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Articles / Applying to College / Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 3

Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 3

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 3, 2020
Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 3


When I served as host of College Confidential's recent "Ask the Dean" event, I answered a variety of questions from the community about college admissions. During Part 1 and Part 2 of the article series covering the live session, I shared a few questions and answers from the event, and today I'm publishing several more. We'll be finishing off this series with Part 4 later this week.

Asking for More Money From A College

I got a really good financial offer from Rowan State University and almost nothing from Rider, but I want to attend Rider. My parents think I should call Rider and tell them what Rowan is offering me. Does that work if I have no other circumstances (no one lost their job or anything, I just want more money).

Your parents are right. But don't make a cold call. First, set up an appointment to meet with a financial aid officer at Rider. If you are in New Jersey (and it sounds like you are), an in-person appointment would be best (and you can bring your parents, too, if you wish). If you can't get to campus, a phone appointment is fine.

Ask for a specific amount of money, not just for "More" (like Oliver Twist!). Try to come up with a figure that would work for your family but that isn't so sky-high that the Rider folks will just laugh.

Even if there are no circumstances that clearly warrant this request (lost job, illness, etc.), it would be helpful if you can arrive armed with figures that suggest that you have greater need than your Expected Family Contribution suggests. (e.g., invoices for mortgage payments, recent home repairs, medical expenses, etc.) BUT ... if your family's biggest bills are for your Christmas in the Caribbean or the new Tesla in the garage, then leave the bills at home!

If your long-term, post-college plans sound altruistic but low-paying (e.g., you want to join the Peace Corps or teach special-needs preschoolers), you can also mention that you are wary of taking on debt because you're aiming for a field that won't be lucrative.

Definitely present your aid award from Rowan at this meeting and explain that Rider remains your top choice, but that you will have to attend Rowan if Rider cannot provide some additional aid. But, in doing this, beware of acting ENTITLED. Instead, you need to seem grateful for your Rider acceptance and for whatever pittance they've already offered. If you come off sounding as if you DESERVE more, it will work against you. Admission officials often have some wiggle-room when deciding if they can give out extra funds, and the students who appear humble usually fare best in the appeals process.

Pre-Med: Which Undergraduate Major Is Best?

I want to pursue medical school or dentistry. For undergraduate, if I pursue engineering, particularly computer science or data science, then chances of getting a GPA below 3.8 out of 4.0 scale seem to be a risk. It seems majoring in biology only will mean I am one of the many that apply to med school with that major. Which major do you advise I pursue so that (i) I end up with a good GPA (assuming I am diligent and will work toward my goals); (ii) if for some reason, I don't get into med School or dentistry, what options do I have so that I can secure a good paying job similar to CS graduates; and (iii) what is your advice on pursuing bioinformatics -- is that grade deflater as a major to pursue?

Although medical school admission officials certainly do look at overall GPA, their priority is to scrutinize the grades earned in the pre-med classes. This approach is a great equalizer because the student majoring in, say, astrophysics (known to be a brutal choice on many campuses) will take the same pre-med classes as the student majoring in elementary education (not typically as grueling). Sure, the choice of major CAN affect the cumulative GPA, and med-school admission committees consider this too. But they don't consider it in isolation.

If you like working with numbers, bioinformatics is a hot field right now and you may even discover that you prefer sticking with it rather than going into health care. Other number-crunching fields like data science and actuarial science are hot right now, as well, and often lead to good jobs straight from college.

But it concerns me that, although you say that your goal is to be an MD or a dentist, it seems like your motivation is mainly monetary. Because med school and dental school are highly competitive, it does make sense to have a backup plan in case you don't gain admission. But when applying to medical schools, you will be expected to demonstrate compelling interest in becoming a doctor, so your first step is to ask yourself some tough questions about why you're REALLY choosing this career.

Benefits of Honors College

I have gotten into an honors program at the University of Maryland but I don't see the advantages of that. There's no real money involved. What is the main plus about going to an honors college? Do employers care? Is that even something that goes on a resume?

The advantage of being in a Honors program varies greatly from school to school. At a huge public university, like University of Maryland, an Honors program can be a great way for the "smart kids" to find each other quickly. Honors students as a group can be more focused on academics than on partying. While that's certainly a generalization and not always true, for freshmen who want to steer clear of drinking and drugs, the Honors program can offer a handy way to home in on like-minded peers. At smaller schools, however, an Honors program isn't usually necessary to promote interactions among the most able undergrads.

There are commonly classes that are designated "Honors" that are only open to Honors students. Some Honors programs make their members elect a minimum number of these. Many students enjoy the challenge and the "elite" environment of these classes, but some students who already worry that there isn't enough time in four years to take all the classes they really want to take can be annoyed by the Honors requirements. Honors classes are usually smaller than the regular classes at big universities and include lots of discussion, which students may view as engaging ... or terrifying. ;-)

Honors colleges are also likely to provide extra advising, particularly for students who are interested in applying for renowned fellowships. And, yes, regardless of your post-college plans, you CAN put "Honors" on your resume and it will always be a plus. However, at the majority of colleges there can be multiple routes to graduating "with Honors," even if a student is not in the Honors College.

Honors programs almost always host special events that can lean toward the academic (e.g., guest speakers) or the social (pizza parties; even blocks of seats at football games) which most participants enjoy. On the other hand, if a priority for you during college is to make a potentially time-consuming commitment to an extracurricular activity, an internship or a job, you may not have the time to juggle this with Honors events and expectations.

A big plus of many Honors programs is that they offer housing that can be nicer and more centrally located than the rest of the dorms. This may include optional residential learning communities as well. At U. of Maryland, for instance, there are such themed living options that are specifically for Honors students. Some students love living with others who share interests; some find it stifling or simply don't have time to attend the functions that membership in such a community demands. But Honors students don't always want to live in Honors housing, no matter how posh it may be. They may prefer to live in dorms that feel more diverse ... or where their buddies from high school are living (not necessarily the greatest idea but still a popular one).

So I suggest that you make a list of what Honors at UMD offers to you. Then consider which of these benefits (if any) are important to you and which (if any) are also available to non-Honors students. Also list the obligations imposed on Honors students (e.g., required Honors classes? Minimum GPA?) and decide if these will be a burden.

Most colleges offer the opportunity to join an Honors program after freshman year. At UMD, you can apply to join at the end of your first year, if you've earned at least a 3.5 GPA. So if you say no initially, you might be able to change your mind later. But it's also easy to join now and then drop out ... in fact, that's probably A LOT easier!

Are Nigerians Considered for Admission?

I'm an International Student (Nigerian) and I applied to 20 schools using the Common App. I am somehow feeling nervous after a teacher asked me if Nigerians are ever considered for admission. Also, I want to know what's the probability that my location can get me into a school like Yale?

Most American colleges welcome applicants from around the world, including from Nigeria. However, US colleges are VERY popular in Nigeria, and so the competition for acceptance is very stiff. In my experience working with Nigerian students, I have found that many "over-reach." That is, they aim for the MOST competitive universities, such as Yale, which you have mentioned, and they don't fully realize how challenging it will be to get good news.

While Yale and a tiny handful of "elite" colleges are "need-blind' for international candidates (meaning that admission decisions are not based on a student's ability to pay), the vast majority of US schools are "need-conscious," meaning that, at least to some extent, they DO base admission decisions on the amount of financial aid that the applicant will require. Thus, any international student who is seeking financial aid must understand that they should focus most of their applications on colleges where their qualifications (e.g., grades, test scores and other accomplishments) put them at the tip-top of the applicant pool.

Even if you don't require aid -- but especially if you DO -- I hope that the 20 schools on your list represent a range of admission "risk" ... including some "Reach" colleges (and Yale is a Reach for EVERYONE) and some that seem safer. (But, for international students who need money, NO college is truly safe.)

If you worry that your list leans too much toward the Reach colleges, it's not too late to add others. In fact, it's largely the less selective schools that are still accepting applications now.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please send it along here.

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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