For many high school seniors, that life-changing deadline of May 1 is approaching too quickly. This is the day when you need to commit to one and only one college. Sounds fun, right? For some. But for others it can be stressful, confusing and a bit of a let down. In this column, I will explain the various possibilities that students face come May 1 and what should be done about it. My aim is to get you through this deadline and on your way to enjoying what is on the other side.
Many of you have applied and been accepted to several colleges. Congratulations! Now you can review the financial aid offers (each school’s will be different) and choose the place where you will be happiest in terms of academic, social and emotional “fit”. Hopefully, you have researched and visited these schools and are prepared for this decision.
Sign your Statement of Intent to Register (or Enroll) and pay the deposit. Voila! You are ready to buy the sweatshirt. Two things to keep in mind, though:
1. Please let the other colleges you have chosen not to attend know about your decision as soon as possible. Other students are eager to take those spots.
2. Remember that your acceptance is contingent upon performance. If you change your schedule or get a grade lower than a C, notify the school immediately to see what is required.
A slight deviation from this riff is that students may be accepted, but not until the spring semester or quarter. This is becoming more common according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Students in this situation need to consider whether the downside of getting off-track from their peers is worth getting into their school of choice. Reach out to the school and other students in this situation to learn more about the pros and cons of whether this is right for you.
The waitlist blues
You may have ended up on a waitlist. Roughly one third of colleges maintain waitlists. A majority of these are the highly selective schools since they are competing for students who have many college options. The use of waitlists has grown at the UCs in large part due to the mismatch between the increasing number of applicants and the limited funding for new seats. UC Berkeley and UC Merced are the only campuses without a waitlist policy.
What exactly does being on the waitlist mean? It means that your application was reviewed and rather than being admitted or denied, you have been put on hold. Other applicants were selected over you and you are now in a pool that acts as a safety net for the college. You fill in the gaps if they do not fill their spaces. Is there anything you can do to get off the waitlist? Well, for starters, keep up your academic performance. Then, show your interest by writing to the admissions office about how much you want to attend their school and why it is a good fit. In addition, learn as much as possible about the college’s waitlist practices.
Of course, the main issue regarding waitlists is what the chances are of actually getting admitted from the waitlist. This depends on a variety of factors that are out of your control such as the competitiveness of the applicant pool. It is next to impossible to predict.
If you remain on the waitlist as May 1 approaches, please remember that you still need to commit to attend a college and make a deposit! After May 1, colleges will begin to notify students from the waitlist when a spot becomes available for them. Be ready to act quickly since colleges may require a decision within 24 to 48 hours.
Another growing college admissions trend is the number of American high school graduates who decide to do a “gap year’ before going to college. In other countries (Britain and Australia) gap years are more common. What is a gap year and why consider it? A gap year is when students take a break from the traditional education path to travel, volunteer, study, intern or work. Students often choose this path in order to broaden their perspective, gain self knowledge and/or make money. There are many places online to research and plan gap years. As a starting point, check out www.americangap.org to find accredited gap year programs.
For students on this path, I recommend going through the customary application process, getting accepted and then deferring acceptance for a year. Otherwise it is easy for a gap year to turn into gap years. Most colleges will accept deferral, but not all. Each school is different so check their websites for more information. Here’s an example of how deferral typically works:
1. Student signs Intent to Register by May 1.
2. Before July 1, write a letter requesting a deferral for a year.
3. As long as the college does not rule out deferrals and feels the student has made a legitimate case, deferral will usually be granted.
Other students may not have a college they want to attend or were accepted to by May 1. In such situations, the California Community Colleges offer a great alternative — either as a way to transfer to a four-year college or to earn an associates degree. Apply online at http://home.cccapply.org/. The application is simple — there is no transcript, test scores or essay required.
Just be prepared to hit the ground running if transfer is the goal. A very helpful website for planning how course credits from one public California college or university can be applied when transferred to another is http://www.assist.org/.
Another option is to get a job or enroll in a vocational school. A good resource for learning about vocational schools is http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0241-choosing-vocational-school.
Lastly, there is always the option to check the results of the NACAC space availability survey due to be released online May 3 at http://www.nacacnet.org/research/research-data/SpaceSurvey/Pages/SpaceSurveyResults.aspx. These results show which colleges still have space and therefore are still accepting applications for fall 2103.
Facing the music
Well, with this information about what is on the horizon come May 1, I hope you high school seniors find the right path for you. Just remember no matter which road you take, enjoy the ride.
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her husband and two daughters. Reach her at email@example.com, or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.