Making Your Final Decision

               Countdown to National Deposit Day!

 

     At this time of year many high school seniors have heard from the colleges to which they applied. The most competitive colleges and universities are almost finished reviewing applications from all of the country and the world. For many of them, April 1 is the date they will send out letters to anxiously awaiting seniors.

There will be just one month from then until “National Deposit Day”. May 1 is the day by which all college bound seniors must decide where to enroll in the fall of 2017. Making the final decision may not be easy unless you have done certain things in the year or two prior to spring of this year. In any case, most students are usually presented with at least two positive alternatives from which to choose.

So how does one go about making an effective decision ~ a decision that allows the entire family to win? The following steps are what we advise our students. Think about these even if you will not be facing such a decision for a few years.

The overall goal, I believe, is to integrate the admissions decision with financial considerations. That is particularly important when there is more than one college bound child in the household.

First … Make an objective evaluation of each financial aid award. Determine how much aid the college is awarding in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans. Most colleges do not include adequate amounts in the cost of attendance (COA) to include personal expenses. These are books, supplies, personal sundries, and transportation. If you have done a “Dry Run” with us prior to your student’s application you will see that we often add $4,500 to the direct expenses. The direct expenses are the fixed billable costs, tuition, fees and room and board. You should too.

Keep in mind that college work-study is not a direct credit toward billable costs. Do not include that in your calculations. If there is a loan offer in the award (other than a Stafford or Perkins), do not include that either. Subtract all the other awards from your COA and you will close to knowing what the “real out of pocket cost” is for that college. Do this for each college and make an objective comparison.

Do not expect colleges to “negotiate” with you. That word does not exist in the financial aid lexicon. However, if you have special circumstances that were not fully explained to the financial office in the form of a letter after you filed your FAFSA and Profile, you may appeal or request a review now.  If you are a client of ours, we probably have already discussed the merits of an appeal.

You can call and ask the college what their specific guidelines and procedures are in handling such appeals. In any case, prepare to write a letter explaining the change in circumstances.

Second … If the awards are similar for several colleges, you may have a difficult decision to make.  Several colleges want you. Which one do you want?

At this point go back to your notes and review the positive and negative aspects of each college. You may not have to review your notes from your college visit but try to be as objective as possible in assessing the relative pros and cons of each college. Where did you feel the most comfortable? Who made you feel the most at ease? Who took the time to personally communicate with you? What was your “gut feeling” as to the academic departments you are interested in? Have you learned more about the faculty in your possible major and the depth of academic and career advising? Do you know the four-year graduation rates of the college and if they are less than 80%, have you learned why? Hopefully, you had a chance to sit in on a class. How engaged were the students?  All of this information provides relevant clues to the climate on the campus usually set by the administration.

A helpful website to gain some additional insight by reading unedited first hand student reviews about some of your colleges is found here.

Third… Have a family meeting to finalize the decision. This decision will have a major effect on how the family proceeds with many other decisions. The schedule of every family member will be affected in some way, so why not try to iron out every concern before making the final decision. You might find that having a discussion of this nature actually helps make the decision easier!

Fourth … Complete all the paperwork and mail your deposit no later than May 1, 2017. In most cases, both the admissions office and financial aid office require you to send something back notifying them of your decision. Later in May, the financial aid office will send a promissory note form to the student for completion. Some schools will want the student to find a local bank to arrange a lender. Part of the recently passed health care plan by the Obama administration includes a change in how federal loans are administered. The college will tell you if they are direct lenders.

Fifth ... As a courtesy, the student should inform the other colleges as to his or her decision. This will allow them to consider a student on their wait list.

Finally … Hopefully, your final choice fits you, NOT necessarily because it has a “brand name” or Ivy on the walls. Although those characteristics may very well “fit”, you should also like its ethos, its social culture, atmosphere, advisory and internship programs, and academics. Oh yes, it is also affordable!

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