Monthly Archives: February 2013

Q&A: Does a college look at what type of diploma my student earned?

January and February are prime time for high school guidance counselors, parents, and students to meet and discuss course selections for registration. A number of friends wrote with questions about courses and choices. Here’s one.

Q.  Do you know if universities pay attention to whether a high school student is going for the regular Virginia diploma vs. the advanced one? Would having almost all, but not quite all, of the required credits for the advanced diploma be sufficient?

For non-Virginia readers:  rising 9th graders are asked to select which diploma they hope to achieve. The advanced diploma requires four years of Math, Lab Science, History/Social Science (rather than three), and three years of a Foreign Language (rather than two). There are other smaller differences (and you can read all about them here if you wish; heaven help you), but those are the key factors.

A.  The short answer:  I doubt they pay specific attention to whether or not the student hit every target on the Advanced Studies diploma, but they probably pay close attention to whether or not the student hit every target on their own list — which, for selective schools, will be very similar to the Advanced Studies list.QandA block

For the second question, about having almost all of the requirements — that would likely not be sufficient for a super-selective school, but would be sufficient for other schools. That’s where the standard disclaimer, “it depends,” comes into play. A student who did not get accepted to a school that only takes 15% of applicants could be a star at a school that accepts 45%.

Now, a few thoughts and questions for you as further information (which may or may not be useful).

1.  Does your high school include which type of diploma the student achieved — or attempted — on their HS transcript? Our high school’s transcript changes in response to changes in policy, so it has the potential to be different for almost every graduating class.


Western’s profile is online in the Counseling Dept. files.

Mod Squad Pete’s and M.S. Julie’s transcripts have a note at the top that says, “Student has completed the Early College Scholar Program agreement.” I think that refers to their signing off with the guidance counselor that they were going after the Advanced Diploma.

Also, find your school profile. This accompanies the student’s transcript when it’s sent to colleges. I would assume it is similar to our HS profile, which provides the context for the student’s experience, listing the grading scale, size of school, National Merit and SAT results for the school, class ranks, AP Exam results, and graduation requirements (both standard and advanced). You should be able to pull a copy of this from your school’s website. Your HS counselors should be able to give you a copy of a sample transcript. Admission staff certainly looks at each student within the context of his or her own school and how the course list compares to courses taken by other students in the school.

This is all so you can see, ahead of time, exactly how the colleges would see the information you’re asking about.

2.  Next, look at colleges to which your daughter may wish to apply. Every college must make reams of admission data public when they submit it to the government. Many, many websites provide that data in easily-searchable formats for students and parents to see. (This is also the source for the college guidebooks.) One of my favorites is CollegeData (owned by a bank, but offering an excellent format of search results) but there are loads to choose from.

Take UVa for example. They specify the courses they look for on the HS transcript, as in how many math, science, English, foreign language, etc. You can see that here, broken down by “required” and “recommended.” They also publish the priority of student data — which is most important to them and which is less so — lower on that same page. See Selection of Students and Factors: top on UVa’s list is rigor of HS record.


Now, a question for readers of this blog:  Do students in others states have to choose a type of diploma or state a college-oriented goal in some way? Please let me know in comments.

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How do you handle deadlines?

That’s not a rhetorical headline, for once. I’d like to know: how do you (student or parent) prepare to meet deadlines?

One more this month.

Our household has spent the past two months dealing with application deadlines. To protect the innocent, I won’t indicate which teen — Mod Squad Julie or Linc — is which:

  • Mid-December one teen went online to begin completing a draft application for a much-desired selective summer program and found out the deadline was three days earlier. Fortunately, that was a soft deadline for a teacher to compile apps for a hard deadline two weeks later. The teen hustled like mad to complete the app that night; the teacher accepted it the following day. Lesson learned? Maybe.
  • Late January one teen scrambled through a series of essay drafts right up to the parent-defined-early-deadline for a much-desired selective educational program.
  • Mid February one teen wrote fuzzy draft responses (using same or similar information to respond to each of a series of questions) for a much-desired selective summer program until the last week when the essays made their way toward a strong personal statement. App submitted two hours before the deadline.
  • One more deadline looms for a teen at the end of February for another much-desired selective summer program…

We’ve given this advice to our teens:

  • Print out the application form as soon as it’s available and complete the easy parts.
  • Figure out what you need from others — transcript, recommendations, health forms — and get those requests out ASAP.
  • Read through the essay questions and start thinking.
  • Begin writing draft responses as soon as you can.

After the fuzzy draft experience, I have added:

  • Make a list of the points you want to share (from experiences, extra-curriculars, interests, goals, etc.) and divide them appropriately among the questions.

For the most part, given the number of activities each of the teens is juggling — academics, sports, music, part-time work — they usually do well. However, given the deadline-dance we’ve gone through lately and anticipating college app deadlines next fall, I’m ready to ask for ideas.

What do you do?

Related Articles:

First college deadlines now in view.

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Got your FAFSA done yet? Here’s why you need to hurry.

There’s one very big reason guidance and financial aid counselors advise students and their families to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible: The money runs out.

Tweeted 2/16/13 by UVa's Student Financial Services.

Tweeted 2/16/13 by UVa’s Student Financial Services.

Colleges use the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid via “nine federal student-aid programs, 605 state aid programs, and most of the institutional aid available.”  [Via Wikipedia.] All of those programs have limited pools of funds; most allocate funding on a first-come, first-serve basis.

1.  The Deadline. The FAFSA becomes available online each January 1st for the following school year. FAFSA provides a deadline of June 1st, but some states set an earlier deadline, and most colleges will provide a recommended deadline of March 1st.

2.  The Tax Return. Completing the FAFSA requires at least a draft of the previous year’s tax return. So the Jan. 1, 2013 version of the FAFSA, required for the 2013-2014 academic year, needs data from your 2012 tax return. Some counselors will advise filing taxes first and linking the FAFSA to the IRS electronically for verification. Yet, most families will still be waiting for tax forms (1099s, W-2s, etc.) when they complete the FAFSA; hence, the draft return.

3.  The Paperwork. FAFSA’s Help link provides this list of the records you will need, in addition to the tax return. When dealing with the FAFSA, “you” always refers to the student.

Your Social Security card.
Your driver’s license (if any)
Your 2012 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
Your (and if married, your spouse’s) 2012 Federal Income Tax Return.
Your Parents’ 2012 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student)
Your 2012 untaxed income records
Your current bank statements
Your current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bond and other investment records
Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

1040/FAFSA Worksheet

1040/FAFSA Worksheet

4. Getting it right. I won’t start a list of all the things that are confusing about the FAFSA. This post would never end. I will try to provide some help.

When preparing our draft 2012 tax return, our accountant provided a worksheet which matched dollar amounts from our return with FAFSA question numbers. If you know the difference between American Opportunity education credits and tuition deductions and which benefits you the most, you may not need any help. If, like me, this sort of help comes in handy, download a pdf of the blank form.

Good luck!

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