- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2011

Barry Lenson’s daughter was thrilled to get into her cozy, exclusive first-choice college, happily signing up for an “admitted students” overnight stay on the small-town campus to make sure it was the place for her.

It was a miserable, mind-changing visit. Students mocked each other and a professor. She got a cold shoulder in the dorm.

“When my wife arrived to pick her up the next day, my daughter walked up to her and said, ‘Get me out of here,’” recalled Mr. Lenson, of Millburn, N.J.

So goes Decision Hell, as opposed to Admissions Hell, which was supposed to be the hard part.

For tens of thousands of high schoolers who sweated over college applications, then nervously checked email and mailboxes for admission letters this spring, the next few weeks may be equally stressful as they decide where to spend freshman year.

Many schools require students to make a decision by May 1. There are campus visits to schedule, wait lists to navigate, financial aid packages to leverage and deferment to consider, all at a time when many of the nation’s 7,000 institutions of higher education — including the most coveted — report swelled ranks of applicants looking to be in the Class of 2015.

All turned out fine for Mr. Lenson’s daughter, Olivia, who was grateful for the chance to re-evaluate. Now 21, she landed at an equally prestigious yet larger, urban private school, where she’s a junior majoring in political science.

“I thought it was going to be very open and accepting,” she said of her abandoned first choice, requesting that its name not be used. “It is in a lot of ways but it seemed too cutthroat. I’m so glad I didn’t go.”

Admissions consultant Patricia Aviezer says swift action may be required if teens are going after wait list spots or trying to improve financial aid offers.

Make sure to heed all deadlines for notifying admissions offices of the desire to remain on a wait list. The process may not be automatic. Politely ask the following questions of the school: In the past three years, have you gone to your wait list to admit? If so, how deep?

You may have to put a deposit down to reserve a spot at one school while waiting to find out whether you make it off the wait list at another.

“Depending on the selectivity of the college, there are years when some colleges do not go to their wait lists,” Ms. Aviezer said. “Last year, however, there was a sudden climate change in the number and size of wait lists across the country. Attributed to the increase in applications received by colleges and the jockeying for students that ensued as a result, more students received a wait-listed letter.”

In fall 2009, 39 percent of schools went to wait lists, which was slightly higher than most recent years except fall 2007, when the percentage reached 41 percent, according to the “State of College Admission” report released last year by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

A student’s likelihood of admission off a wait list was about 1 in 3 in fall 2009, when schools accepted an average of 34 percent of students from wait lists, the report said. The number was up from 30 percent in fall 2008 and fall 2007, and from 29 percent in 2006, according to the annual report, the most recent available from the association.

Let the admissions office know of your continued interest, or let your high school guidance counselor take the lead, emphasizing gains in grades and any accolades since the application first landed. Ask if there’s anything else that would strengthen the application.

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