Financial Aid

Aliza Gilbert, Highland Park High School


Our Counselor of the Month for September is Aliza Gilbert, College Counselor at Highland Park High School, a public high school serving more than 2,000 students in Highland Park, Illinois.  A graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago, Gilbert also holds a Master in Education from Loyola University Chicago and is working on her Ph.D. in Higher Education, also at Loyola. Formerly Associate Director of Admissions at Lake Forest College, Gilbert joined Highland Park's Counseling Department in 1998.

Located about 25 miles north of Chicago, Highland Park High School serves a diverse student body, including significant numbers of children from military and Hispanic families, a characteristic that drew Gilbert to the school. She has a particular interest in college access and undocumented students -- her Ph.D. dissertation explores how high schools influence undocumented students’ college process. (The state of Illinois is ranked sixth among states with the largest undocumented populations.)

Do Sweat the Small Stuff! Part 2

Today, Alice Kleeman continues her excellent blog post about the "small stuff" that can trip up a college application process. Here are more of the frequently glossed-over college-related tasks that can make a difference:

  • Your name

        Seems like a simple question, right?  But maybe you are Maria Juana Ortiz on your birth certificate, and Maria J. Ortiz at school, MJ to your friends, and Maria Juana Ortiz-Santos to your extended family.  Maybe you think that doesn’t matter.  But when a college is trying to join your SAT or ACT scores to your file; when a financial-aid office is trying to figure out whether the aid application it received belongs to you or someone else; when your diploma and final transcript carry different names -- under those circumstances, the name you provide can cause serious delays in processing important paperwork.  Choose one name for the college process and use it every time. 

        Since the Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA) requires you to use the name on your Social Security card, you might as well use that one across the board.

        •     Application “extras”

Walter Pineda, Miami Country Day School

Walter Pineda is paying it forward. The Associate Director of College Counseling at Miami Country Day School in Miami, Florida, is a first-generation college graduate who attended college through the help of a counselor. When his family emigrated to the United States when he was four years old, “I was at a disadvantage from other students,” says Pineda. “How to apply, what does it take, how to pay for it, what you do to pay for it – it was foreign to all of us. It was the help of a counselor and resources I could find in the library that enabled me to apply.”

After graduating from University of Rochester, Pineda began his own career in college counseling at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Five years ago, he joined the staff at Miami Country Day, a diverse coeducational K through 12 school with approximately 975 students. The upper school has a strong college preparatory program that includes a commitment to community service — a culture that Pineda says he particularly appreciates.

As our Counselor of the Month, Pineda shares his advice for students and families here in our Q&A:

The Difficulty of Standardizing Cost Information for Students

"Buying a Refrigerator, Choosing A College" Don't miss this thought-provoking article by Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson of the Chronicle of Higher Education on the difficulty of providing clearer, more standardized information to prospective students about the potential cost of their college degrees. "College pricing is complicated," the authors note. That is the strength and the drawback of higher education in the United States.  There are more than 2,600 four-year colleges and universities in the United States and they are all different in everything from their curriculums, missions and financing to their football teams and tastiness of the food service. Choosing a college is an exercise in finding the right personal fit. So how can students and families expect a one-size-fits-all ingredient label when it comes to cost? That diversity in cost and financing at a college -- like the diversity in engineering programs or arts opportunities from campus to campus -- creates both opportunities and risks for students looking for the right fit.

A Q&A on Financial Aid at The Choice

The Choice blog at the New York Times is hosting a Q & A on scholarships, loans, and financial aid all week, featuring the advice of expert Mark Kantrowitz, founder of This is a great resource for families evaluating financial aid offers in the run-up to May 1st when all applicants must notify one college of their acceptance of an offer of admission. But even those families who aren't quite there yet should take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about how to pay for college. You can find Part 1 of the series here.

No Double-Depositing

May 1, the National Candidates Reply Date, is fast approaching. This is the non-negotiable deadline for formally notifying one college that you are accepting its offer of admission—and sealing the deal with a deposit check. For those who have a top-choice school, the decision about where to send that check is straightforward. For others, choosing may require further thought, return visits, or the comparison of financial aid packages. Do not be tempted, however, to double-deposit in order to delay decision-making. Double-depositing—sending a deposit to more than one college to keep your options open —is unethical and may result in both colleges rescinding your admission. Keep in mind that you have signed a certification on your application form promising you will send a deposit to only one institution. Your acceptance letter is conditional, and it’s easier than you think for the colleges to find out if you have deposited at more than one institution. You also have an ethical obligation. Double-depositing takes places away from other students. Waitlisted students should take care not to double-deposit as well. Suppose you are accepted at College A and waitlisted at College B, but your first choice is College B. You would enroll at College A and send a deposit. If you are later accepted at College B, you can also enroll and send a deposit there. This is not double-depositing provided you inform College A immediately and in writing that you will not be enrolling.

What College Really Costs...

Think college costs a lot? Some of the most expensive colleges in fact cost far more than they charge. This Chronicle of Higher Education article -- "Hey, Students, Your Education Costs More Than You Might Think" -- takes a look at students' awareness of the real cost of college.

As Karen L. Leach, vice president for administration and finance at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, lays out the case:

Counting all the tuition the college brings in, but subtracting financial aid, Hamilton's budget is $115-million, she explained. Divided by the enrollment, 1,812 students, that comes to a cost of about $63,500 each. Then, subtract the $53,470 the college charges in tuition, fees, and room and board: "Each person, even a full-pay student, gets at least a $10,000 scholarship," Ms. Leach said.

Charlene Aguilar, Lakeside School

Charlene Aguilar is Director of College Counseling at Lakeside School, an independent day school for grades 5 through 12 in Seattle, Washington.  A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, Aguilar has worked both sides of the desk in college admissions during her career.  She began as an admissions counselor at her alma mater in Santa Barbara and served as Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Stanford and Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Santa Clara University.  For ten years prior to coming to Lakeside, she was Director of College Counseling and Dean of the junior class at Castilleja School, an all-girls independent school in Palo Alto, California.