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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

Saturday, 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

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?

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.

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?

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 to find answers to the question, “If I want to apply to more than ten colleges, what should I do?”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.