Monthly Archives: March 2012

How’s the mood in your house, HS seniors and families?

So much for the college admissions letters responding to Early Action or Early Decision or, even Early Decision II applications. That was, clearly, early in the game.

Now we’re in the last week of March, staring down the beginning of April, when almost all of the Regular Decision letters are due. Good thing, too, since the high school seniors have only four weeks from receipt of college letters until May 1st, our own college D-Day, when the decision and the deposit must be made.

So, how’s it going at your house?

Is the mood joyful? Cue Otis Redding, The Happy Song:

I hope it’s not glum. Mr. Redding again, singing Fa-Fa-Fa [the sad song]:

Maybe, you’re still waiting to hear… Here’s Dusty Springfield, Wishin’ and Hopin’:

I asked Mod Squad Pete to pick a song to represent his mood and here’s what I got: Carl Carlton, singing Everlasting Love. The thinking:

It feels like a very resolved song. I’ve finished everything I needed to. The results are coming in and I can’t really do anything else now. It’s kind of like the big, wrap-it-up song at the end of the movie.

Crank up the volume and feel free to sing along:

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Follow-Up: Time to double-check FAFSA and Profile submissions

I completed our financial aid docs in late February, posted about the process here February 29th, and promptly archived all thoughts about it in the back of my mind.

Until yesterday. I remembered to send questions to the commenter who said, very nicely, I should have completed all the paperwork earlier. In response to my questions, Jim Lundgren of Access College Foundation reminded me of the steps FAFSA requires:

  1. File using estimated tax numbers,
  2. Confirm/correct once tax returns have been completed, and
  3. Link to the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

Jim made the point that steps two and three could be the same. However, since our accountant had electronic-filing-software-trouble the week our returns were completed, they were filed via paper. I will have to link to the IRS/DRT later (doesn’t take long to pick up the acronyms). Mod Squad Pete’s returns were filed electronically, but I’ll link to both sets at the same time.

With excellent timing, FAFSA also sent the following email to Pete last night. I’m not sure why it says the federal tax filing deadline has passed, but I welcomed the reminder:

FAFSA email

FAFSA email screen shot

Imagine my surprise when I dug through my folders and saw this note attached to the Profile iDOC folder:

CSS Profile iDOC note

For those following along this ridiculously drawn-out saga of financial aid applications (which I think might only be Mod Squad Dad by this point, and he only because he has to), here is the final today’s update:

  • Estimated Profile filed:  Nov 1.
  • Estimated FAFSA filed: Feb 1.
  • Updated Profile filed:  Feb 25
  • Taxes filed:  Feb 27.
  • Returns submitted to colleges requiring Profile:  Feb 27
  • FAFSA updated with real tax return numbers (minor change):  March 13
  • Profile iDOC submission status checked:  March 13
iDOC status screen shot

iDOC status screen shot

There. Done. For now.

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What’s going on behind the closed doors at Admissions offices?

For high school seniors the busy season came before application deadlines:  the weeks leading up to the Early deadlines (October through November for most colleges) and the weeks leading up to Regular admissions deadlines (December through January).

Those deadlines are followed by a long, slow, waiting season filled with questions: Which schools will accept me? Was that essay clever or stupid? What if I don’t get in anywhere? Was my safety choice safe enough?

And:  What the heck is taking so long?

Here’s a look at the admissions office busy season and what’s going on behind closed doors.

In some cases, the next application fills them with dread. Here are a couple of tweets from Daniel Creasy, Admissions officer at Johns Hopkins University. [Via @Admissiondaniel]

college admissions

college admissions

Salve Regina

In another case, the essays are incredibly moving. Brian Shanley, a Salve Regina admissions officer writes, Seniors’ college essays touch the heart. [Hat-tip to CollegeExplorations.com]

Devotion and grace: The Common Application requests that students list their activities — a resume of sorts. Typically “band,” “theater” or “volleyball” appear in the space provided. Not always, though. One young man wrote, “Staying home to care for my terminally ill father.” That’s what he did after school. I emailed him, wishing him well during those tough times.

Butler University

Here are a couple of articles on how Butler University admissions staff goes through their applications, in Butler gives rare look into admissions decisions. The second part of the story is here. [Hat-tip to @Scorebusters.]

“In his junior year, F, F, D, D, D,” said Chris Potts, associate director of admissions, explaining an application to the review committee. “No explanation anywhere, nothing — straight As, and then just bites it junior year.”

A bad semester in which a student struggles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the line for that applicant. The admissions staff wants to know why it happened.

“His dad dropped dead. It’s him and his mother, and he was suddenly left without a father and having to support his mother,” Scheuermann said. “That was not in the application anywhere.”

Back to that earlier question: What the heck is taking so long? I just tracked down this post from last year because I remembered the stacks of paper. See From the processing side, by @UVaDeanJ on the Notes From Peabody UVa Admission blog. Click on the link to catch a glimpse of the paper trail.

University of Virginia

There are people who seem to think online applications, with their confirmations and status pages aren’t trustworthy, so they send paper copies of everything that’s been submitted online.  There is no reason to do this.  This slows down the processing of credentials.  What’s more, it negates our efforts to green the process a bit.  When we started working on implementing our imaging system in 2007, I sometimes wondered about how much paper (and postage) would be eliminated if every university in the state went paperless along with us.  Now, I realize that there will always be paper.  There will always be plenty of paper.  

College of William and Mary

Finally, here’s an opportunity to listen in on the College of William & Mary‘s admissions committee. See their blog, Admit It!, for a series of posts titled, “Overheard in Committee.” I’ve linked to the first one.

Overheard in Committee yesterday: I can forgive a C in BC Calc in 11th.

Still feeling impatient? Here’s a little Charlie Rich to help bide your time…

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How many colleges should a high school student visit?

college visits

In case you missed it in Friday’s paper, the creators of Zits comic — Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman — provide the high school student’s perspective on college visits.

See the full strip here.

[Hat-tip to Monica Pawinski-Pericak, who has now visited 22 colleges with two of their three children. Not that anyone’s keeping track.]

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Who gets financial aid? Who pays for it?

Those two questions about college financial aid are being looked at by everyone nvolved with higher education — the colleges themselves, state and federal governments, students and parents, consultants, lobbyists… everyone. But especially, the governments.

Virginia State Capitol

Virginia State Capitol. Image via Wikipedia.

Kevin Kelly, who writes for Inside Higher Ed, just took a look at how state governments are trying to shape financial aid decisions, in Not From My Wallet,

Think of it as the latest iteration of the “not in my back yard” argument. Most people want higher education for their children, and most people think it’s a good idea for other people’s children to have higher education, too. Just don’t ask them to pay more for it.

I’d recommend reading the entire article. Here are a few state details.
Arizona (bill proposed, subsequently withdrawn):
A bill recently approved by a committee of the Arizona House of Representatives, House Bill 2675, would require full-time students at Arizona’s three public universities to pay roughly $2,000 toward their education costs, a price that could not be covered by grants, tuition benefits, or scholarships funded through public money, including federal aid.
Virginia:

Earlier this month, the governor of Virginia proposed in his budget to cap the amount of in-state tuition revenue that could be used to fund financial aid for other students. The state’s secretary of education, a position appointed by the governor, said the measure was designed to spark conversation about what aid polices should be and whether some students should be footing the bill for others.

North Carolina:

A few weeks later, members of the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors pushed to adopt a similar policy. When that was rejected by the full board, they began to push for a tax break for families who did not qualify for financial aid. Board members in favor of the tax break said that subsidizing other students’ education should be considered a charitable contribution, and therefore such families should be entitled to a tax break.

The UNC proposal is particularly interesting given that the state has a history of requiring institutions to funnel money from tuition hikes back into financial aid budgets.

New York:
he State University of New York system recently adopted a similar policy. When Governor Andrew Cuomo approved a $300 yearly tuition hike for the next five years, he required that students who qualified for the state’s aid program be held harmless. As a result, about 20 percent of last year’s hike became institutional aid for low-income students.
The question at the heart of these proposals is whether a college degree “is a public good or private good.” The answer may well depend upon when the question is asked. The Governor of Virginia has set a higher college graduate rate as a goal for our state. Yet with the higher education bubble continuing to expand — higher tuition leading to more financial aid and higher student debt — who pays for the increased numbers of grads?
Increasingly, the states are saying it’s not them.
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Is financial aid worth the hassle?

Pencils

Image via Wikipedia

A friend wrote a couple of days after missing the March 1st FAFSA priority deadline to ask if their family should still submit. They didn’t think they would qualify for aid, it was past the deadline, would it be worth the hassle?

The best response I could give is to run the federal FAFSA forecaster, found here. If the family’s Expected Family Contribution, EFC, is higher than the total estimated cost of college, then maybe don’t bother.

Complexity.

Why does the FAFSA process need to be so complex? Tim Johnson, writing for the Burlington Free Press, doesn’t think it should be. See FAFSA SCHMAFSA II:

You have to complete and submit the FAFSA (otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to qualify for Pell and other federal grants, as well as for federal loans. Yet the FAFSA has more questions (116) than the Form 1040A (84) or 1040 EZ (38), the IRS tax forms most commonly filed by ordinary people.  What’s more, the great majority of those 116 questions are largely irrelevant to the determination of how much student aid the applicant will qualify for. In fact, the FAFSA could be dramatically simplified without appreciably affecting the distribution of aid. We learn all this from an eyeopening paper, “Student Aid Simplification: Looking Back and Looking Ahead,” by Susan Dynarski and Mark Widerspan of the University of Michigan.

Who’s receiving aid?

Financial aid is getting tougher for even the neediest. Grace Nunez, writing at Cost of College, wrote Reminder – automatic zero EFC maximum income dropped to $23,000.

Last month Congress made it harder to qualify for an automatic zero EFC by reducing the maximum income allowed from $32,000 to $23,000 for the 2012-13 Award Year. A zero EFC usually makes a family eligible for the highest amount of financial aid.

This significant change seemed to have stayed mainly under the radar, even though it will hit low-income families hard since over 4 million students qualify for the automatic zero provision this year. Perhaps some provisions of President Obama’s 2012 “Blueprint for Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans” will counteract this benefit cut to poor families.

We approached financial aid with the attitude that we wanted to see every option available to Pete. We know that any level of aid offered from a very selective private college will be very different from that offered by a public college — we await letters and the exercise of comparing all costs and any possible awards. Of course, as a commenter wrote last week, we could learn that the Federal Government thinks we should contribute 60% of our income to college.

For next year, when we’re only dealing with one college, I’ll anticipate a simpler process (and an increased tuition and fees total, natch).

Two years from now, we’ll be back at it with a number of college apps for Julie and an EFC to reflect two students in college.

Lots of articles out now, too, about who pays / should pay for financial aid? More to come.

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