May 1 may seem a long way off, but there’s work to be done until then.
By Anne Vaccaro Brady
A few short months (or weeks) ago, the stress level in your household maxed out as you worried whether your senior would ever finish his college applications. Now the anxiety level is on high alert again as you all wait to hear from those colleges. Amazing how quickly things change.
In previous posts on this topic I’ve included advice from college admissions officers on how to decide among acceptances, as well as how to react to those first responses, and my own thoughts on factors to consider when making that final decision.
But until it’s time to pick the college, everyone in your household might feel they’re in limbo (yes, this affects the whole family, unfortunately) while waiting to hear from the remaining schools. Here’s how to fill that time.
Make campus visits Your senior will look at a college differently now that she knows she can actually go there. Check each college’s website for accepted students tour dates. Winter visits are always a good idea to get a handle on the climate, which may become a deciding factor.
Complete FAFSA I can’t stress enough how important it is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid on time to guarantee your teen the best chance of being awarded whatever scholarships, grants and/or loans he may be eligible for.
Create a spreadsheet Several parents I’ve spoken with use a spreadsheet to help their teens compare their college options. If your senior already created one when she was making her list of colleges, then she can simply update and enhance it.
The key categories can include size, location, tuition (add room and board if applicable), commuting costs, financial aid offered (make subcategories for scholarships, loans, grants, work-study, etc. so the comparisons are fair), graduation rates, distance from home, plus any pros and cons.
Address changes Many a high school senior has moved their top choice school down a notch or two on their list once they started receiving acceptance and rejection letters. Others change their mind on their major during this time, too. Maybe the big school seems overwhelming, or the small college too familiar. Kids mature a lot during their last year of high school and as they do, their expectations and priorities evolve.
Talk about money If you haven’t already, sit down with your teen and be honest about how much you can afford to help out with college tuition. Make sure he understands his own financial responsibility and what it means to take on a loan. Discuss whether grad school is in his future because that will impact the amount of debt he should take on while an undergrad. This is a difficult conversation, but having it now will make it easier for your student to make his final decision.
Set criteria for choosing a college For some students, money has to be the key factor in deciding which college offer to accept, but for others, it’s about more, like strength of the program, location, fitting in on a campus, living arrangements, and/or social life. All of these are important, but which ones take priority for your teen?
You and your senior may not want to deal with any of these issues now because everyone just wants to relax before the big decision is made. But be honest. No one’s really relaxing as all of you wait for that next letter to arrive, and the financial aid packages to start rolling in. So use this time constructively to relieve some of the stress.
Share your thoughts and advice on what to do when colleges start sending responses to your student’s applications.