Financial Aid Q&A

I find this Q&A on financial and the FAFSA in particular to be quite helpful.

Quick take aways: Pay attention to deadlines and details; write down your FAFSA pin (and don’t lose it); remember to update tax estimates ASAP if applicable.

Read the article here.


Recommendations or Letters of Support….From Your Parents?

This article got a TON of responses, and it is no wonder – I mean, recommendation or even letters of support from parents just doesn’t seem to sit well with me or many others. One of the main reasons behind why I feel this way is that there is a very inherent bias present, plain and simple. I also feel that if there are circumstances that should be addressed regarding the family or barriers, there are other more appropriate places for this, like in the optional essay or sending and additional letter or addendum outlining the details. Not a supporter of this in general; though I am always up for considering new tactics like this under certain circumstances.

Where to Attend???

How do students choose what college will be a good “fit” and ultimately where they will attend? According to Dr. Patricia McDonough, a top scholar on college choice, almost all students say they select their undergraduate institution because it has a “good academic reputation” (2004). Though this may be true for many students, there are a number of other important factors that should be taken into consideration when conducting their college search. School type, size, location, admissions criteria, majors offered, and athletics are just a number of these factors, some of which are discussed in detail in what follows. These factors rank differently in importance as each students wants, needs, and general circumstances are unique. Students should recognize that choosing a college is more than just deciding where they are going to live the next four years. For many, attending college, and to an extent where they attend plays an important role in meeting their goals for the future. Read this article, which cites a new report out from UCLA – what Mc Donough noted in 2004 has not changed!

More From the Numbers Game.

Shame on you Bloomberg – what a misleading title this article has! Yes, apps slowed – but only in comparison to the increases that took place over the last two years for the small number of schools mentioned. And impossible odds for admission? Just not true.  Take a look though if you are interested in numbers from some of the country’s top schools.

The Top 10 Myths of College Admission

Updated: More on myths. I tend to agree with 1, 4, and 5 – but feel they are all worth reading into further here.

The myths he spells out give hope to the less-than-perfect student. Mathew’s wrong ideas:

1. Colleges are impressed by a lot of extracurricular activities.

2. The more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes and tests, the better.

3. Every high school grade counts.

4. A student has little chance to get into a top school without an SAT prep course.

5. The harder a college is to get into, the more it will ensure a bright future.

Original Post:

Great article by Steve Cohen, a contributor at and author of the book Getting In!. Familiarize yourself with the myths below. As Steve notes, the college admission process is stressful and difficult.  Separating the myths from the realities will help you to navigate it more successfully and with less angst.

Myth #1: College are looking for the well-rounded kid. Sorry, no; they’re looking for the well-rounded class.  Colleges put together their entering class as a mosaic: a few great scholars for each academic department; a handful of athletes; some musicians, dancers, and theater stars; a few for racial and economic diversity; some potential club leaders, etc.  colleges want a kid who is devoted to – and excels at – something.  The word they most often use is passion.

Myth #2: It is a seller’s market. Believe it or not, you are in a better position than you realize.  That doesn’t mean you can play off Yale against Princeton, unless you are a phenomenal applicant; or USC against UCLA, if you are a very good one.  But only about 65 colleges nationwide reject more applicants than they accept.  Among the remainder, there are still many excellent and well-regarded institutions.   And this is the group you want to focus on in terms of your “possible” choices (vs. your “reaches”).

Myth # 3: Essays don’t really matter. The essay is an incredibly opportunity to say something positive and memorable about yourself.  Your grades are already pretty much set.  Your SAT or ACT scores are what they’re probably going to be. And yet most kids waste the opportunity of the essay.

We know that many kids wait until the last minute to write their application essays.  That is only part of the problem. Even those students who get started early – whether self-motivated or nagged to near-death by their parents – never leave enough time to re-write the essay.  Writing is easy; re-writing is hard. And essays deserve to be re-written several times.

Lots of kids think the objective is to write about something that will “impress” the admission office. In part that is true. But what impresses an admission officer is an essay that conveys something positive about the applicant; that allows the committee to get to know the kid just a bit from those few pieces of paper. The essay is an opportunity to provide a different perspective about the applicant, a reason to accept a kid.  It is an opportunity not to be wasted.

Myth #4: Interviews don’t really count. Most large colleges – and all the Ivy League schools – have done away with on-campus interviews.  (Many do, however, offer alumni interviews.)  If a college offers the opportunity for an interview, it is not really “optional.”   It is a must do.

Failure to take advantage of an interview sends a message to the college that you’re not really that interested in the school.  And because there are lots of kids with credentials similar to yours, colleges will absolutely prefer a student who does an interview over someone who doesn’t.  Similarly, colleges will react more positively to a student who has spent some time thinking about why a particular college interests them and why they are right for that school.  Which means: do some homework and practice for the interview.  You don’t want to sound robotic, but you also don’t want to suggest that you haven’t given  real thought to why you want to attend that college.

Myth #5: Asking for financial aid always hurts. At some colleges, asking for financial aid has no impact on the admission decision.  These are called need-blind schools.  At other schools, the need for financial aid can impact an admission decision- positively or negatively. Schools will tell you which process they use.  Know too that there is more money available – in grants and subsidized loans –than you probably realize, even for middle class families.  But you have to apply for it.

Myth #6: Early decision is only for legacies and kids who are absolutely sure where they want to attend. Early decision – where you apply early to just one school and are legally bound to attend if you are accepted – can double or even triple your chances of admission.  It is also a strategy used by most of the top prep school and private college counselors.

The kids who use the early admission option typically aren’t any more certain about the “perfect fit” of a particular place.  But they know that their odds of getting in are way better and are advised to suck it up and make a decision about where to apply.  If a college turns out to be a poor fit, you can always transfer.

One important caveat: although the odds of admission are much better for kids who apply early decision it is a not a strategy to employ for a “reach” college.

Myth #7: You better have an impressive list of extracurricular activities and community service. Kids – often egged on by their parents – think that they need a laundry list of extracurricular activities, sports, and a summer experience volunteering as a latrine-builder in Belize in order to get into a top college.  Absolutely not true.  Colleges, in putting together that well-rounded class, want to see passion and commitment.  One or two activities which you’ve dedicated yourself to and where you’ve achieved a leadership position is far more impressive than a laundry-list of activities where you’ve just dabbled.

In terms of community service, most high school require some sort of community service.  And many middle and upper-middle class families think that it will impress admission officers if junior has volunteered at a local hospital or participated in some summer program abroad.  Sorry, neither typically has much impact on an admission office – unless it is a multi-year or “above-and-beyond” commitment that shows passion and leadership.

Myth #8: Admission officers are never going to check my Facebook page. Don’t  bet on it!  Some colleges have an admission offices dedicated to checking out applicants’ Facebook pages.   In an admission pool of a gazillion kids with terrific credentials, colleges typically look for reasons to reject a kid.  Having a Facebook page with “inappropriate” photos is an easy reason to reject someone.  A simple rule: if your grandmother would be embarrassed by you Facebook posting, make sure it comes down.

Myth #9: Get those VIP Recommendations in Early. There is a well-established saying in the admission world: the thicker the folder, the thicker the kid.  Do not ask VIP’s – Congressmen, corporate CEO’s, members of the college’s board of trustees – to write recommendations for your kid.  Unless your child has actually worked for that person in a real and substantive context.  Colleges want teacher recommendations. – teachers who can provide insight into the student’s interests, strengths and growth.

Myth #10: Forget the “top” colleges; they’re way too expensive.  Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton all have sticker prices in excess of $60,000 a year.  They also have healthy endowments and strong commitments to helping students afford their colleges.  Students who attend these – and many other “top” colleges – find that they receive more financial aid and graduate with little or no student debt.  In fact, well-known “expensive” colleges are often less costly to attend than “second tier” or even state colleges.


Tips from CollegeWise I Can Stand Behind

Here are five expert tips from Weiner to keep in mind to give students even more college options for when they apply, whether it’s next year or several years down the road:  

1.  It’s never too late to improve.
“If you believe your current GPA is not a good representation of how well you can really do, start improving now. It’s almost certainly not too late. Colleges will look closely at your junior year performance, and many will even take the first semester of your senior year into account.   They’ll particularly pay attention to a trend of improvement. Don’t give up.  Show them that you are a late bloomer and getting better with age. Even if you’ve only got one semester left to show colleges what you’re capable of doing, show them!  Start now.”

2.  Maximize your academic strengths.
“Yes, it’s important to try hard in all your classes. But many students spend so much time trying to fix academic weaknesses that they forget to make the most of their innate strengths. If you’ve always liked history, take more demanding history courses. Take a Civil War or other history class over the summer at a local community college. Colleges aren’t just looking at your overall GPA – they’re always looking for signs of an academic spark in particular areas.”  

3.  Work, Intern – or Volunteer.
“Summer jobs or internships are great opportunities to learn new skills, network and beef up your college resume. February and March are not too soon to start trying to find work for this coming summer. If you can afford to intern unpaid, you might be able to get more cerebral and impressive experience, so call local law firms, publishers, radio stations and offer to work for free. If you need the cash, there is nothing wrong with babysitting, cleaning or painting neighbors’ houses, or flipping burgers. You can demonstrate responsibility, a strong work ethic and the ability to juggle and fulfill commitments – and make some money for college. One of the best things you can do this summer is help your community. Most charities need help and are more than willing to work around your schedule. Call the Sierra Club, Ronald McDonald House, whatever meets your interest. Volunteer work is challenging and rewarding – and, yes, it looks great on college applications. By the way, working and volunteering are not mutually exclusive, and doing both is impressive to anyone taking a look at your qualifications.”

4.  Take responsibility for your academic performance.
“I see a lot of students who try to blame other people for their own academic shortcomings, saying things like, ‘I got a D because my teacher didn’t like me.’ Colleges don’t want students who make excuses. If you haven’t done as well as you’d like to in high school, admit it and be honest about why that happened.  Show colleges you’ve learned from your mistakes by admitting fault and turning your performance around immediately. Colleges will be impressed by the maturity you show when you take responsibility for your actions and do what it takes to change.”    

5.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Many of the students who earn the best grades are the same ones who aren’t afraid to admit when they just don’t get it. There’s no shame in asking for help. So if you didn’t understand a single syllable in your trigonometry class today, ask the teacher after class. If you studied really hard and still did poorly on your chemistry test, meet with your teacher and try to find out where you went wrong – and how to do better. If you’re having trouble in a number of your classes and think you might need to make some changes or get tutoring, talk with your counselor and get his or her advice.  Students who are willing to ask for extra help when they need it are the ones who are eager to learn and who impress teachers, counselors and colleges.”


As Early Decision Applications Increase…So Does Competition.

This is one of many posts on the increase in the number of early decision applications submitted for the class of 2016. With schools like Princeton having recently reinstated early decision policies, it is no wonder that others followed suit. What is surprising is what is reported in this article, which notes the number of “typical” early decision admits (think those from elite private schools and from affluent families – who have been noted to apply early at a rate greater than their public school and less affluent counterparts) has decreased. An increase in competition, or as this article makes light of – is it something else that is at work? Anti 1% sentiment, financial need on part of the university, or maybe just the fact that many schools are bored/fed up with/insert your explanation here elite high school kids? Whatever the explanation, in no way is it a bad thing that the early decision playing field seems to be opening up somewhat.

A snippet:

“Early decision historically tended to be more homogenous than the regular pool — more white, more upper-class and upper-middle-class, less international,” said Jess Lord, dean of admissions and financial aid at Haverford. “That’s changing fast.”

Of the 726 students accepted to Princeton last month, 56 percent attend public high schools, up from 50 percent five years earlier, the last time it had early admissions; and 37 percent are minorities, up from 31 percent. Among Harvard’s 772 early admits, almost 20 percent are black or Hispanic, compared with 15 percent of those admitted early in 2005.