College Decision Season

By Hollis Bischoff, Senior College Admissions Advisor

Helping Your Child Choose Their New Home For the Next Four Years (aka Choosing a College)

Last fall, your child eagerly pushed the apply button for their curated list of colleges, and the last few months have been a rollercoaster of ups (acceptances) and downs (denials, deferrals, and waitlists). Now that rollercoaster is barreling toward the May 1st deadline, decisions must be made. 

At this point, it’s ok to take a minute to acknowledge any disappointments and let them go. Encourage your child (and you!) to stop comparing themselves to their peers and their outcomes. Now is the time to focus on the great choices they have. Show them how proud you are of their accomplishments by celebrating their successes and getting them excited about the amazing opportunities ahead. Remember, the college they attend doesn’t define their future, but rather the experiences they have and the connections they make along the way.

Here are some tips to help them make the decision.

  1. Don’t get too hung up on the difference between a college ranked 20 vs. one ranked 50 (or 100 vs. 140). The rankings are mainly based on things that have nothing to do with the student’s actual on-campus experience. In actuality, there are only minute differences in rankings 20–30 spots apart. Focus on what truly matters: academic offerings, affordability, location, housing, student diversity, and extracurricular opportunities.
  2. Have a frank discussion about affordability. If that $80,000-a-year school has yet to offer scholarships and is not affordable, make the tough decision to take it off the list. Use a cost comparison worksheet to calculate the total cost of each college. It’s wise to use five years as the average time to graduation.  It’s possible to find a private school with scholarships and financial aid a cheaper option than an in-state school. 
  3. Ask your child to list things that are important to them. They can create a worksheet with numerical rankings or a list of each school’s pros and cons. Some items to rank are location, ease of getting to and from campus, school size, class size, housing, student diversity, clubs, and Greek Life. Also they should do an in-depth analysis of the academic offerings:
  • Do they have their program and good academic advising?
  • How are the career center and access to internships and research?
  • Are there specific General Ed requirements or Academic clusters?
  • Is there direct admission into their major, or must they qualify after pre-work? Is it easy to change majors?
  • Do they offer a senior thesis, if desired?
  1. It’s time to get on campus.  At this point, visit the campus, perhaps even overnight, to see whether it fits them. Remind your child to write down their thoughts immediately, or they may find schools blurring as the day/week progresses. If you accompany them, also jot down your thoughts about the school.  Sometimes you’ll see things they might have missed. This scorecard can be helpful. Here are a bunch of things they can do while on campus to help them make a decision:
  • Attend the admitted student’s day
  • Sit in on a class
  • Meet the Dean, advising staff, and a professor or two
  • Tour the surrounding area. Is it safe? Can they get to the grocery store? Are there inexpensive places to eat? How is public transport? 
  • Eat at the cafeteria and hang out in the student union.  While there:
    • Eavesdrop—listen in on student conversations
    • Are there visible cliques, or do groups seem integrated?
    • Are students head down or engaged in conversation?
    • Do students “grab and go” or “stay and gab”?
    • Talk to students about their school, major, and what they like and dislike. They’re more than happy to share.
  1. Encourage your child to take their time and trust themselves.  Early in the process, I have all my students complete a survey about what’s important to them.  If your child did something similar, now’s the time to refer to it. Are there any compelling reasons to attend or any big red flags? They should listen to their gut instinct to help make their final choice.

Once they have decided, have them notify the other schools. This will allow those schools to make waitlist decisions and allow anxious students an opportunity at their dreams. 

Lastly, gear up and start the countdown to their new home!


Hollis Bischoff is a Certified Educational Planner, the highest designation available to Independent Educational Consultants. After a successful professional career, she has a Graduate-level Certificate in College Counseling with Distinction from UCLA to complement her Bachelor of Science in Commerce from DePaul University. She is a professional member of the  Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA).

Throughout the “Sandwich Years” section of this blog, we will provide you support for launching children into adulthood while caring for aging parents.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *