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BCF Readers’ Forum VII


Saturday, November 18th, 2017

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 in August. 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

By Peter Van Buskirk

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.

BCF Readers’ Forum XI


Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Dear Peter,
My daughter is working on her college essays for both the Coalition and the Common applications. Each allows an essay on the “topic of your choice.” Could she just pick any prompt from either app and submit it for both? Or, would submitting something that was obviously written for a different app be considered tacky?
Janet

Dear Janet,
Most essay prompts present creative challenges in response to which students are able to reveal aspects of their life experiences that aren’t found anywhere else in their applications. In short, they have an opportunity to tell stories that are uniquely theirs.

Students need to be intentional when identifying essay prompts that provide the best opportunities for conveying essential messages in a thematically cohesive manner. Both the Coalition and Common Applications provide a series of essay prompt options as well as an option to write an essay on “a topic of your choice.” The latter leaves open the possibility that the student can use an essay that has been created for other purposes.

Given this flexibility regarding topic choices, intentionality is critical—students need to be thoughtful about the messages they want to convey to each college. A “one size fits all” approach to choosing an essay prompt might seem efficient, but it can be risky. Admission officers are quite discerning about the student’s recognition of the synergy between herself and the institution. In other words, “is this a conversation you are having with us or is it a conversation you are having with all who will listen?” This is likely to be even more relevant as students respond to the supplemental essay prompts associated with specific colleges receiving your daughter’s applications.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter wants to visit some colleges that are far away. I would love to take her, but I am a single parent and have very limited vacation days that I can take off due to a recent surgery. I know it is important for her to see the campuses, but I won’t be able to go with her to all of the colleges. What should we do?
Jillian

Dear Jillian,
Your daughter should make every effort to visit colleges that are very important to her—it will be hard for her to make a compelling application to a college that is “site unseen.” If you are not able to travel with her, perhaps a friend or family member might accompany her.

If visiting is simply not feasible, your daughter should check the websites of the colleges in question to see if virtual tours are available. She should also identify the admission staff persons at the colleges and reach out to them with any thoughtful questions she might have. Finally, she should be alert to any webinar information sessions that are offered by the colleges.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Prior to 9th Grade, my daughter was diagnosed with ADD. With medication—and literally overnight—she went from receiving grades in the 70’s to grades in the mid-90’s in virtually all of her classes. She had struggled immensely until this point and her confidence was decimated.

Due to the timing of the diagnosis, she had not taken algebra or earth science in 8th grade and was not tracked into any honors classes. She has, however, maintained a rigorous schedule that will see her taking physics, calculus, Spanish 5, History and English in her senior year. She has maintained an overall 94 average and has made the High Honor Roll each quarter of her high school career.

My daughter has also been quite successful at soccer. She is being recruited by two outstanding Division III private colleges and we are at the point of sending transcripts.
It is our impression these colleges want to see honors as well as AP courses.

How much “pull” do coaches have? Should we be very forthcoming right out of the box about my daughter’s late diagnosis of ADD and miraculous results with the medication? She has worked hard to accomplish well over the past three years of high school and we’d like to see her get into the best academic college possible.
Hannah

Dear Hannah,
I would urge you to be fully disclosing with regard to your daughter’s academic history. IF the coach is going to have any “pull” with the admission office, she will need to be in full command of your daughter’s situation. I have written before about the need for students to explain irregularities (performance doesn’t match expectations) in their academic program/performance. This is a perfect example of the need for such an explanation.

Absent such information, admission officers will be easily dismissive of her credentials. She at least gives herself a chance by telling the complete story and eliminating the guesswork that would otherwise be required of admission officers.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Our son received a National Society of High School Scholars “Membership Confirmation” today and I wonder whether this is something that might help him get admitted or secure scholarships. Would you be able to weigh in on whether this is worth the $75.00 they seek?
Don

Dear Don,
I have found no evidence that NSHSS membership is actually regarded as a meaningful credential in the admission or scholarship selection process. If anything, it’s ego food. Honors are earned—they can’t be bought.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My question has to do with how a student might incorporate traveling abroad during the summer into a college application. This will be my son’s second trip and he will get community service hours. I have been told in the past that you do not want to mention any type of service where you had to pay to be involved. Although, my son has a strong passion for travel and helping others, would it be wrong to label these outings as “mission trips” or would you just avoid mentioning them all together? This summer, he is actually staying with a host family and intends to start some type of fundraiser for them when he gets back.
Matt

Dear Matt,
Travel abroad and “mission” trips can be incredibly enlightening activities and certainly deserve reference in college applications. Such experiences are fairly common, though, and typically fall to students who can afford them—hence, the cynicism expressed by many admission officers when students talk about the trips in their essays. That said, it is appropriate to include reference to the travel somewhere on the extracurricular profile/resume. And, to the extent that the experiences have shaped your son’s perspective, they might be the subject of an essay.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I have been pondering whether or not I should take an AP Biology course for my senior year or an AP Government and Politics class. Science is not the field I wish to pursue as I am interested in history education. I am concerned about dropping science, though, if it will decrease my chances of being admitted into a school. I am looking for some guidance through this difficult decision.
Sharon

Dear Sharon,
On the surface, swapping out one high level course (AP Bio) for another (AP Government/Politics) would seem to make sense, especially if you are leaning strongly toward academic/career interests related to the latter. On the other hand, some colleges will regard AP Bio as a stronger choice. That said, I’d strongly urge you to raise the same question with the regional recruiters from some of the colleges likely to be on your “short list.” They are in a better position to provide insight into the nuances of the selection processes of which they are a part.
Peter

BCF Readers’ Forum XVIII


Monday, November 21st, 2016

Dear Peter,
My son has applied ED and has submitted applications to several other colleges in the event that the ED application is not successful. What is the best way for him to continue to keep a dialogue of sorts with the “fall-back” schools that might become more important to him after his ED decision is known?
Arnie

Dear Arnie,
At this time, the most meaningful dialogue that could be initiated by your son will involve thoughtful, sincere questions that cannot be answered anywhere in the schools’ literature or websites. If none come to mind, then there is nothing to communicate. Your son needs to be careful not to come across as insecure by calculating for effect. Sometimes the best action is no action. Rather than succumbing to the urge to reach out, he simply needs to be mindful of opportunities to respond to communication that is directed to him from the colleges.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son has a processing issue that results in homework taking him an excruciatingly long time. He has found that taking AP courses that require more reading is not feasible for him when trying to manage a full class load. But he is now comparing himself to his classmates and hearing about how the difficulty of classes is perceived and assessed by schools. He feels like his transcript will convey that he hasn’t challenged himself when, in fact, these “regular” classes have been very rigorous. Is this something he should explain in a supplemental essay?
Jeanine

Dear Jeanine,
I can appreciate your concern regarding the processing issues. My inclination is to err on the side of disclosure whenever there would seem to be outcomes inconsistent with expectations. In your son’s case, if the perceived lack of academic rigor can be explained by the processing issues, then such an explanation is warranted somewhere in his application. The supplemental essay can be used for this purpose.

Moreover, he might ask his guidance counselor to help tell this part of his story. Colleges that understand and respect his processing issues, and are eager—and prepared—to support him in college, will regard this information as helpful to their decision-making. On the other hand, some colleges will simply see this information as validation of a concern that he might not be adequately prepared to function in their respective environments. If it is a fear of this potential reaction that is keeping your son from disclosing, he must ask the question: “Would I really want to be at a college that would otherwise discriminate against me?” Such a college is certainly not going to go out of its way to help support him if he is admitted and enrolled.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son heard an admission presentation at his school and would like to follow up with the rep. Do you have samples of letters to let them know that you were there and how much you would love to attend their school?
Nancy

Dear Nancy,
Follow-ups to college reps should be short, to the point—and sincere. That’s why there is no template. Your son might simply say, “Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your presentation and look forward to learning more about (insert name of program[s] he’d like to pursue). I’ve begun to make plans to visit your campus and look forward to staying in touch…” It would be great if your son could ask a thoughtful question or request clarification of information provided during the presentation as that would require a follow-up from the college representative.
Peter

Dear Peter,
It is my understanding that selective universities invite certain Early Action applicants to have an optional interview with an Alumnus sometime between mid-November to mid-December. Is this meaningful at all in terms of probability of acceptance? It seems that they would only invite applicants to interview that passed some initial screening. Given the tight turnaround time from the November 1 application due date to the invitation for an interview, I am guessing that they must do some kind of computerized screening. Any insight on this process would be very much appreciated.
Antone

Dear Antone,
While I can’t speak for all schools regarding their protocol for interviews, it is common practice for elite institutions to offer alumni interviews with applicants. Doing so is less an indicator of probability of acceptance (I would not assume any prescreening) and more so an opportunity for the institution to screen for interest on the part of the student. That said I’d urge your student to participate in the alumni interview if at all possible. It is not the content of the interview that will matter; rather, it is the fact that it takes place that can make a difference.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I met the senior associate dean of admission at one of my son’s favorite schools when we went to visit and then again this week when he gave a lecture locally. And at the end of the last lecture, I told him this was the second time meeting him and he said he remembered my question from the first meeting. He gave me his business card, I did not ask for it. I want to now email him but frankly, have no idea what to say, what is appropriate to say, etc. Please advise. Thanks!
Rich

Dear Rich,
The only reason to email this rep is if you have a thoughtful question that can’t be answered anywhere in his school’s literature or on its website. Admission officers are so busy right now that anything short of substantive inquiries from the “outside” will be regarded as a nuisance that could risk introducing a negative bias for the candidate. Moreover, the more pertinent contact would come from your son, not you. If you don’t know what to say, there is no need to contact the gentleman.
Peter

Dear Peter,
When a student submits SAT scores, and a school offers “super-scoring,” does the admission team see the full test for each day, or does an admin compile a file for each kid so the evaluating admission officer only sees the highest scores from each date combined? In other words, if my student’s high math score is accompanied by a relatively low critical reading score, is it a risk to send a low critical reading score from an exposure standpoint?
Annalise

Dear Annalise,
The processing of test scores will vary at each institution. At many schools, the super-scoring takes place at the point of data entry. As a result, application readers only see the super-score result. At other, often more selective, schools the full set of subscores will be visible to the reviewers in which case there is some exposure risk to providing all scores as those schools might discriminate on the anomalously low subscore or, in your student’s case, the critical reading score.
Peter

BCF Readers’ Forum XIX


Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

Dear Peter,
What is the right number of letters of recommendation to send in with an application and who should they come from?
Howard

Dear Howard,
Most colleges will make clear the number of letters of recommendation to be submitted in their application instructions. Typically, they will want an evaluation from the guidance counselor/college advisor that provides an overview of the student’s character, citizenship and preparation for college as well as letters from two teachers who will comment on the student’s academic aptitude, work habits and performance in the classroom. One of the teachers should be able to address the student’s critical thinking and articulation skills. The other teacher should be familiar with the student’s skill set as it relates to her potential academic focus in college. Beyond that, letters from friends, alumni and/or other influential people are generally inconsequential and tend to get in the way.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I have heard you say that it is important to establish relationships with the regional recruiters at the colleges where my daughter wants to apply.  How can we find out who these people are?
Melanie

Dear Melanie,
I would start with the college advisors at your daughter’s high school. If the colleges in question have been recruiting in your area, it is quite likely that the college advisors will be able to identify the regional recruiters for you. If not, check the admission pages on the websites for these colleges. Many will list the members of the admission staff along with their areas of recruitment. When visiting a college’s campus, your daughter might ask if she could say “hello” to the regional recruiter or, at the very least, get that person’s business card.

If all else fails, your daughter could call the school’s admission office and ask for the name and contact information of the person who recruits at her school.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We have a situation where my son left his original high school to attend an IB (International Baccalaureate Program) in another state where his father lives. Needless to say, it is a two-year program. He is in 11th grade, but would like to return to his original high school this coming January and leave the IB program he successfully started this past August. What could be the repercussions of such move from a college application standpoint? My son’s choices for colleges are in the United Kingdom, which is one of the reasons the IB had some appeal.
Margaret

Dear Margaret,
While not optimal to a student’s academic development, things like a divorce or move do happen and can be disruptive. While I don’t have any experience/expertise in dealing with admission to universities in the UK, I can tell you that, if he were to remain in the US, he would need to make sure the circumstances surrounding the changes in his academic program are well explained in his application. You might reach out to some of the UK universities of interest to see what they have to say. Many are now very interested in, and attentive to, students in the US who want to study abroad and could give you good advice.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We applied for special accommodations for my son while taking the SATs to allow for extra time, as he is dyslexic. He usually doesn’t need extra time, but its good to have in case. We’re currently working on applying to ACT for the accommodations as well. The registration for the ACT had a profile to complete. It asked, repeatedly, about accommodations needed AT THE COLLEGE. We weren’t sure if it was wise to put his potential needs on the profile (separate from the testing registration). Do schools have a quota of taking “learning disabled” students? Would it be a detriment to put it on his profile? If he needs any special accommodations, they would be minimal. Do you have an opinion either way? We don’t want to do him harm by disclosing he MAY need accommodations. But if they need quota numbers, and it would give him favor, we can go forward with disclosure.
Marianne

Dear Marianne,
I am not aware of colleges having to fill quotas regarding numbers of students with learning differences to enroll. If there is a chance, however, that he might need accommodations (as reflected by the request for special accommodation on the SAT/ACT) once in college, it would be prudent to provide related information on the application. Frankly, you have to ask yourself whether you would want your son to attend a college that would otherwise discriminate against him or one that will do what it takes to support him in the achievement of his goals.
Peter

Dear Peter,
I am not applying Early Decision, but wonder if there are any advantages in sending in my Regular Decision application a day or two after the ED date but way ahead of the RD date? My guidance counselor recommended that I wait and send it in just before the RD date because, if an application is sent in early, it will just sit there until the RD date anyway.
Liam

Dear Liam,
The timing of your Regular Decision application submissions is not terribly critical. Your counselor is correct that an application submitted early is not likely to be reviewed until later. At schools that offer ED or EA options, credential review time will be devoted to those applications. I suggest you try to submit Regular Decision applications two weeks in advance of deadlines in order to avoid the avalanche of paperwork that typically hits admission offices at their deadlines.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son is in 12th grade. Should the FAFSA be completed as soon as possible or should it be submitted after he applies to college? Because our income is below $80K, does it pay to submit the FAFSA after he applies to college? Will our income influence his aid, getting in, and financial package?
Alden

Dear Alden,
The FAFSA should be completed as soon as possible. Upon its completion, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that reveals your expected family contribution (EFC) according to the ”federal methodology” used in need analysis. This information will be very helpful in determining your out-of-pocket exposure to any state university as well as many private colleges to which your son might apply.

If he is applying to any of the more selective colleges, your son will most likely need to complete the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile as well. This form will lead to a more granular assessment of your financial situation (using institution-specific variables) that is likely to produce a higher EFC. Unfortunately, you will not be informed of the result of this submission as this is information known only to the colleges to which he applies.

The information produced by these forms could well influence the disposition of your son’s admission status. It will definitely determine the assessment of his EFC at each college. Should he be admitted, the college in question will then determine the nature of the financial aid award. Quite often this determination is subjective (a practice called preferential packaging) based on the extent to which he is valued by the institution. If his credentials put him among the very best candidates at the school, the question of EFC will be moot and the school will use its resources to leverage his enrollment with a financial aid award that is weighted more heavily with gift aid (grants, scholarships).

At colleges where he is an acceptable but not superior candidate, the presence or inference of financial need could well influence the admission decision and, if he is admitted, the composition of his financial aid award (less gift aid and more self-help such as loans and campus work study).

The bottom line: if cost and affordability will be critical factors in your decision-making, it would be better to be in possession of this information sooner than later. If your son is admitted and the financial aid award doesn’t seem to be consistent with your expectations, you should be prepared to appeal the award with the school’s financial aid office.
Peter

Dear Peter,
What do you advise with regard to extracurricular activities? Is It better to be involved in many things or to focus on a few areas of commitment?
JoAnn

Dear JoAnn,
Students should engage in activities that give them joy in life. Hopefully, those activities are positive and constructive. Ideally, students will grow their involvements by taking on new and greater responsibilities. Some students are able to manage multiple involvements in a healthy, productive manner. Others are better off finding their niche in specific interests. Students are well-advised to do whatever makes sense to them.

In the admission process, authenticity is the key. Decision-makers are looking for evidence of sustained involvement and growth through activities. It would be a mistake for any student to try to engage in indiscriminate resume-building or to try to anticipate what admission officers want to see.
Peter