03/14/2014 05:05 pm ET Updated May 14, 2014

Surprise! Two Bumps and One Jump-Start for High School Seniors on the Road to College

We're into the middle of March now, and for many seniors it feels like the long college admissions nightmare is about to come to an end. They're right, but for some students there may be a few unexpected bumps before they hit the road for college.

Here are three parent questions that just arrived via my computer about a couple of those bumps.

The First Bump

Bumpy Road Question 1:

When my son applied to college, he also asked for financial aid. We are thrilled with his acceptances and especially the early scholarship offers. So far, a not-so-favorite school has offered him the most money. Though his favorite school has said yes to him, their financial aid offer is quite a bit lower. Is there anything he/we can do?

Bumpy Road Answer 1:

Have your son immediately write a letter to his favorite school's admissions dean, thanking him for the acceptance and noting that the college is his number one choice. Your son should also tell the dean that he has other acceptances, including some that offer him more financial aid (give a little information about what the awards are). Your son should then ask if the favorite college would match (or come close to) the other schools' financial offers, assuring the dean that he would definitely attend if awarded more support.

In the letter, have your son summarize the strengths he noted on his original application, and add any new awards/recognition or activities he has accrued since. He should also identify all the ways he would contribute to the college. Finally, I urge your son to say that if he had a little more financial help from the school and ended up attending, he would make sure that the admissions office never regretted their decision.

Your son has nothing to lose by taking this action; but you never know what will happen as a result. He may or may not get the extra funding, but at least he will have done everything he could to make it happen.

By the way, should you have other youngsters in high school, my friend Lynn O'Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution, offers a list of the "63 Most Generous Colleges and Universities" on a CBS Money Watch blog. With your next family admissions applicant, try starting out the admissions process by identifying colleges known for their generosity. That way you'll know that your son or daughter's college list will be in the "right" financial ballpark.

The Second Bump

This next question is pretty scary and my heart goes out to the girl who received it and also to her parents.

Bumpy Road Question 2:

In December, my daughter's favorite Ivy League school accepted her Early Decision application. We have been celebrating ever since. A couple of days ago, she received a letter from the dean of admissions saying his office had received her midterm report that included two B's in AP classes. The dean then said that this was very disappointing and he expected her to bring the two Bs up to As second semester, or her acceptance could be rescinded. Do colleges really do this?

Bumpy Road Answer 2:

The answer is yes. Many students and parents don't realize that applicants accepted in early admission programs such as EA, Restrictive Early Action, ED or even Rolling Admissions can have their admissions revoked if they don't perform academically as expected. You probably thought that this could only happen to a student who gets a C or lower grade on their transcript after first or second semester. Your daughter's nerve-racking letter is proof that sometimes even B grades are not acceptable. Colleges are very serious about not wanting early admissions to slack off anytime during their senior year. So it doesn't take much for a student record to throw out a red flag, particularly to very competitive colleges.

This is my advice: Take the letter very seriously. The first thing your daughter needs to do is send an upbeat, factual, non-defensive response to the dean, explaining the circumstances of the grade drop. I strongly suggest that she confirms that the Bs won't happen again. Also have her high school college counselor (or another high ranking school official such as a Vice Principal) go to bat for her with a supportive phone call, email or letter.

As her parent, help your daughter pull together a plan of action that will assure her of getting As in place of those two now infamous Bs. In fact, urge her to not just aim for As, go over the top and reach for A+s. Have her talk to the teachers of both classes and let them know about the dean's letter. Before she meets them, though, see what you can do to help her diagnose what happened in the classes to get the B grades in the first place. Come up with ways to turn the situation around; when she consults the teachers, she will then have ideas to share with them. Your daughter should ask the teachers for their recommendations about how to excel in their classes, reminding them that this is not grade-grubbing, but rather an action that will save her acceptance to the one and only ED college she has. She might also ask for names of tutors, if that seems appropriate.

Another thought: If not having enough study time is part of the problem because involvement in multiple activities, help her decide how to cut down (or out) on the less important activities.

Not a Bump, But a Jump Start

How about a good news question?

Jump-Start Question 3:

My son just received a letter from a college admissions office that said he was going to be offered a special scholarship for the class of 2014-15. BUT there was no offer of acceptance to the college. We are excited, and a little confused. Can you tell us what is going on?

Jump-Start Answer 3:

First of all, congratulations to you and your son; this is very good news! Let me explain: In order to gain an edge on their competition and win over highly desirable applicants, in late winter or early spring some colleges send out "likely to get in," "wink letters" or handwritten notes from the Dean of Admissions to a select group of students. While not official, these letters usually arrive weeks before regular admittance letters, offer heaps of praise, hints of future acceptance and/or scholarship money likely to come. Students can consider these letters as admissions "money in the bank." They are real. If your kid gets one, three cheers for him and you!

Last Words

Finally, should your senior have difficulty deciding which college to attend, have a look at my blog, "Deciding on One College from All of Your Choices." And if he or she gets wait-listed and wants to get off, go to my "Getting off a College Wait List" blog for a step by step list of things to do.

Don't forget that your student needs to say yes by May 1 to the school he or she decides to attend. Yes, it really is almost over!