How to Select a School After Multiple Acceptances

Like many good students, you’ve received favorable responses from a handful of colleges, all of which you can see yourself attending. Having several options to choose from is a nice problem to have, but narrowing the choice down to one may not be easy. How do you decide? Which one of them will give you the most financial aid as an incentive to enroll?

First, make sure that you visit all of the colleges that have accepted you, even those that require a trip out of state. It may come as a surprise, but some colleges, especially private ones, will even help to pay your air fare. Many colleges will also provide lodging and meals once you’ve reached their campus.

“We’re extremely high-touch with admitted students and their families,” said Tom Crady, vice-president for enrollment at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. “We want to make sure that students understand what Gustavus is all about. We work really hard to differentiate ourselves from other schools.” Campus visits show college representatives that you are seriously considering their school, and give you the chance to discuss financial aid options in person.

Second, become familiar with each college’s scholarship opportunities. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will determine what need-based grants might be available to you based on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Most colleges offer merit-based scholarships through both the financial aid office, called institutional aid, and individual schools or departments within the college, called departmental aid, which depends on your major.

At Iowa State University, for example, Director of Admissions Katherine Johnson Suski pointed out that several colleges offer aid over and above the university’s institutional aid. The colleges of Engineering, Human Sciences, Liberal Arts, and Design are among those that award scholarships.

Iowa State enrolls about 70 percent of accepted students. To get to that high level, Suski said that ISU tries hard to “find scholarship matches” for students who have committed to the Ames school.

Colleges typically also have privately funded scholarships to offer. These can come from donors who specify the kind of student who will qualify. Some are based on minority status or membership in an ethnic group; some are based on where a student lives; still others focus on what a student intends to study. A man, for instance, might qualify for a scholarship if he plans to study nursing, while a woman might qualify is she wants to major in chemical engineering. Privately funded scholarships have wide latitude in setting their selection criteria.

Admissions and financial aid offices are keenly aware of the intense competition for good students and know that cost of attendance is often the make-or-break factor in a family’s decision. Look to their websites under the financial aid tab to know what scholarships to apply for at each of the colleges that have accepted you. Pay special attention to the application deadlines for each type of scholarship, as colleges tend to have pots of financial aid that eventually run out. Don’t wait. Ask the colleges you like most for the money now, before it’s too late to get your share.