Your college freshman’s first mistake

May 10, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

If your child has applied to college and been accepted, what else is there to do but buy the comforter and towels and drop her at her dorm with money for books and pizza? Turns out, there’s plenty more to college acceptance.

Before your high school senior even graduates, this is the point in the college acceptance process that can make or break your child’s college choices — and make or break your wallet. Here’s how to avoid the biggest college acceptance mistakes.

A “yes” for them isn’t always a “yes” for you

Just because a school offers your child admission, that doesn’t mean his acceptance package will offer you everything you want, or need.

“Many students don’t think about waiting to compare the financial aid packages offered by each school where you’ve been accepted,” says Jay Murray, director of admissions at Post University in Waterbury, CT. “Not all aid is created equal. Loans have to be repaid; grants don’t. Be sure to look at grant aid as a percentage of the total cost of attendance.”

If financial aid is not a factor — but, let’s face it, in most of today's world it’s a big factor — and you get accepted to your top choice, Murray recommends sending your enrollment deposit immediately to secure your space. Otherwise, be patient, wait for financial aid packages from each school and weigh all your options before making that final decision.

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The biggest college acceptance mistakes

There are three big college acceptance mistakes that high school seniors make:

Early decision error

If your son or daughter changes his or her mind frequently or is undecided about their first-choice college, discourage early acceptance applications. “One of the biggest mistakes students make is to apply to a school early decision, get accepted and not understand that they’re now committed to attending that school regardless of the financial aid package, a change of heart in the intervening months or other factors,” says Murray.

But I’ve got my heart set on it…

If your child loves a school because it’s your alma mater, he's attached to the sports teams, or he's just always wanted to go there, encourage him to apply… but don’t let it be the only school from which he seeks admission. Neither you nor your child will want to feel the pressure of scrambling for admission elsewhere should one rejection letter follow that one application.


“Students sometimes neglect to pay attention to deadlines. Missing an enrollment deposit due date or other paperwork submission deadline — May 1 for most schools — could mean the difference between attending your first-choice school and not attending your first-choice school,” Murray explains. “Once that deadline has passed, the school can give your spot to someone else. And once the school has filled its freshman class, the fact that you were accepted is no longer relevant.”

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Win against waitlist limbo

If your child is waitlisted at her first-choice school, you should still submit a deposit at her second-choice school, recommends Murray. “Many schools are accepting fewer and fewer of their waitlisted students, and if you don’t send in a deposit to another school, you may have nowhere to go in the fall.”

When your child has finally made his college choices, if he were accepted at numerous institutions make sure he takes the time to notify the schools he's not going to attend so that spot can be offered to a waitlisted student. “It only takes a minute and it could mean a lot to a student who really wants to attend that school,” says Murray.

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