Monthly Archives: November 2011

Wednesday Weekly Reader: 13 Key Items to Know About Financial Aid.

This week:  time to catch up with a slew of articles on financial aid. Perhaps, more than you ever wanted to read on the topic…

The Basics.

1.  In her College Solution blog, Lynn O’Shaugnessy warns us, Don’t Believe These 4 Financial Aid Myths. Full story (and myth-busting information) behind the link; 4 Myths here:

  1. I make too much money to qualify for financial aid.
  2. My home equity will kill my chances for financial aid.
  3. I have saved too much in my child’s college fund to qualify for aid.
  4. Completing financial aid forms is a waste of time.
Old Main of Drake University at Des Moines, Io...

Old Main, Drake University. Image via Wikipedia

2.  Noelle Smith, a Broadcast News and Politics major at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote a very helpful blog post this summer: Decoding the Alphabet Soup of Financial Aid. [With thanks to Grace at for the tip.] Terms explained:

  • EFC
  • SAR
  • PELL

3.  Wendy David-Gaines, blogging at, lists [and explains] 10 Financial Aid Forms You Can’t Afford to Forget.

  1. FAFSA
  2. State
  3. Institutional
  4. CollegeBoard CSS Profile
  5. CSS Profile Business/Farm Supplement
  6. CSS NonCustodial Profile
  7. Outside Scholarships
  8. College Scholarships
  9. Verification Worksheet
  10. Appeal forms

4.  What comes first? Most identify the FAFSA as the first step in the process (as I have written here). Our financial aid process started with the CollegeBoard Profile (as I just wrote about here), since one of Mod Squad Pete’s Early Admission colleges required the Profile early, too. My College Calendar spells out the beginning of the FAFSA application procedure, with Apply for Student and Parent FAFSA PINs. Both student and parent will need the PIN forever (or so it seems); the same PIN will be used if the student continues with graduate school.

Print the PINs and put them in a folder in your paper filing system.  This will make it easy to find this information later.  If you lose your PIN, you can request that the Department of Education send you a reminder.  A PIN will allow you and your parent to sign the FAFSA electronically, make corrections to your FAFSA information, review your federal student aid records online, and complete your Renewal FAFSA next school year.

The Costs.

5.  Daniel de Vise writes at College Inc. (Washington Post): College sticker shock: Is $55,000 the new $50,000?

Nineteen colleges now charge $55,000 or more in annual tuition, fees and living expenses, according to the latest survey of most expensive colleges from CampusGrotto.

6.  According to the Chicago Tribune, Tuition, board pass $50,000 at 123 U.S. colleges.

The number of colleges and universities with tuition and fees totaling more than $50,000 for a single year rose to 123 for the 2011-2012 year — up from 100 institutions in the previous year. Meanwhile, the national average wage for American workers stands at a little less than $42,000 a year, according to the Social Security Administration.

7.  The Choice blog (New York Times) tells us, Only One in Three Full-Time Students Pay Full Tuition, quoting this Economix blog (also, NYT) post: College is cheaper than you think. Both articles are worth reading. Here’s a clip:

This growing gap between sticker prices and net prices is not a bad thing; it enables colleges (or states) to price discriminate. Because tuition at most public and nonprofit institutions fails to cover per-student expenditures, keeping published prices low would mean providing a blanket subsidy to all students regardless of need.

The trade-off, however, is increased complexity, and often total confusion. Many students and their families consider only published prices when comparing colleges, without taking financial aid into account.

8.  The College Planning Group reminds parents of 7 College Fees You Didn’t Plan On. Key here: “Since most colleges are strapped for cash, many are continually looking for ways to collect additional money from students and their parents.”

The Aid Letter.

9.  Grace at answers “Why does the EFC come as a shock to many parents?” Three government calculation policies are cited.

These policies mean the EFC is “at best, a very harsh assessment of families’ ability to pay,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of At worst, he says, it is “somewhat unrealistic…and archaic.”

10.  Rachel Fishman, writing for The Quick & the Dead in And Baby Makes EFC, makes an excellent argument that parents should learn their Expected Family Contribution as soon as they start claiming dependents on their tax returns.

Our system of higher education is complex and the learning curve for access is steep, especially for low-income, first generation students. All families who list a child dependent on their tax return should be provided with an estimate of their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and some general information about federal financial aid.

11.  The College Solution considers Confusing Financial Aid Awards:  Where’s the Money?

Even when a teenager has received a puny financial aid award, schools don’t necessarily want families to know this.  Some parents will look at a misleading financial aid award and think their child has won scholarships to cover much of the cost of college. What they might have actually received is an award stuffed with loans.

I blame a lot of the confusion on the jargon-laced terminology and unhelpful formatting that many college financial aid offices use. Why do plenty of financial aid offices insist on cranking out misleading financial aid awards? Gosh, could it be that some of these letters are marketing tools meant to obscure the real price of colleges?

12.  Candace Choi wrote for Huffington Post:   College Financial Aid Letters Targeted by Officials. This article introduces the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s proposed “simple, one-page financial aid and shopping sheet [that] would help students compare offers and choose the one that’s right for them.” More on that below. Choi also brings up an important point for parents to remember:  the financial aid adviser is employed by the college to leverage the amount of aid the college can offer, not to reduce our students’ debt. 

Making matters worse, critics say schools play an ambiguous role in pushing student loans.

“The first financial adviser that a student runs into is a financial aid officer at the college,” said Anthony Ogorek, a financial adviser in Williamsville, N.Y. “Students needs to understand that these officers don’t have a fiduciary responsibility to them.”

13.  Hope for the future? See the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s example of what could be used here. (I wrote about it here.) One sheet, a ‘shopping sheet for financial aid’ provides

  • the cost of attendance,
  • the breakdown of scholarships and grants (free money),
  • the breakdown of subsidized loans and work-study (lower-cost money),
  • and the breakdown of non-subsidized or “parent” loans (higher-cost money).

But wait, there’s more:

  • an estimated monthly cost of repayment plus
  • cost, graduation, retention, and default rate comparisons.

Want this? I do. Imagine getting this amount of clearly-presented data from one college. Now, take that a step further and imagine getting one from every college Pete applied to. We could spread them across the kitchen table and see straightforward info about actual costs and the long-term ramifications of his college choice.

Whew. Since this example is still in the talking stages, I’m thinking we may have to create our own version for each college. Stop me now.

If you’ve read this far (sorry to go so long), please let me know in comments if any of this was useful to you. Also, how are you going to compare financial aid letters?

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17 Things, Minor and Major, I’ve Learned about Completing the CollegeBoard Profile

The rear of the Wren Building at the College o...

Wren Building, William & Mary. Image via Wikipedia.

This fall marks the first time I’ve had to complete the CollegeBoard’s Profile (read:  financial aid application). Given three members in the household Mod Squad, I’ll be completing this every year from now through 2020 or so (let’s assume that everyone finishes in four years).

I can only hope this will get easier every year. I won’t think, for now, about changes that will be made in the forms over the next ten years. I’ll just focus on what I’ve learned so far about completing the Profile financial aid application.

I learned 4 things about the Profile before I even began. [How to register, how to prepare.]

  1. While I’ve encouraged (read: pushed) Mod Squad Pete to get applications in ahead of the deadline, I submitted the Profile, due for one of his colleges November 1st, on November 1st.
  2. I may have questioned the need for printing the complete instructions (11 pages) and worksheet (22 pages), but that was before working my way through them. I printed both documents, punched holes, and put them in a mini-binder; that became my ‘bible’ for gathering financial info.
  3. The amount of time the Profile takes to complete will vary widely, depending upon the timeliness and neatness of financial paper-filing practices and the simplicity or complexity of the household’s finances.
  4. For example, anyone who tallies their tax-related information throughout the year, including medical expenses, taxes paid, deductions, etc. will be well-prepared to complete the Profile.
  5. However, those of us who open envelopes and drop paperwork into folders for end-of-year bookkeeping, will be doing that bookkeeping before completing the Profile.
  6. Anyone, and I won’t lay claim to this characteristic, who has to search through a stack of unopened envelopes to find financial data will find this takes a long time to complete.
  7. The College of William & Mary got it right on their admissions site: “Please set aside a considerable amount of time for collecting and organizing your financial information and completing the Profile.”
  8. Some might find some of the questions intrusive. [Purchase date for each vehicle? Step-parent’s assets?]
  9. Others may find this practical for colleges to determine real need. [Are you the beneficiary of a trust?]
  10. The deadline for completing the Profile might be around the same time as an Early Action/Decision deadline, or it might be around March 15. Check each college website to be sure, especially since a lot of financial aid is first-come, first-served.
  11. You will need three years’ worth of tax information to complete the form, some of which must be estimated. For example, the Profile due November 1, 2011 required data from our 2010 tax returns, best estimates for our 2011 tax forms, and best estimates for our 2012 (the school year the Profile covers) work/tax/family situation.
  12. If you must submit the Profile to any colleges in the fall, submit it just to those that require it then. You can update the online form later with real numbers from the 2011 tax returns for submission to those colleges requiring it in 2012.
  13. While I initially thought the Profile was required only by private colleges, not so. Over 500 public and private colleges, universities, and scholarship programs use the Profile to help them award non-federal student aid funds. The FAFSA, required by all colleges and universities and submitted to the government, helps determine need for federal student aid funds.

Come early January, we’ll file our 2011 tax returns, complete the FAFSA, and update the Profile. Ahh. So much still to be learned.

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Working through Common App mistakes, corrections and changes.

Oct. 20, 2013  UPDATE:  This post refers to the 2011-12 Common App. A brand new interface, introduced August 1, 2013 has rendered some of this information out of date. The 2013-14 Common App has proven to be buggy and unpredictable. See Got Common App problems? Here’s what we’re trying for updated information for the new Common App.

Recently I wrote:  Found a Mistake on the Common App After Submission? No Correcting It.

Fortunately, two readers commented with instructions on how to do just that:  Correcting Myself… On Correcting the Common App.

Mod Squad Pete, working through regular admissions applications, just updated and corrected his Common App after it had been submitted to three colleges for Early Action.

Estimated time to create new Common App?  “About three minutes.”

Ease of creating new Common App?  “Easy.”

Did you have to upload the Common App essays again? “Nope. All the information is there, same as before. But now it’s not grayed-out in the new version, so you can make changes.”

Also:  “You can toggle back and forth between the original and the new version to move colleges from one to the other.”

Glad that’s done.

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Who’s Got Time for College Applications?

Here we go again at Camp StrangeCollege. There’s work to be done and there’s play time to be enjoyed — especially with this weekend forecast in central Virginia:

After Thanksgiving there’s a three-week rush til the winter break (our kids are out of school December 16th) and, after that, two weeks until regular admissions deadlines.

To the older generation in the house, the sooner those regular apps get done the better. I think you could say Mod Squad Pete agrees with that. In theory.

Yet, there are friends home from college. There are plans afoot between Pete and Mod Squad Julie to invite friends for daily runs up the neighborhood mountain (how can you not think that’s a good idea?). If I know Mod Squad Linc (and I think I do), there will be many requests for touch football. I do know that Mod Squad Dad has plans for tennis with Linc (and any other takers) and basketball with Linc and Julie (and Pete, if he wishes).

Shall I continue? There will be a birthday celebration (Linc becomes a teen on Sunday). Not to mention our mutual enjoyment of watching movies and football games and playing Settlers of Catan. Finally, I will be recruiting heavily for potato peeling and clean-up crews.

Where’s the time for one more college essay in all that?

Here’s a glimpse of what Zinch recommends for the weekend (full image here).

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all!

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: The College Interview Questions Edition

Brookings Hall, an icon of Washington Universi...

Brookings Hall, WashUStL. Image via Wikipedia

How do you prepare for a college interview?

During an early college visit with Pete’s cousin, the two boys were hanging out in Washington University in St. Louis‘s Business School when the Graduate Dean walked up, chatted, and offered them the chance to talk with an Undergraduate Dean. They were woefully unprepared (had just been speculating about playing wiffle ball in the building as a matter of fact), yet they sat down and enjoyed talking with a very charismatic fellow who responded well to their interests and provided loads of information about the school. (They did not mention the wiffle ball conversation.)

They left the building thinking about business as a major. I left the building thinking Pete needs to be better prepared next time! (Also, how cool was that of both Deans?!)

Since then, he’s talked, but not interviewed, with admissions counselors, interviewed with a current college student and, now, is preparing for an alumni interview. Preparing, as in, hanging out at Wild Wings with his friends because there’s no school tomorrow and a couple of buddies are back home from college.

Oh, well.

In case anyone wants to prepare for college interviews, there are lots of resources available…

1.  The Plan for College blog offers College Interviews: 10 Most Common Questions

6) What are your strengths/weaknesses? You’ve probably been asked this in some form before and you might know how hard it can be to answer. One tip – do not try to turn your biggest weakness into a back-door strength. That’ll come off as phony.
7) If you could change one thing from high school, what would it be? Your answer should show some turning (or learning) point for you. Demonstrate how you can reflect and adapt based on the decisions you made when you were younger.

2.  Unigo offers College, Job and Scholarship Interview Tips.

Question: The interview is optional. Why bother?

Answer: Your getting into their school/job/scholarship is optional too.. If you want them, make every effort and that includes the effort of preparation for an interview in this highly competitive environment. By doing the interview, at a minimum you show just how enthusiastic you are and in the best case, you make a phenomenal impression on someone at the school, job or scholarship. If you connect with the right person, they can really become your advocate.

3.  US News & World Report provides 9 Tips for Mastering Alumni Interviews.

4. Remember the basics: Esposito is the chair of Georgetown’s Alumni Admissions Program and has conducted alumni interviews with more than 150 prospective students since he graduated in 1978. He quickly rattles off a few obvious but important tips: Arrive on time; thank the interviewer when you leave; and be professional.

5. Be yourself: While preparing for an interview is important, memorizing word-for-word answers will not show the interviewer who you really are. As many alumni emphasize, the interview is a conversation, so it should not be scripted.

Sounds easy, right? Having a conversation. Just not quite as easy as talking with friends over wings…

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Do Legacy Applicants Deserve a Leg Up?

Mod Squad Linc sporting a non-legacy tee.

Admissions officers across the country are reading early applications and trying to craft the strongest, most diverse, talented freshman class they can… as well as accept the athletes their coaches want, find the bassoon player the orchestra needs, fill the Tibetan-Buddhism-major slots, and, perhaps, see that the offspring of high donor alumni get accepted.

How one feels about that may depend upon whether your child plays the bassoon, excels at a sport, or inherited a college legacy.

Here, a number of perspectives…

The New York Times wrote about the added pressure this puts on legacy students, Being a Legacy Has Its Burden.

Mr. Arthur worries that “the whole Ivy League school thing” will intimidate her. At one point, his daughter, a high school junior with a 4.0, burst into tears and said, “I don’t have the grades for Harvard!”

NYT’s Room for Debate offered six opinions on the question, Why Do Top Schools Still Take Legacy Applicants?

Just for fun, here are quotes pulled from each of those opinions. I’ll bet you can guess which authors are for and which against.

As Gene Nichol, former president of the College of William & Mary has observed, why, in an admissions process that is supposed to be about merit, are we still asking applicants, “Who is your Daddy?”

What admissions decisions can be is rational. State universities give preference to in-state children because their tax-paying parents support the institution. Alumni donations provided more than $7 billion to higher education in 2010 — more than one-quarter of total gifts. Rationally, should not children of these alumni also be given slight preference?

…But of greater concern is the fact that the legacy policy passes on a privilege, and predominantly whites enjoy the benefits. Indeed, it hurts minority diversity on campus.

Nevertheless, it is foolish to ignore the benefit that appropriate prudently applied legacy admissions can serve in crafting a freshman class. Alumni and benefactors who from generation to generation have developed ties to an institution and given time and treasure to enhance it deserve acknowledgment.

Elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni that essentially says, ‘You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.’

In fact, besides legacy preferences, institutions have created all sorts of mechanisms to maintain and reproduce inequality. For example, elite schools rely on the dogmatic notion that gate-keeping tests, like the SAT, GRE or LSAT, actually have any bearing on a students’ ability to succeed in school. They don’t.

I understand from an institutional point of view why it pays to give legacies a boost — they foster family pride and tradition, school spirit, increased giving by dedicated alums who also volunteer their time. I have more of an issue with the number of recruited athletes. In my opinion, 20 percent of the class is too high — and football is largely to blame because of its huge roster. Plus, many “helmet-sport” recruited athletes come in well below the standard for the school. Legacies are typically much more academically qualified compared to the top recruited athletes who can get into Harvard with C grades and 500 SAT scores if they throw a football or are good with a hockey puck. wrote about it at Legacy Admissions:

Sure, it helps to be a legacy if you’re applying to the college to which your parents attended.

But it also helps if you’re an athlete.

It also helps if you’re a musician.

It also helps if you’re an artist.

It also helps if you want to study Portuguese and the college is desperately looking for students to fill Portuguese classes.

You get the idea.  Being a legacy is just one hook amongst many when it comes to applying to college.

This is a good time to touch base with our goals for Mod Squad Pete:  do the very best you can academically, follow your passions for extracurriculars, and get your applications in ahead of the deadline. Then, go play the piano and forget all about it. Thanks for the concerts, Pete!

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: The Getting HS Seniors Ready for College Edition

A frisbee made by Wham-O.

Image via Wikipedia.

Recent news from the college search / admissions / finance front.

While this household [at least the college application aspects of it] is in a bit of a lull between Early Action applications and Regular Admission applications, I’ve been thinking about what comes next. Not the FAFSA nor the decision letters, but skipping ahead to sending Mod Squad Pete off to some campus-to-be-named-later and what he needs to know when he goes.

1.  Unigo helped out with An Adult To-Do List: Things to do before going to college.

College is about more than Nietzsche, lattes and theoretical physics; it’s also the place you really grow into adulthood. It’s the transition between living with your parents and living on your own, and if you don’t fully exploit it you could be cheating yourself out of half the experience. So in between the Frisbee and the cram sessions, think about doing the following things:

1.) Adult-ize your email address:  Once it was cute to be HelloKitty15, VixenVamp, or ItalianStalion919.  And that time has passed.  There’s something very high school about those xx’s and references to Final Fantasy, and like it or not, your email address will be judged by your professors, your friends and the hiring manager of that place you’ve wanted to intern at forever. From now on, the email you give shows a lot about you, and it doesn’t hurt if it’s easy to remember.  This means using just your name, on a respectable site, with as few random numbers or letters as possible.

2.  Noël Rozny, writing for My Career Pathfinder, offers College Tips: How to Prepare For College Classes. The college class structure,  homework assignments, and exams are all different from high school. (Hat tip to Jodi Okun with

You’ll be thrilled to hear that most college professors don’t assign and collect homework. While there is reading that you’re expected to do, no one is watching over your shoulder to make sure you get it done. So before your classes start, set up a schedule of when you’ll get your assigned reading done. Making progress during the semester will ensure that you’re not trying to cram everything in before finals, and it will also prepare you for the questions or discussions your professor springs on you during lecture.

3.  Justin Snider, writing for The Hechinger Report from Teachers College at Columbia University, offers Tips for succeeding in your first year of college. The post provides a number of excellent points, organized in two series, starting with four things to do before you start college:

  1. Establish routines
  2. Read, read, read
  3. Learn how to cite sources
  4. Research which courses to take

Snider follows that with four things to do in your first semester:

  1. Take a variety of courses
  2. Speak up in class
  3. Leave electronic devices behind
  4. Learn to manage your time

4.  Who better to ask about getting ready for college than a college student? A college senior at Bentley University offered up The 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Freshman Year of College.

With only one more semester left in my life as a college student, I can’t help but wonder; would I change anything? My answer is absolutely not. However, there are some lessons I have learned that I would have liked to have told my 18-year-old self given the chance.

5.  Finally, 8 risky things you should absolutely do while in college, offered by Hannah Kay Hunt, a senior at Wake Forest University. Hannah makes this argument for taking philosophical, intellectual, social risks:

College is when we grow from wide-eyed 18-year olds to “young professionals.” Something earth-shattering happens: we grow up. So what is it about those four years of glorified boarding school that makes us stop posting too many inappropriate Facebook photos and start getting our lives together? For a lot of us, it’s the failures – the growing pains – that turn college into our glory years.

Here are a couple of her suggestions:

  • Apply for completely random jobs
  • Attend a church service for a different faith
  • Take a super difficult (but awesome) professor

Plenty of lists here for Pete, who has an ‘adult’ email, can do his own laundry, and could survive for a while on bagel and omelet sandwiches. I’ll let him figure out for himself what else he needs to learn…

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