College Application Frets and Complaints

We went to a financial-aid info meeting at the high school this week. If you have not yet attended a college-planning meeting at a high school, let me assure you of this: there will always, always, ALWAYS be at least one parent who uses the meeting to brag about their child. They’ll raise their hand to ask a question, and somehow the setting-up of this question will require a little humblebrag. And if the leader says, “Has anyone received any MERIT-based aid?,” this parent will pipe up “With every single package!,” as if we might want to take the opportunity for a little smattering of impressed applause.

Anyway. We have only heard back from one of the dozen colleges Rob applied to, so it was a little unsettling to hear so many other parents discussing all the acceptances and scholarships. The speakers told us how lucky we were that this was the first year for the new earlier admissions process. I can’t think about it too much, or I start envisioning a future with two piles of letters: one a pile of acceptances, all from expensive schools, none with any financial aid offers; the other, a pile of rejections. Perhaps a third pile of “Oops, you did something wrong with the application, so you paid the application fees but didn’t actually successfully apply.”

I have a tip, incidentally, if the whole college-planning stage is still ahead: don’t put off the things you will need to spend money on. Replace the windows, paint the house, fix the roof, replace the ancient car that will give out any day now. They don’t expect you to sell your house or car to pay for college, but they do expect you to clear out the savings account—and “But that’s earmarked for braces/windows/garage” butters no toast.

Oh, oh, oh! Another college-application-related thing. So, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this rumor or if it’s even true, but the idea is that acceptances come in a BIG envelope (because they send you a bunch of other materials), and the rejections come in a regular business envelope (because it’s just one sheet of paper). In the last month, we have received TWO big and SEVEN small envelopes from colleges he’s applied to, and NONE of them were acceptances or rejections. They have all been things such as reminders that we can check application status online, reminders about deadlines to apply if we have not already done so, and advertising materials. This seems tone-deaf to the point of cruelty. They MUST KNOW that right now students and their families are opening mailboxes every day with pounding hearts, so WHY OH WHY the terrible fake-outs??

18 thoughts on “College Application Frets and Complaints

  1. Grace

    Our kids’ college years are a ways out (thank heavens), but it looks like we’d better get cracking on replacing the this or (more like AND) that. I’m palm-sweaty about the rejection/acceptance letters. It does seem like they came in regular business size/big envelopes (respectively) when I was waiting…why on earth would they change that? I humblebragged to some friends by accident (I know that seems implausible, but you’ll have to trust me) a couple of weeks ago and I felt so stupid having 1-) said what I did, and 2-) also not getting any advice on the matter, so it really did come across like I was humblebragging. I haven’t talked to them since and I’m just dying about how it came across. I hate humblebrag parents! Argh.

  2. Ruby

    It’s still pretty early in the year to be hearing back from colleges, so don’t worry! I’m surprised so many of Rob’s peers seem to have heard back by now. Is it possible they did early admission? (That’s the thing where, if you tell a school you’ll definitely for sure go if you get accepted, they’ll let you apply early and you’ll hear back early. But you have to enroll at that school if they accept you.)

    I’m also surprised that so many schools are still sending out acceptances through the mail. As someone who is in the process of applying for grad school, it seems like a lot of programs are e-mailing their acceptances and rejections now. That gets rid of the big/small envelope issue, but also makes me a little nervous because AHH WHAT IF I DELETE THE E-MAIL BY MISTAKE???

    1. Chrissy

      I work in admissions for a grad school, and we send out emails for acceptance, but snail mail for rejection. I know the acceptance email is for the purpose of saying “follow this link for next steps”, but I am not sure why we don’t send emails for rejection. Maybe a letter seems more final/official.

      1. Anna

        That is some great behind the scenes spoiler type information!

        When I applied to grad school, I got acceptances two ways: 1. email to say my “admissions decision is available” ie, log in to the application system to see it and AAAGH the suspense!! and 2. small, snail mail envelope which I think was hand addressed. Pretty sure I received some rejections as well, but I don’t remember how those came!

  3. Tracy

    I’m thinking the big envelope/small envelope thing is out-dated now that just about everything is done online. The whole send-an-envelope w/o acceptance or rejection does seem new though. My son’s high school had a financial aid night this week too (or maybe it’s next week?) – he’s only a freshman though so it’s not yet quite applicable. But I know that time is not slowing down, and after a few blinks, he’ll be a senior, so I’m keeping my ears/eyes open about this stuff! Keep writing about it, please!

    A relative of mine who is also a senior received a not-quite-acceptance letter. I forget the exact terminology, but it was sort of like: we’ll take you, but not in the program for which you applied. So s/he will have to try to transfer into the program a year into college.

  4. Elizabeth

    We’re waiting to hear about colleges, too, and the big public schools have a “rolling admission” where you hear right away, but private schools seem to mostly have later dates for notification, unless you are applying “binding.” Nonetheless, my daughter has heard from a couple, both via email. Now we wait for financial aid information. AAAAGH!

  5. Suzanne

    This all sounds terribly stressful and I am earmarking all if your advice for future reference.

    Just as an anecdote, my college acceptance was a single sheet letter in a business size envelope. My parents were so sure it was a rejection they opened it for me. All the “welcome to college” stuff came separately.

  6. Alice

    I am nearly 20 years removed from waiting for college acceptance letters but this practice of mailing OTHER INFORMATION at this time makes me VERY ALL CAPS-Y WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT WHY.

  7. Ann

    I’m so glad that someone else is in the same boat! It feels like all of my friends/relatives are posting about their acceptance letters from everywhere, and some have already chosen a school. I can’t understand how they can do that when they haven’t received financial aid information. Of course, even though we tried very hard to be on top of things, we messed up with that aspect of our planning, so maybe they already have? We put down a few schools to start with to send FAFSA info to, then were going to go back and add more and just never did. Luckily one of them sent us a letter (and of course we missed the priority deadline) and so now everyone should have the information. Anyway, my daughter has received some acceptance letters (in varying size envelopes, and some with emails first), but without financial aid information, that doesn’t help much in the decision-making process. It’s all very stressful, and the fact that I’ve already gone through it once with one did not make it much easier, because this child’s needs and desires and personality are completely different than the first child’s. (Sorry, you probably didn’t want to hear that!).

  8. Ashley

    Don’t worry about not having many letters yet. IIt has been awhile (16 years, to be exact) since I was waiting for my college acceptance letters. But I don’t remember having any this early in the year. I don’t remember really getting anything until mid-February, and most came in March. Financial aid offers came in VERY last minute in some cases. In fact, in my case I narrowed it down to two schools, a public school and a private school (where I had been offered a 50% scholarship taking the cost down to about the same as the public school). I went back and forth for a couple of weeks, unable to decide. I finally took a second trip out to the private school, met with the dean of the department I was interested in, spent time with some students, and then finally made my decision that YES, I was going to go to the private school. I accepted.
    Very shortly thereafter (if I remember correctly, it was only a couple of days before colleges needed our decisions–maybe not literally two days but it felt like a very short time before the April deadline) I got an e-mail from the public school offering me a scholarship. It would have made the cost of the public school almost nothing! But by that time I’d already settled on the private school in my heart and sent in my acceptance. It ended up being a good college experience for me, and I managed to graduate without any student loan debt anyway, but sometimes I wonder what choice I would have made if I’d had both financial aid offers on the table from the beginning.
    I guess my advice is wait until the last minute, because sometimes schools wait until the last minute to send you their full offer! (My guess is that maybe I wasn’t the first person they offered the scholarship to and some people rejected it, which is how I ended up with the late notification?)

  9. Erin

    Did Rob apply to places via early action (non-binding)? Those along with early decision (binding) and rolling admission applications are the ones people have heard from in February most likely. My info is almost 7 years out of date, but I used to be in charge of sending those acceptance/rejection/waitlist emails and we all helped with the mailing of decision letters (it took us a week to stuff all those envelopes!). Many schools will send financial aid & admissions decisions at the same time, but plenty will arrive separately. The standards for admission professionals (from NACAC) include giving applicants decisions by April 1 & not requiring a reply until May 1 (except early decision), of course if you decide sooner the school would live to know that! And most colleges try to get decisions out as early as possible. I hope I haven’t overexplained things you already know, I just wanted to share what I know from the admissions side. And most of all wish you and Rob good luck & low stress in this process.

  10. Mary

    I thought I was done with all this foolishness, but my 19 year old decided to change schools this year, so now we’re waiting for an acceptance letter again. She’s wanting to transfer for Spring quarter, so it seems like we should have heard by now, but nothing. Very nerve wracking, since she already left the first school. I’m right there with you, except I know we won’t be getting any financial aid.

    1. Britni

      Yes this is probably the biggest issue regarding changing schools after you’ve already picked one – you almost always lose any merit based aid you have/could have had if you started out going to the one you’re transferring to. Just an FYI for all the readers!

  11. Gigi

    I remember those days well as we went through it barely five years ago. I wish I had known about the clean out your savings trick then – no one thought to mention that little nugget to us then.

    As others have said, it’s still early days, I’m sure he’ll be hearing soon enough.

  12. SusanH

    My daughter applied Early Action (non-binding, but early deadline) to each of her schools (because I hounded her mercilessly and dragged her kicking and screaming every step of the way). She has heard back from all of them now, but I don’t think regular admission would get back to anyone this early. She has received financial aid info as well, but in most cases that came later than the initial acceptance. Merit offers did mostly come with the acceptance, but grants/aid came later. Letters were in varying size envelopes (a one-page letter from one school, a packet of info from another), but I believe all of them notified her first via email/online portal.

    I hope Rob gets good news back soon. Waiting is so very stressful, and the barrage of emails/letters don’t help. She received a “It’s not too late to apply!” email from schools she had already applied to, and even from one that had already accepted her.

  13. Cameron

    I just wanted to thank you for being such a good mom and helping Rob through this.

    When I was going through this, I did it completely on my own. I chose all my own classes/activities/AP tests/SAT tests without any assistance from my parents and I don’t even think they ever thought about what my college applications would look like or how I would afford college. It wasn’t that they didn’t love me or care (of course they did!) I think they just thought I would figure it out? I don’t know. I know it sucked to feel alone making a major life decision. Because you know what a 17 year old knows about college/money/financial aid/banks/loans/comparing schools/goals for the future? Yeah almost nothing.

    To pseudo-brag (but not really), I was a great student with really good grades in lots of AP classes and awesome extra-curriculars BUT even so I didn’t get the acceptances I was expecting so idk what I could have done differently. I think probably if I had a well-informed adult helping me I would have been able to manage my expectations better? I applied to 10 schools–I got wait listed from my Top Out-Of-State favorite, rejected from the other 8 Out-Of-State, accepted to the Okay In-State Safety school, and a weird accepted/rejected duo from the Great In-State school where I had to go to their sister school a few hours away for the first year before I could transfer back.

    When you get wait-listed (at least at this school) they send you a little paper for you to write something back I guess to determine if you still want to be in the running or if you’re going to accept elsewhere. I wrote something crazy like “I want nothing in life more than to attend “Top Out-Of-State”, please God anything give me a chanceeeeeeee”. It’s kind of mortifying to think about now because it was a ultimate knees-on-the-floor begging response but I choose to believe it got the admission department’s attention because guess who got picked off the wait list? LOL. So I got to go to my dream Top Out-Of-State school for way too much money and after a year I decided it was financially super unwise so I moved home, worked for a bit, then ended up finishing my degree happily at the Okay In-State Safety School. I like to consider it my year abroad.

    It ended up fine for me since I got my degree and moving away-then-home again was good for me socially, but I do have a bunch of student loans that I wish I would have been more wise about. Probably if I could go back I would have done the year at the sister school then transferred to Great In-State school or maybe just gone to the Okay In-State Safety school for all of it. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t be the adult I am today if I didn’t have my year abroad.

    Not sure why I’m spilling my life story, but again, I think having a mom like you will help Rob SO SO MUCH.

  14. Maureen

    I totally remember the bragging at the financial aid meeting at my daughter’s high school. I was totally freaked out, because all these kids were getting scholarships, that didn’t QUITE cover college expenses. I was like, how the hell do I complete the FAFSA, and by the way, PLEASE STOP BRAGGING!

  15. Shawna

    I am so out of touch with what it’s like to apply to university, as my last experience was when I was heading there myself in the fall of ’91. I do know that scholarships were a lot harder to come by in Canada than in the US then, but our fees were also a lot cheaper, and between jobs and my parents helping I didn’t have any debt when I graduated undergrad, and paid for grad school myself with the small stipend my school provided (which they did for all science grad students). I had one friend that had applied to the same school I went to for undergrad (Waterloo) but ended up going to MIT in the States because they offered him a full scholarship there and Waterloo offered something tiny (maybe $500?), and he was crazy-smart (obviously if MIT gave him a free ride).

    I’m glad I’ve got a few years to figure this all out for my kids!

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