Monthly Archives: April 2013

May 1st = National College Decision Day

If you (or your student) is a senior, you don’t need any help identifying the import of May 1st — the day most colleges across the country require a decision and a deposit from accepted students. From the other side of the desk, it’s also the day admission officers take a deep breath and look at their reports to see how well their offers yielded acceptances.

A few students will have made their commitment a long time ago. Early Decision applicants sign a commitment to accept an early offer. Recruited athletes operate on their own timetable.

But the majority of HS senior households have spent a good part of the past month looking at a variety of financial aid offers, revisiting schools during admitted day programs (aka “yield events”), and thinking through the choices the senior faces.

If you’re in that position, and the decision is going down to the wire, here’s counsel from a few different sources.

If you’re reading this to prepare for a decision to be made in the future, it may be useful to think about what you or your student will face.

English: Old Main, Augustana College on the NR...

Old Main, Augustana College. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Questions that really matter when making a final college choice, by W. Kent Barnds, Augustana College. Barnds is VP of Enrollment, Communication, and Planning for a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. He provides a number of questions related to the college experience; here are a few:

Will smaller classes benefit me in the field I wish to study?
Do faculty member in every major fieldwork one-on-one with students? What are some examples that the college I am considering can provide?
Will faculty members make time to talk with students about their future goals and career plans? Who advises students to make sure they take all of the required courses to ensure on-time graduation?

2.  Tip Sheet: Making the Final College Decision, is by Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in New Hampshire, writing for the NYT’s The Choice blog. He wrote, “For many students, the college choice represents the first time that they have had to make a weighty decision.” Here are a couple of his considerations:

After the Facts, Go With Your Gut

The balance between critical analysis and gut instinct is a tricky one. Thoughtful decision-making involves an assessment of the facts and outcomes, while allowing for knowledge of self to guide your final choice.

Yes, it may be necessary to consider cost of attendance and distance from home. After these, considerations, however, quiet your mind from overanalyzing and fixating on the external. This will allow you to truly listen to what you know to be the right decision.

3.  Seeking Your Questions on Making the Final College Decision offers five posts of Q&As, including comparing financial offers, with answers by Mark Kantrowitz and Marie Bigham writing for the NYT’s The Choice. Here’s one of the questions facing many families:

Private University vs. State Institution

Q. My son’s top choice happens to be the most expensive (private) school. Even though it has the best offer of aid, the out-of-pocket cost would still be $40,000 to $45,000 a year. As a middle-class mother (not rich, not poor), how do we compare that with a state school where the overall cost would be $25,000 a year? I think the experience, education and connections would be superior at the expensive private school, and my son would be more likely to graduate in four years. But is it worth $80,000 more over four years?  — CA mom

I am a big fan of Kantrowitz’s clear and sometimes blunt reports on colleges and financial aid. You can learn a lot at his FinAid website. The response to the above question is lengthy and nuanced; I recommend reading it in full at the link. However, this brief calculus from the answer is worth remembering:

Total student loan debt at graduation should be less than the borrower’s expected annual starting salary, and ideally a lot less. If total debt is less than annual income, the borrower will be able to repay the student loans in 10 years or less.

Last year MS Pete made his commitment a day before the deadline. Once the decision was made, he could focus on enjoying the rest of his senior year. As Brennan Barnard wrote:

Send the check, buy the sweatshirt and celebrate the future

Even if it was not your first choice when you applied, invest yourself in your college as though you mean it. Try to remain open and trust that the universe will take care of the rest.

As always, good luck to the HS senior students and their families!

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How to send poor kids to top colleges? 2 Suggestions

Last week, in the New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote about an analysis of SAT takers, which indicated that more low-income, high-achieving students,

  • do not apply to selective colleges for which they have the aptitude, and
  • often do not graduate from the less selective colleges they do attend.

I wrote about his report and two others here. I really hadn’t planned to write about this again, but I must admit to a weakness for studies followed-on promptly by possible solutions. This week, these articles presented ideas on how to help change this.

1.  Tell them:  Make better efforts to inform. 

Leonhardt returned to the topic with How to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges. He presents the results from an effort to identify whether high-scoring, low-income students didn’t want to apply to selective colleges or they didn’t know about the opportunities available to them.

THE packages arrived by mail in October of the students’ senior year of high school. They consisted of brightly colored accordion folders containing about 75 sheets of paper. The sheets were filed with information about colleges: their admissions standards, graduation rates and financial aid policies.

. . .
Among a control group of low-income students with SAT scores good enough to attend top colleges — but who did not receive the information packets — only 30 percent gained admission to a college matching their academic qualifications. Among a similar group of students who did receive a packet, 54 percent gained admission, according to the researchers, Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford and Sarah E. Turner of the University of Virginia.

. . .

Perhaps most important, the packets presented a series of tables making clear that college is often not as expensive as many students and parents fear. Selective colleges frequently cost less for low-income students than local colleges, because the selective ones have the resources to offer bigger scholarships.

At the less-selective campuses in the University of Wisconsin system, for example, the average net annual cost for a year of tuition, room, board and fees in 2010-11 was almost $10,000 for families making less than $30,000, Ms. Turner said. At the flagship campus in Madison, by contrast, the equivalent net cost was $6,000. And at Harvard, such students paid only $1,300 a year.

That last bit — about understanding the different net costs for colleges — shouldn’t be surprising. Even those parents and students who study the process closely can have a difficult time predicting what the net costs at a variety of schools might be, since much depends upon the interest/value a particular student in a particular cohort holds for that college. College pricing is closer to the multiple prices-per-seat-on-a-plane model than one might imagine.

Illustration by Ted McGrath, for the New York Times.

Illustration by Ted McGrath, for the New York Times.

2.  Sell them:  Follow recruiting methods used by the military.

Responding to this same topic in an op-ed piece, Elite Colleges are as Foreign as Mars, published in the New York Times, Claire Vaye Watkins, a writer and English professor at Bucknell, wrote

For deans of admissions brainstorming what they can do to remedy this, might I suggest: anything.

By the time they’re ready to apply to colleges, most kids from families like mine — poor, rural, no college grads in sight — know of and apply to only those few universities to which they’ve incidentally been exposed. Your J.V. basketball team goes to a clinic at University of Nevada, Las Vegas; you apply to U.N.L.V. Your Amtrak train rolls through San Luis Obispo, Calif.; you go to Cal Poly. I took a Greyhound bus to visit high school friends at the University of Nevada, Reno, and ended up at U.N.R. a year later, in 2003.

Ms. Watkins provides a role model:  the military recruited very well by sending uniformed alumni back to the high school and by providing guidance on how to enlist, while the school provided classroom time to take the Armed Services aptitude test.

Granted, there’s a good reason top colleges aren’t sending recruiters around the country to woo kids like me and Ryan… The Army needs every qualified candidate it can get, while competitive colleges have far more applicants than they can handle. But if these colleges are truly committed to diversity, they have to start paying attention to the rural poor.

Until then, is it any wonder that students in Pahrump and throughout rural America are more likely to end up in Afghanistan than at N.Y.U.?

No wonder, indeed.

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