High School Course Selection

It is the time of year when high school students in the US and elsewhere in the world are required to choose their courses for the next year. Many sophomore students might choose to dive into AP courses; others might want to opt for the International Baccalaureate or choose subjects for A Levels or their section of the French Bac.

Looming over their choices is the knowledge that American colleges care not only about your results but also how you achieved those results. Admission officers know well that for many students getting a great grade in the AP Government or the IB Mathematical Studies course is likely not quite as tough as doing so in the AP US History or IB Mathematics HL one.

College admission is not supposed to be a contest for martyrdom, though, so why would colleges care which of these courses you take? For one thing, they want to see that you take your education seriously, that you are not just going through the required motions. After all, your mode in high school is likely to remain thus in college! They want to see that you are willing to extend yourself intellectually for the sake of learning; that you have the ability to stretch yourself academically; and that you have the preparation to do well in college.

That does not mean always choosing the toughest courses available to you, though. If you choose the most demanding curriculum to impress colleges but you grades suffer, you will hurt yourself in the application process. If you jump into AP Physics C, for example, without a prior AP Physics class, you risk being overwhelmed and your results will show it. So choose the most rigorous course for which you are well prepared enough that you can, with hard work, do well. If you sacrifice sleep and good health to do well, it was definitely not the right choice for you either!

The trickier question is whether your interest in a subject – or lack thereof – should affect your choices. Students might want to take AP Environmental Science because they are interested in environmentalism or the French Bac L because they love literature. They might opt for a second year of Physics rather than Biology because the subject fascinates them.

But every counselor has also heard students say, “I am not going to study STEM, so why should I do a tough math course?” or, “I want to study physics so why bother with history?” This is not an attitude for which admission officers at selective liberal arts colleges (including the Arts and Sciences college within larger universities) will have much tolerance. At these colleges you are probably not being admitted to a specific field (in the UK, students do apply directly to a specific course of study). So admission officers do not want to see that you specialized and narrowed your intellectual vision early. After all, at college you will not only have to do required general education courses in some of those subjects, but hopefully you will also discover new ideas and subjects you do not yet know to exist!

Moreover, the world is rapidly changing and you might well not really know what it is you need to know. Think, for example, how an earlier generation who studied Political Science might be really surprised at how many of our political debates now revolve around the use of computers – social media platforms and algorithms – and require a certain scientific literacy! An earlier president of Brown University called the liberal arts – from History and Economics to Mathematics and Physics – an education “for appointments not yet made.” Don’t make short-term choices in high school that will shape the kind of appointments for which you are prepared as an adult!

By Andrea van Niekerk, College Goals’ Counselor

College Goals’ Presentations in London and Paris in March 2018

What do families need to know for their student to be successful and satisfied by the university search and application process? Given the unique demands of the American university application process, students are well advised to begin preparing earlier in their high school career than most international students do – in Seconde or early in Première. How do you make all your preparations come together in a strong US university application? Why are American standardized tests so important in the application process and where do you find professional support? College Goals’ counselor, Andrea van Niekerk, will address the complexities of the American university application system, with special attention to the process and mechanics. She will also take questions about applications to the US, UK, and Canada.


Andrea van Niekerk served as Associate Director of Admission, with a focus on international applicants, and as Freshman Academic Adviser at Brown University for over a decade. She was born in South Africa, and was educated there and in the United States. Since moving to the West Coast, Andrea has lived in Silicon Valley where she has continued to work with both American and international families, now as part of College Goals. She also spent a few years, together with her husband who is a professor at Stanford, living as a Residential Fellow in a Stanford student dorm. Andrea has had 18 years of experience in college admissions and academic advising. She is a member of NACAC, HECA and WACAC.

College Goals is a highly qualified university admission consulting practice specializing in counseling families interested in higher education opportunities in the US and the UK. The team of four counselors collectively offers many decades of professional experience in higher education as university administrators, admission officers, educators and academic advisors. We provide expert counsel and support throughout the college search and application process, including choice of appropriate institutions, test requirements, recommendations and interviews, essay writing, and the preparation of distinguished applications.


College Fairs and Group Tours – Spring/Summer 2018

We have compiled information on several college tour groups and college fairs traveling during Spring/ Summer 2018. Please click on the links to find out if a college/university that you are interested in will be traveling to an area near you. Also, please be sure to check with your school’s college admission counselor, your local newspaper, or the admission offices of colleges that interest you to find out if, when and where a representative may be presenting information at a college fair near you.

Attending college fairs and meeting representatives of colleges that you are considering is valuable for “demonstrating interest” in those colleges. These can be critically important opportunities for personal interaction with the admission officer who will be responsible for applications from your area . . . so make the effort to have a brief but memorable meeting. Then, follow-up the brief over-the-table interaction with a personal email.

  1. NACAC Spring 2018 National College Fair

Parents and students participating in the free National College Fairs meet one-on-one with representatives from colleges and universities to discuss admission and financial aid opportunities at their respective institutions. Fairs are held between February 8 and May 6 in the following states: PA, FL, NY, SC, NC, GA, MI, CT, MA, TX, MD, RI, TN, NV, CA, OH, HI, NJ; and in Vancouver, BC. Check the website for the specific schedule. Register before the fair to make the most of your time onsite and ensure that colleges can follow up with you.

  1. Coast to Coast College Tour, Spring 2018

Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, Princeton University, University of California-Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University collaborate on a series of events across the country designed to educate students and parents on selective admission, financial aid, and the common admission philosophy shared among the five institutions. Students and parents are encouraged to take this opportunity to speak informally with admission representatives as well as to explore the defining characteristics of each school. Click on the link (http://www.coasttocoasttour.org) for more information and to register.

  1. Colleges That Change Lives

Each Colleges That Change Lives program begins with a 30-minute panel presentation on completing a college search today, sharing the latest research on specific campus characteristics and learning components that lead to the most successful college experience. Immediately after the panel presentation, the college fair begins, lasting approximately 1.5 hours. See the website for participating colleges. The US tour will visit the following states between May 19 and August 23: NM, GA, TX, MA, NC, IL, MI, CO, FL, CA, MN, TN, NY, OR, AZ, WA, MO, DC. (http://ctcl.org/info-sessions/)

  1. Exploring Educational Excellence

Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell and Rice typically travel collectively to present at information sessions with prospective students and their families across the US during the Spring. Sessions typically include a brief overview of each institution, information on admissions and financial aid, and a chance to speak informally with admissions representatives. Check this website regularly for further updates.

  1. 8 of the Best Colleges

Claremont McKenna, Colorado College, Connecticut College, Grinnell College, Haverford College, Kenyon College, Macalester College, and Sarah Lawrence College invite students and families to learn more about these eight internationally recognized liberal arts colleges.  Receptions will be held between May 20 and 24 in five cities: Houston, TX, Austin, TX, Dallas, TX, Denver, CO and Phoenix, AZ. Check the following link for more details on location and timing as May draws closer: https://8ofthebestcolleges.org/upcoming-programs/spring/.

  1. Jesuit Excellence Tour (JET)

The Jesuit Excellence Tour (JET) is a series of recruitment events that take place throughout each academic year in metro areas across the country. These events allow admissions staffs at Jesuit colleges and universities to jointly recruit targeted areas. Meanwhile, students who participate in the JET programs are provided simultaneous access to a number of Jesuit institutions, to which some of the students may not have had previous exposure. Check out the website to download an informational packet about each of the 28 Jesuit institutions and for the tour schedule, which goes from January 29 to April 27.

  1. Exploring College Options

This is a special recruitment program sponsored by the undergraduate admissions offices of Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford. Registration for Spring 2018 events will be available in April 2018. Click on the link and then move your mouse over the state you are interested in to find the locations within that state, and the dates and times.

During the month of May 2018, admissions officers from Georgetown University, Duke University, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania are tentatively planning to conduct Information Sessions in Central and South America in the following cities: Bogota, Lima, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and La Paz. Once the dates and details are confirmed, the exact locations and registration links will be published. Admissions officers from Georgetown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Northwestern University, and the Princeton University will conduct Information Sessions throughout India and the Middle East in Spring 2018. Check this link regularly for further updates: (https://uadmissions.georgetown.edu/visiting/your-area/international-cities).

  1. The Claremont Colleges Information Sessions

The Claremont Colleges frequently host information sessions in the Spring by admission representatives from Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps Colleges. Check the website (http://www.cmc.edu/admission/ccr.php) regularly for further updates.

  1. Study Life USA

Student education fairs give you a chance to speak directly with representatives of US universities, language programs and summer schools. Click on this link for a list of international education fairs taking place during Spring 2018 (beginning in late January) in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Middle East: http://studyusa.com/en/a/195/education-fairs.

Essential Info About College Financial Aid Forms

With the sticker price of many private colleges exceeding $60,000 a year and the cost of public universities steadily rising, more and more families are struggling to fund their children’s college educations. If you think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, take the time to file the required financial aid forms. Even if you don’t think you will quality for need-based aid, it may be to your family’s advantage to apply anyway – you may be surprised that you do qualify! And, many schools use these financial aid forms to allocate merit-based aid.

To apply for need-based financial aid for college, families must complete one or two financial aid forms: the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) and, sometimes, the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. October 1 is the first day these forms become available this year.  These forms use your financial data from the “prior prior” year. In other words, for the 2018-2019 financial aid forms, families will use their 2016 financial and tax information.

All colleges require submission of the FAFSA for financial aid consideration. For current high school seniors expecting to attend college next year, the 2018-2019 FAFSA can be accessed and submitted at https://fafsa.ed.gov/ beginning October 1, 2017. About 250 of the more selective colleges and universities also require submission of the CSS Profile. This can be accessed and submitted at https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/, also beginning October 1, 2017.

The deadline to submit these forms varies from college to college and by application type (early decision, early action, or regular decision). It is necessary to check each college’s website or financial aid office to know the deadlines for each submission. Missing these deadlines can seriously affect your student’s eligibility for financial aid. A growing number of colleges now have a November 1 or November 15 financial aid deadline for Early Decision and Early Action applicants, along with a later deadline for Regular Decision applicants.

There is a change to the FAFSA this year that everyone should know about. Because of concerns about the possibility of privacy breaches with the FAFSA’s IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), the Federal government suspended its use in the middle of last year’s application season. The DRT is the system that links and verifies that a family’s income information reported on the FAFSA is the same as what they reported to the IRS on their tax return. Using the DRT is a more streamlined way to file the FAFSA and helps eliminate manual entry errors. And, if your family’s FAFSA is selected for verification, the DRT-provided information is already verified so the process is much faster.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will return with the 2018–2019 FAFSA form on Oct. 1, 2017, with additional security and privacy protections added. According to www.efcplus.com, “the changes to the DRT process are important to understand since the FAFSA submission will now be a blind income submission if you opt to use the DRT system. The blind submission is an important change that all parents need to be aware of, especially first time filing families.”

What “Blind Income Submission” means is that if you use the IRS DRT when completing the 2018-2019 FAFSA form, your tax return information will not be displayed on the DRT web page or on your FAFSA form. Instead, you’ll see “Transferred from the IRS” in the appropriate fields on the FAFSA. While the DRT remains the fastest way to input your tax return information into the FAFSA form, the change to blind income submission means you will not be able to verify that your income information was accurately transferred from the IRS to the FAFSA through the DRT system. Furthermore, once a family uses the DRT system, only a college financial aid office can make corrections to the imported fields. This is a concern, since the submission is blind and cannot be verified by the submitter.

What is a family to do? If you are concerned about the blind income submission feature of the DRT, some experts recommend that you complete the FAFSA manually first and get an initial Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is an estimate of the amount a family is able to contribute to a year of college expenses, based on income, assets, and benefits. After you have completed the manual FAFSA submission and printed the Student Aid Report (SAR), turn on the DRT and resubmit the FAFSA: the EFC from the manual submission and the submission using the DRT should be very close, if not the same.

Read the following articles for more helpful information about FAFSA and the Data Retrieval Tool:

Families, if your child is applying to college this fall and you think your family may require financial aid at any point during his or her undergraduate career, file the FAFSA and CSS Profile this year. Many colleges will not consider a financial aid application from a current student admitted as a full-pay freshman if they did not submit the FAFSA before they started college. Remember, again, that many colleges use the FAFSA or CSS Profile also to award merit aid.

Going Off to College

With no test preparation, college applications or school schedules to worry about, the summer after senior year is a wonderful moment of liberation! Thinking about the adventure ahead fills students – and their parents – with excitement and joy, but also more than a twinge of anxiety! What follows, therefore, are a few pointers to help smooth your way to college:

  • You need not take your whole bedroom with you to campus! Frankly, most college rooms lack space for multiple appliances and game systems, so check with your future roommate about who will bring what. Assess what you need after you arrive, and remember that when you go home for the holidays, you can always return with that special pillow your mom made you and your online game console.
  • Begin to plan your pathway through your education by knowing when you have to declare a major, what your distribution and concentration requirements are, and when these classes are offered. But don’t let your planning close you off to new possibilities – after all, college is about expanding your intellectual horizons and your academic skills. Explore the course catalog to get a taste of what those possibilities may be.
  • Attend the first class of every course you consider taking, even during any “shopping” period. Professors hand out material, set out their expectations, and may even start teaching, and you do not want to miss it.
  • Attend class even when you don’t feel like it because you stayed out late the night before or the weather is cold and your bed comfortable. Professors will cover material, explain concepts and sketch the bigger picture in ways textbooks won’t.
  • Resist procrastination and, instead, design a study and work schedule. Stick to it! College success comes mostly through a combination of hard work and organization.
  • You may have the time to purchase required textbooks more cheaply online, but make sure you have them when needed for assignments. Buy the edition the reading list specifies.
  • Commit yourself to getting to know at least one of your professors each semester. Your intellectual experience at college comes in part from talking about ideas with others who share the same interests, and that includes both fellow students and teachers. Professors are also invaluable later if you need a letter of recommendation or information about research and internship opportunities. Other residential and academic advisers are equally important resources.
  • Living successfully with a new roommate requires mastering the art of diplomacy and compromise, especially for students who have never had to share their bedroom before. Make use of your residential advisers, and work actively to become part of your dorm community. Avoid the temptation to stick only with the people you knew before you arrived, or those with whom you share a hometown or a language or a religion.
  • Get to know the campus and all the resources it has to offer – libraries, music performances, visiting speakers, sports facilities, and Career, Disability and Study Abroad counselors. Resist the freshman temptation to stick only to the safe bubble of campus – after all, when you chose your college, you also chose your environment. If you are on new terrain, use common sense and at first explore in the company of friends, but don’t let unfamiliarity deprive you of the pleasures your new home has to offer. Get to know the local public transport system – being able to get around a city cheaply and easily is very freeing!
  • Take responsibility for managing your money and your day-to-day life. Learn to do your laundry before you leave home. Open a bank account, manage a monthly budget, and learn to deal with the Accounts and the Financial Aid Offices. And find yourself a job! At most colleges you need not be on financial aid to get a campus job, and these are wonderful opportunities for earning extra money, adding to resumes, and extending your knowledge of your college.
  • Be kind to your parents as both their child and an adult. If you have a problem, they may not know the context well enough to judge whether this is a genuine crisis that requires intervention, or whether you just had a bad day. They will always be ready to support you, so help them make that judgment.

One of the many great joys of university life is that you get to occupy, for an extended period, a lovely space between being an empowered adult and a dependent child. This is a great privilege, but not an excuse for idling in a state of perpetual childhood! Use your privilege and your freedom well. Have fun but be sensible; enjoy the freedom but grow up; and revel in your freedom but phone home!

Changes to Standardized Test Dates

As you know, standardized testing plays a role in building competitive college applications in the U.S.  The College Board (SAT and Subject Tests) and ACT have recently been in the news because of changes they are making to their testing schedules.

The good news is that both the College Board and ACT have added summer test dates! The College Board debuts an August SAT this year (at the expense of the January test date, which will be eliminated), while the ACT has announced a July exam date beginning in 2018. Summer testing is great for students who want to do focused test prep in the early summer immediately before these new test dates, as well as for rising seniors who need an extra chance to boost their scores before the rigors of senior year and the application season. While July and August test dates may be more challenging for students who have summer jobs or family travel plans, expect these dates to fill up fast and plan to register early!

The bad news is that the number of international administrations of the SAT has been reduced. The SAT will be offered abroad only four times per year, while Subject Tests will be offered five times. As a result, testing locations abroad will fill up quickly, and it will be even more important for international students to plan ahead and be strategic in choosing test dates.

Click here for the College Goals’ document that lists SAT and ACT tests by date for 2017-2018.

Take this opportunity to discuss your standardized testing plan with your college counselor and, in accordance with your plan, to register as early as possible for testing dates and locations!

SAT and ACT Testing by Date 2017-2018

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*except New York sites

  • Not all testing sites are scheduled to test on every test date. Be sure to check online.
  • Register as early as possible for a testing date and site, because testing sites will fill up quickly.
  • Register for the SAT and Subject Tests at: http://sat.collegeboard.org/register.
  • Not all Subject Tests are offered on each test date. Be sure to check online.
  • Register for the ACT at: http://www.act.org/content/act/en.html.

Planning Your Summer with College in Mind

Are you a high school student (or the parent of one) who is wondering how best to spend your summer? What do colleges expect high school students to do during their school holidays? While summer is a great time to relax and recharge, it’s also an excellent opportunity for teenagers to show commitment, responsibility, passion, leadership and reflection – all characteristics that can really boost your chance of getting into a good college!

Summer Job
Having a summer job is a great way to get work experience and demonstrate commitment and responsibility. Colleges understand financial realities and are impressed by students who work, especially if they are saving money for college or helping to pay some of their own bills. According to an article by Jenny Anderson in Quartz magazine (6-19-16), “Any way you turn it, holding a job is one of the most important things an adolescent can do…. They have to get up in the morning, manage their time and money, pay taxes, and be responsible to a schedule that neither kid nor parent designed.”

See: Quartz “Teens should have summer jobs, the less glamorous the better
(June 19, 2016)

Like a job, internships involve working for a company or organization, preferably one related to your career interests; but, unlike a job, they are often unpaid. Internships provide an opportunity to ‘test the waters’ and see if you really are interested in that career path. They also help students develop strong teamwork skills balanced with individual responsibility, build specific job skills, and network with people in their field of interest.

See: PrepScholar “Complete Guide to Internships for High School Students
(December 4, 2015)

Volunteer Work
Volunteering is when you do unpaid work that benefits others. Ideally, you are doing work that you enjoy, that supports a cause you care about, and that allows you to explore a career interest. There are many places where you can volunteer locally, such as libraries, animal shelters, schools, community theatres, food pantries, or other local non-profits. My daughter, for example, volunteered at the Emergency Room of our local hospital, as a way to explore her interest in medicine. If you’re passionate about national or local politics, or environmental issues, get involved! Work for a candidate whose values best meet yours, learn about the issues that matter to you, to your community… read, write and talk about them.

See: OnlineSchools.org’s “Student Volunteering Guide

See: PrepScholar “The 9 Best Places to Do Community Service” (September 21, 2015)

Summer Classes
Summer classes can be taken in a variety of ways, either through your high school, at a community college, through an academic program at a college, or even online. Take a course in something that really interests you, but is not offered in your school, or community. Did you know that you can take online courses from Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, the U of Texas and other great institutions online, for FREE, through www.edX.org? And there are many other similar options through other institutions, including and beyond www.khanacademy.org. If you need to stay on track with high school courses in order to prepare for college, see what’s available in summer school or at your local community college. If you are interested in pursuing theater, dance or visual arts, see what kinds of workshops are available both locally or as a residential program elsewhere. There are also many ‘pay to play’ opportunities on college campuses, where you study interesting subjects with students from around the world, while living on a college campus. While doing such a program will not improve your chances of admission at that college, it is a great opportunity to explore subjects not available at your high school, meet new people, demonstrate leadership, explore the college experience and expand the horizons of your world!

See: Forbes “College Summer Programs for High Schoolers: Are They Worth It?
(July 1, 2015)

See: Fastweb! Summer Programs for High School Students (March 1, 2016)

Pursue Hobbies or Talents
Summer is the time to pursue hobbies and talents, informally or formally. Perhaps you want to cook your way through one of Julia Child’s legendary cookbooks! It could result in a great college application essay! Are you an athletic, hoping to pursue your sport in college? Summer is an opportunity to focus intensively on your sport, by training or attending camps. Maybe you love to sit around playing guitar, writing your own songs, singing… great! Work on them, polish them, record them, maybe even YouTube them!

See: Psychology Today “Six Reasons to Get a Hobby” (September 15, 2015)

Your summer activities are more important than you imagine… NOT because you can rack up an impressive list to report on your college applications of the activities you attended, participated in, witnessed or accomplished. More important is that you are exploring the things that really mean something to you, and you’re investing your energy in excelling in them! With many opportunities available, choose ones that interest you and will communicate your passion to colleges. Colleges want to see that you committed to activities that are meaningful to you, in which you displayed responsibility and leadership, and where you both affected and were affected by the people and community around you.

See: Huffington Post’s “What College Admissions Office Look for in Extracurricular Activities” (April 11, 2013)

And don’t forget – bagging groceries, flipping burgers, doing construction work or restoring trails will be at least as respected by admission officers as attending a 2-week campus-based program.

Finally, remember that summers are probably the best time for you and your family to make the effort to visit a range of campuses, so you don’t waste time or money applying to colleges where you won’t be happy. Do NOT leave campus visits until after you get admitted… visiting campuses demonstrates your interest in each college, and that effort can significantly affect the outcome of your application.

Don’t wait! Summer opportunities need to be lined up NOW!

Is Early Decision Right For You?

Early applications were initially intended to help students signal their commitment to their top choice school. Over time though, the early application system began to reproduce all the stresses and strains of regular decision, only earlier and for an extended application period.  Now there are a variety of early application choices: Early Action (open choice and single choice), Early Decision, and second round Early Decision applications. Early Decision and Early Action application deadlines are usually in November, and students are typically notified of the admission decision in December.  Each early application option offers pros and cons.

This blog focuses on Early Decision (ED) applications.  An ED application is a binding commitment to one school. If accepted, you will be expected to attend, and thus you must withdraw any other applications.

Applying early can be an effective admissions strategy for many students. It is most appropriate for a student who:

  • Has researched colleges extensively
  • Is absolutely sure that the college is their first choice
  • Has found a college that is a strong match academically, socially and geographically
  • Meets or exceeds the admission profile for the college with respect to standardized test scores, GPA and class rank
  • Has an academic record that has been solid over time

Early Decision may be less appropriate for students who will absolutely need financial aid to attend college and will benefit from comparing financial aid offers from other colleges, unless your first choice college is one of the colleges that pledges to meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need.  (See: http://www.thecollegesolution.com/schools-that-meet-100-of-financial-need-2/.)

More and more, colleges are accepting an increasing proportion of their incoming freshman class through Early Decision (ED) applications.  Click here (https://ogontz.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/2016-early-decision-vs-regular-decision-acceptance-rates-chart-8-21-16.pdf) for a document that compares ED acceptance rates to Regular Decision (RD) acceptance rates for over 200 American colleges and universities. The document also gives the percentage of each institution’s freshman class filled through ED.  You will note that many prominent colleges fill 1/3 to 1/2 or even more with ED applicants, which significantly reduces the number of spaces available for the much larger pool of students who apply Regular Decision.

It’s important to reiterate that you should apply early only if you are as ready to present your credentials to the college in October or November as you would be later in the fall. If you want to re-take the SAT or ACT you didn’t do so well on, or get your History grade up, you might want to forgo applying early in order to buy yourself some more time for improvement until the regular admissions deadline.

If you plan on applying early, you need to start all facets of your admissions process early. Make sure you have lined up your recommendations and completed all required testing before the deadlines. Be ready to present yourself as a solid candidate. Above all, make sure you indeed want to attend the school to which you are applying early.

For more information about Early Decision, see:



By Carolyn Stewart

Start Your College Financial Aid Process NOW

As you are excitedly exploring college websites and imagining yourselves as incoming freshmen next year on the campuses of your choice, many of you (and your parents!) are probably also concerned about the rising cost of college attendance.

There are two options that can help families in facing the cost of college – merit scholarship aid and need-based financial aid. Students/families should consider applying for both. Merit scholarships are awarded to students based on their talents and not on financial need. These talents may include athletics, academics, musical skills or commitment to service. Merit-based money is a measure of how much a college would like a student to attend and is unaffected by the wealth or the need of the student’s family. Many of the most selective private colleges, however, do not award any merit-based aid. Need-based aid is based on a calculation of a family’s demonstrated need. In other words, the cost of attending a college minus the estimated contribution a family can make to cover that cost (EFC) = demonstrated need.

If you think you will need financial assistance in order to attend the college of your choice, there are things you and your parents should do now to prepare for the process of applying for financial aid.

  1. Start gathering and organizing your financial documents and tax information now. Beginning in 2016 for aid applications for the 2017-2018 award year, families will use the prior prior year (PPY) income and tax return information. This is great news, since most families should have their 2015 tax returns already submitted. Use this 2015 income and tax return information on the Net Price Calculators described below and to complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile in a timely manner.
  1. All colleges and universities are required to put a Net Price Calculator on their websites to help families calculate their estimated family contribution (EFC), given the specific costs of that institution. You can also find a general net price calculator on the College Board’s website at http://netpricecalculator.collegeboard.org/.
  1. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the online application used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for financial aid from the U.S. federal and state governments. It is used by colleges and universities to distribute need-based financial aid. It is also used by many institutions to award scholarships and merit-based aid. It is important to complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you will qualify for financial aid! 

    International students are not eligible for the U.S. government aid programs. However, many schools will ask international students to submit a FAFSA so that they may use the data for assessing financial need. See eduPASS (http://www.edupass.org/finaid/fafsa.phtml) for more information.Beginning in 2016, the FAFSA will be available starting October 1. Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1. You can download instructions, worksheets and other information about completing the FAFSA at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources#complete. The switch to PPY data will allow most American families to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the FAFSA, thereby simplifying the application process. Information from the parents’ PPY tax return (normally already submitted to the IRS – 2015 return in this case) would be downloaded and automatically populate the FAFSA. If your student is applying Early Decision (ED), you will likely need to submit the FAFSA at the same time or shortly after the ED application has been submitted. Check each college’s website for deadlines.

  1. Check to see if the institutions on your list require the CSS Profile, in addition to the FAFSA. There are about 200 colleges (mostly highly-selective private colleges) that use this form, which is longer and more complex than the FAFSA. Both U.S. and international students may complete the CSS Profile. We recommend printing out the CSS Profile worksheet (accessible once you establish a CSS Profile account) and filling it in by hand, before transferring the data to the online application. The CSS Profile is also available starting October 1 and will use PPY income and tax information like the FAFSA. If your student is applying Early Decision (ED) to one of the institutions requiring the CSS Profile, you will likely need to submit the CSS Profile at the same time or shortly after the ED application has been submitted. Check each college’s website for deadlines.
  1. If you think you will need assistance with FAFSA or CSS Profile preparation, contact a financial aid expert EARLY, preferably in the Fall and definitely not last minute!
  1. Start exploring scholarship opportunities, both locally and nationally. These are sources of funding that are not administered by colleges but rather by other private organizations, each with its own application process and eligibility criteria. Families should not pay for any of these, nor pay anyone to search them out! Check out this website: http://www.college-scholarships.com/free-scholarship-searches/. Before you spend lots of time applying for scholarships, check with the colleges on your list. Many schools will deduct your scholarships from your awarded financial aid package.

This process can feel overwhelming….. I know, because I have completed the process for both my children! But by starting the process now, getting organized, and having a frank discussion with your family about expectations and financial realities, you will be ready to complete all the relevant forms when the time comes. And, when you have completed the paperwork, reward yourself for your accomplishment!

Written by Carolyn Stewart, Director of Communications