17 THINGS TO REMEMBER:
OR “THIS IS YOUR CHEAT SHEET TO SURVIVING THE COLLEGE DECISION PROCESS”
1) REMEMBER, IT’S YOUR DECISION, TOO – NOT JUST THE COLLEGES’
THE COLLEGE DECISION PROCESS IS NOT A CONTEST. It is not a tournament. You do not win by getting in. You win by learning as much as you can, building your professional skills, creating your network and meeting people who may become life-long friends and business associates.
Never forget that it is YOU who is choosing your future. There are thousands of options; many of them will be legitimate choices for your future success. One college’s rejection of your admission application means very little in the bigger picture. Don’t forget that.
Also remember that one acceptance is not the end-all. You have a variety of options in front of you. Realize that you have a great deal of control in this process; wait for all of the colleges to answer before you choose. The first suitor may not always be the best.
If you have chosen the early-decision* path, you have made a commitment to one school. You have consciously and definitely said that you have found the “right” school for you. If the college agrees with you, that’s great! But if the college “wait lists” you to the regular admission pool or rejects you, do not despair! Remember, there are several “right” schools for just about everyone.
*Early Decision: Early Decision plans allow you to apply early (usually in October or November) and receive a rapid response from the college well in advance of the usual notification date. HOWEVER, early decision plans are normally “binding”. This means that you are agreeing to attend the college if you are offered admission. You must withdraw all of your other admission applications at the time of the early decision school’s acceptance. There are variations on this theme – early action, early decision tied to a financial aid package, etc. Be aware of each college’s policies.
Do not use Early Decision as a tool to “get in” to a school. Early Decision should only be used if you have your heart (and your parents’ wallet) set on one school and one school only.
2) THERE IS NO PERFECT SCHOOL
In fact, there are over 3000 schools that all do different things well. At least a half-dozen or more are “perfect” for most students. Know what you want to gain from college – what experiences, what skills. Know in what environment you wish to study – big/small, country/city, etc. There are probably quite a few schools that can address all or most of your needs.
3) THE AVERAGE INDIVIDUAL WITH A BACHELOR’S DEGREE MAKES WELL OVER $1 MILLION DOLLARS MORE THAN THE AVERAGE INDIVIDUAL WITH A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA
Choosing your college is a decision worth making with care. Yes, I did say that there are several schools that are good choices for most students. That doesn’t mean to make that decision carelessly. The college decision is quite possibly the most important economic decision you will ever make. It is also the most important social decision you will ever make. Your career, your friends and your lifestyle will be greatly influenced by your choice of college.
4) COLLEGE IS THE BEST INVESTMENT YOU WILL EVER MAKE (SEE #3)
If there was a lottery that you could play that paid, on the AVERAGE, over a million dollars over the course of your lifetime, it would produce lines outside candy stores and newspaper stands from Florida to Maine.
Well, it’s not a lottery, but there is such an investment. It pays better, statistically than stocks, bonds, or the lottery. It’s called going to college and getting a baccalaureate degree.
5) YOU USUALLY PAY LESS THAN THE “STICKER PRICE” TO GO TO COLLEGE
Don’t rule out a school – initially – because of price. Most students at most schools are NOT paying full tuition. The average “discount rate” at colleges is over 40%. Federal, state and institutional aid – both need and merit based – comes in all shapes and sizes. See if a college offers an “estimated” financial aid package to help you with your decision. But, do not automatically rule out a school based on the full sticker price.
6) HOWEVER, DON’T ASSUME THE PERFECT PACKAGE.
While most colleges offer most students some form of aid, that does not mean that the normal package covers all of the tuition. Colleges want to help make attending their institution a possibility, but they are not in the business of giving that education away. Their goal is to give you just enough to convince you to attend, but not “overbid”. To make an intelligent decision regarding an institution, you should know what you will actually be paying – that will usually mean having a financial aid package from that institution in your possession.
7) PARENTS: SPREAD YOUR COSTS OUT. THERE ARE LOANS AND PAYMENT PLANS GALORE. WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR OIL BILL AND YOUR MORTGAGE CAN WORK FOR YOUR CHILD’S TUITION BILL, AS WELL
I’ve already emphasized that College is the best investment you will ever make. And yet, too often, the family that won’t flinch over a 5 figure automobile cost because it is spread into nice, neat $299 a month payments will not choose a college because of a 5 figure tuition bill that can be spread into similar nice, neat monthly payments. And the car is depreciating the moment it leaves the lot!
A family must know what they can and cannot afford. But keep in mind that most colleges offer payment plans. Many offer a choice of payment plans. Student and parent loans are also available in a myriad of shapes and sizes.
Understand that this is an investment and make the proper decision for your family. Only you can determine what amount is right. But don’t forget that you have choices in the rate and delivery method in which that money goes from your hands to the colleges.
8) CHOOSE THE RIGHT SCHOOL FOR YOU – NOT THE BEST SCHOOL
Let me explain. The RIGHT school for you could be any of the 3,000+ institutions of higher learning that are in this country. Or even an institution outside of this country. And there are probably several “right” colleges for you.
The BEST school, however, that you can “get into” (at least by reputation) is quite possibly your “reach” school. You may fail to maintain the appropriate grades to say in school, or manage to pass but be so far down the line in terms of internships and other resume and career building opportunities that much of the benefit of going to that institution in the first place would be lost.
A school has to “fit” – academically, socially, and economically. I would strongly encourage you to ask whether a college feels “right” for you, rather than is it “best” for you.
9) KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. KNOW WHAT YOU NEED
…not just major, but extra-curriculars, athletics, location, size, religious affiliation….They are all part of the college experience.
Most students change their major. “Undecided” is the largest freshman major in this country. Most individuals change their career – not just their job, but their career – multiple times in their lifetime. Make sure that the college you choose fits your needs in a variety of ways, not just in terms of major. I have seen too many students choose a college for major alone only to be scrambling in search of a new college a year later because their academic interests had changed.
10) TREAT THE APPLICATION PROCESS WITH RESPECT
When the admission officer or admission committee decides whether to offer you admission to their institution, it is the application packet that you submitted that they are using to make that decision. While in this internet age, they may “google” your name to see what they find, they are still – for the most part – relying on what you gave them – transcript, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and personal statements. Make sure your admission packet is well prepared, timely and adequately reflects YOU.
Do not base your decision solely on the viewbooks, flash drives, websites, friends, great aunts, and brochures. There is NOTHING that substitutes for the college visit.
Many times there is a gut reaction when you step foot on campus. This feels right. Or it doesn’t. It is too big. Smaller than I thought. Too far from home. Too busy. Not busy enough. My personal opinion is that the data should support and clarify your gut reaction, not the other way around.
Can I hang out here – live here – for the next 4 years? Even as a commuter, you spend a tremendous amount of time on your college campus if you are a full-time student. This is, to some degree, your “home” for the next few years. Does it feel like it could be?
Ask as many questions to as many people as possible. Your admission officer will (or should) provide much factual and procedural information. Your student tour guide can give you a student’s perspective. You may meet faculty, administrators and staff. Ask them about their area of expertise and how they feel about their place of employment.
How did the security staff greet you? Do the people on campus seem happy and energetic? Do they seem apathetic? Even angry? These are all indicators of what type of experience may be ahead of you if you attend this school.
Don’t read too much into one security guard having a bad day, but, also, don’t overlook multiple examples of upbeat personalities or sour faces – they suggest a trend.
14) THE INTERNET IS A GREAT TOOL. IT IS NOT THE END-ALL
Definitely search the web. College websites offer a wealth of information and you inquire and apply right online. College search sites provide comparison data. There are some wonderful financial aid sites out there, including the state HESAA site. Campus videos and college chats are great tools that are becoming more common. The internet is a great resource.
But don’t let the internet replace a visit or conversations with an admission counselor or professor. It’s NOT the same. And don’t let online data (which could be outdated or inaccurate) replace what you can see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears.
15) EVERY COLLEGE TAKES ITS VIEWBOOK PICTURES IN APRIL AND OCTOBER
The leaves are just the right shade of gold and red.
The viewbook is a wonderful tool for your college decision search. But it, too, is not the end-all. I hate to tell you, but no – half of all college classes are NOT outdoors. Half of all college classes are not gathered around an electron microscope. Sometimes the leaves are brown, or even fall to the ground. So, use the viewbook to get a sense of the institution and what the college thinks are its strengths. But always rely on the campus visit.
16) KNOW YOUR RIGHTS (New Jersey Association of College Admission Counselors’ website has a Students’ Rights pamphlet that is wonderful.)
You have the right to enjoy this process. You have the right to be treated with respect. You have the right to receive comprehensive, accurate and current information. You have the right to wait until May 1 to make a decision at no risk to you, your aid package, your scholarship or your admission.
You have the right to detailed wait list information, with no wait list deposit required of you. You have the right to an August 1 resolution of your wait list candidacy.
17) KNOW YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
You have the responsibility to utilize the information available to you to make an informed decision. You have the responsibility to properly follow the institution’s college application process. You have the responsibility to work with your high school counselor. You have the responsibility to provide accurate information to the colleges to which you apply. You have the responsibility to notify all schools to which you applied when you have made a final decision. You have the responsibility to respect the May deposit deadline as much as the colleges do.
COLLEGE COUNSELING FOR THE REST OF US
Finally, college counseling for “the rest of us” – 1st generation college candidates, those with limited $$ resources, adults going back to school, grad school candidates – in other words, most of us!!
MICHAEL J. SZAREK
Michael has been assisting students and families in the college search, planning, admission and financial aid processes for 24 years. He has presented at national professional workshops and his work has been cited in multiple regional news publications. Michael can be contacted, reached and followed in a variety of ways:
CELL: 908-403-3819 (Call or Text)
FACEBOOK: COLLEGE COUNSELING FOR THE REST OF US
YOU TUBE: THE CC4THERESTOFUS CHANNEL!