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 1 — also known as College Decision Day. For most colleges and universities across the United States, May 1 is the deadline for prospective students to confirm their admission plans. This is when many students submit a nonrefundable deposit to formalize their choice and new commitment.
Before the big decision day arrives, students and their families will generally want to prepare together. This is a major decision with key 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 daunting. If a student has multiple offers to choose from, they may find they have tons of information to review and certain deadlines to meet.
Here are some deadlines you can ingest and paperwork you may organize as College Decision Day approaches:
• Acceptance deadline (not all schools play by the May 1 rule)
• Deadline for FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — a key step in receiving financial aid (each college may have its own FAFSA deadline)
• First-year housing deadline (this varies by school)
• Acceptance letter
• Financial aid offers
• Copies of forms and documents you submit to a college
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 also aid in relieving unnecessary confusion when preparing for college.
2. Compare Financial Aid Offers
It’s no secret that college can be quite 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 assistance, which can include scholarships and grants. Comparing financial aid packages can help you see which school is most affordable for your budget. Money may not be the deciding factor for a student, but many may 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 nonrefundable and 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 may apply for a waiver. You can complete a form from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and submit it to the college where you plan to enroll. The college will decide whether to accept or decline the fee waiver form.
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 upon as it can negatively impact other applicants, particularly those on a waitlist hoping to enroll.
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.
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.
Being waitlisted by a school you wish to attend can be disheartening, especially if you remain on the waiting list when College Decision Day arrives. In that circumstance you might consider another institution that may welcome you with open arms.
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 1 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 1 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 1. 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 1 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 firm 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
The U.S. Department of Education provides federal student loans under its Direct Loan program. This means federal student loans have terms and conditions that are legally set by the federal 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
Banks, credit unions, online lenders, and select state-based or state-affiliated organizations may offer private student loans. Private lenders set the terms and conditions of these loans, which are generally based on borrower criteria like credit history. Typically private loans are more expensive than federal loans.
Higher education can prepare students for professional work, but deciding which college to attend is not always a simple or easy choice. Selecting the right school for you may involve several considerations, including the cost of tuition and other expenses associated with college life.
If you need help financing your college experience, SoFi offers private student loans with an entirely digital application process and no fees whatsoever. Potential borrowers can choose between a variable or fixed interest rate and have the option to add a cosigner to the loan.
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