Question: I am trying to decide where to attend college this upcoming Fall. My first option is my dream. a prestigious university in my favorite city. My second option is a much smaller and lesser known school in a smaller city. If the financial situation at both were the same, I would pick the first in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately, I would have to take out 15-20k in loans per year at my dream school. At my second option, I would graduate debt free. I am at the point where I will regret any university I pick; at one, I will regret the debt, the other, the dream lost. I know I could be happy at my second option, but I can’t stop comparing it to my dream.
Where is the line drawn between being optimistic and being foolish? Do I follow my heart or reason? Thank you so much for your advice!
Oy! A damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t decision. Those can be nasty, and –if you’re lucky–you won’t face too many in life. I’m sure this is very difficult for you, but you do seem to be approaching it in a mature and very reasonable way.
Yet, as much as I empathize with your dilemma, I also feel that it’s not appropriate for me–an Internet “Dean”–to weigh in on such a major choice without knowing you or at least a lot more about you.
However, I will share with you the story of “Caitlin,” a terrific and talented young woman in my orbit, who was facing a similar dilemma five years ago. She opted to pass up her dream school (which was Georgetown) to attend Lafayette College because Lafayette had offered her a big merit scholarship and she could graduate debt-free. I reminded her at the time that her four years at Lafayette would go fast and that it wouldn’t be long before she could apply to Georgetown for graduate school.
I also pointed out that she had the potential to be a star at Lafayette. So, although there was no guarantee that she’d be admitted to grad school at Georgetown, she ought to be able to position herself to do so while minimizing the costs of her undergrad education.
By the time Caitlin graduated from Lafayette last year, she had had the opportunity to work closely with faculty members and had earned the college’s highest honor. She had also accrued a long list of graduate school acceptances,including one from Georgetown. But, yet again, she decided to pass on Georgetown to make another choice.
One thing that you may discover in four years is that your “dream school” at age 18 may not be your dream school at age 22. But the debt will dog you regardless. Of course, no matter which college you choose, the other will be your “Road Not Taken,” and you may always wonder if you made the wisest choice.
But, before making ANY choice, here’s one thought: If you attend the pricier college, could you be in the running to be a Resident Advisor, which might cut out your room and board costs? (Some colleges offer deep discounts and even stipends for R.A’s; others are less generous. Also, at some schools, only seniors can have these jobs; sometimes, elsewhere, even sophomores can apply.) Although an R.A. job wouldn’t eliminate all of your annual debt, it might make a reasonable dent in it.
And how about A.P. or I.B. credits? If you enroll at your dream college, might you have enough to skip a semester or even a full year to cut costs?
Another consideration is your prospective major and career path. If you are looking down the road to med school or law school, you’ll probably also have more debt ahead. (That was the aforementioned Caitlin’s situation.) If you’re not thinking grad school, you may not be facing
additional debt, but this could mean you’ll have a harder time repaying your undergrad loans. Certain majors, however (e.g., engineering, computer science) MAY put you in a better spot to start paying off undergrad debt
right away than other majors will. So this has to be factored into the equation as you make the hard decision ahead.
If you want, let me know the names of the two schools in contention and perhaps I’ll have more to add once you do.
Finally, what advice is coming from your parents? Are they encouraging you to take the cheaper school or the more prestigious one? Although this may ultimately be YOUR decision, the peace that comes from it may be at least
partially affected by the level of support you get at home.
Good luck to you as you count down to May 1.
Posted in College Admissions, Financial Aid
Question: I’m going to be applying to some very selective schools next fall, but I’m not sure what I want to major in. I have had national-level achievements in both the sciences and humanities. I know that with some schools (such as Princeton or Columbia), I’ll have to apply either to the engineering school or the arts/humanities school. I am a girl and I have a perfect sat score on Critical Reading but a 690 on math. I will take the bio, literature, and Math 2 SAT II’s (I’ve already received an 800 on World History). Although I’m not yet sure what I really want to major in, would it improve my chances to apply to the engineering school of Princeton or Columbia? Or could it hurt them since my math scores, while good, are not excellent?
A higher percentage of female applicants will be admitted to the engineering schools at Princeton and Columbia than to the colleges of arts & sciences.
BUT .. applying to engineering might be a bad choice for you for a couple reasons.
The first is the one you’ve cited … a math score that is below par for the top engineering colleges. However, if you retake the SAT and do somewhat better, or if you have a good score on the Math 2 Subject Test, then you can revisit this issue.
I would also recommend taking Subject Tests (or AP Tests) in physics and/or chemistry, if you are aiming for a highly selective engineering college. Princeton actually requires one subject test in physics or chem for its engineering candidates. Columbia says candidates can choose from among bio, physics, and chemistry. Although you would meet that requirement with just the bio Subject Test, I think you might disadvantage yourself if you haven’t taken chemistry and/or physics, too, because many of your “competitor” applicants will have earned high scores in those areas.
The other reason why you shouldn’t apply to engineering schools is that you aren’t committed to engineering. Although you would have some space in the engineering curriculum for liberal arts electives, engineering programs don’t allow a lot wiggle room to explore new fields.
But what if you think you might want engineering but can’t tell until you try it? Here’s some good advice from the FAQ section of the Princeton engineering Web pages:
I’m an A.B. student but I might be interested in engineering. How do I keep my options open?
Take Physics 103-104 or 105-106 (unless you have AP credit based on scores of 5 on both parts of the Physics C exam) and Math 103 or higher (depending on your preparation) in freshman year. The other two courses can advance you toward the A.B. degree, so maybe a language course and a humanities or writing course. If you really want to take the full B.S.E. program, you could also take chemistry, but we can usually work that in later unless you want to do CBE. If you’re interested in Computer Science, take CS 126 sometime in freshman year. Come see Dean Bogucki as soon as possible.
While I know that it is daunting to see how many outstanding high school seniors are turned away from Ivy and other “elite” colleges each year, and I realize that it is tempting to do whatever you believe will help you to beat the odds, I don’t think that engineering sounds like the right route for you … at least not at present. If your math score goes up, if you do well on physics and/or chem tests, and if you have a chance (maybe over the summer?) to explore engineering and to decide that it’s really the path you want, then maybe my advice will change. But for now, I recommend steering clear of engineering schools but considering some of those prerequisite courses as a freshman so that you can leave the option open.
Posted in College Admissions
Question: My daughter is waitlisted at the school of her choice and really wants to go there and nowhere else. How can she demonstrate that she really wants to go to that school and what actions would you look for in a waitlisted student who really wants it?
“The Dean” has answered this question–in one form or another–countless times. Unfortunately, this is due to the fact that SO many high school seniors get stuck in waitlist purgatory every year, enduring that confusing so-near-and-yet-so-far feeling that your daughter is facing right now.
Here’s an example of one of those earlier answers that should be helpful to her, too:
As your daughter launches her waitlist campaign, try to help her to get excited about the places that have already said yes. But if she is single-minded about attending this one, her best bet is to put on a full-court press, as described in the column above.
One final tip: I’m sure it’s tough on your daughter to not receive the news she wanted from her first-choice school. But it’s probably even tougher on YOU. As a parent myself, I know how hard it can be to see a child disappointed … especially one who seems to have done everything “right” to reach a goal. But, from years of experience, I can assure you that this crazy process often does end in a “meant to be” way. So even if your daughter never does get off that waitlist, she may discover that the school she DOES attend could feel like the place she was supposed to be all along.
Posted in College Admissions
Question: I was wondering (and praying) if financial aid would cover campus housing. My mother and I have been unemployed for over 5 years and living under my grandmother’s roof. So we make 0 monthly. It is so very difficult to find a job where I am in NC. HORRIBLE. And the school I need and want to attend is out of state. Thank you for your help!
The good news: When colleges compute financial aid, it is based on total “Cost of Attendance,” and not on tuition alone. So your room & board, miscellaneous fees, and even travel to and from campus will be part of the aid formula. Note also that, at some colleges, students who are selected to be “Resident Advisors” receive free rooms and sometimes free board, too. (These Resident Advisor jobs, which may be called by different names at different schools, are typically reserved for juniors and seniors but sometimes sophomores are eligible as well. The positions are often very competitive. Good grades and, especially, involvement in extracurricular activities are usually weighted heavily in the selection process.)
The bad news: Many colleges will not meet your full financial need or–if they do meet it–some of your “aid” may be in the form of loans that you must repay. While student loans have reasonable interest rates, you want to be careful not to graduate with too much debt. Thus, your best bet is to not set your sights on just one college alone. Instead, you should apply to several places—including in-state schools that might be most affordable. Then you can compare financial aid offers before making a final choice.
But, above all, you shouldn’t let your family’s low income keep you from attending college. You just have to be a savvy “shopper” in order to find the place that will meet your academic and personal preferences while also offering sufficient financial support to make it a realistic option.
Posted in Financial Aid
Question: I’m a parent who would like to find out what schools would still accept applications (in mid-March or beyond) for a very strong student.
It’s impossible to responsibly recommend colleges without knowing about the “very strong student” in question (prospective major, geographic and school-size preferences, SAT or ACT scores, etc.) The College Board used to include a handy item on their “Matchmaker” questionnaire that said, “Application deadline not passed,” which was a great way to find the most selective colleges that were still accepting applications and which ticked many boxes on the student’s must-have list. But they did away with it a couple years ago and I miss it a lot … especially at this time of year. So now I am stuck relying on my intuition and experience when finding 11th-hour schools for high school seniors.
But without some knowledge of the candidate, these tools don’t help much. For instance, Drexel University in Philadelphia offers some excellent programs in arts, sciences, and engineering and is still accepting applications but I can’t tell if a large urban school is what your student is seeking. For small, sort of quirky liberal arts experiences, I might recommend New College of Florida, Eckerd College (also in Florida and especially strong in environmental studies), Unity College in Maine or St. Johns in Maryland and New Mexico (two campuses) with an unusual Great Books curriculum. Another strong liberal arts option is Hendrix in Arkansas. Thinking outside the box (and outside the country), Jacobs University in Germany offers a curriculum that is entirely in English and draws students of many nationalities. Hofstra University in Long Island has both an Honors Program and a non-traditional “New College for Interdisciplinary Studies” (a school within the school) that might appeal to strong students.
To identify additional colleges that are still accepting applications, go to the Common Applicaton Web site and see the list of member schools and their requirements. You can scroll down the list to find schools with late deadlines, no closing dates, or with “Rolling Admission,” which means that applicants will be admitted until the class is full. See https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/MemberRequirements.aspx
This College Confidential discussion forum thread includes a long list of “Rolling Admission” colleges that other CC members have put together. You may spot some schools that interest you here. Keep in mind that most big public universities have honors programs that help their best students find each other quickly and offer special opportunities for them. http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/354075-list-colleges-early-action-early-decision-rolling-admissions.html
In early May, the National Associate for College Admission Counseling will post online their annual “Space Available Survey” which is a state-by-state list of all colleges and universities that did not fill their freshman and transfer spots and are still accepting applications, even when deadlines have officially passed. There are usually a few fairly selective schools on that list.
Finally, if your child is interested in a particular college where he or she would be a very sought-after candidate due to grades, test scores, etc., you should contact the admission office and ask if there is any wiggle room with the deadline, even if it is already long passed. (This definitely won’t work at colleges that turn away far more students than they accept and it may not work if you need financial aid.)
Frankly, I’ve always believed that bright and eager students can get a good education anywhere. Obviously, it’s wise to direct teenagers to institutions where they will be challenged and engaged. But often those who find themselves at the top of the heap at less selective schools are able to parlay that position into high GPA’s and plum internships or faculty research assistantships … which can be very helpful when it comes time for graduate school admission (or transferring)!
I hope that this gives you some direction … as much as I can offer without knowing more about your child. And if you’re interested in paid private counseling to help identify good last-minute matches or worthwhile gap-year opportunities, let me know and I will recommend some next steps.
Posted in College Admissions
What math course should I take in my senior year in order to have a great chance of earning acceptance to an Ivy League school if I am currently a sophomore enrolled in Precalculus?
The Ivy League colleges expect that the majority of their admitted students will have taken the “Most Demanding” course load available at their high schools. The applications will actually ask school guidance counselors to indicate whether each student’s course load is “Most Demanding,” “Very Demanding,” “Demanding,” “Average” or “Below Average” in the context of what the high school offers.
But I don’t know what options are available at your school so I can’t advise you about which specific courses to choose. Many Ivy League aspirants take Calculus AB in grade 11 and Calc BC in grade 12, but not all high schools offer a calculus sequence like this. Some students take AP Calculus as juniors and then have the option of taking college-level math as seniors.
So you should talk to your school’s college counselor to find out what path will allow him or her to designate your curriculum choices as “Most Demanding” when it comes time to apply to college.
Note, however, that course selection alone will not give anyone a “great chance” of earning a spot at the most-sought after colleges. At these places, the majority of applicants have top grades in top classes and outstanding test scores, too. Such successes will only get applicants to the outer gates. Then the admission folks ask, “What is special?”
So, certainly taking a rigorous math program will help transport you to those outer gates, but you’ll need a lot more to get you through them.
Good luck as you continue that journey.
Posted in College Admissions
Question: Thank you for reading my question. I’m an international student and my school doesn’t have an “official” profile. So my school counselor, who is not a native English speaker, created a profile to send to my U.S. colleges. She made lots of grammar mistakes and spelling errors. She also named colleges in a wrong way (for example, Purdue university as Perdue university or University of Chicago as Chicago University). And the most critical mistake she made is that she named my school wrong! Also, she mentioned that my school offers AP courses and anatomy courses for seniors, which is not true. Do you think these mistakes will hurt my application a lot?
Don’t worry. These mistakes will not hurt your chances. In fact, they may even work in your favor a very tiny bit. (Once admission officials see how little English your counselor knows and how unfamiliar she is with U.S. colleges, it may show them some of the challenges you’ve faced in applying to American schools.)
The grammar and spelling mistakes mean nothing. Likewise, misnaming the U.S. colleges will not affect you in the least and might even give the admission staff a chuckle. (“Perdue” is a well known brand of chicken. )
However, I do feel it would be worthwhile to write to your colleges and correct the errors your counselor made regarding the curriculum. It could be helpful for them to know that your school does NOT offer AP classes, if there aren’t any AP classes. The same is true for anatomy and any other curricular mistakes the counselor made.
As long as you are writing to the colleges anyway, you can include a short apology for your counselor’s other mistakes. For instance, you might write something like this:
My high school [fill in CORRECT school name] does not have an official school profile. Therefore, my counselor, [fill in her name], who does not speak English well, created her own profile for my college applications. I noticed afterwards that she misnamed several U.S. colleges in this profile and that the profile was also full of many small errors, such as in grammar and spelling. I apologize on her behalf for these.
I would also like to correct several more important errors. These have to do with our school curriculum. [Now list the mistakes]
You should send your letter BY E-MAIL to all of the U.S. colleges on your list. If you know the name of the staff member who handles international applications, send it directly to him or her. If you don’t know the name (and can’t get it easily by telephoning the admission office or looking on the Web site), just address it to the main admissions email address, which should be easily found on the Web site.
In the subject line, put CORRECTIONS : YOUR NAME/HIGH SCHOOL NAME
Again, this isn’t a big deal, but it would still be helpful for the admission committees to get the true information on the AP’s and other curriculum errors.
Posted in College Admissions
Question: My child has a choice between an IB magnet high school and a science and technology magnet high school. What are the pros and cons? Her goal is to join medical school. Which would be a better way to go?
It sounds like you’re facing a tough choice and I empathize with that. However, it would be irresponsible for me, an Internet “dean” to weigh in without knowing anything about your child or about the specific schools involved.
You need to evaluate each high school individually based on many factors such as reputation, student-body demographics, class size, and perceived fit for your daughter. Do the courses offered at each seem similarly rigorous? What percentage of seniors at each school attend four-year colleges, and is the list of the colleges that admit them roughly comparable?
Also, don’t overlook logistical issues such as start time and transportation that could have a big impact on the sanity (or lack thereof) in your household on a day-to-day basis.
As you do your “research,” it may be helpful to understand that college admission officials–even at the most hyper-competitive colleges–assess students in the context of their school environment. What your daughter does in high school is far more important than where she is in high school.
So my advice (which I already said I wouldn’t give you ) is to pick the school that feels like the right one to you and your child, and don’t base your decision on what you think the admission folks expect to see on an application.
Posted in College Admissions
Question: If I get rejected by my Early Decision I school in mid-December, am I allowed to apply to a different a school via Early Decision II in January? Thank you for your help.
Yes, if you have been denied in the ED I round, you are free to apply to an ED II college. In fact, even if you are deferred in the ED I round, you can still pursue another college via ED II, if you so choose. A growing number of seniors who are discouraged by ED I deferrals are choosing to try for ED II at a different school with the hope that the ED admissions-odds boost will help their chances. See this previous Ask the Dean column on what I call the “ED I, ED II … Skidoo” http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/archives/ed-i-ed-ii-skidoo.htm
Note, however, that if you are deferred via ED I and then you apply elsewhere via ED II and are admitted, you can’t wait until the spring to see if your ED I school says yes after all. You must matriculate at your ED II college (assuming that finances permit).
Posted in College Admissions
Question: I plan to get married after I graduate high school and spend a gap year saving money and traveling, etc. Should I apply to colleges now? Or should I wait until after my gap year? Will a college I apply to now be likely to accept my application a year from now?
Many counselors are likely to tell you to apply to college now, while you still have easy access to your teachers, guidance counselor, etc. And, indeed, I used to agree. But over the years, I’ve started to change my tune. For seniors who seem to know exactly what they want or where they hope to be when their gap year is over, then applying to college while still in high school is probably the wisest route. But often new interests and preferences grow out of a year off, and the Internet facilitates contact with high school staff, even from distant corners of the world. So, increasingly, I’m suggesting a wait … especially in your case … and for several reasons.
For starters, many admission officers are going to raise their eyebrows with skepticism once they hear that you are about to be married. They may wonder how you will juggle newly-wedded life with the demands of college, especially at such a young age. They may also wonder if your plans to get married will pan out as expected and how any changes that occur might affect your educational goals.
So I think that your best bet would be to wait until after you’re married and are in the throes of your gap year before you file your applications. This way, you can report to colleges what you are doing, rather than what you expect to do, which ought to make you a stronger candidate.
Moreover, as a married college student you will probably be eligible for a lot more financial aid—should you need it—than you would be as a single applicant. Colleges treat married students as “emancipated,” and thus they consider your income and your spouse’s—but not your parents’—when assessing financial need. If you and your husband have lower earnings and assets than your parents do, this will work in your favor when financial aid determinations are made. (But it doesn’t mean that your parents can’t help pay for your education, if they are in a position to do so.)
Finally, as a teenager with wedding plans, you have probably already gotten more advice than you want, especially from those who are citing dismal teen-marriage statistics and urging you to proceed with caution. However, I’m going to toss out one more warning: If you expect to be in school full time while your husband is working, keep in mind that this can bring added stress to the relationship. You two may have strikingly different schedules. He will come home at the end of the day ready to relax or socialize while you will need quiet time to do your school work. If you are both in school, it may mean smoother scheduling but could put added economic pressure on the household.
Thus, hopefully, by taking a gap year after high school and postponing your college applications, you will gain a greater sense of what your goals for the years beyond will be and of how you and your fiancé can facilitate them together.
Good luck to you, whatever you decide.
Posted in College Admissions, Other College Issues