This week, my daughter and I are driving to one of her top two college choices for an “in-depth” college visit. My idea of an in-depth visit usually includes sitting in on a class, looking at the specific requirements and 4-year plan for your student’s expected major, talking to students, and getting a complete tour of the building (or buildings) that house this area of study.
Typically, it is up to the student to contact the college to arrange an in-depth college visit. Some schools will be more accommodating than others. For example, very large public universities may only offer specific visit days and may only allow you to meet with an advisor who covers your student’s intended major. Sometimes these very large schools only extend an offer to sit in on a class and/or meet current students in a particular major after your student has been offered admission.
In our case, this very large student reached out to my daughter after she submitted her application listing this intended major. She had already been on two visits to the school and did a summer program there, but she had switched areas of interest since then. They offered a meeting with a program advisor, sitting in on a class and lunch with a current student in the program. Of course we were excited to take them up on it!
An in-depth college visit is important for narrowing down final school choices and really understanding if a school and program are a good fit. Often, this can be done as part of an “Admitted Student Visit” in the Spring. However, I think it is great to do these earlier if you can. Spring gets really crazy with the pressure of final decisions, especially for students applying to 5-10 different schools.
In-Depth College Visit Tips
Make arrangement for your student to sit in on a class in his/her intended major, if possible.
Try to get time with a student or group of students in your student’s intended major – not a tour guide.
Make sure you get to tour as many of the facilities used for your student’s intended major as possible.
Get time with someone associated with the department so you can ask questions.
If you have concerns regarding scholarships and financial aid, get an appointment with someone in the financial aid office.
Take advantage of any “admitted student visit” programs that are offered. The more exposure your student gets to a school, the easier it will be to make a final decision.
Help your student make the most informed decision possible on where to go to college. In-depth visits are a great way for a student to assess whether he or she “belongs” in a particular school and program.
Ask five different people and you will probable get five different answers as to what makes a good college. Last Sunday when I sent out my weekly newsletter, I included a link to an article from the New York Times under More to Read from Other Places titled, “For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t as Hard as It Seems.” I included it because I thought the overall message was an important one for parents and students to understand with respect to the college search: College isn’t getting harder to get into. Acceptance numbers are going down because students are applying to more colleges. However, what stuck with me most from the article was the author’s definition of a “good” college.
The article implies that a “good” college is one at the very top – an elite college. The colleges he mentions in the article include Stanford, Washington University in St. Louis, Harvard, Notre Dame, Wellesley, and University of Michigan. It played right into a classic parental fear: If my student doesn’t apply to and get into one of the top schools in the country, he or she will not be set up for the best success in life.
Do I agree with that? No! I don’t think everyone should focus their college search on getting into elite colleges.
I think that what makes a good college is different for every student and needs to account for the following factors:
Rigor – You want to know that your student will thrive in the environment. The classes should offer an appropriate level of challenge, but this is a delicate balance. You don’t want your student to be overwhelmed, but you don’t want him/her to be bored either.
Size – Your student needs to feel comfortable with the size of the campus and the size of the classes.
Learning Style – Some students need a mostly hands-on environment. For example, many artistic students will do better in an art school environment than in a traditional college that aims to educate students to be well-rounded. It will vary based on the student’s career goals and the learning environments that helped him or her be most successful in high school.
Location – I think the most important thing, location-wise, is the type of community where the school is located. Some students need the excitement of a big city while others need the quiet of a rural location.
Social Fit – Will your student easily find others whose idea of a “fun Saturday night” matches with hers/his? Is the school large enough that your student will find a group of others with the same interests? Is it a small school with an eclectic mix of students who all seem content to learn from their differences? Does the school seem cliquey? Answering these questions is going to require at least one visit and some conversations with current students.
When students are just starting to build a list of potential colleges, how do they find schools that might be a good college for them?
Use early college visits to narrow down preferences on size and location.
Have your student think about the classes he/she enjoyed most in high school and why. This will help you guide the college search with respect to learning style and rigor.
Use your student’s first ACT or SAT score to find potential college matches. Look for schools where your student falls into the middle 50% of scores for admitted freshmen. This statistic is pretty easy to find either on college search sites or by exploring the Admissions area of a school’s website. There is nothing wrong with students attending a college where they fall above the middle 50% range. In fact, these can offer some of the best merit scholarship opportunities. However, they may want to look for these schools to offer an Honors Program or Honors College that will offer the rigor they need.
Hear what current students have to say. It is best if you can talk to a current student face-to-face. Ask questions about what the school is really like, both in and out of the classroom. Look for someone who will be objective – not a campus tour guide. There also sites that allow current students to post reviews of their schools. Niche is my favorite one to use.
I believe that what makes a good college is different for every student. Some students are perfect candidates, both academically and financially, to attend elite colleges. Other students are not and should not stress out about it. The college experience and the long lasting takeaways from it are more about what a student makes of the experience than the school name on the diploma.
Parents of college-bound kids dream of full tuition scholarship and full ride scholarships. For the majority of students, this is not going to become a reality. Most families are going to need to contribute to the cost of college. However, there are opportunities for full tuition and full ride scholarships out there. You just need to know how to find them. I am going to explain more about these scholarships and the different types offered and then tell you where you can find 448 full tuition (or better) academic scholarships that your student could be eligible for.
First, let me define the difference:
A Full Ride Scholarship will pay for tuition, fees, room and board, and possibly throw in some money for other things like books, research, a laptop or study abroad.
A Full Tuition Scholarship will cover the cost of yearly tuition. Some also pay fees, others do not.
Both of these types of scholarships will save a family from tens of thousands of dollars to well over $100,000 and even over $200,000 at the most expensive colleges.
There are generally three types of full tuition scholarships and full ride scholarships offered directly by colleges:
Need Based – These are based on the family’s ability to pay for college, usually assessed through the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile. Only the neediest students will qualify for full tuition or full ride need-based scholarships.
Talent Based – These could be athletic scholarships or scholarships for things like dance, theater, art or music. Full tuition and full ride athletic scholarships may be offered by Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA colleges. As for other talents, it is very rare to find scholarships offering full tuition or better. Most “artistic” talent scholarships are limited to a few thousand dollars.
Merit Based or Academic – Academic scholarships are based on the student’s performance in high school. The evaluation is usually based on National Merit Scholarship finalist/semi-finalist status or a combination of grade point average (GPA), ACT or SAT score, class rank, and possibly other things such as leadership experience, community service, and the difficulty of the student’s classes.
I’m going to focus primarily on finding full tuition (or better) academic scholarships because these are the ones that are hardest to find. A few years ago, I created the Full Scholarship List out of frustration that there wasn’t a complete resource available to find full tuition scholarships and full ride scholarships based on merit. There are a few websites with limited and often out of date lists. Also, I wanted to see scholarships offered directly by colleges, not those 1 in a million scholarships offered by corporations and private foundations.
I envisioned a spreadsheet, where I could search by different characteristics like required ACT or SAT score, required GPA, school location, and scholarship amount. That is what I created. It was a various tedious process, but I felt it was important for other parents to have this resource.
While I do include a few great merit scholarships that are less than full tuition on the Full Scholarship List, there are 448 full tuition (or better) academic scholarships listed. These are offered to top students who apply. Are we talking Ivy League colleges? No, most top colleges don’t need to offer academic scholarships to attract great students. But that doesn’t mean these are all non-competitive colleges either. Just a few of the schools on the list include Duke, Claremont McKenna, UCLA, USC, Colorado College and Wake Forest.
If you have a top student and you are looking for a great deal on college, check out the academic scholarships on the Full Scholarship List. You may end up saving $100,000 or more on your kid’s college education.
A large envelope came in the mail the other day. The graphics on the outside gave away the message inside, but I handed it to my daughter to open. She showed no reaction until she read the letter inside and then said, “You mean I don’t have to worry about getting into college?” It was her first college acceptance. I laughed and said, “You were really worried?”
Parents, do not underestimate the power of the first college acceptance that your high school senior receives. Even if it is not a school near the top of their list, students feel a great sense of relief just knowing that they have been admitted somewhere.
This is like a milestone on a long journey. You arrive and it gives you that extra “push” to get through the next leg of the trip.
The best first college acceptance letters come while the student is still diligently working on other college applications (or procrastinating about starting them).
Here’s my advice to make sure your child can benefit from this “first college acceptance” milestone:
Have your student look into some of these schools and find at least one school he or she may be interested in, at least as a “safety” school.
Be sure your student has displayed “demonstrated interest” through direct contact with the school. A campus visit is best if the school is close enough. Otherwise, contact with the admissions officer will work with the promise of visiting campus as soon as the family schedule will allow.
Have your student complete the application as soon as it is available. With rolling admissions schools, the sooner you get the application in, the sooner you get a decision back.
In my daughter’s case, the school she received her first college acceptance from is also her current top school. This resulted in her saying, “Maybe I should just stop there.” Of course my answer was no. I told her she needed to continue to apply to other schools so she could compare and have options for her final decision. While I thought it may be hard to get her motivated to do that, she had a second application almost completed the next day. So, it worked!
As I said, never underestimate the power of the first college acceptance!
Have you heard about front-loaded financial aid? This is where a college attracts your student by offering a great financial aid package for the first year and then drops aid off for subsequent years. Is this something you need to be concerned about? If you can’t afford to pay full sticker price for your student’s college, you need to understand and be concerned about colleges front-loading financial aid packages!
Why does front-loaded financial aid happen? According to Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president at Edvisors, in an article on The Hechinger Report, “institutions offer more to first-year students and their parents as a kind of “leveraging; they’re using financial aid as a recruiting tool.” Colleges are doing whatever they can to recruit students they are interested in. In many cases, throwing extra aid at the target student will increase the chances he or she will ultimately select that school.
Sometimes what looks like front-loaded financial aid is actually due to a change in a family’s financial circumstances. For need-based aid, many things beyond just family income can impact the size of the financial aid offer, including:
Number of students in college at the same time
Number of total dependents
Overall net worth
Assets in your child’s name
Tips to Avoid Front-Loaded Financial Aid
Understand what part of the financial aid package offered by a college is income dependent – This would be need-based scholarships and grants. Anything that is not strictly based on “merit” (GPA, ACT/SAT scores, class rank) has a need-based component.
Ask questions about anything labeled a “grant” – These can be vague and hard to find listed on the college’s website. Questions to ask include – What is the grant based on – need or merit? Is the grant renewable or is it for the first year only?
Make sure you understand the renewal qualifications for any scholarships offered to your student – Does the student need to maintain a specific GPA in college? Is the renewal automatic? Does the student need to request the scholarship each year or fill out any paperwork in order to renew it?
Think about what might change in your financial picture over four years of college – Are there years when you will have more than one student in college and years when you will only have one? This will make a big difference in financial aid eligibility. Make sure you run a Net Price Calculator for each potential school with each different scenario that may occur. This will give you a preview of how your financial aid eligibility may change.
Ask direct questions about front-loading – Don’t be afraid to question the financial aid office. Make sure you are talking to someone in a position of authority, like the Financial Aid Director. Ask straight out if you are guaranteed the same amount of aid for your student’s second year and beyond. You may not get a direct answer, but you can gauge a lot by how much of an attempt is made to avoid answering the question!
Front-loaded financial aid can make a college look really attractive for the first year. Make sure you know the full story so that you can avoid any surprises for the second and subsequent years. Know what aid is renewable and know what is one-time only. For renewable aid, know the renewal qualifications and make sure your student understands that he or she needs to meet those in order to continue to be able to afford the school.
FAFSA changes were announced this week that will impact students applying for aid for 2017-2018, including this year’s high school juniors applying for college admission for Fall of 2017. As most of you know, FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid that is used to determine how much financial aid a student is eligible for, both through the government, in the form of grants and loans, and often also directly through the college, in the form of need-based scholarships and grants. How will these changes impact you? First, let me summarize the changes.
FAFSA Changes for 2017-2018
Use tax data from two years prior – Students applying in Fall of 2017 will use tax data from 2015
Filing period is changed to open on October 1 instead of January 1 – For Fall of 2017, this means students can file FAFSA starting Oct 1, 2016.
So what does this really mean to you if you have a student impacted by these changes?
Major Impacts of FAFSA Changes
FAFSA will be easier to file – Most students and parents will be able to use the IRS data retrieval tool to fill out tax information. The FAFSA filing will be based on tax information from federal income taxes that were due April 15 of the current year (FAFSA available 10/1/2016 will be based on the tax filing from 4/15/2016).
You can be more accurate – Under the current FAFSA system, you are filing FAFSA using tax data that is due April 15 of the current year. With FAFSA becoming available January 1, you either have to do an early “guesstimate” of your taxes in order to get the FAFSA in early, or wait to file FAFSA until after you file taxes. If you used a “guesstimate”, you were supposed to go back into the FAFSA application after filing your taxes and submit a corrected form. Under the new system, the need to guess and to do corrections should be eliminated for most families.
Timing becomes less of a factor for getting need-based aid through the college – Under the current FAFSA system, most schools encourage families to file early when the application becomes available January 1, yet parents struggle with having their tax information completed. Schools often say that they give out financial aid to students in the order that applications are received until the money is gone. With the FAFSA changes, there will no longer be a reason to wait to file to be more accurate (unless you are unable to file your taxes on time each year). You should be able to complete the application as soon as the filing period opens.
Old data may mean more aid – Most families see a rise in income each year. If that is the case, using data from two years prior may make your student eligible for more aid.
Aligns better with college application process – Given that most high school seniors and their parents are focused on the college application process in the fall, FAFSA has always been something you had to remember not to forget about after the start of the new year. With FAFSA becoming available October 1, 2017, this will align with the college application process so you can get it all done at the same time.
Of course, there will be cases where using older financial data does not accurately reflect the family’s current financial hardships. Families in this situation will need to work directly with the colleges, as they have to do under the current system, to explain what they are facing and why the college should provide more need-based aid.
On the flip side, if you aren’t expecting to qualify for need-based aid under the current system, these FAFSA changes probably won’t mean much to you, although filing the FAFSA is still the only way to be eligible for federal student loans. If you think there is even a very slim chance your student will need a loan, it’s best to file FAFSA to allow you the option of a federal student loan (federal loans often carry the lowest interest rates available).
The second tab of the college search spreadsheet is for use after college applications have been completed and acceptances start coming in. When you enter a college name and cost information on the first tab of the spreadsheet, these automatically fill on the second tab.
The main purposes of the second tab are to track and compare cost information between the schools against what you can afford and to keep track of notifications and deposits you send to the schools.
The key to making the cost comparison work as designed is knowing what your family can afford to pay for college. This is based on the following:
What have you saved for your child’s college?
What can you afford to pay for college out of your cash flow every month?
What are you expecting your child to contribute towards the cost of college?
These three numbers will get entered on the second tab of the college search spreadsheet. These numbers, along with any merit aid and/or need-based aid offered to your student, are subtracted from the cost of a specific college to come up with the Amount Not Covered. This amount is what you will have to come up with, over and above what you already said you could afford, to send your child to that college (based on the initial financial aid offer).
In order to effectively use this information, you will need to wait until you have received financial aid packages back from the colleges that are accepting your student. These typically go out after March 1, although some colleges notify students of merit aid offers along with the admissions decision.
What can you do if you have an Amount Not Covered for one or more of the schools your student hopes to attend? Well, for starters, you can try to negotiate your student’s financial aid offer. Some schools are open to talking about this. Some schools will even ask you what other schools are offering and will bump up their offer accordingly. Other schools aren’t even open to negotiating at all. You won’t know until you ask.
Look into how many hours a week your student would need to work during college to make up the difference between what you can contribute and the Amount Not Covered. If that is not an option, you may need to look into loans.
Laying all of this out in the college search spreadsheet will help you to see which college(s) offer the best deal and how financially reachable each college that accepts your student will be.
We have all seen it in the news constantly – college is becoming more and more expensive. In this post, I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the 3 best ways to make college affordable.
#1 – Get FREE Money from the College
Two ways to do this – need-based aid and merit scholarships.
If your expected family contribution (EFC) is low, your family may qualify for need-based aid. Calculate your EFC here.
If your EFC is high, and/or if your student has a high ACT/SAT score and GPA, your student is a great candidate for large merit scholarships offered by colleges. See my Full Scholarship List to find merit scholarships at schools around the country.
#2 – Choose an In-State Public University
One of the best ways to make college affordable is to stick with your own state’s public universities. These schools will usually be the most affordable option unless you are offered substantial need-based or merit-based aid from a private college or out-of-state public college.
For students looking for greater academic challenge and a more intimate atmosphere than a large public university offers, many of these universities offer Honors Programs.
#3 – Start with Community College
For many students, starting at a local two-year community college is a great first step. Community college tuition is much more affordable than 4-year college tuition and your student can typically live at home to avoid room and board cost.
Some students are ready to move out and become more independent. For these students, community college may not seem like the best option, but if they have big goals and little money, they may need to resign themselves to living at home for two more years.
One downside to community college – statistics show that those who start at community college are less likely to go on and get a 4-year degree than those who start at a 4-year school.
Another downside – merit scholarships offered by 4-year colleges for transfer students tend to be much lower than merit aid for freshmen.
As my middle daughter and I get organized for college application time this Fall, I have been revising my College Search Spreadsheet template to be useful throughout all parts of the college choice process: college search, college applications, and college selection.
If you haven’t been through the college search process before, or if you have, but you need to be more organized this time, you will find a college search spreadsheet to be a tremendous resource!
The new and improved FREE College Search Spreadsheet template has two tabs. The first tab can be used for the initial identification of potential colleges for your student all the way through the college application process.
I have added columns for the following:
Middle 50% ACT/SAT – You can usually find this somewhere in the Admissions section of the college website or under “fast facts” or something similar. It will be called something like the profile of the prior year’s admitted students. If you can’t find it, look the school up on a college search website like collegedata.com, although the information may not be as current. It is helpful to record this so that you and your student know where he or she falls for admissions and potential merit scholarships.
Middle 50% Class Rank – You may be able to find this in the same spot as the middle 50% ACT/SAT scores. Again, helpful to know where your student falls against typical admitted students.
App Type – Does the school use the Common App or do they have their own app? Can it be filled out online (most can these days)? Is it “either/or” with Common App or school app? These answers should be readily available in the Admissions section of the school website.
Application Opening Date – Is there a date when the application is first available to fill out?
Application Deadline – Record the deadline or deadlines for applying to the school. Many schools offer more than one deadline, so make sure to record the one your student is shooting for. An Early Application, Early Action or Priority deadline is usually preferable because your student will have a better chance for competitive academic programs and scholarships. If nothing else, shoot for the early deadline and if your student cuts it too close, there’s always the regular deadline. If a school offers a deadline called “Early Decision,” make sure you do your homework on what that means!
Admission Decision Date – What date does the school notify applicants of the admission decision?
Essay Requirements – What does the school require for application essays? Are there several? Are there specific topics?
Recommendation Letters – Does the school require recommendation letters? If so, how many? Can these be teacher or counselor recommendations, or is one or the other required?
Interview – Is an interview required or recommended?
Fee – Is there an application fee?
Test Scores – What scores need to be submitted? If ACT scores, is the writing component required? Are any SAT subject tests required? Is the school test-optional?
Other Application Requirements – Are there additional application requirements? Basically all schools require official transcripts so you can either list that here or leave it as assumed for all schools. There may be additional components like portfolios required for specific majors.
Does Major Need to be Declared – Many schools require the student to declare a major on the application. Sometimes they can declare first and second choice.
Requirements & Due Dates for Scholarships Separate from Admission Application – Is your student applying for scholarships that require a separate application? Make sure you record the due date and requirements for these.
The second tab of the College Search Spreadsheet works in conjunction with the first and is meant to be used after college applications are submitted. I will go into more detail on that tab next week, but in a nutshell, it helps you compare costs for all schools where your student was admitted.
To download the new College Search Spreadsheet template, select one of the links above or go to my Resources page.
If you have a high school senior who will be working on college applications this fall, one important thing he or she needs to know is how to get great college recommendation letters. There are a few simple tips that will help avoid mediocre college recommendation letters and help your student submit meaningful recommendation letters with his or her college applications.
Not all colleges require recommendation letters as part of the college application. Those that do are looking at recommendation letters as a supplement to what the applicant personally provides in the application. With that in mind, understand that the college wants to learn something new about the applicant beyond what is shown through grades, test scores, an activity list and essays. They are looking for an outside perspective from a teacher or counselor who is well-acquainted with the student.
Share the tips below with your student to help him or her get high-quality college recommendation letters.
How to Get Great College Recommendation Letters
Start Early – Teachers and counselors will be juggling many requests for recommendation letters. Know when your first college applications are due and plan ahead. If you have applications due in November, early September is a great time to start requesting recommendations. Do not expect to give someone only a week or two to produce a good recommendation letter!
Pick the Right Person – You probably won’t have a choice when it comes to counselor recommendations, but with teach recommendations it is important to pick the right teacher. Pick someone who knows you well and who understands your strengths and weaknesses. Some ideas: 1)Pick a teacher who watched you struggle and then excel in a class, 2)Pick a teacher whose class is closely aligned with your intended major, 3)Pick a teacher who might not have been your favorite, but taught you a lot and helped you grow, 4)Pick a teacher who you got to know really well and who became a personal mentor to you.
Communicate “What and When” – Make sure to tell those you are asking for recommendation letters from when you need the letter and what it is for. Are you looking for a general recommendation letter that can apply to any school, program or scholarship? Or are you looking for something written for a specific school, program of study or scholarship? You must decide how you want to handle recommendation letters overall – do you want to ask for many different ones that are more specific, or do you want more generic ones that you can use for multiple purposes?
Communicate “Why” – If you tell your recommender why you selected him or her to write a recommendation letter, you may receive a better outcome. While you could mention this when asking, it may be even more effective if you write a note expressing the reason. For example, “I wanted to have you write a recommendation letter for me because you helped me so much in Chemistry last year. You watched me struggle at the beginning of the year and you patiently explained things so I understood them. You saw my progress throughout the year.”
Provide Supplemental Information – In my last post, I wrote about Creating an Activity Resume. It is a good idea to give your recommender a copy of your activity resume. This will help remind or inform him or her of all the things you have done while in high school. He or she may be able to pull out some specific items to talk about or explain how you successfully juggled a lot of things.
Have a Good Attitude – Remember, writing a good recommendation letter for you is not anyone’s obligation. They are doing you a favor and you need to be appreciative and be patient. When you get about two weeks before the due date, it is fine to check in to see when your recommender expects to have your letter completed, but do it nicely! It is always a good idea to give your recommender a Thank You note after he or she has completed your recommendation letter.
When I speak to high school juniors, I always tell them to start building high-quality teacher and mentor relationships because senior year they are going to need recommendation letters from adults who know them well. This can be easier to do with teachers than with counselors, but most schools do ask for a counselor recommendation.
If your student has not developed a good relationship with his or her guidance counselor, now is the time. Have your student schedule a time to sit down with the counselor to discuss future plans. The more the counselor knows about a student’s future goals and concerns, the more they can draw from when writing a recommendation and the more they can help your student focus on the right things in the college application process.