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Opinion: Choosing a college amid the chaos

Patrick O'Connor

It’s easy to forget about some of the day-to-day happenings in our lives lately, but despite the unusual events going on around us, this is still the time of year many high school seniors are making plans for college. The last few colleges will be sending out admissions decisions, and since Michigan seniors have had the last week off, they’ve had plenty of time to wait, wonder and worry.

It’s time to put that energy to good use in putting together plans for a bright future. As college-bound seniors and their families consider their options, it’s important to keep these factors in mind:

Many colleges are sending admissions decisions out right now, and it’s important that you read them from start to finish. If you’ve been accepted, the letter will talk about what to do next, and when you need to pay your enrollment deposit and housing deposit — and those may have different deadlines. 

If you’ve been waitlisted — where the college is still considering your application, but hasn’t admitted you yet — the letter will tell you if you need to let the school know you still want to be considered for admission. If you’ve been denied, the letter could let you know about transfer options you could pursue in the coming years. In any case, reading the entire letter is important. 

Be sure to proof the entire college application.

Most colleges are still accepting applications. For some reason, people think colleges stop taking applications around April 1, even if the college still has plenty of room for more students. That simply isn’t the case, especially here in Michigan, where nearly every college would be happy to take your application now, and in many cases, as late as August.

Many families need to update their financial aid applications, or file one. Many families invest in the stock market to save for college, and the ups and downs of the market may find many families in a different place than they were when their senior applied to college last fall. The financial aid budgets of most colleges haven’t been affected by these changes — that’s likely to happen next year — but a college can’t help a family who needs more financial support if the family doesn’t let them know their situation has changed.

 If you think the market has changed the college you can afford, it’s time to pick up the phone and call financial aid offices. If your senior has been admitted to college, that college will want to do everything it can to make sure you can afford to let them attend.

Consider starting at one college — one a little less expensive and closer to home — and finishing at another. This option has a lot of advantages, since it allows the student to start a college career while giving his or her college fund a breather, and allowing the stock market time to recover its losses, making the last two years of college at a pricier school more affordable.

If transferring seems like an option to you, you want to make a call to the school where you plan on finishing your college experience to make sure they take transfer students and to make sure the courses you take at your first school will count.

Talk to your school counselor. If there’s ever a time to run your ideas past someone who can help you make a strong college choice, it’s now.

It might be hard to see just when life will be back to business as usual, but when it is, you want to make sure your plans are on track to move forward with your life in the best way you can. Taking the time to revisit your college plans is the best way to do that. 

Patrick O’Connor is a college counselor, author of College is Yours 2.0, and a weekly columnist at highschoolcounselorweek.com.