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.
In our latest feature, we're asking high school college counselors, independent counselors, deans of admission and other experts, such as financial aid officers and psychologists, to respond to our questions about all things college admission. Then we're bringing you their advice on the subject of the moment -- from essays and scholarships to interviews and extracurriculars -- including words of wisdom, mistakes to avoid, resources such as websites and books and advice on how to handle it all on a day-to-day basis.
So… "The Question of the Month" for November is:
What is your best advice for juniors on researching colleges?
Menlo-Atherton High School
My best advice for juniors beginning their college research is not to come to a screeching halt the minute they see the college's posted Cost of Attendance (COA), or “sticker price.” Students might be merrily clicking through a college website, intrigued by engaging course offerings, fun clubs and organizations, and tempting housing options. Suddenly, at the sight of the sticker price, juniors throw up their hands: "Guess I didn't really want to go to that college after all."
October is the cruelest month for high school college counselors, besieged on all sides with seniors intent on applications and juniors beginning their college search and testing -- as well as issues with the Common App this year. So we give counselors a pass at this time of year. Instead of our Counselor of the Month feature, we bring you a round-up of best advice from the counselors who have graced our website with their guidance and wisdom in the past year. Read on to learn their best advice for students and parents, recommendations for financial aid, guidance on the college search and mistakes to avoid. One of our personal favorite sound bites? Niles West High School's Dan Gin who advises students, "Have fun… Everything will work out in the end." Next year at this time, you'll all see how true this is. In the meantime, take advantage of this advice from the experts on the college counseling side of the desk.
The College Search
Laura Stewart, Ensworth School, Nashville, Tennessee
How do you encourage your students to broaden their college search and look beyond the four or five schools that they know best?
What place does trust have in the college application process? College advisor Alice Kleeman joins us again this month to talk about trust -- as well as accountability and honesty -- among students, counselors and the colleges. Join her here to learn more about life lessons, integrity, and the meaning of signing on the dotted line.
The hand inevitably shoots up in the back row, just after I’ve explained to a class of juniors or seniors that they will “self-report” their extracurricular activities on their college applications. “But how do they know I’ve really done what I say I’ve done?” The question will be asked. After 19 years of speaking to students about college admission, this is a point of certainty.
Ah, one of my favorite topics: trust. If we stop to think about it, without trust—among applicants and their families, college officials, and counselors—the entire process falls apart like a poorly constructed house of cards. And yet it’s one aspect of college admission that we don’t talk about much, and when we do, cynicism arises on all sides.
Call me Pollyanna (Pollyalice?), but I’m an extremely trusting soul when it comes to the issues that ask for our trust in this process.
The amount that students actually pay for college — because of increased discounts, grants and tax benefits — has barely changed over the last decade, according to the latest report from the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education research and analysis series. Trends in College Pricing, a major analysis of college cost and affordability using data from the College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges, reports on the prices charged by colleges and universities in 2013-14, how prices have changed over time, and how they vary within and across types of institutions, states, and regions. It also includes information on the net prices that students and families actually pay after taking financial aid into consideration.
As the report notes, “The story is a complicated one, with different students paying different prices at the same institutions, depending on their financial circumstances; on their academic qualifications, athletic ability, or other characteristics; and on their year or program of study.”
Among the highlights:
College Advisor Sandra Cernobori was sitting at her desk in the College and Career Center of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, when a parent came in to talk to one of her colleagues. She was not a parent at the school, but had some questions about college admission. A few minutes into the conversation, the visitor said to Cernobori’s fellow advisor, “Let me go get my son, I want him to hear this.” Whereupon she brought into the office her 18-month-old child. Yes, you read that correctly, her 18-month-old child.
Welcome to the world of college advising in the heart of Silicon Valley where the college learning curve -- and the pressure -- starts early for some. Founded in 1894, Palo Alto High School, known as Paly, is nationally known for its academically rigorous environment. Its campus, which serves more than 1900 students, sits across the street from Stanford University. “Our students are often from families that are highly educated or highly value education, so expectations are high,” says Cernobori. “But we also have families where the parents have not attended four-year colleges.”
When it comes to financial aid, it’s never too early to start learning about what is a very complex and important topic. All colleges are required by law to have a financial aid calculator (sometimes referred to as a net price calculator) available on their website. Financial aid calculators can provide an early understanding of what you will be asked to pay at individual colleges and what your aid award might look like.
So as you research colleges now and through the summer, check out the financial aid calculator for each school on your list as you’re surfing the colleges’ websites. Use the calculator to help you figure out what the colleges offer, as well as to start thinking about what you will need to do to make your choices work financially. If possible, try out the calculators with your parents.
Your results— the cost to you and the aid you may receive— may differ fairly significantly from calculator to calculator and from college to college. Just to see how things compare, try out the calculators at a few less expensive colleges and some more expensive ones. It can often be at least as affordable to attend a more expensive college that offers a strong financial aid program. Find out now, so you can select the colleges that work best for you while factoring in price, without ruling out options that might initially seem unaffordable.
Read, read, read… There are many theories about education, but there is one fact. The key to doing well in school and getting into college is reading. It improves grades, test results, and is the best predictor of whether students will succeed in college. So, start working on your summer reading list now because the best feeder school to the college of your choice is Amazon.com -- or your local library.
If your school doesn't provide a summer reading list, create your own. Need ideas? Check out “101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers”. Or Google “summer reading lists for high school students." Ask at your local library. And bookstores often have the summer reading lists for all local high schools. Then, read, read, read…
Apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA! The single largest 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. You may be surprised. Whether you are considering attending two-year or four-year colleges— all students applying for financial aid will complete a FAFSA.
And check to see if the schools on your list also require the CSS PROFILE (College Scholarship Service Profile) that is available from the College Board. Many private colleges and universities -- and some scholarship programs -- require this financial aid form in addition to the FAFSA in order for you to be considered for receiving institutional financial aid. A list of the schools and programs that require the CSS PROFILE can be found here. The CSS PROFILE should be completed by the earliest school or program filing date. Check the deadlines at each college to which you are applying.
Information on financial aid can be found here:
College Admission is hitting the road...
Robin Mamlet will be speaking this week at the College Board Annual Forum in Miami, Florida, with the College Board's Shelley Arakawa, Derrick Kang of the Mid-Pacific Institute, Todd Abbott of RuffaloCODY, and Jarrid Whitney of CalTech.
Christine VanDeVelde is headed to California, where she will speak to students and parents at Menlo-Atherton High School and Mountain View-Los Altos High School.