It’s the time of year many high school seniors have awaited for months — the winter/spring cycle during which colleges send thick or thin acceptance or rejection letters — or, increasingly in the the digital age, emails — to prospective freshmen.
According to census.gov, 19.7 million students enrolled in college at the start of the 2011-12 academic year. It’s a time when a record number of students are vying for spots at campuses across the nation, said Colin Gruenwald, director of college admission programs for Kaplan Test Prep.
However, that also translates to larger numbers of college rejections. As decisions trickle in from colleges and universities, many parents will be involved in helping their high schoolers narrow down choices, deal with rejection or lead talks about finances. Here’s some advice from parenting and higher-education experts.
Visit campus. While it may sound like a given, it’s important for parents and students to spend time on campus before deciding where to enroll.
“It’s like test-driving a car,” explained Jeremy Hyman, co-author of the book and website “Secrets of College Success.”
On campus, Hyman said, teens should visit a class and observe whether the professor is teaching well, whether students look like they’re learning and whether they could learn in that environment.
Gruenwald recommends parents prompt their sons or daughters to make a second visit if in the spring they’re undecided.
“It’s still surprising the number (of people) who sort of consider the college visit to be optional,” he said.
Use logic. If your teen is having trouble choosing a school, Gruenwald encourages parents to help them look at their options objectively. If your teen likes a school because of its football team but the college doesn’t meet other major needs, point that out. Take note of what your teen mentions when he or she talks about college and ask them to consider that when choosing a school.
Talk money. Charlie Miller, founder of the New York-based group College Academic Specialists, said if a college’s financial aid offer comes up short, families can try negotiating with the school to see if they can provide more.
“Always go back to the financial aid office and say, ‘I appreciate what you offered, but I just can’t afford it,’” he said. “Financial aid offices want to work with students and the family … they will try to work with you, but you have got to be reasonable.”
Look for aid. While there are only a handful of large financial aid institutions, Gruenwald said, there are countless small aid providers. Encourage your teens to look for smaller scholarships here and there. Earning $500 from your church or $1,000 from a local business can add up. He stressed that parents should apply for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year their child is in college. He said it’s a “one-stop shop” for federal aid such as Pell grants. While the pool is deep, the money is handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.
Cope with rejection. If your child is turned down by his or her top school, you might be tempted to remind them it’s not the end of the world. While there’s a time and place for that, said Bonnie Harris, director of the parent education website Connective Parenting, it’s OK to allow your child to have a “this stinks” attitude for a few days before you start talking about other schools.
Hyman said parents should discourage their teens from comparing themselves to friends or classmates. Just like there might be 100 reasons why someone else was chosen over mom or dad for a job over the years, the same holds true for getting into college.
“Parents should openly acknowledge it’s hard and disappointing when one doesn’t get in,” he said.
Consider time off. If your child is unsure about where to enroll, doesn’t seem excited about any schools they’ve been accepted to or wants a little life experience, Harris said parents might suggest their child take a year off. Teens who’ve been accepted to a school can defer for a year, Harris said, and parents who worry their child will slack off can set conditions such as getting a job or volunteering.
“It might help them grow up and discover what they want to do,” she said.