College Planning Blog

Welcome to Best College Fit (BCF) College Planning Blog, an ongoing discussion of the factors that impact the college planning process. This space will keep you abreast of critical planning strategies, introduce you to key resources and comment on timely issues that relate to your college planning effort. We look forward to staying in touch and seeing your comments as we progress through the college planning process together.

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BCF Readers’ Forum 11.18.17


November 18th, 2017

Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at Peter@BestCollegeFit.com.

Dear Peter,
How important is it to make donations to one’s alma mater? There’s a good chance that at least one of my three kids will want to go to mine. Is a small annual contribution advisable?
Jim

Dear Jim,
The impact of donations to one’s alma mater is not easy to anticipate as each school is different. Generally speaking, the more selective the school, the greater that gift needs to be in order to effectively leverage an outcome. I do know that colleges are sensitive to the percent of alumni who give as that information is factored into some ranking calculations. That said, a small annual donation would probably make sense as it would at least demonstrate some level of engagement on your part, the absence of which might raise questions about the level of interest on the part of the student.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter will be attending college starting August of 2018. We have filled out the FASFA application and entered 10 of her top colleges. I need to add 5 more. How do we go about this? Do we create a new account with the same information?
Matt

Dear Matt,
If you want to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to more than 10 schools, the FAFSA website provides several options for doing so. Visit their website at https://fafsa.ed.gov/help/fotwfaq14.htm to find answers to the question, “If I want to apply to more than ten colleges, what should I do?”
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son attends a magnet public high school. He recently received a letter from a private college trustee asking for my son to submit his high school GPA and SAT scores for a baseline institutional aid award. This is not a college that was on his list and he has not visited the college. Should he go ahead and see what the aid award will be? They do have his intended program of study. The tuition at the college is $56,000/yr. (tuition, room/board and fees). They also give out merit awards based on GPA plus SAT score.
Lily

Dear Lily,
The letter your son received is analogous to a “cold call” from the institution—it’s part of their marketing effort. If your son checks out the school and finds that it could be interesting, then it can’t hurt to respond and see what happens. It will cost you nothing and your son can always “walk away” if his subsequent research does not inspire stronger interest. At the end of the day, he needs to stay focused on finding “fit” with regard to his priorities.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I have heard that college admissions offices are “need blind”, that is to say the counselors do not know if an applicant will need financial help or not and I was wondering what your perspective is on that.
Brad

Dear Brad,
“Need blind admission,” the notion that colleges will look only at the student’s academic record—and not the family’s ability to pay—is laudable but, in reality, it isn’t possible. To be need blind, institutions would need to be “blind” to the financial circumstances for all families throughout every phase of the selection process. While this is where many institutions start the process, it is not where they finish.

Whenever there are exceptions, the need blind rubric fails. And there will be exceptions (students on the Wait List, transfer candidates, international applicants and students with marginal credentials are all vulnerable to questions of ability to pay). Even the wealthiest institutions have fixed financial aid budgets to which they must be accountable. Whereas “need blind” implies that the institution has sufficient resources to be able to “blindly” admit students and dole out funds accordingly, it must ultimately be accountable to a bottom line. Moreover, the suggestion that admission officers cannot see financial data or are not aware of a family’s financial circumstances is simply not accurate.

The bottom line: It is important to remember that, regardless of claims institutions make about their admission/financial aid practices, they will always admit—and support—the students they value most.
Peter

Dear Peter,
What do you do with a high achiever who isn’t getting engaged with the college process and hasn’t found a fit at any of the colleges visited? His GPA is at the top of the class and his test scores are in the tops 95th percentile. The drive for this student is to learn, but the specific area hasn’t been found yet—everything is “exciting.” If there was a college close by where there was an option to live at home I would choose that. I think about a deferred entrance but am not sure how that works.
Suzanne

Dear Suzanne,
It is important to keep in mind that, above all, the four years of college are about self-discovery. It could be that your son is feeling paralyzed by the expectation that he must have a clear career path already worked out in his mind before choosing a college. The reality is that most students change their minds about their majors once in college—half of them do it twice!

I would introduce him to liberal arts colleges and general studies programs—curricula that will allow him to explore. Encourage him to sit in on college classes and talk with professors about their work. Such experiences will spark his interest and help whet his appetite for college studies. If he remains uncertain/ambivalent, then the gap year might be a healthy, productive option.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Should IEP documentation be forwarded with an Early Decision or Early Action application OR after the student is accepted?
Margaret

Dear Margaret,
To the extent that the IEP documentation might provide useful context with regard to the student’s academic performance, it should be included with the application, even in the ED or EA process. Regardless, related documentation should be presented to the institution’s personnel responsible for compliance with accommodations after the student has been accepted in order to ensure appropriate accommodations upon enrollment.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter finally submitted her applications and now realizes that all the college communication she has been receiving from them was on her personal email address. Given the need to synchronize with the school’s Naviance and Common Application/Coalition systems, however, she used her high school email address on her college applications, an address that won’t match the one she’s used in communicating with the colleges over the past 1.5+ years.

I’ve asked her to sign up her new, school supplied email address to all the schools she has applied to in order to show her continued interest. I’m concerned, however, that it will look like she just signed up “after” she submitted her application, when in reality she has been on their email listings for a very long time.

Am I making too much of this or should she contact each school to let them know of this change so they can update her records to show that she had been following the school for quite some time?
Ted

Dear Ted,
Your concern is valid. It is hard to know, though, the “key” items that are used to track students in the databases at each college. In the unlikely event that a place tracks exclusively based on the email address, your daughter could get lost in the shuffle. It is more likely, though, that schools will use a combination of factors including last name, first name, school name, high school graduation year, etc. If your daughter is at all concerned that her prior record of contacts will be lost she might reach out to the respective regional recruiters to let them know of the change.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son, an A-plus, well-rounded IB student, only got 1350 on the SAT. He was hoping to apply to an Ivy league school. Does he have a chance of getting in with these credentials, or should he wait until he has re-written the exam to apply?
Anne

Dear Anne,
Based on the strength of your son’s academic profile alone, he’ll be on the competitive “playing field” at any school in the country. While he could conceivably be admitted anywhere, his actual chances are no better than anyone else at schools, like the Ivies, where the probabilities of admission range from 5%-15%. Since SATs are implicitly used as competitive credentials at the most selective institutions (including the Ivy League), his current credentials will not put him in a compelling place in the competition for admission at those schools.

I don’t normally suggest additional testing but, in this case it could help a little. That said, I would strongly urge your son to be mindful of schools where he’s more likely to be valued for what he has to offer, academically and otherwise. Too often, those schools get put on the “back-burner” during the pursuit of the more prestigious options. The former are very good, though, at discerning the student’s intent and will often put them on the Wait List if the perceived interest is not strong. Your son should be diligent about developing relationships at these schools in order to avoid that potential outcome.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We will not be eligible for need based aid based on our income; however, we were told by my daughter’s advisor that the FAFSA might be needed for merit aid purposes. We do hope to be able to get some merit aid and wonder if that is the case. I have also heard you have a better chance of acceptance if you do not apply for need based aid. I was surprised by that. Is that a possibility?
Marc

Dear Marc,
If you are certain you will not need financial assistance—and you don’t expect your daughter to take a guaranteed student loan or a job on campus—completing the FAFSA won’t be necessary. While you shouldn’t need to complete the FAFSA to qualify your daughter for scholarships, you might be expected to submit it after the fact if she is awarded a scholarship somewhere. Regardless, check with the colleges in question as those that offer scholarships will make related requirements well known to you.
 
Colleges are not likely to discriminate against candidates in the admission process strictly based on the submission of a FAFSA. Rather, they will wait to see the numbers (IRS returns) before they decide whether the likely ROI is commensurate with the financial aid being considered. Just keep in mind that colleges will admit and aid the students whom they value most.
Peter



Posted in Early Decision/Action, Financial Aid, Learning Differences | No Comments »


  

“College Application Essays: Do’s & Don’ts” 11.11.17


November 11th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk 

At this time of year, I am often asked to react to dozens of college essays. Happily, the students in question see the opportunity to make an impact with the written word and are eager to put forth their best efforts. Unfortunately, many essays that are presumably in “final form” when they reach me are really not ready for “prime time.” The concepts are generally well conceived, but the presentation—from a technical perspective—reveals that much work can still be done to make a good essay great.

With that thought in mind, I would like to share the following editorial suggestions as they relate to the essay drafting process. For additional perspective you can visit the College Planning Blog archives to see another article I wrote on July 5, 2017, “Addressing the College Essay Blues,” that provides a complementary view of the essay writing process.

  1. Don’t try to pack everything you’ve done into your essay. Be careful to avoid the redundancy of reciting activities and/or accomplishments that will be found in other parts of your application. Quite frankly, resume narratives are dull and useless. Similarly, if your essay reads like a vacation travelogue, you have most likely “missed the boat.” Rather, take an expansive approach to a particular aspect of the topic at hand. If you can, focus on a revelation that changed your perspective. In doing so, you give the reader insight into a part of your life experience that won’t appear anywhere else on the application.
  2. In response to the “Why do you want to come here?” essay prompt, don’t restate the obvious about the college or university in question. You don’t win points by telling them you want to study with their “world famous professors” in their “top ranked programs.” Instead, reflect on your research and/or campus visit experience to project yourself into the culture of the place. Reveal an awareness of instructional style and independent learning opportunities. Demonstrate the synergy between yourself and the institution.
  3. Be measured and concise in your presentation. While complex sentences are sometimes necessary, it is best to err on the side of simplicity. This can be especially true in a story-telling narrative. A series of short, “punchy” sentences can have a powerful effect in delivering emotionally laden messages.
  4. Allow paragraphs to be your friends! An essay that is presented in a few long paragraphs is not only hard to read—the resulting word “blocks” can be overwhelming to tired eyes—it effectively obscures the author’s key messages. Change paragraphs with each new thought. And remember—a one line, one sentence paragraph can be just as impactful as a 3-4 sentence paragraph.
  5. Don’t use the word “I” to start sentences any more than is necessary. It is assumed that you are the author. You don’t need to remind the reader at the start of each sentence. Find creative solutions to conveying ownership of your thoughts.
  6. Speaking of unnecessary words, check to see if the word “that” is needed wherever it appears in your draft. If not, delete it.
  7. Avoid dangling prepositions (e.g., to, for, from, with, about).  Such words will undoubtedly play important roles in the articulation of your thoughts, but they don’t belong at the end of sentences!
  8. Punctuate creatively to emphasize key points. The strategic use of dashes (double hyphen) and exclamation marks as well as italics and bold type characteristics can add emphasis. Use quotation marks to indicate you are giving special meaning to a word or phrase. Be careful about using semi-colons, though, as they often set apart independent thoughts that should be punctuated as sentences.
  9. Don’t restate the essay prompt. Doing so is unnecessarily redundant and can limit your ability to take a more expansive approach with your essay.
  10. Eliminate qualifying phrases such as “I think” and “I believe.” They convey a lack of conviction. Generally speaking, you should try to project a more confident, assertive voice in your presentation.
  11. Make sure there is agreement between nouns and pronouns as well as verb tenses. Failure to do so is an indication of poor grammar skills, carelessness—or both.
  12. Whenever possible, write in the active voice.
  13. Eliminate unnecessary adverbs. There is a tendency to want to impress with flowery language—and adverbs often comprise the “bouquet.” Don’t overdo them.
  14. Speaking of flowery language, use the thesaurus judiciously! The words you use need to sound like they are coming from you. If not, they can be rather jarring to the reader!
  15. Don’t worry about the word count until you have developed a complete draft. Word and character counts can be paralyzing if you allow them to dictate your approach to an essay topic. Instead, commit yourself to an idea. Write it down from start to finish. Then, take a step back in order to gain perspective. As you begin to edit and refine the idea, challenge your word choices. Are they essential to conveying the key messages? If not, eliminate them.
  16. Finally, don’t assume that because a teacher or college advisor has “signed off” on an essay that it is finished. In all likelihood, that person is simply acknowledging that you are on the right track—that the essay is a good representation of the messages you want to convey. Taking it to the next level—making a good essay “great”—is your job!


Posted in Application Info, Essay Preparation, Preparing the Application | 1 Comment »


  

“Keys to Submitting a Winning Application: November College Planning Tips” 11.4.17


November 4th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk

As deadlines for college applications approach, it is important to be both organized and purposeful in your preparations. The following ten tips will help you avoid common mistakes as you put the finishing touches on your applications.

1. Focus on a short list of no more than eight colleges. The greater the number of applications you submit, the more likely it is you appear (to the colleges) to be applying whimsically—and the greater the likelihood that “application fatigue” will begin to effect your ability to do a good job with each application. Stay focused on the core group of schools that represent good fits for you. In most cases, eight is more than enough.

2. “Connect the dots”—tell your story! Be purposeful in your presentation—eliminate the randomness of your submissions. Establish a theme and use every part of the application to connect the dots (various data points) of your life experience to create a clear picture of who you are and what the college gets by admitting you.

3. Answer the “why” question thoughtfully. Colleges that ask you to write about “why you want to attend” are really trying to discern the synergy that exists between your goals, needs and learning style and their respective learning environments. Don’t tell them things they already know about themselves. Admission officers don’t want to hear about their highly ranked programs, great faculty or beautiful facilities—at least, not in this essay! Instead, reveal to them how, where and why you have found meaningful connections. Prove to the reader that you “get it”—that you understand how the learning environment in question makes the most sense for you.

4. Take pride in your presentation. Your application is like a personal statement that needs to state the case for your admission. Proofread it carefully. Read it out loud. Resist the temptation to repurpose information from one application to another—to do what is “good enough.” Make sure each application you submit is a positive reflection of who you are and what you have to offer.

5. Know your high school’s rules/procedures for supporting the college application process. Give the appropriate personnel time to prepare and complete your supporting documentation. Quite often, schools want information at least a week in advance of the actual application deadlines. Don’t put your college advisor in a bind by waiting until the last minute.

6. Make sure your recommenders are “on the same page” with regard to key messages you need to convey on your application. Your college advisor and the teachers who are supporting you are important partners in the presentation of your credentials.

7. Be organized. The application process involves the management of many moving parts (score reports, letters of recommendations, essays, supplemental forms, etc.). Make sure your part of the application is submitted with the application fee by the posted deadline. At that point, the colleges to which you have applied will create unique data files for you into which any other outstanding credentials will be added as they arrive.

To make sure everything gets to where it needs to be in a timely fashion, create a spreadsheet on which you can list and track all the information you need to submit to each college. If you can, submit your part of the application two weeks in advance of the college’s deadline in order to beat the rush.

8. Don’t assume—anything! At a time when deadlines and requirements are critical, it would be a mistake to assume that someone else has taken care of something for you! It is your job to make sure your application is complete and that it carries the key messages that help to define your life experience—and distinguish your candidacy.

Give yourself extra time to work with the formatting of your essays (no need for panicked melt-downs the night before deadlines!) and get in touch with the regional representatives from the colleges in question for guidance if you run into difficulty interpreting the requirements for their respective institutions.

9. Save copies. It might seem like a hassle, but take the time to make and save copies (hard copy or electronic) of the application materials you submit. You never know when you might need to refer to them.

Make arrangements to have test scores submitted directly to the colleges. It you have not already authorized the submission of test results (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests) to the colleges that require them, now is the time to do so.

10. Stay on their radar screens! One of the biggest mistakes students make at this point in the process is they fail to stay engaged with the schools to which they are applying! The assumption seems to be: “They have my application, so they know I’m interested.” Guess again! One of the biggest reasons bright and talented students do not get into target schools has to do with questions about the sincerity of the candidate’s interest. Answer emails that might come your way from those schools. Visit the campus. Direct important questions to the staff person at the university who recruits in your area. Don’t allow the decision-makers to regard you as a “ghost applicant.”

For more tips on preparing on your application, check out Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students in the BCF Bookstore.



Posted in Application Info, Preparing the Application, The Admission Process | No Comments »


  

“Getting Out in Front of Learning Differences” 10.28.17


October 28th, 2017

A critical element of just about every application is the student’s ability to bring clarity to the interpretation of his/her academic record. In other words, when there are irregularities in a student’s program and/or performance, s/he has a “story” to tell. The context for such stories often rests in factors that are beyond the student’s control, i.e., injury, illness, family moves, parental difficulties, etc. In the absence of explanations, though, admission officers must guess about the circumstances—and that rarely bodes well for the candidate, as admission folks are more often cynical than charitable in their assessments!

A circumstance frequently raised in this regard is that relating to a student’s documented learning difference. Specifically, families often wonder if or how the presence of “Individual Educational Plans” (IEPs) in the student’s academic experience should be conveyed in the application for admission without prejudicing the candidacy. While there are few solutions that fit every situation, it is important to consider the manner in which information is shared with the institution relative to the student’s candidacy for admission and, separately, as it relates to securing necessary support for the student once enrolled.

In terms of admission, I would err on the side of meaningful disclosure. Eliminate the guesswork for the reader. Give the admission officers who review your credentials the full picture so they can make a balanced and informed assessment. Places that value you for what you have to offer will try to find ways to admit and support you. Providing an awareness of a learning difference for which you are compensating may give them greater confidence in their respective abilities to help you find success.

That said, it is entirely possible that some schools will be averse to taking on a known learning difference. Frankly, there is no sense in worrying about that possibility. Think about it. By choosing not to disclose in light of academic irregularities, you force admission officers to draw their own conclusions—and that will rarely work to your advantage. If, per chance, you are admitted, do you really want to end up at a school that would otherwise have discriminated against you had you disclosed the learning difference? Do you think it will be any easier to secure accommodations in such an environment?

Speaking of accommodations, you can’t count on the admission office to pass along the documentation of academic support needs to the appropriate folks on its campus. While such information might indeed be passed along on a “need to know” basis, it is routinely purged from applicant files (in the spirit of confidentiality) after a student makes the decision to enroll.

Regardless, plan to present documentation of your learning difference and the need for support to the counseling center/disability office after you have enrolled. Don’t assume the information was passed along by the admission office—and, even if it was, don’t assume that the institution will automatically make accommodations for you.

Allen Tinkler is an educational consultant who has counseled many students with learning differences through the transition to college. He observes that, “One of the biggest errors kids/ families make…is the assumption that just because the documentation was sent, whether to admissions or to disability support services, the college will provide accommodations and services. This is not true. The student must self-identify and go through some kind of intake interview, discuss accommodations requested and learn the procedures at the college. This is done with CURRENT, COMPLETE and APPROPRIATE documentation.”

Allen further observes, and I agree wholeheartedly, that students need to learn to be “strong self-advocates.” At his former school, “each student with an IEP or 504 plan was given a complete set of documentation at a final meeting with parents present and instructed that it was now up to them to take the responsibility for acquiring accommodations at college. They were instructed that, sometime between the distribution of those papers and the beginning of classes at college, they needed to contact the disability coordinator, present themselves and their papers. We were literally passing the baton over to them.”

Ownership and the assumption of personal responsibility are vital to your success in all aspects of life. This is especially true if support for a learning difference is a part of your reality as you begin the transition to college. Make sure you take the necessary steps to ensure your success as you move forward.



Posted in Application Info, College Planning, Learning Differences | 6 Comments »


  

BCF Readers’ Forum 10.21.17


October 21st, 2017

Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at Peter@BestCollegeFit.com.

Dear Peter,
My son is thinking about applying early decision to a university that says it requires three years of a foreign language from its applicants. Is that usually a hard requirement or will they still consider him?
Carole

Dear Carole,
Colleges frequently make benchmark statements about academic requirements that are designed to help students calibrate their academic preparation. It is my experience that such statements are not necessarily “hard” requirements if the candidate presents other credentials that make him highly attractive to the institution. That said, I don’t know how this university will respond. If they really like your son, they could easily ignore his deficiency in language. On the other hand, if he’s “on the fence,” they could decide not to admit him due to the lack of foreign language courses.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter has found a number one school, but we are concerned that she might have made a fatal mistake. She talked with the college rep at the college fair last fall, toured the campus last spring, and will be applying next month. Neither of us followed up, however, on an opportunity to meet the admissions out-of-state advisor and now realize that emails from her have gone un-opened. In addition, there are no more events in our area. So, is there any way to grovel back into school’s vision? It seems to be a place that works off the calculation that the student will attend if accepted. I am hoping for additional insight on how she can be “seen” beyond this.
Evelyn

Dear Evelyn,
I wouldn’t call it a fatal mistake just yet. The fact that your daughter has visited the campus is still very important. Beyond that, I would offer two suggestions. 1.) As she has serious, thoughtful questions about the application process or the academic program at the school, she should reach out to the regional recruiter. 2.) She should do a deep dive into the programs of study that interest her at the school so she can document/prove, on her application, the synergy that exists between her goals and the capacity of the institution to meet them.

Ultimately, she wants to present a compelling argument that she has a plan for her future and she has chosen the school because it best enables her to pursue that plan. Conveying that type of intentionality in her application, along with the campus visit, reveals her sense of purpose and greatly lessens the likelihood that her application will be regarded as coming from a “stranger.”
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter, a current high school senior, received a letter from her favorite college indicating they want to see her grades after the mid-point of this year. What does this mean in terms of her chances of being accepted? She is looking at it negatively but I am telling her it is an opportunity. I want her to respond to the person she received the letter from telling them that their school is really the place she wants to attend. Your thoughts?!! Anything else we can say/do?
Steve

Dear Steve,
It’s hard to know the meaning of the letter without knowing your daughter’ status as an applicant. If she has already applied, with a transcript that reveals grades that are regarded as problematic, it could be that the admission committee is intrigued by other aspects of her application, but wants to see more grades before making a decision. I can’t imagine any other scenario whereby the school would send this message.

If the above is the case, your daughter should see the letter as a “half-full” indicator. Apparently, they like her well enough to want to see more information before rendering a decision. Otherwise, they could just as easily discourage or deny her application.
 
If your daughter has not yet applied, then the letter is even more curious. Most schools do want to see mid-year grades as a matter of course. It could be they were just letting her know that this would be a requirement she must be prepared to meet.

Writing a letter to the person who wrote to her, asking for clarification and stating her strong interest in attending, would make sense if she hasn’t applied yet. If she has already applied, the best thing to do is stay focused academically so the mid-year grades speak well for her candidacy.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My senior year son has been receiving enticing “exclusive invitation” and “invitation only” messages regarding open houses and preview days at various colleges. He has already visited the campuses and participated in other recruitment activities. Does he need to consider attending these events or will his previous interactions suffice?
Jack

Dear Jack,
Welcome to marketing in college admission! While it seems exclusive, the same email goes to tens of thousands of other students. In identifying recipients, the institutions are no doubt selecting high profile (academic) candidates. It is not likely, however, that the institutions have been very discriminating in determining which of those students have already been on their campuses once—or twice!

This phenomenon is prevalent at increasing numbers of institutions that are very intentional about trying to increase their selectivity, something that is accomplished by generating more applications and admitting fewer candidates. That’s the implicit messaging in the communication you have received.

The bottom line is that, as long as your son has been diligent about exploring the schools and developing appropriate relationships—and it sounds like he has—he’ll be fine. If he has any questions about the importance of attending either program, he might ask the regional recruiters in brief emails. My strong suspicion is that his time will be better spent attending to his school work and preparing his applications.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I have enough money saved up in my son’s 529 plan to cover approximately 3 years of tuition (assuming $50k per year). Do I apply for financial aid now or wait until year 2 or 3? Note that I am a single mom and will not be adding further to her 529 plan. I think I remember you saying that a student’s chances of getting into an elite school could be better if financial aid is not required.
Anne

Dear Anne,
The 529 will be considered a parental asset to be incrementally applied to your son’s educational expenses over four years. Effectively, then, the amount of savings put toward your EFC in year one will only be a portion of the 529 value. As a result, it makes sense to apply for financial aid now in order to spread out the draw on the asset over four years.

While it might be tempting to use funds from the 529 to cover all of first-year costs (and appear not to be in need of assistance), you shouldn’t assume that a college will automatically fill with need-based financial aid when the 529 runs out in subsequent years. Should your son receive aid at that point, it will likely come in the form of loans.

It is important to remember, though, that, if your son focuses on colleges where he will be valued for what he has to offer, the need of assistance won’t be a factor in the admission process. Rather, those schools will admit him and use their resources in an attempt to leverage his enrollment.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter has two extremely selective schools at the top of her list, both of which have ED1 and ED2 options. She says she will apply ED1 to one of these schools. My question is about when she should apply to the other.

Understanding that ED1 decisions are made by December 15, should she submit her RD application to the other school in October or November (since her application will be complete), and then change the status from RD to ED2 if she doesn’t get into school #1; or should she wait until she hears back from her first choice—and, if deferred or rejected, send her application in by January 1 to school #2 as an ED2? I’m worried it might look bad if she changes from Regular Decision to ED2, and that the college will assume she didn’t get into her first choice, and that is why she is now changing from RD to ED2.

And when applying ED2, can you get deferred, or will you get a straight yes or no?

Is there any real benefit sending in your RD application a month or two early, since admission committees will only be reading ED applications in November and early December?
Jim

Dear Jim,
Assuming your daughter applies ED1, it really doesn’t matter when she submits RD applications to other schools (including the potential ED2 school) although it definitely makes sense to have the latter at the ready in the event the ED1 application is not successful. The advantage to submitting the RD applications ahead of deadline is peace of mind—they’re done! Don’t wouldn’t worry about how it might look to convert from RD to ED2. Schools that offer ED2 do so in order to accommodate students whose ED1 applications came up short elsewhere.

The potential outcomes are the same for ED1 and ED2—acceptance, deferral and denial. I would add that the admission prospects for deferred ED (1 or 2) candidates are not that great.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I wanted to ask you about the “Common Application” versus “Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success” application. I know they are similar and accepted by selective schools, but which one is preferable or more beneficial for the applicant, given the CAAS is still in its infancy? Does it matter which application is submitted if the target school accepts both?
Marla

Dear Marla,
I am not aware of any strategic advantage to the applicant in using one of these applications over the other. Theoretically, the CAAS application creates more opportunity for the submission of non-academic information. That information is only relevant, though, if the student is already regarded as a viable candidate academically. As you noted, the CAAS is still in its infancy, so the organization and conveyance of information can be irregular.
Peter



Posted in Application Info, Course Selections, Early Decision/Action, Financial Aid, Meeting College Costs, What Colleges Want | 4 Comments »


  

“‘Connect the Dots’ With Your College Application” 10.14.17


October 14th, 2017

Peter Van Buskirk

One of the biggest mistakes students make in preparing their applications for admission is the tendency to treat the information they submit as random data points. Scores, essays, courses, grades and letters of recommendation are often regarded as items to be completed on a checklist for each college. When this happens, students miss important opportunities to make a difference in their applications. Rather than being purposeful in presenting their credentials, they fail to “connect the dots” to create a coherent picture of who they are.

As you prepare your applications for admission, then, consider how the different elements of your application can be woven together to tell your story. Remember that admission committees are most interested in learning about you and what you have to offer the community of scholars they are assembling through the admission process. Use your essays, letters of recommendation and extra-curricular to create a picture of who you are and what you have to offer. Be thoughtful about your presentation so that your application makes a compelling statement that says, “Take me!”

Eight Tips for Making Your Case
1.    Know what it is you want to say about yourself—what are the key messages you want to convey? If you are having trouble getting your arms around this, either because there is a lot to say or because you are struggling to find a beginning point, try the following:

  • Think about how others see you. How would your friends describe you? Your teachers? Your parents?
  • What key words and thoughts begin to emerge? Generous? Competitive? Studious? Inventive? A leader? A “renaissance person”?
  • Choose two or three that are most consistent with your core identity.
  • List the key involvements, experiences and achievements that make the connection to these themes.
  • Look broadly and creatively at your application (essays, extracurricular profile, letters of recommendation) for opportunities to weave these elements together in making your case.

2.    Resist the temptation to add newspaper clippings and certificates of achievement as they tend to be redundant with the information provided in your application. Rather, take advantage of the opportunity to incorporate your accomplishments into the theme you are trying to establish for your application.

3.    Be concise in completing the extracurricular profile on your application. Admission officers want to see how you distill the information that defines you in the space provided. If you absolutely need more space to list your activities and achievements, submit an additional page or, possibly, a resume with your application. If you go with the latter, keep it to one page. Some of the key details and insights of the emerging “story” can be addressed by people writing on your behalf. Make sure they have the needed information and that they know how their perspectives are integral to the messages you seek to convey.

4.    Focus on the events that have defined your life since the beginning of high school. Earlier accomplishments (prior to 9th grade) are ancient history from an admission perspective! Reference them only if you can demonstrate their relevance to the person you are becoming.

5.    Reference family situations (achievements or setbacks) only to the extent that they have had an impact on you. You are the candidate. Don’t make your application a soliloquy to others in your life.

6.    Use your essays and personal statements to “let the reader in.” Who are you? How do you think? What values do you hold dear? How do these insights connect with other information you are submitting about yourself? As you contemplate these questions, you give the reviewer of your credentials an understanding of your character that won’t appear anywhere else in the application.

7.    When possible, take advantage of opportunities to tell your story in personal interviews with paid admission staff persons. They will be decision-makers when your credentials are considered behind closed doors. Not all schools offer interviews, but when they do, be prepared to capitalize on the opportunity. It is better to have some exposure with decision-makers than none at all.

8.    Reach out to regional recruiters at the colleges of interest. Give them opportunities to help you with important questions and to learn about unusual circumstances in your life experience. At many institutions, these folks will be at the “point” in the decision-making with regard to your application. The more comfortable they are with what they know about you, the easier it will be for them to support your candidacy.

Finally, “connecting the dots” is moot if you don’t put yourself on competitive playing fields where you will be valued for what you have to offer—where your message will be well-received. A strong message by itself won’t necessarily put you over the top if you are not already a competitive candidate—you can’t “will” your way into a college or university simply because you are qualified and have a strong desire to attend. Focus your time and attention on making the case for yourself at schools that make sense for you.

For more tips on putting together a compelling application, check out Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students in the BCF Bookstore.



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“Making Sense of ED & EA Options: October College Planning Tips” 10.7.17


October 7th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk

Applying Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) are increasingly popular options for college applicants. The following is a breakdown of what you need to know before you apply ED or EA.

1.  Early Decision (ED): What Is It?
Early Decision is an application opportunity offered by many of the nation’s selective institutions that provides the promise of early feedback (an admission decision) in exchange for the student’s commitment to enroll if accepted. A student may only be active as an ED candidate at one college. If admitted ED, a student is expected to withdraw all other Regular Decision applications that might have been active and enroll at the ED school.

ED: Inside the Numbers
Think selectivity. Think rankings. “Admitting one to enroll one,” allows a college to use ED to leverage as many high yield students into its entering classes as possible. By contrast, many schools must admit 3-5 students in Regular Decision to enroll one, a lower yielding proposition. What you are looking at, then, is fundamental enrollment management. For every ED enrollment it achieves, a college can reduce its number of Regular Decision offers by as many as five-fold, thereby, increasing its yield, improving selectivity and becoming more attractive in the college ranking process.

Possible ED Outcomes
Colleges will consider one of three outcomes when students apply ED: acceptance, deferral and denial. If accepted, the student is expected to enroll. When deferred or denied, however, the student is released from that commitment and effectively becomes a “free agent” who can pursue other options—including ED at another school. Deferred candidates will be considered again within the context of the Regular Decision review process.

Who Benefits?
Whereas it has been a long-held notion that ED was reserved for only the very best candidates, it is now the case that “reasonably competitive” candidates can also benefit from the ED option as colleges seek to build their enrollments with “high yielding” students. In addition, ED will be an attractive option at many schools for the following:

  • Students who do not require financial assistance
  • Athletic recruits
  • Legacy candidates

2.  Early Action (EA): What Is It?
Early Action also affords students the opportunity to submit credentials to some highly selective colleges in return for notification ahead of the Regular Decision process. The big difference: students who choose this option are not presumed to be declaring a first-choice interest in the colleges to which they apply EA. As a result, they are not committed to enroll if admitted and may, in many cases, apply EA to multiple schools. That said, a handful of institutions offer EA as a restrictive, “single choice” option that prohibits students from applying EA to any other school. Be sure to read the fine print regarding each institution’s EA program.

EA Inside the Numbers
If you are still thinking selectivity and rankings, you are right on the mark! While EA candidates do not enroll at the same rate as admitted ED candidates (presumably 100%), they are still likely to enroll at a much higher rate than students who apply Regular Decision. Colleges know this because they track their yields on EA offers from year to year. That said, admission committees tend not to bend their academic standards for EA candidates. Rather, they are banking on the opportunity to realize higher conversion rates among high profile admitted students by making strong, positive connections with them early in the process.

Possible EA Outcomes
Much like the case with ED, EA outcomes include acceptance, deferral and denial. The only difference is that acceptance does not involve a commitment to enroll. In addition, deferred candidates generally find themselves on equal footing with other Regular Decision candidates.

Who Benefits?
Unlike ED, EA really doesn’t improve one’s chances of admission. Why? Institutions are reluctant to commit places in the class to strong, but not superior students without first being able to compare them with the larger pool of candidates. EA does, however, provide peace of mind for those who use it early in the process.

3.  Tips for Potential ED/EA Applicants

  • Read the fine print for each institutional offering and understand your commitments before initiating an early application of any sort.
  • Rather than looking for an “ED school,” focus on finding colleges that fit you well as you arrive at your short list of schools. If one of them becomes your absolute first choice, then ED should be a considered option.
  • Do not apply ED unless you are dead certain of your commitment to enroll if accepted.
  • Do not apply ED if you have not visited the campus first! Ideally, your visit will have included an overnight stay that enabled you to also attend classes and experience the campus culture.
  • Resist the temptation to act on impulse. The feelings you have for a college now might change greatly over time leaving you committed to a place that is no longer where you want to be. Give yourself at least a month to reflect on your intended application before applying ED.
  • Remember the ED Round II option. Many schools will give you the opportunity to “convert” your Regular Decision application during a second round of ED in January. The conditions are the same as with ED Round I, but you might be better prepared to make a commitment later in the year.
  • Resolve all questions and concerns about cost and affordability before applying ED. Once you are admitted, there can be no contingencies. Ask the school’s financial aid office to provide an “early estimate” of your expected family contribution (EFC) before you submit your ED application. Apply ED only if you are completely satisfied with the information you receive regarding your EFC.
  • Sprint to the finish! Even though you might hold an EA or ED acceptance letter, it is likely to be conditional on your completion of the senior at the same level of achievement that earned you the offer of admission. More than a few colleges are known to rescind offers of admission when final transcripts show performances that drop measurably after offers of admission are secured.


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“Mail From Colleges: Junk Mail—or Not!” 9.30.17


September 30th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk

As students come of college-going age, it is not uncommon for them to find their mailboxes (and inboxes) full of unsolicited promotional materials from colleges and universities around the country. At first, the attention is flattering. Glossy brochures, promises of scholarships and stories of personal educational experiences prove to be effective enticements to students eager for some reassurance that a college awaits.

Before long, however, eagerness gives way to cynicism as the unrelenting messaging from countless colleges begins to run together to form a homogeneous stew. What was initially ego food (“Look! They want me!”) has become junk food as the “trash bin” fills quickly.

The back-story on this mailing phenomenon is that colleges and universities are spending a great deal of time and money to get the word out about their institutions. They buy lists of student names by the tens of thousands whose test results and self-reported GPAs would seem to make them viable candidates. And, then, the “pitch” begins.

It’s all about marketing as even the most well-known among institutions seek to position themselves as destinations for high-talent students. The premium on pre-qualified names is such that lead generation—the “mining” of names—has become a big business behind the scenes of the college-going process.

Interestingly, the practice of lead generation as a source of prospects for college recruitment has been around for many years. It has recently become viewed in a different light, however, as enrollment strategists are learning to apply a complex set of market analytics to student contact data that is at their disposal. No longer concerned with simply prequalifying students academically, they are determined to identify students who are more likely to enroll if admitted.

In what is something of a covert operation, colleges are now tracking students as they visit campuses, attend information sessions in high schools, open their emails and even as they collect information about the college on various online search engines. The fact that a student has in any way entered the “foot-print” of the institution, electronic or otherwise, is now discoverable to the institution. The result: said institution is able to attach values to the different contacts to develop a metric that predicts, with a high degree of accuracy, the likelihood that the student will enroll before she has even submitted an application!

If predictive data can be used to target students for recruitment, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how admission officers, especially at highly selective institutions, might be inclined to use it as they make fine distinctions between academically able candidates. Make no mistake—this variable is very much in play at “crunch time” in the selection process as institutions strive to stock their acceptance lists with “high-yielding” students.

The implications for the prospective applicant should be clear. While your transcript and resume will get you into the competition at schools of choice, it will often be the degree of confidence you give the decision-makers in your likelihood of enrollment that will make the difference in the outcome of your application.

It would make sense, then, to get—and stay—on the radar screens of decision-makers at the colleges of interest. Primary among them are the admission staffers who are assigned the task of recruiting in your region. Don’t allow yourself to be regarded as a stranger at a point in their deliberations when they are more inclined to go with candidates who are known entities or “sure things” from a yield perspective.

And you might think twice about your response to the correspondence—mail, emails and surveys—you receive from the schools that interest you. Instead of hitting the “delete” button, consider the implications of thoughtful engagement—of allowing a conversational exchange to develop with the regional recruiter on matters of importance to you in the admission process at that school. Conversely, the absence of thoughtful engagement, or even a response, will raise questions about the sincerity of your interest in the school.

While there is no guarantee that demonstrating interest by responding in appropriate ways will result in your admission to a given institution, doing so will reduce the questions about the likelihood of your enrollment if admitted and return the focus of the deliberations to the factors that reflect your strength as a candidate.



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