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Appealing financial aid offers

2 Dec

uc-berkeley-sproul-hall-sproul-plaza-occupy-uc-berkeley-7d9994-wingsdomain-art-and-photographySome of you may already be getting financial aid offers from the colleges to which you have applied — especially if you did your FAFSA early.

However, some of you may be disappointed with the offers.

Please know you can still plead your case with the financial aid office at those colleges. Do this with a letter addressed to “Financial Aid Officer” and include information that could improve your offer:

  • Information about a parent losing a job or being cut back to part-time.
  • Loss of a job you have had.
  • Information about high and unexpected expenses for situations your family has recently experienced, such as medical care or a car accident.
  • Death of a supporting parent or other close family member — thus creating loss of income or increased expenses.
  • Separation of your parents — so that you now only need report income for the parent with whom you are living (or who provides the greater amount of support).

It is helpful if the school counselor or administrator can write a letter authenticating your case.

Also, the letter may receive quicker attention if the school faxes your letter to the financial aid department(s).

Please don’t delay on this. Some money pots — such as work study — are limited, and colleges can only offer what’s available.

College fairs are your friend

20 Oct

You can learn a LOT in a short amount of time in a college fair!

                              You can learn a LOT in a short amount of time in a college fair!

You can get a lot of bang for your zero-cost buck by attending a College Fair. These events, held typically in the fall and spring around the country bring college recruiters to cities to talk with prospective students and their parents. If you do not have the time or money to travel all over the country or even just your own state, you can get some pertinent information in a short couple of hours.

You can find one in your area by talking to your high school counselor. Some of the major ones are sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and its fairs are on the following schedule: Typically, as many as 200 or more colleges attend these events — and many of my former students found their dream college at one of those fairs.

As you search for these college fairs in your area, make sure that as you register online, that you are registering as a STUDENT and not a college rep. These are most always FREE events, so if the online form asks for payment . . . oops, you’ve got the wrong form!

Often these college reps are from the prospective students or outreach office at their university. However, sometimes you might find that admissions officers and perhaps even the head admissions counselor is standing right in front of you. You do not need to dress in business attire, but you will want to look sharp.

To make the most of these events, engage with the college representatives. As I’ve taken students to college fairs over many years, I give them a pep talk before we enter the event, saying something silly like this: “You’re happy! You’re smart! You’re friendly!” That gets a smile on their faces and helps them understand that they should be the one most proactive about getting the most from the experience.

Do the following:

1. Smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Sally Smart, and I’m a student from Littletown.”

2. Explain what kind of college program you’re interested in. “I’m interested in mechanical engineering. Can you tell me something about your program?”

3. Engage in conversation about those subjects important to you. Here are some other great questions to ask:

  • “How would you characterize the students at your university?”
  • “What do students like most about the college?” “What do they like the least?”
  • “Is the faculty accessible to students other than the traditional office hours?”
  • “Are any departments being cut back or discontinued? If so, why?”
  • “What percentage of students receive merit-based financial aid? And what percentage of students receive need-based financial aid?”

You and your parents might want to make a list of important questions before you attend the college fair — ones that are most important to you.

I coach my students to ask each college rep at least a couple questions. One that can often catch a rep off-guard is “Do you like your job?” You can find out the true answer to that in their face — and that can say volumes about a school, too! If the rep was a student at that college, ask that person to relate some of their best and worst experiences.

Pick up any and all of the freebies: brochures, flyers, pens, and other trinkets. If you can’t use them, your friends and even your high school counselor probably can.

Any exciting news about college acceptances yet?

Thinking about taking a year off?

18 Oct

Some young people decide to travel for a year after high school graduation.

                     Some young people decide to travel for a year after high school graduation.


Some of you may be thinking that you’re TIRED of school and want to take some time off and work or travel before attending college. Here are some pros and cons:


  • You may be able to save some money for college if you work.
  • You might be more mature and refreshed before starting college studies.
  • You could travel and see more of the world, thus gaining an appreciation for people of other cultures and also for your family, community, and country.
  • You might learn more about yourself and get insights into what kind of college major and career you would like.


  • Some colleges will not hold your admission/registration, and you would have to go through the application process all over again.
  • You will probably be most academically ready for college the fall after high school graduation. It’s possible that you may lose some knowledge for math and English placement tests if you wait a year.
  • The income you earn in a gap year must be reported for purposes of financial aid, and you will still have to also report your parents’ income. A year off does not make you independent for purposes of financial aid.
  • Travel and living expenses can be expensive — and you might find that you can’t save as much money as you thought, especially if you need to buy a car and fuel it for job transportation.
  • Good intentions often dissipate. When I have had students tell me they want to take a year off to travel or work, I have observed that most never attend college later on.
  • College scholarship organizations often do not want to hold a scholarship for a year. They like to see immediate results for their fundraising efforts.
  • College tuition and living expenses are only going up each year, so postponing college can make funding college more expensive.

From the above you can probably imagine that I would not advise a gap year between high school and college. Instead, if students tell me they want to travel abroad, I suggest that they find a college that encourages and supports those kinds of programs. I have numerous former students studying in Europe this year — even a young man who is studying engineering figured out how to arrange his studies so he could go to Scotland for a semester.

If you’re not sure what you want to study, colleges have great career counseling centers — and you could even begin now by taking online tests (one is  — avoid doing any that require you to pay, as there are many that are sponsored by government and educational organizations).

What I’ve sometimes noticed is that students who want to take a year off to work often are simply nervous about leaving home. Visit colleges with your family. Arrange campus tours. Plan an overnight in a dorm with someone you know. Learn to overcome your fears.

However, if you’re got a great plan to travel or do an internship related to a potential career, that could work out well. In any case, talk as a family and then make a proactive plan that includes your college education later.