As college acceptances (beyond those already in hand) begin to trickle in by snail mail and email, thoughts turn from "applying to college" to "which offer of admission do I accept?"

Decisions. Decisions. And all of them good!

Before making any decision [National College Decision Day is May 1], consider your options, giving weight to factors that are important to you and your family (including financial aid, academic programs, home or away), and give a read to an interesting and informative piece from Her Campus, appropriately entitled, 10 Things That Matter When Picking A College (& 10 Things That Don't).[Psst. While guys may want to skip over the Her Campus post, How To Shave Down There, the 10 Things That Matter article is not just for girls!]

In a decision as important as where you are going to college, be sure to visit or revisit campus. [Most colleges are in session during high school students' Spring Break. A great time to spend a night in the dorm (this can typically be arranged through the Admissions Office), sit in on a class or two, sample the food in the dining halls, and simply wander about the campus, getting a feel for things.

Need help making that decision? Discuss your options as a family. Check in with your Guidance Counselor. Or, by all means, give a call to your independent college counselor. The College Whisperer is always happy to stick in his two cents!

And speaking of two cents (if only college cost that little), there's the matter of paying for college. [You didn't think they’d let that tuition bill slip by, did you?]

Here are a few "must dos" concerning financial aid:

1. Correct your FAFSA. By now, you have submitted FAFSA online, a key element in securing both federal and, in many instances, institutional aid. [If not, what are you waiting for?] Once you have filed your income tax returns for 2012, it is imperative that you correct your FAFSA to reflect the actual figures on your return. Failure to do so may impact upon your financial aid award! Also, make certain that the colleges you are considering are listed on your Student Aid Report (SAR). If they don't get the report, you won't see the money!

2. Tap into TAP. If the college (public or private) you decide to attend is located in New York State, you may be entitled to money from the Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP). You may have already applied for TAP money upon completion of the FAFSA. Be sure to update your application once you know which New York college you will be attending.

3. Accept or Decline Financial Aid Award. Money from colleges to help pay your way (scholarships, grants, Work-Study, federal direct student loans and parent PLUS loans) is typically awarded through a financial aid award letter. This "letter" may arrive by snail mail, email, or require you to log on to your college portal to retrieve. In almost every instance, you must accept (or decline) the award (usually online) by a date certain. After comparing and contrasting awards from colleges you've been accepted to -- and haggling with those who may just sweeten the pot -- and once you've made your acceptance decision, remember to log on and accept (in whole or in part -- you may accept scholarships, for example, but decline loans) your award.

4. Pay the Acceptance Fee and Housing Deposit. You're in. You're going. Yippee!  Along with your push-of-the-button, colleges will want a non-refundable (what else?) deposit to secure your spot in the Freshman class and, if you plan to live on campus, to hold a space in the dorms. The deposits may, in most cases, be paid online.

5. Complete Other Required Financial Aid Forms. While you've successfully tackled FAFSA and, as needed, CSS-Profile, individual colleges may have their own forms to complete. Be sure to check with the financial aid office, and get those forms in by any deadline the school may impose. Also, if you accept student loans and/or parent PLUS loans, you will be required to take online entrance counseling and to complete what is called a Master Promissory Note (MPN) -- otherwise known as, "signing your life away" -- before any monies will be disbursed. These little niceties, too often overlooked by students and parents alike, are crucial in the process.

6. Keep on Searching and Applying for Scholarships. Yes. Tedious. Yes. Time consuming. Yes. You stopped looking, let alone applying, when those acceptance letters began to roll in. Well, you may be in college, but you'll still need money in the bank to pay for tuition, room & board over the next four or more years. Nuf said!

You're well on your way to one of the most exciting and rewarding times of your life. You'll soon be off to college. Indeed, there may be bumps, potholes and detours along the way, but always keep in mind, half the fun is getting there. Enjoy the journey!

Need help correcting FAFSA, submitting school-required forms, completing the required entrance counseling and/or Master Promissory Note? Scholarship search stalled, non-existent, or not yielding any appreciable result?

COLLEGE CONNECTION can lend an assist! Give us a call (516-345-8766) to schedule a session --in person, online or over the phone -- to make the necessary corrections to FAFSA or TAP, to prepare and submit any college-specific forms, to cross the "t"s and dot the "i"s on the MPN, and/or to rev up that search for money with a scholarship tune up. As always, we are always here to help.

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process? The College Whisperer knows. . .

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