52 Weeks to College: Week 36 -- Decisions Are Coming, It's Time to Prepare Yourself

T.S. Eliot famously claimed that April was the “cruelest month,” but we beg to differ. At least when it comes to the year when you are applying to college, March is definitely the “cruelest month.” It is nothing but waiting, waiting, waiting, which is leads to nothing but awful anxiety. Our solution? Translate all your understandable anxiety into some productive action. You can use the time for all the final things you have to do related to financial aid and to prepare yourself for the decisions YOU are going to have to make in April.  This week’s tips and tricks are all about how to turn the cruelest month into a really productive month. Isn’t that better?

Week 36 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Check for and apply for scholarships -- this is the season for essay contests and such. Every $1000 helps!  
  • Interview for scholarships.
  • Update financial aid forms with current year tax information as soon as taxes are filed.
  • Confirm that all necessary financial aid documentation has been received by the colleges.
  • Identify when you could make 2-3 post-acceptance visits to colleges in April and mark those off on your calendar.

Tips & Tricks

1) Solve your financial aid issues now so you get an award along with your acceptance.

For the colleges, the financial aid process is independent of the admissions process. For you, they are intimately related and interdependent. That asymmetry is why you have to be on the ball when it comes to the financial aid process right now. You will receive your financial aid award at or near the same time you receive your admissions decision IF AND ONLY IF you have done everything required by the financial aid process at the college. That means you need to be as vigilant and diligent when it comes to following up with your financial aid application and documentation as you have been with your admissions application.

2) Refine your criteria for your "right fit" colleges – you know more now.

Months ago, you decided where to apply to college based on some criteria that you developed about the “right fit” colleges for you. The criteria most likely included things like location, programs/majors available, and the overall college vibe. It is time to revisit these criteria and refine them based on what you have learned over the last several months – both about yourself and about the colleges on your list. Maybe you were certain that you were going to pursue Biology last summer, but your AP Psychology class has made you rethink that.  What kind of Psychology program do the colleges on your list have? Check them out. Maybe you were committed to attending college closer to home, but once you visited some of the colleges that were further away, you’ve changed your mind about how important proximity to home is.  Take some time to reflect on what you’ve learned in the last several months and refine your list of criteria accordingly. Once you’ve refined your criteria, gather information about how the colleges on your list stack up to your new criteria.

3) Re-open your mind – make a list of pros for every college on your list. 

By now, you probably have rank ordered the colleges on your list. You have a top choice college and then some runners-up and then several that you have written off. Comparing and rating the colleges on your list is a necessary step in your decision making process, but you probably did it very early and haven’t reconsidered your ranking since. That is a mistake. As noted in the first tip, you have learned, grown, and changed through the course of this process. You need to re-open your mind and consider how all that may have changed your thinking with regard to the colleges on your list. Now is the time for that rethink. Otherwise, you run the risk of making a bad decision when it comes to choosing where to enroll – you pick the college that has been your top choice since you were a sophomore, even though it really doesn’t suit you much now. Not good. While you are rethinking how the colleges on your list compare, try a little positive attitude shift. Come up with a set of pros for every college and redeem the colleges you have written off. This simple act will reduce your anxiety – after all, if you have 10 good choices, then it isn’t soooooooo essential that you get into one or the other, is it? Furthermore, it will put you in the right frame of mind for making your ultimate choice.

4) Post-acceptance visits are extremely valuable and worth making.

You probably have not visited all of the colleges where you applied. In fact, you may not have visited any of them. We are actually of the opinion that you don’t need to visit before you apply, because you can do a lot of great research and evaluation without visiting. But once it comes down to choosing where to enroll, we strongly encourage you to make post-acceptance visits to your top two or three choices. Nothing beats a visit for helping you make the right choice. Even if you have visited one or more of the colleges before, you will see a college through different eyes once you’ve been accepted there.  We guarantee it.  Many colleges host special events for admitted students, but if you can’t attend one of those, don’t hesitate to schedule an individual visit. When making a post-acceptance visit, be sure and include attending a class, checking out the residential experience, and many some students so you can get a real sense of what it would be like to spend four years there.  Your ultimate choice will be more informed and clearer after a post-acceptance visit, so look to your April calendar now and decide when you can make these visits.

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.