Preventing Heartbreak in College Admissions

By Maxine Seya

Ever since college decisions were released, I’ve been getting calls from my high school seniors’ parents, torn and agonizing about what to do.

My son loves COLLEGE X and we didn’t think he was going to get in. But it is so expensive. 

URGENT! We need a $70,000 scholarship stat! Where can we find that? 

COLLEGE X is so much cheaper, but my daughter applied to COLLEGE Y last minute and miraculously got in. Now she only wants to go to COLLEGE Y. I don’t want her to take out loans, especially since she doesn’t have a career chosen.

My kid doesn’t see what the big deal is with student loans, but I do! I still have loans from med school. He shockingly got into COLLEGE Z, a high reach school, which offered nothing but student loans.

Heartache and dilemmas. Usually, it’s a war between paying more for a college that sounds better for whatever reason or paying less for a college that sounds not as good.

The college that sounds better might be one with:

  • a well-known name
  • a low acceptance rate that gives admits a sense of achievement
  • world-famous location
  • top performing football team
  • attractive fraternity boys
  • etc.
  • etc.

The list goes on.

The college that sounds less appealing might have a higher acceptance rate, a lesser-known name, a less appealing location, middle-of-the-pack sports teams, or position on the match or target list.

Maybe your student got into Duke, a well-known “elite” private school that admits very few students and was a high reach. She got no aid, but visited the campus anyway and loved it. And she also got into the also very reputable University of California, Santa Cruz with some state grants and in-state tuition. Both colleges offer the major she wants, but only one will allow her to graduate debt-free.

I can’t shield you from all the hurt in the world, especially in the mean game of college admissions, if you want to avoid this type of dilemma, conflict, and heartache, be very picky when finalizing a college list.

2 Common Ways of Deciding which Colleges to Apply to

  1. Apply to every desirable college. Ignore the costs. Only think about that if an offer is extended.
  2. Come up with a list of desirable colleges. Gain understanding of how scholarships and aid work. Apply only to the ones that will likely be affordable.

Why ignore costs when applying to colleges?

Pros of Option 1:

  • Potentially more acceptances to choose from
  • Can possibly learn more about different programs during the research process and after admission

Cons of Option 1:

  • Too much time wasted on applications
  • Can lead to disappointment if an acceptance is offered, but tuition is unaffordable

Is it really better to only apply to colleges you’ll likely afford?

Option 2 can prevent the heartache of telling your hardworking kid “no.” But it requires way more work. You’re calling financial aid officers to understand scholarships and aid BEFORE getting admitted. You’re getting a ballpark range of how aid will be awarded and if a student like yours will qualify. You’re understanding the institution’s unique scholarship opportunities that may not exist elsewhere.

Pros of Option 2:

Hi there.

No one spotlights the human stories of college admissions like we do.

But we're independent journalists who need support from readers like you.

Your subscription keeps us going -- completely ad-free.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.