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 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.