05/07/2013 05:26 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

Colleges Still Looking for Seniors--and Offering Cash!

More than one senior gets to this time of the year and feels their college plans are all wrong. They may have changed their mind about being so far from home, or perhaps they've lost interest in the major they loved in September--or it could be that their dream college is just slightly out of reach of their budget after all.

Whatever the reason, there's still ample time to apply to colleges eager for your application. Every year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling releases a Space Availability Survey in May. The colleges that respond indicate if they are still accepting freshmen or transfer students for the fall semester. The survey also indicates if financial aid and housing are available for the fall.

This year's survey offers good news on all fronts. A little over 200 of the colleges responding to the survey have space for freshmen, and 208 are looking for transfer students. 208 colleges also have housing openings for the fall (these may not be the same 208 colleges that are still welcoming applications from transfer students), and 210 have their own money available to help students pay for college. It's important to remember this is on top of the federal college money students can still apply for by completing the FAFSA.

As you take a look at the survey results and consider your college plans, it's important to keep some key ideas in mind:

You have to start the conversation with the colleges You may be used to getting a flood of postcards and e-mails from colleges asking you to apply, but that's probably not going to happen right now. Since most students have made their college decisions, the student lists most colleges had in the fall aren't up to date. In addition, NACAC's ethical code of conduct states member colleges can't actively recruit students who they know have accepted an offer at another college--but you can still contact them, even if you've committed to another school.

The bottom line is that the next move is up to you. If you see a college on the list that looks promising, contact them right away, since the spots they have--and the cash they can give out--may be limited.

There may be other colleges with spaces as well If the survey doesn't list a college you want to attend, this isn't the time to give up. Some colleges don't reply to the NACAC survey, while others have openings that occur after the survey was conducted. This is especially true this year, since the Wall Street Journal reports that the number of students accepting college offers is down at some schools by almost a third, compared to last year. That's a lot of openings.

The only way to know if a college has space is to contact them--and if the answer is no for now, it may be worth calling again in a few weeks.

The college you've said yes to may not give you your deposit back, or let you out of any housing agreement you've signed. If you're thinking of making a change, you should read your enrollment and housing contracts, or call the college and ask--and be ready to have them fight for you, perhaps by offering more aid.

This isn't the time to be like the students in this NACAC video, and assume choices are limited. Now is the time to keep your options open--but now more than ever, it's up to you to take the first step.