May Day

If you’re a high school senior in America, chances are you’re feeling the weight of your final college decision right about now. You’re evaluating the pros and cons of (what are hopefully just) your final two schools, doing a bit of soul-searching about what you really want in a college experience, and undoubtedly vacillating wildly between your options by the hour. (Heck, some of you might even have begun to consider what would be so wrong with just running away and joining the circus because it sounds simpler and more fun.)

But guess what, students? You aren’t the only one feeling the pressure.

In college admission offices around the country, counselors and directors and financial aid officers are likewise in a crunch. The future of not only their institutions, but of their careers (in many cases) rests on your shoulders. That’s right – their rate of success or failure at their jobs is determined by the choices made by their 17 and 18-year-old customers. (That’s you.)

Let that sink in for a moment.

As with any industry, people enter careers in higher education for a variety of reasons and likewise come to them from diverse backgrounds. Some admission counselors are recent college graduates who want to get their feet wet in the working world before entering graduate school; other admission counselors are embarking on lifelong careers in higher education from the entry level. But regardless of their unique histories and goals, admission staffers share one important thing in common:

They want students to succeed.

Now, I’ll grant you that, by the simple competitive nature of college admissions, they want you to succeed at their institutions and not at the rival school down the road, but at the end of the day, it’s still your success that ultimately determines their own. They know this – which is why they want you to accomplish the dreams you outlined in your application and make lifelong friends and have fantastic experiences during your college career. What’s more, they also strongly believe in the search, application, and admission process that got you to the (admittedly) indecisive place in which you now dwell. They believe in the whole thing so much, in fact, that they work extended hours, travel long distances, and make themselves available to you at all hours so they can give answers to those all-important last-minute questions and smooth the path to your final college decision.

(When I worked in the admissions field, it was easier to send a picture of myself to family events during the month of April than it was to get me there in person. And be sure to ask me sometime about the milestone birthday I spent on a recruiting trip in Wisconsin – where it snowed. Heavily.)

So what’s the point of the picture I just painted? Is it merely to let my senior readers know that someone else feels your pain right now? Are you supposed to sympathize with the plight of the adults who chose this particularly stressful line of work?

Well, yes and no.

The takeaway I really want you to have is that, despite outward appearances – and especially in spite of how it feels sometimes – the college decision process is a human one. The choices made are those of actual people with actual feelings – both on the student side and on the admission side – and the best way for both sides to fulfill their ultimate goal (which, as you’ll recall, is a shared one – the future success of each student) is to work together.

Students, for you, that means you are officially responsible for the following:

  • Turn in all paperwork and fees on or before the deadlines for the school you will attend. May 1 is the National Candidate Reply Date, the final deadline by which you are to notify your chosen college that you will be on campus in the fall. No school may require a student to commit prior to this date (unless through a binding Early Decision commitment from the fall or through an athletic scholarship agreement). Other required paperwork can include forms for financial aid and scholarships and information for student housing. (Equestrians, check with coaches and program directors for any additional requirements they may have for you. This can also include horse boarding paperwork if you’re planning to bring your equine partner to campus with you.)
  • Tell the colleges you won’t attend that you have selected another institution. This is the uncomfortable part for a lot of students – the part where you tell other schools that you’ve invested a great deal of time with (and who have invested a great deal of time with you in return) that you won’t be there in the fall. It feels like you’re letting them down to say this, but in reality, you’re doing the admission staff a favor to be up front and honest about your plans. After all, if you know with total certainty that you’re enrolling somewhere else and you tell your competitor schools, the admission counselors can remove you from their communication lists and concentrate their time and energies on students who need them to help make their as-yet-unmade decisions. It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

The final college decision is a momentous one, students, and it truly will affect the course of your future. And though we know that “where you go is not who you’ll be,” it can certainly feel lonely and isolated while you’re finalizing your plans. The only remedy for this is time and perspective – and maybe a bit of commiseration with the admission counselors, directors of admission, and financial aid staffers who know the pressure of your decision all too well. Pick up the phone and give them a call – they’re happy to help.

(Need help choosing the schools to put on your application list for next year? Give me a call or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)

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