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The Final Choice

After years of college planning and months of applying and waiting, seniors get their admission decisions by April 1st  and then have one month to decide which college to attend. For some lucky students, there’s nothing to consider; they’ve been accepted by their dream school and can begin celebrating.  But others will be rejected by their top choice college, and in the midst of dealing with that disappointment must choose another school from the available options. A third group has put college out of their mind entirely since they turned in their last application, and must now turn their thoughts back to where they want to spend the next four years. How can a parent help her senior work through this process?

One of the most helpful ways for seniors to weigh their options is to make return visits to colleges that they are seriously considering. In particular, “pre-frosh” weekends, in which colleges invite admitted applicants to campus, provide a great opportunity to learn more about the school. Colleges are anxious to convert accepted applicants into incoming freshmen, so they typically  roll out the red carpet, arranging lots of enjoyable opportunities for students to learn about the academic, extracurricular, and social aspects of the campus as well as to meet other admitted students. A weekend of campus revelry makes any college seem more appealing, and can go a long way toward persuading a student who is mourning her rejection from one university that the college experience can still be great somewhere else.

Parent Tip:

If you’re reading this before the spring of your son’s senior year, try to leave the month of April free of other activities so that he’ll have time to attend pre-frosh weekends and to carefully consider his choices.  This is easier said than done. Most high schools have a spring vacation in April, and the prospect of spending their senior spring break in Aspen with the ski club or in Costa Rica with their environmental science teacher is tempting. Discourage those kinds of plans, however, in favor of leaving the week open for campus visits. Make the case that “pre-frosh” weekends are not only a great way to learn more about a college, but are also a lot of fun.

Comparing Costs

One factor your family will undoubtedly want to consider as you weigh college choices will be the cost. If you’ve applied for financial aid, you’ll receive an award letter from the financial aid office around the same time as the acceptance letter. Examine this carefully to determine the net cost of each college—the cost of attendance minus any grant aid. Examine the terms of loans and the amount of money offered in the form of  work study (money your child will earn from a campus job). Here are a couple of other questions you might want to look into as you weigh the costs of colleges:

How does each college treat outside scholarship money? Is the amount of outside scholarship aid deducted from the grants your child has been offered or from loans and work-study?

Will college credits earned in high school through such programs as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement,  and International Baccalaureate be accepted by the college? If so, how can they be used? In Virginia, dual enrollment credits from a public community college are typically accepted as transfer credits by public four year universities as long as they are bona fide academic courses comparable to ones offered at the four year school. For top students, this can be a significant benefit; some arrive with up to two years of transfer credit that allows them such options as graduating early, lightening their credit load each semester, or majoring in a credit-heavy major like electrical engineering and adding a second major in Japanese. Private colleges may not be as generous. So if your son has a large number of dual enrollment or AP credits that he wants to use toward his four year degree, find out how each college would treat them. 

Will your aid package for the next three years be comparable to your freshman aid package, assuming your financial circumstances remain the same? 

Finally, remember:

  • that you must respond to the financial aid offer by the appropriate deadline
  • that you can accept or reject any component of the package
  • that you must notify the financial aid office of any outside scholarships your child receives right up until the time he enrolls, and
  • that colleges may be able to increase your award if your finances have deteriorated. Less commonly, a college may increase your award if another school has made a much more generous offer.

What if Your Child is Wait-Listed?

On one hand, this is good news. Wait-listed students sometimes become accepted students. On the other hand, being wait-listed at a favorite school can allow a student to continue to focus on that school and make it difficult for her to seriously consider the other, more realistic, choices. What’s a parent to do?

First, if your daughter is still interested in attending the school, she should promptly accept the offer to be placed on the wait list by following the instructions for doing so. This typically involves either clicking an online link or mailing back a response form. In addition, I’d suggest she send a letter or e-mail stating that “Wait List U is still my top choice, and I will definitely attend if admitted.” She should also mention any significant achievements that have occurred since she submitted her application. 

Next, to help her put her wait list status in its proper perspective, investigate how the college uses it. Some schools use the wait list to send an affirmation to applicants that even though they could not be offered a place in the class, they were seen as very strong candidates. Such colleges may place large numbers of students on the list, of whom only a tiny percentage will ultimately be offered a place. Try to find out how many students are on the wait list at your daughter’s preferred school – and what percentage the college expects to accept. Even if there is a real chance that a place on the wait list could turn into a place in the freshman class, however, it’s more likely that it won’t, and it’s vital that your daughter come to terms with that reality in time to seriously weigh her other options.

Dealing With Rejection

In an admissions climate as tough as the one students face today, your son may have gotten disappointing news from at least one college. My suggestions for what to say—and not say– follow.


• Point out that you told him his C in geometry or lack of a service activity would come back to haunt him.
• Express your own disappointment; remember that the rejection happened to him, not you.


• Remind him that competitive colleges are assembling a diverse community, not rewarding the most deserving applicants with a place in the class.
• Emphasize the positive features of the colleges that did accept him.
• Remind him that the college experience anywhere should be a great four years, and
• Tell him you love him and are as proud of him today as you were yesterday.

Final Forms

Once your senior has decided which college to attend, make sure he or she returns the response card, along with a deposit, if required, by the deadline indicated. And when it’s all over, be sure to celebrate the successful conclusion of a challenging journey, along with the beginning of a wonderful new adventure.

Parent Tip

Here’s a logistical tip from a four-time college mom. As soon as your teen decides which college to attend, go online to find the dates of the Freshman Parent’s Weekend. Then book your hotel reservations. If you wait until a general announcement is sent out, there may be slim pickings for hotel rooms.

To learn about some last details you’ll need to attend to during senior spring and the summer, proceed to Attending to Details.  And for my final thoughts and recommendations on finishing high school and preparing for freshman year, read the last article, Ending and Beginning.

Next article:  Attending to Details


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