Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to be Authentic in Three Easy Steps!

As I race around this month, meeting with students to help them craft their Common App essays and supplements, I have noticed that students seem to struggle with the same issue. Many feel they have to have a dramatic story or momentous experience to write about in order to write a good essay. Some of the new Common App prompts seem to provide the perfect framework in which to share a significant experience, but what is a student to do if he or she hasn't had that defining moment yet? What if the moment of realization that that student is no longer a child hasn't happened yet? What if there is no story central to his or her identity that is worthy of note?

The default prompt for kids without a compelling story to tell seems to be writing about a place where the writer is content. If a student chooses this prompt, he or she should remember that the place need not be geographical, e.g. a ski mountain or Tel Aviv, and an even better more personal and moving essay can be developed if a physical place isn't the place of contentedness. It can be an emotional "place", chilling with the family dog after a rough day, or spending time with an elderly relative, hearing stories about the old days, doing chores for them or sharing a meal.

Students should think outside the box when crafting the essay. It's the only opportunity an admissions officer will have to really get to know the applicant beyond the data elsewhere on the application. Seize the opportunity to do so. Be authentic and the essay will make sense.

Of course the most important consideration when preparing an essay for submission is to have someone else read it! Whether it is a paid essay expert, a trusted teacher or counselor, or even a parent or friend with an eye for grammar and usage, have someone read it through and mark it up with a red pen. It is hard to spot mistakes in your own work and there is no more awful feeling than realizing there is a huge typo in the middle of your essay AFTER you have pressed the submit button!

Friday, August 9, 2013

DIII and the Student Athlete

Many parents dream of athletic scholarships for little Susie, starting perhaps when she is four years old and dominating the soccer pitch. About 2% of high school athletes receive athletic scholarships and this includes partial scholarships as well as those that may only cover one year. Only DI and DII schools may award scholarships to athletes. DIII is another kettle of fish. Read on for some simple tips to keep in mind as your student considers playing at DIII.
  • While DIII schools do not award athletic scholarships, students who qualify can receive generous financial aid packages including grant or gift money that need not be paid back. Anecdotally, it is suspected that a desirable prospective DIII athlete who qualifies for aid may actually receive a package that includes more grant money and fewer loans than a non-athlete. 
  • There is no such thing as a commitment from a DIII coach- there are no guarantees in this division.  A DIII coach and an athlete have a handshake agreement at best. An email from a coach is not a commitment no matter how enthusiastic.  There is no Letter of Intent, no signing ceremony and nothing but good faith between a coach and athlete.  Every high school and independent counselor has a story to tell about the kid who had a "commitment" from a DIII coach, and was not admitted. 
  • Coaches at DIII have a certain number of slots for their team. They will reserve those slots for the most talented athletes. Other students who may be attractive applicants can be lobbied for or supported in admissions by a coach BUT another slightly more attractive applicant can appear out of the blue and a coach may throw his weight behind that student instead. 
  • It ain't over 'til it's over...Until a student has an acceptance in hand and an aid package, if applicable, that works for his family, that student should not consider him or herself admitted. Students should strive to have a back up plan- applications for other schools should be completed before the ED notification date. EDII is a good option for student athletes who find themselves in this situation.  
  • While almost all coaches are genuinely interested in helping students, and are well-intentioned, a handful are known to manipulate the system or worse, lead students to believe the deal is done when the opposite is true. Caveat Emptor.
  • NCAA has a set of rules and guidelines with which students are required to apply. Check those out here: DIII NCAA Guidelines
  • NESCAC, an athletic conference that includes many top ranked liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, has its own set of recruiting guidelines and rules. They should be reviewed for compliance and can be found here: NESCAC Prospective Student Guidelines

Monday, July 29, 2013

Countdown to Common App!

For those of you in the throes of the college admissions process, or those lucky enough to be spectating from a safe distance, mark your calendars! The Common App goes live on Thursday, August 1.  This is the time to spend an hour looking over the way it is structured, get familiar with moving around within it, and finalize your list. Herewith, a few tips to help wrestle the Common App into submission and a link to a very helpful Powerpoint on this brand-new version:

  • CA4: First Look Webinar PowerPoint Presentation
  • If you haven't yet looked at the new essay prompts, those can be found online prior to 8/1, as in at this very moment. As I discussed in my last blog entry, the topic of your choice prompt is conspicuously absent, so your story has to fit into one of the new prompts. It's not as hard as it may seem.
  • In some districts, the Common App "talks" to Naviance, so make sure your list of schools is the same on both sites.
  • Check and double check all your deadlines. And then check them again.
  • The Common App will ask if you want to self-report test scores and dates, so be mindful as to whether your schools participate in Score Choice, allowing you to choose your best test date, or if they expect to see all your test scores. They will still require you send official score reports.
  • New this year is the chance to submit an app to one school, then return to the Common App and change some elements, including deleting your test scores for test-optional schools. 
  • The Common App has an app, so you can check on some elements on the run. You should not enter any real data on a device though; stick to the desktop, with no diversions around you, when entering data or uploading essays. 
  • In my college advisory practice, I encourage students to create a word doc for all their essay prompts- Common App essay, all supplements and non-Common App schools. This way, using some text from one essay in another is easier, deciding to work on your essays means having everything in one place, and it helps you stay on top of it all. Be sure to back up the file; email it to a parent or save to a flash drive as you work on it. Also, essays are no longer uploaded; they are cut and pasted or typed directly into the text box instead. 
  • EC data is also easier to enter and move around. Be sure to be honest about your hours of participation; inflating them is never worth the risk of being called out on it.
  • Check everything over at least twice. Be sure you don't explain your great affection for School A in an essay for School B. It's been done... 
  • Have everything for RD deadlines ready to go when you submit your ED app. A denial or deferral can take the wind from your sails, and make it tough to get motivated to finish up other applications.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Essay Writing Season is Upon Us!

Fear not, young college applicant! You too can write a great essay that just may tip the scales...and may the odds ever be in your favor!

There is a lot of chatter on college admissions blogs and message boards about how a great essay can get you in even if all your stats are below the middle 50%. Let me disabuse you of that notion; a great essay cannot compensate for below average stats for a given school. If you are within the range of accepted students in the last admissions season, or your application has gone to committee, a great essay can help, especially if you engage the reader with a great topic, first sentence and a theme that makes sense and is well constructed. Even if you are the next Melville, if your stats are not in line, your essay will not be your golden ticket.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you dive into the juicy new Common App prompts. Don't you love being the guinea pig class that gets to be the first to use these? Yeah, didn't think so...
  • Don't be a Negative Nancy or Nick! Don't blame your teachers, parents, or your own laziness or immaturity for lousy grades. Keep it positive, no matter what. 
  • Don't write about your community service trip, no matter how transformative it was. You can throw in a reference to it, but don't make it the theme! These essays, particularly when penned by a student whose parents paid upward of $5k for that life-changing experience, are not meaningful, and have even been the butt of more than a few jokes in those hallowed admissions offices.
  • Unless you are a recruited athlete, don't write about the big game. Writing about being cut from the team and discovering another passion you suddenly have time for would make a great essay. 
  • The prompt about the place where you are most content doesn't have to be addressed geographically. Maybe it's with your 96 year old grandmother, making mozzarella by hand in her miniscule kitchen, or building Legos with your little sister early on a weekend morning. Please don't write about vacations at your home in Aspen or the condo in Cabo.
  • Don't give away the farm in your first sentence. Draw the reader in with a tantalizing peek at your topic, don't be snarky, it's OK to be funny if you are a naturally funny writer and PLEASE don't throw something out that is so obtuse that it makes no sense...unless you applying to the University of Chicago, where obtuse is practically a requirement!
  • Edit, edit and edit again. Write all your thoughts on your topic in a bulleted list, put together a draft, let it sit for a few days, edit a bit, let it sit again and then edit a bit more. Be sure to ask a favorite teacher, adult who does some writing, or another trusted person to red pen it carefully before you submit. Another set of eyes can be your biggest asset.
  • Don't get into any hot button political issues unless you can present a fair and balanced case. An incendiary or heavily one-sided essay could be read by someone with an opposing view on your topic and might be offended.
  • Word counts really matter this year: 650 tops and 250 minimum are the strict parameters. Its easier to cut an essay that is too long than lengthen one that is too short. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Student Loan Drama Continues...

Congress, by failing to act, allowed the interest rate on Stafford loans for students with demonstrated need to double. While this affects only new loans for the Class of 2017 and those who need to take out new loans for the balance of their educations, student debt has already reached astronomical levels, almost a trillion dollars at last count. $1000 a year increase in interest payments may not mean much to some, but for a recent grad earning $35k a year in an entry-level job, it’s a lot, especially if some have other student debt borrowed privately to service too.  If no extension is passed, the interest rate will remain at 6.8%, the same that students pay who do not demonstrate need. Currently, students who do not qualify for federal student aid can borrow under the Stafford plan and pay the higher interest rate of 6.8% but if there is no extension, students who receive a subsidized below market interest rate on their loans will see their interest rate remain at the same 6.8% rate.  

Why does this stink? Because while the belief that students who cannot afford college without some loans should receive a below market interest loan is that of the majority of our lawmakers, they can’t seem to come to terms with finding enough common ground to pass an extension. Students are still having a tough time finding work even with a degree in hand and servicing debt from Stafford loans and possibly other loans used for education can be near impossible. Mark Kantrowitz, financial aid guru, thinks it isn’t a big deal, but many students think otherwise.

The pundits say the student debt bubble will be the next to burst. If Congress doesn’t enact new legislation, retroactive for new loans, they will have no one to blame but themselves if the bubble does burst. While some Congressional leaders think colleges need to consider why tuition increases have jumped more than any other tracked prices, punishing the students is not a solution.

Personally, I think if colleges and universities stopped spending enormous sums on glossy brochures and mailings, with the goal of driving up app numbers and driving down acceptance rates, and used the money to provide need based grant aid, everyone would benefit and students could borrow less and need to service less after graduation. My own kid received 54 lbs. (yes, I kept and weighed it) of promotional mail from schools during junior and senior year. Oddly the school he chose to attend sent one mailing and the one that sent the most, 22 pieces in all, was one he never even considered or showed any interest toward. College rankings force many schools to market themselves aggressively. Does this marketing have an influence on the increase in debt? I am absolutely sure it does.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Does Fisher Decision Mean for College Admissions?

It was a big week for SCOTUS decisions, and an even bigger one for the impact one of those decisions will have on college admissions, if not now then someday soon. While the court did not overturn the U Michigan Law School case, which allows for race to be considered in the admissions process, and SCOTUS "punted" the case back down to the lower courts, there is something worthy of note in the decision.

The Supreme Court wrote in its decision that colleges and universities need to review their affirmative action policies more carefully, and apply greater scrutiny to the application of such policies. Lower courts should no longer just "rubber stamp" a school's desire to consider race in the application process. This means that a school has to show that there is no other effective and meaningful tool for them to bring diversity to a campus other than considering race in the application process. The lower court did not do this, so SCOTUS sent the case back to see whether UT could figure out how to create a diverse campus another way. Officials from UT stated after the decision was announced that they had no intention of changing their policies for admissions any time soon.

I honestly don’t know how else a campus community can be representative of the diverse country we reside in without considering race. How else would a college be able to identify students of color if not through self-identification? Economic diversity is easier to achieve; just give academically qualified students enough institutional gift aid, not loans, to enable them to attend. Will underrepresented minority students have to come up with another way to identify their status as such? Will the new Common App question asking if students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it be the place to self-identify?

Time will tell, as will future cases heard by lower courts, whether there is another way to assure diversity on campus.  I am not confident there is. For the moment, though, as campuses nationwide better reflect the colors of our citizens than they ever have before, I cannot think of a better way to improve the settings in which we teach the next generation of leaders. Can you?

Monday, June 17, 2013

SCOTUS, UT and College Admissions

College admissions officers, administrators, counselors and students are waiting with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s decision on a case heard earlier this year. Fischer v. University of Texas is a suit brought against the University by a student who was denied admission. Admission to UT is guaranteed to Texas residents who graduate from a Texas high school in the top 10% of the class; beyond that group, admissions is holistic, considering all the stuff we already know all colleges consider in the admissions process. The plaintiff alleges that her Caucasian race put her at a disadvantage for admission, as the University seeks greater diversity on campus. The case asks that the court declare the admissions policy of the University inconsistent with another related case, Grutter v. Bollinger, or overrule it in its entirety. Grutter v. Bollinger is a 2003 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that race could play a limited role in the admissions policies of public universities. An overruling of Grutter could end conscious affirmative action policies in admissions at U.S. public universities.

In a lower court decision, it was ruled that Fischer’s race could be taken into account when her candidacy was reviewed.  In the Grutter decision, it was stated that sorting applicants by race, forbidden in any other public entity, was permissible in public university admissions. While many private colleges and universities have expressed a preference for a diverse campus, and make admissions decisions based on those preferences, they are private institutions and can, to some extent, do as they please. Publics need to acknowledge their admissions standards and defend their legality when challenged.

So, a student who self-identifies on an application that he or she is an under- represented minority may be given preference over a student who chose not to check the box indicating ethnicity, or indicated that he or she is Caucasian. What does this mean for the typical American high school student who is applying to a public university? Does it mean that Common App forms for public universities won't have a space anymore to indicate ethnicity or minority status? Maybe. Does it mean that public universities that are committed to a diverse student body will find other ways for students to self-identify? Maybe. Or does it mean that the playing field is completely level now and every student, regardless of color, race, or birthplace will be considered solely on his or her academic merits when applying to a public university, diversity be damned? Is this a good thing?  A bad thing? Who knows?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rankings: A College Love/Hate Relationship

Everyone who has gone through the college admissions process has looked up a school on one or another rankings list. Love them or hate them, rankings have a place in the admissions process but just how useful are they? A little exploration reveals the good, the bad and the ugly of the college rankings business.

If you have been reading this blog, you know the games colleges can play with yield and acceptance rates and can actually impact their numbers by not admitting students they know are unlikely to attend. Others try to influence rankings by making marketing a priority to boost application numbers and could fund 500 full rides with the money they spend mailing out glossy brochures to everyone who got over a certain number on the PSATs. This "information" is gathered from the schools by the rankings companies and used to move schools around the lists. Some schools have recently admitted to manipulating or outright lying about their accepted average test scores to boost rankings, (Claremont McKenna, Iona and Baylor come to mind) and still others (High Point, Wash U in St Louis and Tufts to name a few) choose not to publish their Common Data Sets making their statistical data unavailable to prospective students.

So, given the ease with which rankings can be manipulated, how can a student use them to help figure out where to apply? Herewith, a few suggestions to keep in mind when using rankings:

  • Forbes rankings uses Ratemyprofessor.com to determine student happiness. Students have been known to create dozens of screen names to post harsh reviews after getting a bad grade. That is no way to decide if a school is right for you. 
  • Some highly regarded schools like Reed College (ranked #4 in PhD productivity meaning only 3 other schools produce a greater percentage of students who go on to get a PhD) have low rankings because they choose not to participate in rankings. 
  • If a school site touts their ranking in a giant banner on the first page, be sure to read the fine print. Is it a regional ranking? Ranking based on some other factor like weather, food, or dorms? Many schools omit that key factor when announcing their most recent ranking.
  • Some schools, like Clemson, openly admitted to manipulating faculty salary data and class size to influence their ranking. They stated they had a mission to bring up the school's ranking and figured out how. It worked but at what cost?
  • Payscale.com ranks schools based on income upon graduation. The list is weighted heavily to Engineering schools. Not a surprise given that starting salaries in Engineering are consistently higher than any other field. 
Use rankings to make sure you aren't missing a school that has a program you might love, or gives great merit aid, or likes students who fit your profile. Don't use them solely to make a list of colleges to apply to. The top schools don't accept more than 5-15% of applicants so be sure you take off the blinders and see the other 2950 schools in the USA. Rankings can help add to or narrow down a list, but they should be only one factor in a decision that may influence the rest of your life.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

What Exactly is Rigor?

What exactly does rigor of curriculum mean? Does it mean that a student should cram in as many AP and/or honors classes that can fit in a schedule, even if it means possibly earning lower grades and maybe having a lower GPA? Or, should students stick with accelerated classes only in subjects they are good at? If APs are not weighted, how beneficial are they on a transcript? If a high school practices gatekeeping, meaning they have non-negotiable pre-reqs for every honors or AP class, it is worth it to beg to be put in? Sign a waiver acknowledging you are taking the class without the teacher's approval? Or hire a tutor from the first day to assure success?

Everyone wants to know the answer to the big question: would a college admissions officer rather see a 3.3 with several AP and honors classes or a 3.6 with fewer? Well, the pat answer from the most competitive college admissions offices is they want rigor AND excellent grades. Colleges, especially those that have the lowest admissions rates, typically weight an applicant's curriculum more than anything else, excepting those of recruited athletes. They want to know that a student will be successful in a place filled with "super-achievers", and the best way to show that a student will be is with a really impressive transcript.

  • If you are an inquisitive student, one who loves to learn, load up that transcript! The highest level courses are often taught by the most passionate teachers, so odds are that a student might just learn to like a subject he or she may have felt lukewarm about before.
  • If you have good time management skills, and can manage a heavy workload along with extra- curriculars, community service, sports, music, a job, and a few hours here and there for sleep, then go for it! At the AP or honors level, the workload grows exponentially, so be prepared for a lot of reading, writing, labs and problem sets.
  • If you are a science and math type, consider taking AP English or a foreign language if you can. Most schools value students who have a strong foundation in lots of different disciplines. 
  • The admissions officer who reads applications for your high school will likely know exactly what is offered, and may wonder why you didn't take that tougher Chemistry class if you are applying as a pre-med. If they aren't too familiar with your school's offerings, one glance at the profile can answer any questions.
  • Don't worry if your high school doesn't weight your GPA; most admissions officers will highlight your honors, AP or dual-enrollment courses when reviewing your application. Your GPA is typically adjusted to adhere to a fixed methodology and they will know you took 8 APs!
The bottom line is take the hardest classes you can if you are looking to earn admission to a school with competitive admissions. Even athletes seeking admission to the Ivies or top ranked LACs have a better shot at the tippy-tops with a rigorous curriculum based on the Academic Index calculations that govern Ivy athletic recruiting. So, push yourself now and you will be so glad you did later!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The NACAC "Panic" List

Each year, in early May, after the date by which students were to have sent deposits, NACAC (governing body for college counselors) releases a list of schools that still have openings for their freshman class, spots for transfers, and still have aid in the coffers. 72% are private colleges, 99% have housing available, and while some may not be household names, a few are Colleges that Change Lives, some have excellent programs in specific areas, and some might surprise you! These schools have space because their yield projections were off, and they have not met their target class size. It doesn't mean they aren't "good" schools, it just means their math was off a bit this admissions cycle. Colleges want to fill every seat; an empty seat means lost tuition dollars.

Why, you might wonder, would anyone need to access this list? Well, there are a few reasons- some HS students may have been unsure of what they wanted to do after graduation, some may have had financial concerns that may have kept them from making plans, others still may not have had the outcomes they expected in terms of acceptances, and still others may have other reasons-health, family issues, etc. Whatever the reason, there are still options for students to attend college in September. Below are some of the schools that still have space. If a student is interested in applying, the first order of business is to call the Admissions office and confirm the space availability. The admissions office will guide the student from that point as schools may have different processes for late applicants.

Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College), PA  Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Arizona State University, AZ Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Beloit College, WI Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Bryant University RI, Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
Coastal Carolina University, Freshmen, Transfers, Aid and Housing available
University of Florida, Limited Freshmen, Transfer, Aid and Housing available
University of Maine, Freshmen, Transfer, Aid and Housing available
University of San Francisco Freshmen, Transfer, Housing available, limited Aid available

For the complete list, follow this link!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Waiting on the Wait List

Now that National Deposit Day has come and gone and students have made their decisions, it's time for the wait lists to begin to move. May 1, a.k.a. National Deposit Day is the day by which schools will have (ideally) received enrollment deposits from all the students who intend to attend. Some students who feel they need a little more time to decide may send deposits to more than one school. While everyone knows choosing a school is a big decision, and one that cannot be made hastily, if you send a deposit to more than one school, know that you might be prolonging the wait another student has if that student is on the wait list.

During the next 10 days, schools will begin to tally their acceptances and accompanying deposits. Once they have established how much of the class has been filled, they can move on to the wait list or not use it at all. Let's look at a hypothetical situation; a competitive school with a class size of 1000, accepted half the Class of 2017 through ED and EDII. For the 500 remaining spots, the school accepted 1500 students and assumes a 33% or 1/3 yield based on historical trends and tweaked for a greater (or lesser) number of applicants. If less than 1/3 send a deposit and the target class size has not been met, a college will turn to the wait list. They may choose who gets a phone call (it's a phone call typically) based on whether they need a student from a certain region, someone who has indicated a selected major, a theatre type, or even another male student- there are currently more females seeking admission these days. Some wait list students were offered a spot as a courtesy to legacies or those with other types of connections, and likely will not be offered a place.

If you do get the call, you will probably be given a very small window in which to make your decision. Some schools will give you 24 hours, some that are far from your home town might give you a week to make a quick visit to help you decide, and still others will expect an answer within a few days. While you should never count on a wait list moving in your favor, it is a good idea to consider what you might do if the call should come. Don't call the admissions office to ask if they have moved to the wait list. They have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks finalizing the class and they know you are waiting to hear. If you have communicated with them and let them know you would attend if offered a place, you have done all you can. Just get on with the fun of the end of your senior year and get ready for the next part of your life.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Key Questions to ask about Study Abroad

Almost every school with a residential population offers students chances to study somewhere else but there are many variable and options. If a chance to live abroad is really important to you, do your homework and ask questions. It's a good way to show interest, and you will get an idea of whether any given school will have what you want.

Here are a few of the questions students should really ask at those info sessions!

  • Does the school run its own programs?
  • If so, does faculty from the campus travel with the students?
  • If not, where are the faculty from?
  • Can I choose to study with a program from another school if my school doesn't have a program in the country I want to go to?
  • Can I study at a university in the country where I will be living or do I just take classes with the other students from my college?
  • Does the credit from a foreign university transfer? 
  • If so can it be used to fulfill a core curricular requirement?
  • Does it cost more to study abroad?
  • Does financial aid travel with me when I go abroad?
  • Do I live with a family, in a dorm or in another kind of student housing?
  • How strong do my language skills have to be?
  • Will I have to sign a language contract to speak only the language of the country I am in?
  • Can I go abroad if I am premed/an engineering student/in a combined or accelerated degree program?
  • Will I have housing when I get back? 
  • Will the program offer travel opportunities within the country with faculty?
  • If I go through another school's program, how will my grades be included on my transcript?
  • Are there cultural opportunities, community service projects and enhancements to the program included?
Every school has different programs, requirements, options, merits and weaknesses, so be sure to ask questions before you apply. If you don't, you might find out your first choice school might be missing something key to your desired experience.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A FinAid Primer; Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Here are a few terms that every college applicant and his or her family should be familiar with. Financial aid is more than student loans. It may mean merit aid, loans made to the student at beneficial interest rates, loans for parents, and what it really means when a school declares it meets all demonstrated need, or is need-aware.  Less than 1% of college bound HS seniors can foot the bill for college without loans.

Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA): This document is the jumping off point for all need-based money for college that comes from somewhere else besides the student and his or her family. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for aid, this document will allow students to get federal loans for college not based on need. There is some evidence that students who don’t need aid but have small student loans do better in school and are more likely to graduate on time!

Net Price Calculator (NPC): Any school that provides federal loans to students has to have an NPC page on their website. This calculation estimates how much a student will have to borrow, or, in the case of a school that has institutional need-based grants or scholarships to give away, how much that student will receive, and not have to pay back, ASSUMING THEY ARE ADMITTED. These calculators start with the Cost of Attendance (COA) and can give applicants a rough idea of what it might cost to attend.

Estimated Family Contribution (EFC): a fairly complex calculation that predicts what a family will be expected to contribute to the cost of one year of college. It is based on parent income, assets, student income, state of residency relative to taxes and a few other items. The last year’s tax return for the family is required to complete the EFC

CSS Profile: Another financial aid document that some schools use that requires more in-depth information and data. Many of the most competitive schools, those with the greatest institutional aid to give away (think big endowments) require this document in addition to the FAFSA.

Need-aware: this means a college admissions office takes into account whether you are applying for financial aid. If you are a full-pay student, meaning you don’t qualify for aid, and are footing the bill yourself, you may have a slight edge in admissions at these schools. While it can’t make up for a low GPA and lousy test scores, it might help if your application hangs in the balance!

Need-blind: This means a school completely disregards your financial need when deciding whether to admit you. It doesn’t matter if you need a full ride, a half ride or a little extra cash. Wait lists are rarely need-blind; colleges replenish their depleted funds at the end of the admissions cycle with full pay students from the wait list. If you don’t need aid, your chances of admission off a wait list are slightly better.

Meeting all Need: a small handful of schools are committed to meeting all demonstrated need (FAFSA and CSS Profile documents must be filed in order to have all need met). This means they will foot the bill for anything beyond the EFC (see above). This means students will graduate without any debt and why the lowest income student will likely pay less at a top private than at an in state public U.

Need-blind but not meeting all need: This means that while the admissions office does not consider need in the application process, the financial aid office may not be able to defray the cost of attendance enough to make attendance possible. So you may get in, but the school won't help you foot the bill.

Confused? Lost? Need help? Drop me a note at AthenaAdvisors@optimum.net for a lifeline!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Envelope Please!

The Envelope Please!
Ok so it’s not really an envelope anymore.  It’s an email with a link, or a webpage login and password punched in as the clock strikes the appointed hour. However your news arrives, it is either the end of a journey, as a front runner emerges, or it’s the start of another journey that can last a couple of months. The admissions cycle is far from over for some, who will be zigzagging around the country, attending Accepted Students events, sitting in on classes, appealing Financial Aid packages, collecting string bags and pens, and trying to decide which school feels right and which sticker looks the best on the rear windshield. Others await the news on whether the wait list will move this year. Here are a few tips to get through the next few months if you find yourself in wait list limbo:
  • ·      Don’t count on a wait list moving. Treat it like a deferral from ED. Assume you won’t get in and be pleasantly surprised if you do.
  • ·      Wait lists are almost always need-aware, so if you are applying for financial aid, it is unlikely you will be admitted with any grant or gift aid- money that need not be paid back- and be offered only loans instead.
  • ·      Put a deposit down at the school in second place. Don’t wait to see if the wait list moves or you may lose your spot.
  • ·      Go through the motions as if you were attending #2 choice; housing deposits, Facebook Class of 2017 pages, even roommate searches should all be completed, joined and checked off.
  • ·      Summer melt, the admissions term for wait list spots that open after June 1, are rare and unlikely, so once you receive word that the list has closed, move on.
  • ·      Don’t inundate the admissions office with love letters and news about your recent accomplishments. If they need a softball player who plays the piccolo and wants to study Swahili, they know where to find you.
  • ·      Check the Common Data Set for the school at which you are wait listed to see what has happened with their wait list in the past. You can see how many were offered a place on it, how many accepted one and how many actually earned admission. While every year is different, it can shed some light on how much competition you might have. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Making the Most of the College Visit

Here are a few tips to help make the most of the upcoming Great Schlep. Some of you will be jetting around the country, trying to cover as much ground as possible. Some will be wearing headphones in the back seat of the car while mom or dad or both navigate and try to hijack your decision-making process! Still others will hop aboard a train and check out some spots on their own. However you plan to scout out the schools on your list, try to keep the following in mind:

  • Hopefully you have made a reservation at each school you want to visit. Tours and info sessions fill up quickly during break weeks. If there is no more room, ask in admissions if there is a self-guided tour and a map. Scan the printed material available in the admissions office for anything that may be pertinent to your interests. 
  • Take a couple pics with your smartphone. If you are visiting a lot of schools, you might have trouble differentiating one from another when you get home so a shot in front of the admissions office might jog your memory after you leave. Don't post on FB unless you are prepared to tell everyone where you are applying. 
  • Ask your mom or dad to bring an accordion style folder for all your printed matter. If you are chatting about schools with your parents on the drive, its nice to have something to look at if there is no cell service where you are. 
  • If you have a chance to meet with an admissions officer, not in a formal interview, ask for a business card and have a few questions ready to ask. Send a brief thank you for his or her time the next day. This "show of interest" can make a difference if your application goes to committee.
  • If you are offered a chance to interview and its not your top choice, and you haven't interviewed anywhere else yet, do it! You might be nervous about your first college interview, but remember they want to learn about you, so you don't have to know everything about the school before you have one. 
  • If you do have an interview planned (many schools do not offer juniors the chance to interview but some do) try to prepare a resume to bring with you so they can scan it and ask you questions. A resume should include ECs, any awards or significant achievements, sports, performing or fine arts interests and anything else that might set you apart and make for a good conversation. 
  • If you are trying to play a sport, and aren't being actively recruited, you can email the coach and ask if he has a few moments to chat. It can't hurt and it might help.
  • Don't dress like a slob and if you attend an info session, mute your phone and keep it tucked away. If you want to take notes, use a pen and paper!
Look around on your tours. Do you see kids that look like you? Do the kids seem happy and engaged, even if it's getting close to finals? Eat in the dining hall if you can, or at least walk through, and see if there are a lot of kids sitting alone or lots of big groups. You can get a good feeling about what life is like at any given school simply by sitting on a bench for 15 minutes and watching the students go about their days. And lastly be patient with your parents! They are deeply invested in this process and probably paying for some or all of it, so be nice!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yield Protection Has Nothing To Do With Bonds!

In admissions parlance, yield protection means a few different things. When an admissions committee  practices yield protection, what are they really doing and how can an applicant avoid becoming a victim of this mysterious practice?  Simply put, yield means how many accepted applicants actually enroll.  It can also mean different things to different schools. The tippy-tops don't worry too much about yield protection because they are pretty sure at least 80% of the students they accept will attend. Less competitive schools may be more concerned about yield as they don't want to end up with too many students or too few. Too few students attending means going to the waiting list to fill the class, and too many enrolled students can mean housing problems and lack of seats in intro courses. But yield protection can also mean something else.

Everyone has heard stories of the amazing applicant with a 2400/36, perfect GPA, the most rigorous curriculum, published research and a debut performance at Carnegie Hall getting denied from the latest hot school. Is it because the admissions committee is pretty sure that student isn't going to attend because his or her stats are markedly above the middle 50% of the applicant pool? Its entirely possible, especially if that student is a "stealth" applicant, meaning there has been no contact between that student and the school prior to the receipt of the application.  An admissions committee may perceive that application as one that a student just "lobbed in", in a panic after an ED denial or deferral. Yield protection means that the committee needs to decide whether to accept that student with the awesome stats who probably won't attend, or the ED deferral whose stats are a shade below the middle 50% but fully intends to enroll? If a school cares about yield, they will accept the deferred ED applicant who will attend even if it means they wont get the boost from the higher stats of the panicked stealth applicant in their accepted students stats. That ED deferral would be one more student who is accepted and enrolled-good for the yield statistics. Schools that are traditionally less competitive in a peer group of schools probably have lower yields because a lower percentage of accepted students actually enroll.

What can students do to assure they are not victims of yield protection? Show every school you care, deeply, even if you can't get there to sign the visitor's log, and even if its your super duper back-up school.  There are lots of ways to do this; some can be done even without leaving your house! For more tips on showing interest and how not to be thrown in the stealth pile, get in touch at athenaadvisors@optimum.net

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Statistics Matter

One of the best ways to evaluate a school is to do some real digging, or better yet, hire me to do it for you!  I am not talking about US News or Forbes rankings, which are actually quite useless, as more schools come forward and admit they fudged the numbers to boost their rankings (see: Bucknell, Claremont-McKenna, Baylor, and Villanova, to name a few) and market themselves like fast food joints. I am talking about looking at original data like the Common Data Set, 6-year graduation rates, Federal student loan default rates and the like. This information can tell you a lot more about the school you or your kid fell in love with than a tour, an info session or an overnight with the lax bros. If a Federal student loan default rate is over 2%, we can extrapolate that that school has too many kids who don't finish, but still have to service their debt- no loan forgiveness if they fail out, leave because they can't borrow any more to finish, or can't find any sort of job- or were urged to seek alternative (non-government, market rate) loans and carry so much debt that they can't possibly service it all! The higher the default rate, the more concern you should have about how this school is helping students pay for college or helping them through a tough time. This statistic is important even for students who don’t receive a dime of aid from the school. It speaks volumes about the controls in place for keeping students in school.

Another key statistic is the graduation rate. Schools report this for 4, 5 and 6 years, meaning how many graduate on time in four years, how many in five and how many in six. This number matters because a school that graduates less than 80% of its students in 6 years, to me, is a school that isn’t invested in helping kids get through. For private schools, this may mean an extra year of tuition in a worst-case scenario; at $50k a year, that could make anyone nauseated!

US News, the College Board and Peterson’s, as well as data providers in the higher education community, produce Common Data Sets through a coordinated effort to achieve consistency in critical information about a given school. They provide statistical data that is calculated the same way by all participating schools (the only two I have found that don’t participate in making their CDS data publicly available at this time are High Point U and Wash U. in St. Louis). It can tell you the academic profile of the last freshman class (class rank, median test scores, breakdown by race) the student/faculty ratio, if they award merit money and other juicy stuff like how many are waitlisted and how many actually get in from that waitlist each year. The data is arranged the same way for all schools so it’s easy to find in each report.

Freshman retention rates, how much demonstrated need is met, how many students receive Pell grants and more can be found with just a little digging. While it’s great to drool over a glossy marketing piece your kid got in the mail, be sure to look more closely at the numbers. They may tell a very different story and its a story you need to know before you write a tuition check or take out a PLUS loan.

Confused? Want a handy spreadsheet with this key data for all those dream schools to help with decision-making and to provide a reality check after being seduced by those beautiful pictures of great looking kids strolling across the campus green? Get in touch and I will whip one up for you ASAP. Email me at Athenaadvisors@optimum.net

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


At long last, I have finally found some free time to begin posting to my blog and sharing some insights and advice on the admissions process. Each time I post I will address a different topic in the admissions process. Without further ado, here is my first entry!

A popular question when I first meet with a student and his or her family is "How do we go about making a list of colleges we want to consider?". The list can be created through a series of questions the student needs to ask him or herself and answer as honestly as possible. Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • How far away from home am I willing to travel? Some students have no qualms about flying all the way across the country, knowing that the opportunity to zip home for a little R and R may not be realistic. Some students think NYU in Abu Dhabi sounds like the most awesome collegiate setting possible.  Others don't want to be more than a few hours away by car or train and still others need to know they can zip home for dinner or laundry when they need to.  Some schools with a large commuter population may empty out on the weekends and depending on what a student wants, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Do I want to wear shorts to class all year? Do I want to ski on the weekends? Do I want access to mountains for hiking or the beach for surfing? Remember that college isn't all schoolwork all the time and being able to do the things that you love is also important. If you hate hate hate the cold, don't consider Macalester College in St. Paul MN! If you hate to sweat, UMiami is probably not the spot for you, but if you love the beach, it might be heaven. Hate snow? Skip UVM. Want access to a college ski hill? Check out Middlebury! Tennis outdoors all year long? College of Charleston sounds like a perfect fit
  • How important is a party scene to me? If you want a vibrant weekend scene, add some schools with Greek life or DI sports. If you are more the bookish sort and would rather hear a lecture or see a film with subtitles on a Saturday night, choose a school in or near a big city with a vibrant arts scene or a strong culture of intellectual engagement like UChicago or New College of Fl. 
  • Does religious affiliation matter to me? Its important to note that some schools affiliated with religious institutions may have different standards for student life. If you are Jewish or Muslim, Quaker or Buddhist, its important to find out if a school has a population of students who share your cultural heritage. 
  • How price sensitive am I? If you are sure you will need substantial aid, do NOT choose schools with limited institutional aid as you will end up with an aid package that includes a lot of loans and little grant money and be sure to include a few in-state publics in your list. If you are comfortable with paying the full sticker price for college, include a few schools that offer merit scholarships (not based on need) to desirable candidates. 
After you have gone through this list and have some direction, only then do you consider levels of competitiveness. For more help with the creation of a college list, check out www.athenacollegeadvisors.com or email me at AthenaAdvisors@optimum.net!