Spring has arrived and for thousands of Greenville County high school seniors, so are college acceptances and rejections.

Each trip to the mailbox causes excitement, disappointment or further anxiety about what the future holds.

For some students, a big fat envelope means their dreams have come true. A double-click on an email from a college – which offers no clues whether it’s good or bad news from its subject line – can make everything right with the world or wrong.

“It’s a stressful time for students because they don’t have answers, they don’t know where they’re going to go,” said Laura Tolbert, a guidance counselor at Wade Hampton High School. “All they can do is wait, and that’s hard.”

But for many students, where they go to college isn’t as important as going to college, according to a 2015 study by researchers from Brigham Young University and San Diego State University.

According to “Is It Where You Go or What You Study? The Relative Influence of College Selectivity and College Major on Earnings”, in many career paths, it doesn’t matter where you go – unless you’re a business major.

Business majors who attended top-tier schools earned 12 percent more than their mid-tier school counterparts. Mid-tier school business graduates made 6 percent more than those from the least selective schools.

This was based on studies of bachelor’s degree holders 10 years after they completed their undergraduate degrees based on the school’s selectivity ratings.

A school’s prestige mattered least for science majors.

Whendoescollegemakesense_pulloutDecision time

For some students, the decision is already made.

Wade Hampton senior Allie Ward had to decide between Clemson, the University of Tennessee, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Kentucky and the University of Oregon. Ward, who plans to major in architecture, finally narrowed it down to Clemson, Auburn and Tennessee.

“It stressed me out a lot,” said Ward, who made lists of pros and cons before deciding on Tennessee because it offered her more money and she could qualify for reduced tuition through the academic common market because no school in South Carolina offered a five-year bachelor’s degree. “It’s nice not to have to worry about it any more.”

Being OK with things

These days, Wade Hampton’s Tolbert spends much of her time with seniors trying to get them to be OK with the colleges’ answers.

“Not every student gets into their first choice,” she said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not a school for them. Maybe they have to go to Plan B, but that doesn’t mean there is not someplace they can be really successful. I’m prepping them for a yes or no.”

Sometimes a college saying no is a student’s first rejection.

“It’s hard to get rejected,” she said. “But there are lots of different routes to being successful.”

Some schools have an appeals process that allows students to submit additional information, improved test scores or higher GPAs, she said.

Still others such as Clemson and the University of South Carolina have bridge programs where students attend a technical college for a year and, if they do well, are guaranteed admission the next year.

“If you can hang in there for a year, you’re still getting into the school you wanted to attend,” Tolbert said.

While students are waiting for their final answers or now find themselves with having to choose between a handful of schools, Tolbert advises them to continue to gather information.

Tolbert advises students to consider a number of factors. Which of the schools offer the major needed to lead a student to their desired career? What financial aid has the school offered? What is the real price of attendance taking that financial aid into consideration? Have you visited the campus now that you’ve been accepted? Where do you think you’ll fit in the best?

The college database: Weighing the pros and cons

Dylan McBride knows he will major in physics. What he doesn’t know is where he’ll attend. He’s gotten into Clemson and the Clemson Honors College, but he’s still waiting to hear from Notre Dame, Princeton, Davidson, Amherst, Williams and Stanford.

Once he gets those answers, McBride, who would be the first in his immediate family to graduate from college, will return to the spreadsheets he used to figure out which colleges to apply to in the first place.

“If one college has a particular fit, that’s going to be it,” he said. “Right now, my first choice is Notre Dame, but it’s all in the spreadsheets.”

Most colleges require a decision by May 1.


What is the academic common market?

The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Academic Common Market (ACM) enables students to pursue eligible out-of-state college degrees at discounted tuition rates. To qualify, a student must be a resident of one of the 15 SREB states, select an eligible program for residents of that state, be admitted to USC Columbia in one of these specific ACM-eligible programs, and be certified for Academic Common Market by completing their state’s application process.

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