“Yes I received your letter yesterday
around the time the doorknob broke.
When you asked me how I was doing
was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mentioned,
yes I know them, they’re quite lame.
I had to rearrange their faces
and give them all another name.
Right now I can’t read too good
don’t send me no more letters, no.
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row.”

Who better than Bob Dylan to put words to these strange and unsettling times?*

Here’s some hard and useful College news comin’ at you like a Chris Sale heater, high and inside but catching a corner of the plate so lean in take a swing at it!

Okay, enough with the metaphors. I hope you’re all well and being smart and safe and not freaking out too much. I’ve continued working (I’m lucky to have Zoom and Skype and Discord and FaceTime – choose your preferred mode if you want to connect with me any time…) as well as my shopping, banking, volunteering as a cook twice a week at the Preble Street teen homeless shelter. I maintain my distance and mind what and where I touch and I make sure to smile a lot at people, and I also refuse to see everyone and thing as a potential “killer”. Gotta keep our humanity and faith on the front lines of this thing as well as our caution.

You’ve all heard from your colleges by now (call admissions if you’re still waiting and ask “wassup?” if you have not) and many of you are good to go with your choices. However from the amount of inquiries and talks I’ve had of late I know that many of you are facing one or both of the following dilemma’s:

  • How do I choose between multiple acceptances when I can’t visit schools this spring, and/or
  • How the heck do they expect my family to pay that amount even with the financial aid they’ve offered me? Can I ask for more money?

Let me address both of those situations.


You start by understanding something the College Guy has been preaching (ranting!) about for years: a college visit is a superficial and unreliable measure of how much you will like (or dislike) a school once you actually attend it! One need look no further than the transfer rate (over 30% nationwide) to see evidence of this. Even though in normal times I’d be suggesting that you do a “substantive” visit (including an overnight, sitting in on a class or two, shadow a student, interview with coaches/professors/specific faculty in your interest area; as compared to the brief and surface visits many of you did as juniors and over the fall), I will still be the first to remind you that making the ‘final decision’ of where to attend is as much luck as it is design.

Whether you take a “deep dive” and research potential majors, statistics like student/faculty ratios, incident reports of campus crime, quality of the food (are you kidding me?!), condition of the physical plant, research opportunities, study abroad destinations, career and graduate school counseling and success rates, etc.; or whether you adopt the Zen approach and consult the tea leaves (or go ‘eenie meenie miney moe’), I have something to tell you: in the end it’s going to be a crap shoot. You really won’t know if you’re going to be happy/healthy/successful at a school (which is really what it’s ALL ABOUT!) until you’ve been there for a semester or two.

So here’s some sage advice from The College Guy: DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!!!!!!!!!!

Sure, do your “due diligence” (or don’t), and of course the bottom line cost of the school may very well be a deciding factor, but if there’s a foolproof “magic formula” for making the right choice I’ve not discovered it in my 30+ years of being a guidance counselor and private college consultant.

Instead here’s what I tell my clients: You can’t make a bad choice. Really, I believe that.

If it turns out after a semester or year that you’re not happy where you are, you’ll transfer. This is not catastrophic, nor does it mean you blew it. It happens all the time, to the best of students. Don’t expect it to happen, and hope that your final decision will result in the above positive outcomes, but you will deal with it if it does not, and you’ll emerge the better for it!

So relax and make your lists or throw the I Ching or whatever you need to do to make your choice. Some colleges are extending their May 1 final decision deadlines (when you need to pay a deposit by) to June 1 or later. You can always ask for an extension as well, and some schools will be open to this. But don’t expect/plan on being able to visit this summer, and don’t agonize too long over this perceived dilemma. Truth be known, no one knows if Colleges will even begin again in the fall. So take it from The College Guy when I say “Don’t worry about it”! Instead have the attitude that you’re going to love college once you get there, and if it turns out that you don’t love it, you’ll look in to transferring. It’s no biggie!

All that said, here are some tips I do recommend:

  1. Attend each of your schools’ “virtual accepted student days”. Take their virtual tours, participate in their chatrooms.
  2. Think of a few questions you would like to have answered by every school and seek out students or faculty or administrators you can email and ask those questions to. (You can give me a holler if you want some help coming up with some questions).
  3. Don’t discount a school if the cost seems too high before you consider appealing for additional need or merit-based aid. It doesn’t cost anything to ask. Parents in particular should read my response below on how to go about this.
  4. Once you’ve made a decision that you’re not going to attend a particular school, let them know. Send them a short and pleasant email thanking them for their acceptance offer (and $$ award if they offered you money) and let them know that “…it was a very difficult decision but I’ve decided to attend another school”. It’s the right thing to do so they can offer a wait listed kid a spot, and it’s also good karma. And who doesn’t need plenty of that these days?


Simply put, you let the college know that and ask them to consider increasing your aid award in the form of additional merit or need-based aid or a tuition discount. Understand that the Admissions Office at every College/University distributes merit-based aid, and the Financial Aid office dispenses need-based aid. If you did not file the FAFSA (and CSS PROFILE for the schools which required it) you’re asking for merit based aid only. If you did file those forms (therefore claiming “need”) you should ask both offices to reevaluate the student to see if s/he qualifies for additional funding.

There are some realistic things to understand here, however.

First of all, you must differentiate between your “want” and your “need”. This is not like shopping for a car or a refrigerator, where you comparison shop and seek out your best deal. In fact, the notion of “negotiating” for more money is distasteful to colleges, as well as to The College Guy. Like the Stone’s song says, “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need!”. So step one here is to honestly determine what your need is, and to do that you have to put pen to paper and figure out your ability to pay, or what I call your “True Expected Family Contribution”.

To do this you factor in things like additional kids you have, retirement planning, home equity, relative resources, health and future earning prospectives, current debt and several other factors. It’s not that complicated!. College do not want to be seen as a bastion for the rich, and that’s why financial aid exists. You should have learned this from your high schools’ guidance departments but most of you either missed the meeting or, more likely, you were never told. ‘Nuff said.

I’m going to stop here and invite any parent (or precocious student – but this really is the parents’ job) to phone me to continue this discussion. I stay busy this time of year working with families of seniors who are seeking help to come up with a proper “appeal strategy”, and I’ll be glad to tell you over the phone what that means given your particulars. If you like I’ll also share the very reasonable fee I charge if you’d like my further involvement with your efforts, and what that involvement entails. The phone call and initial conversation is free, so don’t be bashful here.

LISTEN: Be smart, be careful, but don’t let yourself succumb to fear and panic. We’ll all get through this by practicing good “distancing” habits and by retaining our humanity. Good luck to all of you!

Gary AKA The College Guy

* Kids, here’s another thing to do if you’re bored – discover Dylan. If anyone comes close to having all the answers, it’s His Bobness. And I’m not talking about his recent 17 minute release (it’s pablum) or anything he’s done over the last decade. Discover his albums from the ‘60s and ’70’s. They’re timeless!

P.S. Forward this on to other seniors and parents of seniors please. And if you’d rather not get my future rants, let me know, and you won’t.

P.P.S. Hey don’t forget the favor I wrote you several rants ago: if you’ve not already checked in and told me the results of your college applications (where you got in, where you didn’t) please do so. What am I, chopped liver???!!!!