Many high school seniors are either giddy or distraught right around now because they’re receiving acceptance letters from colleges and universities.
Most students have until May 1 to accept an offer. But high school counselors have a dire warning: every year they see students make poor decisions that hurt their chances to get into a college that’s a good fit, and for some, to go at all.
“Sometimes students will be like, ‘Yay, I got into a school, and I want to go to that school’ and just accept that offer and [make] a deposit without seeing their financial aid,” says Marshall High School college counselor Tricia Bryan. “You’re now enrolled to a school where you may not be able to afford, if you accepted without looking at the financial aid first.”
Some students make mistakes on the same day they receive an acceptance letter.
“[Students] will get the packet and they won’t read the rest of the material or they’ll sometimes throw it away,” said Yuridia Nava, counselor at Riverside Polytechnic High School. “In those packets, a lot of times, there’s really important information: there could be scholarship information and there could be work study information, information for housing.”
These mistakes are mostly the result of seniors feeling that a lot is riding on their decisions
“I think seniors right now have mixed emotions,” said Sacramento Charter High School college counselor David Marks. "They’re very excited when they get positive results, very upset and frustrated and taking personally the rejections or waitlists. I think a lot of them are scrambling a little bit to figure out what they’re going to do.”
Here's a list of do’s and don’ts, gathered from interviews with college counselors across California.
WHAT TO DO
- Do make a list of all the things that need follow up, like deposits, housing, financial aid and creating an account on the college’s portal.
- Do ask for more aid or scholarships, especially if you’re an athlete who’s been recruited or if you’ve been accepted by a private college or university.
- Do ask a college if they’ll pay for your costs to visit a campus if you haven’t been there in person. Some campuses give travel grants.
- Do clean up your social media accounts of any improper material. Many colleges ask prospective students to give social media information, so you know they will be looking.
- Do send a letter or email to the colleges whose acceptance you’re turning down. It’s good etiquette and it allows colleges to move ahead with offers to others.
- Do ask your family and friends to be supportive if they’re pushing you to make a decision you don’t feel is right for you.
WHAT NOT TO DO
- Don't accept and send a deposit to your dream college before considering all other options and financial aid offered by other colleges.
- Don't undersell yourself and fear that you won't do well at a more prestigious school.
- Don't throw away the packet that came with the acceptance letter.
- Don't post a selfie with your acceptance letter that includes an ID number, a date of birth… do I need to explain why?
- Don't send emails from accounts with less than professional names like "babymamma3."
- Don't ignore your college counselor’s offers to stop by the office to talk about your choices.
- Don't slack off and get low grades in the last semester of your senior year, colleges may rescind an offer.
- Don't miss the May 1 deadline to send your acceptance and deposit.