Financial Aid

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.


Have a question about a gap year? Scholarships? Guidebooks for your college search? Undocumented students? Learning differences? Don't forget to take advantage of our extensive listing of Resources! You'll find books and websites for every step and aspect of the college application process under Resources when you click on the Book tab in the header of the website. Check back regularly! We always updating our listings!

Dear College Counselor... The Year's Best Advice from our Counselors of the Month

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's Trust Got To Do With It?

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.


How Many Colleges Should Students Apply To?

Today we kick off a new feature here on the blog: "The Question of the Month." We'll be 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'll bring you their advice on the subject of the moment -- from essays and scholarships to interviews and extracurriculars -- including any words of wisdom on how to handle it all on a day to day basis. 

For October, we asked a group of counselors:


"How many colleges should students apply to?"


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator
Mountain View High School
Mountain View, California


People sometimes approach the question of how many colleges they should apply to as if they are preparing for an emergency (e.g. how many extra batteries, water bottles, and matches might I need in case an earthquake hits?!).  The ideal number of colleges on a list really depends on each student’s situation, and each person’s balance of “safety/likely, target/match, and reach” will vary. However, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

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?

College Admission in Highland Park's Pioneer Press

Thank you to Karen Berkowitz of Highland Park's Pioneer Press for the great article on our appearance tomorrow night, speaking with the parents of Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools. We'll be talking about grades, courses, essays, financial aid, what colleges are looking for and why and, most important, how to approach the college admission process with calm and purpose. You can read the Pioneer Press feature here.

The Balancing Act of Senior Year: A Checklist For Keeping on Track

John Carpenter is the author of  Going Geek: What Every Smart Kid (and Every Smart Parent) Should Know About College Admissions and a monthly guest blogger for us here at College Admission. Today, John looks at the balancing, juggling, ring of fire, joyous act that is senior year. Read on to learn how students can enjoy the beginning of senior year and, with a checklist in hand, seize the day.


Classes are going full steam ahead, you’re getting used to your new schedule, you’re discovering ideas and people you hadn’t noticed before--yep, you’re a senior.  You’re in your last year of high school.  Very cool.


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.

Advice, Observations and the Broad View from Brandeis' Andrew Flagel

Gimmicks in essays, the "perfect school' fixation, testing, and show 'em the money... Andrew Flagel, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, talks all things college admission with the Boston Globe. One of the great takeaways:  "There is a disconnect between this current worry that somehow being an English major is a disadvantage. In reality, what employers are looking for is great employees — employees with communication skills, who are critical thinkers, problem solvers, able to work with others, and good leaders. And that’s exactly at the heart of a liberal arts education." Read all of his terrific advice here.