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The Choice - Getting into College and Paying for it

April 2, 2012, 5:47 AM

Counselor’s Calendar | April Checklist for Seniors

Counselor’s Calendar: April

75 ThumbnailTimely advice from experts for students who want to stay on track during the college admissions process.

In March, The Choice introduced an occasional series called Counselor’s Calendar, which is intended to keep students on track as they go through the admissions process.

This installment focuses on college-bound seniors, who have recently received their admissions results and are now in the final stretch. (Don’t worry, juniors. Your checklist is coming on Tuesday.) We’ve asked Emmi Harward, the director of college counseling at the Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif., for some timely advice on what seniors should be doing in April as they finalize their college decisions. —Tanya Caldwell

Seniors, here is your college admissions checklist for April:

Revel in the good news; move beyond the bad news.

Congratulations! You likely have at least one option you’re happy about and potentially more options among which to decide. An admission decision — whether admit or deny — means many things, but it is not a judgment on your worth as a person. A denial doesn’t feel good, and it’s often hard to avoid self-pity. But you’ll feel better the sooner you let the bad news go and focus on the colleges to which you were admitted.

Avoid fixating on wait lists or anything else you can’t control.

The wait list can feel like purgatory, and in many ways, it is. It’s not a denial, it’s not an admission, and if you were also deferred during an early decision/action round, it feels especially cruel to be asked to hold on even longer.

The operative word here is “wait” because colleges use wait lists to hedge their bets that they admitted enough students who will want to enroll. But just as you have until May 1 to decide on your offers of admission, so does everyone else. If you want to keep in mind a college where you were offered a place on the wait list, follow their instructions for next steps in case they ultimately need to admit a few or a hundred more students. In the meantime, focus on what you can control — making a decision about where to attend.

Compare costs and financial aid awards.

Most colleges try to ensure that you have your need-based financial aid awards in hand as long as they received all necessary information on time. Compare what you’ll be expected to pay at each school. If there are dramatic differences, talk as a family about what makes sense financially and what would really stretch you or leave you with too much debt in the long run. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the college’s financial aid office directly to clear up any uncertainty. It’s what they do this time of year!

Make your decision.

Remember the reasons you originally applied to each college you’re still considering. For some seniors, the choice may be clear, but often the decision is a tough one. (Remember: This is a great problem to have!)

Take advantage of campus visit days for admitted students if possible; if not, do your final research to answer any lingering questions. Talk to friends who attend the school, and remember that every student’s experience is different.

Make a list of pros and cons to help in your decision-making process, and use friends and family as sounding boards. Be sure to submit by May 1 whatever is required to secure your spot in the freshman class, and then let it all sink in – you’re going to college.

Stay focused, finish strong and thank everyone in sight.

Graduation is right around the corner — trust me when I say your counselor is counting down the days as well — and the next few weeks and months will likely be a blur of activity. Be sure to take in every day and every memory as you travel down this road for the last time.

Whether you love high school or you can’t begin college quickly enough, remember the friends, teachers and others who have helped you get here and thank them all as you close out the year. Do right by these fine people, and go out on a positive note.

Seniors: What reflections do you have of your college admissions experience? Do you have any recommendations about staying on track? Let us know your thoughts — including if you are a parent or counselor reading this — in the comment box below.

This post was prepared in consultation with the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, a membership organization.