T.S. Eliot may have called April the cruelest month, but for high school seniors that label might go to March. After the long autumn months of writing college applications and the cold winter months of awaiting a response (and hoping for the best), March delivers the stark reality of college admission decisions: yes, no, or would you like to wait for a possible yes later (at very low odds)?
Which brings us to the craziness of April and the decisions seniors and their families face. Even when the student is accepted into his or her favorite school, most families will want to look closely at each of the colleges offering admission.
Closely, and quickly: the May 1 deadline for the student’s decision fast approaches.
Here’s what many senior households may wish to do this month:
Visit the campus
If you haven’t yet visited the campus, now’s the time to take a look, before anyone writes a deposit check. Virtual visits may be great, but they cannot convey the smell of the freshman dorm, the path from one end of campus to another, or the typical style of students at the school.
Or visit again
I am an enthusiastic fan of admitted student programs. There’s a huge change from visiting as a prospective student to visiting as an admitted student, for a few reasons.
- The college takes this opportunity to make its best pitch. Now that the school has offered admittance, it would really like the student to accept.
- High school students make amazing strides in maturity through their senior year, in no small part due to the self-examination the admissions process requires. The student visiting in April of senior year is quite different from the one making the rounds junior year.
- Also, having that admittance offer in her hip pocket, the student is more able to imagine herself walking those same paths in just a few months.
Consider your family’s net cost
Many families will want to compare net costs; that comparison requires careful attention to the financial aid letters from each college, including determining the source and amount of aid from grants, loans (subsidized or not), work-study, and self-help. Most colleges develop their own financial aid criteria, so offers can vary widely. As Richard Pérez-Peña wrote in What You Don’t Know About Financial Aid (but Should), for the New York Times:
“…most consumers do not realize that colleges are free to come up with their own ways of defining a family’s ability to pay.
Most colleges stick largely to the FAFSA formula. But hundreds of private colleges require another form, the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, and use a related formula created by the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests. Many colleges blend the federal and College Board methods, tweaking them as they see fit, or simply add their own factors to the mix. The result is that comparable colleges can reach very different conclusions, and they do not make those formulas public.”
Study the colleges’ academic requirements
Dig deeply into the colleges’ websites to examine and compare academic requirements from each college, including
- distribution requirements (the need to take courses in each of a number of defined subject areas),
- possible major requirements,
- graduation requirements, and
- credit earned from AP or IB courses.
The amount of credit earned through AP, IB or dual enrollment can potentially affect the student in at least a couple of ways. Some colleges require a declaration of major once a specific number of credit hours have been earned; this can pop up earlier than the student is ready for it. Some colleges accept very few credits; that could cost the family an extra semester or two of tuition.
Oh, surely this is a universal need for other high school seniors and their families, not just our own. Let’s get this done and move on to thinking about roommates and color schemes and summer jobs and internships and walking the dog and gardening and catching an episode or two of “House of Cards” and, well, anything other than college admissions, shall we?
This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.