You may have thought that there were only two things we can be certain of – death and taxes.  But you forgot to include rising college costs.  Despite softer increases in recent years, the total expense at some private colleges - including tuition, fees and expenses, room and board – is more than $60,000 a year.  Do the math – for those big-ticket institutions that’s almost a quarter of a million dollars for the 4-year degree.  Most other private colleges and virtually all public colleges are less expensive, but the overall cost still promises to be quite formidable.

Not surprisingly, most students and their parents apply for financial aid.  The types of aid available, and the requirements to obtain it, vary from college to college, but for those students and parents just starting to explore this area, here are the basics:

- Most colleges offer financial aid of some sort, and the amount offered may be based on the level of demonstrated need (need-based) or achievement (merit-based).  The aid may come in various forms, for example, grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study arrangements, and may derive from various sources (college, government, bank, etc.).

- The differences:
Grant – this is, essentially, a gift that does not have to be repaid.
Scholarship – this, too, is a gift, usually based on achievement or need.
Loan – funds backed by the government, the college, the bank, or some other resource, will be provided, but you will be required to pay it back – with interest.
Work-Study – the student gets a funded job, usually on campus and part-time, and the money earned may be used for school expenses.

-         Not surprisingly, there are forms to fill out.  Most often the work is done online, but paper forms may be provided upon request.  Applicants will be required to show need, based in no small part on the information recorded on their tax returns.

-         One of the primary forms to be filled out is a FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid – along with other forms of the particular college. Some colleges may also require a form called a CSS/Profile, which provides additional need analysis.  For information about the FAFSA visit .  For information about the CSS/Profile visit .

-         The nuances and resources of financial aid may vary from college to college.  Students and parents should always check with the individual colleges to determine exactly what they require.

TIP#1 - NOTE WELL:  Some colleges, like the Ivies, have substantial endowments that permit offering significant financial aid, especially in the form of grants.  Students and their families should not shy away from applying to an Ivy League school simply because of the apparent high cost.  Often, the financial aid package will make the final expense lower in the end than many other colleges.

TIP#2 - Depending on the college, the initial financial aid offer may not be set in cement.  There may be some flexibility.  If you decide that you cannot attend the college because the financial aid package does not bring down the cost quite enough, do not hesitate to call the college to let them know that.  If possible, speak with the Director of Financial Aid directly.  Make it clear how much you want to enroll, how much you have been looking forward to it, how much it is such a good match – you and the college.  State your case politely but confidently, and ask if there is any way that the package can be improved in order to permit you to attend.

The people in financial aid know that the college admits only those students it wants.  It knows that the admissions office would like you to enroll.  And, so, in most cases, the financial aid office will try its best to find some way to improve the package.  But, in the event that it is not able to do so, at least you know that you – and probably the financial aid office – tried hard to make it happen.  But, no matter the outcome, if you have been accepted, the effort will begin only if you make that initial phone call to the financial aid office to tell them about your difficulty.

 When building a list of colleges to apply to, consider the costs, but do not immediately eliminate any college because it appears to be too expensive.  With a good financial aid package, the annual cost may indeed be manageable.

For a more complete look at the college admission process, see COLLEGE ADMISSION: A Simple, No-Nonsense Guide To Getting Into The College Of Your Choice. CLICK HERE



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January to May: What Juniors Should Be Doing

So, it is the middle of your Junior year and you are getting a bit nervous about college admissions.  You have done practically nothing to date.  Many of your classmates seem to have their acts together, and you feel lost.  What do you do?

First, take a deep breath.  You have enough time to do all that is necessary.  Going into shock certainly isn't going to help. 

Next, review the list below, and schedule time to work on each item.  The best way to approach the college admission process is to see it as made up of individual parts.  The big picture may seem overwhelming, but when you look at each part, you can easily see how manageable it is.  Engage one part at a time, and remember that some parts need not be complete before you engage other parts. 

Also – and this is important – see the fun in some of this.  You really will enjoy reading about some colleges and imagining yourself there on campus.  That’s all a part of the process – researching colleges and determining which ones appeal to you. 

So, knowing that there is enough time to accomplish everything, that the process is really very manageable when broken down into individual parts, and that some of this may even be fun, begin with the list that follows:

1. Research colleges online, in school, and in the library, and build a list of those that appeal to you.  At this point, it doesn't really matter if it is a long list.  You will refine it eventually.
2. Register for the SAT or ACT and take it in the spring.  And if the colleges you are interested in require SAT Subject Tests for courses you are taking currently, register for those tests as well. TIP - take the Subject Tests scheduled at the end of the academic year and at the end of your courses - in May or June.  (Try not to wait until the fall to take these tests - you might forget the material.) ( or )
3. Have regularly scheduled  conversations with your college counselor. 
4. Visit a few colleges on weekends or on break
5. Stay active at school – sports, clubs, other extra-curricular activities
6. Plan for summer activities or employment – intern, travel, job, enrichment course, etc.  This is your last summer before beginning the applications.  Give yourself something great to report to the colleges.
7. Obtain a Common Application and other specific applications of interest to survey exactly what will be required.  ( )

Build a List of Colleges:  These are the colleges you may apply to eventually.  Begin to think about what you may enjoy learning about in college.  Also, think about your preferences in terms of geography, size, and type (e.g. public or private).  You are not locking yourself in here;  you are simply trying to figure out what kind of college will make you happy. 

Begin to research colleges online or in the library to see which ones appeal to you.  Of each college, ask yourself if it offers what you are interested in?  Does it have the majors and programs that you want to take?  Will it prepare you for the next stage of your life after graduation – such as going to graduate school or getting a job? 

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The SAT test will be getting an overhaul.  The redesign is scheduled to debut in Spring 2016 and among the changes are the following:

- more relevant vocabulary
- increased concentration on evidence-based questions/answers
- in-depth focus on problem solving, analysis, algebra, and advanced math
- more real-world contexts
- keys on founding documents, such as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence
- no penalty for wrong answers

In addition, the essay will now be optional, and the scoring will return to a scale of 200-800 for the two primary sections - Math and Reading/Writing - making the top combined score 1600, as opposed to the current 2400.

For a more detailed explanation, visit the College Board - CLICK HERE


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News Flash:  Not everyone is an academic star.  And colleges know that.  If you are not happy with your grades or standardized test scores, do not despair.  There is much more to an application than grades or scores. 

Though the transcript is important, the essay presents another wonderful opportunity to present yourself.  Take advantage of this.  Write an essay that knocks them off their feet from first word to last.  Tell them what your passion is, how you spend your time, why that pursuit is important to you.  They want to know about YOU.  They want to know what makes you tick.  If you are an amateur entomologist, describe how you spend most of your waking hours playing with bugs.  Tell them that you plan to make a career of it.  If you are a readaholic, tell them about the last six books you read this year, and why you read them, and how reading is important to you.  Do not waste the essay opportunity by merely regurgitating what already appears on other parts of the application, like lists of extracurricular activities.  Lists will put the readers to sleep.  They might be reading your essay at two o’clock in the morning, having already read fifty essays before yours.  You want to grab them by the collar with your first sentence and shake them awake.  You want them to know that you are more than grades and SATs.

The interview is another part of the application process that presents an opportunity to show the college who you really are.  While some colleges do not require an interview, most will arrange one if you request it.  Request it.  Let the admissions office attach a face and a personality to the application.  As you did in the essay, let them know in person how passionate you are about something, how you spend so much time pursuing it, and why it is important.  Stay positive and upbeat.  Leave a good impression.  You want them to remember you.  You want them to refer to you in their meetings as “that sincere guy who loves to play with bugs and wants to be an entomologist down the road,” or “that passionate girl who spends most of her afternoons and evenings at the dance studio because she’s committed to joining the American Ballet Theater one of these days,” or “that earnest, articulate candidate with a good sense of humor who likes to read and who – this year alone – has read everything that Jane Austen ever wrote.”

Yet another part of the application that invites you to describe yourself is the supplemental materials section.  This presents you with an opportunity to submit an extra paper or report you have written, or a CD or DVD or other media that exhibits your talent in depth.  Use this chance to showcase the side of you that the admissions office will find appealing.  Are you a singer or a cellist or a dancer or a football player?  Send a disk of yourself performing.  Have you written a great report that the teacher raved about or a great article that appeared in the newspaper?  Have you had a poem published in a magazine?  Send it and let the admissions officers see your accomplishments first hand.  Give them something to offset the transcript.  Let them know how special you are. 

Yes, grades and standardized test scores are important.  But, by design, applications are multi-faceted.  The admissions office wants to know who you are beyond the transcript.  They want to know what you can contribute to the college.  Use every chance you can find to tell them what they will gain if they admit you.  In particular, seize the opportunities presented by the essay, the interview, and the supplemental materials sections.

For a more complete look at the college admission process, see COLLEGE ADMISSION: A Simple, No-Nonsense Guide To Getting Into The College Of Your Choice. CLICK HERE


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