Archive for ‘applying to college’

January 19, 2015

Completing the FAFSA

by Grace

Students and parents often find the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be a little intimidating. The form asks more than 100 questions about family finances and demographic details. The FAFSA is slightly more complicated than the typical federal income tax return. Officially, the form should take less than an hour to complete, but most parents don’t have advanced degrees in economics. Some parents want help completing the FAFSA, because they worry that making a mistake on the FAFSA will affect their ability to pay for college, ruining their child’s life forever.

Don’t panic! Take a deep breath. Relax.

Edvisors offers an online Step-by-Step FAFSA Tutorial

… This step-by-step guide provides a tutorial overview of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is based on the bestselling book, Filing the FAFSA.

The book is available for free download at the link.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis offers a video that guides you through completing the FAFSA.

FAFSA 101
Take a stroll through each screen of the online FAFSA to see what information you’ll need on hand to complete the application quickly and accurately.

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November 17, 2014

The value of A.P. classes

by Grace

The New York Times Motherlode blog asks the question, “To A.P. or Not to A.P”?

Students, parents, and school administrators have mixed feelings about A.P. classes.  Students sometimes feel pressured to take these advanced courses even when it’s not appropriate, but in many cases taking at least a few A.P. courses is the right decision.

When taught well, A.P. and I.B. courses can offer high school students the opportunity to study college-level material while in high school. Administrators and teachers may be divided on the merits of offering A.P. courses, but they agree that secondary schools feel pressure to offer them to appear academically rigorous.

A.P. courses usually look good on college applications.  Selective colleges want to know if students have taken the “the most rigorous academic program available”, so the natural inclination is to take as many A.P. classes as possible.  While some experts advise students that more is not necessarily better, it’s hard to believe that in a competitive situation more high A.P. scores will not add points on a college application.

… “Selective colleges make it clear these days that they will not consider candidates that have not done AP or IB.”…

Students and parents often blame the Ivy League and other selective colleges for perpetuating the current cutthroat environment, insofar as such schools advise taking “the most rigorous academic program available” (as stated on the University of Virginia’s admissions website).

“What parents are saying is that ‘until colleges change their message, I’m not going to let my kid be the sacrificial lamb,’ ” Pope observes.

But colleges say it’s the literal interpretation of this advice that gets students into trouble.

“What admission officers almost always say…is focus on what lights your fire and take advantage of the most challenging offerings in those areas,” urges NACAC’s Hawkins. “That’s a very different message from, ‘Take all of the AP classes.’ ”…

Why take A.P. courses?

A.P. courses can be the appropriately challenging level of study for advanced students, and a way to avoid being bored in classes that are too easy.

Students can earn college credit for A.P. courses when test scores are above a certain level.  This can save money and time, even enable graduation in less than four years.

In some cases colleges do not give credit, but use A.P. test scores to allow a student to skip over introductory classes.  This can be a benefit, but in some cases students should still take the lower-level college class.  For example, a STEM major may wish to take the college calculus course as a way to establish a stronger foundation for advanced course work.

Why avoid A.P. courses?

For some students, A.P. classes add excessive stress, either because of the extra work involved or because the student is not prepared to perform at the higher level.  In these cases, the lower-level course is the more appropriate placement.

There are borderline cases, where the question is whether it’s better to get an A in a regular college prep course or a lower grade in an A.P. course.

The answer that most colleges will give you is that, it’s better to get an A in the Honors/AP class.  Well, of course.  And most highly selective colleges will expect that you do.  But in reality, most colleges would rather see a B in an Honors or AP course.  They want to see that you are truly challenging yourself, but that you are still mastering the material….

The decision to take or skip A.P. courses is not always easy.  Consider it carefully.

ADDED:  Gas station without pumps blog gives commentary and advice on How many AP courses are too many?

Probably the most reasonable course is for students to take AP courses (and exams!) in those subjects that most interest them and pursue interests outside the AP classroom. Community college courses that go beyond the AP courses are also a cost-effective choice, if you can get in.

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Jessica Lahey, “To A.P. or Not to A.P., That Is the Question”, New York Times, November 13, 2014.

Amy Brecount White, “Under Pressure”, Arlington Magazine, September-October 2014.

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November 13, 2014

A reminder to look at net costs when comparing colleges

by Grace

Families should look at the net costs, after financial aid of all types, when assessing potential colleges.

Parents comparing college costs would be doing themselves and their kids a huge disservice if they just pay attention to listed tuition prices. What really matters is how much the school will cost you after financial aid and outside scholarships. And frankly some schools offer more scholarships than others….

Reyna Gobel offers a three-step method for getting started on a college list.

1. Have your son or daughter gather a list of 10 schools they’re interested in attending….

2. Use the net price calculators on each school’s website….

3. Talk to the high school counselor for your teen….

Net price calculators are imperfect estimators, so be aware of the cases where they are more likely to produce inaccurate results.

Related:  Are you eligible for a college tuition discount?

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Reyna Gobel, “Why Applying to Schools Based on Tuition Prices Can Cost Families Money”, Forbes, 8/31/2014.

November 6, 2014

What’s the hardest part about applying to college?

by Grace

No surprise here.  Students think the standardized tests are the hardest part about applying for college, but parents seem more focused on the challenge of paying for college.

 

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Other survey results can be found at “College by the Numbers, A Statistical Look at College Costs, Financial Aid and More”.

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Christina Lourosa-Richardo, “College by the Numbers”, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 21, 2014.

October 16, 2014

It’s surprisingly hard for residents to get into some state universities

by Grace

Many in-state colleges and universities are accepting fewer in-state applicants into their freshman classes. Why?

The Wall Street Journal has a short video that gives the example of a California high school valedictorian with top Advanced Placement scores and an overall impressive resume (quarterback for his football team).  This student was rejected at two public schools in his home state — UC Berkeley and UCLA.  But he was accepted to an Ivy League University.

In many public universities and colleges in-state enrollment is declining and out-of-state enrollment is increasing.

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Colleges want students who ‘can pay full price’

To make up for budget shortfalls, state schools are actively seeking out-of-state and international students who will pay higher tuition than in-state students.  In some states, limitations on out-of-state students place restrictions on an institution’s desire for higher revenues.  Last time I checked, out-of-state students allowed in the UC system are capped at 10%.

California presents a particular challenge for many students because “residents must adhere to very specific requirements to gain admission” to the University of California system”.  UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Irvine are considered the most selective public schools in that state, but it surprises me that the student featured in the video did not get in.

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October 9, 2014

Colleges want students who ‘can pay full price’

by Grace

Here’s a sobering reminder for students working on their college applications now.  It’s number 8 on the list of “10 things the college admissions office won’t tell you”.

We’d rather admit someone who can pay full price

All other things being equal, a full pay student often has a better chance of admission than a student who needs financial aid.

According to the College Board, 10% of college freshmen in 2013 were foreign students. One reason colleges woo these international scholars: Many are wealthy enough to pay the full price of tuition.

At publicly funded state universities, higher tuition for out-of-state students often helps subsidize education for state residents. For example, for an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, in-state tuition is about $13,000 a year; for an out-of-state or foreign student, tuition is about $36,000 a year.

Full pay can be an admissions boost for marginal students.

The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10 percent of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants.

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Daniel Goldstein, “10 things the college admissions office won’t tell you”, MarketWatch, Oct 4, 2014.

September 12, 2014

Are African immigrants taking up college spots intended for African-Americans?

by Grace

African immigrants are over-represented at elite colleges compared to non-immigrant African-Americans.  Colleges probably don’t care as long as they can use immigrants to show how diverse their student body is.

… A 2007 study covered by the Washington Post found that a quarter of black students admitted to elite colleges were African immigrants, though they only represented 13 percent of America’s college-age black population. The study’s authors several theories on why black immigrants do better, including “to white observers black immigrants seem more polite, less hostile, more solicitous and ‘easier to get along with.’ Native blacks are perceived in precisely the opposite fashion.”

Immigrants did not experience the “stigma” felt by African-American black children.

Lani Guinier, a Harvard professor, argued instead that schools were attempting to “resolve historic wrongs against native black Americans by enrolling immigrants who look like them” but had different experiences. “In part, it has to do with coming from a country … where blacks were in the majority and did not experience the stigma that black children did in the United States,” Guinier said. Either explanation creates a divide — as if Africans can only succeed at the expense of black Americans, or vice versa.

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Arit John, “Why the All-Ivy League Story Stirs Up Tensions Between African Immigrants and Black Americans”, The Wire, April 1, 2014.

August 29, 2014

Beloit College goes test optional, hoping to attract more applicants

by Grace

Starting with the fall 2015 admission cycle, Beloit will become test optional, which means that the submission of standardized test scores (i.e. ACT/SAT) will be optional for domestic first-year applicants.

Statement from the vice president for enrollment, Robert Mirabile:

“Given the extremely competitive marketplace in which we recruit students, it is important for us to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each part of our application,” Mirabile said. “From this perspective, I am concerned that the standardized test requirement adds little unique value to our selection process. Indeed, the requirement can, in some cases, inhibit access to Beloit among capable students who would greatly contribute to and benefit from the College.”

There are different ways to interpret the meaning of “contribute” as used in Mirabile’s statement.  The cost of attending Beloit College is $54,524 annually.  Here’s one cynical reaction to the announcement:

Translation: We’re so desperate, we’ll take anyone.

August 28, 2014

Make your college application essay memorable

by Grace

Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield offers some advice for high school seniors dealing with “college mania”.  His thoughts on how to approach the college application essay seem particularly insightful.

write an application essay that’s so true to you that you’ll want to read it again in ten years as a snapshot of where you were at age 18. What experiences have shaped you? What questions obsess you? What people inspire you? How do you want to give and grow in college?

Approaching the essay this way may be a helpful tactic for applicants, but the piece matters most for its value to you at one of life’s turning points. And, as I’ve learned from my own applications for schools and jobs, when we honestly and authentically present ourselves and then don’t get selected, it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, we’re often left with a strong sense of personal integrity.

I believe it’s true that most essay readers can tell if an application essay is authentic and genuinely reveals a student’s perspective.  So the advice to “put it in your own words” makes sense.  Thus the challenge sometimes becomes how a teacher or parent can help in editing an essay without changing the author’s voice.  The first time I tried helping with my kid’s essay, I found myself quickly falling into the trap of obliterating his message and inserting what I thought he should be saying.  I learned my lesson, and later I mainly left any editing to his guidance counselor, who seemed to know the right balance between minor corrections and sweeping modifications.

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Daniel R. Porterfield, “Six — Well, Seven — Pieces of Advice for College-Searching High School Seniors”, Forbes, 8/11/2014.

August 27, 2014

Step-by-step planning for college is one way to reduce the stress

by Grace

Families are stressed out about getting into college.

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They’re also stressed out about paying for college.

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All this is not breaking news to most families with teenage children.  However, since these survey results are from readers of  Princeton Review’s “Best Colleges” guidebook and users of their website, they are not really representative of the general population.  These survey respondents are more likely to be overly obsessed with the college application process than the average person.

Most families believe providing a college education for their children is very important, but are probably not “extremely” stressed out about it.

It is important to plan for college, but it’s unhealthy to become obsessed with the process.  Here’s some advice from parents and children on dealing with the stress.

Don’t spend too much time comparing notes with others going through the process. Makes people crazy. …

Make sure to take the college process in steps and you won’t feel so overwhelmed….

Don’t freak out. College is not the end of your life. Everything will be OK….

Have fun with it! If you enjoy the process along the way, the outcome will hopefully be more beneficial….

Thoughtful planning is good, and deep breaths can also help.

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