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Most colleges have released their admission decisions. By the time all of the mail is open, you should have options. Your hard work has paid off and you get to make the final choice of a college destination.  As you enter the final phase of decision-making, start by rechecking your priorities. Why are you going to college? What do you hope to accomplish? In what type of environment can you accomplish these things best?

Spend a weeknight in a residence hall; eat at least two meals in the dining hall and go to two classes in different disciplines including an introductory first-year class.

Talk with professors from the academic departments that interest you. Pull students aside in those departments as well. Ask them about the courses they take. Who teaches them? What would they do differently about their learning experience thus far? 

In other words, take in as much as possible during your campus visits. Most students who emerge from this process acknowledge that much of the decision-making comes down to a gut feeling. Let your gut go to work for you. Make sure the college you choose fits comfortably and feels good before you commit yourself.

It’s crunch time for families in the college selection process. The admission decisions are in and, with less than a month remaining before the May 1 Candidates’ Reply Date, students are now turning their attention to the final choice of a college. It’s an exciting—and nerve-wracking—time to be sure, especially for families trying to reconcile cost and affordability against limited means and/or cash-flow concerns.

If you are in that number, there is a strong likelihood you applied for financial aid and are now trying to interpret the financial aid award letters you received from various colleges. Months ago, as you engaged in the grueling task of completing the financial aid applications, it was the promise of the “just reward” that kept you going. 

It is not uncommon for the total amount of financial aid offered, both “gift” and “self- help,” to fall short of making up the difference between the Expected Family Contribution and the total cost of attendance. This practice, known as “gapping,” is symptomatic of preferential packaging and is employed by institutions that choose not to meet the full need of the student with financial aid. In such cases, the student is left to his/her own devices to find the remaining funds.

Know the difference between grants and scholarships. A grant is awarded because you demonstrate financial “need.” It should carry forward in subsequent years as long as you continue to demonstrate need and remain in academic good standing. A scholarship is offered in recognition of merit and will likely carry with it academic and/or performance renewal terms.

Appeal financial aid awards with information, not emotion. If your family’s financial circumstances have changed since you completed financial aid applications, submit written appeals to the colleges in question along with documentation of the new circumstances. Some colleges will invite you to submit “better” financial aid awards from their competitors as part of an appeal. In any case, keep your cool. You are only entitled to the financial assistance that the institution decides to give you.

As you compare financial aid award letters, then, you need to get to the bottom line “out-of-pocket” expenses for each. Where does the bottom line benefit you most? Unfortunately, the award letters don’t always spell that out for you. The following tips are offered to make sure you are comparing “apples and apples.” Identify the total cost of attendance for each institution. This will include tuition, room and board as well as books, supplies, activity fees, lab fees and possible transportation expenses. You may need to consult the school’s website for a complete list as very few award letters provide a complete documentation.

In college, you’ll have time to explore various topics and find out what makes you tick. Just be sure to focus and squeeze all that you can out of your academic experience Listen in class, study, and go to office hours.  You’ll need to make an effort to actively search for what you like and what you love. The college campus is filled with passionate viewpoints. During your time in school, you’ll hear different perspectives, from both students and professors, which challenge your current opinions, or help you, develop new ones. At the end of it all, you’ll suddenly find yourself with well-informed beliefs.

The important thing is to take that first step. Don’t hole up in your room. Cut back on solitary amusements, such as computer games. Introduce yourself. Invite new friends out. Even something as simple as wearing a friendly face can get the ball rolling. In college your friends are all around you, all the time.  Most likely, you’ll have something important in common with these people in your life, and many of these friendships will be based upon your passions and similarities, instead of the fact that your parents are friends. 

You’ll have access to the best resources. Read books, go to events, and hit the gym. Because once you graduate and you’re off on your own, you’ll realize that out in the so-called “real world,” these things come at a price. Challenge your mind, thoughts, and body with all of the wonderful free resources on your university’s campus.

Between paying bills and dividing them with roommates, buying your own food and budgeting for extras, staying on top of your finances can be an organizational disaster. Split up the bills. If you’re living with roommates, choose someone to be responsible for paying each bill. For example, if you pay for internet and gas, your roommate can pay for electricity and water. Be accountable to one another. Even though your roommate will technically be paying the water bill, check in with each other to be sure that all bills have been accounted for. Make a chart. Write up a list of all the bills that must be paid on a monthly basis. Keep track of each bill’s point person, due date, cost, and status. You could hang it on the wall. A bounced check can be extremely detrimental to your credit score. Be sure that your checking account contains enough money to pay your bills before you send the check. Look over your accounts after you’ve paid. Double check that the electric, gas, water, or internet companies didn’t overcharge you.  

It typically takes a semester or quarter to hit your stride. Looking back on those early days you may very well shake your head and wonder what all the fuss was about.  A few students, however, may feel overwhelmed and homesick for a while. They may miss their parents, friends, even the family dog. They may find that going to college is not quite what they expected. If this turns out to be you, take advantage of on-campus counseling services. Virtually all colleges have such services. Your health center staff can help you get started. They are highly experienced at helping students just like you. Students report another source of freshman anxiety: the amount of unstructured time. This is one of the major differences between high school and college. In high school you may have felt that you were constantly scheduled, with very few breaks. In college your classes may be spaced out during the day, with free time between each class.

Or they may be bunched up into a few days, mornings, or afternoons—leaving large periods of “leisure” time.

Your Day at College:

Get up at 7 a.m. for my 8 a.m. class in English Lit.

Check out some required reading from the library and get to my American Studies class by 10 a.m.

Meet some classmates at 11:30 a.m. to prepare a team project, and then go to the cafeteria for lunch at 12:30 p.m.

Rush to Journalism class at 2 p.m., followed by a seminar on Shakespeare’s tragedies at 4 p.m.

Work on a term paper and study for a quiz until dinner.

After dinner, catch up on some reading for the next day’s classes, watch the 10 p.m. news with my friends in the dorm recreation room, and get ready for bed by 11

Tomorrow’s Friday, get rested for the weekend!

Whatever college is the best fit for you American Stationery has a lot of choices to showcase your school logo and colors. A few of my favorites are:

Purdue Stripes Note Pad (NP1_147) Purdue Stripes Note Pad Size: 4″ x 8″ 50# White paper stock 70 sheets per pad

Florida State Grad Dots Fold Notes (28_1045) Florida State Grad Dots Fold Notes Folded Size: 5 1/2″ x 4 1/8″ 80# White card stock Set includes 20 notes and 20 plain white envelopes

Michigan Chat Holiday Photocards (1_3493) Michigan Chat Holiday Photocards Size: 8 3/4″ x 5 3/4″ 80# White card stock Set includes 20 cards and 20 plain White envelopes

Arkansas Branches Holiday Photocards (1_3535) Arkansas Branches Holiday Photocards Size: 8 3/4″ x 5 3/4″ 80# White card stock Set includes 20 cards and 20 plain White envelopes

Graduate Mississippi Correspondence Cards (AC_28) Graduate Mississippi Correspondence Cards Size: 6 1/4″ x 4 1/2″ 80# White card stock Set includes 20 cards and 20 plain White envelopes

Paisley North Carolina Flat Cards (4_126) Paisley North Carolina Flat Cards Size: 7″ x 5″ 80# White card stock Set includes 20 cards and 20 plain White envelopes

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