Question: Since the beginning of my junior year, I have constantly been seeking attention from my counselor about graduating early. She has told me very little information and even when I ask her what to do, she tells me it’s practically impossible. Well I want to achieve the impossible. It’s now MARCH and I still go to her and tell her I still want to graduate early. She still does not understand. What should I do? I know what I want to do with my career. But no one to help. I have even gone to the Principal and Vice Principal. They too have not listened. I plead for my voice to be heard. Please help. Please tell me what I should do. Is it too late to apply to college? FAFSA? Scholarships?
March of junior year seems VERY late to be planning an early graduation. You can read a previous reply I wrote to a similar question here: http://www.collegeconfidential.com/dean/archives/000213.htm
It is too late now to apply to most colleges except for non-selective or minimally selective ones. You have also missed many priority financial aid and scholarship deadlines. In addition, most high schools require four years of English to graduate, and many colleges strongly recommend (or even require) four years of English as well. So, if you haven’t planned ahead and doubled up on English classes, you may have difficulty earning a diploma this spring and being admitted to college. (Note, however, that I’ve heard of some students who leave high school at the end of junior year to start college. If they then take an English course in college, they will get their high school diploma when that college course has been completed. Likewise, some colleges that require four years of high school English will accept these students on the condition that they enroll in a freshman English class.)
If you’re bored in high school and eager to get out, at this late date you might be better served by looking into “Dual Enrollment” programs that will allow you to take local college classes instead of high school classes. This should give you a taste of college life next year and perhaps let you try classes related to your intended career, but this will also allow you ample time to approach the college search and application process carefully rather than rushing through it now and finding that your options are very limited.
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Question: I am African-American male in 8th grade, applying to boarding schools for 9th grade. I am applying to Phillips Exeter, Phillips Andover, Deerfield, Groton, Lawrenceville, and Hotchkiss. I have gotten mostly straight As on my report cards in middle school. Maybe a few B+s. I never got a bad comment. My teachers like me. I take physics/chemistry, pre-algebra, English, US History,and Spanish. I do community service. I’ve played football for 8 years. Lacrosse for 5. I’m on the student council.I play bass clarinet, have been in band for 5 years. I have been on honor roll for 6th and 7th grade. I was selected this year by my teacher to tutor kids in science. I’ve had a few interviews so far, and they have gone pretty well. My only concern is my SSAT. MY first trial ever of the SSAT was in October. I only scored in the 40th percentile. I’m taking it again in December. What are my chances of getting into any of these schools, and do you think my SSAT scores will affect my chances?
“The Dean” does not do “chances” estimates. There are too many factors that go into admission decisions to base a verdict on an “Ask the Dean” question.
However, you are aiming for a very competitive list of prep schools. If a high school senior wrote to me and said, “I have applied to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Brown, and MIT …” my first thought would be, “Yikes! Where are the SAFETY schools?” Institutions that are as selective and sought-after as the ones you’ve named need to be considered “Reach” schools for nearly everyone. And your SSAT scores are currently very low for the places you’ve named.
As I’m sure you know, being African-American will help your admission chances because these schools seek diversity. If you are “first-generation” (your parents did not attend college) your low SSAT results won’t hurt you as much as they might if your parents are educated professionals. Conversely, if your family is extremely wealthy or if a parent is some sort of VIP, this could work in your favor.
If you are a recruited athlete, your SSAT scores won’t matter as much either. You mention playing football and lacrosse but you don’t say whether or not you’re highly talented in those sports. If you are, this could be a big factor that will help to override so-so SSAT’s.
So here’s what I suggest you do:
-Wait until you get your December test scores. You may see significant improvement now that you’ve had some practice. If not, contact admission officials at your target prep schools directly and ask how commonly students with your test scores are accepted. You’ll probably get a vague answer along the lines of, “It really depends on the student. We evaluate each candidate individually.” Even so, you or your parents should still press for more specific information. Explain that you are re-evaluating your school list and that you want to make sure it includes some places where you have a realistic chance. Point out that you are not asking for your OWN chances; you only want to know if students in your test range are admitted more than once in a great while.
-Consider some “safer” options, if you haven’t already. This Web site will give you a rough sense of the average SSAT scores at various boarding schools: http://www.boardingschoolreview.com/highest_average_ssat/sort/1 Although these schools will also accept students whose tests may be well below the figures you’ll find here, the list will help you identify less selective possibilities. For instance, all of the schools you’ve named (except Lawrenceville) are coeducational and in New England. All have fairly mainstream student bodies (i.e., they’re not known for being exceptionally left-leaning. They aren’t arts schools nor do they have any other specific academic or extracurricular focus.) So you might want to consider places such as The Williston Northampton School (MA), Suffield Academy (CT), and Proctor Academy (NH) which seem to meet your preferences but that routinely admit students whose SSAT’s aren’t in the stratosphere. Those are just examples. There are many other schools that should welcome a student like you. Note, however, that some prep schools are “need blind,” meaning that they don’t take your financial aid requirements into consideration when making admission decisions. Most schools, however, are not. So if your family needs a lot of aid, that could also affect your admission outcomes.
Clearly you have many interests and abilities that you will bring to your new school community. So, if you are determined to try boarding school life next year, make sure you apply to a balanced list of options.
Good luck on your re-test and on your admission outcomes.
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Question: My son has a decent financial aid package with a large grant, work-study, and subsidized Stafford and Perkins loans. (We’re debating whether to take the unsubsidized loan for $2K because of the interest rate, which is at the moment worse than a home equity line would be.) We want to keep his loans to $5K or at most $5.5K a year, but to pay the remainder, I’m taking on a part-time job. (I’m self-employed and my income fluctuates by $1-2K a year; my husband works full-time and whatever raises he gets usually are offset by increases in our health insurance premiums.) I haven’t received a straight answer from the Financial Aid Office about what percentage of my additional income would be subtracted from the grant, and they won’t even say that it won’t be subtracted dollar for dollar. Is there any formula for figuring this out, or does it depend on the college? (The college my son chose not to attend at least told me that it would be a percentage, not a dollar for dollar reduction.)
I’m trying to figure out whether the added stress is worth it, if the college ends up just subtracting the money I earn. Thank you!
Tricky financial aid questions tend to befuddle “The Dean.” So I consulted with a finaid pro (Ann C. Playe, former associate director of admission and financial aid at Smith College) before responding. Ann said:
“The additional income would run through a formula with some protections BUT the percentage variance is more related to the level of income in the family–the higher the income, the higher the percentage that would hit the bottom line.”
In other words, your son’s school won’t take all of your extra dough, dollar for dollar, but it’s hard to predict how much they will want, and your overall household income will affect that decision. Ann also pointed out that, “The financial aid office won’t make any calculations and promises now because other things may have also changed by next year. So they don’t want to have the parents tell them, ‘But you said I’d only pay $1000 more.”
Ann and I both recommend that you play with your son’s college’s “Net Price Calculator.” As of this past October, all colleges were required to post a school-specific NPC online. Although the NPC’s are far from perfect, you can plug in your numbers using your current household income and then repeat the process using your anticipated higher income to see how the Expected Family Contribution changes. That should give you a ballpark sense of how your extra dough will be treated by this particular college. (Save your data, if given this option, and I also recommend that you take a screen shot of the outcome and save it, too. If, down the road, the college seems to want considerably more than what their NPC indicated, you can use this “evidence” in your appeal process. Although the NPC is not a binding contract, it may make the finaid folks feel a little sheepish if their own online tool is giving false hope.)
Ann suspects that, in your case, the extra cash flow is likely to help because you are already receiving some grant aid and therefore not in a really high income bracket. This means that there shouldn’t be a dollar for dollar reduction of the grant aid because of your new work, and thus you won’t be just spinning your wheels by taking on the additional job.
So start with the NPC and see if it confirms that the stress of the added job will indeed pay off.
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Question: I receive disability payments but the online EFC calculator tells me that our family ‘s Expected Contribution is $33,000. This is impossible for us as I have no extra money after paying my bills and no savings. Can speaking to the financial aid office help? My daughter has all A’s and good sat scores along with great extracurriculars.
An EFC of $33,000 sounds awfully high for a parent on disability unless there is a second parent with a greater income or your daughter has her own income or assets. I wonder if you made a mistake when you tried the calculator.
Did you know that all colleges are now required to put a “Net Price Calculator” on their Web sites? If you haven’t done so already, try these individualized calculators for a couple of the colleges that are on your daughter’s current list.
For instance, here’s a calculator for Smith College, where I used to work and which offers excellent financial aid for strong students who are willing to consider a single-sex school: https://npc.collegeboard.org/student/app/smith
If the figure continues to come out to $33K (or to ANY number that strikes you as absurd), then your daughter’s best bet is to apply to colleges where she will be a likely contender for a big merit scholarship. Although some colleges (especially the Ivies and a handful of other highly competitive places like Amherst and Williams) provide only need-based aid, the majority of schools use merit money to entice their most sought-after applicants to enroll.
To find colleges that meet her preferences and profile and where she is a likely candidate for merit aid, your daughter can use College Confidential’s SuperMatch: http://www.collegeconfidential.com/college_search/ As she completes the SuperMatch questionnaire, she should be on the lookout for the “My Scores” heading and should be sure to check the box under this heading that says, ” I’m interested in schools where I would be well above average, to increase my financial aid opportunities.” Once she gets her results list, she can take a closer look to see if any of the suggested schools should be added to her list and she can visit their Web sites to get a sense of how much merit money she may be in the running to receive.
As you’ve suggested, you can also talk to financial aid officers (or write a letter) that explains why a high EFC is well out of reach. But before you do, check it again because I suspect that you made a mistake when you completed the online form.
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Question: I’ve filled out my FAFSA on FAFSA.com and my friend told me that she never had to pay a fee. And now I’m afraid I have been scammed. But I’ve done some research and some sites say it is a scam and some say it’s not a scam. FAFSA.com says they are not affiliated with the Dept. Of Education and they ask for an $80 fee. But down below in small print on FAFSA.com they say you fill out your FAFSA for free with professional assistants at fafsa.ed.gov. So they seem reliable, but I’m still scared they are going to take my identity. I want to cancel my transaction and everything on that site. But they are closed. I need help!
FAFSA.com is not a scam but it is also not FAFSA.gov, which is the site that many unsuspecting families think they are reaching when they land on its home page. (If you simply Google “FAFSA,” you’ll find that FAFSA.com is the first site that comes up at the top of the page, although it is there as a sponsored link.)
FAFSA.com charges money for help with FAFSA completion, which the actual FAFSA site, FAFSA.gov, does not. Many people have complained about the confusion, but it still persists.
But you don’t have to worry about identity theft. FAFSA.com is not known for being unscrupulous in that way. This commercial site can lead you to believe that you should pay money for FAFSA assistance that you may not need, but you don’t have to fear that it will cause you any problems besides a lighter wallet. FAFSA.com claims that the vast majority of their clients would happily recommend their services. Most families, however, find that the free help that is available from FAFSA.gov is adequate. (You can also call the financial aid office at any college on your list if you have questions about how to respond on your FAFSA, especially if your family situation is atypical.)
If you want to cancel your FAFSA.com order but are having trouble connecting with a “real” person, try this: Call the number for NEW clients (866.549.6195) not for EXISTING clients. That will take you to a real person after just a brief recording. Then you can explain that you erroneously signed up for the paid service and would like to cancel. Be persistent but polite and you should be successful.
(posted 3/22/2012; revised 3/4/2013)
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Question: I am a single mom with a son who is going to a state school in the fall (approx $18-20,000/year). I have $43,000 saved. He has qualified for both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans. Should I take both or just the Subsidized? Or no loan at all and spend down the fund as we go? I am trying to figure the least amount of debt in the end for him. Thank you!
This “dean” is not qualified to be anyone’s financial counselor, but I bounced your question off of a pro, along with my proposed response. She agreed with my suggestion, which is that you should split the difference. That is, take out some subsidized loan every year but also dig into your savings. You don’t want your son to graduate with a lot of debt, but repaying a loan is good for a credit rating.
Something else that your son can look into is the possibility of being a Resident Advisor on campus. At many colleges, this sort of position is open to qualified juniors and seniors and maybe to sophomores, as well. R.A.’s get free room and, at some schools, free board, too. So you wouldn’t have to touch as much of your savings if your son can keep costs down this way.
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Question: Do you recommend a printer in the dorm room?
Yes, absolutely. Now that printers are so cheap, there’s really no reason not to have your own. (I bought one for my son that came with ink cartridges and cost less than what some folks pay for the ink alone. Surprisingly, the ink supply lasted more than a day!) Although many professors allow you (or even expect you) to submit papers electronically, you’ll still be glad that you can print right in your dorm room.
If you don’t already have a printer, and a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. is looking for high school graduation gift ideas, suggest an “All-in-One” that will print, copy, scan, and fax. You may not need the fax too often, but I bet you’ll use it occasionally, and I promise you that all the other features will come in handy during your college career. I bought a new All-in-One just yesterday and I paid $70. This included free shipping and ink cartridges. It’s not the snazziest model around, but it will suit my needs (and there are cheaper ones out there, too).
The College Confidential discussion forum is full of threads on other must-haves for your dorm. (Some are even school-specific.) So check them out when you can.
But note that these lists are just suggestions, and–like many times in life–less is often more. My College Confidential colleague Dave Berry always recommends that, before you pack for the dorm, spread everything out that you plan to take and then put half of it back! (But keep the printer )
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Question: I am finishing off my junior year at a smaller, rural high school where I am currently in the running for the number one spot of our class as well being involved in athletics and other activities. However, next year I am going to live with my grandma and will be attending a larger high school. With a 3.93 GPA I doubt I will be Valedictorian, and I also don’t think I will be able to make it in varsity athletics, knowledge bowl, and other activities with the higher selection. With a 29 on the ACT (planning to retake), I’m not expecting to go to an Ivy league college, but I am still worried about how the decreased involvement would look. My question is: How can I make up for this, or am I worrying about nothing?
Switching from a small school to a big one in your senior year will definitely be a challenge. As you suggest, in your new school you may not be the valedictorian, and you might not make the sports teams or other selective activities that you enjoyed at your previous school. However, this transition could be an excellent topic for your main college essay—one that would enable admission officials to understand why you don’t hold school offices or star on sports teams and which could tell them a lot about you as they read how you’ve weathered this significant change.
On the other hand, don’t rule out taking part in your favorite activities or finding new ones that didn’t exist at your previous school. I’m sure there are lots of clubs that will welcome you. But if you’re not as involved at your new school as you’ve been in the past, you may find that you have more free time to pursue hobbies or personal interests. College admission committees always like to hear about these “hidden extracurriculars.” You should never feel that only organized undertakings will qualify as application fodder.
So try not to worry about how your changed circumstances will affect your college outcomes. Instead, take advantage of this opportunity to meet new people and try different opportunities and perhaps even to “reinvent yourself,” if you wish (New nickname? Clothing style? Hair color?)
Good luck to you as you make the move.
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Question: Does applying via the Common App have the same weight as a specific school application form? I know that they say it doesn’t make a difference, but it seems to me that “Common App” says that you are applying to several (or many) schools, whereas the specific app might imply more interest in that school.
In days of yore (i.e., about a decade ago, maybe even a couple), “The Dean” used to insist that a student who really wanted to attend a particular college should use that school’s own application instead of the Common App. But I’ve long since about-faced on that stance. (I better not ever try to run for political office. I’ve got a long history of other 180′s, too ) Nonetheless, I do urge high seniors using the Common Application to “demonstrate interest” to their target schools in other ways. But I make that same suggestion to students not using the Common App as well. (More on this in a minute.)
Colleges that belong to the Common Application must swear a solemn oath to honor it as their own, and–for the most part–I think they do. (More on this in a minute, too.) A growing number of institutions use only the Common App. In fact, you can spot many heavy hitters such as Princeton, Stanford, and Yale on the Common App’s “Exclusive Users” list. (Even the University of Chicago which came late to the party and for years flaunted its “UNcommon Application, is now on that roster.) See https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/ExclusiveUsers.aspx
Exclusive use seems to me to be the sensible approach. After all, if the Common App is truly equal, why offer an alternative? (Doing so seems even a bit Orwellian to me, as in, “All applications are equal, but some applications are more equal than others.”) And I also feel that students show sufficient commitment to their target colleges simply by filling out their annoying supplements … many of which require extra essays. (Critics of the Common App tend to claim that, with one swift click of a mouse, teenagers can apply to 10 colleges … or 100, with little regard to where their applications will be landing. But anyone who has been through this convoluted process knows that the supplement system has adulterated much of the convenience and stress-reduction that the Common App is supposed to provide.)
Yet, although the Common Application honchos (and most college admission officials) insist otherwise, I do believe that there are some colleges that give extra Brownie Points to applicants who use their own forms. Example: several years ago, an advisee of mine from New York visited a university in the Midwest. While there, he met with an admission staff member and mentioned to her that he was planning to apply via the Common App. She told him that using the school’s own application instead would suggest a more serious interest. (Never mind that this kid had already schlepped halfway across the country to see this school!) When I found out about that conversation, I did something that I don’t ordinarily do … I blew the whistle. I contacted the Common Application HQ’s and reported the incident. (Don’t know what happened after that. Someone’s head probably rolled. I didn’t provide any details that would lead to the kid involved, and he actually ended up at that school.) But the moral of the story is that there are probably a few admission folks who still cling to the belief that using the college’s own application, in lieu of the Common one, is a sign of a stronger desire to attend.
However, regardless of which application a student chooses to submit, I advise “demonstrating interest” in some way beyond merely applying. Sadly, “demonstrating interest” is yet another example of how this process has become more convoluted and self-conscious than it was in my own era. Now it’s not enough for high school kids to read everything possible about a particular school and tack pennants on their bedroom walls. Instead, today’s applicants—especially the borderline ones—are wise to clearly show their love to all their target colleges. This can be done via campus visits, by attending programs held closer to home, by writing to admission offices to ask for information that isn’t offered on Web sites (e.g., “I can’t make it out to Colorado but can you give me the name of a current student from my home city who might be willing to have coffee with me this summer?” or “Is there anyone I can talk to who’s majoring in engineering but also doing pre-med?”), etc.
I can’t remember exactly how long “demonstrating interest” has been a household term … at least in households where students (and their parents) aspire to hyper-selective name-brand colleges. But if you Google it on College Confidential, you’ll find a gazillion related threads. For some applicants, this has meant sending an endless parade of obsequious emails to their area admissions rep. So I am quick to caution students that it can be useful to show their genuine interest … but they should avoid badgering admissions staffers while also making sure that their message does reach them. I read an article a couple years ago on how perceived lack of interest can torpedo an applicant’s admission odds. The article quoted one admissions dean who cited a student who had been turned down because she lived less than 30 miles from campus and yet hadn’t bothered to visit. My immediate reaction was, “How do you know this poor kid never visited? Maybe she stayed with her second cousin or with another member of her high school pep squad? Perhaps she attended six classes and a debate-club meeting but she never dropped by the admission office. After all, if she lives that close to campus, she probably knows at least a couple students at the school!”
Similarly, I remember a young man who told me that he’d had a lengthy and enthusiastic email exchange with a physics prof at one of his target colleges whose name he’d culled from the college catalog and who shared his passion for nanotechnology. But had he ever mentioned to the admission committee that he’d found a new BFF in the science complex? No! So perhaps this boy’s significant “demonstrated interest” never registered on their important radar screens. Thus, even though it goes against my grain to do so, I warn prospective students that it’s not only showing interest that counts but also showing it to the right people.
So, anyway, back to your original question. In spite of some evidence that not all colleges fully honor their sacred vow to give equal treatment to the Common App, I typically don’t encourage students to use a college-specific application when the option exists. However, I do encourage them to go beyond the application at least in some small way to indicate their interest. Yet, whenever there is a school-specific application, it can’t hurt to check it out. It may end up being easier to complete than the Common App or it may ask different questions that are more fun to answer or which might be more likely to show off the candidate’s strongest side.
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Question: At the beginning of this year, I was originally enrolled in AP Psychology. However, I wanted to try being a writer for our school newspaper which is a class. I switched out of AP Psych and into newspaper but decided to take AP Psych online through JHU CTYOnline. I wanted to take AP Psych because the previous year in English, we learned about some of the experiments and I found the topic interesting. I am happy with the course because I was able to learn more about the experiments and theories. However, the class was incredibly easy and I received an A but due to the easiness, I was not prepared for the AP test and decided not to take it.
My question now is should I report this class to my school so it will go on my transcript as a weighted A or leave it off? I do not need the credit and I think that taking an online AP class and then not taking the test will look bad. However, if I receive school credit for it, I will be tied for number 1 in my class of over 500, pending straight A’s this semester. The only difference between me and the current number 1 will be that he has taken one more AP class than I have and this will bump his GPA above mine. Without AP Psych on my transcript, I would still be in the top 5-10. However, is there something to be said for being number 1?
Yes, perhaps unfortunately, there is “something to be said” in our society for being Number 1, even though most college admission officials realize that, in many high schools, a fraction of a fraction of a point can separate Number 1 from Number 9 or pursuing a passion (if, God forbid, it’s an unweighted class) can bump a student down to a double-digits rank. So I would suggest that you do put the AP Psych class on your transcript and then use the “Additional Information” section of your applications to briefly explain to colleges exactly what you’ve told us. Admission officials will give you “brownie points” for pursuing an academic area on your own, out of an interest that was ignited in English last year, even if you concede that it was an easy A.
If adding the class to your transcript didn’t make a difference in your class rank, I would probably tell you to leave it off. But since it will make you co-valedictorian … and since you did the work and got the good grade … you might as well reap this benefit from it.
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