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Need to Commit? Three Tips to Navigate Your Options

by Sophie Herron, on Apr 16, 2014 9:34:00 AM

This year, students applied to selective colleges in record numbers, and admissions rates reflect this influx: Harvard accepted 5.9% of applicants, and Stanford only 5%. Top-tier state universities are seeing the same effect: UCLA's admissions rate might slip below 20% for the first time this year. 

Now students are dealing with the news that those rates indicate. For high school seniors, spring is the season of exuberance, disappointment, and everything in between—often in the very same person. Perhaps you were admitted to several colleges, but not your first choice, where you were waitlisted; or perhaps you have a handful of great colleges that want you, but none stands out as your top choice. Maybe you got the nod from several of the colleges you wanted but didn’t get enough financial aid.

Here’s how to navigate your options in each situation:

1. Waitlisted at your first choice?  

If you are waitlisted, your school has declared that you are qualified to attend. So give yourself a pat on the back! If you are still interested in attending that college, definitely let them know. Send an email to the admissions officer who works with your school, if possible, and let them know why you believe you are a good fit. Be as specific as possible. If you have made significant achievements since the last time you’ve communicated with the school, include them. Use this opportunity to reveal what you learned and what you will bring to the college. If your high school has a relationship with the college, ask your guidance counselor if they can contact the college to get you more info.

Remember: you still need to pay a deposit at your first choice of the colleges you were admitted to, so carefully consider which school you will attend if you don’t get in off the waitlist. Don't let the waiting game drag on all summer. Pick a date--perhaps the date you graduate from high school--when you will commit totally to the college you are going to attend, and start connecting with the students, organizations and ideas at it's heart.

2. Not sure how to sort through your choices?  

If you are able to visit the colleges you were admitted to—either during their revisit days or separately—do so. Many colleges provide financial support for these visits. Go back to your notes about why you applied to the college in the first place. Was there a specific program that attracted you? A club you wanted to participate in? The location? Do those things still attract you? Lots of students change during their senior year; return to your list with an open mind.

The best test is to talk to current students about the college. Ask them serious questions, such as: What is the community like? Do you get the academic and social support services you need? If you could change one thing about your college, what would it be? If they start to talk in generalities—things that could be said about any college—ask them for an example. Get them to tell you a story from their own experience that reveals what the college is actually like. 

3. Need more financial aid?  

Start at the Financial Aid section of the college’s web site, and get as much information as you can. You can definitely let them know that you have other offers, but that they are your first choice—again explain why you are a great fit for specific programs or opportunities at that college—and ask the financial aid office if they are able to provide you with additional funding.

If you haven’t already done so, apply for outside scholarships; often you can revise the essays you used in your applications in your scholarship apps. We have worked with many students who have closed the gap with outside scholarships. Make sure you're considering the best ways to make your education more affordable.

Good luck sorting through your choices. And remember to truly commit to one of them: say “yes,” send in your deposit, and start building authentic connections with students, faculty and opportunities at that college from day one.

Most importantly, as Frank Bruni said in the New York Times, working through your college options is a great chance to learn and grow. It’s not about where you are admitted to college, or even where you go; it’s what you bring to the college and what you make of the experience overall.

Topics:college admission