Congratulations! Your high-schooler received the coveted college admissions letter! But that doesn't mean the work of getting into college is over. Between now and the first day of classes, there's still plenty of paperwork and other requirements to be handled, along with several financial details to wrap up before any freshman hits the quad.
These aren't just pesky details, warns Patrick O'Connor, assistant dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and an Ambassador Fellow to the U.S. Dept. of Education. Ignoring follow-up questions or failing to file a required form can end up disqualifying an admitted student before school even starts. "It's a phenomenon counselors refer to as summer melt."
"After students receive acceptance letters and make their springtime decisions to attend a particular college, a number of tasks still must be completed for students to successfully matriculate."
A survey by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University found the rates of so-called summer melt range from 10% to 40% of college bound students.
"After students receive acceptance letters and make their springtime decisions to attend a particular college, a number of tasks still must be completed for students to successfully matriculate," the study's authors found. "Many of these tasks may be challenging for students who no longer have access to high school counselors, who may not be familiar with support resources available at their intended college, and whose families may lack experience with the college-going process."
Reasons New College-Bound Students Melt in Summer
Summer melt often happens because the colleges are communicating directly with the matriculating student, which can be an overwhelming and unfamiliar level of responsibility for a 17- or 18-year-old boy or girl. The problem is particularly common with first-generation college students who don't have parents or family members familiar with the entire process of going to college.
Here's a 12-step guide for parents and incoming college students to avoid a summer meltdown that could leave you all wet this fall:
12 Steps to Take Between Now and the Start of School
1. Financial Verification
An increasing number of schools are moving to verify financial information beyond what students submitted with their financial aid applications. This can include letters from a parent's employer, proof that a single parent doesn't get financial help from a divorced spouse, bank statements or other information.
2. Financial Aid Confirmation
Reread any financial aid offer to make sure you understand what's required, then read it again, O'Connor advised. There may be additional paperwork to file for a work-study program or to process student loans, grants or scholarship awards. Contact the school to make sure everything has been finalized or to find out what else needs to happen.
A potential benefit is that additional financial aid money may be available, if other admitted students with aid offers turned the school down. (See also: The 7 Biggest FAFSA Mistakes College Students Make—and How to Avoid Them)
3. Economic Changes
If your family's financial situation has changed between the time the student applied and now, contact the college to find out if additional aid might be available. These situations can include financial information that students are able to include on financial aid applications, such as having a grandparent move in with the family. It also can include things such as a parent changing or losing a job, or some other financial hurdle
4. Gap Financing
An increasing number of colleges are leaving it up to student families to make up the difference between the family's expected contribution to college expenses and any financial aid offers.
This gap between what the family can afford and what the college charges often is characterized as unsubsidized loans in financial aid documents, which means it's up to the student and family to find the money. Applying for school loans by the student or parents can be a lengthy process, so start pursuing those options right away.
5. Contact Roommates
The school usually communicates roommate contact information sometime in June, giving students a chance to introduce themselves and figure out living arrangements, such as which roommate might bring a mini-fridge or television.
6. Freshman Orientation
Some colleges make this mandatory for new students.
7. Dorm Insurance
If your student lives in on-campus housing, your homeowner's insurance likely covers theft, loss or damage to their property at college, usually up to 10% of your home contents limit; check your coverage for details. You also can find separate policies, including some that cover only electronics, as well as individual dorm insurance policies, which can preserve any claim limits on your homeowner's coverage. If your student lives off-campus, your homeowner's coverage won't apply, and your student will need renters insurance.
Tuition deposits typically were due at the beginning of May, and aren't refundable. However, any deposits made before May 1 are supposed to be refundable. This can make the decision to withdraw and change to a school where the student has been wait-listed less expensive. Housing deposits may be due at any time after acceptance, along with meal plans.
9. Tuition Insurance
If your student becomes too ill to stay at college or needs to withdraw for medical or other reasons, most schools typically won't refund tuition and other fees after the first few weeks of the semester.
Tuition insurance policies can cover that risk, with varying levels of reimbursement for illness, injury, or psychological conditions. Other policies cover any unrefunded tuition, fees, and room and board for just about any reason; some policies also cover the death of a parent or someone else paying the student's tuition.
If the student leaves for disciplinary reasons or flunks out, however, most policies don't pay. Coverage is priced at either a percentage of the expenses covered, or a flat fee, such as $135 for every $10,000 of expenses.
Because this is insurance, there will be exclusions, pre-existing conditions may not be covered, and there can be other limits, so review any coverage carefully before buying. Most healthy students don't face this issue, but coverage can be useful for a student with previous or ongoing health issues. Some policies are available only at specific institutions, and some schools offer their own policies.
10. Tuition Payments
Depending on the school's policies, tuition may be due at the beginning of the semester or in a series of equal payments throughout the year. Check and see what the schedule is and make sure you'll have the cash or loan proceeds to pay on time, or the student won't be eligible to register for classes. Families still looking to borrow to cover a financial gap will have extra time to arrange loans if they have enough money to cover the first semester payments.
11. Bank Accounts
If you'll be sending money to your student, figure out how you'll deliver the cash. This can be through an online bank account linked to your own checking account, or applications such as Google Wallet or PayPal. A joint account can allow a parent to monitor their student's financial activity at school.
If you're student is traveling to school, reserve transportation such as airport car services, taxis or other transportation, as well as any required flights. Schools in small towns or remote locations may have a limited number of providers available on the school's move-in day.
Finally, parents should make sure students are keeping a close eye on their email accounts. Students also need to be proactive, and shouldn't assume that just because they don't hear anything from their college that everything is set. If there are questions about financial aid, final transcripts from high school, required paperwork or any other issue, students should contact the college and confirm that everything is set for them to attend in the fall.
For those students who've been waitlisted by one or more colleges, you need to stay in contact with those schools. Students can be admitted off the waitlist as late as August.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.