Archive for ‘applying to college’

April 9, 2014

Want to appeal your college financial aid?  Go for it

by Grace

Ron Lieber in the New York Times has some tips for students hoping to appeal their college financial aid packages before making the final decision on where to enroll in the fall.

A change in a your financial situation holds the best chances for a successful appeal.

Your best shot with an appeal will come from a change in your family’s financial circumstances since you applied for aid. Possibilities include job loss or other reduction in income, new health expenses, death of a parent, disability of a family member, nursing home costs, natural disasters or parental credit woes that make borrowing impossible.

Adjusting need-based aid may be a more straightforward proposition, but that’s not always true since need-based awards are often based on a ‘student’s academic merit’.

Some tips:

Some schools automatically match offers from similar schools.

Cornell instantly corrects itself if you’ve got higher need-based aid offers from other Ivy League schools or M.I.T., Duke and Stanford; it will match that offer, no questions asked.

Carnegie Mellon appears to be acting similarly, noting on its site that the university has “been open about our willingness to review financial aid awards to compete with certain private institutions for students admitted under the regular decision plan.” …

Go for it.
Based on some feedback from colleges, Lieber seems to suggest that the odds are not bad that an appeal will result in increased aid.

The worst that can happen is that the financial aid office says no …

Related:  Will colleges negotiate financial aid packages? (Cost of College)

April 3, 2014

Coast to coast decline in support of affirmative action

by Grace

Two recent events, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, demonstrate that after half a century, support for racial preferences in college admissions is getting more and more unsustainable — both politically and intellectually.

Strong opposition by Asian-Americans helped defeat a California ballot measure pushing for the repeal of “Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences at state universities”.

… Asian Americans … flooded legislative offices with petitions arguing that a repeal would hurt their children’s prospects for getting into the most competitive public campuses. S. B. Woo, a former Democratic lieutenant governor of Delaware who is president of the Asian 80-20 PAC, led the effort, saying, “Asian Americans have always been picked out to be stepped on in race-conscious college admissions.”

The pressure led three Asian Democrats who had voted for the bill in the senate to withdraw their support and urge assembly speaker John Perez to postpone a vote. “We have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts,” they wrote Perez. “Many in the [Asian/Pacific Islander] and other communities throughout the state feel that this legislation would prevent their children from attending the college of their choice.”

Meanwhile on the east coast, support of race-based admissions among Harvard students dropped after a debate on whether “affirmative action does more harm than good”.

… Harvard professor Randall Kennedy, the author of the book For Discrimination, and Columbia professor Ted Shaw, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that diversity is an important and noble goal that universities must pursue. UCLA professor Richard Sander, author of the book Mismatch, and University of San Diego professor Gail Heriot, a commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, presented statistics from over 20 peer-reviewed studies that showed how the good intentions of affirmative-action supporters have had disastrous results.

The research cited by Sander and Heriot shows that universities routinely put a race-conscious fist on the admissions scale, rather than a thumb. These heavy preferences mean that the median African-American student at law school has credentials lower than those of 99 percent of the Asian and white students — and underrepresented minorities admitted to law school based on a heavy preference are two to three times more likely to fail the bar exam.

… Professors Kennedy and Shaw didn’t challenge the empirical studies on mismatch, and Kennedy even stipulated that they were true. But he said the quest for diversity is important enough to justify affirmative action …

Professor Kennedy defended the harm inflicted on Asian-Americans, as long as it benefited other minority groups.

… Kennedy didn’t deny that Asians are harmed by racial preferences; he simply said the benefits of diversity are worth some individual sacrifice: “We have all sorts of programs that disadvantage people.” Sander replied that the “large racial penalty for Asian Americans” is “really repugnant” — Asian Americans are being “treated the way we used to treat Jewish Americans” when there was a cap on their presence at elite schools.

Given the overwhelming liberal ethos of Harvard’s campus, the impact of the debate on the audience was surprising. Audience members voted by keypad before and after the debate. Among those expressing a position, opposition to affirmative action rose by nearly a third — from 31 percent before the debate to 40 percent afterward. Support dropped from 69 percent before the debate to 60 percent afterward.

A recent Gallup poll shows most Americans oppose affirmative action in college admissions.

Related:  ‘Racial preferences mostly benefit fairly privileged students of color’ who help dispel stereotypes (Cost of College)

John Fund, “Racial Preferences Under Siege”, National Review Online, March 20, 2014. 

April 2, 2014

Don’t ignore student characteristics when measuring college ROI

by Grace

Most reports that claim to measure the value of a college degree do not control for a vital factor — the student.  They fail to account for what Bryan Caplan calls the “ability bias“.  This bias favors personal traits like intelligence, work ethic, and conformity — traits typically valued by selective schools as well as by employers seeking candidates for high-income jobs.

Psychology professor and author Christopher Chabris explains how the recent PayScale College ROI Report means very little unless ability bias is factored into the equation.

This means that the Return in this “ROI” depends on much more than the Investment. It also depends on who is doing the investing. In fact, it is far from trivial to figure out the true ROI of going to Harvard versus Wayland Baptist versus Nicholls State versus not attending college at all. To figure this out, you would have to control in the analysis for all the characteristics that make students at different colleges different from one another, and different from students who don’t go to college. Factors like cognitive ability, ambition, work habits, parental income and education, where the students went to high school, what grades they got, and many others are likely to be important. In fact, those other factors could be so important that they wind up explaining more of the variation in income between people than is explained by going to college—let alone which particular college people go to.

Even controlling for data we might be able to obtain, like the average SAT score of students who attend each college, or their average parental income, would not completely solve the problem, because there could be factors that we can’t measure that have an important effect. Only by randomly assigning students to different colleges (or to directly entering the workforce after high school) would we get a fair estimate of the true ROI (measured in money—which of course leaves aside all the other benefits one might get from college that don’t show up in your paychecks for the ensuing 20 years).

Look beyond the school name when predicting financial success.

While a degree from Harvard certainly has the signalling capacity and network connections that can boost earnings opportunities for its graduates, the characteristics of the students who enroll there figure prominently in determining future employment success.  Families should keep this in mind when they find their children shut out of admission to elite universities.  It’s not all about the school.

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March 27, 2014

Is it futile to try to slow down the ‘high-stakes parenting arms race’?

by Grace

Wilma Bowers, president of an affluent Virginia suburban high school PTA, is on a quixotic crusade to get parents to slow down the ‘high-stakes parenting arms race’.

Bowers knows it’s a high-stakes parenting arms race in McLean and communities like it. The obsession with grades and college résumés can overwhelm everything. She wants people to back off — and is trying to get them to, with film screenings, workshops, lectures and meetings with clergy and mental health professionals.

In a twist on the NIMBY “Not in my Backyard” concept, many parents agree that although not every kid is destined for Harvard, they’re reluctant to be the first ones to ease off with their own children.

Many fellow parents think that disarming sounds good, in theory. The problem is, they’re reluctant to try it with their own kid.

Parents should encourage “authentic success” instead of pushing for perfection at any cost.

There are 3,000 colleges out there, Allison said as she ran through a presentation of nearly 100 slides. The guiding principles for parents, she told them, should be: Students should be doing something they love; they should be able to support themselves; and they should give something back. That’s authentic success.

Fearful parents

Despite this uplifting advice, I predict that affluent parents will continue to push their children to achieve at the highest levels.  They do not think of themselves as average, so they are unlikely to settle for average outcomes for their children.  And they are fearful their children will be left behind in the ongoing economic rat race.

Brigid Schulte, “In McLean, a crusade to get people to back off in the parenting arms race”, Washington Post, March 23, 2014.

March 25, 2014

Do colleges care more about test scores or grades?

by Grace

The ongoing discussion about the relative importance of grades or test scores in predicting college success continues with a recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) titled Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions.

The report found that high school GPA was more important than test scores in predicting college success.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) finds that there is virtually no difference in college graduation rates among students who did and did not submit standardized test scores. It’s a student’s high school GPA that can play a role in college success.

How important are test scores?

I am skeptical of studies showing that test scores do not play a very important role in college grades.  In some cases selection bias skews results.  At least one study that pulled out SAT scores as an independent variable concluded they are, in fact, a key factor.

——

Boston University values high grades over high test scores.

Yesterday I posted a Net Price Calculation showing that in disbursing need-based aid BU awarded more grant money to higher-achieving applicants.  Today’s table* shows that SAT scores don’t seem to help or hurt award amounts.  Grades are more important.

20140324.COCBUNPCLopsided2

The College Board reports how BU rates the relative importance of  these factors in deciding admission:

Very Important

  • Rigor of secondary school record

Important

  • Academic GPA
  • Application Essay
  • Class Rank
  • Recommendations
  • Standardized Test Scores

All students in this NPC illustration took most courses at the “Honors/AP/IB” level.

I keep hearing that grades trump SAT scores in the college admissions game.  Apparently it’s true in the case of Boston University.

* In these examples, total earned income was $80,000/year.

 Kate Rogers, “GPA vs. SAT Scores: Which is More Important?”, FOXBusiness, March 03, 2014.

March 24, 2014

Need-based college financial aid often based on ‘student’s academic merit’

by Grace

When some colleges award financial aid, ‘even “need-based” grants aren’t based solely on need: The size of the grants also depends on a student’s academic merit’.

While families do not usually know the details of how financial aid is disbursed, colleges have access to comprehensive, detailed information about applicants in what amounts to “a massive information imbalance”.

Most colleges offer “vague and superficial” disclosures about how they allocate their financial-aid dollars, said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert with Edvisors, which publishes websites about paying for college. “They don’t give details about the actual formulas they use.”

Schools use “financial aid leveraging” to attract stronger students.

While universities don’t want to disclose the details, they have become increasingly strategic in recent years about how they use their aid and which students get it. Aid isn’t just given to students in need, it’s also used now for what schools call “financial aid leveraging” — often to entice high-scoring students who will help a school’s ranking or to give a small, feel-good discount to attract out-of-state students who will still end up paying a higher price.

Boston University is unusually candid about its strategy of using need-based financial aid to attract stronger applicants.

If you are an incoming student, your application for a need-based BU grant award will be considered based on several factors. These include calculated financial eligibility, academic achievement, and the availability of funds for your program of study.

BU publishes informative student profiles showing average aid awards.  I ran some simplified* Net Price Calculations that further illustrate how their financial aid works.  Given the same financial need, the stronger student is would receive more need-based financial aid.

20140324.COCBUNPC4

The Straight-A Student is estimated to receive $35,500 in grants and scholarships, compared to only $12,00 for the Solid B Student.  Remember, this is need-based financial aid.  Merit scholarships may be awarded in addition to these amounts.

* In these examples, total earned income was $80,000/year.

Marian Wang,  “How Exactly Do Colleges Allocate Their Financial Aid? They Won’t Say”, ProPublica, Feb. 25, 2014

Related:  Psst – one of Duke’s so-called merit scholarships is actually need-based (Cost of College)

March 19, 2014

Same-sex marriage laws mean less college financial aid for some students

by Grace

The federal government’s recent recognition of same-sex marriage could lead to children of these couples receiving less college financial aid.  And it doesn’t matter if they are married or not.

The 2014 Free Application for Federal Student Aid or Fafsa—which calculates income, assets and family size—now collects financial information about parents “regardless of marital status or gender.” Since the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, same-sex couples must report their marital status if they were married in a state where same-sex unions are legal but reside in a state where they are not, or even if they were married in a foreign country. If the student is one half of a same-sex marriage, he or she may also be considered to have independent financial means. “It’s a recognition of diverse family structures,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst with Bankrate.com.

The key factor for all parents is whether they live in the same home as their children.  Whether they are married or just cohabitating, both parents must report their financial information.

There are other new twists in this year’s application: If a student’s parents are unmarried but are living together, they’re now treated as though they were married. “This includes both divorced and never-married parents,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com , a network of websites about planning and paying for college. “And living apart means maintaining separate residences. Different floors of the same house don’t count.” Fafsa also requires applicants to answer questions about the parent they lived with most during the past 12 months and include a stepparent’s income. In all cases, both partners’ income and assets must be reported on the Fafsa, and all children are counted in household size….

… if the parents of the student seeking aid are unmarried and living separately, only one parent is responsible for completing the Fafsa.

In some cases this new ruling could increase chances of receiving financing aid. 

… However, in some circumstances, the recognition of two gay parents would increase a dependent student’s aid eligibility. (A dependent student’s need may marginally increase with the addition of a second parent because it increases the size of the household. If that increased need exceeds the amount by which the second parent’s income reduces the student’s need, he or she could be eligible for more aid.)

Related:  Divorced or absent fathers are let off the hook in paying for their kids’ college (Cost of College)

March 7, 2014

What is the most important secret for a SAT ‘Perfect Score’?

by Grace

20140304.COCPerfectScoreProject1The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by my friend Debbie Stier is described as “one of the most compulsively readable guides to SAT test prep ever”.

As it climbs the charts in popularity, this book is attracting praise as “a toolbox of fresh tips”, as well as some criticism that it is the work of a “hyperprotective, status-seeking” helicopter mom.  The criticism seems to stem mainly from some selective editing in the book’s promotion, and clarification is provided over at Kitchen Table Math.  While there’s no doubt that Debbie is a very involved parent, I can attest that she does not fit the image of an overbearing, pushy mother.  In fact, she has helped me in gaining better insight into the type of supportive parenting that is instrumental in launching children to a satisfying and independent adult life.

The revamped SAT may change some details on the best ways to prepare for the test, but I believe that one of Debbie’s core messages will endure:

… if you have a solid foundation, test prep, great test prep works. if you don’t have a solid foundation, no amount of test prep can help you.

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March 6, 2014

SAT will change to look more like the ACT

by Grace

SAT changes that will take effect in 2016 were announced yesterday by College Board president David Coleman.  Changes include an optional essay and a return to the 1600-point scale.

The non-essay part of the new exam will be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

A summary of changes is provided by the New York Times:

• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

• The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze how its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

• The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

• The overall scoring will return to the old 1600 scales, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

• Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Khan Academy will offer free test preparation materials online.

During the transition more students will take the ACT.
As the parent of a teenager, I foresee more students shifting their focus to the ACT until after the new SAT has been in use for a couple of years.  That trend is already in place, and few students will want to rely on the new SAT as the sole test to use in the college application process.

Related:  SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’ (Cost of College)

February 25, 2014

Back to basics on understanding the Expected Financial Contribution

by Grace

In the process of determining your family’s eligibility for college financial aid, it is important to understand exactly what the Expected Financial Contribution (EFC) is, and what it is not.

Here is a good explanation from Troy Onink in Forbes.

Calculating Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

Regardless of the aid form(s) the student is required to complete and submit as part of the process of applying for financial aid, and after all of the time and information it takes to complete the form(s), it all boils down to three letters, EFC, which stands for expected family contribution. You provide your financial information on the aid forms (FAFSA and CSS Profile), submit the forms online to the processing centers for each respective form, and the information from the forms goes into the aid calculations (the Federal Methodology, Institutional Methodology and Consensus Methodology).

The output of those need analysis calculations is the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) toward the cost of college. The student’s EFC is the minimum amount the student is expected to contribute toward the cost of college. Thus, EFC represents a dollar amount. It is the “output” of the aid forms and calculations. Your data goes in and your child’s EFC comes out and goes to the colleges’ aid departments that the child asks the data to be sent to on the aid forms. All three of the EFC formulas focus primarily on the assets and income of the parents and student, family size and the number of dependent children enrolled in college in a given year to assess the family’s ability to pay for college using the income and assets that they have. And because the three formulas calculate EFC differently, it’s likely that the student’s EFC under each formula will also be different.

As a general rule, the lower the EFC the higher the financial need and therefore the higher the chance of qualifying for financial aid.

From the FAFSA site comes this clarification:

Your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive….

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