If you (or your student) is a senior, you don’t need any help identifying the import of May 1st — the day most colleges across the country require a decision and a deposit from accepted students. From the other side of the desk, it’s also the day admission officers take a deep breath and look at their reports to see how well their offers yielded acceptances.
A few students will have made their commitment a long time ago. Early Decision applicants sign a commitment to accept an early offer. Recruited athletes operate on their own timetable.
But the majority of HS senior households have spent a good part of the past month looking at a variety of financial aid offers, revisiting schools during admitted day programs (aka “yield events”), and thinking through the choices the senior faces.
If you’re in that position, and the decision is going down to the wire, here’s counsel from a few different sources.
If you’re reading this to prepare for a decision to be made in the future, it may be useful to think about what you or your student will face.
1. Questions that really matter when making a final college choice, by W. Kent Barnds, Augustana College. Barnds is VP of Enrollment, Communication, and Planning for a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. He provides a number of questions related to the college experience; here are a few:
Will smaller classes benefit me in the field I wish to study?
Do faculty member in every major fieldwork one-on-one with students? What are some examples that the college I am considering can provide?
Will faculty members make time to talk with students about their future goals and career plans? Who advises students to make sure they take all of the required courses to ensure on-time graduation?
2. Tip Sheet: Making the Final College Decision, is by Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in New Hampshire, writing for the NYT’s The Choice blog. He wrote, “For many students, the college choice represents the first time that they have had to make a weighty decision.” Here are a couple of his considerations:
After the Facts, Go With Your Gut
The balance between critical analysis and gut instinct is a tricky one. Thoughtful decision-making involves an assessment of the facts and outcomes, while allowing for knowledge of self to guide your final choice.
Yes, it may be necessary to consider cost of attendance and distance from home. After these, considerations, however, quiet your mind from overanalyzing and fixating on the external. This will allow you to truly listen to what you know to be the right decision.
3. Seeking Your Questions on Making the Final College Decision offers five posts of Q&As, including comparing financial offers, with answers by Mark Kantrowitz and Marie Bigham writing for the NYT’s The Choice. Here’s one of the questions facing many families:
Private University vs. State InstitutionQ. My son’s top choice happens to be the most expensive (private) school. Even though it has the best offer of aid, the out-of-pocket cost would still be $40,000 to $45,000 a year. As a middle-class mother (not rich, not poor), how do we compare that with a state school where the overall cost would be $25,000 a year? I think the experience, education and connections would be superior at the expensive private school, and my son would be more likely to graduate in four years. But is it worth $80,000 more over four years? — CA mom
I am a big fan of Kantrowitz’s clear and sometimes blunt reports on colleges and financial aid. You can learn a lot at his FinAid website. The response to the above question is lengthy and nuanced; I recommend reading it in full at the link. However, this brief calculus from the answer is worth remembering:
Total student loan debt at graduation should be less than the borrower’s expected annual starting salary, and ideally a lot less. If total debt is less than annual income, the borrower will be able to repay the student loans in 10 years or less.
Last year MS Pete made his commitment a day before the deadline. Once the decision was made, he could focus on enjoying the rest of his senior year. As Brennan Barnard wrote:
Send the check, buy the sweatshirt and celebrate the future
Even if it was not your first choice when you applied, invest yourself in your college as though you mean it. Try to remain open and trust that the universe will take care of the rest.
As always, good luck to the HS senior students and their families!