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Articles / Admissions / 2016 Update: Part 2

April 26, 2020

2016 Update: Part 2

Continuing today with a look back at 2016's Admit This! topics worth noting and updating. Today: highlights from March and April.

From March: Student Loans: Paying The Piper

Excerpts recap:

Borrowing money from various sources is part of the college process for most college students today. I've discussed this topic before here in my blog, noting that the level of student loan debt, both individually and collectively in America, is staggering. I've cited a few college graduates who have amassed a six-figure debt.

To me, coming out of college owing $100,000 (or more) for college loans (let alone other necessities such as a car, home, etc.) boggles my mind. The current federal administration has been making vague teases about forgiving student loan debt, but I wouldn't be placing any bets on that. If you do, you'll just owe more money when your prognostication goes south.

So, what's a young person to do when faced with this level of indebtedness? The answer is simple: Pay up!

There are consequences if you don't. It's odd. Some graduates, probably more than we realize, view college loans as a minor annoyance, something to put on the back burner. Unfortunately, smart graduates view their college loan debt the same as apartment rent, car payments, or credit card debt. In other words, if you miss paying on time for those kinds of bills, you could be evicted from your apartment, have your car repossessed, and face merciless dunning by credit card collection agencies …

$176M In Wages Garnished For Unpaid Federal Student Loans In Just Three Months

Millions of would-be students turn to the federal government in order finance their education, each taking out thousands of dollars in loans. While that influx of funds allows borrowers to seek a better life by obtaining a degree, it also has to be repaid. And when that becomes impossible for some consumers, debt collectors hired by the Department of Education sometimes resort to garnishing wages.

According to recently released data from the Department of Education, that strategy paid off in the last three months of 2015, with debt collectors bringing in more than $176 million in garnishments [PDF].

Debt collectors, even those working for the federal government, can only garnish a borrower's wages after they've defaulted on their debt — failed to pay for a certain number of months — and received a court order allowing the deductions.

While the Dept. hasn't provided much historical data on previous garnishments, it did report the collection of $170 million in garnishments between July and September 2015, MarketWatch reports.

When attempts by servers and collection agencies fail, the government doesn't simply give up on its owed debt. Instead, the Treasury Department turns to garnishments of Social Security, tax refunds or wages, according to a report last year that looked into the relationship between federal student loans and private debt collectors.

The Treasury said it had net offsets of $2.27 billion for education debts in fiscal 2015. …


Good news. The Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Program Is a Nickname for The Federal Direct Loan Program

The name “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness" has become the nickname for a program actually called the William D. Ford Direct Loan program. Many people only know about the program, and have heard of it through others as the Obama Student Loan Forgiveness program. The name came about when President Obama reformed part of the Direct Loan program in 2010 by signing the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Its important to keep in mind all the programs are offered for federal student loans. Private loan borrowers are not able to benefit from any of the below information.

Here are some of the changes that were made by President Obama.

  • The federal government will no longer give subsidies to private lending institutions for federally backed loans.
  • Borrowers of new loans starting in 2014 will qualify to make payments based on 10% of their discretionary income.
  • New borrowers would also be eligible for student loan forgiveness after 20 years instead of 25 on qualifying payments.
  • Money will be used to fund poor and minority students and increase college funding …

… The direct loan program offers five different repayment plans:

    • Standard Repayment – The borrower will pay a fix amount each month for the life of the loan. The payment would be determined by your borrowed amount, interest rate, and term of the loan.
    • Graduated Repayment – The borrower would make payments lower than the standard repayment plan, but would gradually increase every two years.
    • Income Contingent(ICR) – In this plan, the borrower would make payments based on their income, family size, loan balance, and interest rate.Borrowers in the ICR can have a payment as low as $0.00/mo
    • Income Based(IBR) – This plan bases the borrowers payment strictly on their income and family size. The balance of the loan and interest rate are not used in calculating the monthly payment. The borrower would be responsible to pay 15% of their discretionary income to their federal student loans. Borrowers in the IBR can have a payment as low as $0.00/mo
    • Pay As You Earn(PAYE) – This plan usually has the lowest monthly payment, and is also based on your income but uses 10% of your discretionary income as a payment instead of the 15% used in IBR. Qualifying for the PAYE repayment plan is more difficult than the others. Borrowers in the PAYE can have a payment as low as $0.00/mo

More updates on forgiveness:

4 Ways to Get Federal Student Loan Forgiveness

Student loan borrowers dream of the day they're debt-free the way others fantasize about winning the lottery. That day could come sooner than you think if you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness.

There are four primary programs that will cancel or reduce your federal loan balance, and qualification is based on your job or on the repayment plan you choose:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Perkins loan cancellation

Income-driven repayment

To qualify for forgiveness, your loans can't be in default, meaning they've gone unpaid for more than nine months. Also, private student loans don't offer forgiveness, though some lenders will let you make interest-only payments or take a temporary interest rate reduction if you're having trouble affording your bill. If you have private loans, call your lender to see what options are available to you. …

Bottom line: There is possible relief from student loan debt, but there are conditions. See if you qualify.


From April: The College Admissions “Frenzy"

Excerpts recap:

I discovered an interesting letter to the editor of the New York Times this morning that inspired my post today. Deb Shaver, admission dean at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, wrote:

Invitation to a Dialogue: College Admissions Frenzy

It's a brief piece:

I read with interest your April 12 article about college selectivity and the increased pressure to apply to lots of very selective schools (“Common Application Saturates the College Admission Market, Critics Say," nytimes.com).

As someone who's worked in college admissions for more than 35 years, I can attest that getting into college has never been more competitive than it is now. The reason? Increasing numbers of students are applying to the most selective institutions.

When students apply to all the most selective schools, many of which are very different, is it about fit? Or is it only about prestige?

The admission frenzy will stop only when colleges, students and, frankly, parents refuse to play the game anymore — when we admit that more doesn't equal better. Parents — and colleges — need to encourage students to approach the college search in a thoughtful, intentional way, with fit and match as the goal.

With great respect I say to all parents, “Relax."

Students have many options. Focusing on the narrow list of so-called top colleges ignores the rich diversity of the nation's higher education choices — including community colleges, online courses, residential colleges and large research universities.

Students often combine study at different types of colleges and accrue credit for all of these varied experiences. Remember, “highly selective" doesn't necessarily mean better for a student — it just means more selective.

When I talk to prospective students and parents, I often quote Frank Sachs, former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling: “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won." The ideal pairs a student with the school that best fulfills that student's academic, social and aspirational needs.

The best fit is where a student will thrive and be happy. …

… At the Times so far, as of this writing, there are 28 comments posted in response to Shaver's statement. A sampling:

– I left a prestigious university because I hated it; most of my classmates loved it. I went to an equally good but less well-known (then) college and loved it, but when my brother started there a year later he hated it. The fit matters most and there is no one size fits all, no one dimension that measures the quality of all schools. But it is not always easy for 17 or 18 year old students, or their parents, to know what the best fit will be until they try it on! You can always transfer if it doesn't work out.

– A sensible solution might be for the Common Application to limit how many applications a student can send. If it were limited to, say, five, the playing field would be better for everyone involved.

– I really must ask Dean Shaver when an 18 year old knows what's good for him or her. The vast majority of them have no idea. I certainly didn't at that age. They may have vague ideas about what interests them and some notion of their individual talents but a course of study that would most benefit them on the way to becoming truly educated is surely beyond them and usually beyond their parents and advisors. I would hope that Dean Shaver and her colleagues would eschew vocational considerations and focus on those courses of study that most promote rigorous thinking, skeptical inquiry and the development of an infinite curiosity.


So what do you think? You can post your thoughts here, on my College Confidential thread, or at the Times. If you would like to participate in the Times' “Sunday Dialogue," you still have a couple days to respond. Let you voice be heard. …


The frenzy has continued unabated. At Harvard:

College Accepts 14.5 Percent of Early Applicants to Class of 2021

The College admitted 938 early applicants to the Class of 2021 Tuesday, representing 14.5 percent of its 6,473 applicants for early admission and a five percent increase in early applicants compared to last year.

This year's acceptance rate for early applicants is the lowest since the the Admissions Office reinstated its early admissions program in 2011.

The increase in early applicants follows a trend that has occurred each year since the nonbinding early action program returned, according to the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67. Reflecting on the trend in an interview Tuesday, Fitzsimmons said admissions officers “also worry that too much of an emphasis on early admission" may pressure students into making hasty college decisions …

… Of the students admitted by the College, 12.6 percent were African American applicants this year, up three percent from the Class of 2020. The percentage of admitted Asian American applicants decreased slightly, with 21.7 percent admitted for the Class of 2021 compared to 24.1 percent last year. Latino students comprise 8.8 percent of the admitted pool compared to 9.5 percent from last year, and Native Americans and Native Hawaiians represent 1.1 percent, down from 1.6 percent …

938 admitted early to College Class of 2021

“Early admission appears to be the 'new normal' now, as more students are applying early to Harvard and peer institutions than ever before," said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid. “At the same time, we have continued to stress to applicants, their families, and their guidance counselors that there is no advantage in applying early to Harvard. The reason students are admitted — early or during the regular action process — is that their academic, extracurricular, and personal strengths are extraordinary." …

… “Recruitment in all of its forms was vitally important in attracting such a strong early admission group this year," said Anne De Luca, associate dean for recruitment. “In addition to traveling to 150 locations throughout the United States to meet with students and families, we have also conducted international travel. We are most fortunate to be able to call on our nearly 10,000 alumni and alumnae around the nation and the world to help us with recruitment at the local level." …


– To the Editor:

Re “Rethinking College Admissions," by Frank Bruni (column, Jan. 20), about a report, “Turning the Tide," urging changes to make applying to colleges less stressful:

Having taught at a highly selective college for 45 years, I have witnessed the competition-induced stress and grade focus of modern college students, so it is a relief to see institutions like mine banding together to do something about it. That said, I think that if such institutions think that merely by changing their admissions criteria they will end this arms race of credentialing, they are kidding themselves.

As long as there are any criteria used to distinguish spectacular students from merely great ones, it is just a matter of time before new system-gaming strategies will emerge. The only solution to this problem I can think of is for schools like mine simply to put the names of all the applicants they think are good enough to succeed into a hat and then admit their class by lottery. Then, to get into Harvard, or Stanford or Swarthmore, students will have to be good enough … and lucky.

Though admissions people won't admit this, admissions is already a lottery. If selective schools are honest about this, they can defuse the pressure on high school students in a heartbeat.

Swarthmore, Pa.

The writer is a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College.

– To the Editor:

Last year, 37,307 high school students applied to Harvard, and 1,990 were accepted, for an acceptance rate of 5.3 percent. If the admissions criteria envisioned by the report “Turning the Tide" were to be adopted, the number of applicants would likely increase. No matter what the admissions criteria, these teenagers and their parents will still compete intensely to meet and exceed them.

There will still be a “competitive frenzy" among these applicants, which “jeopardizes their mental health." The “hoops" will still be there, but they will be different hoops. Sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression will continue at current levels.

To be sure, the composition of the incoming class would be different, but the number of “emotional wrecks" would still be the same. There is no way to eliminate the pressured competition from a situation that is inherently competitive.

Cambridge, Mass.

The writer is a psychologist.


The contents of these two posts from last spring are not unconnected. Many times, the frenzy of high school students' thinking brings them (and their parents) to a crucial decision point that many times results in excessive loan debt, in order to satisfy the quest for “prestige" (whatever that means).

The lessons here from these updates are: (1) it will become increasingly harder to get into the so-called “elite" colleges, and (2) unreasonable student loan debt is a bad thing, although there are, in certain situations, methods of dealing with that. Perhaps the worst negative side effect of these two issues is stress.

In today's world, there are certainly enough other issues that cause stress. Before going down the road of college admissions frenzy and student loan debt, one should look beyond the goal of immediate gratification and explore alternatives. We'll touch on some of those alternatives as our year in review continues next time.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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