The Thick Envelopes
By Lauren, age 17, California
Sweet Designs Featured Writer
1. Have all your schools responded yet? Many schools, notoriously state colleges, wait until the last minute to notify you of your acceptance, and financial aid packages arrive even later. Hold off until a week before the first decision deadline, so you can compare the places you've been admitted and their offers side by side.
2. Scope it out. If your family can afford the trip, consider visiting the campus. The recent trend for private colleges is to offer travel vouchers to accepted students, redeemable when you send in the enrollment confirmation. Keep in mind that many hotels also offer discount rates to visiting students, driving the cost down even further. If you can't visit, be sure to research your top choices: ask for a current student's number and interview them. Research the city where the college is located. Find out about housing, meal plans, and whatever else is important to you.
3. Know your pocketbook. Tally up how much you've been awarded in scholarships. Don't assume you'll win everything you've applied for. By waiting, you may find that higher ranked schools are now financially accessible.
4. Check the fine print. Is that merit scholarship only applicable for the first year? Is studying abroad a requirement? Are internships a requirement? Know all the terms and conditions so you don't get the rug pulled out from under you later.
5. Bargaining power. Strange though it seems, you can bargain with colleges, especially private colleges. One college called my brother to ask if adding $5,000 to his financial aid package (which was already substantial - over $20,000 a year, if I recall correctly) would make a difference in his enrollment decision. Unfortunately for him, he'd already committed to a local school, and was unable to change his decision. He now lives at home on the weekends because he can't afford to eat at school.
One final note: if you haven't submitted your semester grades yet, make sure you send your official updated transcript to the colleges that have accepted you. And by "official," I mean stamped and sealed. Most high schools will send it for free as long as you provide the address of the college and your name, but be sure to do so in advance. Good luck!