For many families with high school seniors, “D Day” is coming up pretty quickly.

“D” is the decision where to attend school after high school graduation. By this time of year, most seniors have applied to and have been accepted by several colleges or universities. Some already opted for Early Decision or Early Action last November, but many are up against a spring deadline for regular enrollment that a number of schools set on May 1.

“Colleges use several different types of admissions schedules, so students should pay close attention to each school’s deadlines,” said Peter Smith, director of student services for the Abington Heights School District.

When making the important decision on where to pursue their post-secondary education, Smith said students should view college admissions from a consumer’s perspective.

Peter Smith

He said they should ask questions such as, “Which college offers exactly what I want and need? Who is offering the best financial aid package? Can the school provide data about its graduates? Are they getting jobs (let’s not forget that is why they are seeking a degree)?”

“Choosing to attend a school because going to football games is fun is not a great idea. Similarly, attending school in a big city because you’ve been shopping there a few times is not a great idea,” Smith said. “Students need to consider the fact that they will be living, cohabitating, eating, doing laundry, and going to class with strangers, which is a complete departure from their high school lives. They should be comfortable with the environment in which they will be learning for the next several years.”

Choosing a college is primarily the student’s decision, Smith said, but he added that parents need to be involved in the decision making process.

“As we are all aware, college tuition is skyrocketing. It is far too common to see tuition rates exceeding $70,000 per year. Young people simply do not fully comprehend the concept of debt,” he said. “On the other hand, students should be driving the research process and completing the applications. If parents are choosing schools and completing applications, students are not fully engaged in this important process.”

Smith said, “I think that parents and students need to engage in several conversations throughout this process. If kids don’t know what they want to study, keep searching for exposure and information. If students plan well they increase the likelihood that they find the right major, the right school, and the right career without taking on too much debt.”

Although Smith said Abington Heights students “have a lot of support from start to finish,” he observed that “most are still stressed” about making that big decision for their post-secondary study.

“We hope to transform stress into excitement by getting students to gather as much information as possible in order to make the most informed decisions,” he said.

And they start early enough. Smith said Abington Heights students take a course in their junior year that focuses heavily on career exploration and research. Students take this career information and begin researching educational programs, including one- and two-year programs, apprenticeship programs, as well as four-year degrees that meet their career goals.

“There’s definitely a lot more than just looking at which colleges a student could get into, so the junior year is a critical time for this work,” he said.

Smith had this advice to reassure college hunting students.

“Do the research. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about careers, majors and schools. Once you have identified a few schools, make sure to visit and ask lots of questions. When it comes time to apply, make a grid of all the requirements (deadlines, essays, letters of recommendation, etc.) for each school. Staying organized will help manage the stress.”