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. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing your comments as we progress through the college planning process together.

“BCF Readers’ Forum” 11/21/13

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

Dear Peter,
Can it hurt a student to check the “yes” box on the Common App about their intention to apply for financial aid, especially if the school is not a need-blind school?

Dear Joseph,
In answer to your question, it should not hurt a student to check “yes” on the admission application with regard to her/his intent to apply for financial aid. Why? Colleges know that about 30% of such students either never follow up with a financial aid application (they know they don’t need it) or they do apply for financial aid and demonstrate that they don’t need it. The point of discrimination will be later in the process when a completed analysis of the student’s financial need can be assessed within the context of the admission competition. Checking “yes” does serve the purpose of letting a potential advocate on the admission staff know of the student’s intent in which case that person can be prompted if there are ever late or missing documents.

The need-blind caveat is moot. “Need blind”—the notion that all candidates (100%) will be considered without regard to their family financial circumstances—is an empty promise that presumes an endless supply of funding. It doesn’t happen anywhere except, possibly, at those schools that are open in admission and prone to aiding everyone. If an institution has a financial aid budget—and, even the wealthiest do—by definition it can’t be need blind.

Dear Peter,
From your experience, is there a preference at selective institutions for either the AP or the IB program? If IB is available at your school and you choose AP are you viewed as NOT choosing the most rigorous option? If you do IB certificates versus the entire diploma, is that worth it, or would you be better off choosing AP if you do not intend to do the full diploma?

Dear Rita,
Both the IB and AP programs are almost universally regarded among the premier curricula in the world. They vary, however, with regard to content and style of delivery. Whereas the AP curriculum is geared to preparing students to demonstrate mastery on an AP test, the IB curriculum teaches students how to think critically as they master related content. As a result, the latter typically involves more writing and resembles the curricula offered by liberal arts programs. While some might rightfully argue that the IB math curriculum does not provide exposure to advanced levels of Calculus, as does the AP, the respective science curricula seem to compare well with regard to content coverage.

It is not uncommon for students to forego the full IB Diploma in favor of mixing IB courses (with certificate recognition) with AP courses in their academic programs. The bottom line is that the student needs to make curricular choices that make sense to him/her, do as well as possible in those courses and then select colleges that will value her/him for those efforts as well what s/he has to offer.

Personally, I am a fan of the IB because of the orientation to critical thinking and the emphasis on the development of writing and research skills (TOK and extended essay included). In terms of absolute rigor, I have not heard of any selective institutions articulating biases toward one or the other.

Dear Peter,
My daughter is in several AP classes as a junior. Should she take the SAT subject test in those classes or only focus on the classes that are not AP classes? (All of her other classes are honors level). She thinks that she should take both the SAT subject tests and the AP tests. Are the SAT subject tests even meaningful to college admissions?

Dear Sandra,
Subject Tests are only required by a handful of colleges, usually the most selective places as well as those with specialty programs (engineering, architecture, language studies, etc.). I would have her check the requirements of some of the colleges that interest her before formulating a strategy for taking Subject Tests. If the schools that interest her do not require Subject Tests, then there is no need to take them. The AP courses and exams will suffice.

Dear Peter,
Is it beneficial for my daughter to sign up for the student search? She is a junior and is taking the SAT test in the coming months. I have read that schools and scholarship programs will be able to identify prospective candidates this way. Why wouldn’t you sign up for this? Does it just generate a lot of unnecessary mail or can it be helpful?

Dear Joan,
While participating in the student search service will generate a lot of unnecessary mail, it will help to give your daughter exposure to a lot of colleges/scholarship programs—and them to her. She will need to develop a disciplined approach to sorting through the mail for information that satisfies her criteria for a good college fit (described periodically in my blogs under the category of “College Planning” and The College Planning Workbook). Otherwise, she will feel overwhelmed by the deluge of mail! And she needs to respond to the information she receives from schools that might be of interest to her!

Dear Peter,
One of the universities that our daughter is considering applying to says they do not participate in the College Board’s Score Choice program. Our daughter sat for the SAT twice and scored higher on all parts on the second sitting and on two parts significantly higher.

My first question is why would a university want to look at all the scores and not just the best ones as most schools do? Second, would chances of admission be worse if there is a significant difference in the scores as the average is obviously less than the best set of scores? Lastly, is our daughter obligated to send all the scores regardless of the school’s request? Any insight would be appreciated.

Dear Ian,
Unfortunately, my responses will be intuitive in nature as it is impossible to look into the hearts and minds of the decision-makers at schools that refuse to honor “score choice.” The only conceivable reason for wanting to see all scores is to discriminate in some way on the basis of either anomalously low scores or testing results that show unusual score intervals between subsequent test administrations. In either case, the inferences tend to negatively impact the applicant.

The question of obligatory submission of all scores to schools that don’t honor “score choice” is a call that only you and your daughter can make. She owns the results and it can be argued that they don’t go anywhere without her authorization. Schools in question are not likely to know if she opts not to submit them. On the other hand, the schools are expecting that, as she applies, she is doing so in a manner that is compliant with their application requirements. As I say, it becomes an ethical matter that only you and she can resolve.

Dear Peter
My daughter applied Early Action to several colleges. Our high school does not send first quarter transcripts and the colleges have not requested it. However, she has 5 A’s and a B+ in the six AP courses she is taking. Would it help her to send an email to the regional admissions contacts letting them know her first quarter grades?

Dear Bob,
Submitting first quarter grades to institutions where she has applied EA makes sense. Where non-ED/ED applications are involved, such grades are less relevant as those places will received copies of her mid-year grades from her school. I suggest sending the grades to the regional recruiters along with a question as to how she might best submit them so they might be formally connected with her application files at the respective schools. Putting the grades in the hands of the regional recruiters might be sufficient. On the other hand, if there are other protocols to follow for a formal submission, those persons can advise her accordingly.

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