Advice for Seniors

Seniors: Review Financial Aid Awards Carefully

As you receive financial aid offers (also called "financial aid packages" or "financial aid award letters") from the colleges that admit you, review these offers carefully. There is no standard financial aid offer or award letter format. Each college has its own way of reporting and itemizing your aid package. This can make it difficult to understand which combination of price and student aid award is best from offer to offer. Be a wise consumer! Make sure you understand what is being offered and what you are accepting.

For example, pay particular attention to how much you have been awarded in grants vs. loans. Note the proportion of loans to grants—and the actual amount your family will pay -- each year! Figure out whether the grants are for one year or can be renewed.

Best Advice for the Wait List: Part II

We're back with more advice about the wait list. As one of our counselors put it yesterday, being on a wait list is like flying standby. You haven’t been accepted and you haven’t been denied. You’re in limbo, and that can be stressful. But there are some things you can and should do as you decide whether or not to accept a spot on a waitlist and, at the same time, make plans to move forward.

Here's more guidance from the high school college counselors who answered our Question of the Month: "What is your best advice for students who are waitlisted?" 

Rafael S. Figueroa
Dean of College Guidance
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque, New Mexico

You need to look at this situation in two different ways, simultaneously.

1.    Pick a college that admitted you.

Tell them you are attending and send in your deposit. Put the colleges that waitlisted you out of your mind. Move on. Get excited about the college you have chosen, and focus on the great experience you will have there.

2.    Don¹t give up on a waitlist college, if you really want to attend.

Let the college know that you remain very interested. Update them on any new information about you that is relevant to your admission. Be patient. Given the way that waitlist offers trickle down the chain of different schools, offers might not come until July or even August.

Best Advice for the Wait List

As decision letters roll in, some students may find themselves waitlisted. If placed on a waitlist, you haven’t been accepted and you haven’t been denied. You’re in limbo, and that can be stressful. Students rarely anticipate they will be placed on a waitlist at one of the colleges where they have applied, but they very well may be and it's important to understand what your next steps should be.

So this month we asked our experts: "What is your best advice for students who are waitlisted?" Today and tomorrow, we'll be bringing you the excellent insights and guidance from these high school college counselors who know best.

John E. (Jake) Talmage
Director of College Counseling
St. Paul’s School
Brooklandville, Maryland

A couple of years ago, one of my senior boys was waitlisted by his first choice college. He was devastated. As the month of April progressed, he and I were in touch with this college and learned that the college had moved to the waitlist twice in the previous three years. In both cases, the college had needed men (like many liberal arts schools, the college is more popular with girls), so we held out hope. In early May, we heard rumors that the college had started to admit some students off the waitlist. So, we contacted the admission office. During this call, an admission officer told us, “Surprisingly, we are going for girls.” 

Seniors: Questions to Ask on a Return College Visit

If you are making a return visit to a college or visiting for the first time after being admitted, make sure you get off the beaten path  -- hang out at the student union, visit the study spaces in the library, or browse in the bookstore, grab lunch at a campus cafeteria, arrange to sit in on a class or meet with a professor. And ask questions of everyone. You may be surprised at how willing students are to speak candidly with you. Here are some questions to ask:

                Why did you decide to go to school here?

                What's a typical student like?

                Are professors accessible? How do you spend time with faculty outside the classroom?

Seniors: Listen to Spock, Not the Scary Stories!

 

March Madness! No, not basketball! It's that time of year when the headlines and hallways are ablaze with scary stories of record numbers of college applications, 6% acceptance rates, and financial aid letters leaving students confused and misinformed.

Yes, more students are applying to more colleges, competition for seats at some colleges has increased and the cost of college continues to rise. But reality runs counter to most of what you read and hear in the media. The number of colleges that are highly selective is TINY! The vast majority of colleges accept two-thirds or more of their applicants. In UCLA’s most recent Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) annual survey of first-year students at four-year colleges and universities, 79 percent reported being accepted to their “first-choice” college.

We know it's hard to resist the onslaught of scary stories. But if you've done the proper research and applied to a balanced list of eight to ten colleges, taking into account both selectivity and affordability, you will do well. Really.

Seniors: Find out how colleges handle outside scholarships in calculating your aid award

Seniors, you should still be applying for scholarships at this time. But, as you do, please check with the colleges to which you’ve applied about how they handle scholarships from private groups and organizations— known as “outside awards”—in the calculation of their financial aid award. Different colleges calculate their impact differently.

Colleges are legally prohibited from over-awarding federal aid. In other words, the total amount of aid a student receives cannot be greater than a college’s cost, and usually not more than a student’s overall calculated financial need. Some colleges count half an outside award toward grant aid and half toward student self- help, lowering the student’s work- study or loan amount by the equivalent of half the outside award. Others count the entire outside award against loans and work- study, and only lower the institutional grant portion of an aid award if self- help is brought down to zero. Still others count the entire outside award against institutional gift aid.

Best advice: always apply for a scholarship, but check with every college and university on your list about their *outside scholarship policy* so you can understand what happens to your need-based financial aid package when you win a merit scholarship.

 

Best Advice for College Visits

The rite of passage that is the college visit is one of the most important influences in determining where students will eventually apply. Walking across a campus, grabbing a cup of coffee in the student union, buying a sweatshirt at the bookstore… For students, these experiences offer the chance to try on a college and see if it fits and, for parents, these trips can be an important step in the letting- go process. At this point in the year, many juniors may be planning spring visits to campuses and seniors may soon be thinking about return visits as they make decisions. So this month, we asked our high school counselors: "What is your best advice for college visits?" Here's to road trips!
 

Carolyn W. Clark
Director of College Advising
The Brearley School
New York, New York

College visits start with dreams of ivy-covered walls but often end in total confusion about what you saw and what you thought.   Yet there is no better way to learn about a school than to visit—if you do it right. 

Seniors: Treat your financial aid officer well...

Right now and in the coming months, you and your family will have a lot of questions about financial aid. It's important to understand how financial aid offices work so that you can foster the best relationship with their representatives.

Financial aid offices are not set up like admission offices. They are often less well staffed, and they have the college’s existing student body to care for, as well as applicants and their families. So financial aid officers walk many tightropes simultaneously. They are charged with meeting the demonstrated need of each family in a way that is consistent with their college's guidelines. Typically they have an institutional aid budget they must stay within, and the pressures related to this can be significant. They must also disburse federal and state funds in accordance with law so must keep up with an ever- changing array of rules and regulations. What's more, they are audited annually, and the stakes are high— if they have not done their jobs well and kept excellent records, their college can lose a great deal of money that will then not be available for students who need aid.

What does this mean for you? You cannot ask a financial aid officer to hold your hand. You need to do as much as you can to master the process, and call him or her with specific and informed questions. That is how you will obtain the best guidance.

Senioritis Warning: Serious reactions may occur

Seniors, are you experiencing any of the following symptoms?

·       A lack of motivation in the morning

·       Feelings of apathy about AP Calc

·       Missed tests

·       Making the party but not the athletic practice

·       A general slacking off in and out of the classroom

If so, you may be experiencing senioritis.

Warning:

Your senior year is important to colleges. Acceptance letters are contingent on your finishing the year at the same performance level as when you applied -- same classes, continuing good grades, same extracurriculars.

Directions:

Keep your focus and stay fully engaged -- both in the classroom and on campus.

Dangerous interactions:

If slacking off gets out of hand, it can have serious consequences.  Admission can be denied or rescinded for significant changes in grades or disciplinary action for behavioral issues. If you are waitlisted, a dip in grades or lapse in judgment can work against your being admitted. (Manufacturer's warning: We're having a little fun here with our format. But this is serious stuff. Follow directions accordingly.)

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