Category Archives: College Advice

College Admissions Advice and Financial Aide Strategy from New York’s College Counselors

Don’t Save For Retirement

By Dr. Dean Skarlis, President

 “You can take out loans for college, but there are no loans for retirement.”  It’s a familiar refrain among those in the financial services community and has been sound advice for many families for years.  But in 2017, it may be the worst advice a financial advisor can give to his clients.  Here’s why.

Cumulative student loan debt in the United States has surpassed $1.4 Trillion.  It now exceeds all consumer credit card debt.  Approximately 71% of students who attend 4-year colleges have taken on student loans…and that’s just student loan debt.  Add to that parental debt which is approaching $100 Million, and the fact that many parents have added home equity loans to their debt service (which is not counted in the above figures), and you have a crisis – a big one with lasting effects as this Money Magazine Article describes.

The reason loans have exploded is of course, the rising cost of college.  Tuition, room, board and fees have increased by more than 1200% over the past 30 years.  When I first began my business 13 years ago, there were a couple of dozen colleges whose total costs had eclipsed $40,000/year.  Today, those same schools – and many others – have now crossed the $70,000/year mark – that’s more than $280,000 to educate one child.  Compare these numbers with most private schools back in 1986 when I began college.  Tuition, room and board at my private college was $11,000/year.  That same school now charges more than $55,000/year.  Even public institutions now exceed $100,000 over 4 years in California, New York and many other states.

As a result, most middle and upper middle class families have few options other than to take out huge loans or attend a community college.  But the problem with the “old school” advice is that families who take out loans in today’s world, must seek hundreds of thousands more than I did in 1986.  Back then, it was more reasonable for my peers and I to borrow $5,000 per year and pay back the $20,000 in a realistic time frame.  That covered almost half our total cost.  Today, this is next to impossible.  If a student takes federal student loans each year of college, he would have to repay $27,000.  If he adds an extra $15,000/year in private student loans, you now have $87,000 over four years.  This is a significant burden for just about any family.  This scenario also assumes that mom and dad, student, or someone else will cover almost $200,000 for an expensive private college or about $15,000 at a SUNY school from a mix of savings and cash flow.  That’s a tall order.

Most of the clients with whom we work are in their mid to late 40s.  On average, they have saved $300,000-$500,000 in their 401(k), IRA or other qualified plan.  Some teachers or public employees have pensions.  It is for these families that I have begun to give what some would call radical advice.  Others deem it bad advice.  But here it is:  Rather than save the maximum of $18,000/year (or $24,000 for people over 50) in your qualified retirement plan, divert some of those dollars into the college savings vehicle of your choice.  If a family lives in New York State, the New York 529 plan offers a state tax deduction of up to $10,000 for married parents filing jointly ($5,000 for single parents).  While the tax math still favors your full 401(k) contribution, the amount of loans parents and students need will be significantly reduced.

A 47 year old with $400,000 in his 401(k) or IRA has plenty of time to continue saving for retirement, and most models indicate that his nest egg will turn into $1.6 Million even if he stopped contributing completely (assuming he retires at age 65 and realizes an 8% annual rate of return) – which I never recommend.  On the other hand, a family with two children, may have to pay in excess of $600,000 for college over a much shorter time horizon – often within 6 or 7 years.  I have found that most parents have tried to save for college, but just don’t have the time or resources to set aside enough money, given the ridiculous rise of college costs.  Most of our families have amassed less than $60,000 for college.  So their only remaining option is to take out huge loans.

Moreover, because assets are counted at only 5.64% of their value in the financial aid formulas, saving more will have only a minimal effect on a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and if the family’s other income and assets are too high to garner more aid, then there will be no financial aid lost.  We teach our clients these and other strategies to help them maximize financial aid, enhance tax savings and increase merit scholarships.

The bottom line is that college costs have skyrocketed at a pace much faster than any other expense, including health care, over the past 20 years.  And the traditional advice of taking more in student and parent loans does not cut it anymore.  It’s time for a paradigm shift.

 

Stand out! Why your college application should be anything but ordinary.

By Deb Coco 
College Admissions Coach
The College Advisor of New York, Inc.

Fall is in the air.  School is back in session, the days are a bit cooler and the pumpkin spice obsession is back.  And, at The College Advisor of New York, our seniors are hard at work selling themselves.

It may seem strange to look at your college application process as a marketing campaign, but indeed it is.  For most students, this is probably the first time you’ve ever launched such an important sales pitch. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” and at no time is this more true than when you hit the submit button on your college applications.

This is not the time to be shy about your achievements; you are now in the company of some stiff competition for spots at colleges and universities all over the country.  How do you make yourself stand out?  Here are a few tips on to make sure your application is noticed.

The most important components to a stellar application are still (and always have been) a strong GPA and high standardized test scores.  At this point in your high school career, your critically scrutinized junior year has passed, but it is very important to not “slack off” during your senior year either.  Colleges will want to see that you’ve kept up your work standards and they may even accept you with the provision that they review your spring transcript as well.  Gone are the days of senior year being all play.  Be sure your teacher recommendations are ready to go; at The College Advisor, we recommend our students connect with teachers before leaving for their senior summer so as to avoid the “glut” the best teachers experience in the fall.  If you already did that, then great!  If not, make sure you don’t let September slip away before you’ve met with two core course teachers and verify that they are willing to write a letter for you.

In my last blog I discussed the importance of the main essay.  This is an extremely unique piece of writing;  it is YOUR chance to tell the admission committee who you are outside of the facts.  All of your accolades will be well represented on your Common Application; the essay wants you to dig deeper so please do not regurgitate information from your Activities section.  Be authentic and give the reader a glimpse of who you are when no one else is looking.  What makes you tick?  What brings you joy? What do you want them to know about you that your application does NOT show?  If you ask yourself these questions, you’ll be surprised how words begin to flow.

The Activity section of the Common Application is your chance to share what you’ve done outside the classroom — be sure it is complete and list activities in order of importance to YOU.  Tell the reader what you’ve done and why it mattered.   Did you hold a leadership role?  List it!  Were you the youngest member ever elected to the Latin Honor Society?  Let them know!  And remember, list only activities from freshman year forward . . . colleges do not care (nor do they have time to review) what you did in 8th grade.  If you want to add a resume to your application, many colleges will allow you to do so.  We still do not recommend you go back to junior high school even on the resume, but if you are so compelled, that is the only place anything beyond high school should be mentioned in your application.

Last but not least, proofread!  Your application is a representation of you – is it sloppy?  Did you remember to capitalize letters in your Activity section?  Do not use acronyms when describing anything on your application – your reader cannot decipher them.  So, if you are a member of the New York State Student Musical Association, do not list NYSSMA – that will not mean a thing to the admission committee.

Finally, use the Common Application’s print preview option before you actually submit!  Reviewing on a computer screen is still no substitute for seeing the application on paper – you will catch “typos” you might have otherwise missed.

Good luck and congratulate yourself that you’ve come so far!  This process is a journey and you are just about at the finish line.

Need a cure for the summertime blues?  Write your college essay!

 

By Deb Coco

The lazy, hazy days of summer are slipping by quickly.   At The College of Advisor of New York, one of our goals for our rising seniors is to complete their main college essay by Labor Day.  By Labor Day you say?  Your friends aren’t even thinking about college applications yet!

There is a method to our organizational madness, and it has your best interests at heart.  Although buckling down to write in July may not be on par with a trip to the lake, you’ll see the payback once fall rolls around and you aren’t (like all of your friends) trying to brainstorm a top-notch essay while also going to class, playing a sport and taking your final SAT.

Here are some pointers for how to brainstorm and craft an essay to get you noticed:

First, let’s address what this 650 word essay is not.  It is not intended to summarize your high school activities or accomplishments; the Common Application devotes specific sections to academic performance and awards, sports achievements and extracurricular activities.  Parents and students can rest assured that this essay should not be a regurgitation of those facts.  The goal of the main essay is to illustrate (and we use that word deliberately) who you are outside of the facts.  What makes you tick?  What brings you joy?  What have you learned about yourself?  What do we NOT know about you?  Your application is chock-full of facts about every slice of your life in school and your activities, but this essay is looking for something deeper.  Most students will never participate in a college interview, so this makes the essay the primary opportunity for colleges to learn something more personal about you.

Many students find this introspective process to be the most challenging part of their college application.  Although you may have done extensive writing in high school, most of you have not been required to share something so personal.  However, the college essay does NOT need to be complex.  In our work with students, we’ve found that the simplest subjects often reveal the deepest truths.

In our many combined years of coaching experience, there is no topic that is off-limits, with a few minor exceptions.  This is not a forum for discussing a romantic relationship, nor is it the best place to highlight your athletic prowess.  Dig deep and let the admissions reader get to know another side of you.

The main essay can be intimidating because most students have never done this type of writing, and the first few words are the most difficult.  You’ve written research papers, persuasive essays, and book reports and answered SAT essays, but the main essay is much different  – it’s personal – and that can be the most difficult part of the process.  We brainstorm with our students to find just the right topic  — and as a coach I’ve seen literally hundreds of different ideas.

After you find a topic, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can write today!  JUST DO IT.  Your first draft won’t (and shouldn’t) be your last, but once you begin you may be surprised how quickly the words flow.  I know when my students have found the right topic because the piece reads authentically.  And the word authentic is important.  Admission readers are PROS at seeing through phony essays.  Don’t try to wow them with tales of trips you’ve not taken or knock off someone else’s idea – they’ve seen it all and are on the look-out for students who plagiarize or make up stories.  I cannot stress enough that you need to be your most genuine self.  You don’t need to have climbed Mt. Everest or done original research to produce a stellar and engaging essay.  In fact, even if you’ve done those things, we suggest you write about something else.

Ask yourself what you want the admissions counselor to know about you that they did not learn from your application and search out an example that demonstrates this.  That is the simplest way to move forward and begin to get words on paper (or a screen).  Read it aloud when you’re done (you’ll be surprised how many needless words you find!) and cut, cut, cut – the best advice I’ve ever received in a writing class.

By following this simple road map, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of your friends and can breathe a sigh of relief when you head back to school.  And while it’s not nearly as fun as water skiing, it will put you ahead of your competition!

 

It Does Not Take A Village

By Deb Coco, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor of New York

If you’ve watched a newscast within the last few years, you’ve probably heard some depressing news about the future of the next generation:  they are categorized as “lazy,” “out of touch with reality,” or “unfocused.” As college admission coaches, each of us spends a great deal of time, 1:1, with teenagers and we can honestly say we’ve noticed a change in students over the years.  Whether it’s the abundance of technology at their fingertips (the most common excuse) or the result of helicopter parenting, many students are missing the necessary skills to successfully communicate with adults (both in person and by email) and I can assure you that writing skills are at an all time low.  The result is the inability to successfully navigate through the college admission process (and life beyond it) without their parents’ control.

It was after this year’s admission cycle that I fully realized the extent of this problem.  For the most part, if  parents had not dominated the process (answered my emails in place of their child, questioned me about essay topics, etc) their student would not have stayed on track.

However, we cannot entirely blame students.  They are the products of OVER parenting – also known as ‘helicopter parenting,” or the new term,  “snow plow parenting.”  Evidence of this phenomenon abounds.  A parent recently contacted us about his son who was applying to an MBA program.  He didn’t call us for advice but rather for help with the application – because he, (the FATHER) was filling it out.  You read that correctly.  This is a generational phenomenon – – I can unequivocally guarantee that my parents (and parents in previous generations) would never have overstepped parenting bounds in such a way.  And, if they had, they would have been called out on it.

To be clear, this isn’t a form of love (not that these parents don’t love their children), but rather a type of control.  Instead of teaching our children, we are robbing them of the ability to face life with confidence.  Imagine the subliminal message sent by these types of actions – “You cannot handle this so I will” is, in a nutshell, what children hear.  The outcome of this behavior yields exactly the opposite of the intention, and we are now faced with a generation of children ill-equipped to face what life will throw their way – many are paralyzed when faced with responsibility.  All one needs to do is Google “helicopter parents” and you will be inundated by articles from all types of sources (The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Child Times,  NY Times) – the list goes on and on – very different publications that all agree on one thing – this type of parenting is hurting young people.

My youngest daughter is now a college sophomore, and she is horrified by the way many students treat professors.  She validates that there is a breakdown in respect and courtesy that should be shown to authority and elder figures.

It is said that “to those whom much is given, much is expected” and the majority of students whom we work with are extremely fortunate in circumstance.  We need to begin expecting more from our young people.  And the only way to teach a child personal responsibility, is to give them some – and to let them struggle through problems until they resolve them – on their own.  This begins in childhood – by the time students are in high school, it’s too late; the foundation has already been laid.  Studies show that young children who are given chores around the house are more likely to grow up to remember to do their homework, hold down jobs outside the home and earn high grades.  A fairly simple recipe.  We need to get out of our children’s way.  Expect them to reply to emails from their coaches and teachers, demand that they earn some of their own money, and teach them to look adults in the eye, shake hands and send thank you notes.  These are all simple guidelines, yet we see fewer young people who exhibit them.

As an admissions coach, I am so thrilled when I do have a student who says “please” and “thank you” or who does reply to my email in a timely fashion (or at all).  Our expectations of our youth are at an all time low and we need to regroup and ask ourselves what we are doing to enable this behavior.  Like all good things, it starts at home, with the family – our children are our responsibility and a reflection of us as parents.  Children need strong (yes strict) parenting, discipline and role models. We need young adults who are confident and achievement oriented, not cowering.  Somewhere we went off the rails.  It’s time to get back to basics.  In my view we don’t need the village, just a hard look at ourselves, our values and our children.

Free Tuition? The Fine Print on New York’s Excelsior Scholarship

By Deb Coco, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor of New York

Free is an enticing word and it grabs our attention.  So when New York unveiled its Excelsior Scholarship or “free” tuition program, the buzz began in earnest.  And with good reason.  Parents of prospective college students are especially vulnerable right now as the middle class has suffered with the outrageous rise in college tuition and little to fall back upon.  We address this demographic often and witness the examples on a personal level.  Families who believe they’ve saved well and done the right thing by their children sit with jaws dropped when they hear the finances of their particular situation, and they’re not alone.  For most families who are not considered “super rich” there are some tough decisions to be made when it comes to how to pay for college.

The quick facts look like this:  If your income falls below these middle class parameters, you’ll be a candidate for filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).   As such, your student will most likely receive a financial aid package with a mix of loans, grants and work study.  In past blogs I’ve discussed how crucial it is (EARLY in your process) to have a professional calculate your EFC (Expected Family Contribution).  This is the amount that the college (and the government) believes you can spend per year on one child.  Brace yourself;  it’s always MUCH more than you’d expect.  Families who make above this cut-off, must either rely on their personal savings and investments or merit scholarships given to their students by the colleges to which they apply.  The caveat here is that many schools do not offer any merit awards, and most merit awards don’t come which huge figures attached, so it’s important to plan accordingly BEFORE your child falls in love with an unaffordable school.

Enter the urgency for middle class relief.  We understand the struggle families face when looking down the barrel of almost $70,000 a year tuition; it’s unfathomable.  But Dr Dean wants students who might consider engaging in this contract with New York (yes, it’s a contract, with fine print and obligations just like any other) to understand the nuances of the negotiation.  “My fear is that students won’t understand the terms they’re signing on for.” says Dean . . .“New York is not giving this money away  and it’s really much less than a small school’s financial aid package disguised as free tuition.”  Just what are the obligations within the contract?

For one, students must not only maintain a certain GPA (which is more difficult for some than others) but they MUST graduate in 4 years.  They must also agree to stay in New York for the 4 years after graduation.  More importantly, students will still need to pay room and board and fees which will likely equal $19,000/year at most 4-year SUNY colleges…That’s not free!  So on the surface, this doesn’t seem too egregious, right? What looks good when signing on the dotted line as a high school senior may become a deal breaker as the years unfold.

Four years is, of course, the “norm” for an undergraduate degree.  However, a large percentage of college students are unable to complete their studies within that time period.  The facts speak for themselves.  According to USA Today… “at flagship research public universities, the on-time graduation rate is only 36%. Only 50 of the more than 580 public four-year institutions have graduation rates above 50%.  And students who do NOT graduate on time end up spending 40% more on their education; yes, FORTY.

Dean goes on to explain one of his major concerns “If you do the math, by increasing the student body through the Excelsior program, there will be even more students vying for the necessary classes to graduate;  more students and fewer classes will equal fewer students graduating in 4 years.”  We hear this often from parents whose children chose large universities; their child is unable to get into a class that the school has mandated they take for graduation.  There is no way around this issue and the free tuition program will compound it.

To be clear, it is not always the inability to gain access to upper level classes that prevents an on-time diploma; transferring is another huge issue that puts the brakes on a 4 year graduation goal.  All of this needs to be considered when weighing your options.  Keep in mind, transferring is an expensive mistake.  Should your child attend a SUNY school and be miserable, they’ll be “on the hook” for the tuition they took not to mention the cost of non-transferable credits to the next institution.  “Fit” is still the name of the game no matter what your financial outlook.

“We want families to continue to look at this process holistically.” Dean advises cautiously.   “While ‘free tuition’ may at first be enticing, in the end, a private school may be a better fit for your child academically and socially.  Free makes for a great sound bite, but you need to dig deeper.”  The possible upside to the introduction of the Excelsior Scholarship is that now, smaller private schools will be forced to take the public competition into consideration; remember, schools are businesses too.  So keep all your cards on the table.   Keep in mind that the aid from a private school WILL cover room & board, whereas the NY plan will only take tuition out of the equation and that is in the neighborhood of $6700.  When you add R&B and SUNY fees, you’re up in the neighborhood of $18,000.  If you dissected a private college’s offer it might look like this:  $60,000 sticker price; families EFC at $22,000,  financial aid package comes out to $36,000, out of pocket expense to you is $24,000 with no strings attached.   Thus it is possible, even probable that a family whose income is $125,000 would pay about as much – perhaps even less at a private college, than they would at a SUNY school.  We’ve had families who, when the process began, never imagined they could afford the private school their child dreamed about but ultimately they were awarded enough to swing the dream school without breaking the bank.

New York has done a great job at marketing this tuition program right at the nerve center of the problem.  The middle class has been struggling and they’re ready for some real relief.  However, that can come in many forms and we don’t want our clients jumping into something they’ll later regret.  Like anything else in life, it’s wise to review all the facts, know your student well and assess all options based on more than the word “free.” We do this with all the families under our care and have guided thousands of them to happy college careers.

The Campus Visit: According To The Experts

By Erin Wheeler, College Admissions Coach, The College Advisor  of New York

I love a good road trip!  Sunny weather, loud music, junk food and good company.  It’s always fun to hit the open road and see new places, meet new people and enjoy new experiences.  Taking those trips with family or friends to visit colleges is a huge part of every student’s college search process.

The students we work with at The College Advisor of New York are busy during the spring, summer and early fall months completing visits at colleges that are a good match for their needs.  But there are many types of visit options to consider – some structured and others more flexible.

Virtual Tour – See the campus without leaving your house! Check out the admissions section of the college’s website to find their virtual tour.  Some are done with photos, others are more interactive, but in either case they can give a nice introduction to the campus and facilities.

Discovery Day – Many colleges offer a day for high school underclassmen to come and learn about the school and the application process in general.  It’s a good chance to see a campus and learn how college admissions work.

General Campus Tour – Almost every student will go on a large group tour before submitting applications.  These tours are scheduled by the admissions office and usually led by a current college student.  It takes about an hour to visit some classrooms, residence halls, dining and athletic facilities.  Popular programs are usually highlighted along with visits to that area of campus.  Please consider the time of year, if possible, when planning your trip.  If the visit is during a college break, you’ll see the campus but not the college community.  It’s important to try to schedule visits while the college is in session!  Tour schedules can be found on college websites and you must register for them directly through that link.  This is a very important component of “Demonstrated Interest” as most admission offices keep record of these visits.

Information Session – During an information session one of the members of the admissions team gives an overview of the school, highlighting specific programs and reviewing the application process.  Often, these are coupled with a campus tour and a question and answer session.

Open House – An open house is a great way to cover a lot of ground in one visit.  There will be a general presentation about the school, large campus tours, faculty, staff and athletic coaches available to answer questions, current students to connect with and facilities to see.    Students can find answers to their unique questions about the school in order decide if that college is staying on the list!

Individual Tour or Meal – These opportunities are valuable experiences!  Some time can be spent with a current student, seeing the campus and enjoying the dining hall together.  This is the perfect way to ask specific questions.  Just keep in mind that the information is from this student’s perspective and not everyone has the same opinion.

Class Observation – Just as it sounds!  This is the opportunity to sit in on a college class and get an idea of a professor’s teaching style, the size of the classes, classroom facilities and makeup of the student body.

Accepted Students Day – Once an offer of admission is made, invitations for these events are sent.  There are usually a few days to choose from, and the college welcomes all of the freshmen and transfer students to campus one more time.  These visits often help incoming students make final decisions, get detailed questions answered, find housing possibly take placement exams.  We find these programs to be invaluable!

Recruiting (Athletics) Visit – These programs are set up through the athletic department by a coach who is recruiting the student for a specific sport.  They usually involve spending the day on campus with a current team member, observing a class, going to meals, observing practice or a game and possibly  spending the night.  It’s wise to also let the admissions office know about scheduled recruiting visits prior to arriving on campus.

Overnight Stay – There are schools that allow prospective students to come to campus for an overnight visit with a student who is in the same area of interest, playing the same sport or is an admissions ambassador.  These visits can be tricky, especially if the prospective student doesn’t connect with the host.  An extended day visit or overnight stay with a family friend who attends that college may prove to be more helpful.

It’s important to mention that students don’t have to take part in every visit opportunity.  Throughout the search process, it will become obvious which campuses need more attention and which need less.  By having a good understanding of the definitions of each type of campus visit, students can choose which one best suits their needs.

Regardless of which type you make, college visits give students the understanding to evaluate the school for academic, social and programmatic fit.  As such we highly encourage you to visit.  Happy trails!

How Do You Survive Junior Year? Start The Process In Your Sophomore Year

By Deb Coco

Parents – do you remember your junior year of high school?  My recollections revolve around a pack of girlfriends, Friday night football games, dances and the dreaded curfew.  I have to think hard to recall SAT prep (I’m not even sure I did any, and the ACT was virtually unknown in Boston).  AP courses were in their infancy and college essays were penned and mailed, not agonized over.  I’m sure this reads like an episode of the Walton’s for students, but I’m not that old.  However, every year as I watch my students journey through junior year, I’m struck by just how much has changed in a relatively short period of time.

Most parents would agree with me when I write that I’m glad I’m not a kid in 2017.  The technology is great; who would have dreamed of iPhones in the 80s?  As college admission becomes more and more competitive, the weight on our high school students gets heavier.  Test prep is now all but mandatory, AP courses are also critical if your student has designs on a selective school, and being VERY involved with numerous extracurricular activities is a must if you want to stay in line with the competition.  Add to this the fact that you “should” be out visiting colleges every chance you get. Tired yet?

At this time of year I begin to see my juniors glaze over because fatigue is setting in.  I see it as I reach out for feedback on February break visits; the bloom of being so close to college is “off the rose.” Often trying to get that feedback is like pulling teeth because kids are overwhelmed with the expectations of this year.

Just how important is junior year?  Of the four years of high school, it is unequivocally the most weighted in college admissions. It is the year that will be scrutinized because colleges expect students to stretch themselves and rise to the occasion.  It reminds me of a phrase psychologist Karen Horney coined many years ago:  “The tyranny of the shoulds.” The list of what should be done this year is long: students should challenge themselves academically by taking tough courses; they should excel on standardized tests; they should be busy outside the classroom, they should be visiting colleges . . . and the list goes on.  This is where I’d like to make the case for contacting an experienced, college advisor at the end of a student’s sophomore year.  In doing so you will be “up and running” with a structured program as junior year rolls around and you understand what is expected of you and when.  Not to mention, we help roadmap the process for parents and students alike and there is comfort in knowing what is headed your way and that you have a plan in place.  Students will have their school lists in hand when vacations roll around, they will know which tests they should take and when, and they’ll already be brainstorming their college essay before they depart school as a “rising senior.”  Add to this that their parents will already know what schools they can afford and how, and you are already leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.

So, this is how to survive junior year; start planning with a college consultant early.  Gone are the “good old days” when it was safe to apply to just a few schools, leave your application until the last-minute and hope for the best.  That is a recipe for disaster.  Working with an advisor gives you a sounding board for stress and streamlines a very difficult process.  But, parents hear me now:  Please don’t think that the intensity of junior year is too much for your child or give in and think they shouldn’t have to deal with all these factors.  These kids are just a year away from independence . . . from having expectations placed on them by professors who won’t send reminders, and administrators who will expect them to behave as adults.  This IS the path to adulthood and it’s important to stand back, and let them find their way.  At times it is hard to watch them struggle, but it builds the necessary foundation for a successful college career and lifelong skills.  Being prepared is the very best survival strategy not just for junior year, but for collegiate success.

The College Admissions Interview

By Erin Callahan Wheeler

The interview outfit. I remember it well. Blue flowered jumper, pink shirt and pink sweater. Simple brown flats and a simple brown bag. That was my uniform. But that doesn’t mean I left the house looking that put together! I would crawl into my parents’ mini-van in a hoodie and mesh shorts, curl up in the backseat and sleep. Then, at a rest stop, I would crawl out of the car as a sleepy kid and climb back in as a prepared student.

Why bother with this crazy wardrobe change?  Because I was heading into an on campus interview.  This would be my chance to meet with an admissions counselor, learn more about the admissions process, my program of interest and most importantly make a first impression.  It’s important that students are prepared, well presented and organized for their interviews.  Is it all about appearance?  Of course not.  But a positive appearance shows the extra effort to make a good impression during this event.

As a longtime admissions professional who has conducted interviews for 15+ years, I have seen it all, so here’s my top 10 list of tips for the college admissions interview:

  1. Be Professional. Take the initiative and set up the appointment yourself.  Call or e-mail to set up the time.  It is possible that student interviews are not available with admissions, as some schools use alumni interviewers instead, and many simply don’t offer interviewing as an option.  But if they do, the meeting should be taken seriously because it does become part of your applicant file.
  2. Be On Time (and call if you’re running late!). Many admissions counselors do interviews back to back, so a 15 minute change may impact their schedule for the rest of the day.
  3. Introduce Yourself and Your Family. Rather than wait for the awkward shuffle of the admissions counselor trying to figure out who’s who in your life, make the introductions.  From there, the counselor will explain who will be part of the interview and where the rest of the family can wait (if applicable).
  4. Be Prepared. This seems obvious, but I have met with many students over the years who know nothing about the school!  Spend some time on their site, learn the basics, have an idea of what program you’re interested in studying. Write down those things to have in front of you on a notepad during the interview.
  5. Ask Questions. I love when a student comes in to meet with me with a list of prepared questions. It shows that the student has put serious time and effort into preparing for this interview.  It also ensures that we are covering all the details that the student needs to know.  Students who work with The College Advisor of New York also have a customized list of questions to ask in order to help them prepare for these moments.
  6. Make The Case For The Match. It is critical to be able to articulate why you believe the school is a good fit for you.  What specifically about their academic program is appealing to you?  What have you learned from your online research, and why, among the 2,500 four-year colleges in the U.S., did you decide to visit this one?
  7. Watch The Time. Yes, the counselor wants to spend time with you and learn about you, but she probably doesn’t need to know about your 2nd grade dance recital and your pet crayfish who crawled down the stairs.
  8. Consider A Resume. Many high school students have the opportunity to work with their guidance office, via the Naviance software, to put together a resume.  This is a great idea!  Admissions counselors aren’t necessarily looking for work experience as though you are in a job interview, but it’s a simple way to summarize your sports, activities, volunteer work and interests on one piece of paper.
  9.  Smile.  This seems simple enough, but many students don’t show any emotion during their interview.  You may be nervous but try to use that energy in a positive way.  From an interviewer’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than meeting with a student who appears to be miserable during the conversation!
  10. Follow Up. Be sure to grab a business card from the interviewer. While it may be tempting to send a quick follow up e-mail or text, I would strongly suggest dropping a thank you note in the mail. That assures the interviewer that you appreciate their time, makes them think of you again and lets them know that you made the extra effort in this digital age to drop a note in the mail.

When working with our students at The College Advisor of New York, we encourage students to be independent, organized and in charge of their college search process.  The skills our students learn during the college search process build a foundation for future part-time job interviews, internship searches and career preparation after college graduation.

Spending Money To Save Money?

Why investing in a college advisor can LOWER your stress level…and your cost.

By Deb Coco

There is an old adage stating “you must spend money to make money.”  In the world of college admissions it’s really no different.  Investing in a qualified college advisor before embarking on this process will all but guarantee you a lower bill – and a better fit – in the end.

College costs garner a sentence or two in most of my blogs.  We’ve just completed another admissions cycle and once again, we are bowled over by the leap in tuition prices – as admissions counselors we ask ourselves “when will the madness end?!”  There are now dozens of colleges costing more than $70,000 A YEAR.  You read that right.  So a four-year education is beginning to creep up on the $300,000 mark.  That’s the cost of a lovely home.  Most families, however, have more than one child, so multiply that by two or three and it’s extremely frightening, and completely unnecessary to pay that much.  In fact, it’s not just the cost of college that has made things difficult, the entire admissions process has become increasingly complex

At The College Advisor of New York, our goal is to provide our families with peace of mind.  Every year, this process becomes more complicated and this year took it to a new level.  We saw multiple changes this admissions cycle that, if you were in the dark, could have been the difference between a fat acceptance envelope and a flat-out rejection.

What changed?  Well for starters, this cycle became significantly more competitive.  Some schools saw their application numbers TRIPLE . . .so if your child had convinced themselves they wouldn’t be able to go on unless they were admitted to Villanova and you applied in their Early Action pool, you probably made a huge mistake right out of the gate.  We would have steered you in the right direction and advised your child based on their statistics and our inside knowledge, not on what your neighbor told you they’d heard from their sister-in-law.

Another game changer . . .the SAT underwent a significant overhaul for this year and many students saw their scores increase significantly.  Seems great, right?  Well, because the SAT was reformulated and thus re-normed, the resulting higher scores were simply a case of  “score inflation” and most colleges – especially selective ones – treated the results accordingly.  How did this play out for students submitting these scores?  By working with a college consultant, you’d have known how the old SAT was being weighed in comparison with the new SAT and we’d have advised you accordingly.  Inside knowledge of the SAT vs. the ACT along with s strong test prep tutor takes the smoke and mirrors out of what, for many, is the most stressful part of this process.

Another factor contributing to major amounts of confusion this year was the change in the financial aid deadlines.  This forced applicants and their parents to be ready with their paperwork at the same time as the Early Action deadlines.  If you were unprepared it was unbelievably stressful.  Our families were not only aware, but prepared and on time with the necessary forms.

Last but not least, was the advent of a new application format – the Coalition Application.  This threw a monkey wrench into an already complicated and layered process and forced families to question if the schools on their student’s list took:   A. The Common Application, B. The Coalition Application or C. the school’s own application.  Yes, it’s that crazy.  Most college advisors were able to guide their students through this maze of application madness.

Confused?  Many people are and with good reason.  However if you work with a college admissions consultant your child won’t be left taking tests unnecessarily, using the wrong application or applying to a college that is clearly either not for them or out of their target range.  More importantly, parents will have financial peace of mind because we understand the “ins and outs” of the financial aid process better than just about anyone in the country.  Making a mistake calculating your EFC can be costly, and with four-year costs ranging from $100,000 to almost $300,000, investing in a college admissions consultant is a smart choice.

Beauty Is, Very Often, Only Skin Deep

By Deb Coco

What is it that makes a college or university desirable?  Is it rankings?  Graduate school placement? Athletic programs?  Depending on whom you ask, the answer can be quite different.  However, the one constant, year in and year out, is that a handful of “brand name schools” will be coveted by students and parents alike.  And we’re not just referring to the Ivy League, although they remain the most sought after acceptances.  Those schools, are however, also unattainable for most students, thus off the table. But I’m referring to the “sexy” schools – the ones students desire usually because of things they’ve heard from other students or parents or seen in an expensive, four-color brochure.

We will use Villanova as an example.  For the past decade, this University has seen a steady uptick in applicants and, as an admission’s coach, it’s the one school almost EVERY single one of my students desires.  What is interesting is the reason students give me when asked “why Villanova?”

Of course, this year it’s out of control – with Villanova’s NCAA Basketball Championship, their desirability skyrocketed and their applicant pool is expected to triple.  So an already extremely competitive school just shot off the charts for most “average” and many “above average” students.  But is that the reason to select a school?  I’ve inquired of all of my students who have “Nova” as their “top choice” why exactly IS it their #1 choice?  And I’ve been shocked by the answers, which vary from “I don’t know, I think the campus is really awesome” to “it’s a cool school” to “everyone I know is applying.”

And therein lies the caveat; a “skin deep” reply to an important question.  At The College Advisor of New York, we work 1:1 with students throughout the process, searching for the right fit school for each of them as individuals.  This means that the academic rigor must match the student’s abilities, the majors and schools must match the student’s goals, and the finances must match the family’s ability to pay.  So when we compile a list of schools for students, they mirror that student based on facts.

Brand name schools are the wild card in the process.  At some point as almost every student works with us, either that student or their parent will inquire “what about X school?  Shouldn’t we look there?” Boston College,  Villanova,  Hamilton, Wake Forest to name just a few; trendy schools with price tags to match.  Don’t get me wrong – these are all EXCELLENT schools – but they are no value and thus, most students and their families will go into debt figuring out how to swing a close to $300,000 college “experience.”  Often looking at those schools and deciding for oneself, is the best medicine, and then consider the facts; Those I’ve listed here (and about 50 more in the same category) now cost between $65,000 and $70,000 A YEAR.  Since I’ve been writing for The College Advisor, that figure just keeps creeping up.  And for what?  Are these colleges that much better?  Will attending one of them change the course of a student’s life?  By and large, the answer is a resounding “NO.”  What will change a student’s life is going to a school where they are able to study without the fear of impending debt, where they can find internships that will equip them for the job market upon graduation, and excel in their major so they stand out in the huge graduation pool.  Having a “cool” college sticker on your car is the equivalent of buying a BMW you know you can’t afford but feel you must have to drive by the neighbors; not a smart investment.

There are thousands of colleges and universities in this country and many of them are still a value; schools which still reward top students based on their academic merit (which NONE of the brand name schools do) and who seek those top students and reward them accordingly.  However, there will always be families who feel that it is “important” for their child to attend “that” school; ultimately it is a personal choice.  Our goal at The College Advisor of New York is to provide the facts and guide families through a complicated process.  At the end of the day, they must decide for themselves if gold really does glitter.