Office of Admissions
One Dent Drive
April 3, 2023
You researched every fact and figure about your choice institutions, wrote and rewrote the perfect admissions essay, and connected with everyone from current students to admissions counselors — all in hopes of receiving that life-changing notification that says, “Congratulations! You’ve been admitted.”
Well done! You should be quite proud. But after the confetti settles to the floor, there's still work to be done.
Receiving an acceptance letter on Decision Day is far from the end of the process. Amid the excitement, celebration and relief are numerous decisions to make and actions to take to secure your spot in the incoming class. In this episode of College Admissions Insider, we'll cover what lies ahead after you've been admitted.
How long do you have to make that final decision? How do you officially enroll? And what tips can you use to decide which of the schools you've been admitted to is ultimately right for you?
Our guests are Becca Haupt Aldredge and Lauren Furman, who both serve as senior assistant directors of admissions.
If you have a question, comment or idea for a future episode, please email email@example.com.
[00:00:07] BW: It's the moment you've been waiting for since you compiled that list of dream schools at the start of your college admissions journey. You’ve researched every fact and figure about your choice institutions, wrote and rewrote the perfect admissions essay, and connected with everyone from current students to admissions counselors — all in hopes of receiving that life-changing notification that says, “Congratulations, you've been admitted.”
[00:00:30] BT: But receiving an acceptance letter on decision day is far from the end of the process. Amid the excitement, celebration, and I'm sure quite a bit of relief are numerous decisions to make and actions to take to secure your spot in the incoming class. I'm Brooke Thames from Bucknell University. And on this episode of College Admissions Insider, we're covering what lies ahead after you've been admitted.
[00:00:51] BW: And I'm Bryan Wendell, also from Bucknell. Today we'll chat about things to consider as you choose the college you'll commit to. How long do you have to make that final decision? How do you officially enroll? And what tips can you use to decide which of the schools you've been admitted to is ultimately right for you?
[00:01:07] BT: To help us navigate all that and more, we've invited two expert guests to join us on the podcast. Becca Haupt Aldridge and Lauren Furman both serve as senior assistant directors of admissions. For the past several months, they've been hard at work reading prospective students’ applications to Bucknell. They've also visited us before on the podcast to discuss topics like choosing a college without visiting, public versus private schools, and the role of social media in the admissions process. Welcome back to the podcast.
[00:01:33] BHA: Thanks for having us.
[00:01:34] LF: We're happy to be here.
[00:01:35] BW: All right, before we even jump into choosing a college — if you're lucky enough to have to choose between more than one — let's set up a rough timetable. Becca, how long do students have to make a final decision once they get that congratulatory letter? And is this the same for every school?
[00:01:52] BHA: Sure. Well, we could probably spend an entire day deciphering every school's timeline. The short answer is to make sure you read your admit letter very carefully to see what exactly is written in there. Generally speaking, May 1 is your national college decision day. It's often a day that you'll see high school students, high school seniors, wearing proudly their college t-shirt, declaring officially where they would like to enroll or where they will be enrolling.
The timeline itself could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Here at Bucknell, our students who apply Regular Decision receive their decisions from us in mid-March. And they'll need to decide by May 1 whether or not they will enroll to Bucknell.
[00:02:31] BT: So you mentioned Regular Decision. I wonder about Early Decision, Early Action or even Rolling Admissions applicants. Do they have the same timeline to decide?
[00:02:40] LF: Yes and no. Early Action and Rolling Decision applicants also have until May 1 to make their final decision, but those processes tend to roll out sooner. Both Early Action and Early Decision, you'll get your decision much faster than in Regular Decision — typically, two, maybe three weeks depending on the school. But you still have until May 1 to make that decision. Early Decision typically has an earlier deadline day to enroll, but you've applied to a school Early Decision saying, “If you admit me, I will enroll at the institution.” So there's not as much decision-making that you have to do around that.
I want to echo something Becca said: Schools will tell you when you need to deposit by, when you need to enroll by. So definitely read that acceptance letter carefully. They'll lay out the process for you.
[00:03:34] BW: And you’ll probably get a few reminders as well, I would imagine. It's probably exciting but also overwhelming when you get that decision, especially if you get more than one acceptance letter. So how should students go about comparing the schools that they've been admitted to? Because this is a time when the power has shifted from the school and the application reader looking over all these great applications back into the hands of the students. Because, after all, if they get into three places, they're only picking one.
[00:04:02] BHA: Right. And so now's a really great time that, if you haven't visited a school already to try, to get to the campus if it's safe to do so. But also head to the website. Lots of schools have some great virtual visit options for students to check them out, meet their students, meet even faculty or professors and learn more about the institution.
You want to make sure that the school that you've been admitted to has the major you want to study. Some schools will offer you the list of first- and second-choice major on your application. Or maybe you've had a change of heart since you've applied. You want to make sure that the school that you're picking ultimately is going to set you up to do what you want to do after graduation.
And make sure you're including your family in the conversation too. It's really hopefully a family decision, and you can rely on some of the support systems to help you make this decision.
[00:04:47] BT: Yeah. And in looking, or double-checking all of those things — making sure that the school has the right major, looking at those visit options — I wonder, are there any other opportunities for more research that students can dive into and make really good use of this time to do that?
[00:05:02] LF: Yeah, absolutely. I would caution overthinking or over-researching though. There's a point where you can reach information overload. There's no way to know everything about every school. And some of those little minute details can make it feel even more overwhelming. But I would recommend that you go back to why you apply to those schools in the first place. Are there factors that, now that time has gone by, are more important or less important? Are there new factors that you want to keep in mind? Make sure that that all is true to what you're looking for out of the college experience. And that can help make some of those deciding factors as well.
A new thing that you could consider — maybe you haven't already, or maybe you haven't heard a lot about from the school, but now that you're admitted they'll start talking about — is how are those colleges going to help you in the transition from high school to the university? Some of those differences can make you feel more confident about your decision and can show you the difference between the different institutions too.
[00:06:07] BW: That's a great point. I've never even considered looking at, like, orientation programs and first-year experience as part of that decision-making process. That's great. You know, those high school seniors listening already know this, that the stakes are super high here. I mean, they're going to be spending four years at this place, so the choice really is super personal. And you can collect all these facts, but how do you make that final decision? What advice would you give someone who's about to make that really big choice?
[00:06:36] BHA: Yeah, Bryan. So I think at this point, I've perfected my decision-making recipe, and it has two simple ingredients. The first is feelings, and the second is facts. And what I mean by that is there's likely someone in your household who has made some kind of spreadsheet, a pro and con list. They've analyzed your financial aid or your scholarship packages. You might have a list of non-negotiables. These are the facts and the objective data that might be driving your decision. Because, of course, at the end of the day, you want to make a choice that's responsible for you and your family. But then we can't make a decision without also including our feelings in that as well. And that's really trusting our intuition, our gut, that feeling that we might not be able to articulate but that tells us that, “This is either the right place for me,” or “This is the very wrong place for me.” I encourage students to ask themselves, “Can I be my best self here?” And so thinking about that question in relation to the different institutions that you're considering.
My goal for you, as someone who's going through the decision-making process is that you and your family can find a place where the feelings and the facts come together. That you're making a responsible choice for you and your family, but also one that you can feel really good about at the end of the day. You can't have one without the other.
[00:07:47] BT: Yeah, I love thinking about that as a recipe with two fairly simple but also really important ingredients. And so once you’ve followed that, and you get to the part — which I hope is the relieving part — where you've made your decision, how do you actually make it official with the school? And then once you do, are you then free and clear to share that news with friends and folks online?
[00:08:08] LF: Yeah, letting the school know what your decision is is super important. That is not a piece that you want to forget in the process. Again, you want to check that acceptance letter because it'll tell you exactly what you need to do and where to do it as well. Something that I'm sure our students who are listening have experienced already is that each school's process is a little different. Where you check things is a little different. So be sure you read that letter carefully. It will tell you.
In general, the way that you let in institution know that you're going to enroll typically includes some kind of form where you are stating or signing your intent, and also a deposit of some sort to say that, “Yes, I will be attending your institution.” From there, there's also a process that lays out over the summer, including things like filling out housing forms, choosing meal plans, picking classes. Again, what that timeline looks like will differ from school to school. So while you've heard the message — hopefully several times — to continue and carefully checking your email, that's something you'll want to continue doing throughout the rest of the school year over the summer to make sure you're not missing any steps to get started right away on the move-in day.
And then are you free and clear to share the news? I think so. It's an exciting decision. I think how you share that is up to you. How do you share other big, important, exciting decisions in your life? I definitely would lean towards sharing the decision after you've made the final choice and have done the intent to enroll, rather than when you get all of your admit letters. Unless you want the opinions and thoughts and feelings of every person you've ever interacted with, I think it's super important to get to share what your future plans are.
If you're not somebody who likes to do big enough announcements, or even if you are, please be sure to at least tell your high school counselor or whoever in your school has helped you through this process. That's important information for them to know that you found your place and that you're going to be settled going forward. So if no one else, tell your parents or your family, tell the institution and also tell your high school.
[00:10:25] BT: Speaking of counselors, you've mentioned some of those steps after enrolling — picking classes, maybe getting housing squared away, those kinds of things. Will students have an admissions counselor or a point person at their institution to help guide them through those things?
[00:10:38] LF: Yeah, it depends on the institution. In some cases, you may have a specific person assigned to you right away and others you might not have somebody assigned until later on in the process. When in doubt, you're always welcome to reach out to the admissions counselor you've been working with through this process. At the very least, we can connect you with the right point person.
During the time between when we've enrolled our class — when we've figured out who has decided they're going to attend and when you move on to campus — there are additional campus partners that often come into the mix. So there might be a couple of different people who are your point person, depending on what the topic is. But when in doubt, always feel welcome to reach out to your admissions counselor. We're usually familiar with the process and can connect you to the right resource.
[00:11:30] BW: You know, there's a lot of talk online about how to make the decision and how to accept your offer of admission. This kicks off all these different fun steps. But I don't see a lot of people talking about how to say no to a school that you are not choosing to enroll at. So can we talk a little bit about how you kind of let the school down, or whether you even need to say, “Hey, I've chosen a different school”? Is that something that students even do?
[00:11:57] BHA: Yeah, absolutely. Please, please tell us. Not only throughout the process have we potentially built a relationship with you. As your admissions counselor, we may have met you at your high school, we may have exchanged emails. Odds are we might have even talked to one or two of your parents somewhere along the way. We may have even advocated for your admissions decision. And so we are really curious to hear where you're going. It's really a nice thing to do to let your admissions counselor know that you've made your final decision. Even if you're not choosing to attend our institution, we're going to be excited for you no matter what. So make sure you send your admissions counselor an email.
[00:12:31] BT: Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about waitlists. Say a student gets a notification from school that they haven't been rejected, but they've been placed on the waitlist instead. How does a situation like that factor into this process? And how can students go about making a decision on time while also waiting to see if another option gets thrown in the mix, especially if it's one of their top choices?
[00:12:55] LF: Yeah, that's a really tough one, Brooke. I think the waitlist might be one of the harder places to be in this process. The waitlist is an institution saying, “We really liked your application, and we can see you at our institution, but we just don't have the space right now.” Unfortunately, we typically don't know if we're going to have the space until after we've enrolled the class, which is typically after that May 1 deadline.
So in the meantime, you need to think of a couple of things. Are you somebody who is comfortable with that unknown? Are you willing to take that risk and that chance that you might be changing schools at some point over the summer before you've even officially started your first week of classes? Is that school that's placed you on the waitlist a place that you're willing to make that kind of mid-summer change for? If it is, great. Go ahead and confirm with the institution that you're willing to remain on the waitlist. And if you're not, that's okay, too. That's why you've applied to multiple schools throughout this process.
Either way, you can then start your decision-making process with the advice that we've given so far. Look at the other schools that you've been admitted to, not thinking about the one that you've been waitlisted at, and say, “Between the schools that you have been admitted to, which of these would you want to enroll at?” Because you will likely need to make an enrollment decision without the information from the waitlist school if it's going to be a yes or a no.
So I still want students to get excited about the places that have admitted them and think about, of those places, where could they see themselves and make a decision based on just those institutions. So that even if you aren't able to be admitted from the waitlist, you've still ended up at a place that you feel really good about.
[00:14:46] BW: There is some mystery around the waitlist, and is there a way for a student to get a sense of where they are on the waitlist? Or is it more just you have to understand that the school itself doesn't have all the information to answer that question yet?
[00:15:01] BHA: The latter. We likely don't have all the information yet. It is very rare that at the undergraduate level, a waitlist will be ranked, or weighted, or a list of any kind that way. It's more looking at what needs we might have in the class after the final enrollment date.
A great way to show your interest in the school or to even get some reassurance is to continue staying in touch with your admissions counselor at that institution. It doesn't hurt to ask us questions or to ask when you might hear. Just be prepared for the answer to be we don't know yet for a lot of that process.
[00:15:46] BW: And we've said on this show in the past that if you have additional information that has come to light since your application, they should send that in as well, right?
[00:15:53] LF: Absolutely.
[00:15:55] BW: That's great. So I want to talk about the family members and their role in this decision-making process. We hope that the loved ones are supportive no matter where the student chooses to enroll. But there are instances where parents and family members might have strong opinions. So what if a parent just wants to see their student attend school A and the student chooses school B, and they disagree with that choice, perhaps?
[00:16:23] BHA: Yeah, this unfortunately, does happen sometimes, right? No matter where your student is going to end up, this is a really big decision for your family. If this is the first student that your family has sent through the college process, or even your third, fourth, or fifth. It's still a big deal. And so it's likely that there are also some big feelings associated with this decision.
Where I would lead is that to trust that your student is prepared to make this decision. A school has accepted them because we believe that they can be successful at our institution. And while, of course, decisions have consequences — and wherever your student chooses may or may not end up feeling like the right place or what you believe to be the right place for your student — more or less, everything's figure-out-able. And your student is going to end up at the place that is the right place for them.
This might mean that sometimes you have to offer some gentle guidance, and other times you might need to bite your tongue a little bit and let your student kind of navigate the process on their own. But ultimately, as long as everyone's just doing their best, there's really no right or wrong decision here. We wish you the best of luck.
[00:17:27] BT: We mentioned transitioning to college earlier and, as you mentioned, many schools offer special programming for students who have been admitted and students who have enrolled — Bucknell included. And so what are the differences between an Admitted Student Day and an Enrolled Student Day? And how can students make the most of either?
[00:17:45] LF: Yeah. So an Enrolled Student Day means you're coming. You've deposited, you've said this is where you want to go, and the same is true of all the other attendees. They're going to be there. These are your classmates. The people that you meet on that day, you're likely to see it again, which is really exciting. So you can make some connections. You can find some people on campus that you can look forward to seeing again. It's just a really neat day to get to be excited and to get a glimpse, a taste, of what it's going to be like when you move on to campus the following semester. An Admitted Student Day, you're still deciding, and so are many of the attendees there. And that's really fun, right? You get to be around all the excitement, see all the possibilities, get any of your questions answered, make connections, start to figure out those differences between the institutions if you can't remember what they are anymore.
The way that you can make the most of it, I think for both students, whether you've enrolled or you're still deciding, is to not leave without all of your questions answered. To see as many parts of the campus as you possibly can, either to remain excited or feel good about your final decision, or to help you in making that final decision. Don't be afraid to talk to faculty if they're a part of the day. It could be really neat to have a connection with a familiar face when you walk into your first classroom. Ask current students what they're involved in and what matters to them. I think the feelings that you get on the different days will depend on what you're feeling about the institution and what your intention is. And that's really great to lean into while you're there.
[00:19:29] BHA: And then if you're not able to make it to campus, there's also lots of ways for you to engage virtually meeting other admitted and enrolled students that way too. So be sure to check out not only the in-person programs, but also the virtual things as well.
[00:19:41] BW: And you might have a question that maybe you don't want to send to the counselor — you'd rather ask like a current student. Are schools offering that option? Like if I'm an admitted student, can I somehow get in touch with someone who has the same major as me or might be in the club that I'm interested in joining? Is that an option?
[00:19:58] BHA: Yeah, that's definitely an option. If you can email your admissions counselor, and they can help introduce you to a student. Or some schools will even have a landing page or a web page just for admitted students where they'll house all of the admitted student programming all in one place so you can find everything you need.
[00:20:13] BW: That's great. So I want to end with some words of wisdom from each of you. You’ve given us a lot today, but maybe like a final pep talk, if we can. There's so much joy around getting these acceptances and opening that envelope or that email. But there's also some anxiety that might arise from making the wrong choice, and that's perfectly normal. Are there encouraging words you would give to students as they take on such a momentous decision, something we can we can leave our listeners with?
[00:20:41] LF: Yeah, I think this really should be an exciting time. Hopefully, students are really excited. But if I could give students one sentence of advice, it's really that the college experience is what you put into it when you get there. You've applied to all these schools for a reason. There’s something that attracted you to all of them. So now, wherever you end up deciding, go in with your whole heart and take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, because that's what makes an amazing college experience.
[00:21:11] BHA: I don't know if I can quite top that. But trust that wherever you pick will end up being the right place, because it's what you make of the experience while you're there. Couldn't have said it any better than Lauren.
[00:21:21] BT: Yeah, I love that. There's so much to explore, and get involved in, and learn wherever you end up choosing to go to college. And so I think that'll really do it for this episode of College Admissions Insider. Thanks to Becca and Lauren for joining us once again to share their wisdom and advice on the college admissions process.
[00:21:37] BHA: Thanks for having us.
[00:21:38] BW: And thanks to everyone out there for listening. If you're a fan of the podcast, we'd love it if you take a moment to rate, subscribe and even share this episode with students and families in your life.
[00:21:49] BT: We'll be back with another episode in just two weeks. In the meantime, send your questions, comments and episode ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:21:57] BW: And if you want to keep up to date on what's happening at Bucknell, the best way to do that is probably on social media. Just look for @BucknellU on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok. You can also follow our student run Instagram account, which is always fun, @iamraybucknell.
[00:22:13] BT: Until next time, keep on reaching for your dreams and your dream school.
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