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.

Tune In To Life Happens Radio this Saturday

Set Your Graduates Up For Success

Upcoming Show – Saturday, June 3

Lou Pierro and Dean Skarlis


As we celebrate the achievements of our high school graduates in June, families should also be laying the groundwork for their child’s legal transition to adulthood. Tune into Life Happens Radio on June 3, when Lou Pierro will be joined by special guest, Dean Skarlis, President of The College Advisor of New York, to give you essential planning steps that will set up college-bound children and young adults for a secure future.

From a financial and admissions perspective, you’ll learn about HIPPA regulations and the need for your child to sign a waiver so that parents can discuss health care and disciplinary violations with a college. Dean will also cover factors that affect the admissions process, selectivity and cost, and Lou will give pointers on establishing documents like a basic will, trust and powers of attorney for a young adult.
Baby Boomers, upcoming high school graduates and college students shouldn’t miss this timely topic, sotunein to Life Happens Radio, when Lou and Dean will take your calls live from 11am-12pm on WGY.


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!

Decisions, Decisions!

By Deb Coco

It’s finally that time of year.  Our students have visited, visited again, applied and of course, WAITED.  May 1 is just a few weeks away.

If you are like most students, you’ve received offers from several schools and now it’s time to buckle down and weigh your options.  It’s more difficult than it seems, because all schools are not created equal.  And most likely your offers are not either.  Some schools may have given you some financial aid and others possibly merit scholarships.  Often the “dream” school didn’t offer money, but the safety did; do you choose the school with “cache” or do you take the money and run?  So many factors go into deciding which college or university to attend and you’re wise to mull it over.  Here’s some tried and true advice about how to weigh this decision, which is possibly the biggest of your life thus far!

For most students in 2017, money matters.  Even if you were not a financial aid candidate, it’s hard to turn down a large (or even small) merit scholarship.  Keep these facts in mind:  merit money is yours, it’s an award based on your academic achievement and you should be proud of it.  You will also not be required to pay it back – which is extremely enticing in today’s world of trillions in student loan debt.  However, financial aid is the name of the game for a huge pool of students and some of it WILL have to be repaid.  Whether your package involves loans, grants, work study, or a blend of the three, once you graduate they become your first mortgage.  So, the bigger the loan the more weight on you to be quickly and gainfully employed upon graduation.  Consider this when making your choice; what does school “X” offer students in terms of job placement?  Every college and university has a department of career counseling and some are better than others.  Check into it and see what alums have to say about this important factor.  Career counseling offices “should” post their statistics on job placement and be there to answer your questions; if they are not, buyer beware.

There is also much talk about “fit” and with good reason; there are thousands of colleges and no two are alike.  After acceptances go out, so do “Admitted Student Day” invitations.  Don’t turn these down or think you already know everything there is to know about a school; if possible, take the time to attend these special days.  Schools roll out the red carpet for their accepted students and you’ll have the opportunity to be much more intimate with faculty and students than on your initial campus tours.  One of my daughters was extremely perplexed about her final decision and the accepted student day at her university “knocked it out of the park” and cinched it for her.  They are valuable opportunities to make a final evaluation and should definitely play a role if you’re on the fence!

And last but never, ever least; I’ve always believed there is a case to be made for trusting your gut.  I tell students that their feedback on schools is based on that “gut” reaction they have when they step onto a campus.  Do these students look like people I’ll feel comfortable living with for four years?  Is the physical campus one that excites me?  I love schools with an “old” feel; I’ve had students feel exactly the opposite and want a modern, “techy” like vibe.  These factors, and others, matter; pay attention to them.  Other issues may need to matter more, but if all else is equal, there is a case to be made for choosing what feels “right.”

It’s more likely than not that you will ultimately end up where you’re meant to be.  However, it took a long time to visit, study, take those SATs, write your essay AND apply; don’t jump the gun on the biggest part of all.  Most importantly, congratulations!  You’ve completed the most difficult part – now enjoy your success.

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.

Attend Dr. Skarlis’ course: “Finding The Right College At The Right Price” – Wednesday, March 22 6:30 pm

Register today for Dr. Skarlis’ Continuing Education Course “Finding The Right College At The Right Price” – at Shenendehowa High School on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 from 6:30 pm – 8 pm.  Dr. Skarlis will discuss how to begin the college search, maximizing scholarships and financial aid, the most important factors admissions officers consider when admitting applicants, the SAT/ACT and more.  Course cost:  $15.  Click below to register!

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.

The Bottom Line: Why College VALUE and PRICE are suddenly bigger than prestige

It’s one of the things that make working in the world of college admissions so interesting; each year is different.  It seems that no two admissions cycles are the same and when we gathered as coaches to reflect on what was unique to this past year, a common thread was woven through each of our experiences . . . affordability.

This was the first year that I heard students use the words “value, cost, and financial aid” BEFORE their parents mentioned it.  It was astounding, and was proof that the pendulum really has swung to the point where cost and value matter more to some families than prestige.  Of course, this does not apply to every family.  There are always those who can afford the brand name colleges and who feel it is important to attend one.  However, more and more of our clients are placing higher importance on cost.  And is it any wonder?  The cost of a four year undergraduate education continues to rise, even as salaries do not.  Many parents are looking at an education for each child that may exceed $250,000 and many will not see any financial aid.  Even public schools have eclipsed the $100,000 mark.  So what is a family to do when facing the second biggest expense in their lives?  First, hire a qualified and experienced college admissions consultant so you understand how the world of college financial aid works.  It is important to not rely on your financial advisor or accountant for this advice; college admissions aid is a world unto itself.

When we meet with families at the beginning of our process, a financial aid analysis is one of the first bases we cover.  Application time is NOT when you want to address whether or not you’ll qualify for need based aid; it should be calculated when your student is in their junior year of high school or you may head down a very expensive path.  We help our families understand not just if they will qualify but what it means if indeed they do not.  We also calculate their ability to pay to the dollar, so they will know exactly what each college will expect them to contribute.  We then discuss whether or not their student is a prospect for merit based scholarships.  This can greatly reduce loan burden but it’s important to isolate which schools WILL give your student scholarships.  Many colleges offer no merit scholarships, so it’s important to understand that well before your child applies.  It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true.  Nonetheless, there are still some amazing values out there.   I have three daughters who are proof.

We often have parents tell us that they have already used the net price calculator on a college website to calculate their EFC (Expected Family Contribution).  But we cannot stress enough that these calculators are notoriously inaccurate.  One of the biggest values we offer to families navigating this often overwhelming process is helping them get a clear picture of the finances involved in college admissions.  It is not black and white, and by understanding it before your student falls in love with a college you clearly cannot afford, you will save time, money and aggravation by tackling the money first.  After all, the bottom line for many families now is “can we afford it?” and students are beginning to be on board with the understanding that loan debt is NOT something you want when they hand you your college diploma.