College | April 5, 2023 | Ashley Boucher
Whether it’s that much anticipated email or a thick envelope in the mailbox, college acceptance letters can come in many ways and represent a pivotal moment for high school students. Here’s what you can expect from the letters and how to respond to them.
No words could be sweeter if you’re a high school senior looking for confirmation that you’ve been accepted into college. College acceptance letters can represent the moment that many high school students have been working toward, figuring out your next chapter in education and beyond.
When springtime of senior year rolls around, you can expect to start hearing some rumblings in the hallways. “Macy got her acceptance letter, so did Trevor. Alannah heard back from all four of her schools. Is mine LOST? Does this mean I didn’t get in?!” Nerves can take over, leading you to your mailbox every day after school or constantly refreshing your inbox. The anticipation is completely normal, but it doesn’t make the waiting game any easier.
Whether you’ve applied to one school, or ten, chances are you’ll soon be presented with a decision from a college or university that holds the key to your future! When that day finally comes, here’s what you can expect from acceptance letters, and how to respond to them.
College acceptance letters, although varied from school to school, follow a pretty predictable format.
First, an acceptance letter will make it clear if you’ve been admitted or not. If you see the congratulatory message you want, let that sink in! You’ve worked hard and it’s been recognized. If you are seeing a rejection, know you’re not alone—and this isn’t the end of the road. Did you know Tina Fey was rejected from Princeton, Tom Hanks got a ‘no thanks’ from several colleges, and Steven Spielberg was reportedly rejected from UCLA?
If you’ve been accepted to college, you’ll see some information about upcoming events for prospective students—these are to help get you familiar with the campus and opportunities that the school can provide, and you should look at this as your chance to decide if the school is really the best fit for you. (Take advantage of these types of events: you may have been accepted to several schools, so now is the time to be extra clear about your wants, needs, and which school fits those best.)
Finally, you’ll want to make note of any deadlines included in your acceptance letter. Usually, the school will tell you the deadline to make your decision. This date is pretty universal, and typically falls on or around May 1, because you would have heard back from all of the schools you’ve applied to by then.
If you’re wondering when acceptance letters arrive, know that it can vary a little bit based on the schools and when you applied. There’s also a little bit of variation in how decisions are conveyed: you can expect many colleges to send acceptance letters by email or online portal, though some will still send a formal letter in your mailbox, too.
If you’re waitlisted: If this happens, you may not receive final word until the school has more insight on just how many admitted students will accept their invitation to attend and register for classes. That means you can find out as late as August. If you’re going to keep a school that has waitlisted you on your list of potential destinations, be sure to have a backup plan (whether it’s a gap semester or year, a short stint at your local community college first, etc.).
Your next steps may hinge on whether or not you’ve applied (and been accepted to) more than one school. Let’s assume you have a few options.
This is also the time to let the other schools know that you don’t intend to enroll. Again, this can be done with the form given to you as part of acceptance letter packet. You should aim to do this by May 1.
So, you’ve taken the next step in your journey and enrolled in college – congratulations! Now what?
You have a few key things to remember:
Remember those financial aid offers I mentioned? Those are really important, and now that you’ve chosen your college, go back and review the one from your school. It will list what types of financial aid you qualify for, and can include federal loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study. You’ll need to formally accept part or all of your financial aid offer (or none of it, if you choose), so be sure to do that in the timeline indicated by the school.
After you’ve nailed down scholarships and accepted parts of your financial aid offer, you’ll have a better idea of how much of your college costs (tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, etc.) are covered by the funds you’ve outlined. If there’s a gap, you have a few choices to consider, including using some of your savings or income, or taking out a private student loan. Helpful hint: don’t take out more in student loans than what you expect your starting salary in your desired profession to be.
The process of researching, applying, accepting, and paying for college isn’t fast or easy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember to pause, celebrate, and keep your eye focused on your future. You’ve done the tricky part and now it’s time to show the college why they were smart to accept you!