Paying for College

Seniors: Apply, apply, apply… for financial aid!

The single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. So, apply! Even if you think you won't qualify, apply. You may be pleasantly surprised. And sometimes you need to apply for federal aid to receive state aid or merit scholarships.

How do you apply? The FAFSA is required for any student seeking federal and state financial aid, including grants and loans at all colleges in the country.   It can seem complicated, but there is help available -- and it's free.  One of the best resources is College Goal Sunday, an information program that brings together financial aid professionals from colleges and universities along with other volunteers to assist college-bound students and their families complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  Calendars for their national programs, as well as state-by-state events can be found at their website here.

One More To-Do List for Seniors...

It's not over 'til it's over. Seniors, you may have submitted your applications and caught up on your sleep, but -- apologies! -- there are still some things you need to do. High school counselor and author John Carpenter joins us again this month with some helpful reminders.


January… For most seniors that means applications are finished. Submitted.  Done.




Submitting your application is only one part of this process.  Most kids, I will admit, exhale a big sigh of relief after they've submitted their apps. They either celebrate that the deadline has been met or sleep for two weeks.  And while both options are perfectly acceptable, there’s still a little more to do.  It’s called follow-up.


Here’s a list of tasks to be sure to take care of AFTER you submit your applications:


Misty Whelan, Conestoga High School

Misty Whelan has lived the college admission process from both sides of the desk, so to speak. True, she worked early in her career at Bryn Mawr College. But that's not what we're talking about. Now a counselor at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pennsyvania, Whelan has also navigated the college application process as a parent. Her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, is taking her first steps in the process and her 19-year-old son is now attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The view from the parental side of the process has been invaluable for Whelan.

"It has really, really helped me immensely as a professional in terms of sympathizing and empathizing with families as they go through this process," says Whelan. "And the other thing it validated for me was letting my son do the work and not to do it for him. He did the bulk of the work. I learned a lot about how to center him and not have him panic or get too stressed out. Luckily, he knew what he wanted and did not have too many schools on his list.  I also learned a lot about financial aid and the scholarship process. That was the biggest eye opener for me -- how colleges fund students."

Leigh Weisenburger of Bates College Answers Six Questions

Bates College was founded in 1855 by abolitionists who believed strongly in freedom, civil rights and the importance of a higher education for all who could benefit from it. Several of the college's earliest students were former slaves. And its religion department was formed when the school merged with the Parsonfield's Cobb Divinity School, whose seminary served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

That mission of inclusivity is carried on today at the Lewiston, Maine, private liberal arts school -- there are no sororities or fraternities on campus, student organizations are open to all, and 95% of students live on campus, with residential life an important part of the academic experience.   

Juniors: Let Them Show You the Money

Juniors, part of researching colleges is understanding the cost of a college education. It's not too soon to start investigating what your family may be asked to pay for college. To do that, start with the net price calculators (also called financial aid calculators) that every college and university are required to have on their website. (Calculators can also be found through the College Board at and on the Federal Student Aid website at

This online tool will give you a preliminary understanding of the amount you may be expected to pay out of pocket, as well as aid you may be eligible to receive from the federal government and the colleges themselves. Over the coming weeks, sit down with your parents and take a look at the net price calculators on the websites of some of the colleges in which you're interested.

In 2012-13, $238.5 billion in financial aid was distributed to undergraduate and graduate students in the form of grants, Federal Work-Study, federal loans, and federal tax credits and deductions, according to the College Board's Trends in Student Aid. There is money out there to help you finance a college education. But you have to apply for it. 


Our Financial Aid Checklist -- Part II

Today, we're pleased to bring you Part II of a checklist of tasks you should be tackling right now to pay for college, courtesy of College Advisor Alice Kleeman. Admission deans, financial aid officers and college counselors agree that the single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. So even if you think you won't qualify, apply. Use this checklist to make sure you are eligible for ALL the aid you may qualify for.


*          Most importantly, do apply for financial aid to be sure you are considered for all assistance available. You may be pleasantly surprised. And, sometimes, even though you don't qualify for federal aid, you need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to be considered for merit scholarships, state aid and federal student loans.

*             Check with your high school counselor about financial aid workshops scheduled at your school or in the community and attend with your parents! 

Financial Aid Checklist: Part I

Paying for college is a concern for most families. But the single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. Even if you think you won't qualify, apply. You may be pleasantly surprised. Today, we're pleased to bring you Part I of a checklist of tasks you should be tackling right now to pay for college, courtesy of College Advisor Alice Kleeman. Use this checklist to make sure you are eligible for ALL the aid you may qualify for.

Seniors: Questions you Should Be Asking if You're Thinking of Applying Early

If you are thinking of applying under an early action or early decision plan, we have some questions for you to consider as you decide what might be right for you. The more yes answers you can give, the more applying early might be your best approach.

If you’re considering early decision, start here and work your way through all the questions below:

• Of all the colleges on your list, is this the school where you would unquestionably enroll?

• Is your first-choice school an environment that fits you well, but also a place where you can change and grow?

• Have you felt the school where you are going to apply early decision is your first choice for more than a few days or weeks?

• Do you and your parents agree that if you are given a reasonable financial aid package, you will attend the school even if other colleges were to offer you stronger financial aid packages or a merit scholarship?

If you’re considering early action or restrictive early action, start here:

• Do your junior-year grades and classes support an early application, relative to the philosophyn and practice of the college to which you’re applying?

• Have you completed all standardized testing by October of your senior year?

Sheila Roberts, Bob Jones High School

In 1979, when Sheila Roberts and her family moved to Decatur, Alabama, she looked across the Tennessee River to the town of Madison and it was just cotton fields. She was a stay-at-home mother, raising two children. No longer. Today, Madison is a diverse and thriving community -- one of the fastest growing cities in the Southeast -- drawing families from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. Army Post Redstone Arsenal and the University of Alabama at Huntsville. And Roberts counsels their students as the College and Career Advisor at Madison's Bob Jones High School.

Named for former Congressman Robert E. Jones, Jr., who represented the area from 1947 until 1977, Bob Jones is a public high school serving approximately 2,100 students. Roberts joined the staff in 2003, building the counseling program from scratch -- growing it from one file cabinet in a small study room in the Media Center to twelve file cabinets in what is now the College/Career Center. She says she is constantly struck by the benevolence, diversity and growth of the community. Bob Jones opened in 1974, moved to a larger facility in 1996, and -- underestimating the growth in the area -- had to relocate the 9th grade class a few years later until a second high school was opened last year.

Daniel Gin, Niles West High School

Dan Gin had been a generalist high school counselor for four years when he boarded the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC) Bus O' Fun Tour. Road tripping for a week through ten college campuses in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Gin realized he had found his calling. "I could be the one who helps students find the right college," he said. And for the past eight years, Gin has, as the College and Career Counselor at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois.

Set in a suburb eight miles north of Chicago, Niles West is a culturally diverse public high school serving more than 2,600 students. Among those students, there are 96 different spoken languages, with the most common being Urdu, Spanish and Assyrian. Thirty per cent of the students are English language learners. Another 30% are on free and reduced lunch. And since Skokie is in the first ring of suburbs on the borders of Chicago, one in four students are transfers. So as the only college counselor on staff -- though he's assisted by 11 generalist counselors -- Gin faces some special challenges.