When is the FAFSA Form Due?

Question:The deadlines on the FAFSA website are confusing. My daughter is currently a senior in high school, and she will begin her undergraduate freshman year in September of 2011. Can you please clear up when the deadline for the FAFSA will be for us?

All of this is confusing, isn’t it? (And the FAFSA deadlines are just the tip of the iceberg!)

The official FAFSA deadline for your daughter is June 30th, 2011.

But, depending on where your daughter is applying, you may need to complete the FAFSA well before that. Some colleges can have deadlines as early as February and March. So read college Web sites carefully to make certain you know when the FAFSA is due at each of your daughter’s target colleges. You can expedite this process by using the College Board “QuickFinder” to search for colleges on your daughter’s list. The financial-aid form due dates will be under the “Deadlines” heading for each college. (But I suggest double-checking with colleges to make sure the College Board info is up to date.)

Also check to make sure that you don’t need to complete additional forms as well. (The most common ones are the CSS Profile form and, sometimes, a college’s own form.)

Good luck as you continue to navigate this maze.

Posted in Uncategorized    

Is January Subject Test Too Late?

Question: I took an SAT Subject Test in January, and I think I did well, though I won’t get my score for a couple more weeks. I already sent the scores from two October Subject Tests to all of my colleges (some that require two Subject Tests and some that don’t). If my latest test score is good, should I send it, too, even though it’s not required? What if one of the colleges says that December is the last test date they accept … will they penalize me for sending January scores?

Send the new score if you like it. In fact, to expedite matters, if you have a good relationship with your guidance counselor, ask him or her to fax, phone, or email the score to your colleges as soon as you see it or include it in your mid-year school report, if that hasn’t gone out yet. Since the score won’t be on the Web until mid-Feb., you’ll want colleges to have it as soon as possible. The score isn’t mandatory, so it’s fine to have it sent by your counselor to make sure it arrives quickly. A self-report by you, however, will not be considered valid.

You won’t be penalized for sending a score post-deadline if it’s not a required test. Some colleges will pay more attention to it than others will, but there’s no down side to sending it in and letting the colleges decide how they will treat it. (Note also that some colleges allow January test scores even if their deadlines have passed by the time they get them.)

Posted in College Admissions    

Are SAT Scores on Transcripts Mandatory in NJ?

Question: For NJ students: is it mandatory that the high school send transcripts to colleges with SAT information?

It is not mandatory for New Jersey public high schools to include SAT scores on transcripts. Typically, high schools (or school districts) make their own policies about what a transcript includes, and I’d never heard that there were any statewide mandates. But just to be certain, I checked with one of the top admission pros in the Garden State– Scott White, Director of Guidance at Westfield High School and former Director at Montclair High School–who confirmed that there is no NJ rule that requires the scores on transcripts.

Many high schools choose to put the SAT (or ACT) scores on their transcripts in order to maintain all student records in one place for their convenience, to expedite the receipt of scores in admission offices, and to enable students to avoid paying unnecessary fees to the College Board, since many colleges will accept transcript SAT’s as “official.” On the other hand, some high schools refuse to put test results on transcripts, claiming that it a violation of privacy and that students have the right to determine who will see their scores.

When I am advising seniors who are applying to test-optional colleges and who don’t want admission officials to eyeball their test results, I caution them that the scores may be on their transcripts. Even if the colleges won’t officially “use” the transcript scores, if the scores are low and the admission folks see them anyway, it can spawn a bias against the candidate–albeit perhaps a subconscious one. I tell students in that situation to politely request that their scores be removed from the transcript before the transcript is sent. Some students report back to me that they’ve found resistance to this at their schools, but, in such cases, it’s because they’re bucking a local practice and not because they’re asking for a violation of any statewide regulation

Posted in College Admissions    

Should We Send Application Materials as Certified Mail?

Question: Should my daughter send supplementary materials to colleges via Certified Mail so that she will know they have been received?

No! Most colleges don’t like having to deal with certified mail at a time when a gazillion other envelopes are pouring in … and even when the stuff is received, it can get lost in the filing process afterward, so any peace of mind you get from springing for certified mail could be premature. What I recommend, instead, is to wait 10 days to two weeks after you’ve mailed materials (or submitted them online) and then telephone colleges to confirm that everything arrived safely and made its way into your daughter’s folder. Don’t worry if those 10 to 14 days take you beyond the application deadlines. If materials are missing, and your daughter replaces them promptly, she will not be penalized. Also don’t panic if you’re told that something that you’re sure was sent never arrived. This happens all the time. Usually it’s due to admission-office backlog, and the materials do turn up eventually. But, again, don’t freak out if you get a missing-materials notice.

Some colleges will notify you when an application is complete … either via postcard or e-mail or by posting the information in a password-protected place on their Web site. (Your daughter should know if any of the schools on her list have asked her to register for online notification. This notification might just be for her final admission verdict but often can include materials-tracking as well.)

If you don’t hear from colleges with a couple weeks of sending materials, then it’s your daughter’s responsibility to follow-up to ascertain that everything arrived and found its way to the right file.

Of course, in order to expedite this process, make sure that your daughter’s name, school name, and date of birth are on every scrap she sends to every college. Some admission offices also appreciate it when students mark the outside of the envelope with an indication of what’s inside (e.g., “Supplementary materials for Alex Alexander. Early Action applicant to the Class of 2013. Chester A. Arthur High School, Backwater, Vermont)

Good luck with all of this … and, remember, don’t panic when those “Where the heck is your _____ ?” notices roll in!

Posted in College Admissions    

Can one college acceptance be used to expedite another?

Question: My daughter has been accepted to a college that is a “competitor” of the college that she really wants to get into. Is it appropriate for us to contact the admissions office of the college that she most wants and let them know that she has an offer from somewhere else? We’re hoping that maybe it would prompt them to respond more quickly and make her an offer.

It sounds as if you’re still waiting for a verdict from your daughter’s top-choice college, right? In that case, it would NOT be appropriate for you to use the kind of leverage you propose. College admission officials won’t respond well to such strong-arm tactics, and this could work against your child.

However, if, eventually, your daughter is accepted at both schools and receives a better financial aid package from the #2 college, then it’s okay to use that figure to try to cajole more money from the #1 school, especially if you feel that their offer makes it difficult–or impossible–for your daughter to enroll. Similarly, if she is wait-listed at the #1 school, then it’s go-for-broke time. She can write a heart-felt (and possibly humorous) letter to the admission folks there explaining that she will be doomed to choose the competitor college, if she doesn’t get bumped off their waiting list.

But, for now, you will not help your daughter’s chances–and you may even hurt them–if you take the approach you’ve suggested.

Good luck to your daughter–and to you—as she awaits her news.

Posted in College Admissions    

Advantages of EARLY Early-Decision Application?

Question: I’m applying Early Decision to an Ivy League school. Is there any advantage for me to send in the application materials very early, besides the fact that I can expedite my interview opportunity?

There’s no real advantage in getting an application in way early unless a college offers Rolling Admissions. However, you’re right when you say that an earlier submission can expedite the alum-interview process at those colleges that maintain a “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” policy for interview scheduling.

In addition, should your application be incomplete, the sooner you send it, the more time you will have to track down missing components. Remember, even if YOUR part is complete, you may find that submissions from your school, teachers, etc. did not arrive. It is always YOUR responsibility to make sure that all application components reach their destination and to follow up, if they didn’t. If teacher references (etc.) show up SLIGHTLY after the ED deadline, you won’t be penalized. But if they’re VERY late, then you will probably be pushed into the Regular Decision pool. So sometimes taking care of your part of the application on the early side can help assure that you receive timely notification about missing materials.

Good luck with your verdict.

Posted in College Admissions    

Pros and Cons of College in Under Four Years

Question: What are the pros and cons of graduating from college in less than four years for the student and for the institution?
The greatest benefit for a student who is able to graduate in less than four years is the opportunity to save money … up to about $50,000 for those who attend the priciest of the private schools. (Obviously, I’m counting not only tuition, room, and board, but also student activities fees, books, and pizza.)

For some students, a speedier undergraduate experience also means an express route to grad school or a career. In other words, if you know what you want to do and are eager to get going on it (e.g., law school) then you may want to expedite your time as an undergrad.

For institutions, early grads are only problematic if the trend becomes too popular. When students are paying by the semester and not by the credit, then an undergrad who accelerates will often take an extra-heavy course load (e.g., five classes instead of the standard four, at some schools) and the college doesn’t receive extra compensation. If too many students want to graduate in less than the traditional four years, it can make for crowded classrooms and overburdened professors.

Similarly, if early graduation is your goal, then depending on the college you attend, you may–or may NOT–be able to get into all the classes you need to take within the time you’ve allotted yourself. Also, some early grads also complain that, while an accelerated program is a great money-saver, they don’t have room in their schedules for “fun” electives or they don’t get to take part in special senior-class traditions.

One student I know planned to graduate in three years so that her parents could afford her very expense liberal arts college. However, because of this, she would not be able to spend her junior year abroad as she had hoped. (College rules did not allow it for accelerating students.) So, as a compromise, she went on leave for a year and taught in China (where she even got paid!). Thus, she was able to experience living abroad, save her parents lots of dough, and–because of the time off–will graduate with her original class next May.

So, if you do think that acceleration may be right for you, keep in mind that there may be ways to work around whatever pitfalls you encounter.

Good luck!

Posted in College Life