ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled
Saved to My Favorites. View My Favorites
Articles / Applying to College / Searching for And Evaluating Admission Decisions

Searching for And Evaluating Admission Decisions

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 20, 2014

Well, boys and girls (and Moms and Dads), it’s fast coming to that time of year. College admission decisions will be arriving in a month or so. It looks like the Regular Decision response dates of schools have started to creep into March, departing the formerly traditional early-April date. I haven’t done any deep research as to why the date is migrating into March, but my personal feeling is that one or two of the “top” schools decided to release its decisions earlier and the the others, fearing to be one-upped, moved their dates too. That’s just my opinion, mind you, but in the cutthroat world of college admissions, any edge can be crucial in snagging top applicants.

I imagine that if a top school releases its acceptances earlier than its competing colleges, that would be a significant psychological impetus for an applicant to enroll, since that acceptance would be his or her first. You know the old marketing saying: It’s better to be first than it is to be better. Accordingly, if a college sent out its acceptances first, before other schools, that could very well appear also to be “better” in the eyes of eager applicants. However, most savvy applicants wait until they have all their acceptance eggs in one basket, so to speak, before they make their enrollment decision.

In the world of college admissions, can there be too much of a good thing? Sometimes. If you’re a high school senior who applied to college this year, as I mentioned above, you will know in a month or so (mid-to-late March) who has accepted you (and, unfortunately, who hasn’t).  Some of you may even get into every school where you applied. If so, congratulations in advance!


Having a pile of acceptance letters from schools you like can pose a problem. It’s a happy problem, to be sure, but a difficulty nonetheless.

Perhaps you’ll gain admission to your clear, first-choice college in March. Maybe, in your pile of acceptance letters, there will be one that suits you perfectly, making all the others unnecessary. If so, no problem.

What should you do, though, if you have three or four acceptances and none is a clear favorite?

This happens more frequently than you might imagine. The solution to finding the right one lies in doing some careful review and consultation with your family. If considerations such as location, student body size, program offerings, and reputation are all about equal (and you detect no true preference stirring in your heart), then money has to be a major consideration. Financial aid packages arrive with the acceptance letters (or at least they should). Examine them carefully. Ignore the “sticker price” of the schools for a moment and go straight to the bottom line.

Which school’s offer puts the smallest drain on your family’s finances? Is there a clear winner now? Also, don’t forget to look very carefully at the student loans that are included in those packages. First-year financial aid packages tend to be the best that you’ll see over the next four or five years, so try to do a projection to see what your total indebtedness might be at graduation. You certainly don’t need $50-100K in loan debt at the end of your undergraduate degree program. In any event, if there’s no other criterion for deciding, then money should help you decide. Don’t forget that you can sometimes earn extra financial aid with just a phone call to the college’s financial aid office, providing more detailed information about your family’s financial situation. After you have satisfied yourself that you have the best-possible packages, then decide.

Remember, too, that you can make a quick visit between your acceptance notification and May 1, the traditional enrollment response deadline. Visits can sometimes sway the undecided. Please keep your parents involved in your decision. They maintain a large stake in your college education. Although most parents respect their child’s decision on college selection, they can also provide valuable perspective for that decision.

In a related aspect of college-choice decision making, what about those of you high school juniors (or even sophomores) who are still in the “college shopping” mode? Which schools are on your list and how are you going about evaluating them? The search for the ideal school can be a real challenge.

The old Christmas song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” has a lyric that says “He’s makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice.” When it comes to college selection, high schoolers need to make their list and check it twice.

For you juniors who are considering a four-year college, it’s time to do some thinking. You may never have thought of yourself as a “consumer” about college matters. Perhaps to you, consumers are those people who buy laundry detergent and then give their opinion to some telephone survey person.

Not so fast, future frosh. This is where informed decision making becomes crucial. Above, I have addressed the issue of money (and loans) as a consideration for choosing and attending college. As you may have noted, money should be only one of your considerations. Deal with it after you address some other important criteria.

When you ask yourself what you want from a college, don’t be shy. What do you really want? Do you want a school that has a beautiful campus in a secluded part of the country or one that is in the heart of a big city? Are the school’s prestige and reputation important to you? Can you define what level of academics you prefer in your chosen area of concentration? How far from home do you want to be?

Will teaching assistants (TAs) instructing some of your classes satisfy you or do you want senior faculty teaching you? How about access to that faculty? Will your school have professors who are approachable in situations beyond office hours? How about student body size? How about the weather? Are you getting the picture here?

There are many considerations. You are the one who should make the call, though. So what are you waiting for? Get out paper and pencil right now and write down what is truly in your heart about college. Even if you have never set foot on a college campus, you may have an ideal stored away in your dreams. Write it down. As time goes on and thoughts occur to you, keep adding to your list.

By Thanksgiving this year, juniors, you should have quite a detailed summary of what you want from a college. Then it will be up to you to find some matches for your candidate list that will form the nucleus for your college search. Your research should come from guide books, campus visits, and your own honest reactions. Of course, don’t forget the Web’s best resource for college search and evaluation: College Confidential’s SuperMatch. If you can state what you really want from a college, you’ll find that there are any number of candidates out there waiting for you with open arms.

No matter where you end up going to college, compliment yourself on a search, evaluation, and admission process well done!


Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

More on Applying to College

See all
typing at computer- karolina-grabowska-6958506-resized

Authentic Voice in College Essays

That’s why you want to use your authentic voice when writing any college essay.

So what’s the problem? A student has shared an ess…


College Interview Prep Tips: Brainstorm, Research, Analyze, Generalize

I recently visited Washington University in Saint Louis and was lucky enough to set up an interview. By speaking with peers of mi…

campus gates

Academic Index Scores: Why They Matter and How They're Calculated

Note: Click here for 10 Summer Programs You Can Still Apply For or keep reading to learn more about academic index scores.

8 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

7 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

Podcasts can offer a wealth of information to busy students, particularly when it comes to the college admissions process. We…


Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent t…

Get a student loan that goes beyond tuition.

Ascent offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans with exclusive benefits that set students up for success.

Explore Now!
Find Your Scholarship

Want to find money for school that doesn’t need to be paid back? Access insights and advice on how to search and apply for scholarships!

Search for Scholarship