January 2019

Good Reads​

Now that the holidays are over, maybe you find yourself with a little more downtime and an opportunity to catch up on some reading. If you're the parent of a 9th-12th grader, we've got a few suggestions for you:

Parents of 9th-10th graders:

Admissions Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting In by Springer, Reider & Morgan

Getting IN by Standing OUT: The New Rules for Admission to America's Best Colleges​ by Bedor

Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You by Pope

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be, by Bruni

Parents of 11th-12th graders:

Colleges that Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges by Pope

​The Best 384 Colleges, 2019 Edition: In-Depth Profiles & Ranking Lists to Help Find the Right College For You by Franek

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2019 by Fiske

December 2018

Setting Yourself Apart

Whether you're a high school senior approaching second semester or a freshman trying to find something special with which to fill your free time, setting yourself apart is an important factor in boosting your college admissions chances. While not everyone can break the high school 100m record, perform at Carnegie Hall, or win a national award, there are other ways to gain significant recognition. Do you have a hobby or interest that you could expand into a business, maybe start an Etsy store, work some trade shows, do some weekend freelancing? What about starting and maintaining a blog or a youtube channel? If you're interested in a specific field, search for a unique summer internship, selective summer college program, or study abroad opportunity. And if you do stumble onto something unique, new, or exciting after having submitted your college applications, drop an update in an email and send it off to the admissions reps for your state at each of the schools to which you've applied.

November 2018

Application Errors to Avoid

While mistakes happen to the best of us, having mistakes in your application can work against you. Here are some tips to help you avoid shooting yourself in the foot:

  • Every section of the application should be filled out completely, including optional sections that enhance your chances of admissions - e.g., the Additional Info section, a resume, optional supplements.
  • Make sure that your supplements, short answer questions, and essays answer the prompts. Be specific and tailor your responses to each individual school.
  • Make sure all the info you provide is accurate to the best of your knowledge as of the day you submit.
  • While you're not accountable for the time frames in which others submit materials, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that all your application materials are received by their deadlines. This includes your transcript, letters of recommendations, official test scores and financial aid forms. Follow up with people as needed and early.
  • If you're given the opportunity to provide links to websites you've created or maintained, a blog you write, a podcast or youtube channel you run, your online store, etc., do so.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS have someone proofread your entire application, not just your essays and supplements.
  • Lastly, after submitting, be sure to create a student account at each college's website so as to be able to check on your application status regularly.

October 2018

FAFSA and CSS Profile Filings

As the FAFSA and Profile become available on October 1st, here are 5 general things to be mindful of:

1) The FAFSA must be submitted, regardless of the schools to which you apply, in order to qualify for $5500 worth of federal student loans for freshmen, $6500 for sophomores, and $7500 for juniors and seniors and for other government aid such as the Pell and FSEO grants. The CSS Profile is required by 450+ colleges and universities in order to determine aid and scholarships.Check here for a list of Profile schools.

2) Aid is said to be determined on a first come, first serve basis; therefore, it is in your best interest to file these forms sooner, rather than later. Having your forms filed no later than Dec. 30th is wise, though forms can be submitted through June 30, 2019.

3) These forms must be filed every year, for every college-bound or college-enrolled student.

4) While the FAFSA only requires financial information as reported in tax year 2017, the CSS Profile requires both 2017 tax information as well as estimates for 2018.

5) The number one reason students don't receive the aid they rightly qualify for is because their forms were not filled out correctly. Pay close attention to detail when working on your forms and be sure to read the instructions in full for each section and question.

Septem​ber 2018

The Value of a Resume

Often students I work with give me grief when I instruct them to get a college application-ready resume together. Why, they ask, is this necessary when they've already had to input all of their extracurricular activities into Naviance's resume builder, as well as into the Common Apps activities list.

First, Naviance's resume builder formats resumes horribly and requires information, as does the CA activities list, that colleges really aren't interested in, such as how many hours per week on average you spend on a particular activity. 

Secondly, a well-crafted resume should highlight activities, awards, honors, sports, clubs, organizations, experiences, hobbies, etc. that make you unique and that showcase your special talents and abilities. If you haven't been able to dedicate much time to extracurriculars because you work 20 hours/week to help your family make ends meet, a resume can showcase and explain that in a way that listing work experience on the CA activities list can't.

Finally, a personal resume says something about your style and personality simply in how it's crafted. How did you use color, a particular font, complete sentences or bullet points? In what order did you list particular activities? Did you highlight those things that were most important to you or that you were most successful in achieving?

A few things to keep in mind when developing your resume:

1) This is not a job resume! It should not include sections titled "Education" or "References." Admissions Readers will already know your educational history as it's included in several other places in your application. And none of them will be contacting former employers, friends, and/or anyone else listed in a References section. Leave these off.

2) If any of the schools to which you're applying do NOT prompt you to attach or upload your resume prior to submitting your application, you should send an email to the regional rep at those schools letting him/her know that you're excited about having just submitted your application and that you're attaching your resume for their perusal as you were not prompted to do so in the CA.

3) Always, always, ALWAYS have someone proofread your resume before sending it out!

August 2018

Understanding Demonstrated and Informed Interest

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently released their annual State of College Admission report. One of its major findings relates specifically to the roles that  demonstrated interest and informed interest play in the admissions process. To better understand what these things are and how they work, here's a true tale based on the experience of one of the students I worked with last year.

This particular student was accepted to almost every college to which she applied, including several selective universities such as Boston University, NYU, and Marist College. So we found it somewhat odd that she wasn't accepted or even waitlisted at Fordham University. At the time, she asked me, "How is it that I got into NYU and not Fordham?" and I had no response, because I honestly had no idea how that could have happened.... And then the 2017 State of College Admission report was released and explained two things: many schools pay close attention to the other schools to which an applicant is applying, and then the schools pay even closer attention to how much contact the applicant has actually had with their school. So, in the case of my student, Fordham would have noted the applicant's interest in several other top-notch, highly competitive, selective universities and would have considered this, while researching to see if the applicant had toured the Fordham campus (and if so, how many times), attended an info session, made herself known at college fairs, emailed or otherwise reached out to her Fordham Admissions Rep, coach, or some other  representative. They might have even looked to see how many times she opened an email sent by the university. All of these things translate to high interest on the part of the applicant. And since she didn't do any of these things, Fordham assumed it was because they were her safety school and as such, determined that if she were to receive acceptances at any of the other schools on her list, they'd take precedence, and so Fordham chose not to "waste" an admission on a candidate they were pretty sure wasn't going to attend their school.

Similarly, colleges may assume the same of students whose essay supplements are vague and non-specific. This is what's meant by informed interest. If a supplement asks you to reflect on why you want to be at a specific school, you had better know something about a particular program, professor, or area of study that makes the college unique and fascinates you. And you better be able to write convincingly, passionately, and effectively about it, because if your response is generic or one that's clearly been copied and pasted a dozen times, you'll score few points for informed interest and will likely be denied admission.

In the end, every school should be made to feel as if they're your number one choice. If they sense that they're not, then you won't be their choice ... at all!

July 2018

How You Spend Your Summer Matters

With summer in full swing, many high schoolers look forward to spending time with friends, and days filled with gaming, late nights and sleeping in. While there's certainly nothing wrong with any of these activities, none of them are likely to be included on your resume or listed as an extra curricular on the Common App. Nor will they help increase your college admissions chances. Summer, like life, is all about balance. So in addition to making time for fun, be sure to include a few of the following:

1) work experience - this doesn't have to be something formal or fancy. Whether bussing tables, babysitting or mowing lawns, holding down a job shows admissions reps that you're trust worthy, reliable, responsible and committed.

2) volunteerism - this doesn't mean that you should sign up for every volunteer opportunity that comes your way, but it does mean that if there are organizations in which you're regularly involved (e.g., sports, church, scouts, camp, library), you should make some time in your summer schedule to support them.

3) attend a camp or summer program - this is a terrific way to establish yourself as being passionate about a particular organization or subject. If you've spent several summers attending the same camp, you will show passion and commitment to a community and what college doesn't want that quality in a prospective community member? Even better: work your way into a leadership role or position at the same camp or program you've attended for years. Doing so shows maturity and growth, as well as passion and commitment.

4) internships - while these opportunities may not provide you with spending money, they can offer a wealth of on-the-job training and real-world experience which may provide an advantage over other applicants when it comes to admissions ... especially when you're applying into a highly selective and competitive area of interest or major.

5) travel - if you're fortunate enough to be able to travel abroad, whether with family and friends or with a third party organization, do so! Admissions reps love to read about students who aren't intimidated to tackle new countries, cultures, and languages. A willingness to step outside your comfort zone and embrace new, maybe even challenging experiences puts you at an advantage. Colleges get excited about students who aren't afraid to explore, so embrace adventure.!

June 2018

Introducing Our First Annual $1,000 Scholarship
This scholarship will be awarded to one graduating high school senior (class of 2018) who has worked with Access Success (formerly Independent College Counseling Services) during the 2017-18 academic year. It is a one-time, non-renewable scholarship that will be paid August 31st on the recipient's behalf to the college or university to which the recipient is enrolled. Scholarship applicants should submit the following materials to Access Success during the month of July. The final day of application submissions is July 31st.

Here's what we're looking for in an applicant: honesty, passion, someone who is well-rounded and unafraid to take risks; someone willing to step outside his/her comfort zone. 

To be considered for this award you must send all of the following materials together (applicants who submit in dribs and drabs or are missing a required element will not be considered): 

  • cover letter naming the school you've chosen to attend and why, your intended major or field of interest, how Access Success did or didn't help you in the college process - we're looking for honesty, here, not praise (please keep to 1 paragraph) 
  • copy of final high school transcript 
  • resume (this should look professional; do not simply submit a list of extracurricular activities)
  • copy of your common app essay (or equivalent)

These materials may be emailed, dropped off or mailed to:

Francesca Morrissey
Access Success LLC
6 East St., Unit B
New Milford, CT 06776


May 2018

Why the new name?

We are now officially Access Success LLC! Why the new name after 5 successful years as Independent College Counseling Services? To begin with, our new name is an acronym that better reflects all of the many services we provide. 
Counseling &
While most  know about our college counseling services, few know about the full slate of K-12 tutoring we provide and the homeschool programs we offer. In fact, we've grown so much that we've needed to move to a larger space in the downtown New Milford area. Our new offices are located at 6 East St., Unit B.

Even more exciting, we've partnered with Art Experience and the incredibly talented Julie Czerenda to offer a variety of collaborative homeschool, extracurricular and summer classes. Case in point, this summer's "The Monster Within" - an art & literature course for students 13+ that can be included on a transcript as a .5 credit course. And slated for homeschoolers this coming academic year: "History through Humanities" a 3 credit cross-curricular course focusing on the art, history, and literature of the medieval period through to the Renaissance. Also on tap: AP English Language & Composition, AP English Literature, and a current events/communication/public speaking class. 

In addition to these academic offerings, we're expanding our tutoring services to provide more K-6 tutoring in all subjects and grades 9-12 tutoring in English, history, math and social sciences. And of course, we'll continue to offer and host the seminars, programs and workshops most helpful to those engaged in the college process. Our 6-week full SAT Prep program kicks off on July 14th and leads up to the August 25th exam date.

As you can see, there are many new and exciting things happening, but one thing always remains the same: our commitment to providing our clients, students, parents and families with the best possible academic support, educational opportunities, and college information in a cost effective, timely, and straightforward manner. 

April 2018

Are all financial aid awards REALLY negotiable?

Well, the short answer to this question is: you won't know until you try! There's literally no reason NOT to attempt a financial aid negotiation ... and not just for your first year. Aid is something that should be negotiated year-after-year. The most important thing when attempting an aid negotiation is figuring out what it is you may qualify for and who to contact. If your FAFSA calculated a very low EFC, its worth bringing to the attention of the school's financial aid office and asking them to explain their award in relation to your EFC, especially if they only offered you loans without offering you federal grant money. The financial aid office should also be your point of contact if your prior-prior year taxes (used when filling out the FAFSA) do not accurately reflect your current financial situation. Additionally, if you have a legitimate change of circumstances - e.g., unexpected medical expenses, recent divorce, death of a parent, newly unemployed, recent care of an elderly relative, etc. - you should bring such to the attention of the financial aid office. In these situations, you should expect to have to fill out a specific school form or write a letter to the financial aid office and be able to document whatever changes you're claiming. This typically requires providing the school with copies of your most recent tax returns including all schedules, W-2s, 1099s, medical bills, EOBs, termination letters, etc. Appeals for additional federal dollars are best made by a parent, not by the student.

If your EFC is on the high side and you do not have legitimate circumstance changes as outlined above, making an appeal to the financial aid office for additional federal aid is not recommended. Instead, I suggest appealing any scholarship offers. These appeals should be made in writing and addressed to the Admissions Office, preferably to the regional rep you would have become familiar with during the application process. When requesting to be reconsidered for scholarships or for an increase to an already proffered scholarship, it helps if you can provide reasons for why you deserve more scholarship dollars. For example, if you've won an award, helped a sports team to a championship, broken a school record, been involved in a significant community service project, etc. since submitting your initial admissions application, include those details in your scholarship appeal letter. These sorts of appeals meet with greater success when initiated by the student, not by the parent.

Regardless of which approach you take, appeals should always be typed and snail mailed. Be sure not just to include your name, but more importantly, your assigned school student ID number. Take note of the date on which you mail your appeal - the earlier the better and certainly no later than early April for incoming freshman, and as soon as possible for upperclassmen. If you don't receive a reply within 7-10 days, follow up with a phone call.

Most importantly, if your making any sort of appeal, do so before making any sort of deposit - tuition, housing or otherwise. Once you make a deposit, the school has no incentive to negotiate as you've already indicated your intent to enroll. And remember: you have nothing to lose. Schools don't retract initial offers of aid simply because you've asked to have your need reconsidered. The worst that can happen is that you ask for more money and your told you can't have it.

March 2018

How should a college-hopeful spend his/her summer?
Not binging Netflix, gaming, or sitting by the pool ... unless you're the lifeguard. Summers are a great time of year to work on building your resume. Colleges like to see that high school students spent their summers doing something engaging that they're passionate about. Whether that means attending a summer camp for your 6th consecutive year, volunteering for a favorite not-for-profit to which you've been involved for years, working for an employer to whom you have some allegiance, participating in a college summer program, taking part in an international service learning or study abroad program, or enrolling in an online or community college class to help advance your academic record, doing something productive is far more desirable than taking the summer "off." Just be aware of a few guiding factors: 

1) Hopping from one volunteer job to another, just to be able to list a whole bunch of service roles on your resume, will look suspicious. There's a word for this. It's called "padding." Don't do it!

2) Any job that you're truly committed to is worthwhile - interning at a hospital doesn't look any better or worse than a steady gig as a busboy ... unless you're looking to apply to a highly selective pre-med program.

3) Spending a couple of weeks backpacking through Europe or driving across the US with your buddies isn't the same as an educational or service-related study abroad experience.

4) Doing something you love and are serious about is always a safe bet.

February 2018

What to do when you're deferred
So all your applications have been submitted and you've come to find out that instead of being accepted, you've been deferred. What exactly does that mean and what should you be doing to increase your chances of being accepted in the next round of application reviews? Where as being accepted or denied is straight forward - you're either "in" or "out" - being deferred means that your application will be reconsidered and a decision will be rendered at a later date. While this can be disconcerting, it's still hopeful. Often schools will defer student applications because they'd like to learn more about the applicant prior to making a final decision. In some cases, this means that they want to see first semester senior year grades or are interested in hearing more about your involvement in extracurriculars. For this reason, when you've been deferred it's in your best interest to keep in touch with the College Admissions Rep for your area ... but only when you have something new, impressive or exciting to share and only if the instructions in your deferral letter allow for such. So while joining a new club isn't worthy of an update, placing in a scholastic competition or a prominent sporting event or winning an art award is something to write your Rep about. Just make sure you don't overdue it. Reps aren't going to want to hear from you repeatedly, just once or twice when you have something important to tell them that enhances your admission candidacy. The best thing to do is to meet with a guidance or college counselor to have him/her help you craft a letter or email update and ALWAYS be sure it comes from the student, NOT the parent.

January 2018

To Test or Not to Test ... That is the Question

January is often the time when parents of sophomores and juniors begin inquiring as to when and how often their children should sit for standardized tests and exactly which ones. While there are currently 990 test optional colleges/universities to choose from and "test flexible" schools appear to be gaining in popularity, there are still a majority of schools that require tests. And homeschooled students will always be required to demonstrate proficiency via standardized tests.

Prior to the redesign of the SATs in March of 2016, I would have advised students to have taken both the SAT and the ACT at least once, and then, having seen which test yielded better results, to repeat that particular one at least once, if not twice. Since the redesign of the SAT made it almost identical to the ACT, there really is no longer a reason to take both tests. For that reason, I recommend choosing one test and sticking with it. This means taking the test a minimum of two times, possibly repeating it a third time. My recommendation is that students take either the ACT or SAT for the first time in March or April of junior year and then for a second time the August before entering senior year. Some feel that it's necessary to take the exam three times, in which case, I'd suggest sitting for a final exam in fall of senior year, but be wary of application deadlines. If applying Early Decision or Early Admission, you may need to take that third exam in October as the November and December dates may be too late.

Aside from the ACT and/or SAT, students should be mindful of taking SAT Subject Tests. Some of these tests are required for specific majors at certain colleges/universities. For example, many engineering schools require applicants to have taken a number of SAT Subject Tests in math and/or the sciences. For this reason, it behooves students to sit for specific tests at the time they've completed the corresponding course work. Typically, students should schedule a Subject Test in May or June of the school year in which they've completed an equivalent class. So should a student take AP Chemistry in his/her sophomore year, s/he should sit for the SAT Chemistry exam in May or June of his/her sophomore year. The following is a list of SAT Subject Tests: Literature, U.S. History, World History, Mathematics I, Mathematics II, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin and Hebrew.

December 2017

When Should Your College Search Begin

If you are the parent of a 9th, 10th or 11th grader, NOW is the time to begin planning for college. Students do not need to know what it is they want to study in college in order to start searching for schools of interest. There are plenty of online search engines to assist you in the first stages of your search; all of which will filter results based on the selection criteria you enter. The College Board, Fastweb! and Scholarships.com, among many other sites, offer such search engines. I strongly recommend using the search engine available in Naviance. Naviance is a 3rd party college planning software solution used by a majority of US high schools to provide students with college planning assessment tools. Check with your student's guidance department or college counseling office to gain access to Naviance's many features, including its college search engine. Keep in mind that each school's counselors determine what functionality will be available to both students and parents. If you're interested in using Naviance for something specific and that functionality does not appear to be available, request it of your child's guidance department.

This is just one way to begin the college process. Other things you will need to take into consideration are your student's eligibility to gain admission to his/her schools of interest. The best way to determine that is to meet with someone who knows the college admissions process inside and out, and who can provide you with details on how best to position yourself as an ideal admissions candidate. Whether a private college counselor like myself or a school counselor, this person should have only your best interest at heart and will need to make him/herself available to get to know you as both a student and a person. College counselors, if approached early enough in the process, should be able to advise you as to the best classes to take over your 4 years of high school, which clubs and activities to engage in, when and what standardized tests to take, what schools to consider, and more. The right counselor can set up any student for college success ... provided the counselor is asked to do so early in the process, ideally in a student's 9th or 10th grade year.

November 2017

Essay Do's and Don'ts
For many students, the most time-consuming and challenging piece of the application puzzle is their application essay (or personal statement). Regardless of its name or location - Common App, Coalition App, individual school's app - the purpose of this essay remains the same: for the Admissions Rep to learn something about the applicant that they will not learn or glean from any other part of the student's application. This means that if you've included sports, hobbies, clubs, work experience, volunteer opportunities, and the like in your Activities List and/or on a resume, these subjects should NOT be the main topics of your essay. Admissions Reps often advise students to also stay away from subjects relating to the "D's": dating, divorce, death, disease (illness), and depression. Similarly, students are discouraged from writing an essay about someone else: grandparent, parent, friend, cousin, sibling, etc. because in most cases, these sorts of essays focus too much on the other individual and say very little about the student applicant. I always recommend that students avoid the Common App prompts until after they've written their essay. Students tend to meet with greater success when they write an essay on something meaningful and then back it into a prompt once the essay is completed. This is especially true this year with the addition of Prompt 7. 

Essay subject/topic aside, students should focus on writing an essay that reads like a creative writing piece. A well-received essay paints a picture with words; it evokes vivid images in the reader's mind. As I often remind my students: don't tell, show! In other words, students need to stay away from declarative sentences. For this same reason, students should focus on using the active voice and shunning the passive voice wherever possible. This means eschewing the "to be" verbs as well as the words: appears, seems, becomes, and feels, to name a few other overused passive voice verbs. While elevated diction is important and students are encouraged to break out their SAT vocabulary words, the use of a thesaurus is not recommended. Most readers can tell when a student's word choices are inauthentic. Lastly, while grammar, usage, and punctuation should not be ignored, they're not as important as one might expect in a piece of formal writing ... precisely because this essay shouldn't be written in a formal style. You are not writing a five paragraph thesis essay! This should be written as a personal reminiscence or a memoir and should, therefore, be less formal in both style and form, just not in substance.

Click here for more ideas on how to write a stunning essay.

October 2017

Changes to the Common Application

Visit http://www.commonapp.org/ to start your common application. The Common App or CA is a working document until you hit SUBMIT. For that reason, it's something you should be working on in chunks or sections over many days, weeks, and months. I encourage students to begin working on the CA in August after any updates, additions and modifications have been made. Changes to the form usually occur in late July.

This year the CA (and many individual schools) added sections requesting more information related to gender identity and sexual orientation. There is also a new informational section that provides details regarding financial aid resources. One significant thing to note, is that the Writing section of the Common Application now asks for a Personal Essay, Disciplinary History, and Additional Information. This last option is particularly important as it is the one place the CA gives you to explain anything about yourself, your experiences, your personal history and choices, and your interests not otherwise gleaned from anywhere else in your application. For example, if your transcript doesn't include the most rigorous courses offered at your high school (like APs and IBs), you need to explain why you didn't take such classes. Perhaps you have diagnosed learning challenges or mental health issues that made it impractical or even impossible for you to take such classes. Or maybe your school didn't allow students to take APs without a teacher's invitation or before the junior year, limiting your ability to take more than a few. Maybe your registrar or guidance counselor simply claimed that such classes wouldn't work with the rest of your course schedule. Whatever the reason, the Additional Information section is your one and only place to explain anything you feel it's essential to the Admissions Reader to know about something that might be "missing" from your application.

If you avoided sports all four years of high school because you have asthma or simply lack coordination, explain that in the Additional Information section in a well-written, less-than-650-word essay. If you didn't participate in many extracurricular activities because you were responsible for caring for younger siblings after school, say so. If you're applying to schools that require standardized test scores and your a terrible test-taker with low SAT and/or ACT scores, explain that your scores are not indicative of your abilities as a student. If your grades dropped one particular semester because you were sick and absent from school, or your grandmother died, or your parents got divorced, or your home was robbed, tell that story.

What you should most definitely NOT do is leave this space blank! When you read the question: "Do you wish to provide details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application?" followed by the prompt: "You may use the space below to provide any additional information you wish to share," do it!

September 2017

Show me the money!​

Second only to being admitted, often the most stressful part of the college process is figuring out how to afford the schools to which you've been accepted, especially if you applied to them knowing that their sticker prices were beyond your reach. Understanding the financial aid process is complicated. In my experience, there is much regarding the awarding of aid that is purposefully misleading and confusing, and there is no one institution that is worse than the next in purporting certain myths by using vague terminology and/or only partially explaining the aid process. They're all equally awful when it comes to playing the "financial aid game." For example, note every time you read or hear the phrase: "We meet x% of demonstrated financial need!" This begs two defining questions: Demonstrated by whom and "need" as defined by what??? And here's the real rub: because almost every college conveniently neglects to specify which formula THEIR specific school uses to calculate need, their websites, administrators, counselors and representatives will lead you to believe that the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) generated by your FAFSA is the single determiner of how much aid you will receive. It's not ... not even close!

We're led to believe that the Cost of Attendance (COA) - which should incorporate annual tuition, room & board, books, travel/transportation, insurance, and ancillary fees - minus your EFC yields the amount of aid you'll be gifted from a school that claims to meet 100% demonstrated need. However, there are actually very few schools that use the aforementioned formula. In reality, most schools meet "x% of demonstrated need" only AFTER they redefine the terms "demonstrated" and "need".

One of the ways they do this is by relying on one of 3 formulas (or some combination thereof). Typically you can tell which schools use which formula(s) by the forms they require. A school that solely requires the FAFSA is most likely using the federal methodology that doesn't take things like home equity and alternative income sources into account when determining your EFC. Schools that require a CSS Profile, on the other hand, use the institutional methodology that considers home equity; IRA & 401K contributions; stock, bonds and other such holdings; capital gains; higher education savings accounts; health savings accounts; and more when determining your EFC. If that isn't confusing enough, there's also a consortium of schools, Consensus 586, that have their own formulas used to determine aid. To think that there is any standardized practice used to determine financial aid, at any school in the US in this day and age, is a gross misunderstanding and oversimplification of the system and the process. And this doesn't begin to address whether schools claiming to meet "x% of demonstrated need" include loans in their calculations. Many of them do! That, in turn, means that many schools will expect every freshman to avail him/herself of the $5,500 in Stafford Loans they are awarded. I don't know about you, but my definition of financial "aid" hardly involves borrowing money which I must return with interest! Additionally, there are schools that restrict their offers of aid based on specific criteria, such as state of residency, an income ceiling and an EFC maximum. When you come to understand all the factors at play in determining financial aid eligibility, it's a challenge NOT to recognize the promise of "x% of demonstrated need" as a complete misnomer and an outright falsehood.

All this nonsense aside, "You have to be in it, to win it!" In order to receive any offers of aid - loans, grants, certain scholarships, and work study - you MUST fill out and submit the FAFSA. If any of the schools to which you are applying require the CSS Profile, you MUST prepare and submit that as well. Submissions open on October 1st. Schools claim that they dole out aid on a first come, first serve basis. If you make a mistake filling out your forms, you will lose your place in the queue. My advice: Go to bed early on September 30th and get a good night's rest. On October 1st, set aside 90 minutes per child per form, find a quiet corner of the house with a stellar wifi connection, and with your 2016 tax returns, W2's, 1099s, et al in hand, lock yourself away until you've circumspectly finished all submissions....

Then uncork a bottle of wine. Cheers!


August 2017

Decisions ... decisions ...

Early Decision ... Early Action ... Regular Decision ... Rolling Decision ... What's the difference and why would I want to choose any one of these over any of the others??? Are there really advantages to applying ED and EA? Is it true that I'll definitely get into a school to which I ED? And if I do decide to ED, what's the difference between ED1 and ED2?

Let me try to break this down for you as simply as possible:

Early Decision is a binding agreement. This means that a) you can only ever apply to one school Early Decision - unless you apply to a school ED1 and are notified that you did NOT gain admission, in which case you could then conceivably apply to another school with a later ED2 application deadline date; b) if accepted to your ED school you are contractually obligated to attend and will have to pull any and all additional applications made to other schools. I do not recommend applying to any school Early Decision UNLESS your family's financial health is secure enough to meet whatever the financial obligation will be. Being accepted Early Decision does not necessarily mean that you will receive a financial aid package sooner than other students, although that does sometimes happen. And while the offer of aid you receive may be negotiable, the school literally has NO incentive to increase your offer of aid as you're contractually obligated to attend. Many clients have asked me if there is a way to negate this obligation in the event that they truly cannot afford to attend the school. The short answer to that is "yes;" however, it comes with some caveats. First, the school may require that you show them "proof" of being unable to meet your fiscal responsibilities. Additionally (and unfortunately), it is not an uncommon practice for schools to then contact every other school to which the applicant applied to notify those schools of his/her having breached his/her legal and fiduciary responsibility. I have actually spoken to several college admissions reps who have admitted to me that they have indeed done this. And if you're wondering how they would even know what other schools to contact, all the schools to which a student applies are listed on the Common App (or similar applications). Trust me, they know! The only students who should ever consider applying Early Decision are those who are 110% certain that this is the school for them and who are willing AND ABLE to attend it no matter the cost.

While Early Action is non-binding, it does show colleges that you are very serious about enrolling if admitted. I almost always recommend that the students I work with apply to schools EA if that is an option. In the event that a school has two EA dates, I encourage applying EA1, as again, that's one of the best ways to show true, significant "demonstrated interest." There is only one reason not to apply EA and that's if something unusual happened during your junior year of high school that resulted in lower than normal grades. It happens! Whether there was a death in the family, a divorce, you were dealing with a serious illness or injury which prevented you from being able to keep up with your academics ... things happen. If this describes your experience, then applying EA is not in your best interest as admissions counselors will pay the most attention to your scholastic choices and achievements in you junior year. If you wait to apply Regular Decision, you give yourself an opportunity to improve your grades and return to form in the first semester of your senior year which is what the admissions counselors will note when given that opportunity upon receipt of your Jan., Feb. or Mar. senior year application submission. NOTE: some schools offering Early Action may have a single choice restriction which means that you may only apply to their one school EA. Otherwise, you can apply EA to as many schools as you choose. 

Regular Decision is a great choice for any student who struggles academically and is working really hard to show improvement or consistency year-after-year. It's also the only choice for procrastinators. If you can't get your applications ready for submission in the fall of your senior year, and a November/December deadline is unrealistic for you, then Regular Decision is your friend.

Rolling Decision just means that a college/university reviews each application as it is submitted. So while you may submit your application as early as August, it does not mean that you will be notified any earlier than the standard March or April timeframe.

Whichever decision deadlines you choose to pursue, don't wait till the drop-dead date to make your submission. If I had a dime for every time I worked with a student - my own children included! - who waited till the final day of submissions and then missed the deadline because of a system crash or a website being shut down or because they misread the date, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be retired!

July 2017

Summer Time Campus Tours

I, like many rising seniors and a smattering of rising juniors, prefer to hit the college trail for tours, and admissions and financial aid seminars in the summer months. Because student and parent schedules can often grow overwhelming during the academic calendar year, summer touring is convenient, and if planned correctly, can include several schools in one shot and maybe even some vacation time. The only downside to this is that college campuses are often "dead" in the summer months, or at best, dotted with grad students and perhaps some undergrads catching up on classes in the hopes that doing so will make it possible for them to graduate in 4 years. There's no doubt that the vibe on a college campus in June, July and early August is completely different from that of the other 9 months of the year. So, does it really make that much of a difference WHEN you visit schools of interest? The short answer is no ... and yes! 

It really depends on what your hoping to gain from your campus visit and how interested you are in a particular school. For instance, if you're visiting a school in the summer between your sophomore and junior year because it's a) close to home, b) affordable, and c) you just want a basis of comparison for a school of its particular size, then no, visiting it in the summer months isn't going to be much different than visiting it in the fall. However, if a) you're a rising senior, b) you're visiting a school far enough away that it requires planning and taking time off of school or work, c) the school is one of your top 3 choices, d) you're hoping to generate some interest in yourself with the Division 3 soccer coach, e) the school requires an interview, and f) you would really like to see a specific lab facility, then yes, visiting in the summer is not ideal. 

Most professors, coaches, department chairs and even specific regional admissions representatives will not be available in the summer. Having someone associated with the school - "on the inside," so to speak - can only work toward your advantage. Anytime someone "on the inside" can identify your name and accomplishments with your face, makes you more memorable. You want to take every opportunity to make these people remember you so that you have someone advocating for you from "the inside." It is nearly impossible to make this happen during a generic summer admissions presentation and tour.

Additionally, any school of primary interest is worth visiting at the height of activity. For this reason, I strongly encourage taking advantage of Open House dates. They're not offered frequently, usually only in the early fall (Sept. and Oct.), and they are often too well-attended, sometimes, to the point of being so overcrowded that it makes it virtually impossible to get one-on-one time with anyone "on the inside" unless you've scheduled that in advance (which you should). But one of the things I like best about college Open Houses is that they are an excellent indication of just how active and organized a campus is. Every school's website will provide a list of their sports teams, clubs and organizations, fraternities and sororities. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're all active or well-supported by the school. But at a college Open House, active organizations will have a presence. You'll be able to ascertain their influence and popularity based on how well-staffed their tables/booths are and you'll be able to talk to current, involved students.

And if you can't make a scheduled Open House, there's still added value in a fall or spring visit as opposed to a summer visit. STUDENTS! I used to drive my own kids nuts when I would randomly approach college students ... in the library, in the cafeteria, in a dorm corridor or just sitting out on the lawn ... to ask all sorts of questions: What year are you? What are you majoring in? Where are you from? What other schools did you apply to? Which ones did you get accepted to? Why did you choose this school? Have you ever regretted your decision? What are the top 3 things you love about this school? If you could change anything about it, what would that be? Engaging actual undergrads who aren't interning or working in the Admissions Dept. (like your tour guide) is the very best way to get straight answers and a real sense of whether or not a school would be the right fit for you.

Lastly, I'd recommend taking advantage of every opportunity made available to you when visiting a school - no matter what time of year. "Demonstrated interest" - registering for programs and suggested (as opposed to required) activities and offerings - is the best way to show a school how vested you are in applying, being accepted and ultimately, attending their university. So if a school offers the opportunity to attend a seminar in the department of your intended major, register for it! If they offer the chance to sit in on a class, stay overnight, or attend a weekend program, do it! If they don't require an interview, but rather offer interviews either onsite or with an alum in your area, make an appointment! If you're interested in a particular subject, sport, club, and/or activity, email the coach, the department head, the activity advisor to introduce yourself, express your interest and ask for suggestions on how to boost your acceptance potential! And ALWAYS get the business card or email address of those people you meet with individually and use it to send a hand-written thank you not and to keep in touch over email periodically.


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