Archive | March, 2013

Weighing the pros and cons

18 Mar

After you get the financial aid offers from the various colleges you’re considering, sit down with your parents and create a chart of pros and cons.

These are some factors to consider, as they may be important to you:

  • Location (distance from home, geographical location, city/suburban/rural, the “feel” of the community)
  • Transportation (How will you get there and back home?)
  • Size of the college
  • Reputation of college
  • Strength of the major program (Print out the online catalog pages that describe the major and its courses, so that you can visually compare the offerings.)
  • Study abroad program
  • Academic challenge (Allow yourself to be stretched!)
  • Campus life (Is it vibrant . . . or is it a commuter campus?)
  • Housing options
  • Financial aid offer

If you haven’t visited a campus for a school you’re still considering, spring break is the perfect time! However, even if you can’t, don’t dismiss that school as an option. My oldest daughter was accepted at all five colleges to which she applied; she decided to go to the one she had NOT visited, because the school offered her a leadership scholarship, and she loved the idea that Biola University already viewed her as a leader. When we drove onto the campus in La Mirada, Orange County, California, she FREAKED OUT, saying, “I hate this! I hate this!” Nevertheless, a week later she called home: “I love this! I love this!” She got both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there — and loved every minute . . . including the five-minute drive to Disneyland.

Yes, it’s a big decision . . . but know this: Every college has something wonderful to offer.

Remember to check your portal on your college websites DAILY . . . and stay on top of those deadlines.

How do admissions officers decide?

14 Mar

Pencil with "Y" Circled For Yes

Why did you get a “yes” or “no”?

College admissions officers use varying criteria to determine what freshmen applicants will receive congratulations letters.

An excellent resource — especially for current juniors — is the book The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg (Penguin).

While four-year colleges typically all require either the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT, some colleges simply rely on GPA from an applicant’s college preparatory classes.

Others, though, have a more stringent review process, to include some or all of the following considerations used by the University of California:

  • Scores on the SAT Reasoning Test or ACT Plus Writing
  • Number of courses beyond the minimum college prep courses
  • Number of Honors, AP, IB and transferrable college courses
  • Class ranking
  • Strength of your senior year schedule
  • Strength of your overall schedule, as compared to your school’s offerings
  • Outstanding work in one or more specific subject areas or in one or more special academic projects — such as selection and participation in a university’s summer science institute for which you got college credit
  • Academic growth — marked by improvement of grades from one year to the next
  • Special talents, achievements, athletic accomplishments, proficiency in other languages, study abroad, significant community service (you ORGANIZED a program that extended over a long period of time), student government leadership (typically a president or VP), completion of special student project (such as Every 15 Minutes, which requires the coordination and utilization of many law enforcement and emergency units)
  • Academic achievements in light of special circumstances such “disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status”
  • Location of your high school and residence. For example, students from my high school in an isolated, rural area of northeast California do quite well getting into colleges. My interpretation is that my students can offer a unique perspective about life, based on their experience here in the Sierra Valley.

How to compare financial aid: Part 2

13 Mar

After you and your parents figure out your cost of attendance for each college (see the Part 1 blog posted earlier about how to whittle down college costs), you should create a chart that shows the various financial aid offered to you by each college.

This list should include the following:

1. Scholarships that you know of so far.

2. Grants (gifts of money that do not need to be repaid), including these: Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, TEACH Grant, Cal Grant (or your state’s grant), and other grants, to include grants from the college.

3. Work study (great opportunity, which I will discuss in a future blog)

4. Loans, to include these: Federal Perkins Loan (best student loan), Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan (good student loan), Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan (not as good student loan), Federal PLUS Loan (loan parents must take out–not such a good option because of repayment requirements), and private loan(s) (your worst option).

The financial aid offers can help you logically determine which college is giving you the best option. One IMPORTANT piece of research to do before deciding is to find out if the scholarships that you obtain on your own will be counted against any scholarships or grants that the college offers you. Some colleges do; some don’t. That issue helped my daughter decide which college to attend, because she received many outside scholarships. If the college will let scholarships cancel out loans rather than grants — that is an important factor for your financial future.

NEXT UP: Other considerations to weigh other than financial aid.