As the days tick down to May 1—College Decision Day or the deadline by which many colleges expect responses from admitted students—a key part of the admissions process tends to be overlooked by excited applicants anxious to move forward with their lives.
Beyond simply showing gratitude and good manners, students really need to reach out to those colleges they will NOT be attending in the fall to let them know the final decision.
“Say ‘Thank you’ as well as ‘No, thank you’,” said Tara Anne Dowling, director of college counseling at the Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. “Thank you for taking time with my credentials, thank you for answering my questions, thank you for offering me a scholarship—all of it!”
In the afterglow of finally making a decision and sending in a deposit, students tend to forget about the other schools that showed enough confidence in their credentials to make an offer. Sadly, they fail to see how much of an investment colleges have in the students they invite and lose an opportunity to reciprocate the goodwill.
It’s normal to feel a little awkward about communicating to a college that you are basically “rejecting” their offer. Humans are wired to avoid confrontation and communicating bad news seems to fall in this category. But don’t let this stop you from doing the right thing.
And why does it matter so much?
- They care. According to Ms. Dowling, admissions officers very often become “invested in the students they are recruiting.” They’ve read your file, recommended you to the admissions committee, and sometimes fought on your behalf for your admission. These same folks may have also nominated you for a scholarship or otherwise extended themselves professionally to advocate for you. It’s disappointing when someone who believes in you doesn’t receive the courtesy of a response.
- Institutional memory. Admissions representatives build relationships with high schools and counselors that allow them to take chances on candidates for whom the school advocates. These tend to be those applicants whose grades or scores might be below the usual admitted student profile. You help future applicants when you reassure colleges of your gratitude and respond with respect. Similar to many other organizations, colleges can have long institutional memories and one bad experience may take a long time to forget. And by the way, these institutional memories can extend to a younger sibling or a friend who may apply to the same college in the future.
- Continued investment. All that mail and all the phone calls you may be receiving represent a continued investment in you. They cost both time and money. While you might find some of the recruitment tactics annoying, they should be a signal that at least one step in the process remains undone. If for no other reason, eliminate the daily barrage of emails and uncomfortable phone conversations by letting someone know you’ve made a decision.
- Wait lists. The sooner you let a college know you’ll not be attending, the sooner the admissions office can make arrangements to free up space on the wait list, if that looks like a possibility. “Think of kids on wait lists who are dying to find out if they can have that place that is currently being held by you,” suggests Ms. Dowling. “You can help colleges clean up their records and make room for other candidates!”
- Constructive feedback. Once a college knows your decision, it’s likely they will want to know which offer you selected and why. This is your opportunity to provide a little constructive feedback which might help them formulate future policies in areas such as scholarship or financial aid. You could also help them improve recruitment or change admissions policies to be more applicant-friendly in the future.
- Transfer. If none of the other above-listed reasons to let a college know you’re not attending fails to move you, consider the possibility that you may be circling back to this same admissions office and asking for reconsideration in the form of a transfer application. It’s entirely possible that what attracted you in the first place may come to be more important after a year at another college. Don’t lose the opportunity to maintain good relations with an admissions office that may have a second opportunity to admit or deny you.
It’s not hard to let a college know you won’t be coming. You can use the assigned online portal to accept or decline the offer or you can email or text anyone in the admissions office with whom you’ve been working. OR, remember that big packet you got in the mail? There may be a postcard asking for you to respond—thumbs up or down.
And by the way, don’t forget about all the others who helped you along the journey—counselors, teachers, school administrators, transcript clerks and outside recommenders. They’ve cared enough to support your applications, and they deserve to know your options as well as your final decision.
Never miss an opportunity to make a good impression. Let everyone who has believed in you know what you’ve decided as soon as possible. And then go out and celebrate!