Barbara Phelps

Barbara Phelps

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For high school seniors this is the time of year when emotions run high. The month of April brings its own set of challenges as seniors approach May 1, National Decision Day. This is the day when seniors who have been offered admission to a college or university must accept or decline all offers. How will you make this very important, perhaps even life-changing decision? Here are a few tips to guide you:

Review your original goals

What type of education did you decide is best for you? What size of institution? What about academic programs, family budget, diversity, religious affiliation, athletic programs, study abroad, internships, distance from home, etc.?

Visit campus one more time

Most colleges invite students and their parents back to campus for Admitted Students Day. This is an opportunity to get a more in-depth look at campus programs, professors and extra-curricular activities. If possible, attend one or two of these programs to help you narrow your choices. Make appointments to speak with faculty, stay overnight in a dorm, talk to students and once again confirm your “gut” impressions. This visit is also the time to discuss any concerns with the financial aid department. Remember, once you are admitted, colleges want you to attend. They will do whatever they can within reason to make you comfortable with their institutions.

Analyze the big financial picture

At this point it is important for you to make a very realistic comparison of cost of attendance at each school. Design a spread sheet that lists each of the schools you have been accepted to, plus columns for tuition/fees, books/room and board, travel and personal expenses. Then list your scholarship and financial aid awards. Find the total cost of attendance for each school. Be sure to note if scholarships are renewable and if you can realistically meet the requirements for renewal. If you have not yet received your financial aid package contact the school. If you are uncertain of the terms of your financial aid package, discuss your questions with the financial aid office. Don’t make an admission decision without all of the facts.

Have the discussion

Sit down with your parents/guidance counselor for a discussion of all of your hopes, fears, concerns and choices. Be realistic about “value vs. cost” as you review the pros and cons of each school. This is a family decision, and each voice deserves to be respectfully heard. Think about the school that will offer you the most support and align most closely with your core values and goals.

Search your heart

Students often tell me they know within a few minutes of stepping on campus if a school is right for them. I trust that intuition. If you are still unsure take a thoughtful approach, avoid the easy way out by choosing a school a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend is attending. In the end only you, the student, will be attending college for four years. It is your turn to choose your path. This fit is all about you.

Finalize your choice

Once you have made your decision, notify each of your colleges of your plans. Typically, you were given instructions on how to do this in your acceptance letter. It is unethical to deposit to more than one institution. If you “double deposit” you rob a deserving student of a seat in a freshmen class. At this point you will also need to make a deposit for on-campus housing as well as sign up for freshmen orientation. Stay in touch with your college, read the emails you receive from them to be sure you stay on track for the fall.

Finally, you deserve a big congratulations and a celebration. You are now embarking on a wonderful new adventure filled with unlimited possibilities. Your hard work has paid off; enjoy the rewards you have earned.

• Barbara Phelps is an independent college consultant and Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She assists students in grades 9-12 with the college planning, search and application process. Reach her at (602) 697-4543, or

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