Q: At what age/grade should our college search begin?
A: If you're asking at what age a student should begin actively researching college websites and set up an account with a search engine like the one provided by the College Board, my recommendation is no later than the beginning of his/her junior year of high school. However, with more and more young people beginning to think about college sooner in their high school career, there's no reason not to start searching toward the end of your freshman high school year; especially if you plan on touring schools in your sophomore year or perhaps with an older sibling already in the process. Most public and private high schools won't introduce students to Naviance until their junior year, but that doesn't mean that you have to wait. There are plenty of FREE college search engines to choose from to get you started.
Q: I've currently been deferred from a few school that were at the top of my list. I would really love some council on what to do when deferred.
A: My advice regarding how to handle a deferral is to stay in touch with the admissions rep for your area at the schools that remain at the top of your list once you've been deferred. It's important that they know that they remain your top choice of school. Additionally, it will help if, when you reach out via email, you can keep them updated on things you're doing and succeeding at. For example, if your sports team is undefeated, you've recently completed a significant project, made the honor roll, or won an award, you should let them know. It may also help to ask them if there's anything additional that they'd like you to provide, like an additional letter of recommendation. Basically, the most important thing you can do is make them aware that you're still very interested in being admitted and that you're willing to provide them with whatever may be necessary to make that happen.
Q: I am sitting at a softball game and some moms/teachers are discussing how colleges are now not caring about kids taking AP courses as much. That taking honors is enough. AP benefit is college credit. For example, a teacher’s son took lots of AP classes, was accepted everywhere he applied, and was told that the colleges were more concerned with the grades he received, not so much if it was AP or honors. Apparently, they are saying this is a new trend. Are you seeing this? Seems different from the impression I am getting from you and the schools. Just wanted your thoughts.
A: Those you are overhearing are 100% wrong. My recommendation would be to ask them from whom they've received their information. Unless such info comes directly from a college Admissions Office or a reputable College Counselor who has relationships with Admissions Offices, it is solely hearsay. Colleges would rather a student take a more rigorous class, such as an AP level course, and receive a lower grade like a B than see a student take an easier course and receive an A+.
Q: Recently I’ve been working on class selections for my senior year and I’m having some doubts as to what level classes I should be taking. I’m still interested in majoring in business, however the business classes offered at my high school are all college prep level and don’t offer that much. So my main question is do you think that colleges would want to see lower level classes that may fit with my major or should I take more rigorous honors/AP classes that may not be business related? I don’t really think I’ll obtain much from the classes offered at my school but I don’t want a college to pass on me if I don’t have many business courses on my transcript. Any advice is appreciated.
A: Colleges rarely pay attention to your electives. They look at your core classes - English, history, science, math and language - over all 4 years paying specific attention to the rigor in your transcript and your freshman-junior year grades. If you have the option to take grades or a pass/fail for this year (2020/COVID-19 year), you should take the grades.
Tuition & Financial Aid
Q: Our daughter was recently accepted at several schools and received some scholarship money. We are also looking for some loans. I filed the FAFSA form. What happens next?
A: When you receive her formal financial aid package/letter/award from each school (which usually arrives in March/April), all forms of aid will be itemized: loans, scholarships, grants, work study. At that time, you'll be asked to accept or reject each. The most any school will offer her in federal loans will be $5500. That is the max for a freshman. (Sophomores max out at $6500; juniors and seniors max out at $7500.) If you're interested in loans above the $5500, research the Federal PLUS loan. It will allow you to cover the remaining cost of attendance as long as you have a good credit history. Visit the Federal Student Financial Aid website for detailed information on federal loans including the ones mentioned herein. Outside of that, you'd need to research private loans.
Q: The FAFSA only allows us to send our financial information to 10 schools. My child is applying to twice that many. How do we have her FAFSA sent to the additional schools?
A: After you submit your FAFSA for your first set of schools and you receive confirmation of its receipt, you will go back into the form and remove the initial list of schools and add the next list of schools and resubmit the form. You can do this as many times as necessary. There are two important things to remember: some states, including CT, require that you list any in-state universities as your first and second schools in order to be considered for maximum aid; secondly, if you need to make a change to your FAFSA after it's been submitted, that change will only be seen by the most recent colleges listed. The most effective way to make all the other previously listed schools aware of your change would be to contact the schools' financial aid offices directly which will allow them to make the necessary changes on their end.
Q: When you've been awarded one or more scholarship(s), how does a college receive this info and apply it to your invoice? Are you limited to a specific number of scholarship dollars that can be applied toward your tuition bill?
A: Once you receive a scholarship, make sure to notify your school’s financial aid department. The department will apply the scholarship award to your semester tuition invoice. If you have other grants, scholarships, or certain student loans, the total aid cannot be more than the cost of your tuition. Prior to the start of each new college school year, you should receive a tuition package that itemizes the costs of tuition, room, board and other associated fees for the year. Likewise, it will itemize your various sources of aid including federal loans, federal grants, work study amounts, college offered need-based and/or merit-based awards, and any private scholarships of which you've informed them. You have the opportunity to accept or reject each individual offer of aid. Do not accept more than you need. Additionally, note how and where specific funds are applied. Certain scholarships specify the funds be used for tuition ONLY, or room and board, or books, or other expenses, so make sure you understand the terms and that specific monies are applied and allocated appropriately. Also, be aware that certain scholarships may be subject to taxation if they are considered income. Lastly, some schools will not allow you to "stack" scholarships. For example, if you're awarded institutional merit aid in the amount of $15,000 and you receive outside scholarships that total $5,000, the school may reduce your institutional merit aid to $10,000. Any college financial aid office should be able to assist you through this process and more specifically, with the details of the packages they offer.
Q: How can I tell a legitimate scholarship opportunity from a scam?
A: There are so many different types of "scholarships" available these days that some of those that are legitimate can sometimes appear as if they aren't. For example, there are legitimate scholarships that don't require a minimum GPA and test scores, a written essay, a copy or your official transcript, letters of recommendation or anything other than your willingness to provide your name, age and email address and the press of a SEND button. These types of scholarships are more like lotteries where the scholarship provider enters you into a random drawing after you've provided your personal info which they may use for data mining purposes. There's nothing inherently wrong with such a scholarship as long as you always read the fine print and understand that your data may be used and/or passed on for purposes unrelated to the actual scholarship. My rule of thumb is to stay away from any organization that requires a fee (this is different than a dues which may be required for membership to legit organizations that only provide scholarship opportunities to their members - e.g., the National Society of High School Scholars) in order for you to apply for their scholarship and to run the other direction should someone guarantee that they can get you a scholarship provided you pass on a percentage of it to them (which is actually illegal).
Q: A friend told me that if you apply and get into UCONN and they don't have your major, the state will give you money towards another school that has that major? I find this hard to believe. Is it true?
A: It sounds like your friend is refering to the tuition-break program offered by the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) known as the Regional Student Program (RSP). According to their website, "the New England Regional Student Program (RSP) enables thousands of New England residents to enroll at out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount. Students are eligible for the RSP Tuition Break when they enroll in an approved major that is not offered by the public colleges and universities in their home-state. New England includes the following six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont." For a complete list of current eligible programs broken down by each New England state, click here. Additionally, similar programs may be found in other areas of the country. For those living in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin, check mhec.org. Residents of sixteen Southern states will find similar programs offered by the Southern Regional Education Board at sreb.org. Similarly, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education does the same for sixteen Western states and territories. Refer to wiche.edu for greater detail.
Q: We noticed a mistake on our FAFSA and resubmitted it today. Will schools that our daughter has already heard from/applied to look at the most recent version of the FAFSA? Do they get a notification when we make corrections?
A: Yes! All schools will receive an update and will only be able to see the latest version of your FAFSA. The update does change your place in the queue, so the earlier changes are implemented, the better.
Q: I was offered a new job which I am thinking of accepting since the salary it provides is greater than my current salary. Would it hurt my son's chances of acquiring significant financial aid if I went from an annual income of $50,000 to $72,000?
A: Unless your family's AGI (yours and your spouse's) is less than $65,000/yr (when living in the northeast) the likelihood that you will receive significant federal financial aid is very low. I would never recommend foregoing a better paying job in the hopes of qualifying for more financial aid. If your son has a strong academic record, he should qualify for generous offers of institutional aid at the right schools. But I am not an accountant or a financial planner, so my opinion is solely based on the experiences I've had with other students and their families in this region of the country.
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