College Admissions: Why You Need An Outsider’s Perspective

I recently saw a question posted by “David” on one of those “Ask an expert” type sites – it was all about financial aid – and the answer to the financial aid question was only half-right. Half-baked information will get you half-baked results.

But, what struck me more was the “self-assessment” of the person writing the question. It struck me because I “see” this A LOT from students.

“David” is interested in MIT but is now considering Yale,too, because of information he came across regarding financial aid on

Here’s how he assessed himself (and his question):

“I have straight A’s throughout my high school. I have a pretty good SAT and ACT scores. I can write a killer essay. I have been doing a few extracurricular throughout 4 years. I guess recommendation is not a big problem. So I want to have a shot at MIT.

However, when I was searching for Yale this morning, my mind starts to change a bit. So here is my question:

– Does the average financial aid package mean the total money/scholarship you’ll get for one year (two semesters)?

– If that is the case, does it mean that average students pay around $2,000 each year for their tuition (ignore room, books, and other costs first)?

– So, if I’m lucky enough, does it mean that I can get a ride to college for FREE or almost FREE?

– Let’s say that I’m REALLY lucky, and get a scholarship that worth more than the cost of my tuition, does it mean that I can even “EARN” money as a college student (if I spend less on the other costs)?”

In this one statement, I can tell a few things about David, and so will the admissions officers.

First up, he believes that “Great grades, strong SAT scores and lots of activities are enough”. Well, the THOUSANDS of students who apply to MIT and Yale also have them. So, what else do you have to offer, David?

Next: “I can write a killer essay.” David, even Hemmingway needed an editor. And, writing a decent essay in class is not the style of essay you’ll need on the application. And, as a former English teacher, I’ve met a lot of English teachers who can’t write. So, relying on them may not be the best idea, either.

Next problem: “I guess recommendation is not a big problem.” (The way this is written makes me question his ability to “write a killer essay”). Getting a good recommendation is not simply a question of asking someone to write one.

And, finally, my favorite: “Let’s say that I’m REALLY lucky, and get a scholarship that worth more than the cost of my tuition… ” again, apart from the lousy writing, this sentence screams ignorance about the colleges he is looking to attend.

Yale (and the rest of the Ivy League) and MIT (and most of the other Ivy-Type colleges) do not offer scholarships. If you have a financial aid need, they will offer you need-based aid. But they don’t offer scholarships – because they don’t have to.

David also believes he should get a scholarship, but has no clue as to how or why it would happen.How do I know? “Let’s say that I’m REALLY lucky, and get a scholarship… “

There’s a lot he doesn’t know about these colleges and about the college search, selection, application and funding process in general.

And when you don’t know what you don’t know, you end up disappointed.

David may very well have a good shot at schools like Yale and MIT; AND, there might be other colleges he isn’t even considering yet that would be even better fits for the type of student he actually is. Problem is, there’s a lot he doesn’t know (and most likely there’s a lot his parents don’t know, too).

The solution is to get help with all of this. College is a huge investment of time, effort and money – now is not the time to cut corners.

Your Smart Plan For College Assignment:

Take a moment to be really honest with yourself: do you see a bit of yourself or your student in David’s story?

Do you know how the college process really works?

Are you sure?

Outline three steps you could take right now (based on the mistakes “David” is making or to avoid the myths he’s believing) so that you don’t end up disappointed.

If you can’t list three steps, it’s time to get some help.

The Fundamentals of FAFSA

Nearly every college in the United States relies on FAFSA to determine how much financial aid – including grants, loans, and work study – a student can receive. The entire FAFSA process can be a daunting and difficult one for those who do not know what to expect. Before filling out and filing the FAFSA form, it is first crucial to understand what it is and what it does. Otherwise, it is liable to look like so much Greek. The following is an explanation of the fundamental points of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

A student’s financial aid package depends first and foremost on his or her Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. The purpose of FAFSA is to calculate what a student’s Expected Family Contribution is. That is the reason why the United States Department of Education created the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA determines what is known as a “need analysis,” which is based on a student’s financial information. Important factors include income and assets – meaning that a student is not necessarily out of luck simply because they or their parents make a lot of money. For instance, if a family makes a lot of money but most of it goes toward paying bills, leaving only a small amount, then a student can still receive a very good financial aid package. However, this only applies if a student is a dependent student – that is, dependent on his or her parents. Once the FAFSA form is analyzed and processed, the findings are forwarded to the student’s university of choice.

There is some form of financial aid out there for every student no matter what his or her income – and no matter what his or her family’s income. There are, however, certain eligibility requirements for FAFSA. A student must be either a citizen of the United States or else an eligible non-citizen of the United States. He or she must have a valid social security number, as well as either a GED or a high school diploma. He or she has to have completed the FAFSA form, wherein he or she promises that the federal aid will be used for education. If the prospective student is a male between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, he must be registered with the United States Selective Service. To be eligible for FAFSA, a student cannot owe any refunds on federal grants, cannot have defaulted on any student loans, and cannot have been found guilty for the sale or possession of illegal drugs, at any time that he or she was receiving financial aid.

The FAFSA form must be completed before a student can receive any financial aid. It is the first and most important step in the financial aid process. FAFSA is the most important thing when it comes to determining how much financial aid a student will receive as well, so it is important to be detailed and truthful when filling it out and extremely prompt in filing it.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that is filled out by university students and parents to apply for federal financial aid, which includes grants, scholarships, student loans and work-study programs. In addition to the federal government, schools, states and private financial institutions also use the information from the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for non-federal aid.

Each year, the Department of Education issues a new FAFSA for the subsequent academic year. You can either use the online version of FAFSA or you can obtain a printed copy of the application form from your high school counselor. If you intend to use the online version, then you would have to apply for Personal Identification Number (PIN). For this you would have to submit your name, date of birth, social security number and address. Once, you get your PIN, you can fill out the form and submit it online or print it and send it by mail.

While the printed version of FAFSA becomes available in the second week of October, the online version becomes accessible on January 1. Although the last date for the submission of FAFSA is June 30, but you can submit the form in either format as early as January 2. Most colleges and universities award financial aid on first come, first serve basis. Hence, to improve your chances of receiving financial aid, try to submit the FAFSA latest by March 1.

There are 102 questions in FAFSA, which are segregated into six sections. The primary aim of these questions is to retrieve your academic, personal and financial information. You would also be required to divulge your dependency status, colleges you want to receive your FAFSA results and your identification information. For filling out the FAFSA properly, you would need previous two year’s copies of your income tax returns.

Once you submit the FAFSA, the government will scrutinize it thoroughly, and then send you a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR typically includes a summary of your financial aid information and the EFC (Expected Family Contribution). The colleges enlisted in your FAFSA will also receive SAR. When you apply for admission in these colleges, you will be asked to submit additional financial information. Thereafter, your eligibility for financial aid will be calculated, and then you will be notified about the kind of financial aid package the college can award you.

6 Reasons Your College Financial Award Changed

“Why did my financial aid award change?” is typically a question asked after the student has lost money compared to the previous year.  Rarely does anyone ask this question if they received more money.

Here are 6 reasons why a student’s financial award offer will change from year to year…

1.  The family’s income has changed.  If income goes down, then the expected family contribution (EFC) will likely go down.  This typically results in a better financial aid package.  However, it is more likely that your income went up from the previous year.  This means your EFC went up and your financial aid package will be lowered according to the established guidelines.

2.  The family’s assets have changed.  As with income; if the assets go up, EFC goes up.  If the assets go down, EFC goes down.  Since most families will spend assets while their students are in college, this will most often have a downward pressure on your EFC (good for you).  But if you won the lottery or inherited money, those new assets are going to drive your EFC up (bad for you… sort of).

3.  The number of students in college changed.  The more students you have in college… the lower your EFC will be.  If a student graduated last year and you only have one in college this year, then you will see a big spike in that student’s EFC.  Consequently, they will get less financial help from the college.

4.  Changes in the federal Stafford loans.  Stafford loan amounts increase as a student progresses through college.  Currently freshman students can borrow $5,500; sophomores – $6,500; juniors – $7,500; and seniors – $7,500.  As students are able to borrow more under the Stafford program, colleges will typically lower the other sources of help in the financial award.  For instance, the student get’s an addition $1,000 in a Stafford loan, but their college grant is lowered by $1,000.

5.  Your college’s endowment has taken a hard hit in the market.  One of the unfortunate results of the current recession is many colleges have seen their investments drop… big drops in some cases.  This means the schools have less money they can give to their students.  The recession is unfortunately limiting the amount of money many schools are able to give away compared to previous years.

6.  Your college is a cheap-skate.  It is rare, but some colleges will do a bait and switch to get freshmen students.  They will give them very generous offers their first year, but then pull back the money in the subsequent years.  This is not common, but there are unfortunately some institutions that will do this.