High school seniors around the country are receiving their college decision letters this week and next. As months of anticipation culminate in excitement for some and disappointment for others, these young people must now decide where to spend the next four years of their lives. Education expert Eva Ostrum has seen college admissions as a former Yale admissions officer who assessed applications. She shares her suggestions for graduating seniors and their parents as they tackle this big decision.Congratulations, You Got In -- Making the Decision
Students who receive letters of admission in the spring frequently still have homework to do in order to make the best decision for themselves about where to attend college for the next four years. There are four basic steps that you can use to get the information that you need:Stay overnight in the dorms
Nothing substitutes for spending a day and a night on campus. Skip the formal campus tour and go straight to the dorms. Most colleges will arrange for you to stay with a student host who will also take you to classes and to meals in the dining hall. If you go on a Thursday, you will also get a preview of weekend social life. Talk to other students, not just your host. You want to get as broad a perspective as possible. Research the college's Web site
Not all students can make the trip to a school, particularly if it requires an expensive plane flight. Take the next best step and do as much research as you can from home. Visit the college's web site. Look at course listings, student organizations, descriptions of special events and guest speakers. You can even make a checklist for yourself, like the one that you can download at collegebroadband.com. Complete this checklist for each of the schools you are looking at seriously. Even students who have the chance to visit a school should go through this step, as it will help in formulating questions to ask on campus.Read! Read! Read!
Try picking up a college resource guide like “The Insider's Guide to the College,” put out by the Yale Daily News. The book provides extremely helpful portraits of colleges from the perspectives of people who go there.Talk to Alums
Finally, get back in touch with the alumnus or alumna who interviewed you when you applied to the school last fall. Thank the person for supporting your application and ask if you could get together for coffee to ask some additional questions. Alternatively, call an organization of young professionals in a field that interests you, e.g. National Society of Hispanic MBA's or National Association of Women Business Owners. Identify yourself as a high school student making decisions about college and ask if they have any members who attended a particular school who would be willing to speak with you. This step may take some time but will be especially useful for somebody truly on the fence about where to go.Coping with Rejection
Not everybody gets into the school of his/her dreams and sometimes students find themselves overwhelmed by rejection. Parents and guidance counselors can play a critical role in helping a child cope successfully with disappointment and make a good decision for the following year. Emphasize the positive
Some students have a nice array of choices but cannot get past rejection from their dream school. In cases like this, help the young person redirect his/her energy in a positive way, for example by going through the steps above with him/her and pointing out the positives at the schools that have extended offers of admission.
Call waitlist schools
Other students find themselves faced with only one option or, in the case of one young woman I knew, none! If any schools have come back with a waitlist offer, pursue them with pleasant persistence. The young woman I knew who got waitlisted at one school and rejected at all others had a guidance counselor who called that college weekly to advocate for her and to let them know she would attend if admitted. She got in off the waitlist and had a wonderful four years there.Consider transferring after freshman year
Students should also keep in mind that they have a better statistical chance of getting into many schools as a transfer student from another college than they do as a high school senior applying to enter as a freshman. All schools have unexpected spots open up, because students take time off, drop out, or transfer elsewhere. If you do not want to give up your dream of attending a particular school, keep in mind that you can always apply as a transfer student from another college.Consider taking a year off
Finally, some students may want to spend a year after high school doing something else, such as taking a post-graduate high school year or working with a service organization like City Year. They can then reapply to college the following year with a stronger application than they had before and with the enhanced perspective that their post-high school experience gives them. Students who choose to take time off should stay in close contact with their high school guidance counselor. You want his/her recommendation to reflect knowledge of you and what your post-high school experience has done to make you a strong candidate. You also do not want to slip between the cracks as the counselor turns his/her attention to a whole new crop of high school seniors about to go through the process themselves.