How Will You Pay for College? Financial Aid Considerations

Whether you are a senior currently submitting applications, a junior building your college list, or a sophomore thinking about college, determining how you will pay for college is an important step in the college application process.

First thing first, why is college so expensive?  While many factors affect college costs, the biggest mistake that I see families make is they fail to consider the total cost of attendance.  It is one thing to look at tuition prices, but the cost of housing in NYC will be significantly more than if you attend a college in Iowa.

Next, educate yourself about the financial aid process. Once you understand how financial aid works, you can learn how you may influence your financial aid award. If you are a current senior, you should be reaching out to the financial aid offices of the schools you are applying to.  Here are the top 12 questions you need to ask.

Turning your attention to merit scholarships (money coming directly from a college or university) is one way to reduce college costs. Still, you need to be aware of merit scholarship opportunities. To receive merit scholarships from most colleges or universities, you need to be close to or at the top of their applicant profile. Most of the students I work with who are looking for merit money are admitted to every school they apply to.  While most students create a college list with reach, match, and likely (“safety”) schools in terms of admission, students looking for money create a list that is reach, match, and likely for merit money.  Using merit scholarship search engine sites, such as Merit More, is a great way to learn about schools that are generous with merit aid. You can conduct your merit scholarship search by entering your standardized testing scores, GPA, and location. You can also search for colleges by name.

Finally, many families focus on landing outside scholarships. Searching for outside scholarships can take up a significant amount of time, so using the upcoming holiday breaks to identify (or complete scholarship applications, if you are a senior) is a great way to make sure you are doing everything you can to cut your college costs. To learn how to get started with your outside scholarship search, read College Mindset’s recent post, 6 Steps to Find Scholarships.

While considering how you will pay for college may seem like an additional hoop to jump through, it is significant.  Make sure you openly communicate with everyone involved in your college process, so you are all on the same page regarding cost, budget, and educational goals.  Taking the time to learn more about covering the cost of college now will only benefit you when it is time to make your final decision.

How to Research Colleges

Want to know all of the details about researching colleges?🤔

Watch College Mindset’s 4 part video series and learn:

Why researching colleges is so important

Where to find accurate data

How to determine your college criteria

How to organize your data when creating your college list

How to look beyond the data and research the “personality” of a college

Why it is essential to demonstrate an interest in a college or university

Get started on creating your college list today! Your parents will be so happy.


Asking for Feedback: A Guide for High School Students

Does the thought of asking a teacher for feedback on an assignment scare you? Do you lay awake at night and wonder what steps you need to take to reach your goal of making the varsity team? Is there a particular dance move or trick that you just can’t master?

If reaching your goals and making progress in life is important to you, then you have to learn how to ask for feedback. Watch my video below to learn step by step how to ask for feedback in any situation. Learning to take and process constructive criticism is an essential life skill! It is something that if you practice now as a high school student, it will undoubtedly help you in college and beyond.

Do you want more tips for the college process? Check out the College Mindset Ideal College Planning Timeline!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Free College Mindset Webinars

College Mindset is offering several free webinars to help students during this difficult time.  Please feel free to share the information with friends, family, and colleagues.


3-Ways to Start Your College Process

Best for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers)


One of the most common questions I receive from students and parents is: Where do we start? There is no doubt that the college application process has changed—and it is still changing every day. No one knows the ins and outs of every aspect of the process, but with a little patience and intentionality, you can navigate the process with ease—but you have to get started first!

In this Webinar, we will cover 3-Ways to get started with your college process.  You will learn:

  1. How to Obtain Knowledge

1st gain knowledge about the college admissions industry. What do you know about the business of college admissions?  Katherine will give you a behind the scenes look at how colleges view the admissions process.

2nd look at who you are and how you learn.  Building self-knowledge is an essential step in the college process.

  1. How to Find Your Resources

Now that you know a little bit more about who you are and how the world of admissions works, you need to determine your resources.  Katherine will review resources (including online research websites).

  1. How to Understand the Timeline

Knowing the timing of the college process is an important step.  Every participant will receive a FREE copy of College Mindset’s Ideal College Planning Timeline, which we will review during the Webinar.

How to Research Colleges

Best for sophomores and juniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers)


Researching is an essential part of the college process and other life decisions. For example, you might research companies when you are looking for a job or internship. Katherine will cover how to research colleges (mainly online) to help students determine what questions to ask and where to find the answers.


Networking and Informational Interviews

Best for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers) AND any college student


Connecting with people can provide you with insights about a college, major, or even a job- and it is something you can still do, even while we are practicing social distancing.  As an adult, this skill will help you advance your career. In this Webinar, Katherine will show students how networking is more than learning how to make small talk. It is about finding your voice and asking great questions that will guide you towards your goals. Students will receive templates for conducting informational interviews, including how to reach out in an email and what questions to ask.

How to Manage the Transition to College

Best for seniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers)


Change is hard, and we are all going through massive changes right now. I know some students are struggling to think about the future. However, knowing how to transition from one significant life change to another is a skill you will use forever.  You will transition from high school to college, from college to adulthood. You will change jobs and maybe someday get married or become a parent. Being able to not only anticipate change but face it head-on is perhaps the most essential life skill. In this Webinar, Katherine will cover how to handle one or your first major life transitions: going to college.  We will also discuss how this transition might look different this year, given the Coronavirus pandemic.




College Visits 101: Planning the Perfect Campus Visit

Now that you know which schools you want to visit, do you know how to plan your trip? Katherine has visited over 100 colleges and universities all over the country. In this video, she’ll give you all of her tips and tricks for planning the perfect college visit.

Now that you know which schools you want to visit, do you know how to plan your trip?

Katherine has visited over 100 colleges and universities all over the country. In this video, she’ll give you all of her tips and tricks for planning the perfect college visit.


Do you want more tips for the college process? Check out the College Mindset Ideal College Planning Timeline!

College Visits 101: 3 Types of Campus Visits

Did you know there are different types of campus visits? Katherine will talk you through each type of visit so you can be sure you will get the most out of visiting a college or university.

Did you know there are different types of campus visits?

First-year and sophomore high school students should be planning “practice” campus visits.

Juniors, you need to be moving towards “intentional” visits.

And Seniors, you are now visiting campuses as an admitted student- which changes everything.

Katherine will talk you through each type of visit so you can be sure you will get the most out of visiting a college or university.

Do you want more tips for the college process? Check out the College Mindset Ideal College Planning Timeline!


College Application Process Tips For Winter & Spring

Do you know what you should be working on? Watch my video for tips for high school seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.

Happy New Year!  The holidays are over and it is time to get back on track with your college process. Do you know what you should be working on?  Watch my video for tips for high school seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.


Do you want more tips for the college process? Check out the College Mindset Ideal College Planning Timeline!

Learn the Lingo: College Admissions Terms

Have you ever noticed that the college admissions process full of acronyms and new terms?  Sometimes it feels like another language.  It is difficult to figure out what you are supposed to do if you can’t even determine what it all means.  Below is a list of common college admissions terms. This list will help you learn the college admissions lingo and start your college process with confidence!

Standardized Testing

Standardized testing is used in college admissions to create a common “standard” to compare applicants. It is one piece of the college application. Testing policies vary from school to school, and some colleges and universities are test-optional. It is essential for applicants to carefully review the standardized testing policies for each school to determine if they are meeting the requirements.

The ACT is a standardized test administered through  It has four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science.  Each section is graded on a scale from 1 to 36.  Scores are averaged for a maximum composite score of 36. There is also an optional writing test portion of the ACT (which is required by some colleges).

PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  It is often taken during the 10thand 11thgrades.  Students who achieve a high score in the 11thgrade could qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.  PSAT scoring is complex, but it does provide a “predicted” SAT score.  Students can also link their PSAT exam to their Kahn Academy account for additional SAT practice.

The SAT is a standardized test administered by College Board.  There are two sections: math and evidence-based reading and writing. Both sections have scores ranging from 200 to 800. There is also an optional essay section (some schools require the essay section).

SAT Score Choice is the term describing the College Board practice of allowing students to choose which SAT or SAT Subject test scores are sent to colleges.  Keep in mind that some colleges and scholarships require applicants to send in their entire testing history.

SAT Subject Test are shorter, subject-specific tests offered through College Board.  Students take the SAT Subject tests to highlight their strengths in specific academic areas. The tests are required or highly recommended for a small number of colleges and universities.

Superscoring is when a college or university considers the highest sections scores across all of the dates that a student took an exam.  Many colleges will superscore the SAT, but most will not superscore the ACT.

Test-Optional is when a college or university does not require a student to submit standardized testing scores to complete their application. Some schools do not require an SAT or ACT for admission, but they do require test scores for a student to be considered for scholarships.  Some colleges are also test-flexible, giving student options regarding which tests scores (or sections of tests) to submit for consideration. Colorado College is an example of a school that practices flexible testing.

Application Process

As a student puts together their college applications, it is important that they understand the terms being used.  This will help them determine the best strategy for them to complete their applications, including determining how and when to apply.

Common Application is an application platform used by more than 800 colleges. Students can complete one “common application” and submit it to several colleges or universities.  Many schools require students to complete a supplemental section.  This allows the college or university to ask school-specific questions, including additional writing prompts.

Coalition Application is an application platform created by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. It has over 100 members.  In addition to being an application platform, MyCoalition also has tools that students can use to prepare for the college application process.

A Deferred decision is when a student has submitted an early application, but the college determines they are unable to give a definite decision during the early round. The application is then deferred and considered with the regular admission pool.

Demonstrated Interest is how an applicant shows that they are genuinely interested in attending the school. Students can demonstrate interest in a school by visiting the campus, communicating with an admissions officer or following a college on social media.  Some schools do not track demonstrated interest while others do consider it when making admissions decisions.

Early Action (EA) is similar to an early decision option. However, the student is not obligated to attend the university. Students usually submit early action applications in November or December. Decisions are typically released in December or January.  Applicants have until May 1st to notify colleges of their intent to enroll. 

Early Decision (ED) is an application option where a student applies to college or university and commits to attend that school if admitted. The ED option is binding, and a student can receive one of three possible outcomes: admit, deny or deferred. Students usually submit early decisions applications by November 1st or November 15th.  Some colleges do offer an early decision 2 option with deadlines in January.

High School Profile is a document that is often submitted to colleges by a high school counselor with transcripts.  It gives colleges an overview of the course offerings, grading scale and average standardized testing scores.  Colleges use this information to determine how competitive a high school is.

Regular Decision is an application option where students submit applications usually in January or later.  Decisions are often released in mid to late March.  Applicants have until May 1stto notify colleges of their intent to enroll.

Priority Deadline is offered by some public colleges or universities to encourage applicants to submit applications by a certain deadline. Colleges often do not guarantee that they will have admissions space or scholarship availability after a priority deadline.

Rolling Admission is when a college or university accepts applications and releases decisions on a rolling basis. Some colleges with rolling admissions do have priority deadlines.

Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action is an application option where a student can only submit an early application (ED or EA) to one college or university. Applications submitted under this option are non-binding.

Spring Admission is when a college or university admits a student, but the student is not allowed to enroll until the spring semester. Spring admission is a common practice used to help schools control enrollment numbers. Cornell University is an example of a school using spring admission.

Waitlist is an application decision a student receives from a regular decision application.  Students will be reconsidered for admission if the college or university does not meet their enrollment numbers after the May 1stdeposit deadline.

Yield is the percentage of applicants offered admission to a college or university who ultimately enroll.

College Cost

Figuring out how to pay for college begins with understanding how financial aid works and what the total cost will be to attend.  While not every student will apply for financial aid, every student should still know what they are paying for.

Cost of Attendance (COA)is the estimated total cost for a student to attend a college or university for one year.  The COA includes tuition and fees, on-campus room and board and estimations of expenses (books, transportation, etc.).

CSS Profile is a financial aid form required by some colleges (mostly private institutions) to be considered for institutional aid.  The CSS Profile asks detailed questions about a family’s finances.  Students should file the profile by the college or university stated deadlines (usually the same as the admissions application deadline). The CSS Profile is administered by the College Board.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)is an estimated amount a family is expected to contribute to college costs for one year.  EFC’s calculators can give a general idea of this number.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)is the application that helps colleges decide the financial need and how much federal aid a student receives.  The online application can be found at and it becomes available October 1stof senior year.

Need-Blind/Need Aware Admission is when a college or university takes into consideration a students financial status when making an admissions decision. Need-blind colleges do not consider a student’s financial situation, and need-aware colleges do.

Need more direction for your college process?  Check out the Ideal College Planning Timeline to get started!


Photo by Paul Schafer on Unsplash

#1 Tip For Students Beginning the College Process

SALE 1.46.04 PM (1)Whether a student has dreamed of attending a certain college since the age of 5 or has not even thought about what they want from their college experience, I always give students who are beginning the college process the same piece of advice: Do “practice” college visits.

It is difficult to expect students to articulate any thoughts about the college process if they have never been on a college campus. Doing “practice” college visits is a practical way for students to begin formulating an opinion on what they are looking for in their college experience.

To do “practice” college visits, you don’t need to spend a lot of money and travel across the country to see “best” university out there. You should begin with a college that is within driving distance of your home.  The purpose of a “practice” visit is to collect general information, rather than expressing interest in that particular college.  The student can be adamant that they won’t apply to the college or university  you visit (and that is perfectly fine).

When planning a “practice” visit, you need to register for the information session and campus tour through the admissions page of the college’s website. Many schools offer Saturday visit times, so look at your schedule and simply pick a day to attend.

Look for local colleges that can offer varying perspectives. Visit a small, medium and large university to gain perspective on size. Try to visit rural, urban and suburban schools to learn how locations vary.

As you visit campuses, pay attention to:

  1. The size. Whether it is a small liberal arts college or a large research institution, you can usually tell immediately if you are comfortable with the size of the school.
  2. The location. Is the college you are visiting in a city or near farmlands? What is the surrounding community like? Can you see yourself living there for four years?
  3. Academic programs offered. Since you are just beginning your college process, you may not have given a second thought to what you want to major in. During your “practice” visits, pay attention to the academic programs described. Are students doing research? Are they participating in hands-on projects? Are they working in the local community?  What catches your attention?  What majors do you want to learn more about?
  4. Note what you like- and what you don’t like. I always tell my students to document ALL of their impressions of a school. These insights can help you research additional options later on.

If you don’t have different types of colleges and universities near you, try to do a few visits while on a family vacation. Taking a road trip this summer? See what colleges are on the way to your final destination. Again, the point is not to spend a lot of money if you are just beginning to formulate ideas about your college process.

A “practice” visit should be relaxed- designed to ease the student into the idea of college. By doing a “practice” visit (or two) you will be able to shape your college criteria and then create a true list of schools you are interested in exploring.

Need more direction for your college process?  Check out the Ideal College Planning Timeline to get started!

Happy touring!