Accepted! Now what?

Congratulations! The acceptance letter(s) have arrived!  Now what to you do?

Follow this check list to help you make a fool-proof decision.

Attend  “Accepted Students Day”. This is the college’s opportunity to shine, often the President of the University will speak and other great testimonials will be given by current students and professors. There might be a few giveaways, free continental breakfast & lunch, the marching band, student ambassadors who will give tours and afternoon sessions to visit department heads. Not all colleges host these events but if you are invited to attend one, take advantage of it. Both parents and students should attend. They are fun and will help you evaluate your decision.

Stay overnight with a current student. Do you have an acquaintance at the college you are considering? Reach out to them, find out more about the college and then, if you are interested, definitely ask if you can visit them on campus and stay overnight. It will give you a very good sense of what the social life is like – where do kids hang out on a Saturday night? Are frat or dorm parties really what you think they are?  Do kids travel off campus or is everything in walking distance? What is the social culture?

What is the additional expense of attending this school? What is the spending culture of the kids that go there? Students’ recreational, spending money  vary greatly from college to college.  Go to a college in a semi rural area, expenses are usually modest. At a rural campus, many social events are planned by the University to keep campus lively, i.e., hosting comedians, big sporting events, concerts or dance-a-thins for charities. There $20 could last the whole weekend. Go to a city school, the cab fare alone could be $30, lunch at a deli is $15 and dinner out could be almost $30.  It’s not fun to be the freshman that says no to weekend social activities because they can’t afford them. Yes, some students are above this social pressure, especially if they are in a rigorous program such as engineering, architecture or pre-med, and then study-groups become their social scene.

What are the ramifications of Greek Life on campus? Does it feel like almost everyone is in Greek Life and you do not want to join? Do students who “rush” to join Greek life, are they guaranteed bids or are many disappointed and not invited to join? Can you tolerate the disappointment if you do not get into your first choice?  Maybe Greek life is only a minor event on campus and only a small percentage who join and campus organizations such as service trips or sports boosters have a bigger following. Is rush season fall or spring semester? Some schools do not allow rushing until sophomore year, this allows plenty of non-Greek friendships to form during freshman year which lessens the significance of joining.

Distance and Travel The distance of how far a school is from home is one of the most significant components in choosing a school, along with affordability and size of school. Many students do not return to a college because the inconvenience creates too much hardship or homesickness.  Note that distance & inconvenience are personal decisions. If you live near a major airport and the school of choice is near a major airport than 1,200 miles from New York to Miami, FL might not be an issue.  As one parent said whose child was attending school across the country said, “I see him almost every six weeks so it’s not a big deal.” For that family purchasing cross-country airfare was not an issue either. Many colleges charter buses for affordable transportation for school breaks. The buses leave campus and have planned drop off spots at major malls just off interstate highways or they chartered buses to the nearby airports right before a vacation break.  Check if your college offers any of these services.  

Your Major Most college students will change their declared major during the course of their college career. An important consideration is is to determine how flexible the college’s policy is for changing majors. Often in a small liberal arts college this is not an issue. However, if you are attending a university that has separate colleges it may be nearly impossible to transfer between colleges. For example, if you start as an an Engineer at Cornell but decide you hate it (and are doing poorly) you may not be able to transfer into Cornell’s College of Arts and Science because your GPA is too low.

Tuition & Expense Analysis Unfortunately, this is probably the #1  factor in determining which college you will attend. Although ability to pay is critical be sure to take into account the other contributing factors in making your final decision.  If price is the only driver in this decision but you make an ill-advised decision, you could end up losing a semester of tuition due to circumstances such as failing out, illness, etc. Than you are walking away from a full semester of paid tuition.

One student we know went to an out-of-state, public college that offered a small merit scholarship. This public tuition, plus a merit award made the school very affordable. Thus, he turned down other acceptance offers and their merit awards. Unfortunately,  he was extremely unhappy at the chosen school because it was too big, too far from home and “a suitcase school”. A suitcase school implies that many kids go home on weekends because there is not a vibrant social scene or  they live in state and it is easy to go home. He ended up transferring to a small, private school and as a transfer student the school did not offer any merit scholarships. Yet if he had gone straight from his senior year in high school there would have been a four year merit award.

When analyzing scholarship offers, be sure to read the requirements. Usually there is a minimum GPA requirement for each year.

School Expense Spreadsheet Create a spreadsheet or a chart of all the schools that you have been accepted. Include:

  • Tuition
  • Room and Board (Meal Plan)
  • Hidden Fees (i.e. Student Union, Lab expense, joining Greek Life)
  • Travel Expense
  • Computer (some schools include this in their tuition)
  • Books

 Deduct any Scholarships or Financial aid packages to determine Net Cost.

Hang your chart up for the entire family to see and determine what is best! Can you afford to pay “X” amount for the next four years? How much per year do you want in loans? “Avoid loans as much as possible, especially anything more than $5K year,” says Lisa Cynamon Mayers of Getting to the Quad Blog    What if you plan to go to graduate school?  

Part II  Make a Contract! 

This is especially a great idea if you are the parent footing the tuition bill. It is also helpful to the student since it helps them create a plan. Many students think they have a pretty good idea of how they will live, study and make their way in college. However, their priorities are probably different from their parents. All students should write their own contract because it gets them thinking!

Elements of a New Student Contract or “Business Plan” 

  • How much time do they plan to study on a daily basis 
  • What are their academic goals
  • What are their social goals
  • What is the spending money budget
  • When they should call home
  • Parental access to student’s log in info i.e. for transcripts, schedules, university notices
  • Purchasing of Books – who is paying, when, where and how do you buy them; 1st day of class, Amazon,or, etc. 

Have them make a 7 Day Spreadsheet of their anticipated schedule:

  • integrate class time,
  • studying in the library,
  • meals
  • Professor or TA hours
  • on campus errands
  • room cleaning
  • laundry
  • socializing and
  • sleep 

While a spreadsheet with time blocks may seem excessive, it can be a fun exercise and helpful, especially if you are concerned about maturity. This will help the student envision their day, work load and prevent them from becoming overwhelmed. If something goes awry at college such as illness, roommate conflicts, or a week without clean underwear, a new student can quickly go down a slippery slope and lose sight of their goals. 

A  self-written Student Business Plan or Contract is empowering.  Students should  write it and review it with the parents. Revisions are to be expected, they may be overzealous or lack luster.

You are assisting your student obtain the privilege of a college education, which may require taking on loans. If you were borrowing money to launch a business, the bank would require you to submit a business plan. Why not help your child understand the significance of their college education?

A Final Word – Attending Harvard Happiness

A college education that results in earning a degree, is a privilege and a worthy goal. Ultimately, you want a great experience of learning and growing while be able to pay for it. There are many ways to accomplish earning a college degree. Create your plan, list your priorities, and visits lots of campuses. If you attend college, take on debt, yet do not graduate, you have fallen short of your goals.