Russ Ingersoll: What to do when you are not admitted at your first-choice college

The wait is over. You now know at which colleges you were accepted, not accepted or placed on a waiting list.  And now the ball is back in your court: where will you enroll?

For some of you the decision is easy, you were accepted at your first choice college and the financial package you were offered fits your family’s budget.  For others the decision may not be as easy.

John was not accepted at his first or second choice college.  His heart was really set on his first choice.  Although he put on a brave face to his friends and family, he was deeply disappointed. 

It was not like this school was a long shot for him.  His grades, number of rigorous high school courses, school activities, and test scores all indicated that he stood a good chance for admission. His ego took a blow, not to mention his self-confidence.  Even with the support of his family and friends, he needed time to lick his wounds before opening his eyes those three colleges that did accept him.

DOING THE RIGHT THING: He revisited his reasons for applying to those schools.  He established a new ranking and set up visits to remind him of the student culture and offerings of each of those schools. One was a public university and the other two were private. Because of his excellent academic record and evidence of leadership, he received generous scholarship offers from both private colleges.  Those offers leveled the playing field as far as cost of attending.

By the last week in April, John had re-visited each of these schools and was able to identify the one school where he got the greatest sense of connection. He made his decision to attend.  He also placed on the back burner the knowledge that if, once established in his selected school, he still looked longingly at his original first choice college, he could rack up.

The most likely reality is that once John invests himself in the academic and campus life of the school he has chosen, he will establish strong ties to his new college home.

***

Look Carefully at Those Financial-Aid Offers

The formula seems so simple:

Cost of Attending: $32,000
Expected Family Contribution: $11,000
Need: $21,000

College #1
Grant $5,000
Scholarship $8,500
Subsidized Loan $3,500
Unsubsidized Loan $2,000
TOTAL AID AWARD $19,000
UNMET NEED $2,000

Loan Amount:  $5,500  x 4 years of college = $22,000

Bottom line for college #1:  The family will be expected to come up with $13,000 each year assuming the Expected Family Contribution derived from FAFSA remains the same.  It will be important for the student to have a summer job for which much of the earning can go toward college costs.  Additionally, this student should contact the financial aid office to see about the Work/Study Program to earn income while in college. Both of those jobs can make up for the $2,000 of unmet need.  At the end of four years, the student will have a total loan in the amount of $22,000—similar to the cost of an average automobile.

College #2
Grant $4,000
Scholarship $5,000
College Work Study $1,500
Federal  Direct Subsidized Loan $3,500
Federal  Direct Unsubsidized Loan $2,000
Federal Parent PLUS Direct Loan $5,000
TOTAL AID AWARD $21,000
UNMET NEED    0

At first glance, this offer looks better than the college #1 offer.  All need has been met.  But look more closely.

Total Loan Amount: $10,500 x 4 years of college = $42,000

Bottom line for college #2:  The family will be expected to come up with $11,000 each year assuming the Expected Family Contribution derived from FAFSA remains the same.  It will be important for the student to have a summer job for which much of the earning can go toward college costs, perhaps lowering the amount of loan that will be necessary.  At the end of four years, the student and parent will have a total loan in the amount of $42,000—similar to the cost of a luxury automobile.

Observation:  While college #2 pronounces that all need has been met, the burden of a much higher loan is being placed on this student and family than the college #1 offer.  It is very important to look at that debt.

The Question: Is attending college #2 worth carrying that heavy debt when a more reasonable debt load is available at college #1?

Russ Ingersoll is a licensed professional counselor. More on his counseling services is available at www.HarborCounselingServices.com.


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