11 Things You Should Do After Getting Into College

There’s nothing more exhilarating than cracking open a crisp envelope (or checking your email) to find an acceptance letter from your dream college.

Once you’ve finished your well-deserved happy dance, it’s time to figure out what comes next.

The national deadline for college admissions responses is May 1, which gives you just a few more weeks to make your pick.

Don’t start slacking off just yet.

Just because you’ve been accepted into a college doesn’t mean you can cut class and bomb your final exams. Many schools offer acceptance on a contingency basis — if your GPA starts to drop, they can easily change their mind. This is often the case when it comes to institutional scholarships or financial aid awards. Always read the fine print to see if the cash is tied to some kind of GPA requirement. “A lot of kids I see lately haven’t quite met their GPA requirements and they lose out out on scholarship money,” says Joseph Orsolini, a college aid consultant.

Schedule a campus visit.

Whether were accepted into your one-and-only school pick or you have several schools to choose from, it’s a good idea to head to the campus for an in-person visit. Even if you’ve visited the campus before, go ahead and book another tour. Visiting campuses gives you a sense of not only the atmosphere, but you can also meet face to face with the school’s admissions counselors and get any lingering questions answered.

And make sure the campus knows you’re there.

Don't show up on campus for an impromptu tour. Sign up for admissions events or the official campus tour and make sure the admissions department knows you’re there, Orsolini says. This could give you an edge with your financial aid award. Many schools track which prospective students visit the campuses and take part in pre-admissions activities like luncheons and student mixers. And when it comes time to decide which students get the lion's share of merit-based awards, they might favor students who have demonstrated a real interest in participating.

Be sure to drop by the campus career center.

It’s nice to check out the dorms or the multi-billion-dollar student center on campus, but don’t miss the college career center. There’s no better way to see what kinds of companies are interested in hiring a school’s students than checking out the campus career center and chatting with a counselor there. See how many resources the school dedicates to ensuring its students succeed long after graduation.

Chat with current and former students.

While you’re on campus, don’t be shy. Stop a few students to ask them how they are liking the school. This is especially important if you’re torn between several schools. Getting reviews directly from students (preferably in your desired major) is a good way to find red flags (lazy professors, lack of student resources, etc.) that might knock a school out of the running.

If you can’t speak to students in person, it’s not difficult to find them online — try browsing Facebook groups or searching for people who’ve mentioned the school on Twitter.

Compare financial award packages.

When you have multiple schools to choose from, sometimes it comes down to cold hard cash. Line up your financial aid award packages and rank them from best to worst financial aid package.

“Unfortunately financial aid award letters are not the easiest to understand and often times are misleading," says Bob Bardwell, a veteran high school counselor in Monson, Mass., and board member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "Students and families should study these letters carefully in order to fully understand the bottom line when it comes to the amount of money they can expect to have to pay to finance their post-secondary education."

Luckily, it has never been easier to compare schools and the aid the offer. Check out this “Compare Schools” tool by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Don’t assume that’s all the money you can get.

Private schools are especially notorious for negotiating financial aid packages with prospective students. And they are highly competitive. If you have been accepted to two rival private schools, let your financial aid office know that you’ve gotten a better offer. They will want to see your award letter from the other school, so do not try to get away with a lie. “There’s nothing better than going back to that school and saying ‘Hey we really like you but school B offers $3,000 more,” Orsolini says.

Make sure the school fits your budget.

College education does not come cheap. Going to your dream school might mean taking out tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. Use this handy tool to find out what your monthly payments will be like after college. And be realistic about your future earnings potential. An Art History major who will earn $46,000 per year probably won’t be able to manage payments on a six-figure student loan.

See how well the school’s graduates are doing.

Find your school on www.collegescorecard.ed.gov and you can see exactly how well graduates are doing after college. The scorecard shows you average student debt; the graduation rate; and their earnings after school.

Make your final decision. So you’ve made your final campus visits, you’ve looked at your family’s budget, and you’ve checked out the school’s scorecard online. Now it’s time to make your pick!

And once you do, be sure to log onto your school’s student portal and actually ACCEPT their offer of admission and any financial aid they have offered. Orsolini says he’s seen far too many students forget to take this crucial step.

Make final deposits and square away your financial aid.

Schools often require deposits to hold your spot, even for things like on-campus housing. Keep track of those deadlines. You’ll also have to complete the official student loan counseling and complete all your student loan forms before those funds will be released to your school. If you miss those deadlines, your tuition and fees won’t get paid, and you won’t be able to start classes with the rest of your peers.