Search Results for: potential

What “meeting 100% of financial need” really means

When a college claims to meet 100% of financial need, it can sound deceptively as if an admitted student will get whatever amount of financial aid they need to attend. But it’s not necessarily quite that generous. To understand “meeting 100% of financial need,” let’s look briefly at how the process of applying for and evaluating financial need for college works.

First, you file a FAFSA, which details the student’s and parent’s income and assets. The government crunches it through a formula, and you receive a report back containing your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—that’s the amount of money you are expected to pay for the upcoming year at any college. Some colleges also require that you submit additional forms, which can change EFC for their own evaluation, but the FAFSA is always your starting point.

In the event that the Cost of Attendance (COA) at any college that admits you exceeds your EFC, it’s the job of that college’s financial aid department to make up the difference in the form of a financial aid package. That package can contain a combination of grants/scholarships (free money that does not need to be paid back), loans, and work study.

But financial aid offices don’t have to just blindly follow the numbers when they create those awards. In putting financial aid packages together, they might decide to offer a more generous package to a particularly desirable student. That’s preferential packaging at work.

Unfortunately, there are also cases where a financial aid package does not cover the full difference between your EFC and the COA. That’s called “unmet need,” and the higher the number, the worse the news.

So, colleges that claim to meet 100% of financial need are telling you that there will almost certainly be no “unmet need” as part of your financial aid package. That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily like the package, as for many families, their calculated EFC is actually more than they believe they can afford to pay. And just like all financial aid packages, not all financial aid is necessarily free money, and those that come from schools claiming to meet 100% of need can still include loans and work study.

If you’re concerned about paying for college, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you apply only to those schools that claim to meet full financial need, because you’ll be limiting yourself to under 100 colleges (here’s a list courtesy of Mark Kantrowitz). That might sound like a lot, but the list can shorten dramatically if you’re not admissible or just don’t like the schools.

Still, it’s worth paying attention to a college’s track record regarding financial aid awards. If you’re up for some detailed and potentially revealing research, head to College Navigator, maintained by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Search for a college, and then dig into both the “Financial Aid” and “Net Price” tabs. Specifically, you want to look at the average size of the financial aid award, the breakdown of grants, loans, and scholarships, and the average net price for those students on financial aid. That will give you a sense of how many students receive aid, the amount and type of aid being distributed, and just how much of a dent that financial aid is making on the cost for those students in attendance.

A college may meet 100% of your needs as they define them. But that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get everything you think you need.

Lack of effort vs. lack of fear

As often as I write here about the potential value of failure as both a life teacher and even a college admissions advantage, it’s one of those concepts that many families are uncomfortable embracing. I don’t blame them. They get so many messages about the need for college applicants to be perfect (they don’t need to be, but that’s often the message), it feels risky to do anything where they might feel like they could fail, and riskier still to actually admit or borderline celebrate that failure within a college essay or an application.

But this recent New York Times piece, On Campus, Failure Is on the Syllabus, shares how many colleges, including some that are quite selective, are going as far as to teach the value of failure. Even the skeptics might be interested to read the examples of kids so used to perfection that they can’t even handle not getting the room assignment they wanted, much less failing a test. Full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine, but I would have shared this even without that association.

I don’t see the concept of colleges acknowledging–and even teaching–failure as much of a stretch. Colleges want students who will not only work hard, but also avail themselves of the nearly limitless options for learning, growth, challenge, etc. during their four years on campus. Schools need students who are fearless in those pursuits, who accept that aiming high comes with the risk that you might fall short, who will not only resist the urge to crumble when something doesn’t go as they’d hoped, but also learn from those experiences and come back even more prepared the next time.

It’s those students, not those who huddle close to their comfort zones where success is more assured, who are most successful during and after college.

Failure due to lack of effort is one thing. Failure due to lack of fear is an entirely different—and more admirable—one.

In-state tuition at an out-of-state school?

According to data collected by the College Board, the average tuition and fees to attend a public university are roughly 1/3 what they are to attend a private college, as long as that public university is in your home state. As soon as you venture to new state territory, the costs more than double at most public schools.

So it’s common for families to wonder if it’s possible for their student to establish residency at an out-of-state public school, thereby availing themselves of the cheaper cost for in-state residents.

Unfortunately, while establishing in-state residency is not impossible for a student, as this Consumer Reports piece explains in detail, the lengths to which you would need to go to even have a remote shot are pretty drastic.

If college costs are a concern and you want to make sure you have some viable public university options, first, do all the things that make you more admissible to most colleges—take challenging classes, get good grades, spend some (not inordinate) time improving your test scores if necessary, etc. Also, complete the FAFSA and any other financial aid forms your chosen colleges require. Now here are a few tips to help you choose appropriate schools.

1. Consider your in-state options first.
The easiest way to get an advantage is to leverage one that’s already available to you. Depending on your state, most public universities are not only cheaper for their residents, but also easier to gain admission to than they are for students applying from out of state. If your state doesn’t have public schools that appeal to you, remember that applying to a college is not the same as actually attending that school. In this case, you’re giving yourself more potentially viable options. That’s almost always a good thing, especially when you’re concerned about the cost of college.

2. Apply to schools that are most likely to admit you.
This is a great strategy for both private and public colleges. The more likely a college is to admit you, the more likely you are to get a financial aid boost, a practice called “preferential packaging.” Every year, our Collegewise students receive generous and often unsolicited offers of financial aid and scholarships—including from out-of-state public schools—simply because their college lists included some schools where they were strong applicants and were almost certain to be admitted. This is yet another reason why it’s so important to file your FAFSA—many schools will not consider you for preferential packaging without a FAFSA on file.

3. Consider a regional exchange program.
Some public schools enter into agreements with each other that allow students to attend neighboring states’ public schools at a discounted rate. Read to the bottom of the article referenced above and you’ll find links to those programs.

Almost all colleges are more expensive than they used to be. But public universities can be some of the best available bargains in education if you (1) choose your schools carefully, and (2) apply for financial aid.

Taking advantage

Some college admissions advantages are bestowed on select groups. Naturally great test-takers, highly recruited athletes, students with the economic means to avail themselves of test prep and tutoring—while they may have worked to gain (rather than just have been gifted) those advantages, the advantages themselves are just not available to every high school student.

But here’s one potential advantage most seniors can grab. It’s free, it doesn’t discriminate based on your GPA, test scores or résumé, and it doesn’t care where you go to high school or whether or not you intend on applying to highly selective colleges.

You use the summer to start your college application process.

Finalize your college list. Complete your Common Application. Write any essays that your chosen colleges make available. Just get started. I’m not in favor of pushing college prep earlier than necessary. But that application work will need to get done. The only question is whether you do any of it during the summer months or wait until school begins when your days, your schedule, and your plate are already full.

Yes, some students are busier during the summer than others. You may be studying, working, traveling, etc. But chances are that you aren’t as busy or as stressed as you’ll be when the fall schedule of school and classes and activities hits. This fall, you’ll have fewer slots of free time to give to college applications. That’s one of the reasons so many students work on them right up until the deadlines. It’s hard to find the combination of inspiration and relaxation that leads to great college applications when you’re squeezing it in between homework and studying and softball practice.

So give yourself an advantage. Spend just 1-2 hours a week this summer moving through your college application to-dos. Imagine how good you’ll feel, and how much you will have done, if you start your senior year having already logged 10-25 hours of college application work.

You can’t have every advantage. But this one is here for the taking.

For counselors: What’s new with the Common App?

The folks at the Common App held a free webinar for counselors yesterday: “What’s New With The Common App: Enhancements.” If you didn’t get a chance to attend, our counselor Tom Barry shared the following summary for our Collegewise counselors.

You won’t need to find your way around a brand new Common App with your students this year. In fact, the key changes are mostly minor and will not affect all applicants.

1. Students can now self-report courses and grades within the Common App tab.
There aren’t many colleges on the Common App that ask students to self-report their courses and grades, but for those that do, the Common App now offers them a place to do so.

2. Students can upload Google Drive text files directly into the “Essay” boxes. 
This won’t replace the option to copy and paste. But one potential benefit is that uploading a document could help a student avoid those pesky formatting challenges that seemed to pop up so often.

3. The “Activities” dropdown menu will now include “Internship” and “Social Justice” categories. 

4. Students can select up to three advisors who will be granted access to their account in order to evaluate progress. 
This number is in addition to the formal school counselor and the teacher(s) submitting letters of recommendation.

We’ll also be releasing our updated annual Collegewise Common App guide around July 15. When it’s ready, I’ll share it here.

Broad recognition vs. broad impact

One way to stand out in college admissions is to achieve broad recognition. The student who played violin at Carnegie Hall has achieved broader recognition for his musical abilities than the first chair in the school orchestra has. A national champion debater has broader recognition than the student who won the county competition does. “All- American” is broader recognition than “All-League.” Depending on how good you are at your chosen activity, your recognition may grow from school, to city, to county, to state, to country, and in rare cases (like teenage Olympic medalists), the world.

Effective? Yes. But broad recognition is also one of the most difficult to achieve.

A different and potentially easier path? Broad impact.

What if you organized a small cadre of musicians from the orchestra that eventually played at over 30 community events last year?

What if you started a blog with tales and tips for other speech and debate competitors, and grew it to a readership of 2,000 subscribers?

What if you offered pitching clinics on the weekends for kids, and later had a roster of 15 young hurlers who regularly show up to learn their craft from you?

Naysayers will tell you that being an All-American is more impressive than writing a blog. But we’re not all going to be state, national, or world champions. And that’s OK. Impact takes many forms. If you don’t exactly compete at the highest levels and you’d like to make your chosen activity stand out more, take what you already enjoy doing, then find a way to share it with people who will appreciate it as participants, viewers, listeners, readers, benefactors, etc.

Broad impact is available to anyone willing to create it.

Better grades in just 15 minutes?

It’s not surprising that when an important task needs to get done, your chances of getting it right the first time improve if you take a few minutes to think through what you’re about to do. It turns out studying for an exam is no different.

A Stanford researcher divided a class of students facing an exam into two groups. One group began their preparation by taking just 15 minutes to consider:

  • What material might appear on the test
  • Which resources (lecture notes, past exams, readings, etc.) the student would use
  • How each resource would be useful, and how exactly the student would use them

The result? These students reported feeling less stressed and more prepared. And they outperformed the other group by almost a third of a letter grade—the difference between a B+ and an A-.

Here’s a snippet from the article about the research:

“All too often, students just jump mindlessly into studying before they have even strategized what to use, without understanding why they are using each resource, and without planning out how they would use the resource to learn effectively,’ says Patricia Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford with a PhD. ‘I find this very unfortunate because it undermines their own potential to learn well and perform well.’”

The article also includes some good advice for parents on how to help kids learn this strategy for themselves.

If your grades could use a boost (or your stress level could use some relief), take 15 minutes before your next study session. The technique is free, and it’s available to you no matter what your GPA is.

Big idea payoffs for groups?

Many students, parents, and counselors have likely sat through a meeting dedicated to “brainstorming”—everyone is invited to share ideas with the group, then discussion and debate ensue, all in the hopes that you’ll get that one great new idea for raising funds, recruiting members, solving an existing challenge, etc. Some of these meetings include guidelines like “Refrain from criticizing initially” designed to encourage participation. I’ve even posted a few here.

But as the Harvard Business Review shares, there’s some pretty compelling research to indicate that teams get better ideas, and more of them, when members are invited to brainstorm alone. And it seems like a pretty low-risk experiment for a group to try, with some potentially big idea payoffs.

When great parenting = great managing

The increasing complexity of the college admissions process can occasionally leave parents unclear as to what they should be doing to best support their kids. Yes, we all know to take care of them and to love them unconditionally. But when does supporting them become over-parenting? When does backing off become disengaging from their lives? When does encouraging them to pursue their dreams become pushing them too hard? Much like the job of a great manager is to help their employees be happy and successful at work, an argument could be made that one important job of a great parent is to help kids be happy and successful in life. Here are five ways great parenting looks like great managing.

1. Define what success looks like.
A good manager doesn’t just define the job responsibilities—she defines what success looks like in the role, how it’s measured, and why it’s important to the mission of the company. A great parent can take the same approach with his kids. Rather than create a narrow definition that ties to transcripts and test scores, think of the values you’d like your kids to develop and take with them when they leave the nest, like work ethic, character, curiosity, and kindness. High school is going to end someday, but a broader definition of success, one that isn’t prescribed by the college admissions process, is something they bring with them into adulthood.

2. Offer regular recognition and praise.
Great managers know that effective praise and recognition can help employees better understand both their own value and what’s important to the organization. And great parents know that one of the best ways to encourage the success they define in #1 is to recognize and praise the right behaviors when they see them. I’ve written two past posts, here and here, on how to praise effectively.

3. Let them find their own route to success.
The best managers don’t legislate every step an employee should take to do an important job well. And they don’t constantly jump in and take over to make sure things are done to their exacting standards. Instead, they describe the desired outcomes, offer appropriate support to guide their people, then let their employees find their own individual routes to get there. Great parents make their expectations clear, but they also acknowledge that every kid is different. They recognize and appreciate what makes each of their kids unique. Instead of expecting that your kids will approach the world exactly as you or their siblings do, encourage them to find how they learn, work, and thrive best.

4. Allow for recoverable failures.
Workplaces can’t benefit from innovation if they don’t allow people to try things that might not work. So great managers encourage employees to experiment, to initiate, and to try new things, all while making sure that any potential failure is one that’s acceptable and recoverable. Great parents appreciate that many of the best opportunities for learning and growth come from the failure that follows trying something that’s new, different, or challenging for their kids. As long as kids aren’t doing anything to put their health or their future at risk (crimes, not test scores, put their future at risk), the occasional recoverable failure can breed resilience, knowledge, and long-term success. Embrace and encourage those opportunities, help them see the ensuing lessons, and enjoy the benefits that come from raising kids who aren’t afraid to fail.

5. Care about the person, not just the results.
Great managers don’t just care about the work—they care about the people behind the work. Employees need to know that they are more than just a name on a paycheck and that someone is concerned about them as people first and employees second. I know that parents don’t need to be reminded to care about their kids. But kids need to know—and to occasionally be reminded—that their parents love them for who they are, not just for what they achieve. Don’t allow the college admissions process to overshadow what’s really important. Happy, healthy kids who feel cared about will bring more joy and fulfillment to your family than any grade, test score, or admissions decisions will.

Do colleges appreciate solitary activities?

Any discussion of the potential admissions value of a high school activity usually involves some combination of accolades, impact, and helping others. Your captainship of the cheerleading squad, published articles for the school paper, volunteer hours with Habitat for Humanity—they all involve contributing to a team, a project, a cause, or some other benefactor.

But what if an activity you really enjoy is something you do just for yourself, one that doesn’t improve, impact, or even involve anyone else?

What if you love to write poetry but don’t have any desire to publish or share it?

What if you teach yourself to play songs on the piano but you get stage fright even imagining performing?

What if you like to draw, or cook your own dinner a few nights a week, or make old-school scrapbooks to preserve your own memories, but choose to reserve those hobbies just for your own enjoyment?

Students frequently ask our Collegewise counselors some version of these questions. They have an activity, interest, or hobby they enjoy, one in which they aren’t trying to master or win or solve anything. It’s something they do just for themselves. And they wonder if colleges will see any value in that time.

First, it’s important to remember that not everything in your life should be about getting into college. If you work hard, get good grades, and you really enjoy playing 30 minutes of video games every night before you go to sleep, I can’t think of a college that would begrudge that fun. It’s important to have balance in your life. And part of that means doing things that aren’t measured, evaluated, or otherwise judged against the metrics of getting into college.

Also, interests—even those that aren’t typical activities—make you interesting. Would you enjoy a first date with someone who talked only about their GPA, test scores, and number of community service hours they’ve completed? Probably not. And a dorm full of 18-22 year olds with their own interests, hobbies, and ideas is a lot more interesting than one where every resident is a resume-padding robot.

But if you just can’t resist evaluating even your off-time, here are a few questions to ask yourself about that thing you do that’s just for you.

Is it taking time away from work you should be doing?
“Do no harm” is a good rule of thumb for just about anything that you do. If you’ve got a record in and out of the classroom that you’re proud of, there’s no harm in allowing yourself the frivolous novel from your favorite author even if that book would never make its way into your English class. On the other hand, those nighttime video game sessions aren’t so harmless if they’re getting in the way of completing your assignments or studying as much as you should. Balance works both ways.

Is this time paying you back in some way?
What do you get from the way you’re spending this time? Do you enjoy it? Does it relax you? Does it break up the monotony of the day, make you feel rewarded for other work well done, or otherwise do something that benefits you? Einstein used to play the violin alone when he needed to work through a difficult problem. Whether this time helps you relax or conquer physics, if it gives something back without taking too much, that’s probably a good trade-off.

Do you exert physical, mental, or emotional effort during this time?
You don’t have to be on the cross country team to benefit from running. Watching and learning from guitar tutorials on YouTube is an exercise in curiosity even if you don’t play in public. And those freehand drawings you care so much about getting right are worth something to you even if those sketches stay tucked away in your notebook.

Is there a by-product of this time?
Maybe this solitary poetry pursuit has made you excited to attend poetry readings in college. Maybe those solo runs led to your interest in learning more about sports medicine. And maybe you wouldn’t mind sharing some of those delectable dishes you’ve learned to cook when you live with college roommates. Sometimes that thing you do just for yourself leads to other interesting and even not-so-solitary pursuits. Even the most involved passions had to start somewhere. If that seemingly insignificant thing you’re doing now is also leading you to new discoveries, connections, or interests, you just might be on your way to something bigger.

And if you’re just not comfortable participating in traditional activities because you’re on the shy side or you just need a little more confidence to engage at that level, see this past post, “Five college planning tips for introverts.”