hand, private student loans come from private lenders such as banks, credit unions, online lenders, and select state-based or state-affiliated organizations. The private lender sets the terms and conditions, which are generally based on borrower criteria like credit history. Typically private loans are more expensive than federal loans.

SoFi offers private student loans with an entirely digital application process. Potential borrowers can choose between a variable or fixed interest rate and have the option to add a cosigner, such as a parent, to the loan.

There are no fees associated with SoFi private student loans, so students will never have to worry about origination, late, and insufficient fund fees sneaking up on them.

SoFi student loans can cover a student’s entire cost of education, so students and their families can focus on what’s most important—having a fun, stimulating, and rewarding college experience.

Learn more about SoFi’s flexible repayment plans and application process for private student loans.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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