Parent College Coach Tip #103: Use This College Decision To-Do List

college decision to-do list

One knowledgeable college counselor once told me, “I don’t like to call these letters of acceptance. I use the term—offers of admission.”

As a parent, I like that distinction. This alternative wording makes it easier to stomach those not-so-pleasant responses and help your college-bound teen work through the gamut of emotions that come when decisions arrive. Your student may be the one receiving these communications from the colleges, but you feel every emotion they do from failure to excitement and everything in between.

Each response from a college requires a unique set of actions.

Following is a comprehensive college decision to-do list:

Deferred admission

If a student is deferred admission, it’s time to get to work, if you haven’t already done so. Here are just a few things your student can do to assure an offer of admission:

  • Read the instructions in the letter and do everything they request.
  • Stay on top of your game. Don’t let senioritis take over, causing your grades to drop.
  • Provide current documentation. This is a good time to send recent grades and test scores if they have improved.
  • Provide them with any accomplishments that have happened since your original application. These might include awards, accolades or anything that might remind them of your value.
  • Demonstrate interest. This would be a good time to schedule an additional campus visit.


A letter informing you that your student has been wait-listed will require the same actions listed above for deferred admission. Before filling out the online form or returning the card to indicate you want to stay on the wait list, consider that the National Association for College Admission Counseling estimates that only about 30 percent of students who opt to remain on a wait list are ultimately admitted. This might be a good time to embrace and explore your other choices.

No offer of admission

If your student is not offered admission, there is rarely anything that can be done to change the college’s decision. Don’t take it personally. As the Godfather says, “It’s not personal; it’s just business.” Move on and be proactive. It’s time to reexamine your other college choices. Revisit some of the colleges you were accepted to and look at them in a different light. It’s not uncommon for students who were not offered admission from their dream college, to find a better fit among the safety ones. You may not feel that way now, but odds are you will after you set foot on campus and become involved. Embrace the fork in the road and don’t look back.

An offer of admission

If your student receives an offer of admission, celebrate, rejoice and give yourself and your student a pat on the back; then take action. It’s not over yet. Your student has some decisions to make, especially if they receive multiple offers of admission. You need to do a few more things before you can breathe a sigh of relief:

  • Make note of all the deadlines. Most colleges ask for a response by May 1st.
  • Revisit the colleges. You might want to revisit the colleges one last time before deciding. Many colleges have “accepted student days”. Attend them.
  • Compare financial aid awards. If you applied for financial aid, look for the award letter. Compare awards and determine which college is not only the best fit academically and socially, but the best fit financially.
  • Respond to the colleges you do not want to attend. Remember that someone is on the wait list at that college and also probably waiting for financial aid.

This should be an exciting time for both you and your student. Highlight their accomplishments and enjoy the next several months. It won’t be long before they will be heading off to college and all the drama around the college prep process will be but a memory.