College planning made so simple, a college organizer made so easy, it's magic. Take the stress out of the high stakes college application process.

Q.

A.

The answer here is…it depends on several factors.  So, before you make the decision, consider the following:

  • Which financial aid application(s) do the colleges require?  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not look at home equity, so if you are applying to colleges that ONLY accept the FAFSA, then, no, it won’t help you at all.
  • Some colleges, mostly private colleges that give away a significant amount of their own grant dollars, will also ask you to complete the CSS Profile.  The CSS Profile will ask for home equity and the loan MIGHT make a difference.
  • The formulae for either the FAFSA for Profile are both income heavy and weigh assets (such as home equity) much less than income.
If you really want to see the nuts and bolts of how lower home equity would affect you,  go to  www.finaid.org  On the home page their is a link for “calculators” on that page, there is a link for “Expected Family Contribution and Financial Aid Calculator”  It will do BOTH the FAFSA and Profile (or “institutional”) calculations.  You will be able to try different values for home equity and see if this will make a big enough difference to make the loan worthwhile.
To know which schools require FAFSA only and which require both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, you can go to www.collegeappwizard.com and as you add colleges, indicate that you will be applying for financial aid…it will then list for you everything you will need to do for each school for both admissions applications AND fin aid.

Q.

A.

You will hear over and over that passion should drive your choices (realizing that necessity is also a very big factor).  There is not a “right” answer with regard to what colleges want to see.  They want to see what you will contribute to their community in the form of an activity or your personal character.  Doing a lot of activities in a cursory fashion will not reflect nearly as well as doing fewer activities in greater depth.  That being said, if you have a choice among activities that truly interest you, choose the one that might be slightly less common, or do something uncommon with your more common interest. For example, let’s say you play soccer…so do a lot of other people, but do you also serve as a referee for a youth league, volunteer in a challenger league for young people with developmentally disabilities or volunteer as a youth coach?  These are all additions that show greater depth of purpose, reflect positively on you, and make you more appealing to colleges.

Quantifying your contributions, where possible can also be a great way to demonstrate your commitment.  Indicating that you volunteer at a soup kitchen is admirable, but indicating that you have done so two Saturdays a month since 10th grade, for example, gives a far greater sense of your commitment. Alternately indicating that you teach swim lessons is great, but indicating that in those lessons you helped an autistic child get in the pool when no one else could reveals something very positive about you.  What you do can be as important as how you do it.

Q.

A.

In college lingo, the retention rate is the percent of freshmen who continue on at that college for their sophomore year.  It’s often considered a measure of student happiness since students who are satisfied with their collegiate experience don’t often leave.  The average retention rate for 4 year colleges in the US is approximately 75%, so a college in the high 80’s or 90th percentile is a place that takes good care of their students (academically, socially, financially, etc).  A school with a retention rate below the national average might raise a red flag and make you ask some questions (Why is the retention rate so low, and what are you doing to remedy that?).  To find college retention rates go the the US Department of Education’s college search engine http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/ and enter the name of the college.  This is an important piece of information and worth the time to examine!

Q.

A.

All May 4, 2013 SAT test scores have been cancelled in South Korea because of allegations of widespread cheating.  This is the first time in the history of the college entrance exam that an entire nation’s scores have been cancelled.  According to the Wall Street Journal, test booklets from the actual May 4th exam appear to have been sold for up to $4,500 by testing centers. While this is not the first time scores have been cancelled because of alleged cheating, it is the first time it has happened on such a large scale.  For more information go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323744604578472313648304172.html

Q.

A.

Your question is not an uncommon one, and there are a couple of steps I would take.  First, I would let the financial aid office at the college know now of your change in employment status.  They have the authority to make a “professional judgement” change to the info submitted on your FAFSA for THIS year which could potentially make your eligible for more state, federal, or institutional funding for the current year.

As far as next year’s FAFSA goes, again, the financial aid office at the college has the authority to change your actual 2012 income to show your 2013 projected income which at this point would be a much more accurate predictor of your earnings potential.  Using these projected numbers for 2013 may mean increased eligibility for state, federal and institutional aid.

I would also suggest to your son to look at scholarship search engines like Fastweb.com and see if he can’t uncover anything.  Now would be the time to search for next year’s scholarships.

Finally, it may be worth having a long conversation with the people in the financial aid office at the college.  Many schools will do what they can to keep a student in good standing

Best of luck

Q.

A.

If you file your college application by the Early Decision (ED) deadline, you’ll usually get a reply by December 15th, so technically, that does mean you could end up not having to apply elsewhere; however, to me that’s a little like playing Russian Roulette. If you find out on 12/15 that you’re application has been deferred or denied, you then have to complete the rest of your college applications (many of which might be due by 1/1).  After receiving what is certainly not the news you’ve been hoping for, you now have to sit down and complete the rest of your applications…doesn’t seem optimal. So, after the ED deadline has passed,  I encourage all of my students to proceed as if they’ll get deferred in the Early Decision round.  They can prepare the rest of their applications but  just not send them in (and pay for them) until they know they need to.

Q.

A.

While Naviance provides some great benefits to school counselors, we didn’t believe it provided all of the functionality that students needed in applying to college.  With that in mind, here are what we see as some major differences between these two tools:

  • College Application Wizard is an inexpensive, web-based tool geared specifically to college-bound students and their families.  Naviance is a school-based tool, so if your school does not buy it, you cannot use it.
  • College Application Wizard provides all of the filing requirements for financial aid AND admissions at hundreds of colleges.  Naviance does not provide financial aid filing requirements for individual schools.
  • College Application Wizard allows you to receive email and/or text message reminders about upcoming deadlines.  Naviance does not provide this service.
  • College Application Wizard is highly customizable for each user.  Do some colleges require you to submit supplemental essays, portfolios, audition DVD’s, etc.?  College Application Wizard allows you to record any requirements specific to you and your application to college.  Naviance does not provide this level of flexibility.

 

 

Q.

A.

There are several ways to answer this question, but ultimately, it is really up to you and the honor system to send “all scores”

 

The College Board (the maker of the SAT’s) will send every score from every SAT and SAT Subject test you’ve ever taken once you request that a score report be sent to a college.  That college sees every score UNLESS you have chosen to participate in College Board’s Score Choice which allows you to pick and choose which you will send.

 

When you request that an ACT Score report be sent to a college, you request specific scores from specific dates that you want released.

 

It is important to know, however, that every school in the country (at least every one of which I am aware) will take your highest test scores.  It’s really in their own best interest to do so since reporting higher test score averages helps them in college ranking surveys.  If that’s not enough to convince you to submit everything that is asked for, think of it this way.  Do you really want to be the applicant who tried to deceive them?  I wouldn’t.

Q.

A.

First, know that not all colleges require SAT Subject Tests, and of those who do require them, many will give you the choice of submitting either SAT Subject Tests OR the ACT with writing.  That being said, there is a small list of schools (many of the Ivy League schools, for example) that will require SAT Subject Tests.

 

My answer to when you should take the tests is a simple one…take them when you feel you will be most prepared.  That will often mean when you have just studied the subject matter.  Let’s say, for example, that you have taken honors biology as a 9th grader.  You can take the SAT Subject Test in Biology at the end of 9th grade.  If you choose to take a foreign language subject test, you may want to wait until you’ve taken as much foreign language as possible (at the end of your junior year, perhaps), or take the US History Subject Test at the end of the year you have had that class.  Taking the Subject test as close to your classroom experience in that subject will maximize your preparedness.  You can also do some prep on your own through such sites as the College Board online which has a test prep section.

Q.

A.

While AP test scores might be taken into consideration, they are likely to be further down the list of important factors in deciding on your application.  When asked the most important factors in your application, colleges will almost universally respond with the “big 3”, and deliberately in this order:

 

1. Your transcript is by far the most important factor in the decision, and there are two

elements to the way a transcript is viewed:

• The quality of the coursework—have you challenged yourself or did you take the easy way out?

• What are the grades in the courses you took

 

2. Your extracurricular activities (what will you contribute to their sense of community)?

 

3. Standardized test scores such as SAT and ACT.

 

It is just after the big 3 that I’d put AP test scores.  The fact that you took the AP class is a good indicator that you’re willing to challenge yourself, and that alone is important.  If the grade is a good one it can only help your cause, but your AP class grade is still more important than the exam score.  The real use for the exam score is in determining whether or not you will receive college credit for that course, and that decision is made on a school by school basis.

 

Obviously, the more competitive the college, the more the AP exam may count, but It won’t beat out the big 3 in importance any day soon.