Tag Archives: University and college admissions

Financing college: What you don’t know can hurt you

We see it on the faces of almost every single parent who walks through our door. It’s the look of disbelief at what just ONE year of their child’s college education will cost, much less all four. The sticker price is staggering, ranging from $90,000 to $250,000, depending on the school and a variety of other important factors. Parents feel a bit deflated and this is understandable; they are facing the second largest investment of their lives, not to mention that most people have more than one child . . . needless to say it can be overwhelming.

And that is where we come in. At The College Advisor of New York, we’ve helped thousands of families find a way to send their children to college without “losing the farm.” How? Knowledge is power and financing college is no different. The earlier in the college search process that you understand how much money you will be expected to contribute towards your child’s education, the better chance of finding a way to come up with the money.

College consultants toss the term “EFC” all the time, but what does this acronym stand for and the bigger question is, what does it mean? It stands for “Expected Family Contribution.” This is the number that schools calculate to determine how much THEY feel YOU can contribute towards your child’s education. And believe me, it’s always much more than you anticipate. The simple example goes something like this. If “X” school costs $55,000 per year and your “EFC” is $20,000 per year, then you are expected to be able to pay $20,000 of that $55,000, and College “X” will come up with some – NOT all – of the difference in financial aid. However, if your “EFC” is $70,000 in that same scenario, you would receive no aid. I am oversimplifying it here, but this is the easiest explanation.

So how do schools calculate this number? There are two ways: the Federal Methodology and the Institutional Methodology. One is the government’s formula for need based aid and the other is the calculation required by many private colleges. Various colleges require both and neither formula assures that you will receive any aid; they just calculate your EFC to determine your financial need. Confused? You’re not alone.

There are so many factors that go into determining this magic number, but not many professionals out there that can help you A.) calculate it and B.) know what to do once you have it. One of the first questions we ask of our new clients is “do you have a financial advisor?” Many of them do, but most financial advisors and accountants do NOT understand the nuances of the college financial world (and they would admit that themselves). Just as we tell families not to rely on their English teacher to advise them on their college application essay, here too is a word to the wise: Seek out a college admissions counselor who knows the financial aid process. And because my blog always contains one shameless plug, here it is . . . The College Advisor of New York is the only college consulting firm that incorporates the financial aid process into the college search process. Dr. Dean Skarlis is the “go to” professional for financial advisors. He answers their college planning questions that so often arise with their clients. He also runs seminars and trainings specifically aimed at educating financial professionals on how to plan so that families can keep more of their hard earned money. He is one of the few people out there with this expertise.

What exactly does this mean to our clients? It means our parents have the peace of mind that on May 1 of their child’s senior year, they will not be staring at a college education they can’t afford. It means that they won’t have just one; they will have several college options to choose from. We help our families weigh whether it is wise to spend more money at the brand name school or less (often MUCH less) at the less well known university where they received a large award. And the game is changing here too, because we are finding that even our families with the ability to truly afford those expensive schools, are choosing the school that gave them aid in one form or another.

And that brings me to one more point. All financial aid is not created equal. Many of our families will never see any “need” based aid. But they don’t have to despair. We help them to seek out schools where their student will stand out, and thus receive merit scholarships. The caveat here is that all schools do not offer merit aid; another reason not to rely on a financial planner but to instead turn to a college admissions consultant who knows the big picture. The stakes are very high, and the road can be confusing. As I’ve said in past blogs, our process seeks a fit in three areas; academic and social for the student and financial for the family. By working with us, you know right from the start what you can afford. More importantly we help you strategize about how to cut your costs, and come up with the money to pay for school. That is truly peace of mind and one that will never leave you telling your child “we just can’t afford that school.”

All colleges are not created equal. Why “fit” is more important than ever

Our goal for every family with whom we work is to help them find colleges that are a great fit socially, academically and financially. While many think they understand the concept of social fit, they may not, so I thought I would take a few minutes to define it in more depth for you.

There are many different aspects of what goes into the social/cultural environment on a college campus. Some schools are dominated by a Division I sports culture; others are highly intellectual. And while it’s widely known that the general political and cultural climate on college campuses is quite liberal, the full depth of what that means may not be clear to many.

My middle daughter is a sophomore at a large East Coast University. She is very happy there and has found it to be a good match for her on all levels. However, we often laugh at some of what she is forced to participate in as a college co-ed in today’s world. A shining example came through recently when she forwarded a survey to me that the Office of Residence Life asked everyone to complete. It focused on “sexual orientation.” One of the many questions posed to her included “How would you describe your sexual identity?” And there were NINE possible answers (I still can’t figure out what at least six of them mean and neither can she). Beyond the standard “Asexual and Bisexual” we have a menu including, but not limited to “Queer, Questioning, Pansexual (?), and Fluid”… Really?!

Academic fit is easy to understand and as college admissions consultants, we strive to help students find it, but social fit is more ambiguous, and I find it easier to describe to a student by ascertaining what they WON’T want on a campus after I get to know them via the assessments and our 1:1 meetings. There is the simple explanation in describing a student body as either “conservative” or “liberal.” Parents who seek a conservative school for their child will find it more challenging to find a variety of options, with the exception of several dozen Christian colleges, and perhaps a couple dozen additional more “traditional” colleges. A quick Google search or this article will provide surprising information about Yale’s “Sex Week.” Big name schools aren’t the only places you’ll find this fascination with sex. At Allegheny College in conservative Western Pennsylvania, there was more than worship going on in the chapel. And many of these ideas are working their way into the actual curriculum. At Skidmore College, students can take a class called “Queer Theory.”

Are these type of courses truly worthy of academic credit? One could successfully argue that they are anti-intellectual, yet these examples are not isolated. But regardless of one’s political, cultural or religious beliefs, many parents, and some students, are simply unaware that these subjects and programs are offered at most colleges and universities throughout the country. And this brings me to one critical question that, as college admissions professionals, we constantly ask ourselves: How can we prepare families to ascertain an accurate view of the cultural and political climate on their college visits? More importantly, how can we help students understand their developing world view, and the type of college that will help them both support and challenge it so that an appropriate level of learning occurs?

The best way to fully understand these issues is for students to gain self awareness by asking themselves who they are and what they believe. We spend a good deal of time discussing these issues with them. But we also recommend that students spend considerable time researching schools carefully online. Students and parents should view the list of majors and courses offered. You can read guidebooks like the Princeton Review’s “Best 379 Colleges,” and follow the school’s Twitter feed, or “like” their Facebook page. Most importantly, you MUST VISIT the colleges to which you plan to apply, and do more than take a tour. Talk with students; sit in on a class; grab the school newspaper and read it on the drive home. Get the “vibe” of the student body and the campus in real time. Is the campus too intellectual for your student? Is it too focused on Division I sports? What kinds of extracurricular activities are taking place?

You are about to invest a small fortune so you must understand what the social/cultural climate will be like. If you take this advice before you submit applications, you have a much better chance of finding a place where your student fits in and feels they can take an active role in their education.

Parenting Your Child Through The College Admissions Process

We’ve worked with thousands of students and parents to help them navigate the often stressful college admissions process, and over the years, I realized that my job not only involves coaching students, but much of it has evolved to coach parents on this very different journey.  Below, I’ve outlined the top 5 things you can do to effectively parent your child during this challenging time.

1.  Realize It’s Not About You:  No matter how much your children may be like you, they need to make their own observations and decisions.  You are NOT applying to college.  They are.  This is not your chance to go back and “get into” Harvard.  Distancing yourself from the emotions of the process allows you to support your child, rather than add to their stress.   This is not a high school playoff game or a state final soccer match.  It is a rite of passage during which your child will begin to establish their independence,   You need to be a stabilizing “grounding cord” for your child.

2.  Understand your grief – not theirs.  You may not consciously realize it, but you may be sad that your child will soon be leaving home…for good.  This could cause you to feel depressed or angry.  Some parents lash out at their student or spouse.  Think about it.  Feel it, talk to a counselor or member of the clergy.  Then, get over it.  Instead of feeling sad, get ready to turn your child’s bedroom into a Jacuzzi room!

3.  Understand your affordability EARLY in the process.   Will you qualify for financial aid?  If so, will the college meet all or only some of your need?  Will your child qualify for merit scholarships?  And at which schools?  We help our families plan for these questions ever day.  Once you have a rough number in your head, it’s incumbent upon you to figure out how you’ll come up with the money.  If you cannot, then talk to your child about other options.  The number 1 reason students drop out of college is because they cannot afford it.  That’s why we talk about “fit” being academic, social and financial…This is YOUR job and ONLY your job.

4.  Stay in the car, but don’t drive.  This may be your toughest challenge.  You need to be involved in every step of the process, except taking the SAT, doing your child’s applications, and writing the essay, but your child needs to be the driver.  This can get tricky, so be careful.  Consider hiring an experienced educational consultant.  When they tell your child to write her essay, she’s more likely to do it than if you do.  You will be spending lots of money, so you would do a disservice if you weren’t involved, but your child, not you, needs to own the process.

5.  Remember that this is a process, not a decision.  If you engage in a well informed, well researched, logical and systematic college search, the decision will follow the process.  In fact, by April of the senior year, the decision will be easy.  Until then, there will be a lot of uncertainty and that’s ok.  Let the process unfold on its own, and don’t pressure your child for a decision.  The trips to visit colleges can be a lot of fun.  They may be the last time you spend quality time with your child until they become an adult.  Use this time to talk to your student about life, fun stuff, anything at all.  Cherish these times, and try to have fun, but don’t expect them to decide where they’re going as soon as you get in the car after a campus tour…They will likely not know until the Spring of their Senior year.

In the end, this is your child’s process, not yours, but some kids may not be ready to fully engage in it, so tread carefully, and assess where you and your child are at each step…Good luck!

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Hyper-Competitive World Of College Admissions

For the Fall, 2011 freshman class, Harvard University accepted only 6% of its applicants.  This was the lowest in the Country.  Yale, Princeton and Columbia followed close behind, each admitting only 7% of its applicants.  To emphasize how difficult it is to be admitted to one of these schools, it’s important to note that 95% of Harvard’s incoming class ranked in the top 10% of their high school class, and the middle 50% of admitted Harvard students’ SAT scores was 2080 to 2370.  That means that a student in the 25th percentile of the admitted Harvard class (the bottom quarter) scored in the top 6% of the 1.6 million students who took the SAT last year.  Those in the middle, an “average” Harvard applicant, scored within the top 2% of all SAT test takers world-wide.

These numbers are no surprise to an experienced college admissions consultant, but they may shock an unsuspecting family entering the process.  A family with whom we recently worked was astonished by the fact that their son was not admissible to Harvard despite the fact that both parents and 2 of his 4 grandparents graduated from Harvard.  The student in question had better grades and higher test scores than both of his parents!  And this hyper-competitive environment has filtered down through the universe of public and private colleges throughout the nation.  This all begs the question:  Why is college admissions so competitive these days?  There are 3 primary reasons:

1.  Today’s American students are competing against a global student body.  Twenty five years ago, few international students sought admission to America’s colleges and universities, but with the rapid population growth in China and India, not to mention many other countries, more students are seeking entrance to U.S. colleges, which are considered by most to be the best in the world.

2.  There are more students in the pipeline.  While the overall population of American high school students has stabilized, it’s still at its highest level in more than 15 years.  More importantly, the percentage of high school graduates who go directly on to college is at its highest point ever, about 70%, according to the National Center For Education Statistics.

3.  Finally, more kids are applying to more colleges than ever before.  Online applications, like the Common Application, make this much easier than ever before.  The average student applies to approximately 6 colleges, compared to only 3 twenty years ago.

So, with more applicants, more applications and the same number of colleges as there were two decades ago, the admissions process has become much more of a numbers game.  This means that good grades in college prep courses, strong SAT or ACT scores, a powerful essay, solid extracurricular activities, and strong teacher recommendations are critical for admission to the Ivies and many other schools.  The most important action students can take is to study hard, and do well in high school!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Three Tips For A Great College Essay

Writing college application essays is one of the most dreaded tasks of college applicants.  We work with students all summer to help them craft their essays so they understand how to authentically show college admissions professionals a facet of their character and personality.  Below, I’ve identified three key pieces of advice that will help kids manage the process so they don’t get too stressed.

  1. Start Early.  For high school juniors (rising seniors), time is your biggest ally.  Most of you will not submit applications until November 1 at the earliest, some will submit later…so take the time this summer to begin working on your piece.  Half the battle is determining your topic.  Once you do so, begin to write.  Even if you’re unsure of what or how to write, just get something on paper now.  Once you find a good topic and begin writing, you’re more than half way done!
  2. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have had a traumatic event in your life to write a good college essay.  Instead, write a big essay on a small topic.  The key is to find a compelling way to show how unique you are.  Sometimes picking a small, symbolic event that represents “the larger you” is an effective way of communicating your message.    My high school AP English teacher taught me that the best literature is “unique, yet universal.”  This is a great way to think about the essay.  It needs to show who you are, why you’re unique, and it needs to be written in a unique, first person voice, while appealing to a wide (universal) audience.  This is easier said than done, but once you get it, the essay will be much more manageable.
  3. Write and re-write.  We suggest that our students take 3 drafts to craft their piece.  Like anything else, the more time you spend on your college essay, the better it will be.

Good luck!!