Monthly Archives: October 2011

4 Reasons to Listen in on the College Board Forum

College Board

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Last week the College Board hosted its premiere annual conference, the College Board Forum 2011, in New York City. Here’s how the NYT‘s blog on college admissions, the Choice, described it, “The forum, which brings together college counselors and education professionals from across the country, will feature informational sessions on topics ranging from merit-aid negotiation and private scholarship selection to campus safety.”

Both The Choice and Head Count, an admissions blog published by the Chronicle of Higher Education,  posted a series of reports from the Forum. I’ll provide links below to the series so you, too, can listen in on what educators were talking about at the conference.

Wondering why this might be of interest?

  1. Any family with students heading to college will encounter multiple points of contact with the College Board:  PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject tests, AP courses and exams, and the Profile for financial aid.
  2. Besides the multiple contact points, this family, at least, will have a long-standing relationship with the College Board. Mod Squad Pete took his first PSAT in 2009. If Mod Squad Linc goes to college straight from high school and finishes his degree in four years, his last Profile would be completed in 2020.
  3. Many of the posts provide an overview of the program and responses or questions from those attending. That, combined with on-line comments, gives us a interesting view of current discussions in admissions and counseling.
  4. Finally, while the College Board is a non-profit organization, it is also a very large business generating millions of dollars in revenue and impacting millions of students’ lives. Any change the Board might consider — in testing formats, AP curriculum, Profile demands for information — has the potential to affect us all:  students, parents, teachers, counselors, and more.

The Choice series can be found here.

The Head Count series can be found here.

Here are a couple of clips:

From No More ‘Once Upon a Time’: Grooming the Next Generation of Admissions Leaders

For instance, we already know that students with higher ACT scores yield at lower rates than students with lower ACT scores because multiple schools compete to get these top students. But we’re still learning how the increasing the diversity of our applicant pool —through ethnic diversity, socioeconomic factors or life circumstances—will impact our yield rates.

From Discontent Over the State of College Admissions

The two also suggested that colleges collaborate to standardize admissions due dates and practices, eliminating the patchwork of early and regular application deadlines.

“Similar to the idea of having a nutrition label on food, that’s what we want to achieve for college,” said Mr. Thacker.

An audience member spoke up in response with a hypothetical version of one such label. “Warning: Fafsa application may be bad for your health?”

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Still Working on College Application Essays?

No matter how much students and parents may talk about “working on college applications,” the majority of the pull-out-your-hair, bang-your-head-on-the-desk, don’t-slam-the-door-when-you-leave-the-room craziness comes from trying to write the essays.

Real world quotes follow:

Oh. These are really bad.” My husband, an admittedly tough critic, after reading Mod Squad Pete’s first drafts.

My favorite one is about why I want to attend ABC University, but I’m not applying there now.” Pete, evaluating his own work.

I tried to get him to start in the summer, but nothing’s done yet.” Heard on October 26th from a parent; the student is planning to apply Early Action by November 1st.

He does not want us to read them. I’m fine with that, but someone has to read them.” Parent, about urging her student to ask HS guidance counselor to provide feedback.

Whoa! That’s the worst!” Parent describing one college’s supplementary questions; only one required, but both about the same deadly topic.

Wait. There’s a 1000 character question on the Common App? How come I haven’t seen that?” Parent at a soccer game, mid October.

I’m still trying to figure out if my kid has seen that 1000 character question.” Same parent, later in the game.

I told him to decide what he wants to write and then just bridge the gap between what he wants to write and what they asked.” Parent of student with no favorite question.

For last minute help on essays for Early Admission applications…

See How to Write A College Essay (in 10 Steps), with tips from Alan Gelb’s book, Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps. I did not require ask that Pete read this book, but I’m already planning that Mod Squad Julie should read it before starting to write.

Also, see 12 Tips to Ace Your College Application Essays, by Carol Barash, posted on Student Advisor. Her tips are brief enough to scan quickly and could provide some inspiration.

3. Turn scripts into stories.

Anyone can say, “The environment matters to me,” or even, “I joined the Environmental Club with my best friend and stayed after she left.” Replace those generic scripts with specific details that only you can tell. For instance, “I worked with 15 local eighth graders. We planned and planted a garden in Orange where an old hat factory was torn down. Three years later it’s an overgrown jungle of purple, yellow and green.”

4. Choose a moment.

Most students try to pack everything into each essay. Instead, make a list of your defining moments – the moments when you learned, grew, changed or made a difference. Use each essay to show your reader one moment of change and transformation.

Good luck to all the seniors sweating it out this weekend. And to those of us parents sweating out the CSS Profile.

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Homework from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Know Before You Owe

Fictional U grad rates

The outstanding student loan debt will reach a trillion dollars this year. College costs have escalated far beyond the rate of inflation. 2011-12 tuition and fees have topped $50,000 at 123 colleges.

The very least students and parents should expect from a college is clarity about the bottom line.

The reality, with many schools, looks pretty fuzzy.

EduLaunchPad provides three examples of financial aid award letters in What is That Financial Aid Offer Letter Telling You? The post explains how to decipher which amounts in the letter are grants and scholarships, which are subsidized student loans and work-study, and which are private loans (the most expensive money).

Fictional U Cost of Attendance. Click to enlarge.

As of this week, federal law requires each college to present a net cost calculator on its website. Of course, as we’ve read here, here, and here, be careful to rely too closely on the results. One hopes they will get better.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] is trying to shine some light on the award letters, by offering a standard design for consumers to comment on. See the design here: Know Before You Owe. These three screenshots show portions of the design.

Here’s your homework:  The CFPB would like to hear from you on the design. They’ve provided these questions, along with a space for comments.

  • What do you like about it? What don’t you like? Think about these questions:
  • Which information is absolutely critical?
  • What other information would be helpful?
  • Can you tell from this sample format which aid requires repayment?
  • What will that repayment cost? For one year of school? For four years?
  • If there was a web-based interactive version, what functionalities would you like to see?

The site also provides a list of information to be ranked in order of importance. Think clarity is important when you’re considering a quarter of a million dollar commitment? Give the CFPB some feedback.

Fictional U Cost of Loans. Click to enlarge.

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: The Cost of College & Financial Aid Edition

News from the college search / admissions / finance front. This is turning out to be an all financial aid week at Dr. StrangeCollege, and there are plenty of recent stories to choose from.

1.  Start with an excellent guest article written by Paul Wrubel, posted at The College Puzzle:  College Costs: It’s More Than The Dollars Spent. Mr. Wrubel encourages students and parents to look beyond the cost of four years of college and the 30% cost increase over the past five years to consider how many years it will take to earn a BA. The current average:  6.2 years at a public college, 5.3 at a private college.

Tolerance for a six-year college experience is in part the result of a faulty and incomplete accounting of costs.  When projecting the costs of college, add to the cost mix not just the cash outlay of another year or two but include “opportunity costs” as well.  Opportunity costs refer to the income the student could have been earning as a college graduate if he or she were not languishing an extra year or two at college.  Using this math, the cost of year five or six dramatically escalates.  Thus, as you look into various colleges, it makes sense to ask each college, “What percentage of the students graduate in FOUR years?”  If they respond by saying they don’t know, they do know but they just prefer not to tell you.

'92 Theater on the campus of Wesleyan University

Wesleyan University. Image via Wikipedia

2.  At the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Head Count blog, Beckie Supiano is following the experiences of first-year college financial aid advisor, John Gudvangen, at Wesleyan University. See Counseling Parents, With Some Help From a New Calculator.

As the financial-aid director, Mr. Gudvangen is responsible for alleviating the part of that worry that has to do with paying tuition. “If you don’t even make as much in a year as we charge, it can be a scary proposition,” he says. “Partly what we’re there for, is to be calm, and thoughtful, and educational, to say we’re all about making a Wesleyan education affordable to your child, if in fact you demonstrate need.”

When prospective students visit campus, Mr. Gudvangen has found that most of the questions about paying the bill come from parents, since they’re the ones who understand the family’s financial position. “This is an odd time in families’ lives,” he says. “At some point, students probably need to know these things, but they probably don’t as high-school seniors.”

Sample Gates, Indiana University Bloomington, USA

Indiana University. Image via Wikipedia

3.  Today’s Campus Overload, Jenna Johnson’s blog at the Washington Post, reported today that Indiana University is hoping to offer a sale on summer school courses: Indiana University might discount summer tuition

Indiana University leaders want to cut the price of summer courses on all seven campuses starting next year. In-state undergraduates would receive a 25 percent discount, and out-of-state students would have the equivalent dollar figure deducted from their bill. The plan, which was announced at a news conference Monday, still needs approval by the board of trustees later this week.

At IU’s regional campuses, students taking a full load of summer classes could save more than $700 a year. Students in Bloomington and Indianapolis could save more than $1,000. IU President Michael A. McRobbie said in a statement that the discount will help students stay on track for graduation or earn their degree in less than four years.

“I am confident this will help us graduate more students in less time and allow our graduates to leave IU with less debt as they start their careers,”he said.

4.  Finally, my nomination for the wildest and weirdest college financial aid analogy, this from  The Top Ten Ways A FAFSA Is Like A Colonoscopy.

Number 8 — Timing is important. A FAFSA should be filed after January 1 and before the deadline posted by the college or university. Missing this window may mean missing an opportunity for college funding or even missing out on college altogether. A recent study[i] recommends that colonoscopies be done at age 45 for men and 50 for women unless risk factors are present that would encourage earlier testing. Having one too late may mean missing out on more than college.

Number 7 — You should do it even if you “know” you won’t find anything. With the FAFSA, many people “know” they won’t qualify for financial aid, but I guarantee programs exist that provide scholarships or grants to FAFSA filers regardless of the results. Not everyone qualifies, but if you don’t file a FAFSA, you certainly won’t. With the colonoscopy, people who live right, eat right, and exercise right still need to have one. Hopefully, the FAFSA process finds something for you and the colonoscopy doesn’t.

What have you been reading? Please tell me about it, below, in comments.

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College Financial Aid Myths

Just after writing about the secrets of college admissions, I have a couple of reasons to focus on myths related to college costs and financial aid.

  1. I’m smack dab, as they say, in the middle of completing Mod Squad Pete’s CSS financial aid Profile, and
  2. Monday’s twitter feed served up two lists of myths, both of them listing a big one related to financial aid.

First, a column in the Washington Post by Jenna Johnson, Seven College Admissions Myths, included the following about tuition discounting. There’s a lot of great information in the article, and in this paragraph, but I’m adding italics to emphasize the last sentence.

2. The tuition price listed in brochures is what everyone pays.

Flipping through college guides can be heart-stopping, especially with dozens of private schools now charging more than $50,000 a year for tuition, housing and fees. But that’s just the sticker price. Last year, that rate was reduced by more than 40 percent for the average student through institutional grants and scholarships, according to an industry study. In an effort to make it easier for families to compare pricing, the federal government now requires that colleges and universities put a “net price calculator” on their Web site. Although these estimates are not perfect, they give students a better idea of what they might be asked to pay each year. And everyone should fill out the free application for federal student aid, even if you think you won’t qualify for aid; 1.8 million students who would have qualified for federal financial aid did not apply, the council reported in 2006.

Then, from Unigo, Five Myths About College Today. Again, the money sentence is the last (my italics).

Myth #2:  We can’t afford a private college or university.

Depending on the financial aid package offered, the out-of-pocket cost of attending a private college can often be lower than that of a public university.  In a simplistic example, a $25,000 bill at a UC would be reduced to $20,000 with $5,000 of financial aid, but a private liberal arts college with a sticker price of $50,000 would cost $15,000 if the financial aid package totaled $35,000, making it cheaper than the UC. Of course, financial aid is more complicated than this, but private colleges with strong endowments often offer generous merit and need-based scholarships.  In the end, award offers must be weighed against each other carefully, taking into account whether the award is made up of loans (which must be paid back) or grants/scholarships (which do not get paid back).  The bottom line?  Research the possibility of financial aid before eliminating a college from your list just because it sounds too expensive.

How do we find out whether a college will be too expensive or not?

Here’s one place to look:  EduLaunchPad has developed a ‘generosity rating’, looking at teach college’s pattern of aid over time and identifying which colleges are most generous.

The rising cost of higher education makes for good headlines and gets a lot of attention but it is important to remember that almost no one pays the sticker price for college. At, we want to avoid sticker shock so we don’t show you prices right away. When you visit our search page, you’ll notice we’ve emphasized each school’s GENEROSITY instead. Identifying colleges and universities which are more generous provides more valuable information to you and is a more effective comparison tool than sticker price.

Here’s another:  Grace, who blogs at Cost of College, has written an excellent post identifying “Some basics on how colleges use financial need in admissions decisions.” The post is well worth reading. Here’s the intro and the categories she explains:

Here are some terms used to describe the ways in which colleges may incorporate student financial need into admissions decisions. This generalized information can serve as an introduction to a topic that comprises many shades of gray and is often confusing to families.



To find out which colleges use which sort of financial aid policy in admissions, dig into the data in whichever interface you prefer. Since I like, here’s a link to the admissions info for the University of Virginia, and here is a screen shot of where they provide the answer to that question, “Financial need is not a consideration in the admissions process.”

It’s easy to miss, since the reverse policy is the same sentence without the word “not.” Just one more detail to catch — and a huge one.

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Deadlines for Parents of High School Seniors

October 2011. Calendar by Mod Squad Julie.

Like many households of high school seniors, at least those applying early, we’re in the middle of the whole application cycle right now. Mod Squad Pete submitted two applications last week [truly, I cannot write that past-tense ‘submitted’ often enough]. He has one Early Admissions app to go.

Work could be done on the Regular Admissions applications; I think Pete needs to write one or two supplementary essays and he needs to complete an application for a college not using the Common App.

The looming deadline for this household, however, is for the parents. We have not written any applications or essays. [See this recent tweet from UVa’s Dean J.]

The financial aid application required for private colleges — the College Board’s Profile — needs to be done by us. Our deadline is November 1st for those Early Admissions colleges. [As an aside, the financial aid application for all colleges, public and private, the FAFSA, will be available around January 1, 2012. More about that here.]

Has anyone else completed this already? If so, please tell me about it — and how! — in comments.

What I’ve learned so far:

  1. Every student in the household requires his or her own CollegeBoard sign-in for the CSS Profile.
  2. Once you begin the Profile registration, don’t stop or your information will be lost.
  3. After you’ve registered, the Profile prompts, and strongly encourages, you to download and print out both the instructions (11 pages) and the worksheet (22 pages).
  4. When completing the application, unlike the registration, you can save, log off, and come back later.

Pardon me, I’m off to work on that Profile.

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What High School Seniors Should Be Doing Now… and What Our H.S. Senior Did Last Week..

I ran across this list last week:  15 Crucial Tasks for High School Seniors this Fall & Winter, offered by the College Planning Group.Here’s a clip of the beginning; click the link to see all fifteen tasks.

High school seniors are in full swing with the college planning process this fall. Here are 15 things that high school seniors should be doing (or should have already done) this fall in order to plan for college. (Each link you see will give you offers a more in depth article for that specific topic.)

1) Meet with your guidance counselor to plan courses, schedule tests, and discuss college choices. Parents should be involved.

2) Plan remaining college visits. Make appointments for any remaining interviews. If possible, schedule an overnight visit to stay in a dorm and attend a few classes.

3) Decide which colleges are most interesting to you. Make a side-by-side list of features, then decide which are most important. Narrow the list. Include at least one school you feel confident will admit you, and at least one school that would be affordable even if financial aid were low.

That’s a great list, just the type of helpful information I’ve been seeking out for months to help our college search and admissions efforts. I even found myself running through it, looking for where Mod Squad Pete is on the list and what comes next. Then I remembered:  not this week.

See, this past week was Spirit Week at Pete’s high school, beginning with class color day the Friday before and culminating with the homecoming dance on Saturday night. Fortunately for Pete’s ongoing healthy relationship with his parents, he completed his first two application submissions before getting swept away by the Spirits. Homework? What homework?

Here’s what one high school senior did…

  • Multiple senior skit practices
  • Added-on piano practices (learning songs for the skit)
  • Hall decorating (the classes compete in different activities all week long, including how creative and elaborate their hall decorations convey the class theme).
  • Costumes for every day of the week (Pajama, Camo/neon, Blue & Gold, Theme, etc.)
  • Senior-faculty breakfast
  • Multiple karaoke competition practices (more to come on that)
  • Daily track practice
  • Thursday karoke competition
  • Thursday night bonfire
  • Friday skit performance
  • Friday night football game
  • Saturday night dance

For now, we’ll celebrate his having some fun and, with two best friends, achieving a perfect score with their karaoke competition. Here’s the song they performed (this is the Sugar Hill Gang, not the seniors):

Let’s hope this week he’ll be back on track with studies and one last essay for an Early Admissions app. Hey, Pete:  Jump on it!

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