Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some Early Application deadlines pushed back

Right around this time last year, some of us on the east coast were surprised with an October snowstorm. Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy came with plenty of warning, but the aftermath is always a shock. November 1 is an early application deadline and this storm is definitely throwing a wrench in the works. Colleges were flexible with their deadlines last year, and it looks like the same will be true this year. (If you were procrastinating and these deadlines bought you some time, I won't pile on but let that be a lesson to you.)

I started to compile a list, and then found an extensive one here (thanks to Nancy Griesemer and her cabin fever):

Of course, this isn't a complete list because colleges will make decisions as time goes on. If you're applying early and don't see your college on that list, check their homepage or social media accounts for news. 

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tomorrow is a big day for college admissions

On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas. "Fisher" is Abigail Fisher, a white student in Texas who asserts she was denied admission at the University of Texas at Austin because of her race. Texas is a state that guarantees admission to any state institute of higher learning to graduates of any Texas high school who place in the top ten percent of their class. In this instance, Abigail Fisher was not part of the top ten percent and was also denied admission as part of the general process. She has since graduated from Louisiana State University. 

Some numbers on UT-Austin (2011, from collegeboard.com):
Total undergraduates: 38,437
Total applicants: 32,589
Admitted: 15,172
Enrolled: 7,149

Based on these, the admit rate is 47% of applicants, which is highly selective according to College Board.

The racial breakdown of the student body is listed as 48% white, 21% Latino/Hispanic, 18% Asian, and 5% African-American. 91% of its population is made up of in-state residents. 

I've come across a few thought-provoking articles and they're all worth a read--

From New American MediaFate of Affirmative Action Hangs on Fisher v. Univ. of Texas
A tie vote would mean that the University of Texas wins, but a tie doesn’t have the same precedential value as a majority five-three decision. Likely to back Texas would be Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. I think these three are fairly safe predictions. As the court’s health care decision shows, you can never be sure what’s going to happen. Nobody expected Justice Roberts to be the savior of Obama’s health care. So you don’t want to say you can be sure, but if you look at what the justices have written in the past, the remaining justices are skeptical of affirmative action. Sometimes people vote for what they’re skeptical of, but one of those five would have to change for Texas to win [by getting a four-four vote].
From the New York Times: Play Close Attention to the Supreme Court This Week
Among the reasons that nearly every public or private college or university utilizes racial preferences in admissions – other than in states like California where voters have banned the practice – is the belief that students learn at least as much from their classmates as their professors, and that a broadly diverse student body creates an educational environment most conducive to learning.
From the Washington Post (opinion): Why race matters in college admission
As a practical matter, we do not understand how a rule forbidding all consideration of race could possibly be enforced. Essays and letters of recommendation are critical components of the application process at law schools. They allow us to evaluate intangible virtues such as courage, commitment and moral compass. In their personal statements, many applicants discuss how race has influenced their lives. Writers of recommendations frequently mention race in explaining how an applicant has overcome challenges. Would those advocating race-blind admissions have us censor the statements of applicants and their recommenders? How could we carry out such a task, even if we were inclined to do so?  
Also from the Washington PostSupreme Court considers about-face on racial preferences in college admissions in Texas case
The case also raises several contentious side issues, including whether affirmative-action programs hurt the very people they are supposed to be helping. A new book by law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor argues that “large preferences often place students in environments where they can neither learn nor compete effectively, even though these same students would thrive had they gone to less competitive but still quite good schools.”

I don't envy the decisions any admissions office has to make. Every student has a story and a case to admit could probably be made for each one. My point is only this-- admissions is a maddening process. Sometimes policies make sense, sometimes they don't. We don't always get the answer we want. The process isn't always fair. I know Ms. Fisher wants this to be about an applicant's merits, and on the surface I believe that to be true. Yet... if it were that simple why would colleges ask for essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities? Why wouldn't they solely consider test scores and grades? Because it's not that simple. And after tomorrow's arguments, the whole process could get turned on its head.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

7%...or, a little college essay inspiration?

So Erik Qualman tweeted out this link last week and it is just chock full of good advice. It's a column from the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, written by a 92 year-old. The list is 45 life lessons long, and you can read the whole thing here, but these are my favorites:

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

Good stuff, isn't it? If you haven't started on the essay yet, it's really time to get down to it. What's inspired you lately?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why hire a college consultant? I'll tell you

I've seen a few articles lately that question whether it's worth it for families to hire an independent educational consultant. To me, it's simple: if you need help and you're not getting it, hire a college consultant. 

I know the value of objective help when it comes to figuring out college plans. I was fortunate to attend a school that had dedicated college counselors, but I know this is not typical. In most schools the person responsible for guiding the process is the school counselor, who is also responsible for one hundred different things-- administrative tasks, conflict resolution, and whatever else is needed. They’re a valuable, necessary resource and the demands placed on them are increasing.

On average, a single school counselor is responsible for over 300 students. I earned my master’s degree in secondary school counseling, so I’ve seen what these wonderful professionals are expected to achieve with increasingly limited resources. College planning falls down the list because there are simply more important things that need immediate attention. In 2003, a National Center for Educational Statistics study found that “43 percent of all public high schools reported that more than 20 percent of their counselors’ time is spent on college advising, which meant that 57 percent of school counselors spend 0-19 percent of their time on college advising. Using NCES’s ratio of 315 students per counselor in public high schools and the estimate of hours the average counselor spends on college counseling, ”counselors are spending 38 minutes per year per student for college advising" (p 9, NACAC Fundamentals of College Advising). 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to School!

Back-to-school ads always seem to start a little earlier every year. I no longer have a need for a new backpack or notebooks every August, but those ads always make me frown just a little because it means summer is inevitably winding down. And I hate to see it go. If you're gearing up for your Junior or Senior year, college is getting awfully close. But if you're a Sophomore or even a Freshman, it's not too early to think about college too. So, in honor of new colored pens, I have one tip for each year.

Freshman Year: Sign up for some activities.
Start to get an idea of what you’re interested in and what activities you’d want to see through to Senior year. It’s ok to sign up for a bunch of different things now because the whole point is try.

Sophomore Year: Test Prep. Yes, those tests.
As a sophomore, you can take a practice PSAT or the PLAN, which is the pre-ACT. If you do well, then that’s fantastic! If you don’t, then you’ll know where to focus your energy. And remember, it’s only practice so even if you do well on the practice PSAT you’ll still need to take it again as a Junior. If you don’t want to take any actual tests, then get yourself some prep books. Just make sure they contain actual test material.

Junior Year: Lead
By now you should be involved in activities you care about. This is the year to start to take a leadership position. Go after an editor position if you're on the school paper or chair a committee.
Senior Year: GRADES
Don't think for a minute that once your applications are in you can go easy on your work. Colleges have the option to rescind, and believe me they'll do it. You've worked hard for three years; don't let it all be for naught.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One more way to take advantage of summer

One of my goals when working with students is to simplify the process as best I can, and I find that a little organization goes along way. With that in mind, in my last post I offered up a few tips on things to do this summer that could give you a jump start on the college process before the school year really gets going. I have one more: fill out an application.

The Common Application is used by 456 schools and for many students it's a great time saver. Others think it's why acceptance rates appear to be shrinking. But I digress.

The 2012-13 version will be released on August 1, but a paper copy is available right this minute. Print it out.

For our purposes here the beauty of the common app is that it also contains questions you'll see on other college applications out there. If your parents went to college, do you know where? Do you know what they majored in? Get some of these answers now and when you sit down to fill out your "official" applications, you can fly through these easy questions. Write it all down and file it away in a safe place (but not so safe you can't find it again. I think we've all done that.) This will become your reference sheet.
If you're feeling really bold, go ahead and take a crack at one of the six essay questions. I know the back-to-school ads have already started but there's still plenty of summer left and plenty of time to take of advantage of it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

3 Ways to Take Advantage of Summer

Summer is probably my favorite time of year. I love that it stays light late in the day, I love the warmth, and I especially love the beach. Here is the Northeast, summer is our reward for winter. Take a break; you've earned it.

Just not for the WHOLE summer.

Savvy students will take advantage of these next few months and set themselves up for the coming school year. So what can you do? Here are the things I'd put on top of my to-do list.

1. Do Something 
I'm trying to be open-ended here, not vague. Did you land an internship? Are you working retail? Baby-sitting for some kids in the neighborhood? Fantastic. An experience is only as good as you make it. (Yes, it could be a potential college essay topic but don't get hung up on that.) Any job you have can teach you something if you let it. Don't discount summer work!

2. Speaking of the college essay...
Summer is the perfect time to work on it! You don't have the pressure of the school year and you can devote more time to the process. Brainstorm. Write about the topic you've got in mind. If it doesn't work you'll either realize that now and move on, or you'll have the time you need to fix it. Fall seems like a long way off right about now, but you'll be way ahead of the game once September rolls around.

3. Visit some colleges
College campuses will be emptier that during the school year, but there's still plenty of information to soak up. (The tour schedules might be a little different, so make sure you plan ahead.) Approach it like you would any other time of year. Do your research--what are you looking to gain from the visit? Hang back when the tour is over and talk to the student guide. There's someone who was in your shoes recently and is a wealth of information. Another potential bonus for summer visits is the admissions representative from your area might have more time to talk to you. 

There's a lot to take advantage of in the summer. Recharge those batteries, but don't lost momentum. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

So the answer is no. Can you do anything about it?

Didn't get the answer you wanted?

Everytime I read about some high-profile lawsuit the article always ends with one party expecting to appeal. It's understandable to be disappointed when we don't get what we want, and sometimes there is something we can do about it. Poor customer service? Sure, write an email or talk to a manager. It might change what happened, it might not, but there's something about taking action that makes us feel a bit better. But what if that disappointing outcome is getting rejected from your dream school?  You can't help but wonder if there's more you can do. 
First of all, there's a good chance your dream school has an appeals policy. Go on the website or call admissions. If it's against policy to even consider appeals, well, there's your answer. This is just one of those "life isn't fair" moments. If it really means that much to you, there's always the transfer option. But, you know how I feel about transferring
If the school will entertain appeals, and you really, truly feel you have a case then by all means. But ask yourself these questions first:
1. Is it because you got in to "better" schools?
2. Is it because your friend got in and you feel you have similar stats?
3. Is it because a distant relative went there and, as a legacy, you should have some standing?
4. Can you not imagine going anywhere else?
5. Was there a serious clerical error in your application or do you have significant new information (like decidely higher test scores) that admissions should know about?
6. Do you see where I'm going with this?
If you can answer question #5, then you might have a legitimate case on your hands. If you just want them to give you a second look, I hate to say it, but that's just not enough. Multiple people read each application and they really do look at everything you have to offer. It's not that you weren't good enough; you just didn't get in. That's all. I've said it before and I'll say it a million times more: admission is not a prize to be won. Being denied admission hurts, absolutely, but you're not being denied the opportunity to go to college. We all have to deal with disappointment eventually, but it's how you handle it that's most important.

Friday, March 2, 2012

6 Questions about transferring

A new study released this week showed that one-third of all students transfer at least once as they work towards a degree. (Students who earned an associate's degree and then moved to a four-year institution were not counted as transfers). The study followed nearly 2.8 million full and part-time students from 2006-2011. What's most interesting about this data is that 51.9% of students transferring from four-year public institutions transferred to two-year public institutions. Why this was the case isn't something the study examined, but I would think that the economy played a big role, at least for some of those students. Community college is becoming an increasingly popular option, especially amongst families with annual incomes over $100,000. A Sallie Mae study found a six percent increase over the last four years, from 16 percent to 22 percent. Community colleges can be fantastic options. They tend to have smaller class sizes and it could be a quicker path, depending on your career aspirations.

But plenty of students still transfer from one four-year institution to another. How do you know if it's the right move? A lot goes into a decision like this, but unless it's really, truly awful, don't transfer in your freshman year. Try to see your first year through instead of just one semester.

Ask yourself these questions:
1. Is it social? Are you putting yourself out there? Much of what makes college a great experience is your own devotion to it. Are you getting involved in clubs or other activities?
2. Is it because you aren't attending your first choice? Again, college is what you make it. If you never got over the fact you didn't get into your first choice, then maybe you aren't giving your current school a fair shake. For the sake of the tuition bill, make the effort.

Take transferring as seriously as you (hopefully) took applying to college the first time around. Be thoughtful about this. If you don't think you can make your current college the place you want to be, then you really need to think about what didn't go well. This might be made easier if you have a college in mind that you want to transfer to. If you know that transferring is what you need to do, consider these questions: 

3. Did you do your research? Simply put, if you know why you're transferring then you should know why you want to go to the school you're transferring to. Have you looked at the transfer admission rate at your targeted school? Some college make room for transfer students and some really don't, so it could be even harder to get in than at the incoming freshman level.
4. How many credits do you have? Make sure you know where you'll stand as a transfer student. If you're changing majors, will you lose credits at your new school? Will you be ok with that? Credits will also be important for how your new school will see you. Too few and you'll be seen as a freshman. Talk to an admissions counselor at your desired school to see how they handle things. And make sure you keep those grades up!
5. How does the school handle transfers? Are there any orientation programs or other activities to welcome transfer students? Maybe that's a big deal to you, maybe it's not. But what about housing? Ideally, you want a school that's as welcoming to transfer student as it is to incoming freshman.

Transferring can be tough. You've got to make a plan and stick to it, same as when you were a senior in high school. They're going to have deadlines and expectations too, so don't think that the application process for a transfer is totally different from that of incoming freshman. So, the sixth question I have for you: are you ready?

I can actually speak from experience on this one. I spent my freshman year at a school in Boston (my first choice school), wasn't happy, and transferred to a school in Philadelphia. These were the two schools I couldn't decide between when I was a senior in high school. I don't regret my decision for a minute. I changed majors, added a minor, and still graduated in the traditional four-year timeline. I made some wonderful friends who welcomed me just as though I'd been there with them the previous year. It can be very discouraging to go away to college and be completely disappointed after a multi-year build up to what are supposed to be some of the best years of your life. Take some of the pressure off yourself. Be thoughtful, weigh your options, and chances are it will all work out in the end.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are you a Junior in high school or know someone who is?

Juniors, you're up. I firmly believe that it's never too early to plan for college (and I'll delve into that in a future post) but right now it's time to start paying attention. Seniors are rounding the bend into decision-making land, and the focus will shift primarily to Juniors.

A little organization will go a long way right about now. The end of the school year is overwhelming, but it's important to set yourself up for next year, now, too. It's time to come up with a plan.

Let's talk about the SAT and ACT. Based on your PSAT or PLAN test results, you should have a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses. March 9 is the deadline to register for the April 14 ACT exam. May 4 is the deadline for the June 9 exam. For the SAT, you must register by April 6 (April 20 is the late registration deadline) to take the May 5 exam. You can find test prep materials for both of these tests online (ACT, SAT) much of it is available for free. If you know you want to take the SAT or ACT twice, I would suggest a spring/fall split. December can be too late in the game, depending on the application deadlines for the schools you will apply to.

What else can you do to prepare over the summer? If your family is going on vacation and there's a college nearby that you think you might be interested in, it might be worth swinging by for a visit. College campuses are pretty quiet in the summer, so keep that in mind if you're hoping to get a "feel" for campus life. However, it could be a great opportunity to talk to members of the admissions office, especially if the representative for your area is around. Call ahead and ask.

Summer is also a perfect time to start working on the essay. Don't worry so much about a specific question or topic, but focus on getting into the habit of this kind of creative writing. Buy a notebook or create a binder and starting jotting down ideas. Try to keep all of these ideas together though, or the notebook isn't worth much. Think about your experiences and some of the things that make you, you. What have you found rewarding? Challenging?

Read this post I wrote for more writing advice: Just how important is the essay?

Applying to college is a stressful process and my goal is always to minimize stress. The stress level is up to you though. That's why having a plan is so important and I'll emphasize it over and over again.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

'Twas the night before the SAT

I wasn't going to do another guest post, but this was too funny to pass up. It just felt necessary right about now.

Calculator shopping, the night before the SAT
By Daniel de Vise
The following is an excerpt from the “ The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions,”a forthcoming book by J.D. Rothman, an Emmy-winning screenwriter and lyricist and recent veteran of two rounds of college admissions with her sons.

Q: What does "SAT" stand for?
A: It used to stand for Scholastic Achievement Test, but in 1947, the name of the exam was changed to Scholastic Aptitude Test. Then the folks at the College Board used their Critical Reasoning skills and came to the conclusion that a coachable exam could not be called an "aptitude" test. So officially, SAT stands for nothing, although at least one college refers to it on its Web site as the Scholastic Assessment Test.

Q: What time does Staples close, in case your kid can't locate his TI-183 calculator the night before the SAT exam?
A: Luckily, the Staples in our neighborhood closes at 9 p.m., as we discovered the night before our son’s exam. (Our son, who had "just had" his calculator the day before, volunteered to pay for the new one, which should add up to about a week of his summer wages.)

Q: What are some good snacks for the SATs?
A: A power bar, a peanut butter sandwich, and a banana. We typically procure all of these, but our sons typically leave the power bar at home and the sandwich and banana in the car.

Q: What is the ACT?
A: Another standardized test, which up until twenty minutes ago was popular only in the Midwest. But because there are no trick questions, they allow score cancelling and unpenalized guessing, and offer an early September test date, it is the test du jour . New Yorkers are now obsessed with the ACT, and it is gaining fans in other trendy cities. In fact, for the first time ever, the number of ACT test takers is about the same as the SAT. Poor SAT — it now stands for Sad Anachronistic Test.

Q: What is a superscore?
A: A superscore is achieved by choosing the best subscores from multiple sittings of the same test. (We know, a "sitting" sounds like you're posing for a portrait, but bear with us.) For example, let's assume you have these SAT results from these three sittings:

Sitting 1: 800M, 500CR, 450W

Sitting 2: 600M, 410CR, 780W

Sitting 3: 510M, 740CR, 530W

Your composite scores would be 1750, 1790, and 1780, but your superscore would be 2320.

Q: Wow! Do colleges superscore the ACT as well?
A: Not many superscore the ACT, because they'd have to work with five separate numbers, including a composite that often has been rounded up or rounded down. That would require advanced math skills, which would be too confusing, even for colleges. Except MIT, of course. They will even cross-superscore the SAT with the ACT...just because they can.

Q: Do you have to send in all your test scores to Yale, even the ones that suck?
A: No, that's Penn. Yale’s Web site says, "As long as you provide a complete set of score reports from one testing agency (either the College Board or ACT, Inc.), you are not required to report scores from both. You can choose to report either all of your SAT results (both SAT and SAT Subject Tests) or all of your ACT results. If you want us to have any scores from both the College Board and ACT, Inc., you must report all scores from both testing agencies.”

And if you're having trouble understanding this, you probably shouldn't be applying to Yale.

Q: I thought the SAT and the ACT offered Score Choice, so you can send in only your impressive scores.
A: They do, but Yale wants to find out if sitting for standardized exams was your only extracurricular activity. And they promise not to peek at your lousy scores.

Q: I heard you could cancel your scores so nobody will see them.
A: The SAT offers you a morning-after pill of sorts: If you were fooling around the night before or felt queasy during the exam, you can cancelbefore you find out your scores. But the more progressive ACT, which also allows you to guess without penalty, will let you terminate whenever.

Q: Do you really believe that Yale doesn't care about SAT Subject Tests if you send in an ACT score?
A: No — so we recommend you submit the results of your APGAR test. That's the score babies get from their doctors right after they are born, on a scale of one to ten. Yale's APGAR average is 9.8.

Q: What's with the writing section of the SAT? Some fine colleges, like Cornell, say they don't consider the SAT writing, yet if you take the ACT, they want you to take that with writing.
A: You're right. Some things are just not logical—or fair. Even the Neurotic Parent cannot write a decent essay in 25 minutes, especially using a #2 pencil while sitting in a stuffy classroom surrounded by smelly teenagers. But maybe we'd have success if they'd let us write about reality television.

Q: Let's get back to this ACT thing. That sounds awesome — no SAT Subject Tests! But I don't get those wacky science graphs. Where can I find a good ACT tutor in Bethesda?
A: Unfortunately, the ACT is still very...er...Midwestern. Because of this, only one-test prep company on the East Coast at this writing claims to have ACT specialists as tutors. And they charge $880 per session. But the always-resourceful Neurotic Parent Institute has located the top ACT tutors in the country. They are all in Evanston, IL, and they charge $40 an hour. So for the price of one $880 session in Bethesda, you can fly to Chicago twice for tutoring and splurge on a Cubs game, a taxi to and from O'Hare, and a deep-dish pizza.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What to do if you get deferred

The decision letters from colleges are slowly but surely rolling in. Some of these letters are clear: acceptance or rejection. But if you applied early, there's another potential answer: deferral. This basically amounts to "maybe", which could be just about the most maddening answer ever, regardless of the question asked. This article comes from the Washington Post, and there are some good suggestions here, some of which are also relevant for the wait list. The underlying theme here is conveying your desire. If this is the place you want to be, the admissions office wants to know that. It's a difficult position to be in, and I would suggest you also explore other options. Be hopeful, but be realistic.

Deferred students lobby for admission
by Jenna Johnson
The boom in the number of students applying to college through early decision or early action programs in recent years has resulted in more students asking questions like: What happens when you get deferred?

The answer to those questions varies from school to school, but here are seven basic tips for what to do next:

1. Remember that a referral is not a rejection — but it’s also not an acceptance. Many universities will only keep an application in the pool if the student has a shot of getting in during the regular admissions process — so congratulations on making it to the next round. With that said, you need to have a back-up plan and apply to other schools before their deadlines hit.

2. Update your application with any relevant information. A lot has probably happened since you sent in your early application in October or November, so make sure that you update that application with all relevant information. “Relevant” means your first semester grades and major accomplishments, like being named class president or receiving a national award. (Things that are most likely not relevant: being named “student of the week” in your Spanish class or joining the foreign film club.) You can also use this as an opportunity to submit an updated letter of reference, especially if your favorite teacher (or a teacher who has recently become your favorite) was unable to write a letter in time for the early deadlines.

3. Take full advantage of any opportunities that the admissions department offers. If your applications is not as full as it could be, change that. If the school offers to interview applicants, set up an appointment on-campus, over-the-phone or with an alum in your region. If the school has an optional essay, make sure to submit one. If you can submit up to three letters of recommendation and have only sent one, recruit two more.

4. Don’t stalk the admissions office. Don’t be annoying. And don’t submit extraneous information. Right now, most admissions staffers are trying to work their way through hundreds of applications. So unless you have a legitimate question, let them work in peace.

5. Check in with your other contacts. Chances are that the admissions department is not the only entity on campus that wants to hear about your senior year. If you have been in touch with other people on campus — maybe a coach, professor, mentor or department recruiter — make sure to keep them up-to-date on your application status. Make sure you also keep the college counselor at your high school in the loop on what you are doing.

6. Write a letter. If you applied early action or decision, then obviously that school is one of your top choices. But it doesn’t hurt to reiterate that sentiment in a formal letter. At Johns Hopkins University, Daniel G. Creasy typed up six tips for deferred students, which included writing a letter: “Though not something all deferred applicants need to do or even should do, some of you may consider writing a personal letter to the Admissions Committee stressing your interest in Hopkins and why you feel you are an appropriate candidate for admissions. Consider this a cover letter to your overall application.”

At the University of Virginia, Dean of Admission Greg Roberts advised against submitting any information beyond midyear grades: “Some students ask if they should notify us that UVA is their first choice. While we’re flattered to see that level of interest, we normally don’t take this into account when making admission decisions.” (This is the first year U-Va. has offered nonbinding early action, although years ago it offered binding early decision. The university received 11,753 early applications and accepted 3,187 students.)

7. Let the process play out. Once your application is complete, then you just have to wait. In the meantime, enjoy your senior year and keep your grades up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

About majors and careers...

Yesterday I participated in some online FAFSA training, and I could've written a FAFSA three-peat (Don't fear the FAFSA and Fill out the FAFSA yet?), but let's take a break from that, shall we?

I've seen a few articles recently highlighting the link between majors and careers and what that might mean for the student's future. (I even wrote a post about it awhile back-- Are you doomed to high unemployment because of your major?) Given the nature of the economy right now (especially for recent graduates) it's easy to see why a central theme here is how that major choice can negatively impact job options.

We're in a serious state of change right now. I didn't graduate from college that long ago (even though it doesn't feel that way), and I have friends who are currently employed in jobs that did not exist back then. Does that mean they picked the wrong major? No! What it means is that they used their education, stayed current, and kept themselves competitive.

They also love what they do.

Here's the thing-- if you don't love what you do, then you won't love doing it. If you pick a major just because it pays well, can you stay interested in it? The beauty of being in high school or college is that you have the freedom to explore all different kinds of careers. If you have access to a career counselor, I would highly, highly suggest you make an appointment and take some quizzes and interest inventories. (If not, this is another area where we consultants are a great resource.) If you have an inkling, take a look around and see who you or your parents might know in that position. Don't be afraid to ask for an informational interview. Many adults are perfectly willing to take the time, but you'll never know if you don't ask. 

Whether you've submitted your applications already, or you're gearing up for it, take some time to think about the things you're interested in or really love to do and how that could be a career choice. College is too expensive to just free-wheel all four years, but you can still discover what you're meant to do. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Don't fear the FAFSA!

Remember last week when I implored you to fill out the FAFSA? Yes, even if you think you won't qualify. (There's no ceiling for income and besides, it's not the only factor. It's much more complicated than that.) And yes, sooner rather than later. There are a lot of myths and questions out there about the FAFSA and federal aid in general, and understandably so. For a great Q&A series that will probably answer your questions, check out this New York Times blog feature, with Mark Kantrowitz, the founder of FinAid.org. (Here's another FAQ, courtesy of the US Department of Education.)

Still need convincing? Here's 4 reasons:

1. A lot of colleges award aid on a first-come, first-served basis. When it's gone, it's gone.

2. You can use estimated income amounts if you haven't filed your taxes or received paperwork yet. You can always go back and make corrections.

3. You might miss out on state aid deadlines, many of which require the FAFSA.

4. If you don't ask, you'll never know.

So now you're ready! I love making lists, so I'll leave you with one last thing-- a checklist, courtesy of http://www.fsa4counselors.ed.gov/. These are the materials needed to sit down and fill out the FAFSA. Round them up and get to it! 

  1. Student's Social Security number 
  2. Parents’ Social Security numbers (if providing parent information*) 
  3. Student's driver’s license number (if you have one) 
  4. Student's Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen) 
  5. Student's Federal tax information or tax returns including IRS W-2 information, for you (and spouse, if the student is married, and for parents if providing parent information). If you have not yet filed an income tax return, complete and submit the FAFSA using estimated tax information. (Use income records for the year prior to the academic year for which you are applying: for instance, if you are filling out the 2011–12 FAFSA, you will need 2010 tax information.) 
  6. Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans non-education benefits, for students, and for parents if providing parent information. 
  7. Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including real estate but not including the home in which you live; and business and farm assets for the student, and parents if providing parent information. 
*Not sure whether you will need to put your parents’ information on the FAFSA? Check out “Am I Dependent or Independent?” at www.studentaid.ed.gov/pubs or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fill out the FAFSA yet?

Well, it's January 5th. Back to work, back to school, back on the resolution train. The 2012-13 FAFSA is now available and NOW is the time to get to it. Yes, even if you think you won't qualify. The early bird catches the worm, right?

I was catching up on my reading and found 10 tips for filling out the FAFSA, and I couldn't have put these better than myself. Read these, gather your financial information, and make an appointment with yourself to do it. My tip--Don't put it off!

10 tips for getting federal student aid
By Lynn O'Shaughnessy

(MoneyWatch) It's financial aid season, which means millions of families will be grappling with the FAFSA in the next few weeks. Chances are most families are going to make mistakes when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. These mistakes can be costly, and may even keep you from receiving the financial assistance for which you qualify.

Here are 10 tips to help you successfully complete the FAFSA:

1. Don't provide retirement assets
Families can dramatically hurt their chances for financial aid if they include assets from their 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts, 403(b) and other qualified retirement accounts on the FAFSA. The financial aid form only requires that you share non-retirement assets.

2. Don't include business assets
Parents who have a family-owned and controlled small business do not have to report the company's net worth on the FAFSA if it has fewer than 100 full-time employees.

3. Skipping deadlines
Colleges impose deadlines on families to submit their financial aid forms, and these dates can be much earlier for students applying through early decision and early action options. Find out what the deadlines are, and don't miss them.

4. File early
Although there are essentially no federal deadlines for seeking financial aid, states do impose deadlines for families who hope to qualify for financial aid through their state programs. State deadlines can be as early as February. In some states, aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's best to file your FAFSA well ahead of the state deadline.

5. Seek help
Confused? FAFSA staffers can help. You can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via online chat, phone or email. Here's where to find the financial aid contact information.

6. List the most current marital status
You need to provide your marital status -- divorced, separated or married -- on the day that the FAFSA is filed. Separated and divorced parents will sometimes enjoy a financial aid advantage.

7. Have the right parent complete the FAFSA
In families of divorce, the parent who has taken care of the child during the majority of the 12 months dating from the day the FAFSA is submitted is considered the custodial parent. This can be especially advantageous in families when one ex-spouse earns significantly less than the other. Ideally, the child would live with the lower-earning parent for at least six months and a day. This parent would complete the FAFSA, and the other parent's income would not be included. If the custodial parent remarries, however, the income from the new spouse would also be included on the FAFSA.

8. Avoid blank answers
If the answer to a question is zero or not applicable, write "0" or "Not Applicable" on the online form. Leaving blank answers can cause miscalculations.

9. Pay attention to graduation rates
When you complete the FAFSA and designate that the application be sent to specific schools, the FAFSA website will provide you with the graduation rates of each school on your list. Try to avoid schools with low graduation rates.

10. Don't inflate your education
Plenty of schools will give applicants brownie points if they are considered first-generation college students. If parents didn't graduate from college, select "high school" as the highest education attainment.

Bottom Line: Following these tips can help you increase your financial aid award, and every dollar counts.