Monday, April 8, 2013

Number One Mistake Made When Choosing a College

My wife and I have four children.  Two have graduated from college, one will graduate from college this year, and one is a freshman in college.  Each one is different, one from another.  In addition, we have counseled hundreds of families who are going through the process.  Parents want the best for their child, and have strong feelings about how college choice will relate to the trajectory their child's adult life will take. 

Here is where so many families go wrong:  they place too much importance on the school and not enough  importance on the child.  This mistake is made over and over by caring, conscientious, involved parents, who are trying to do their best during an exciting, confusing time.  Families tend to spend more time researching schools than understanding the best situation for their child, by starting with the child first.  Catalogs are referenced, "Best of..." lists are consulted, and friends and neighbors are asked, "What have you heard are good schools?" or "What have you heard about _________ University?"  They will ask their child, "Which school are you interested in?" or "Do you think you'd like a big school or a small school?"

As a result of this backward approach, the time taken to achieve an undergraduate degree is skyrocketing, due to college transfers being at an all-time high.  It now takes the average student over five and a half years to earn their degree.  Perhaps your child has done a terrific job of achieving impressive grades, test scores, gained admission to an elite school and was given wonderful institutional aid, but that flies out the window if the process was built on the school first.

When we begin to work with a new family, our first job is to understand the child.  What are the child's natural areas of interest?  Do they enjoy competitive situations?  How do they see their life after school?  The more we understand the child, the better job we can do matching them to a school.  The same is true for parents who decide to lead this process on their own.  The best advice we can give is to start early, and have real conversations with your child - not about schools, but about them!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Campus Tour Gone Bad

Dear Joe, Katie and both sets of parents,

It was a pleasure meeting you and your families on today’s campus tour. As you know from the introductions we all gave at the beginning of the tour, we are college advisors, and our desire is for every child to attend a great school for them at a great price. You’ve probably received some good advice from your parents in your 17 or so years before taking the campus tour today, and I’m writing this letter to you and your parents to give each of you some more advice, because you all really missed a great opportunity today. PLEASE prepare better for your next campus visit!

Mistake #1 – Your personal introductions were really weak. Joe and Katie, you both mumbled your names, gave no information on yourselves, and did not introduce your family members. It’s understandable why – you probably have never been in the situation before. You both need to understand something – that’s not okay! It’s not okay just because everyone else your age does it that way. It’s not okay because your parents will fix it and just pay full price for your college education. Parents – please do some role playing with Joe and Katie. It will really make a difference in their self-esteem, and will put more money in your wallet when the school wants them more than the other kids who stumbled. Have your kids introduce themselves to neighbors, or to your friends. Help them get comfortable. Hire a coach. This is real life!

Mistake #2 – Joe and Katie, you both took the wrong attitude during the tour. Of course you are there to get a feel for the school, but you missed an even greater opportunity – selling yourself to the school. You both came from out-of-state, and are both spending Spring Break touring schools, but that won’t earn you special consideration. For goodness’ sake, ask some questions! Take an active interest! Make yourself memorable to the tour guide! Did you both know that she was an admissions counselor and has a very strong say in who gets admitted and who gets merit aid? Did you know that the school we toured today bases merit aid decisions on some very subjective elements? I do, because I asked her. What an awesome opportunity you both had, and missed it altogether. This is your time to shine. If you want to build a group of colleges that are really interested in having you attend their school, and you have an opportunity to sell yourself to a decision-maker, get in there and do some selling! Parents, the idea of your child reaching out and building a relationship cannot be foreign to them. Help them. Coach them. Hire a coach.

Mistake #3 – You didn’t know what you didn’t know. The whole process of searching, selecting and applying to colleges is confusing, I know. Joe and Katie, this is the biggest decision you have ever made, and it takes careful thought and planning. This is an exciting, important time, and you need to get right in the middle of this process. Find people who can give you sound advice, and run those people and resources past your parents for approval. Parents, be in a position to give Joe and Katie the best advice possible, in a timely manner. Challenge them. Prepare them. That did not happen today. If you parents are the ones giving the advice, read books, get the high school counselor to give you as much time as possible, seek out people whose kids have graduated on-time with minimal debt, actively coach your kids and keep them on track. If you are not the best person to give advice, find someone who knows what they are doing. 

Joe and Katie (and each of your parents), I want to help you all by sharing a final observation with you. The problem is that you are going through this process just like everyone else, and will probably get everyone else's results. There’s a 33% chance that you will transfer schools. If you are average, it will take you 5 ½ years to earn your degree. Joe and Katie, you will each have about $26,000 in debt when you graduate, and your parents will probably have added at least five more years to their working lives. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How do Federal College Loans Work?

If you file financial aid paperwork for the colleges in which you have applied, you will receive an award letter. The financial aid award letter tells you how much financial support the school is willing to give you for the coming year.  Financial aid can come in a variety of forms, including grants, scholarships and loans.  Schools tend to have financial aid policies through which they pledge to find ways to meet some or all of your financial need.  The statistic schools get measured by when providing this additional help is called % of need met.

In understanding a family's real cost in their child attending school, it is important to understand that the sticker price of a school (Cost of Attendance) and their ultimate price are two different numbers altogether.  Some students will apply to $40,000/yr COA schools and end up having a net cost (or out-of-pocket cost) of $20,000/yr, and get award letters from colleges with a COA of $60,000 that may be able to offer you a OOP cost of only $15,000 per year.  We will leave the reasons behind this math for another day; right now, let's focus on some of the line items you might see on the award letter - the loans which comprise a portion of the family need being met.

A student's eligibility for loans is interpreted by each individual school, as a result of information provided by the family on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, and/or information provided by the family on the PROFILE form, as required by the school.  Imagine a pot of money available to each school to dole out each year as they decide.  This decision is made annually by schools for incoming freshmen and any active qualifying students at the school who provide timely information each year.  It never hurts a family to provide this information, even if they received no federal need-based aid the year before.  The students who submit these forms the soonest in the process (earliest date for submitting FAFSA is January 1 of each year) get in line early for consideration for limited federal aid funds.

Here are the questions we will answer:

  • What are Stafford Loans, and how do they work?
  • What are PLUS Loans, and how do they work?
  • What are Perkins Loans, and how do they work?
Stafford Loans
Stafford loans are federal government-funded monies given to schools for use as they see fit. Stafford loans can be offered two ways - as subsidized loans, or as unsubsidized loans.  The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on subsidized loans until the first payment is due, generally six months after the student leaves the school (including graduation), or becomes considered a less than half-time student.  Unsubsidized loan payments are due on the same schedule as subsidized loans, but the interest accrues from the time the first payment is made to the school.  According to College Board, of all federal loans, 35% are subsidized Stafford loans and 40% are unsubsidized Stafford loans.  Stafford loans are in the student's name.

Currently, subsidized Stafford loans have a fixed interest rate of 3.4%, and unsubsidized Stafford loans have a fixed rate of 6.8%.  In awarding subsidized loans (clearly the preferred loan), 67% of loan recipients' parents had an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $50,000 per year, 25% had an AGI between $50,000 and $100,000, and the remainder had an AGI in excess of $100,000 per year.  It is not uncommon for a school to offer a combination of both types of loans, depending on a student's need.  this delineation is made on the award letter.  Stafford loans have a 4% fee, with 3% being an origination fee, and 1% being a default fee.  Generally, there is a maximum loan amount (between both types of Stafford loans) of $5,500 per year.  See Stafford Loan Site for more details.

PLUS Loans
PLUS loans are the second-most popular type of federal education loans offered.  PLUS loans are most often made to the parents of the students, and like the Stafford loan, are contemplated by each individual school as a result of information provided by families on the FAFSA or PROFILE form, as required by each school.  The loans are decided upon each year for incoming freshmen as well as active students who have at least half-time status.  Of all federal education loans, 10% are PLUS loans.

Currently, PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate of 7.9%.  The limit on the amount of the loan is the difference between the cost of attendance and any other financial aid received.  The loans have a 4% origination fee, and payments on the loan start immediately after the first loan payout.  On occasion, parents can qualify for a deferment of payments, with payments starting six months after the child leaves school (including graduation), or goes to less than half-time status.  See PLUS Loan Site for more details.

Perkins Loans
Of all federal education loans to undergraduate students, Perkins loans are the least used.  Of all loans offered, 1% are Perkins loans, and are offered to students.  Schools use the FAFSA and/or PROFILE form that families file each year.

Perkins loans have a 9-month grace period to start making payments after the student leaves school (including graduation) or goes to less than half-time status, have a 10-year repayment period, and are always subsidized, meaning that interest is paid by the Department of Education on the loan until payments begin by the student after the grace period..  Currently, Perkins loans have a fixed 5% interest rate and no origination fees.  Limits are $5,500 per year for undergraduates, with a cumulative limit of $27,000.  For more info, see the Perkins Loan Site.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

College Student Tax Deductions

Parents ask us often about any tax breaks for which they are eligible when they have a student with qualified college expenses.  As we are in the middle of tax season, here is a quick review.  This is for overview purposes only.  Please consult your financial or tax adviser to understand how this specifically applies to your situation.

There are four different tax breaks for which you may qualify - American Opportunity Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, Student Loan Interest Deduction and Tuition and Fees Deduction.  A credit is different than a deduction.  Remember that with a credit, you are deducting the amount of your tax.  With a deduction, you are reducing the income being taxed.  Below, we'll cover each in some detail, and before doing so, here is what you need to keep in mind for all of these credits:  The government will give you breaks, but only once.  If you have taken a tax break on something you paid, you cannot take another break on the same expense.

American Opportunity Credit
This is a maximum $2,500 credit per eligible student.  You may be able to claim this credit if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $180,000 if married filing jointly, or under $90,000 if single, head of household or a widow or widower.  The student must be enrolled at least half time and pursuing a program leading to a degree or other recognized education credential.  This credit can only be claimed a maximum of four times, including any year that the Hope credit was claimed.  Qualifying expenses include tuition, enrollment fees and course materials.

The expenses you are claiming cannot be claimed under any other tax credit, and cannot be paid with tax-free funds (529 plan, Coverdell Plan, etc), nor can these expenses be claimed as business expenses in addition to claiming them for this tax break.

Lifetime Learning Credit
This is a maximum $2,000 credit per return.  You may be able to claim this credit if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $124,000 if married filing jointly, or under $62,000 if single, head of household or a widow or widower.  This credit is available for all years of postsecondary education and for courses to acquire or improve job skills.  This credit can be claimed an unlimited number of years.  Qualifying expenses include tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance (including amounts required to be paid to the institution for course-related books, supplies and equipment).

The expenses you are claiming cannot be claimed under any other tax credit, and cannot be paid with tax-free funds (529 plan, Coverdell Plan, etc), nor can these expenses be claimed as business expenses in addition to claiming them for this tax break.

Student Loan Interest Deduction
This is a maximum income reduction of $2,500.  You may be able to claim this credit if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $155,000 if married filing jointly, or under $75,000 if single, head of household or a widow or widower.  The loan must have been taken out solely to pay qualified education expenses, and cannot be from a related person or made under a qualified employer plan.  The student must be you, your spuse or your dependent, and enrolled at least half-time in a degree program.  This credit can be claimed as long as there is a loan balance. 

You cannot deduct as interest on a student loan any amount that is an allowable deduction under any other provision of the tax law (for example, as home mortgage interest).

Tuition and Fees Deduction
This is a maximum income reduction of $4,000.  You may be able to claim this credit if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $180,000 if married filing jointly, or under $80,000 if single, head of household or a widow or widower.  Qualifying expenses include tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible postsecondary educational institution, but not including personal, living, or family expenses, such as room and board..  The student must be you, your spouse or your dependent, for whom you claim an exemption.   

The expenses you are claiming cannot be claimed under any other tax credit, and cannot be paid with tax-free funds (529 plan, Coverdell Plan, etc), nor can these expenses be claimed as business expenses in addition to claiming them for this tax break.

Here is the document giving additional detail for these tax breaks:  IRS Education Tax Credits Publication

Sunday, March 3, 2013

37 Ideas to Control or Reduce College Costs

Over and above the rise in consumer prices, the cost of a college education in the last decade has risen by 2.4% per year at private four-year schools, and 5.2% per year at public four-year schools, according to College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges.  As a result, the gross cost of tuition, room and board at a private four-year college has outpaced inflation by 30%, and at a public four-year college, prices have outpaced inflation by 75%.  How can you bring the net cost of a college education down?

This brief article will give you an overview of a number of ways that families can potentially attain a lower education cost for their children.  As you read, consider the following:

  1. I do not necessarily endorse any or all of these ideas for you specifically.
  2. Your individual situation may make some of these ideas inappropriate for you - consult a specialist regarding strategies that are right for you.
  3. I am not a licensed financial adviser, I am a college adviser; if appropriate, consult your financial adviser for more details regarding how some of these ideas might work for you.
  4. Each point listed can be a topic in and of itself.  I have purposefully only given you the "what" and not the "why" behind each strategy.  The context of the "why" can only be given when there is a better understanding of your individual situation.

Below, I have listed a variety of options to consider when attempting to control the cost of college.

  1. Have your student apply themselves and attain the highest GPA possible.  Maintain this focus through the second semester of their senior year. 
  2. Have your student study for and achieve the best possible PSAT exam score.  There are a variety of online courses becoming available for this purpose.  Excellent exam results may result in National Merit Scholarship money at select schools.
  3. Have your student study for (including prep classes) and achieve the best possible SAT and ACT scores they can.
  4. Student should build a competitive high school transcript which includes challenging courses and depth in extracurricular activities.
  5. Achieving a "3" or higher on advanced placement (AP) credit, may transfer to offset college credit.
  6. Student should participate in volunteer activities, leadership opportunities and pursue internships with companies in their desired field of study.
  7. Consider "dual enrollment," if available.  Student takes college courses while in high school.  Often, these courses only transfer to specific colleges near the high school.  Courses are typically offered at a big discount to high school students.  Check with high school counselor for availability.
  8. Student should start looking into scholarship opportunities during their junior year of high school.  Regularly seek out and apply for scholarships until the bachelors degree is obtained (and beyond, if additional degrees are desired).  Sites to visit include,,,,,,, and
  9. Spend time on the college search and selection process.  Consider engaging outside help.  It takes the average student 5 years to earn their degree, because 1 in 3 students transfer schools. Pick the right school the first time.  Achieving a degree in 4 years can save up to 20% of the cost of the typical college graduate today.
  10. Where possible, establish and regularly contribute to a 529 college savings plan in the parents' names.  529 Info Link
  11. If grandparents establish a savings plan or gifts for the student, funds are best kept in the grandparents' or the parents' name.
  12. Families should complete the FAFSA form each year on time, for each student enrolled in college, regardless of family income.  FAFSA typically needs to be filled out prior to other financial aid consideration by a school.  FAFSA link
  13. For purposes of FAFSA, CSS Profile and Consensus (Section 568), families MAY consider moving non retirement-related assets, to possibly qualify for more financial aid by lowering their expected family contribution.  Timing is important.
  14. For those schools that apply, complete the CSS Profile each year, in addition to filling out FAFSA. CSS Profile link
  15. For those schools that apply, complete the Consensus process (Section 568) in addition to FAFSA.
  16. For those schools that apply, complete all requested individual financial verification forms.
  17. For purposes of FAFSA, CSS Profile and Section 568, family MAY consider moving student assets to parents.  Timing is important.
  18. Discuss a realistic budget upfront, to define the scope of schools to consider.  Many families consider this too late, and overextend.
  19. Apply to "best value" schools.
  20. Apply to a number of schools to be able to compare net cost offers.
  21. If transferring schools to reduce cost, make sure to discuss how your credits would transfer to the new school with an academic adviser after you are accepted and before you decide to attend.
  22. Introduce yourself to the financial aid office at each college you visit.  Have the school explain the opportunities for aid. 
  23. Consider having student live at home while attending school.
  24. Purchase used textbooks, or rent textbooks.  Sites to visit include,,,, and
  25. Look in to the options available for work study and coop programs at prospective colleges.
  26. When enrolled in college, form a relationship quickly with your academic adviser.  If considering changing majors, map out the plan for finishing your degree on-time with your adviser. 
  27. Parents and students should look into benefits of the student taking out a Stafford loan and if the loan makes sense based on the family's college financial plan. Have a realistic goal for total student and parent debt at graduation. Stafford Loan Info link
  28. Do you qualify for a Pell grant? Pell Grant Info link
  29. Do you qualify for a MAP grant (Illinois)? MAP Grant Info link
  30. Not an option for everyone, but families sometimes consider a cash-out refinancing of their home to help offset the cost of college.
  31. Consider enlisting in the military service, or applying for a ROTC scholarship.
  32. Attend a community college, and then transfer to a four-year school.  Understand how your credits transfer by discussing with the four-year school's academic adviser after being accepted and before deciding to attend.
  33. Consider in-state public schools.  Compare net costs to other schools before agreeing to attend.  This option is not always the best option.
  34. Pay at least $4,000 of the bill for tuition, fees, and books from an ordinary checking, savings, or taxable investment account -- even if you have money specifically earmarked for this purpose in a 529 college savings account, advises Kal Chany, author of "Paying for College Without Going Broke." That way you can claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $2,500, on your 2012 return (to qualify, your income must be below $180,000) - See more at:
    For students already enrolled in college and if the parents make less than $180,00 annually, or $80,000 individually, pay at least $4,000 of the bill for tuition, books and fees from a regular savings, checking or taxable investment account, to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $2,500 annually.  American Opportunity Tax Credit link
  35. Parents who earn less than $124,00 annually ($62,000 for individuals) can deduct up to $2,000 in college loan interest from their taxable income through the Lifetime Learning Credit.  Lifetime Learning Credit link
  36. The tuition and fees deduction is available if the couple's MAGI (maximum adjusted gross income) is less than $130,000, or $65,000 for individuals.  The credit is up to $4,000.  Tuition and Fees Credit link
    Pay at least $4,000 of the bill for tuition, fees, and books from an ordinary checking, savings, or taxable investment account -- even if you have money specifically earmarked for this purpose in a 529 college savings account, advises Kal Chany, author of "Paying for College Without Going Broke." That way you can claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $2,500, on your 2012 return (to qualify, your income must be below $180,000) - See more at:
  37. Know that there are a handful of schools that offers three-year degree programs. Do your research and see if they are a "fit" for the student.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What if I'm Wait Listed at My Favorite College?

Unless you have only applied to one school, this feels like one of the worst responses to receive from a college.  It leaves you wondering what to do next.  What would you do if you asked someone to prom, and they said, "Maybe?"  Let's look at some statistics to try to evaluate odds, and then put together some action steps.

Receiving a wait list notification means simply that you are not accepted and you are not denied admission.  Specifically, the school has put you in line for consideration, and you might be chosen.  It does not necessarily mean that the college is waiting on more information from you, although there are a few exceptions with specific schools.  Wait lists at the top universities tend to be a smaller percentage of the freshman class size, because most applicants accept the invitation.

Last year, Yale's wait list was 996, Duke University's list numbered 3,382 and Princeton's list was 1,472.  Different schools have different philosophies in putting applicants on a waiting list.  For instance, Duke granted admission to only 60 on the wait list (about 2%), while Princeton accepted 103 from the list (about 7%).  Notre Dame admitted 86 of the 1,153 who accepted a place on the wait list.  Wait lists are on the rise.  According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, in 2010, 48% of colleges used a waitlist; in 2009, the number was 39%, up from 35% the year before.

If you would like to gather info on how a specific school handled admissions last year, including the number of applications it received, accepted, wait-listed, confirmed and accepted, visit The College Board Big Future.  In the upper right-hand corner of the main screen, enter the school you are interested in, and on the next screen, click "Applying" on the left-hand side for the statistics you need.  These statistics will give you some feel for how the schools to which you applied handle their wait lists.  According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, nationwide, 28% of students that landed on a wait list were admitted, a decrease from 34% the year before.

So, what can you do if you are really serious about attending the school where you are wait listed?  Check with your particular college to verify their contact policy after having been notified on wait list placement.  If appropriate, follow through periodically with the school, based on their suggestions or requirements. The idea here is not to inundate them with communication but, if you are allowed to, touch base periodically to let them know you continue to be interested in attending. Develop a solid "Plan B" so you are prepared with a fall-back plan for attending college should your name not be released from the wait list. In the meantime, if you decide to commit to attend another college and you have not received a final decision from your wait list college, you should contact them to notify them of your desire to remove your name from wait list consideration.

Once you've reached the wait list for a college, the odds are against your being admitted.  Hopefully you received good counsel as you determined your "best fit" colleges for application, and you are sitting on other acceptance letters. Remember, the school does not make the future - the student does.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Federal Stafford Loan Information 2013 - 2014

The Federal Stafford Loan ("Stafford Loan") is the most popular low-interest loan offered to graduate and undergraduate students.  Schools that offer Stafford Loans participate in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan ("Direct Loan") Program.  There are two types of loans offered - Subsidized Loans and Unsubsidized Loans.

Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
Each participating school specifies the type of loan to be offered.  The biggest factor in determining which type of loan is offered is household income.  In some situations, students may be offered both types of loans.

  • Subsidized Stafford Loans are awarded based on financial need. The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for paying loan interest while the student is in school, in deferment, and during the grace period before repayment must begin.
  • Unsubsidized Stafford Loans maximum amounts are decided by the student’s year in school, their additional financial aid awards and the estimated cost of attendance. Student who take advantage of  unsubsidized Stafford Loans are responsible for paying all interest that accrues while they are in school, in deferment, and during the grace period before repayment must begin. As long as the student doesn’t exceed yearly Stafford Loan borrowing limits, they may take out both subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
 Maximum Allowed Loan Amounts

Type of Student             Year of Study    Total Loan Eligibility    Max Subsidized 
                                                                                                          Loan Amount

Dependent Undergrad            1st                         $5,500                          $3,500

Dependent Undergrad            2nd                        $6,500                          $4,500

Dependent Undergrad           3rd +                      $7,500                          $5,500

Independent Undergrad          1st                         $9,500                          $3,500 
or Ineligible for PLUS Loan

Independent Undergrad         2nd                         $10,500                        $4,500
or Ineligible for PLUS Loan

Independent Undergrad         3rd +                      $12,500                        $5,500 
or Ineligible for PLUS Loan

Loan Eligibility
  •  Enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school and maintaining satisfactory academic progress
  • A U.S. citizen or a permanent resident of the U.S. or an eligible territory
  • Registered with Selective Service (if borrower is a male under age 25)
  • Not currently in default. Must not owe a refund on any Title IV loan or gran
 Loan Costs
  •  Interest rates are fixed at 3.4% on subsidized Stafford Loans used between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014.
  • For loans first used between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014, up to 1.0% in fees will be added to a student’s loan profile.  
Loan Repayment Requirements
  • After graduating, students will have a six-month grace period to begin payments.  In addition, six months after leaving school or dropping below half-time status, payments must be made.
  • During the six-month grace period, interest will not be charged on subsidized loans but will be charged on unsubsidized loans.
  • Payments are usually due on a monthly basis, unless some special arrangements have been made.
  • Under certain circumstances, such as health issues, a student may be eligible for loan deferment.
For more information on Federal Stafford Loans, please go to

Sunday, February 24, 2013

39 More Colleges Now Use the Common Application for 2013 - 2014

The common application simplifies the process of applying to multiple colleges and universities, when those colleges and universities recognize the common application.  In a separate article, we'll discuss how the Common Application, or "Common App" works.
There are now 527 colleges and universities which will be utilizing the Common App for 2013 - 2014.  The list below can also be found at  The new schools are:

American International College
California College of the Arts
Central Connecticut State University
Chicago State University
Eastern University
Felician College
George Fox University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgian Court University
Hawai'i Pacific University
Kettering University
King's College London (UK)
Lexington College
Mary Baldwin College
Marywood University
Mercy College
Modul University Vienna (Austria)
Monmouth University
Newberry College
Pine Manor College
Purdue University
Saint Joseph's College (IN)
St. John's University
Sterling College
Temple University
Trinity Christian College
Unity College
University of Aberdeen (UK)
University of Birmingham, England (UK)
University of Bristol (UK)
University of Cincinnati
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Maine at Presque Isle
University of New Hampshire - Manchester
University of North Carolina Greensboro
University of Oklahoma
Virginia Commonwealth University
William Paterson University of NJ
William Peace University

Saturday, February 23, 2013

College Lists can be Deceiving

I don't know about you, but I just love lists.  For me, it's not to the point of obsession, but I've reached a stage in life when lists are a great way for me to keep track of too many things to do, in too little time.  As a result, I rarely have an empty list.  Lists for me are very effective, because they are of my own making; my lists take into account my priorities, my abilities and my personal needs.  Not all lists work this way.

Take college lists, for example.  There are lists of The Best Value Colleges, The Best Colleges, and the Best Schools for Earning a High Salary after Graduation.  These lists certainly have validity.  Very intelligent people have painstakingly boiled down tremendous amounts of data to assemble some very simple lists.  The only flaw I have found with lists of this type is that they lack the caveat: Your Results May Vary.  There are students at the colleges listed that are having wonderful experiences, are at the top of their class, and will earn hefty salaries after graduation.  The lists worked well for them.  Not so for many other students.

There are many ways to slice and dice how "well" or "poorly" a college ranks, and few agree on how schools should be evaluated.  Here is a brief analysis on how many well-known authorities make this evaluation.  It reminds me of the output of a Spirograph I had as a kid.  A student's list needs to be developed taking into account their needs, priorities, interests and abilities.  Their list needs to be their list.  I have found that the more often we start from this point, the more likely that the student will find the college that is the best value for them, has the best culture, the best curriculum, will result in a bachelors degree in four years, and sets the stage for stable employment afterwards.

Friday, February 22, 2013

New Common Application Questions for 2013-2014

If you were thinking of using your older brother's common app essay from last year to help write your own for this year, it's not going to work!

Last week, The Common Application board of directors announced new prompts for the 2013-2014 essays. After two years of discussion, the new topics were formulated to better encourage applicants to present information about their personalities, character and other traits that aren’t otherwise available to colleges through test scores, grades, or extracurricular activities.

The total word count for the responses has changed from 500 words to 650 words.  Here are the Common Application essay questions for 2013-2014:
  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

One prompt which has been eliminated allowed students to come up with their own prompt.  This was used 33% of the time last year.