Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Recommendations for College Applications

It's not too early to begin organizing the supplemental components to college applications. This includes high school guidance counselor and teacher recommendations.

There is no better time than the present to reach out and get in touch with individuals who have agreed to provide a college recommendation letter. If the recommender has not received a copy of the student's most current resume, the student should make a concerted effort to get a copy to them as soon as possible. The resume gives the recommender an expanded overview of who the student is while also providing a document to reference when they begin to plan what to write.

As the most compelling recommendation letters are personal, specific, and insightful, it is a good idea for the student and recommending individual to meet and have a discussion. This discussion provides the recommender with an opportunity to ask questions while giving the student the opportunity to share any strategic plan for the college(s). Proactively discussing which elements are critical to share, and the preference for how that content should best be presented, is beneficial to all parties.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rising High School Seniors Getting Busy!

If you are a rising high school senior you should be immersed in preparing for your college applications. If you have not finalized your list of schools for application by now, then a concerted effort toward establishing the colleges that will comprise that list should be a top priority.

Determining the application format (options include specific college website online forms, Common Application, Universal Application) that will be used to apply is an important step. It is not recommended to submit a paper application as the colleges prefer electronic submissions. Once the application format has been determined you can then begin to build a plan to create and submit the required elements.

Which application deadline options are offered at each college you are considering? The range includes Early Decision 1and Early Decision 2 (these are binding admissions contracts), Early Action 1 and 2, Restrictive Early Action (this is a restrictive admission process in certain circumstances), Regular Decision and Rolling Admissions. Rank your prospective colleges in order of importance to you. Use a calendar to plot your specific college application deadlines, backing into each deadline with the required and supplemental elements necessary in order to submit each application component in a timely fashion. A prospective candidate's file is not considered "complete" until all required documents have been received by the college admissions office.

There are other things to determine and add into the application completion mix. Do any of your prospective colleges require and recommend an interview? Are you able or encouraged to submit supplemental documents for consideration by admissions? How many letters of recommendation or reference are required or allowed? Determine which ACT, SAT, SAT Subject test scores you will be submitting, if your college requires they be submitted.

Staying organized and on-task is the name of the game!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Social Media Is A Powerful College Admissions Tool

Colleges care that a prospective student demonstrates interest in them and many go to great lengths to measure interest. FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few, are programs that allow easy access to information promoted by the college in order for a prospective student to stay updated on current events. Following any variety of academic or extra-curricular offerings a college may provide also enables a student to demonstrate interest in ways that are highly valued and tracked by many colleges.

The admission process is all about determining "fit" from both the college's and prospective student's perspective. Students who use social media tools to promote their passions can have a big leg-up on their competition. Tactfully sharing one's passions and experiences allows followers to better understand who you are and how you may be uniquely qualified for a particular college environment.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Few Summer To-Do's - Rising High School Seniors

With summer in full swing and the school year behind, rising high school seniors should be fully engaging in preparing for college applications and narrowing down your list of prospective colleges. Since you will soon be a college student you need to start thinking like one!

Visit college campuses. Although the best possible scenario would be to visit a college when classes are in session, making the most of your summer campus visit just takes some planning and proactive coordination with the college. For many, summer is the last opportunity to visit a campus and evaluate things like the setting (urban, suburban or rural), geographic proximity (to airports, grocery stores, urban areas, home), Greek life community, academic learning environment and whether you will flounder or flourish.

"Needs vs. Wants". Evaluate what you "need" to have at your target schools and what you "want". For instance, colleges offer cafeterias and meal plans. Do you have a health or dietary need that must be accommodated? Are you the kind of student that "needs" to drive through your preferred coffee vendor in order for the gears to get moving in the morning? Are you on the fence regarding your major and, for now, "undecided" will suffice or do you require that your future college have a specific accredited undergrad program in your specific specialty area?

Use your summer time wisely and begin to familiarize yourself with the Common Application or other college specific applications. Additionally, many colleges have made their essay prompts available. Starting your essay prep work early in the summer allows time for the important pre-work of brainstorming your topics and thinking through life events or elements to support the points you want to convey about yourself or your subject matter. Multiple rough drafts and honing your message takes time but is critical to a quality end product. Most important is to revisit the prompt request often to ensure your essay response is on-point.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Conservatory Considerations

While many high school students transitioning to college follow the traditional four-year path, many have a passion in the performing arts or music realm and choose to follow the more unique conservatory experience.

When considering pursuing a conservatory education experience, it is prudent to consider the following:

1. Admission is competitive! The better schools have more difficult audition requirements as well as more applicants per available position.

2. A student who did not perform well in a particular high school class can avoid these subjects at the conservatory. Having said this, if the conservatory requires any liberal arts credits be taken, these courses can be taken at a local college with the additional benefit of not being forced into, for example, a math or science class to fulfill requirements.

3. You are surrounded by an exceptional talent pool of people who are like-minded.  Leave your ego at home. There is a lot to learn from them as you grow in your craft.

4. Your alumni network will be strong. Conservatories are proud to promote the names of famous individuals that graduated from their programs. Checking the list to see what names you recognize and admire gives you a sense of the kind of contacts one would gain after graduating - not to mention an automatic incentive to succeed.

5. A big draw-back is that if your 'Plan A' does not pan out, there is no 'Plan B'. A traditional four-year college allows one to double major or change majors, provided you can coordinate schedules. It is not uncommon for people who do not "make it" in their craft to return to a more traditional college education in order to get a degree that transitions in the business world.

6. "Expensive" is the best term to describe conservatory educations. They rank among the schools with the highest PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students) loan debt in the U.S. Generally speaking, the endowments at conservatory schools are smaller, so scholarships are negligible at best.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

College Graduation Rates - Pick Wisely!

It is important to compare apples to apples when considering graduation rates. In an article by NPR Ed, it was noted that a school's graduation rate is an important criteria to consider. Additionally, the quality of entrants or level of resources are two notable contributing factors to graduation rates. When considering schools and comparing data, remember that a cash-strapped public university is likely to have a lower graduation rate than a private college with large endowment backing. As the article suggests, make sure to compare college graduation rates from schools within a similar category. Read more here NPR Ed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

You Are Special!

Throughout the academic year, high school students receive unsolicited mailings from organizations informing them of a nomination for inclusion in a special honor society or an invitation to attend summer leadership and community service programs. I’d like to offer the following tips for consideration as you review any options: 

1. You should never have to pay for a credential. True honors are earned and will rightfully be bestowed upon you.

2. Community service is not only personally rewarding but generally highly valued by colleges in the admission process. Remember that true community service involves selfless activity as opposed to programs where the benefit is a self-fulfilled agenda. Choose community service opportunities that stretch the comfort zone and challenge learning and growth. 

3. There is not an admissions advantage when attending summer programs at a specific college or university. College is a business and filling spots on campus over the summer helps the college's overall bottom line. If you do choose a program, do so because it has particular meaning to you. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gap Year

The concept of deferring college admission enrollment by a year (called a Gap year), after graduating from high school and being admitted to a prospective college, has long been popular abroad but there are signs of an increasing trend for taking a gap year in the U.S.

Some students feel burnt-out from the academic treadmill they have been on for 4 years and see the benefits in taking a year off to explore other options. It takes maturity to understand ones self enough to make what is perceived to be a somewhat radical decision and to recognize that maturity for college comes more slowly to some than others. Also, a gap year offers a student the benefit of getting to learn more about themselves so that when they enter college they have a increased sense of general direction including specifics driving major interest.

The gap year's purpose is not to provide down-time, chilling in front of the TV or playing video games.  In fact, college gap year policies often require a thoroughly organized plan be submitted prior to being granted gap year leave permission. The year one takes off is an opportunity to explore the world and learn more about yourself before entering college. Research shows that students that have taken a gap year return to college academic life invigorated and better prepared to tackle challenges.

Most colleges are supportive of a gap year decision. As a student is researching prospective colleges for application, it is recommended to consider all gap year options available in addition to any requirements needed to defer enrollment. The American Gap Association maintains a list of colleges and the descriptions of individual policies. Check it out here. American Gap Association

Monday, April 28, 2014

Valuing a College Education

The value of a college education is generally a subjective matter but there is statistical data that sheds light on important contributing factors. The 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report reveals that a college does not have to be an Ivy in order to rank highly in converting an excellent education into compelling, post-grad starting and mid-career earnings. See the full list of schools and their respective data here. 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report

Monday, April 21, 2014

College Financial Aid Basics

Typically, high school freshmen and sophomores are not yet fully engaged in the college search process. However, it is critical that parents of these students commit early in the process to learning and preparing for the impact of their personal finances on college.

For financial aid consideration, each student and their parent(s) must submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form and possibly other financial aid forms (the requirement to submit additional forms is determined by each college). The Department of Education, via a FAFSA submission, takes into consideration one year's previous financial profile (this year is one prior to the student's first year of college). After reviewing the financial profile, the college gets an idea of the financial situation for the family which defines aid packages for the first and subsequent years for that student. This initial aid award year is called the "base year". The base year financial aid "impressions" are often hard to change, so plan accordingly. Talking to a financial advisor who understands the college aid process helps in setting realistic expectations early on for "fit" colleges. Any strategies for receiving more financial aid should be thoroughly discussed and considered well before the base year.

Friday, April 18, 2014

PSAE - Illinois Test Dates are April 23-24, 2014

The Prairie State Achievement Test is a two-day standardized test taken by all high school Juniors in Illinois. The ACT portion is administered on the first day. The second day of testing includes a skills assessment (called "WorkKeys") and an Illinois Board of Education-developed science exam. This 2-day examination, which students take while school is in session, has been a state mandated requirement since 2001.

To learn more about the test and how to best prepare for it you can view the 2013-2014 PSAE Overview and Preparation Guide here PSAE Overview and Prep Guide.

Monday, April 14, 2014

High School Seniors - Huddle Up!

A friendly reminder and note of encouragement for those high school seniors that are beginning to feel the full effects of "senioritis". The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reports that colleges say final grades are the reason for revoking admission 68.7 percent of the time. After working hard your entire high school career, keep up the effort so you are not counted in this unfortunate group.

College admission is conditional and based on the successful completion of the final year of high school. Colleges expect students to maintain or improve on the academic performance criteria that got them admitted. A negative change in one's academic record might force a college to reconsider and possibly rescind their offer of admission.

Do well on your final exams, as many high school transcripts include these grades. Stay the course! Work hard until the end! Show the colleges that they made a wise decision to admit you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

May 1st - National College Decision Day!

The light at the end of the tunnel is fast approaching! Students all across the U.S. will decide where they will commit to attend college in the Fall.

If you are still deciding on where you would like to attend college, consider revisiting the campus, speaking with current students attending that college, or talking to an alumnus of the school. Insight shared by those who have first-hand knowledge can be most helpful during a difficult decision time. If, for whatever reason, you feel you need an extension on the May 1st commitment date, contact the school's undergraduate admissions office for details.

For those students who have decided where they will attend, you must send in the initial deposit to secure a place. There is, however, one often overlooked task in this process. After having sent in the deposit and committing to the college of choice, it is advisable to tell any other schools that extended an offer of admission so they can release a place for another candidate. It is not a requirement to notify other schools of the decision to not attend but it is the considerate thing to do.
College - 3 Handy Tools When Preparing and Cost Planning

There are many tools that are available for college-bound students but all too often good ones are missed or go unused. Here are the 3 important items a prospective college student should become familiar with:

1. The high school profile. This sheet contains public information and typically accompanies high school-related supporting documentation that is submitted on behalf of the student when applying to college. This profile is used by college admission officers in order to understand what is offered at the specific high school and how each student has maximized their curriculum. The profile contains things like the school's demographics, any ranking policy, grading methods, how grades are weighted or not weighted, and average standardized test scores. Students can use this tool to evaluate how they compare to their peers.

2. A copy of an unofficial transcript. Students should meet with their guidance advisors and review their academic transcript. Be sure there are no errors. Become familiar with exactly what information the colleges will receive related to your academic performance. Reviewing this updated document each year can have the added advantage of revealing negative trends in performance thus acting as an incentive to work harder.

3. A list of scholarship donors. High school guidance offices have a list of local community organizations and businesses that offer scholarship dollars for graduating high school seniors. (If a student has access to a Naviance portal, the information may be found there as well.) It is suggested that students do research and determine what scholarships they are in line for well before any deadlines. As the cost of college is looming in every student and parent's mind, knowing early on what options are available for off-setting cost goes a long way to help build a well executed plan for college. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

College Shopping Sheet

There is a collective 'scratching of heads' sound resonating from households all across the country. These households are filled with excited college bound students and anxious parents that are comparing and trying to make sense of the financial aid award letters that are arriving in the mail.

Award letters can be very difficult to decipher and there is no mandated format for colleges to present their packages to prospective students. That's why the Department of Education created the College Shopping Sheet. This sheet's format has been adopted by over 2,000 schools across the country. It is a generally accepted format for breaking down important cost components including the estimated cost of attendance, grants, scholarships, loans, and work study with a brief overview of other information including each school's graduation rate and the nationally averaged loan default rate.

Consider using the Shopping Sheet template for gathering financial information required for comparing the cost of schools and to ultimately assist in the final decision of where to attend.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Top 3 Questions - Planning for Graduate School

To more effectively understand and narrow your choices, use these questions:

#1 - How many years does it take to complete the desired program? There are a variety of options to choose from these days. Many schools are offering programs (MBA and otherwise) that include course work taken during the summer. Other options include fast-tracked, condensed programs where semesters are shaved off of the typical completion timeline so students can get out and begin to earn a living. If a J.D or MBA is being considered, look into the 42 schools that offer joint degree programs that are billed as rigorous but are geared toward the student who wants a quicker launch into the workforce.

#2 - What will the cost be for each program being considered? As undergraduate students select prospective colleges and plan for the 4-year cost, it is wise to consider any post graduate cost at the same time. In a recent Wall Street journal article it was reported that the typical debt of an MBA graduate is $42,000 versus $161,772 for medical school and $140,616 for law school. The article goes on to say that graduates of other masters programs generally incur more debt than MBAs. When doing research on prospective programs, the Dept. of Education posts average debt dollars for graduate school programs, but understand that these numbers include students who earn degrees while they work and therefore do not borrow as much money.  The average debt estimates also include a wide range of schools not in the highly selective category which affects the initial overall total cost. That having been said, the total dollars for all of the years of education, and any estimated debt incurred over those years, needs to be determined well in advance of making commitments to attend a school.

#3 - How important is the graduate school name or program notoriety to me?  Elite schools have highly recognizable names but they often come with a hefty price tag. A recent Gallup poll revealed that the majority of U.S. business leaders say the amount of knowledge a candidate has in a field, as well as applied skills, are more important factors to making a hire than where the candidate attended school or what their college major was.  Choose the grad school that enables you to take the next steps in broadening you education and skills so that you can pursue your passions.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Affording College - Is A Work College For You?

Work colleges offer the unique combination of higher education, work experience, and service to others. Earn while you learn is not a new concept but it is a seldom mentioned option for students considering prospective colleges. Work colleges are smaller, liberal arts colleges and not for everyone but if a student is looking for transferrable post-grad skills along with a reduced tuition academic experience, it might be worth researching. There are seven federally recognized work colleges in the United States. Read more here … Work Colleges Consortium

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rigor Matters

Eighth graders and high schoolers all across the country are planning and selecting their courses for next school year. As choices are considered, and if college is their post-high school desire, it is important for students to pursue as rigorous a curriculum as they can handle while maintaining a reasonable balance. The message to prospective colleges is that the student has a willingness to take on academic challenges while proactively preparing a foundation where they can compete and excel in the college environment.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Summer - Go Fly A Kite!

There is no time like the present as it relates to planning summer activities for your high school students. While you are busily reviewing websites for the most competitive and unique activities, it is worth considering building in down-time for your students over the summer.

The Boston Globe recently wrote an article specifically about a variety of summer resume-building options available with some thoughts on the pros and cons from a college perspective.

Read the article here

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seven Tips - College Award Letters

High school seniors will soon begin to receive their college financial aid award letters if they haven't already started to trickle in. One college to the next, the letters have no consistent format and can be difficult to understand. Things to keep in mind when reviewing award letters:

1. I strongly suggest my clients create a chart, including each school's name, so they can compare and contrast each line item on the award letters. This simplified view makes college financial decisions much more organized when the inevitable discussions arise. If any award letter is lacking information, call the college financial aid office and request the information you need to make an informed decision.

2. Award letters are generally laid out with scholarships, federal/state/institutional aid, and loans delineated on a per semester basis. If FAFSA has been submitted, the Stafford loan should be included on the letter (typically referred to as "Federal Direct Subsidized Loan" or "Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan").

3. An often misinterpreted line item is one that reads "PLUS". This stands for Parent Loan for Undergrad Students. This is a loan offered to the parent(s) to make up the difference between the financial award package and the cost of attending the college. Be sure not to misinterpret this as "gift" money (a common mistake).

4. The student has the option to decline any one or more line items on the letter. Whether you make changes to the award letter or accept it "as is", the student must sign and date the letter and return it to the college's financial aid office. (Some colleges have you do this online.)

5. If there are any glaring errors on the letter, contact the financial aid office immediately. (For instance, are the credit hours correctly noted on a per semester basis for the student's intended full time or part-time status?)

6. If the award letter is evaluated and felt to be unfair, students and/or parents are advised to contact the financial aid office to inquire about the appeal process. If there has been a change in financial circumstances since the FAFSA or other financial aid paperwork was filed, contact the financial aid office to inquire about their preferred process and timeline in submitting this new information for consideration.

7. When speaking with financial aid officers remember that their job is to help families. Starting any discussion with an expression of thankfulness for their taking time to consider the student for aid will go a long way in setting a positive tone.

Friday, March 14, 2014

College Campus Visits for High School Juniors and Seniors

It is the season for planning college campus visits all across the country. High school seniors are visiting colleges they have been accepted to but haven't seen yet or are re-visiting colleges with "eyes afresh" to make their final choice. Decision time is coming and seniors now need to narrow down the field.

High school juniors are visiting campuses to get a feel for whether they are interested enough to apply. The additional benefit of registering interest in a college by showing up for campus tours and attending information sessions can help in admissions decisions too.

No matter what the reason for a campus visit, I would strongly suggest students (and parents) take detailed notes of what they observe, experience, hear, etc. Additionally, most people have cell phones with cameras these days so taking pictures is easy and highly advisable. As you are touring the campus, take pictures of things you find interesting. The little details of your visit will fade or be forgotten as multiple school experiences with begin to blend together. It is important to keep the details of each school separate and able to be referenced as even the tiniest details can help in narrowing down pros and cons of schools in the final analysis phase.

Start a folder on each college you are considering and keep all of the information you gather on a campus tour in it. These folders should also include any business cards of faculty or admissions people you meet with.

Lastly, have fun and enjoy the campus tour process but remember you are ultimately on a fact-finding mission. This is serious business and being organized and keeping track of what valuable information you gather will pay dividends down the road.