Frequently Asked Questions
Here we present you with the most frequent and important questions and concerns expressed by parents of college bound students. If you have a question that you don’t see here, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. How important are the SAT and ACT in the admissions process?
As a general rule, most colleges or universities place some level of importance on standardized tests. Colleges typically adopt their own policies with regard to how they will use the test results to screen applicants for admission and/or to manage merit scholarship competition.
Each college also has its own requirements with regard to how many test administration scores must be submitted. A common misstep is to take a real test for practice thinking that you can discard the results if you do not like them….It is not always true.
To be safe find a book or website that provides practice tests and the ability to score your work.
It must be noted that there are an increasing number of quality colleges that do not use the SAT or ACT for admissions or that have declared test score submittals to be optional. Check college websites for specific procedures to consider in your application.
Also keep in mind that test optional applications will bring more focus and scrutiny to the balance of your high school record, the academic rigor of your curriculum, the quality of your essays and your personal achievements.
Q. When should I start planning for college?
That depends on which type of college planning you are talking about.
Financial planning for college should begin very early. Saving money, even a very small amount on a monthly basis, should begin as soon as possible after birth! Prior to the 9th grade, you should make sure the right courses are in the high school curriculum plan.
Ideally, student personal and academic assessment, testing strategies, requirements (if any) for auditions or portfolios, college search and selection of candidate institutions, and detailed admissions and financial aid planning should begin near the end of the sophomore year, but certainly no later than fall of the junior year in high school.
Q. Would buying a new car or taking a vacation to use up our savings help?
As a rule, if you think these actions will put you in better position to receive financial aid, they usually do not. Ultimately, this could even backfire by decreasing your available cash and ability to afford college without incurring debt.
Q. I’m divorced and remarried. Do both my spouse’s and my income and asset data need to be submitted on financial aid applications even if we have a prenuptial agreement and file separate tax returns?
The financial aid system asks about your current marital status. If you are married, it is required that both you and your new spouse report income and asset information on the financial aid applications. Prenuptial agreements, divorce agreements and tax filing status are typically of no importance to most financial aid officers.
Bottom Line: If you are married, both spouses report income and asset data on financial aid applications. Once again, it is important to check college websites to confirm their respective policies and application procedures.
Q. Can I send my son or daughter into the workplace for a year or two to make them independent for financial aid purposes?
The definition of an Independent Student is very clear. Please refer to the most recent FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). It is published by the U.S. Department of Education and usually available at your high school or library. You can also find it on-line.
Turn to the section of the application that has questions regarding student status. You will discover, in short, that to be considered independent a student must satisfy one of the following: be 24 years of age; be a military veteran; be married; have dependents other than a spouse; or be an orphan or ward of the court.
In some rare circumstances, a financial aid officer may use professional judgment to override a student’s dependency status.
Q. My teenager wants to choose her own college without any outside help. Is there any reason why this might be a bad idea?
Searching for suitable, affordable candidate colleges, fulfilling the application process in a timely manner, and choosing a college are more complicated events than meets the eye. When students are left alone in this process, many “bad” things could happen.
There are choices to be made along the way and students generally benefit from third party review of their decisions to be sure they keep “doors open” rather than boxing themselves into a difficult set of downstream consequences.
If money for college is not an issue, then students need to become familiar with how to determine a good fit between themselves and the colleges they are considering.
If money is an issue, parents need to know their EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) and have a strategy for paying it, and usually a little more. Parents and students also need to determine the likelihood of receiving enough financial aid to cover the difference between the cost of attendance and the EFC at each college.
Q. Why is the college admissions and selection process so hard ?
The process can be confusing because there are so many factors that can impact the outcome over a long period of time i.e. course selection and student academic performance in high school, the options and outcomes regarding standardized testing, as well as, the inherent variety of student interests and talents.
Clarity is further upset by the sheer number of four year institutions (it’s in the thousands) each pursuing a distinct, management-driven mission and seeking student populations with specific abilities and traits that will help them satisfy their respective commitments to their trustees Accompanying these missions are multiple sets of admission and financial aid policies subject to one or more changes every year at each college or university.
These policies all translate into individualized procedures to facilitate paying for college and applying for admission. Some colleges meet financial need with grant money (does not have to be repaid), some want interviews or emphasize essays for admission. Others don’t consider these items or even scorn them.
Deadlines also vary for critical milestones. This increases the potential for applicant misunderstandings and mistakes and dictates the intense level of effort required for success.
Q. What single resource provides the most reliable information for students and parents?
There are hundreds of quality third party professionals, well intentioned publications, studies and websites that chronicle their most recent assessments or observations regarding the above discussion.
Unfortunately even the best studies and publications are unable to provide information that is less than a year old. In a system that is subject to a myriad of annual changes … no one resource can be absolutely on target for every student at every college or university.
Applicants should consult with multiple publications and obtain advice from trusted personal and professional advisors that are knowlegeable, objective and stay on top of the process on a continual basis. And always check with the colleges you are considering (preferably with the prior knowledge and counsel of your chosen advisors). Finally always ask questions whenever you run into conflicting information.
Q. How can I avoid bad outcomes?
The thin envelope is perhaps the most dreaded hazard that students and parents can encounter on the road to college.
After all, no one likes rejection.
Furthermore, getting “wait-listed” isn’t much better. In fact, it may be the latter that is more stress-laden, because it prolongs the agony. But make no mistake; these are not the only pitfalls lurking in the shadows of this process. Consequently, it is crucial that each of the following be determined early in the process.
1. Understanding of what constitutes a quality outcome for your family.
2. Defining key milestones with attendant timetables and appropriate levels of priority and the related effort needed. This must include consideration for “non traditional” timetables and strategies to properly address issues such as high school course selection, extra curricular and summer activities, personalized ACT/SAT planning, student-athlete requirements, studio and performing arts applicants. and unique family financial concerns.
3. Selecting useful tips on information gathering techniques
4. Learning some basic principles of sound decision-making
5. A sense of self-assessed reality and a clear-eyed examination of any pre-conceived ideas or biases.
Q. What are some “inside secrets” that can lead to success?
We have come to recognize that there are forces at work in the world around us that inevitably will, if left unattended, undermine anyone’s best efforts. Some people refer to this as “Murphy’s Law,” “Fate,” or “Luck”.
We prefer to think of it as“entropy”. Entropy, according to the dictionary, means the “measure of a system to undergo spontaneous change, a measure of randomness, disorder and chaos and the tendency of a system to run down or move toward disorder.” This silent “force” is very real and is always present.
It is,therefore, essential to adopt the notion of “risk management” to control your default mindsets and behavior. Examples of these risky behaviors that should be avoided are:
- Assuming the system is forgiving or will protect you from yourself
- Ignoring the recent “sea change” in competition and costs
- Not paying attention to details
- Failing to appreciate how people who do not know you will see your actions
- Being overly casual or late in your communications with college officials
- Trapping yourself with poor decision-making early in the process
Q. Can a student or parent do it on their own?
Yes. But remember that “wishful thinking” has never been sufficient to achieve success. In this environment no simple rule of thumb can guarantee or prejudge outcomes or people. College selection and financing a college education are life-shaping events for the entire family.
So, give it the attention it deserves, and …
Know your limitations and ask for help if you need it.