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Articles / Applying to College / Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 4

Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 4

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 6, 2020
Ask the Dean Live Event Recap: Part 4


On February 22, I served as host of College Confidential's live "Ask the Dean" event, where I answered a variety of questions from the community about college admissions. During Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the ensuing article series covering the Q&A, I shared a few questions and answers from the event, and today I'm sharing the rest.

Merit Scholarship at an Ivy?

Is there a way to get a full ride (merit) scholarship at an Ivy or do they not do these?

The eight Ivy League institutions award ONLY need-based aid and not merit scholarships. So those students who do get a "full ride" at an Ivy are those with low (or zero) Expected Family Contributions. However, the Ivies are known for giving some financial assistance to many middle-income students who weren't sure that they'd qualify for aid at all. If you're applying to Ivies and aren't sure if you can expect need-based financial aid, you can play around with a college's online Net Price Calculator. This will give you at least a ballpark sense of whether you'll receive assistance and about how much. If your family finances are atypical and complex, the one-size-fits-all Net Price Calculator may not be helpful. Often, however, financial aid officers are willing to discuss your situation with you — or your parents — BEFORE you apply, to see if the school will be affordable.

Students who won't qualify for sufficient need-based aid to attend an Ivy (because their "demonstrated need" isn't in sync with what they truly feel they could afford or are willing to pay) can find other "elite" colleges that will challenge them academically and also offer full-ride or full-tuition merit scholarships. If that's YOU, consider Emory, Boston College, Notre Dame, Duke, Tulane, Vanderbilt, USC and others. Recipients of these scholarships are usually those who would be contenders in Ivy applicant pools but have opted to look beyond the Ivies, for financial or myriad other reasons.

How Do I Choose HS Classes?

I'm not sure what I want to pursue as career. I am also not able to accommodate all the AP classes I'd like to take in the four years of high school. How do I go about choosing my classes?

I can't tell exactly what your situation is from your post, but it sounds like you're a high school student who is trying to plan your high school classes without a sense of what your future goals may be.

If that's the case, you're far from alone. Many high school students have no clue where they're heading ... and even those who claim they're "certain" may ending changing direction down the road.

To plan your high school curriculum, first make sure that you are completing all of your high school's graduation requirements. Since high school requirements are usually less stringent than college-admission requirements, this usually isn't a big problem. But make sure that you don't postpone requirements like arts or US history (or, in some states, the state history) until your final semester, when they might not fit well in your schedule.

If you are a strong student and suspect that you will aim for highly selective colleges, then you want to make sure you're competitive in those applicant pools. This means taking the most rigorous academic program you think you can handle which should include four years of English; four years of math; four years of science (with three lab sciences); three years of history/social science; and four (or at least three) years of foreign language -- preferably the same one.

The most selective colleges are looking for the "Heavy Hitter" AP classes like chem, physics, bio, Calculus, and also English and history. Other AP choices like Econ and Psych are worth taking if they interest you, but they aren't viewed as equally rigorous by most admission folks ... even when, in some high schools, they actually ARE.

But be sure that you don't stress yourself when you make your course selections. If you have a passion such as band, ceramics, shop, culinary arts, etc., you should certainly pursue these subjects.

Although the MOST selective colleges can be snooty about academic choices and may tell students to "Follow your heart" but then reject those who pick Photography instead of Physics, the bottom line is that there are hundreds of colleges that will welcome students with a range of classes on their transcripts. There is far too much anxiety and depression among teenagers today that can be linked to unwieldy course loads in subjects that aren't appealing.

Since you don't know what your future holds, use the time ahead to sample a range of academic options and extracurricular ones, too. Listen to your parents and to your school counselor if they offer suggestions, but -- above all -- do listen to your heart.

When Will I Get A Waitlist Response?

How long can a school keep me on a waitlist? Do they have to tell me by May 1 or is it possible they might wait longer to let me know?

Most colleges do NOT provide a waitlist response by May 1. Many of the admitted candidates will not notify a college of their plans until right up to May 1, which means that admission officials won't know how full a freshman class will be until AFTER that date.

Yet sometimes colleges DO notify wait-listed students sooner. If they are receiving fewer "Yeses" than expected from accepted students even before May 1, they may start using the waitlist early.

It's fine for you to email your regional admissions rep (the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school) to politely ask when you might expect a final verdict. This way, you can also use the email to emphasize your continued interest in the school and to say you will definitely enroll if accepted (if that's true). Elsewhere on the College Confidential website, you can find more information about how to convey your ongoing interest (and how to encourage a college to choose you) while you wait.

If you haven't received a decision by May 1, don't forget to enroll elsewhere by this deadline. If you ARE eventually accepted at your first-choice college, you will lose any deposit that you made at the other college, but it would be unwise to deposit nowhere with the hope of getting good waitlist news, since colleges often put hundreds of students on the waitlist and may ultimately accept just a handful (or maybe none at all). The more selective the college, the slimmer the chances of an acceptance from a waitlist.

Most colleges stop using the waitlist by mid-June and will inform those who are still waiting that they won't be admitted. However, occasionally colleges will ask students if they want to sit tight throughout the summer in case there are unexpected vacancies in July or August.

How Do I Choose Between These Colleges?

I was accepted at UNC, but the financial aid package was really low. About two weeks ago, I also got into Grinnell and they have offered me what would essentially be a full ride. UNC is my dream school but I'm not sure what to do. What should I consider when deciding between the two options?

Seniors are often faced with "Apples versus. Oranges" college choices. But the differences between UNC and Grinnell — and between a low aid award and an almost full ride — are immense. Since UNC is your first choice, you can begin by appealing your aid package. Here's what to do ..

- Make an appointment in advance to speak to a financial aid officer (over the phone unless you live nearby). One advantage of going in person is that you can bring a parent or parents, which is helpful to most teenagers when money matters are on the table. (You could do a phone conference that includes a parent as well, but in-person is preferable if it's possible.)

- Explain that you are eager to enroll but can't afford to do so without more aid.

- Provide a specific number that would make UNC work for you ... don't just say, "Please give me more!"

- Ideally, you can offer a couple reasons why you really need this extra dough (a parent lost a job; your family home or car needed unexpected expensive repairs; a family member has medical expenses not covered by insurance, etc.)

- Mention the Grinnell scholarship and offer to send UNC a written copy of it, but insist that you really want to be at UNC although your parents won't let you go without some added aid. Usually, in order for this sort of "leverage" to be effective, the colleges being compared must be equally selective. Grinnell and UNC are both "Most Selective" (proclaims the College Board) so this will work in your favor.

Be sure to act GRATEFUL for whatever little you've been offered so far rather than ENTITLED to more, but – even so — be persistent while still being polite.

If UNC doesn't make a better (and reasonable) offer, then it's time to sit down with your parents and talk about how attending UNC will affect your family finances (and equilibrium). For some families, spending a few hundred thousand dollars for college versus spending just a fraction of that amount isn't such a huge deal (kind of like when I buy grapes, even when they're not on sale — something I never would have done a few decades ago). While — for other families — the pricier college comes with major stress (and debt). Will you have to take out loans to attend UNC but not Grinnell? That's really a biggie, and – if you can avoid debt — I urge you to do so. After all, you applied to Grinnell, so as different as it is from UNC, there must be SOMETHING (and probably lots of SOMETHINGS) that you like about it.

Make a Pros and Cons list for each school. Once you survey the lists, do you spot any must-haves or deal-breakers that you hadn't previously considered?

Above all, keep in mind that four undergraduate years will fly by fast. It may be hard for you to realize this now, but — if you opt for the nearly-free education at Grinnell — you can position yourself to go to UNC for graduate school later on, if grad school is in your future and if UNC remains a dream. And "later on" will come sooner than you can imagine.

What's A First-Generation Student?

My parents are from Pakistan and graduated college there before moving to the US. I was born in the US and will be applying to college this fall. Am I a first-generation college student? I have a brother at the University of Illinois right now so that might matter as well.

You are a First Generation AMERICAN but not a First Generation COLLEGE student. What is the difference? The latter group (students whose parents never earned a bachelor's degree or its equivalent ANYWHERE) often get special consideration as admission officers attempt to diversify their student bodies by accepting applicants who come from a broad range of backgrounds. It's not unusual for admission committees to give extra leeway when it comes to test scores, grades, and even extracurricular choices, to those whose parents don't hold a college degree. First-gen-to-college students are also eligible for scholarships (either offered by outside organizations or sometimes by the colleges themselves) that are earmarked for those who are the first in their families to attend college. Students whose parents went to college outside the US are NOT eligible for these scholarships.

However, being a first-generation AMERICAN may give a student special consideration, too, especially if English isn't spoken at home. In these cases, the admission folks might also allow a bit of extra leeway for subpar test scores, grades, etc. But it really depends on other factors as well ... such as the parents' level of education, their professions, how long they've lived in the US, and where they live.

So, although you and your brother are NOT considered "First gen to college," it's POSSIBLE that you might get a smidgeon of advantage at admission decision time because you're the first in your generation to be born here and you grew up juggling two cultures and maybe two languages.

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.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

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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