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 2.14.18


February 14th, 2018

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, a Junior, is currently taking Calculus BC. He will finish his high school math at the end of this year. The only math course he can take in his Senior year, AP Statistics, is an elective which he does not want to take. If he doesn’t take a math course in his Senior year, would it effect his possible acceptance by top tier schools?
Mara

Dear Mara,
I would strongly encourage your son to stick with math in his senior year. AP Statistics is a very substantive elective that will do the trick. “Top tier” schools want to see evidence that students continue to find appropriate challenges in each academic discipline through the senior year. Besides, Statistics will likely prove to be the most utilitarian coursework he can take into his college experience.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter, a junior, is taking AP Seminar this year and, until recently, was full steam ahead to take AP Research next year. As this class only earns elective credit, sacrifices have had to be made in order to fulfill graduation requirements (such as taking online classes over the summer). Now she’s considering not taking AP Research next year in order to take AP Music Theory. Her interests are math and music and she is in one of the auditioned choirs at her school. Part of me wants to see her complete the AP Capstone program and receive the diploma. How will it look, however, if she is taking Seminar this year but does not take Research next year? Is the AP Capstone diploma something that will help her stand out on college applications compared with all the other students at her school with 4.4 weighted GPAs and plenty of honors/AP classes?
Gina

Dear Gina,
Given your daughter’s interests, AP Music Theory would seem to be a no-brainer! While “nice,” the AP Capstone Program, in my opinion, is not likely to be very consequential in the admission process, especially when the alternative is AP Music Theory, an intensive, challenging course. If any question remains, suggest that she pose the question to some of the admission officers at colleges that interest her.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son has been accepted to a college with a nice merit scholarship. He is also applying for an outside scholarship that might also be a significant amount. If he is awarded the outside scholarship will the school add that to the merit scholarship they awarded him or will they reduce their offer? I understand that need-based aid can be reduced when scholarships are received, but can scholarships be bundled? I can’t find help with this anywhere.
Darlene

Dear Darlene,
Colleges vary with regard to how they apply outside scholarships. Some will apply the funds to reduce their own exposure via institutional grants or scholarships, some will apply it against your out-of-pocket expense, and some will split the amount with funds distributed to help both the institution and the family. I suggest you ask the financial aid office at the college in question about its practice in such situations. It’s a fair question and as a consumer, you have the right to know all the details before making any commitments.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter recently received an invitation to represent her high school at the 2018 National Student Leadership Conference. It sounds interesting to her since they not only teach leadership skills, but also allow her to learn more about the career she is interested in (neuroscience). They tout the program as exclusive and say students will receive a Certificate of Achievement, an official program transcript and a letter of recommendation that they can submit to colleges. Is this program as exclusive as they say? Does it look good to have this on your college application? Or is this just a way for them to make a large profit (the program is rather expensive at approximately $3,000 for 9 days).
Joseph

Dear Joseph,
The invitation from NSLC and other “leadership” programs is sent to tens of thousands of students each year. (It’s not that exclusive!) My guess is the leadership components of the program are much stronger than are the neuroscience elements, which are likely to be of a more superficial, “show and tell” nature. The certificate, program transcript and letter of recommendation rarely carry much weight in the selection process. If your daughter is drawn to the NSLC experience purely for self-enrichment, then you might consider it for her. Otherwise, she might be better off exploring opportunities to shadow neurosurgeons and/or participate in research projects being conducted by professionals in your area.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Do the most selective schools use demonstrated interest in admissions decisions?
Maia

Dear Maia,
While most of the highly selective colleges indicate that they do not engage in predictive analytics (and it might be true), you can bet that all will review candidates carefully to discern the degree to which they have been thoughtful/intentional in both their decisions to apply and the manner in which they present their credentials. The key is to demonstrate the synergy that exists between the student’s interests, goals and learning style-and the institution’s capacity to serve them well.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son is in 11th grade. His sister went to a nearby, highly selective school a few years ago and, more recently, my husband started to work at the same school for which my son will get his tuition waived if admitted. When considering his chances of admission, I was wondering if this is an advantage or a problem for him. Although he will not ask for financial aid, will the fact that they have to waive the tuition affect his candidacy in a negative way?
Joan

Dear Joan,
Your son potentially benefits twice here-first with the legacy connection (his sister) and then with tuition remission because off your husband’s employment. The latter is likely to be more consequential as most institutions regard the tuition remission for dependents as an important benefit for eligible employees. While there can be no guarantees, there are no negatives here!
Peter

Dear Peter,
The youngest of my three children will start in September at the college to which he has been accepted Early Decision. I do have another child who will be at a different college in September. The ED school has offered a $16,000 scholarship against a $55,000 per year bill and nothing else. I am between jobs and only have a small amount in a 529 for my youngest. My question: how might I best approach the Financial Aid department in the hopes of securing additional aid for him? It will be virtually impossible to afford both kids’ tuition even after I start my new job. We have nothing left in savings and I’m reluctant to draw from my IRA retirement account. I know there are subsidized and unsubsidized loans out there but am trying to not leave my kids with crushing student loan debt upon graduation.
James

Dear James,
Since your youngest has been admitted ED, you should make every attempt to resolve the cost/affordability issue before submitting an enrollment deposit. Once you send in the deposit, you lose your leverage in the discussion about financial aid.
 
In terms of addressing your out-of-pocket concerns, schedule an appointment with the financial aid office as soon as possible at which time you can present documentation of your current financial situation, including evidence of financial aid treatment for your older child. As you present this information, ask the question, “How can you help make it possible for my son to attend?” The financial aid officer should be able to respond when faced with new and compelling information.

By the way, you need to be prepared to accept student loans as part of the proposed solution. In appropriate increments, borrowing doesn’t have to be unusually burdensome. Be prepared for $3,000-$5,000 in the first year and increases up to $8,500 in the last two years. Much more than that, in his name, is not reasonable. You also need to be prepared for the suggestion that you borrow through the Parent PLUS loan.

If the proposed solution is not reasonable, then your son needs to be prepared to decline the ED opportunity, withdraw his application completely and look elsewhere where his value to the institution will be more satisfactorily reflected in its financial support of him.
Peter



Posted in Course Selections, Early Decision/Action, Financial Aid, Meeting College Costs, What Colleges Want | 6 Comments »


  

“Athletic Recruitment, Ethics and Early Decision” 2.8.18


February 8th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

The college admission process can produce some interesting personal dilemmas. One such quandary was brought to my attention in a phone call from a young man who was trying to sort out an Early Decision opportunity. A competitive athlete, he had been approached by a recruiting coach from an NCAA Division III (non-scholarship) school with the suggestion that he convert his application for admission from Regular Decision to Early Decision (ED). Moreover, the coach had assured the young man that if his application for financial aid did not produce the desired assistance from this institution, he would not be held to his commitment to enroll if accepted ED.

The student was understandably excited and confused by this development. While he liked the school very much, he couldn’t say for sure that it was his first choice. This is largely due to his need of financial aid. In fact, the uncertainty of his financial aid situation had led him to actively consider other schools as well. Moreover, he understood the underlying premise of the unconditional commitment to enroll if accepted that is assumed of ED candidates. As a result, he was skeptical of the pitch he had been given by this coach.

My advice to the young man was simple: “If you need to make sure you get the best financial aid possible—and there is a chance other schools might admit you and give you better offers—then don’t give up your right to see those offers by converting your application to ED at one school.”

I pointed out that the coach is behaving unethically in making this suggestion and suggested that he (the student) not compound the problem by heading down that road with him. I’m not sure I told this young man anything he didn’t already suspect to be true, but our chat gave him the confidence to respond to the coach’s overtures.

Whether or not you are a recruited athlete, you need to be vigilant about the ethics of the admission process. This can be especially challenging when you see evidence that others—on both sides of the negotiation—are pushing the ethical “envelope.” Where there are clearly articulated rules, you need to observe them. The desire to get into favored schools should never put you in a place where you compromise your integrity.

Unfortunately, the coach in question was crossing the ethical “line” by asking the applicant to consider an Early Decision application when he knew the young man could only do so conditionally due to his financial situation—clearly a breach of rules governing the ED process. The good news is the young man had the presence of mind to step back and assess the situation objectively.

Now, in case you’re checking the calendar and wondering how this conversation between the coach and the applicant could be taking place as the “round two” deadlines for ED have passed at most schools, welcome to the world of college admission in 2018! These are the days when selective colleges do what they can to pump up their yields on offers of admission while looking for opportunities to reduce the overall number of students they need to admit and, hence, become more selective. For example, each additional ED enrollment reduces the number of low-yielding Regular Decision candidates to be admitted by four or five at most colleges.

Consider the impact of such a strategy on a larger scale. A college or university that can attract 50 more ED enrollments over the previous year reduces by as many as 250 Regular Decision students it would otherwise need to admit to fill those places in the class. As a result, the more ED enrollments a school can stockpile, the more selective it becomes.

Add to the mix the dynamics of athletic recruitment—even at the NCAA Division III non-scholarship level—and the opportunity for late-season Early Decision conversations emerges. A few other observations are worth noting here.

One, the NCAA forbids Division III athletic recruiters from having any conversation about family finances with the financial aid officers at their respective institutions. In short, an athlete’s potential involvement in an NCAA Division III program may NOT have any bearing on the disposition of his/her financial aid status.

Two, each institution employs slightly different criterion in assessing a student’s financial “need” and then recognizing the comparative strength of her academic credential within the context of its financial aid program. It is not only possible, then, that a recruit’s financial “need” could be read differently from one school to the next, but the strength of her academic credential could also result in differences in the composition of the financial aid awards she receives. Whereas a student athlete may qualify for special consideration academically at one school, at others she may not.

Finally, the late season ED phenomenon is not limited to recruited athletes. Admission officers at many selective schools will keep the application “door” open past formal deadlines as they troll for high-yielding ED conversions well into February of the admission process. Should you be presented with such an opportunity, just remember—the rules remain the same. If you convert your application to ED, you are making an unconditional commitment to enroll if accepted.



Posted in Application Info, Athletic Recruitment, Early Decision/Action, Hot Topics/Trends | No Comments »


  

“Course Selections: February College Planning Tips” 2.1.18


February 1st, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

One of the first—and most important—exercises in the college planning process involves course selections for the coming year of high school. Your high school academic record determines whether you make it onto the “competitive playing fields” at the schools to which you apply. Moreover, the strength of your record positions you among other candidates who are vying for consideration.

The level of selectivity experienced at a given college provides an important contextual framework for this discussion. For example, the harder it is to get into a college, the more magnified are the decisions you make in all aspects of your life, especially those that relate to your academic development. Colleges that are less selective tend to be more forgiving of choices/outcomes that might not reflect as positively on your application.

Keep in mind, then, that the choices you make will be regarded differently according to the pressure a given institution feels to make fine distinctions between great candidates. The following are tips for making course selections that will serve you well going forward.

  • When in doubt, err on the side of rigor. The degree to which you expose yourself to rigor or challenge in the high school classroom speaks volumes with regard to the likelihood that you can perform well in college level courses. As a result, admission officers are watching to see how you use the curriculum available to you to “step up” each year. Each year of high school should reflect advancement through progressively rigorous coursework in each discipline.
  • Know your capacity to do the work. In contemplating rigor, it is easy to get drawn into the presumptive logic that taking the most advanced course will be most impressive to colleges. While there is some truth in that assessment, you need to be able to function at a high level in the course. Barely passing an inordinately “hard” course produces the double whammy of a low grade in that course and the ripple effect of lower grades in other courses as you spend a disproportionate amount of time making it through the hard course. The bottom line: While it is important to stretch yourself, don’t over-reach in taking courses for the purpose of impressing admission officers.
  • Breadth matters. In other words, keep your bases covered. In each year of high school, you should take courses in the five core discipline areas: math, science, social science, foreign language and communication arts (a.k.a. English). Do this regardless of your career interests. Why? Admission officers, especially at selective colleges, want to see that you have developed skills of critical thinking and analysis across all disciplines. Having such an experience gives them greater confidence that you will be able to handle distribution requirements and cross-disciplinary courses you are likely to encounter in college.
  • Substitute value for value. It is not uncommon for students entering the Junior or Senior year to rationalize course selections, e.g. “I don’t like Spanish…” “I want to double up in sciences…” “I’ve already satisfied my math requirement for graduation.” Generally speaking, dropping a course in one discipline for a course in another is acceptable if you are substituting value for value. For example, dropping an Honors or AP French in order to take AP Biochemistry is acceptable. On the other hand, dropping it for a survey course in Economics or Psychology would be a bad move within the context of competition at selective institutions.

If you think you want to take courses that relate to your possible major in college, keep in mind that the first order of business is competing for admission. While in high school, focus on breadth and depth of curricular development. If your schedule allows you to take courses related to your career interest in addition to the core group of five (referenced above), go for it. Otherwise, wait until college to start your major.

  • Don’t settle for “good enough.” It is common for students to chart their progress through high school by working only to the level of their graduation requirements or to the course “requirements” posted by colleges. The problem is that selective colleges want to see what you will do when you have seemingly satisfied your “requirements”—when you don’t think you have to do anything. Be careful, then, not to settle for the minimum or that which is good enough. If you want to increase your range of options as a college applicant, push past that which is good enough to that which will make you a better candidate.

Finally, a common question from students regarding course selections sounds like this: “Is it better for me to take an easier course where I know I can get an “A” or should I take a harder course where I’ll probably get a lower grade?” While it is tempting to assert that one should take the hard course and get the “A,” I would like to offer a slightly different, three-part response that should apply to any course selection.

  1. Choose courses that make sense to you—not to your friends or your parents. The courses you choose in each discipline should provide a new level of challenge and opportunity for growth.
  2. Do as well as you can in these courses—good enough is never enough.
  3. Select colleges that will value you for what you have to offer. These will be schools that see your trajectory and want to be part of your continued growth.

When it might not be possible, for a variety of reasons, to schedule all of the courses that make sense to you or when there are irregularities in your academic program, you have a story to tell in your application. And that is a topic for another day!

To learn more about “Course Selections,” check out Prepare Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students in the BCF Bookstore. Prepare, Compete, Win! is an excellent resource for students in all phases of the college planning process. It includes timelines, tips and exercises for students that walk them through the college search and application processes.



Posted in College Planning, Course Selections | 8 Comments »


  

“Could’ve, Would’ve, Should’ve—Passing Forward the Lessons Learned” 1.27.18


January 27th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

In recent weeks, thousands of anxious Early Decision and Early Action applicants have been learning the outcome of their applications. While the news brings excitement and relief to many, even more students find themselves holding letters of deferral or denial—and wondering what went wrong.

The angst has been brought home to me in various conversations with bewildered students and parents over the last six weeks. In all cases, the conversations involved excellent students—young people with strong records and well-developed talents coming from challenging academic programs. By all accounts, they deserved better. Now, however, they are left scrambling to reorient themselves to different options.

In assessing each situation, it is usually easy to spot the reason behind the non-admission—and it often revolves around a lack of purpose or intentionality regarding the submitted application. In other words, the students expected their credentials to stand on their own merit. Instead, the reader of the application would have easily surmised that the candidate expected the sheer weight of good grades, superb extracurricular activities and worthy goals to carry the day.

At selective institutions, however, those characteristics (good grades, etc.) do little more than put the student on the “competitive playing field” with hundreds or, in many cases, thousands of other equally qualified applicants. Their credentials are strong enough to start the conversation, but often fall short of “clinching the deal.”

Consider, for example, the highly involved student whose application failed to convey the generosity that shaped his character or the student who neglected to mention that the absence of a foreign language on her senior year schedule was due to a conflict with a course she is taking at a local college. Imagine the difference a personal interview would have made for the student whose life circumstances had affected her performance in the classroom, or the impact a thoughtfully developed personal statement could have had in place of the hastily completed essay that was deemed “good enough” by its author. In each case, the lack of intentionality—the failure to “connect the dots” of one’s life experiences—brought the candidate up “short” in the end. Perhaps,  most often overlooked is the opportunity the students have to demonstrate the synergy that exists between themselves and the institutions to which they are applying. In response to the typical “Why do you want to attend our school?” essay, a rather gratuitous response citing the school’s ranking and the prestige of its faculty reveals nothing about the student’s sense of purpose. On the other hand, had the student reached beyond the obvious to reveal the synergy—in real and personal terms—between the student’s aptitude, goals and learning style and the institution’s ability to complement them, he would have positioned himself much more effectively, especially in the competition for admission at colleges that must make fine distinctions between great candidates.

Quite often, then, the difference between acceptance and non-acceptance boils down to the student’s ability—and willingness—to be thoughtful and intentional in the presentation of her application. The winners in this competition are typically those who recognized—and seized upon—the opportunity to “connect the dots” of their applications to present themselves in a thematically cohesive manner. More than qualified, they made themselves into compelling candidates by giving admission officers greater insight into the unique perspectives and defining influences in their lives.

While there is not much current seniors can do to change the presentations of their submitted applications, the lessons learned in the process are worth passing forward to those who can benefit from them as they prepare their college applications.

It is for this reason that I will once again be offering a series of college application preparation workshops for high school juniors this spring. “What’s My Story?” is an intensive four-hour exercise that provides soon-to-be college applicants with proven strategies for “connecting the dots” to convey distinctive messages while eliminating the presentation of random credentials in their college applications.

To learn more about “What’s My Story?” workshops (locations, dates, FAQs, testimonials) and to register visit “What’s My Story?” Workshops.

If you do not see a “What’s My Story?” workshop at a location near you, but are aware of a school or organization that might like to collaborate in presenting one, please contact me at Peter@BestCollegeFit.com.

In the meantime, start to make note of how you want to approach the presentation of your credentials. You will have that opportunity before you know it!



Posted in Application Info, Early Decision/Action, Essay Preparation, Preparing the Application | No Comments »


  

BCF Readers’ Forum 1.20.18


January 20th, 2018

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 was recently deferred Early Action at a school that continues to be his top choice. He remains hopeful and we would appreciate your guidance on what he should do next. He intends to reach out to the regional recruiter and to submit a letter expressing his continued interest in the school. He has also arranged to submit his grades for the first two marking periods of senior year. He does not want to overstep and provide anything more than they wish to receive, but he does not want to under-respond, either.

Please advise us regarding how assertive he should be under these circumstances and what action he should take to put his best foot forward while they consider his application with the regular decision applicant pool. Is it appropriate to inform the school at this point that if he were to be granted an acceptance, he would enroll at that school? This school is truly where he dreams about attending.
Marge

Dear Marge,
It is important to know that colleges offering the Early Action option (no enrollment commitment expected) are seeking to identify students who would otherwise be at the top of the competition in their respective Regular Decision candidate pools. While disappointing, the deferral does not imply a lessening of chances in the Regular process.

It sounds like he is doing all the right things at this point to stay on the “radar” of the regional recruiter. The letter expressing his intent to enroll if accepted, along with any new information, is appropriate. The first key is brevity. The second key is patience. The next 8-10 weeks will be torturously slow!
Peter

Dear Peter,
We are now into the second phase of college applications—shock and disappointment! My daughter just found out that two of her top choices have deferred her Early Action. Are there any tips you can give regarding what she should do next that might increase her chances of acceptance? Do you know, from experience, the percent of deferrals that are accepted? I want to try to give her some hope as these are her top schools.
Jaime

Dear Jaime,
I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s Early Action deferrals. That said, she should take heart. The chances for students deferred EA are essentially the same as the chances for other Regular decision candidates. In the EA process, admission committees are looking for the superstar applicants, asking the question, “Do we know for certain that she would be one of best candidates if she were to apply Regular decision?” If so, the student is admitted. Absent that high level of certainty, the admission decision will be deferral. Students who are not likely to be competitive at all will be denied.

It is important to note that the implications of deferral in the EA process are much different than they are for deferral in the Early Decision process. In the latter, the question is, “If she were to be a candidate in the Regular admission process, do we think we might admit her then?” Whereas, in ED the tendency is to “lower the bar” somewhat academically, in EA the tendency is to “raise the bar.”

Without knowing more, I would observe that the probability of your daughter’s application being admitted is consistent with the overall selectivity of the respective colleges. If they admit one out of four, then her chances are one out of four. It could turn out that her credentials are highly valued by either or both of the colleges and she might still be admitted. She still needs to be mindful of the competitive nature of each school, though.

The best advice I can offer is to remain engaged in appropriate ways with each school. In particular, forward any new information to the regional recruiters as well as the admission office in general. The former are the decision-makers who are most likely to be involved in determining the outcomes of her applications.
Peter

Dear Peter,
In mid-December, my son received an acceptance letter from a university to which he applied Early Decision. He was thrilled and withdrew all of his other applications.

I am curious about something, though. My son applied Early Action to all of the other schools on his list, so he was finished submitting applications by November 1st. Is there any way for a university that receives an Early Action application to know that the same applicant has also submitted an ED application to another school? And if so, could this send a message that they are not the “first choice”?
Liz

Dear Liz,
First of all, congrats to your son on his acceptance! He did the right thing by withdrawing his other applications, including the Early Action applications. It is common for colleges to share lists of students accepted in the ED process with their peers. The schools to which he applied EA would then withdraw his applications if he hadn’t done so already.

I would offer two thoughts in response to your question. 1) Colleges with EA programs assume that many of their candidates will be ED candidates elsewhere—even if they don’t have any hard evidence of the fact. 2) Colleges offering EA do not expect that students applying EA are declaring first choice interest. All but a few (with restricted, single-choice EA options) assume that students applying EA at their schools are also applying EA at others as well. In the EA competition—and in the Regular Decision process—it is critical to demonstrate a sincerity of interest and, more importantly, recognition of the synergy that exists between the student and institution. Admission officers are really good at discerning the intentionality or sense of purpose that is exhibited by the candidate in the application.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I’ve read that most ED accepted applicants at the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools play a varsity sport. Is that true?
Doug

Dear Doug,
While I cannot refer to specific data, I doubt that is the case. It is true that NESCAC schools use ED aggressively in qualifying and securing commitments from recruited athletes—as do other highly selective, non-scholarship programs—but I suspect the majority of admitted ED candidates are not athletes.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My 10th-grade son is an outstanding student with a GPA > 4.0, all honors and AP classes and very strong standardized test-taking skills. He plays soccer, runs track and volunteers at his HS after school as a tutor for struggling students.

I’ve regularly encouraged him to consider applying to schools in the top tier of colleges that interest him but he’s been consistently dismissive of the whole college ranking/selection process and believes that, to a large extent, it doesn’t matter (either during his college years or afterwards in his profession and life) where he goes to school as long as he’s happy with his choice. He now refuses to talk about college with me and rejected the chance to visit any number of east coast schools this summer when we will be traveling for a family event.

My goal for him is to find a great school that he loves, but one that triggers and sustains a very high level of intellectual curiosity for him. I am quite confident that the faculty, resources, student diversity and learning environment at schools like Tufts, MIT or Wesleyan would prove extraordinarily satisfying for him both now and truly for the rest of his life. How do I get him to see that, or to at least consider that I may be right and that, all things being equal, he should probably go to Georgetown over San Diego State?
Ian

Dear Ian,
It sounds like your son is actually being very thoughtful about his educational future. I tend to agree with him about rankings in that they often provide a distorted sense of institutional worth. And I would have to agree that success upon graduation and in life is less a function of where he goes—and is more likely determined by what he does once on that campus.

At this point, your son probably just needs some space. It is not uncommon for parental anticipation of the process to be met by teenage indifference. He is still a sophomore—he’s got a lot of time. The last thing you want to do is push him away.

When you do talk about his educational future, you might try a different approach. Instead of focusing on the places, why don’t you try talking with him about his interests? What are his favorite subjects—and why? Who are his favorite teachers—and why? How would he describe himself as a student? Why does he want to go to college? What would a “good education” feel like to him?

Once the conversation is about him—and he can begin to reflect on his priorities—it will be easier for him to begin thinking about places that will best enable him to achieve his goals. In the end, he might discover some of the same schools you’ve been presenting to him, but the “find” needs to be his.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We learned that one of the highly selective schools to which my daughter has applied looks at demonstrated interest. Would it be helpful or a waste of time to schedule a campus visit now that apps are already submitted? If it is helpful, when would be the latest date to visit that would benefit her? (We are thinking mid-late February).
Jill

Dear Jill,
Campus visits are indeed the best indicators to colleges that are attempting to measure a student’s interest. While this visit should have taken place last summer/fall, visiting now is better than not at all as your daughter will get the benefit of learning more about the school first-hand. It’s hard to know whether the visit will be persuasive to decision-makers. Mid-late February might suit her agenda, but it will probably be too late to be impactful in the admission process.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We know that we are not going to qualify for need-based aid, so is there any reason to submit the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile?
Lynn

Dear Lynn,
There is no need to submit the CSS Profile as it is used to determine your eligibility for need-based institutional funds. On the other hand, an institution might require submission of the FAFSA if your student is offered a merit scholarship. Because the FAFSA determines your eligibility for funds (grants, loans, campus work study) from the Federal government, you’ll also need to submit it if your student wants to take out a student loan or secure a job on campus, both of which are funded (for the most part) by the Feds.
Peter

 



Posted in Early Decision/Action, The Admission Process | 2 Comments »


  

“Keep Your Eyes on the Road” 1.13.18


January 13th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

The “rush” associated with college application deadlines has almost passed. Except for students applying to colleges with February 1 deadlines or those with “rolling admission” processes, the “heavy lifting” is over. And with that realization comes a huge sigh of relief. All that is left now is the wait for final admission decisions. Sound familiar?

If so, you (and your parents) might be tempted to downshift from the frenetic pace that got you this far. Be careful, though, not take your “eyes off the road” to college. Otherwise, you might miss important opportunities to put yourself in the best position to gain admission and secure the financial assistance you need at the schools of your choice. You have traveled too far in this process to leave things to chance. For example:

1.  File the FAFSA—now! If you find college price tags to be even the least bit daunting, you need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Wherever you are looking, need-based financial aid starts with it. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for grants and loans from the federal government and from most states. Moreover, state universities and many private colleges also use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for institutional funds. If you think you need assistance, you can’t afford not to file the FAFSA

2.  Don’t wait for the “admit” letter to apply for financial aid. This may seem redundant, but it bears repeating: if you think you need assistance, complete the financial aid application process now! That means completing the FAFSA and all other required forms. In particular, watch out for the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE, a highly complex form required by many private institutions.

It is not uncommon for families to put off financial aid applications because they are either uncomfortable with the process itself or they are don’t want to jeopardize the student’s status through the admission process. The assumption: “Let’s see where you get in and then we can apply for financial aid” or “This form is worse than the 1040 tax return. Let’s wait until our accountant can work on it.”

Frankly, “waiting” is a bad strategy. The reason—financial aid is awarded (or allocated) to students as soon as they are admitted. If you wait until you have an offer of admission in hand before beginning to address financial aid applications and you demonstrate that you need assistance, it is likely you will receive a message from the admitting institution that the financial aid “well” has gone dry. Despite the “need,” the money is gone. In such cases, any financial aid that might come your way “after the fact” will likely involve heavy doses of loans and campus work-study.

3.  Stick with your list.
It will be tempting to second-guess yourself with regard to the number and “quality” of schools to which you have applied—especially if you think “it can’t hurt to pick up a ‘true’ safety school” or “I’ll never know if I could get in if I don’t try.” While you are “in the moment,” these thoughts might seem very reasonable. The fact is you are likely to put yourself into competitive situations where your lack of history with the institution will raise questions about the sincerity of your interest. Such seemingly whimsical interest can lead to the conclusion that you are a “ghost applicant.” When that happens, even prospective “safety” schools will be inclined to put you on the Wait List.

The bottom line: Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by last minute flings. It is much better to remain focused on maintaining productive relationships with schools on your short list.

4.  Stay engaged with the colleges to which you have applied. This mantra is probably getting old, but don’t under-estimate the importance many institutions attach to having some degree of confidence in the sincerity of your interest. When the hair-splitting is finished in the credential review process, the following question is often raised about compelling candidates, “If we admit this student, what is the likelihood that he will enroll?”

So, what can you do? If you haven’t visited, make plans to do so now. Once on campus, make sure you check in at the admission office. Interview if you can. Some schools will offer alumni interviews. If so, make an appointment. It will be the fact, not the substance, of the interview that can make a difference.

Pay attention to your inbox—don’t ignore seemingly casual emails from representatives of the schools to which you have applied. There is a good chance they are “pinging” to see if you are paying attention—to see if you are interested. Don’t give them a reason to question the strength of your interest. In sincere and appropriate ways, stay on their radar screens. An institution’s lack of confidence in the sincerity of a student’s interest is the unseen reason behind countless decisions to move highly qualified students from the admit list to the Wait List.

5.  Stay focused. The work you do in the classroom in the coming weeks could well make the difference in your admission outcome. This might be the most straightforward—and common sense—bit of advice I can offer, but it is also the most easily overlooked. The rule of thumb when it comes to the senior year is this: “The more selective the college of interest, the more important the senior year performance will be as the number one factor.”

Think about it. It is precisely at that moment when you think the pressure is off—that no one is looking—that admission officers at selective institutions make their most difficult decisions. Even students who have been admitted Early Decision or Early Action will be expected to show that the performance that gained them admission is continued through graduation. Don’t give admission officers a reason to say “no” or to reconsider their offers of admission.



Posted in Application Info, Financial Aid, The Admission Process | 4 Comments »


  

“Getting Started: January College Planning Tips” 1.6.18


January 6th, 2018

By Peter Van Buskirk

In many households around the country, the start of a new calendar year marks the beginning of the college planning process. After much holiday talk about possible college destinations, high school Juniors now gird themselves for the inevitable rush of activity that will culminate in college applications less than a year from now. (And many younger students will soon find themselves on the “college trail” as well.) Wherever you, the student, are in the process, keep the following in mind as you engage in college planning.

1.    Stay student-centered. Quite often, students (and their parents) focus on the “answer” without first addressing the “question.” They know the “what”—college is the predetermined outcome—before they have carefully considered the “why.” This can lead to uninformed choices and, eventually, a sense of aimlessness once in college.

Before starting to draft college lists, contemplate important questions such as: “Why do you want to go to college?” “What do you want to accomplish by the time you graduate?” “In what type of academic environment do you function best?” In other words, put yourself—and your needs—first in all deliberations.

2.    Resist the temptation to start with a list of destination or target colleges. You still have plenty of time for that. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to see what is “out there.” Go window-shopping. Check out colleges of all sizes, shapes and locations. The more you know—the broader the perspective you can gain now—the easier it will be to make critical distinctions later.

3.    Keep rankings and reputations in perspective. We’ll talk about rankings in later missives, but know this: by allowing yourself to be strongly influenced by rankings and reputation at the start of your search, you risk denying yourself an awareness of options that might be more viable for you in the long run.

4.    Focus on fit. Student-centered decision-making means that the optimal solution (college choice) will be the one that fits you best. It will:

1)    Offer a program of study to match your interests and needs.
2)    Provide a style of instruction to match the way you like to learn.
3)    Provide a level of academic rigor to match your aptitude and preparation.
4)    Offer a community that feels like home to you.
5)    Value you for what you have to offer.

As you consider different college possibilities, be deliberate about making sure that each passes the “best fit” test before moving them into “preferred” status.

5.    Establish a hierarchy of importance. As you sort through the various factors that seem to influence your decision-making, i.e. location, distance from home, presence of a top-ranked athletic program, etc., consider their importance in your choice of colleges. Are they “essential,” “very important” or do they fit in a “would be nice” category? Be honest in your assessments. Don’t let the “would be nice” factors drive your decision-making.

6.    Road trip! While the Internet provides a ready opportunity to search for colleges from the comfort of your home, now is a good time to start visiting college campuses. Take tours. Participate in information sessions. Record your visits—take notes (and pictures).

7.    Don’t rush to judgment. There is plenty of time before you need to worry about focusing on specific schools. Allow your list to grow. As you do, reflect on what you are learning about yourself and the factors that define a good fit for you. Later, as you begin working toward a short list of colleges, utilize the “hierarchy of importance” to make sure you are targeting the places that make the most sense to you.

8.    Get on colleges’ radar screens. As you learn about colleges, make sure you get credit for the contacts you are making at college nights, information sessions at your school and campus visits. Fill out information cards and registration forms whenever possible. Many places are keeping track and will eventually, when you become an applicant, try to predict the likelihood of your enrollment based on the nature of your engagement with them.

9.    Talk with your parents about cost and affordability. You need to go into this process with your eyes wide open. It is no secret that a four-year college education can be very expensive. Try to get a sense as to what your family can or is willing to afford relative to college costs. Consider yourself lucky if you are fortunate to be able to afford four years of college out-of-pocket. On the other hand, if you need assistance, realize that hundreds of millions of dollars of institutional funding is available to students each year. In order to tap into this support, you will need to manage your expectations and direct your attention to places that will value you for what you have to offer.

10.    Develop a strategy for testing. On which test, SAT or ACT, do you want to focus? It’s generally a good idea to take a test at least twice—but not more than three times—over the next twelve months. It is important to remember, though, that you own the results and that means that no results should be released to colleges, universities or scholarship-granting organizations without your authorization.

11.    Make good choices. Every day, you have the opportunity to make choices that have a domino effect on how you live the next day. Now, more than ever, the choices you make in school—and in life—will have a bearing on how you will compete for admission. Like it or not, everything counts. So, make choices that will give admission committees confidence that you are well prepared and best suited for their environments. Don’t wait to become a college applicant—you are already one now!

Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students, 2017, is an excellent resource for students getting started with college planning. It includes timelines, tips and exercises for students that walk them through the college search and application processes. Prepare, Compete, Win! is available in the BCF Bookstore.

P.S. Stay with us! While this blog (and others to follow) is designed to help orient younger students to the college process, I will continue to provide guidance to current college applicants on important decision-making matters through the early part of May.



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“Life After the PSAT” 12.9.17


December 9th, 2017

By Peter Van Buskirk

The middle of December is a time of important revelations for many young people as they apply to college. If you are a high school Junior, the chances are you will learn your PSAT result in the next few days. As momentous as this event (the unveiling of your scores) might seem, you need to keep it in perspective.

After months of preparation—pre-tests, test prep and practice tests—the PSAT you took in October is real. It is important to remember, though, that the result you receive does not define your intelligence nor does it reveal your worth as an individual. It can, however, serve as a starting point in giving definition to your opportunities as a college applicant. If you like what you see, congratulations! You’re off to a good start. But, if your numbers don’t measure up to your expectations, relax—your life isn’t over.

As a matter of fact, the last thing you want to do is jump to conclusions such as, “Wow! Look at that score! I’ll be able to get in wherever I want to go!” or “I might as well forget it. I’ll never get into a ‘good’ school.” Remember, this is just a starting point for your college planning. If you posted amazing scores, it is true you are likely to attract a lot of unsolicited attention from colleges—and considerable advice from anyone who has an opinion about where you should be looking. If, on the other hand, your score disappoints you, don’t despair. There is plenty of time to work on your credentials and to define a set of quality options for yourself.

However you feel about your test results, don’t let them change you. Big scores are no more a guarantee of admission and scholarships than modest scores are a limitation of opportunity. Use what you learn from the results to plan effectively. Stay focused on your priorities. Do what you do as well as you can. And look for colleges that value you for what you do well.

A few words of caution for students with high PSAT results:
While some institutions will offer you the “sun and the moon” because your scores are very high and you might be qualified for selection as a National Merit Scholar, make sure those places are good fits for you. Will they be able to offer you the kind of learning environment, as well as the program of study, that is important to you? Don’t make any commitments, even emotionally, until you have visited their campuses.

In addition, understand that the more selective institutions will see hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates with scores just like yours—and turn down many of them. A high score is not a guarantee of admission.

How to Use the PSAT Results
While I am not a fan of standardized testing as an evaluative tool in the admission process, your results can help you generate a list of schools at which you should be able to compete for admission. To get started in that direction, add 60 points to your total score to project the typical improvement shown over the course of 2-3 additional SAT test administrations.

With that information in hand, look at the range of SAT scores for enrolled students reported by the schools that interest you. Focus on the places where your projected result would put you in the top half of the scores reported. Do the same for your ACT results if you took that test. This approach to selecting schools isn’t foolproof, but it will help you identify the right competitive “playing fields” for you given your credentials.

Where Does Test Prep Fit?
Effective engagement in test preparation can make a difference in your subsequent SAT/ACT results. As you consider test prep, though, keep in mind that success involves a serious commitment of time and effort. Simply buying the course won’t make the difference.

If you decide to invest in test prep, focus on the options that best suit your learning style and schedule. Possibilities include personal one-to-one tutoring, classroom instruction and online instruction. Plan your involvement in order to complete the course within two weeks of the targeted test date.

Be wary of guaranteed results. Quite often, the guarantee speaks to projected improvement from your last official test result to the practice test taken at the conclusion of the course—not your next official examination!

Additional Tips for Managing Your Test Results
Now that you have “gotten your feet wet” with testing, keep the following in mind as you proceed with additional testing.

  • You have testing options. In the coming months, try the SAT and the ACT to discover the style of test that fits you best. Then, focus on preparing for that test. Every college in the country uses ACT and SAT results interchangeably .
  • Limit yourself to three sittings for the test you choose (ACT/SAT). There is a point of diminishing return! Don’t become a slave to testing and test prep when your time can be better spent elsewhere.
  • Remember you have “score choice” at your disposal. This means you can choose the scores you would like to forward to colleges. When you take the SAT, you will be given the opportunity to designate up to four colleges to receive your results. Don’t list any schools unless you don’t care that they see all of your scores. Instead, wait until you have taken the SAT several times to determine which sets of scores you’d like to send.
  • Speaking of options, more than 850 colleges and universities now welcome applications without test results. Visit www.FairTest.org to see the list of “test optional” schools.
  • Read a lot! If you are determined to improve your testing performance, don’t overlook the impact of exposure to language and ideas found contextually in books and articles. Hard as it might be to imagine in the world of electronics in which we live, reading can be fun and very inexpensive!


Posted in Testing/Test Prep | No Comments »