Getting an acceptance letter might literally make you jump for joy as a high school senior! The relief of watching your hard work in school and during the admissions process pay off is supremely rewarding. But what should you do for the rest of your senior year once you get an acceptance letter?
When the day comes and you start hearing back from colleges, you have a whole new set of responsibilities. Here’s a handy checklist for you to follow.
1. Wait for Other College Admissions Letters
If this is the first letter to arrive, congratulations! If you applied to more than one school, you should expect more responses soon. Don’t make your college decision based on the first acceptance letter if you applied to multiple schools.
Read over each letter to check for potential deadlines and mark them on a calendar to keep them straight. The school might need some paperwork back by a certain time. Take this into consideration as you wait to hear back from more schools.
Also, try to avoid focusing too much on other types of admissions decisions. You may see a rejection letter or two, don’t take it personally. The college application process is competitive and if this was your first choice school you could always reach out to the admissions office to learn more about their decision.
If you applied to your first-choice school early decision or early action and were added to the waitlist, you will want to contact the school’s admissions office to hear when the deadline to hear back is so you can consider other schools just in case.
2. Check Your Financial Aid Package
Every school offers different financial aid packages for accepted students, so be sure to review each. What you got through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) might be different depending on the school.
How much of a dent will aid make in your cost of attendance? If you’re short on funds, see if there are still scholarships and grants available. Many colleges offer their own, so it’s important to check with the school’s financial aid office to see what you qualify for.
Your financial aid package should also include a section on federal work-study or loan options that you could consider. This is sometimes referred to as ‘self-help aid’ in a financial aid package. Based on the information included in your FAFSA, you may qualify for Direct Subsidized Loans, which are available to undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need. Each school will determine the amount you can borrow based on FAFSA information.
In comparison, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both graduate and undergraduate students and doesn’t require students to demonstrate financial need. However, the Department of Education pays the interest on Direct Subsidized Loans for qualified students while enrolled at least part-time. This isn’t the case for Direct Unsubsidized Loans—these loans accrue interest while you are in school that you will pay.
Read More: How to Read Your Financial Aid Award Letter
If money is holding you back from attending the school of your dreams and federal loans aren’t enough to cover your expenses, you might be able to attend a community college or a less-expensive school for general education requirements and then attempt to transfer to your dream school later on. Check out the school’s cost of attendance on their websites to help you determine everything from tuition and books to room and board. It will give you a better idea of how much you need aside from money for classes.
If you’re still struggling to pay for college, carefully consider private student loans to cover the cost difference. While you might need a cosigner to help you get the loan, and the terms are different than federal student loans, you’ll be able to pay for school now if you can’t find another way.
3. Visit the Campus (If You Can)
If the school isn’t too far away, or you have the means, consider taking a campus tour if you haven’t already. For prospective students, seeing where you could be living and taking classes can give you an idea of how to prepare for life in college. Ask yourself a few questions on tour:
- Can you see yourself walking around this campus or school?
- What about having those teachers?
- Can you envision yourself with the students?
- What will your living situation be?
- How will you get around on campus?
- What’s Greek Life like here?
- Is the school far away from home?
- How will you get home for the breaks?
- If you need to get a job, what are the options on and around campus?
- Does this school have a good program for your desired field of study?
- Who are reliable people nearby if you are far away from family?
Put your priorities first when weighing your options and consider on- and off-campus activities equally.
4. Find College Graduates to Pick Their Brains
If you have any family members who are current students or graduates from a school you are interested in you will likely have already asked them about their experience. Not so lucky to have family or close friends to turn to? Search alumni groups on social media or talk to campus representatives who can put you in touch with current students or recent graduates. If you get a chance to visit the campus, this would be a good time to talk to current students about their experience—good and bad.
Keep in mind that each student will have a different experience with the school, and the more people you talk to the better sense you will get of the average review. One student’s negative experience might not be what the majority of students go through. It’s best to take individual reviews with a grain of salt.
5. Review Freshman Return Rates
If a school isn’t helping its current college students do their best, there’s a chance they might not be coming back for their sophomore year. Check to see your top college’s retention rate to see if the school has trouble keeping students enrolled after their first year.
You can also check your school’s graduation rate through the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard. You can review based on specific programs as well, which might help you determine if your possible major is strong there. If you’re curious if your future school will give you the best education for your desired field of study, this could be a handy tool.
6. Contact Your Future School
Once you’ve made your choice, it’s time to tackle getting ready for school. Your acceptance letter has some important information about upcoming costs and deadlines. If you need to put down a deposit for housing or to hold your spot, make sure you handle that as soon as you can.
Do your best to stay ahead of these deadlines—missing them could mean you might not get a dorm room or the chance to register for classes.
7. Keep Your Grades Up
Just because you got accepted doesn’t mean you get to stop doing your homework, studying, or drop your extracurriculars. College offers often include the option to rescind their offer if the student’s GPA drops to what they don’t deem acceptable, or if you breach the school’s code of conduct.
Get Ready for College
Once you’ve hit your deadlines, it’s time to start getting ready for school!
You might feel excited and a bit overwhelmed, but keep your emotions at bay as you work on your checklist after you get an acceptance letter. Once you’re done, you can take a breath before you start your college journey.