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.
Have you ever walked away from a conversation and thought, “I wish I would’ve asked more questions.” You don’t want to bypass an opportunity because you did not ask the right questions. Asking questions is a skill, and it is an important one to master. It shows that you care, can spark the exchange of ideas, and build trust. When you are just starting out, asking clarifying, open-ended questions will help get you closer to your goals.
As with any new skill, it is essential to practice. Before starting any conversation, think about what you want to learn. What is your purpose in the discussion? Then identify the right tone, types of questions, and sequence.
For the tone, most situations benefit from a casual approach.
Open-ended questions can go a long way to helping you learn new information. You can also build further questions into your plan based on the responses you receive.
For the sequence of questions, if you are trying to develop a relationship, you may need to ask less personal questions first to build trust. If you are in a confrontation, consider starting with the tough questions, since you don’t know how long the conversation will last.
Asking questions will open doors and allow you to discover new ideas and concepts. It may introduce you to a part of yourself that you didn’t know what there.
As Albert Einstein said, “Question everything.” I couldn’t agree more.
Last week, I finally mailed my senior gifts. I could send the gifts straight from Amazon and cash in on the free shipping, but I am a bit old fashioned. I think there is something special about receiving a wrapped gift. Something personalized and significant. More important than the present, I send each student a hand-written note. When they text me to say, “Hey thanks for the gift,” they always say more about the card.
I want them to know how proud of them I am. I did not focus on the fact that the entire second semester of senior year was canceled. The Class of 2020 did not need reminders that they didn’t have prom or graduation. They didn’t need to know that their first semester (or year) of college is not going to be what they envisioned.
No. My students needed to hear who they are beyond all of the “challenges” and “uncertainty.” I told one how I was proud that she went beyond her comfort zone to explore career options (and it led to some fantastic connections). Or how one student repeatedly used her voice to fight for social justice (we need more people like her in the world).
I told them how they taught me about light pollution, the importance of creativity in video games, and how an old car can be rebuilt again and again (with lots of determination).
I admired how they overcame challenges, such as dyslexia, being the only girl on a football team, moving to a foreign country, dealing with heart arrhythmia, or conquering ski mountaineering at an international level.
They showed me the importance of caring for others by helping friends through tough times or standing up for people when society categorized them as “different.” One fought for a mentor who was being deported. Another showed compassion as she taught a student struggling with learning differences how to write sentences.
One showed me the significance of questioning something she always believed so she could learn and grow. Another had the brightest smile, and I always picture it when I am feeling doubtful. And one showed me the significance of “releasing control and trusting the outcome.”
The College Mindset Class of 2020 received 110 college acceptances after submitted 164 applications. Collectively, they received 45 scholarship offers totaling over $2.7 million.
They reside in 4 states, and one student worked with me from her home in the Netherlands.
The colleges and universities below are so lucky to have these students for the next four years.
Arizona State University
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Miami University, Ohio
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Diego
University of Colorado, Boulder
University of Texas, Austin
University of Vermont
University of Wyoming
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
While they did not throw their graduation caps into the air in the traditional sense, they have proved that they are worth celebrating beyond the usual pomp and circumstance. I believe that nothing will hold these students back. They will be the future problem-solvers, negotiators, and peace-makers our world needs.
I am so honored to have played a small role in helping them plan their future. The lessons they taught me will stay with me always.
Hello College Mindset Families,
I am sure your inbox is flooded with companies telling you what they are doing to keep customers safe in light of the COVID-19 or Coronavirus pandemic. I am writing to extend my support to all College Mindset families since school and college closings are more than likely affecting your college process.
Remember that while many colleges are closing, as of now, most are remaining opening. This article from Inside Higher Ed takes a look at the decision process colleges are going through. Either way, the Coronavirus is disruptive for all of us.
As with any part of the college process (and life), I want to encourage you to focus on what you have control over. Yes, you may be canceling your spring break college visits, postponing an international trip, or disappointed that you can’t compete in a national competition- but it is going to be OK.
Here are some general tips, resources, and proactive things you can focus on as we face this time of uncertainty.
General Resources For Updates
CNN has a running list of colleges canceling classes.
NACAC has a list of college fair cancellations.
Information on SAT cancellations can be found here and individual site cancellations here.
Updates on colleges that have canceled admissions events and campus visits can be found here and here.
For high school seniors, final admissions decisions will be delivered over the next few weeks, and you are probably already anxious about determining your future. Read through the College Mindset blog post, 5 Steps To Making Your Final Decision. Since attending admitted student events may no longer be an option for you, I encourage you to focus on the following:
Review your supplemental essay, especially the “why this college” essay. Remember what your thoughts were when you wrote it.
Join admitted student online groups, so you can get to know future classmates.
Trust your gut. You have learned so much about yourself through this process and trust which college feels like it will provide you with a fulfilling and successful college experience.
For high school juniors, spring is a busy time for your college process. Here are some things you can focus on, as this COVID-19 continues to evolve.
If your campus visits are being canceled or postponed, do not plan on stopping by. If a school has canceled an event, they are doing so to protect their community, and you need to respect that. Call the admissions office to figure out your options.
Do not worry about demonstrating interest in a college at this point and time. I will be adding a video to the College Mindset YouTube Channel to share ways you can demonstrate interest in a school without visiting- so make sure you subscribe to learn when that is available.
Don’t worry about canceled competitions or other extracurricular activities. Remember that every student is having to cancel plans and change directions. I encourage you to make a list of things that are being canceled due to Coronavirus so you can let colleges know how your plans changed in the additional information section of your application. Remember, you will need to be specific, so you can’t say, “I was planning on getting a job, but was not able to because of the Coronavirus outbreak.” Instead, you would need to say, “I was hired to work at Dunkin’ Donuts in March 2020, but due to the Coronavirus, I was unable to start my job until May.”
Right now, a few standardized testing centers in some states have canceled testing. Continue to prepare for the SAT or ACT as planned. There are always more testing dates.
For all high school students…
If your school is canceled, make sure you turn your focus to other things (again what you have control over). Get ahead on your homework, do some extra credit, and continue preparing for the SAT or ACT, or Advanced Placement exams (if applicable).
Open your Common Application account and familiarize yourself with what a college application looks like.
Take a deep breath. If you are feeling stressed about the Coronavirus, talk about it with a trusted adult. The New York Times published the article, 5 Ways to Help Teens Manage the Anxiety About the Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control also has some good resources about anxiety the COVID-19.
And to all of my college students who are returning early from studying abroad or having to leave campus, you are in my thoughts. My heart is breaking for my college seniors who are left in a place of uncertainty about graduation and other end-of-college events.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you need to brainstorm ideas to keep busy, come up with a Plan B for visits, or vent your frustrations. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the students in the College Mindset Class of 2018 prepare to head off to the next step in the college process (orientation, anyone?) I want to take a moment to celebrate everything they accomplished. As a college counselor, it is a privilege to work with young people as they navigate one of their first major life decisions. Through all the questions, anxiety, uncertainty and ultimately, excitement, I feel so lucky to have a glimpse of who they are and who they will become.
The College Mindset Class of 2018 received 88 Acceptances after submitting 116 applications. Collectively, they received approximately 34 merit scholarship offers, totaling over $2.3 million.
The College Mindset Class of 2018 was made up of an amazing group of students who are just beginning to leave their mark on the world. The colleges and universities below will be lucky to have them!
- American University
- Arizona State University
- Bates College
- Baylor University
- Colorado State University
- Denison University
- Gettysburg College
- Seattle University
- Texas Christian University
- Tulane University
- University of Colorado, Boulder
- University of Kansas
- The University of Texas at Austin
- University of Pennsylvania
- Washington University, St. Louis
- Wheaton College (IL)
As with many other aspects of the college process, making your final decision is an excellent way to learn a significant life skill. You will make decisions for the rest of your life, including deciding what to major in, which internship to apply for, and ultimately, what job offer to accept.
Making the final decision about which college to attend is the first in the long line of “life choices.” However, this particular decision is not the student’s alone. It is a family decision. The student is the one going to college, but the parents are the ones (generally) paying for it. So while it is important for students to follow the steps below, they also need to take into consideration the input of those around them. Student should also consider the 3 Questions to Ask When Making Your Final College Choice, which was covered earlier this week.
When it comes to making a decision, any decision, it is important to approach it in a step-by-step format. Below are the steps that can be taken in order to make the final college choice, but these steps can apply to any decision you need to make in college and beyond.
Step 1: Review your priorities.
As with any major life decision, you need to go back to the core: your priorities. Why did you apply to college in the first place? What were your priorities when you began the process? How have your priorities changed? Examine all of the aspects you are looking for in your college experience: academics, location, support services, a particular club or organization, cost, etc. and rank them. Which ones are the most important to you? Which ones are the most important to your family? There can be a lot of emotion tied up into making your final college choice, so it is important to keep yourself grounded by establishing your priorities.
Step 2: Determine your questions.
When you began the process, your priorities were general: good financial aid, strong academics, an opportunity to play sports, social campus, etc. Now is the time to get specific and find evidence to determine how each campus supports your priorities. For some families, the cost of a college education is the most important factor. Being able to compare financial aid offers side-by-side and determine the out-of-pocket cost for your family is an important component of your final decision.
If one of your priorities is “strong academics,” figure what that means to you. Do you want a campus where students are well-supported by professors? Or are you looking for more concrete numbers such as the percentage of students admitted to medical school?
If you are looking for “opportunities to play sports,” determine what type of sport. Are you looking at club sports or intramurals? What teams are available? For club sports, figure out if you have to try out for the team. How competitive is the process?
The social aspects of college are often an important priority for some students. However, you need to determine what “social” means for you. Do you need to find more information about a particular club or organization? Are there activities happening on campus that interest you? Do students go home on weekends? Is Greek life popular on campus? Determining what you need to happy socially is an important step in making the final college decision.
Step 3: Collect information.
There are many ways you can collect the answers to the questions you brainstormed above. Ideally, you should plan on visiting the final colleges on your list. Staying in the residence hall, attending an admitted student event or sitting in on a class are all great ways to gain insights.
You may also want to consider requesting meetings with other individuals on campus. Interested in a music group? Email the director. Curious about a particular major? Contact a faculty member in that department. Reaching out to individuals on campus may seem like an intimidating idea, but professors and administrators are often very open to meeting with prospective students. Just make sure if you schedule a meeting, you prepare questions ahead of time.
You should visit a college before you attend, but if you are not able to make it out for a second visit before May 1st, there are plenty of other ways to college information.
Call the admissions office and ask to speak with a current student.
Ask your guidance counselor to put you in touch with students from your high school who are attending the school.
Join Facebook groups associated with the school (specifically if there is a group for your graduating class).
Call specific departments and ask questions. Just like the statements about meeting with individuals if you are going to campus, you can accomplish the same goals by picking up the phone.
Review outside sights- but don’t base your final decision on what is posted there. Use the opinions posted to formulate your questions then use the resources above to look into any issues you find further.
The bottom line is that you need to explore EVERY aspect of the final colleges on your list. This not the time to feel like you are being a nuisance or think that you will figure it out later. ASK ALL OF YOUR QUESTIONS.
Step 4: Make a pros and cons list.
After you have reviewed your priorities and found answers to your questions, make a pros and cons list. Sometimes seeing all of the information laid out will make the answer clear.
Step 5: Make a decision, and stick to it.
After completing the steps above, you need to make a final decision. If the answer is not immediately clear, consider these techniques:
Give yourself a deadline. Stewing about the decision is not going to make it easier. By giving yourself a time limit, you force yourself to move forward.
Flip a coin. This may sound like a trivial way to make a decision, but sometimes it will reveal how you honestly feel based on the decision being made for you.
Say it out loud. Telling someone you trust your final decision (before you announce it to the rest of world) is a good way to ease into it. Saying it out loud makes it real.
Sit on it for a few days. Choose one college and then proceed for a few days as if you are a student of that college. How does it feel?
Once you have made your final decision, don’t look back. Be excited for what lies ahead and turn your focus away from what could’ve been.
Often if you are in the position of choosing between 2 or 3 colleges, there is no wrong choice. If you truly have taken the time to examine what you need to be successful in college, you will more than likely be able to make that happen at any of the colleges that were a part of your final decision process.
The tables have turned. You have spent years trying to figure out how to impress colleges, and now colleges will spend the next month trying to convince you to enroll. They will send you gifts and fancy pamphlets. They will call you and invite you to special programs.
You have until May 1st to decide, so how do you sort through all of the information you are receiving? How do you know that you are making the best final college choice?
The truth is that making your final college decision is not an exact science, and it is going to be a different process for every student, however below are a few questions every student should ask as they are comparing final college options.
1. Which college is the best fit for you academically?
Academics are the center of your college experience. For some students, academic “fit” is a particular major. For others, it is having adequate support systems (i.e. tutoring or academic advising). It is important to know what type of student you are to determine if a college is a good fit for you academically. Here are some specific questions to ask about the academic aspects of college:
What is the core curriculum of each school? Will you be required to take specific courses that you may struggle with (i.e. math or foreign language)?
Do you know what you want to major? If so, research that academic department. Read the faculty bios and look at the required courses. Are there opportunities to explore your major outside of the classroom (i.e. conduct research, internships, etc.)
If you don’t know what you want to major, determine how each college will help you make that decision. How much access will you have to an academic advisor? Will the career center help you explore different career options? Does the general curriculum allow you to take courses in multiple disciplines so you can nail down what academic subjects interest you?
What is the academic environment of each college? Are students competitive with each other or supportive? Are the classes large or mainly discussion based? Do professors meet with students outside of class?
Knowing what type of academic environment you need to be academically successful is an important consideration for your final college choice.
2. How do the colleges compare financially?
It is essential to understand all of your financial aid awards when making your final college choice. So what should you consider when comparing awards?
Determine your budget. Every financial aid award should give you an example student budget. The budget should include an amount for tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and travel/transportation. If this information is not in your financial aid award, contact the college and ask for it.
Once you determine your suggested budget, figure out if your needs will change aspects of the budget. For example, if are you looking at colleges out of state, your transportation budget might be higher (depending on how often you want to fly home). If you are looking at specific major that requires addition expenses, you need to take that into consideration. If you are thinking of living off-campus, your room and board and personal expenses may change.
Check on the details of each aspect of your financial aid award (grants, scholarships, loans, work-study, etc.). When do you have to pay back each loan? What is the interest rate? Is the scholarship just for the first year or for all four years? If the scholarship is renewable, what does the student need to do to keep it (usually it is maintaining a certain GPA)?
Make sure you understand the difference between taking out federal and private loans. If you need to take out private loans, do your research. Learn the true cost of student loans by using a loan calculator to determine how much your loan will be once you pay it off.
Determine the actual cost of each college. Create a spreadsheet or use an on-line tool to determine the final net price of each school.
Once you have the final cost in front of you, that may be the determining factor in your final decision. For other families, it is more complicated. More often than not, your “dream school” is going to cost more. It means student debt and financial strain for the parents. It is important to have an honest conversation about what debt will mean for the student and the entire family.
3. Which college is the best fit for your everyday life?
Remember you are not just visiting a college anymore, you are going to live there. You will eat, sleep and exist in an entirely new environment. Here are some important questions to ask you look to transition to this next phase of your life.
Consider location. How far away from home will you be? Will be it be a different environment than what you are used to (i.e. urban vs. rural)? Will it is important to step outside of your location comfort zone for the “right” college, you need to consider how location will change how you currently live.
Where will you feel at “home” at the college? Making sure a college feels comfortable is important. Can you continue habits you have already formed (i.e. exercising, hiking, etc.)? Are there clubs and organizations are offered that match your interest? Is there an opportunity (i.e. a church, non-profit organization, etc.) in the surrounding area that will help feel like a part of the community?
Are you too focused on the amenities? So many colleges are trying to emphasize extra services (i.e. room service and valet parking), but are these things going to help you be successful in college? Are they going to help you explore your intellectual interest or develop the skills you need to hold down a job?
Does the overall mission of the college a match to your personal goals? Is the school striving to teach “global citizens” or “critical thinkers”? If so, how have they integrated that mission into the curriculum and community? How does the mission of the college correspond with your goals for your future?
Making your final college choice can be stressful, but if you take the time to make sure all to find answers to all of your questions, you will be able to make a well-informed choice.
On Saturday, March 5th, the new SAT was finally administered to over 300,000 lucky students. PBS NewsHour provided a comprehensive overview of the changes made to the test and the continued debate about the validity of standardized testing as an accurate predictor of student success. While educators (and the media) continue to deliberate about the validity of the tests, students seemed focused on one thing: getting through it.
Jed Applerouth, from Applerouth Tutoring Services, provided insights from the students who utilized the company’s services. In his article, he quotes students who took the old SAT and the new SAT.
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Overall, students stated that the “wordiness” of the math section was challenging, and the non-calculator math section proved to be difficult.
CNN.com also reported on a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep and an official survey administered by The College Board. Based on the numbers from the two surveys, students seem to be reporting that the new SAT is about what they expected. The College Board survey is reporting “by a 6 to 1” margin that students prefer the new SAT.
Additionally, USA Today reported that an astounding one million high school students have used free online test prep tools to prepare for the new SAT. This new number shows that Khan Academy is reaching huge numbers of students- more than commercial test prep. However, the Boston Globe reported on the huge jump in revenue for the commercial test prep industry, which is expected to reach $200 billion worldwide by 2020.
Overall, the new SAT seems to be living up to expectations- good or bad. It is more aligned with what students are learning in the classroom and all students have access to high-quality, free test prep through Khan Academy. Whether or not the new SAT is an accurate predictor of student success, well, we will just have wait and see.
When the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success was announced in the fall of 2015, questions soon followed. While the main premise of the new platform is to increase access for low-income and first-generation students by providing free tools for the college search and application process, some educators are concerned that the online tools will feed the college admissions frenzy by stipulating additional application requirements for students to obsess over. Meanwhile, the 91 colleges and universities that are backing the new platform claim the tools will “streamline” the college process and encourage disadvantaged students to consider schools they previously may have overlooked.
No matter which side you stand on, the Coalition is becoming a part of the admissions maze. The new “Locker” platform is set to launch in April, and the application is slated to be available in July.
Recently, Nancy Griesemer of the DC College Admissions Examiner posted several updates on the Coalition, based on her conversation with the new interim director, Colin Melinda Johnson. Griesemer provides information on the online tools offered by the platform and updates on the timeline and testing. While aspects of the Coalition tools are still developing, here are the top 5 things students need to know about the new platform and application:
1. Who are the members of the Coalition? The Coalition member list is up to over 90 schools. All of the members must offer an “affordable education.” Public schools must provide low-cost, in-state tuition and private schools must be able to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need (for admitted domestic students). Members must also have a 70% or above graduation rate over 6 years.
2. Who can use the Coalition tools? While the Coalition is geared towards disadvantaged students, any student can apply to a member institution through the Coalition Application. In fact, three Coalition members, University of Florida, University of Maryland College Park and University of Washington, have announced that they will exclusively use the Coalition platform, so all students applying to those schools will need to use the Coalition Application. The reality is that all students may find it helpful to use the Coalition’s virtual Locker to collect materials whether they plan on applying to a Coalition institution or not.
3. Will all member schools be accepting the Coalition Application for the class of 2017? No. While official announcements have not been made, some members will opt to defer using the Coalition Application for current juniors. These schools may be choosing not to participate in the first year of the Coalition Application in order to have more time to develop their individual application requirements (e.g., essay prompts, video submission questions, etc.).
4. What will the application look like? The application requirements and structure of the Coalition Application remains one of the unknowns about the Coalition. As Griesemer notes in her article, member institutions will have the opportunity to customize their application requirements – for example; some may require students to submit a graded assignment in instead of a college essay. Others may opt for additional supplemental essays to obtain more personal insights into who the applicant is and how he or she will contribute to the college community. Students may also be allowed to submit videos or a detailed resume of accomplishments. It is still unknown if there will be a shared personal statement element (like what is offered by the Common Application), but Griesemer noted that some application requirements will be “similar.” Will this create more work for students? Possibly. But it could also provide students with additional opportunities to present themselves to colleges in a more personalized way.
5. Should students use the Coalition Application or the Common Application? Students should first take a look at their list and determine their application options. While the Coalition site explicitly states that member institutions will not “prefer one application system over the other,” students may want to contact colleges offering multiple platforms to ask how materials from each option will be reviewed. Students also need to look at the requirements for both platforms and decide which one will give them the best opportunity to tell colleges what they want them to know. Students should not look at the platforms and decide which one will be “less work.” Instead, they need to examine how they want to present themselves to colleges and which application platform will give them the best method to meet their goals.
As educators, mentors, teachers, counselors, parents and guardians, it is important that we provide students with information (as we receive it) so they can determine the best way to move forward with their college process. There are still many unknowns regarding the Coalition, but students need guidance, not opinions, to determine which platform to use to apply to the colleges on their list. Teaching students how to make well-informed decisions and examine what is in their best interest is a life lesson that will serve them well in the college process and beyond.