By the time spring rolls around, you will begin to hear back from all the colleges to which you applied (even sooner if you applied early). If you’re accepted to only one college, that’s great! If you receive acceptance letters from more than one, you have a choice to make. If can be hard to choose between institutions, especially when each school offers something just a bit different from the others. Financial aid packages can vary drastically, too. You can only pick one, though, so be sure to consider every angle before making a commitment.


Comparing Acceptance Offers

For most students, the main thing to consider when comparing college acceptances is the financial aid offer, which you will receive in a financial aid letter from each institution. The letter can help you determine the total cost of attendance at each school, the number of scholarships and grants you will receive at each school, and what you will end up having to pay out of pocket. Once you have determined the cost of attendance at each institution after considering all financial aid (loans, grants, and work-study), you can compare the colleges to which you’ve gained admittance to determine which ends up being the most expensive and which ends up being the least.

There are considerations beyond financial aid when it comes to making your final college choice. You have to want to attend the school that you end up going to, so if there is one school that stands out beyond the others and it’s affordable, go with your gut! That works both ways, so if there’s one school that you really don’t think you’d be happy attending, it’s okay to go ahead and drop it from the list.

After checking on financial aid and following your gut, the other criteria for narrowing down your options are up to you. You could elect to visit (or revisit) campuses and stay the night so that you can get a good idea of college life. You could call the admissions office and ask to talk to a current student or admissions officer about any questions that you still have. You could check the statistics (retention rate, graduation rate, and post-graduation employments rates).

Your main concern is making yourself happy. Reflect on how you felt when you visited each college or talked to current students. Check over the extracurricular activity and class offerings to make sure that there are plenty of options that interest you. Are you interested in study abroad? Check out the programs that each school offers to see which sound best to you. Yes, financial aid is important and should be a top consideration, but remember, you will be spending the next four years of your life living and breathing college. Pick an institution that will help you grow.

What about early decision acceptances?

If you have applied to a school early decision, you are legally obligated to attend that school and rescind any other applications that you’ve submitted while waiting for an admissions decision. On rare occasions, a school to which a student has gained admittance through early decision will allow them to break their commitment if they are able to provide substantial evidence that their financial aid package is insufficient. Immediately contact the school’s financial aid office if you have a concern about your early decision offer. They may be able to provide you with more scholarship money or financial aid, but it is not guaranteed.

What about early action acceptances?

It’s tempting to accept an early action offer in the winter to avoid the stress of applying to other schools with regular decision admittance policies. Since there are no consequences of waiting to make a decision, however, it’s best to consider your early action offer along with others made to you in the spring. Take the time to compare financial aid packages and visit any campuses you haven’t seen to make sure you are making the most thoughtful, informed decision.

Making the Final Decision

The final decision is one that only you can make after you’ve considered all your options. If you are waitlisted at your first choice, you still need to make a decision based on the schools that have accepted you, because your chances of getting off the waitlist, though they exist, are slim. You don’t want to end up with nowhere to go when fall comes around! Remember that you applied to all of your schools for a reason: You can picture yourself attending each of them. As mentioned above, there are a few things you should consider before making your final decision.

  • Visit: If you have not visited the campus of any schools that have offered you acceptance, now is the time to do so. You cannot make a fully informed decision if you haven’t immersed yourself in the world of student life at a particular school.
  • Contact: Talk with current students, alumni, and faculty. Use the Student Caffé forum or Facebook groups to contact others about the school. Read online student publications to get a feel for your prospective institution's culture. Trust your gut intuition when deciding between colleges. Which one made you feel the most comfortable? Where do you think you will be challenged to grow? What school makes you excited to be a college student?
  • Money: Factor in financial aid offers. When you graduate, how much debt will you have accumulated? Will you have to work a part-time job while you are attending school? Will the degree you receive and the school’s reputation and resources help you land a job that will allow you to pay off your debt relatively quickly? If two schools stack up similarly when you consider academics and your happiness, choosing the cheaper option may be the better choice in the long run.
  • Decide: Do not rush into a decision; you have time. All decisions do have to be submitted by May 1st, however; this is National Decision Day. Ultimately, make the best choice for you, not your family, teachers, friends, or counselors. After all, it’s you, not them, that will be spending the next four years at the college you choose.

What do I need to do after making a choice?

Once you’ve made your decision, respond to all of the colleges to which you received acceptance. Obviously, you will only be saying yes to one of them, but it is a courtesy to let the other schools know that you will not be attending so they can offer your spot to another student. If you are on any waitlists at the time of your decision, you can elect to stay on them or to remove yourself from the lists. Typically, May 1st is the deadline for you to accept or decline an offer. Your acceptance letter will detail what you need to submit with your acceptance of a position in the freshman class (or as a transfer student), but typically you will accept your admissions offer and your financial aid offer (or the parts of the offer that you want; you are under no obligation to accept all of the financial aid that is being offered to you), and you must include a monetary deposit (the amount will be specified), which holds your space at the institution.

After submitting these materials, take some time to celebrate! Getting into college is a huge achievement, and this is an exciting time in your life. Be sure to write thank-you notes to any teachers, mentors, employers, or counselors who helped you with your college applications and tell them where you’ll be attending school in the fall. They’ve invested their time into your education and will be glad to hear about your decision.

Your college will send you information about your next steps, either by mail or electronically. While nothing is urgent, there will be some time-sensitive tasks for you to complete: signing up for orientation, taking placement tests, registering for classes, submitting health insurance and immunization information, and finding housing. You’ve got the whole summer to cross things off your to-do list, so be sure to factor in some time for fun too!

Page last updated: 04/2017