The Trouble with FAFSA – Possible Waitlists Ahead

The Trouble with FAFSA – Possible Waitlists Ahead

Many of you have no doubt heard about the recent troubles with the Department of Education’s rollout of the new FAFSA this year. If not, here’s the brief brief:

  • The launch of the new FAFSA was delayed from its typical October timeline to (essentially) January…
  • When it did launch, the site crashed often, leaving families waiting – sometimes for hours, sometimes weeks – before they were able to log back on to complete their applications for aid
  • Once this tech issue was resolved, the Department of Ed announced that a miscalculation had been built into the program, which would further delay the processing of financial aid for millions of students
  • Most colleges and universities will not begin receiving the information they need to calculate student financial aid packages until this week
  • And this processing delay – in and of itself – created further problems because it meant that many students couldn’t “correct” their FAFSA to apply for aid at schools beyond the original 20-institution limit.

And on it goes. A New York Times article last weekend reported that there were approximately 70,000 unread emails in the FAFSA inbox with “crucial identifying information required for financial aid.”

If your family is applying for financial aid this year, then you have likely already felt some of these impacts. 

But even if your family is in the fortunate position of not needing to apply for aid, this situation may affect you. Please read on to glean some of the possible downstream effects for everyone:

First, the FAFSA delays are going to make it difficult for colleges and universities to create individual financial aid packages in a timely manner and to incorporate the financial modeling they need to admit fiscally sustainable classes.

This financial uncertainty – this “not knowing” – has already created backlogs in many college admissions departments and, fortunately, is leading many forward-thinking colleges to extend their enrollment response deadlines from the traditional May 1st to May 15th and, in some cases, June 1st. These schools understand that students and families with financial need will need more time to weigh their financial aid packages and make responsible enrollment decisions. 

“Great, more time!” you say. Except if even one of your many schools is requiring a response by May 1st, it’s hardly a benefit. You and your family will still need to make some decisions by May 1st. Students must remain meticulously attentive to their different enrollment deadlines!

Equally concerning is that many colleges will likely place large groups of students on waitlists to hedge against their enrollment concerns. Waitlist activity has been on the rise over the past few years, but we expect ever-increasing reliance on waitlists this spring. 

A quick primer on waitlists: a) They draw the college process out even longer for students and families, sometimes as late as July. b) If a student is waitlisted at one of their top colleges and would still like the opportunity to attend, there is no guarantee of admission, so they should enroll at their current best option. c) If later, the student is fortunate enough to be offered enrollment from the waitlist, they are free to make the change, but they’ll lose their enrollment deposit from the previous school – sometimes a thousand dollars or more.

And while all of this “not knowing” is destabilizing for everybody, it could be even more damaging to first-generation and low-income students. Not having a financial aid package in hand when enrollment deadlines come around may keep many undocumented, Pell-eligible, and low-income students from enrolling altogether, simply opting out of the entire higher ed proposition. Or in the event of a waitlist, some of these students may not be able to forgo their tuition deposit in order to switch to their preferred school. 

It is too soon to say, but further downstream, the bungled rollout of the new FAFSA and enrollment mess it has caused may cripple smaller, more tuition-dependent institutions. We hope it’s not the case, but some small but wonderful educational options may simply cease to exist in the coming years. 



What is an interview?

We go through our lives interviewing and being interviewed every day. An interview is basically an encounter in which two people, who may not know anything about each other, are consciously working to form an impression of the other. Thus, many of your daily interactions and conversations could be considered ‘interviews’. If you can begin seeing some of these moments as mini-interviews, you will begin to gain greater insight into the way you portray yourself and, therefore, greater control over the way you are perceived. When you are in a conversation, try and imagine how the other person is seeing you and what it is you can and cannot do to influence that perspective. Observe your friends when you talk to them – what are they doing or saying that could give a stranger a negative impression of them, or simply a wrong one?

A successful interview is the outcome of your conscious and thoughtful choices about how you to present yourself to others. Thinking about this process will also help you to better explore and evaluate all of your personal and professional relationships. After all, if you can understand more about how others view you and how you can influence that view, then you can also begin to grasp a little more about why you see other people (or even judge them!) – friends, relatives, teachers, strangers – in the way you do.

Why do colleges do interviews?

As with every aspect of the application process, keep in mind that most American colleges use a holistic evaluation of your candidacy – they consider not only your grades and scores but also look for intellectual depth, social maturity and civic concern. The interview is another chance for you to add more such evidence to your application. Having presented yourself to the admission officers in your essays and having had teachers describe you in their letters of recommendation, the interview is a chance for you to advocate for yourself. You may be offered an interview either before applying to a college or, in the case of the most selective schools, after you have submitted an application. Many schools will offer some interviews on campus, but most will now give you the opportunity to interview with an alumnus closer to home. Whatever the location or circumstances, seek out and accept any opportunity for an interview that you can get!

How to prepare for the interview?

Whether you are interviewed by an alumnus or an admission staff person, he or she will ask questions meant to elicit an impression of you in relation to that college – is this student the kind we want at our college; is this student a good fit for our institution; is this student likely one day to become a good representative alumnus?

But an interview is by definition a dance between at least two people – in other words, you have as much of a role to play as the interviewer does. Prepare for that role! Do not go into it thinking that all you have to do is answer the interviewer’s questions honestly. That is a great start, but probably not enough! After all, when you have a conversation with another person, there is a give and take in which you are not a passive bystander but an equal participant. An interviewer will ask questions to form an impression of you, and your role is to shape that impression while also eliciting information about the college. In short, do not go into the interview feeling like the proverbial lamb being led to the slaughter! Whether or not this conversation will be fun and interesting will depend just as much on you as on the interviewer!

You prepare for the “dance” that is an interview by being ready both to ask and answer questions. At the very least, an interview is meant to give you information about the college and answer some burning concerns you may have about it. And let’s be honest, asking questions is often a great way to help cover those awkward silences that occur in conversations between strangers!

But asking questions is more than the chance to get information and to seem socially gracious. Of the following five behaviors that candidates exhibit in interviews, which one do you think recruiters find most unforgivable?

  1. Poor personal appearance
  2. Overemphasis on social aspect of college
  3. Failure to look at interviewer while interviewing
  4. Doesn’t ask questions
  5. Late to interview

Well, yes – any of these five behaviors can be deadly – but the answer, according to professionals, is #4. So prepare yourself with some (not too many! not too few!) well-considered questions. That way, you can gain some control over the flow of the dialogue, as well as demonstrate your knowledge of and interest in the college. You can add to what you have tried to say about yourself in your essay, and you can reassure the interviewer of the seriousness of your interest in his or her school without feeling that you sound awkward or fake in saying it! Of course, do avoid the other four pitfalls too!

What to do in your interview?

Having prepared some questions for your interviewer and having done the research to answer his or her questions, enter the interview with confidence. During the ensuing conversation, keep in mind the attributes and qualifications that the interviewer is looking for, so that you can demonstrate that you have those by reflecting on your own experiences and by offering thoughtful questions and informed answers. A college interviewer is looking for:

  • Commitment/interest in the college – neither gush with exaggerated enthusiasm nor leave any doubts about your interest in the college.
  • Knowledge about the university’s expectations and unique offerings – do you know what the college has to offer you that is unique and a good fit for you, or are you applying simply because others told you to do so?
  • Your interest in being part of a community of very diverse people – have you been a good member of a team and do you work well with others?
  • Leadership experience – can you lead and organize well?
  • Will you, both as a student and subsequently as an alumnus or alumna, be a good representative of that college in the wider world?

What can you do to help answer these questions in the interviewer’s mind?

  • Show social grace by smiling, shaking hands when meeting, sitting straight and not slouching, saying thank you, waiting for an older person to take his or her seat before you do, not interrupting, and being respectful without being obsequious (look it up – it is good SAT practice!).
  • It is fine to let the interviewer know you are nervous – it shows that you care and gives the interviewer a sense of your ability to handle stress.
  • Be sure to talk about how your goals and philosophy blend and are strengthened by the goals and philosophy of the college/university, and back it up with examples and details … this is where that earlier preparation comes in!
  • Ask the interviewer about his or her own course of study as a way of introducing the academic aspects of the university that interest you – perhaps a particular program you like, a researcher you read about or a professor whose book you use in school? A college is above all an academic institution.
  • You need not hash out all of your courses, grades or activities – the admission office will see these in your application – but it can be good to refer to them in passing as a way of making the point that you are a good fit for that institution and that you have a contribution to make – as a team member, as a leader, as a good citizen. But be a person, not a transcript or a list of activities! What’s interesting about you?
  • When the interview is done, be sure to thank the person for his or her time with a short note (so get contact information!) – this shows your good manners alongside with your gratitude.

What to avoid in your interview?

But there are also behaviors that should be avoided, and some are so obvious that they are easily overlooked!

  • Watch your language! This does not mean simply avoiding vulgar or off-color words and phrases, but also the linguistic mannerisms that teenagers like and adults despise! Excessive use of the word “like,” for example!
  • Avoid familiarity! You are not applying to become the interviewer’s best buddy, but for admission to a university. Moreover, wait until you are invited to address a person by their first name before you use it – older interviewers may be particularly sensitive to this.
  • Listen! Alumni and admission interviewers will share with you their own ideas about their institution and what is most significant about the place. To learn what those ideas are, you have to pay attention. You need not agree with everything, but you do need to show a respectful interest.
  • Do not be rattled by a poor interviewer! Yes, it can happen that you encounter someone who is not particularly adept at the art of interviewing – who talks too much, too little, asks silly questions, plays ridiculous games that are meant to test you somehow. Answer as well and as honestly as you can, and know that the admission officers who read these things will probably read several reports by that same interviewer and develop their own views of how well or how poor he or she does the job. Alumni interviewers are not doing this professionally, and admission officers know and understand this when reviewing the results.

PARENTS, accept and understand this is your child’s moment. No matter how keen you are to chat with the interviewer, no matter how strongly you feel about your child’s achievements, you cannot and should not join in the conversation. Under any circumstances! The interviewer may understandably come to doubt your child’s ability to cope as an independent adult on a college campus, and that assessment will go in their reports.

Interviews matter, whatever other students and parents will tell you! No college will spend resources to set these up if they were irrelevant. Interviews are often conducted by alumni to be fair to those many students who cannot travel to campuses for interviews and often because admission officers are already overburdened. Informational interviews may serve only as an opportunity for you to ask questions. But even these are of value to you – what better way to prepare yourself to answer a college’s question on “why are you applying to us?”

Many colleges, especially more selective ones, offer interviews that are evaluative – that means the interviewer will write a short report on you to be used in the application process. Of course, a 30 minute conversation when you are on your best behavior will certainly not trump what you did, or failed to do, in your classroom over several years, nor should it. But it will give you the chance to “inhabit” your application some more, and another chance to argue that you are a good fit with a college. Bad interview reports are few and far between, and are usually the result of specific behaviors – arriving late, refusing to meet the interviewer’s eye, an inability to say more than yes or no, apathy or indifference, lying! Interviewers usually give students the benefit of the doubt and really enjoy the rare chance of chatting with a bright and interesting young person.

Many interviewers believe that your interest in their alma mater is already evidence of your good judgment! Relax, have fun, and build on that goodwill!


Why Choose College Goals?

Why Choose College Goals?

Why choose College Goals to guide your child and you through the critically important challenge of preparing for and gaining admission to college? You will benefit from the collective knowledge, experience, and wisdom gained from professionals who are familiar with every aspect of the admissions process and its significance for academic success. While you work with one of us, we conference regularly about information that can benefit our students.

We have read literally thousands of college applications, and talked to hundreds of students during their college careers. WE KNOW what makes a successful college student. Motivation to learn and to contribute to a learning community that ‘fits’ is the key to success — not just motivation to ‘get in’. The right attitude and the right environment provide students with the confidence that is necessary to succeed in college and in life.

For three decades, we have been mentoring, motivating and celebrating students. We enjoy young people – their energy, their courage, and their dreams.

We support our young clients to discover their personal passions and achieve their highest academic and personal goals. College Goals’ students know that their counselor is there for them personally, to cheer and commiserate, as well as to advise.

Here are some of the services included in an on-going consulting relationship:

College Goals Consultants:

  • Guide, encourage, motivate and coach students and parents through the complex, confusing and stressful process of college preparation and admission.
  • Establish realistic educational goals and expectations.
  • Review the student’s academic record and ability for balance, notable achievements, and weaknesses.
  • Realistically assess talents, skills, accomplishments and interests, and determine how best to present exceptional abilities and goals.
  • Enable the student and family to determine at least ten colleges appropriate for application.
  • Develop a personal admission plan and schedule.
  • Provide guidance and timetable for obtaining necessary standardized test preparation (SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, TOEFL).
  • Provide preparation and guidance for college visits and interviews.
  • Assist the student to highlight strengths in a personal presentation (resume/’brag’) sheet.
  • Provide guidance about whom to ask for recommendations, and how to approach recommenders.
  • Recommend initiatives and programs to maximize and demonstrate strengths or to improve student’s weaknesses through enrichment and/or summer programs.
  • Guide and motivate the development of and provide editing for the student’s all-important essays and personal statements, and all parts of the application preparation. (Yes, spelling and grammar, too!)
  • Mentor the parents as well as the student to facilitate their child’s process of preparing for college and their transition towards learning to adjust to the changes that come for them, when their child becomes a college student.
  • Listen to the student; listen to the parents.
  • Respect individual learning styles and recommend supports when needed. Make sure each student understands how s/he learns best and that s/he applies to colleges that have appropriate teaching/learning philosophies and facilities.
  • Encourage applicants to take ownership of the admissions process so they know exactly why they are applying to each school on their list, and that they know, understand and are excited about the opportunities that are available to them there.
  • Help review and evaluate the student’s admissions and financial aid options after college decisions are made, to help determine the best possible outcome.

Receiving a college degree is one of a young person’s earliest major accomplishments, and the importance of the college experience is unquestionable. Frankly, we would have to say that this experience is even more significant – and more challenging – than the most over-anxious pre-college student or their parents could imagine.

Yet the issues that are important are OFTEN not the things that are seen or considered prior to attending. We try to anticipate and discuss these ahead of time, with the student and the parents, so informed decisions can be made after the family has looked at the full picture. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Cost of Education: the language and tools of financial aid for students and parents

The Cost of Education: the language and tools of financial aid for students and parents

Working in an admission office made me very aware of the impact financial need has on a student’s ability to attend a particular university, especially since I coordinated a program to increase the presence of economically disadvantaged students on campus. And as a parent I will never again listen to a young admission officer talking about the “painless” process of applying for financial aid, without an inelegant snort and the knowledge that his or her parents likely felt very differently!

As parents and students explore college admission, they cannot help but be struck by the astonishing cost of attending an American university. Sarah Lawrence College, for example, has a sticker price of almost $60,000! Parents are questioning their ability and their interest in paying such exorbitant fees. Even families who do not expect to qualify for financial aid are exploring scholarship opportunities for their children. The best counsel on how to pay for college will come from private financial advisers or from financial aid counselors at colleges. Here, however, is a very basic overview of the process just to familiarize you with the concepts and give you some of the “language” with which to have those conversations.

  • The first important concept is the difference between an institution that claims to be “need blind” in its admission practices and another that is “need-aware.” For need-blind colleges a student’s application for financial aid, large or small, is not a factor in deciding whether to admit a student, or not. For a need-aware college, such need may play a role in whether a student is accepted or not. Most state schools practice need-blind admissions, but most private schools (except a relatively small segment of the most selective ones) do not. In fact, being need-blind may expand a college’s applicant pool, which in turns makes the school more selective. But even those colleges that are need-blind may not be so for every applicant – indeed, because of the great cost to the school of such a policy, most will exclude transfer and international applicants, for example.
  • Colleges may award two kinds of financial aid: merit-based or need-based aid. 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. Ivy League colleges, however, do not award any merit-based aid – being awarded a “full ride” by an Ivy is the result of exceptionally straitened circumstances and not a measure of unusual merit. Some schools may award such merit scholarships without the student having applied for financial aid at all, while others will still use the FAFSA to make the assessment – which may be reason to complete the FAFSA even if you do not believe that you will qualify for any 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. How does a college determine that need? To apply for aid, an American family will need to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). As the name implies, you should not ever pay to submit this form, which can be downloaded at The FAFSA will be used to assess a family’s need by considering income (taxed and untaxed), assets (retirement funds are not considered under assets, however, and neither is home equity), how many members in the family, and how many enrolled students in the family. The FAFSA’s federal deadlines fall well after much of the admission process has passed, but, in addition, each college and even every state may have additional, earlier deadlines – you can find these at It is crucial that students and parents meet these deadlines!
  • Many private colleges will also use the CSS Profile, an aid application managed by the College Board, in addition to the FAFSA. The Profile is also completed online after October 1 but before the earliest priority deadline set by each college. Again it is crucial that families check the Financial Aid Office websites of their chosen colleges. Whereas the FAFSA is used to disburse federal funds, colleges use the Profile to disburse their own institutional money. It uses a slightly different set of calculations from the FAFSA– home equity is considered, for example (though it is capped to limit its impact).
  • Once a college has estimated a family’s estimated contribution and its remaining need, financial aid officers set about to calculate how the college will meet that student’s need. Financial aid packages are just that: a package of different forms of assistance, determined by the specifics of a student’s need. Typically it will consist of loans (these have to be repaid), work-study opportunities and grant or scholarship money (these do not require repayment). Since 2010, loans to US citizens or eligible non-citizens are made directly to parents and students rather than through commercial lenders. There are a few kinds of loans: subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford loans made to students, Plus (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Study) loans made to parents with a somewhat higher interest rate than the Stafford loans, and subsidized low-interest, need-based Perkins loans to students. Subsidized loans generally do not accrue interest until the student has to begin repayment after graduation, but unsubsidized loans do.
  • An important part of a financial aid package may be work-study opportunities that give students the chance to earn some of the money they need by working on campus at a job partially subsidized by the US government. Some colleges will even direct students to jobs without them having to search around for these. Students who do not qualify for any financial aid can still work on campus too, of course.
  • Grants are that portion of a financial aid package that need not be repaid. They may include federal Pell grants, one of the extraordinary ways in which the US government can assist very needy families, or they can come directly from the institution itself. The greater a student’s financial need, the bigger the portion of their financial aid that may be met with such grants.
  • Many colleges are very much aware of concerns about the debt burden with which many students graduate, but only the wealthier private schools may be able to do something about it. Many of the Ivies, for example, will give students who earn less than a given threshold financial aid packages that will have no loan component. Princeton students who need financial aid will not have any loans as part of their aid package. At Brown in 2010-2011 some 61% of students who received need-based financial aid did not have any loan component, while Yale spent $109 million in need-based aid. But the reality is that many American students will graduate with crushing loan burdens that will limit their ability to make free choices about their careers after they graduate.
  • Families inevitably wonder whether they are eligible for any financial aid, or about the ways in which they may improve their eligibility. To help families calculate their estimated family contribution (EFC), colleges are now required to put a Net Calculator on their websites that will reference the specific costs of that institution. You can also find a general such calculator on the College Board’s website at A financial adviser will be best able to direct a family to ways that may improve their eligibility – like shifting any assets in a student’s name, which will heavily reduce eligibility, to a custodial 529 college savings plan in the parents’ name – though in reality there is a limit to what one can do.
  • When a student has applied for financial aid, the offer will often come together with the offer of admission, or shortly thereafter. Unless a student was accepted during Early Decision, the family will hopefully have a few offers to consider. The net cost (the cost of attendance minus the financial aid award) may be quite similar across different offers. But the out–of-cost expenses for every family, determined by the composition of the aid package, may differ from one college offer to another – how much of the package consists of non-repayable grant money as opposed to loans that need repaying? If you find that these vary quite dramatically between two offers, it may be that you gave one college a more complete set of information than what you gave another. In this case, immediately start a conversation with the college’s Financial Aid Office to try and remedy the disparity. If that conversation produces no change, then this may become a factor in the student’s decision.
  • Many students, especially those who believe that they will not qualify for need-based aid, may pursue so-called “outside” scholarships. 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, or even pay anyone to search them out! One good search engine is and you can find a listing of additional free search engines at These searches may deliver either small or significant amounts of money, and a student may want to start by asking whether the amount warrants the application process. Every penny can indeed help, but if a student has to spend extraordinary amounts of time searching and then completing applications for small amounts, some may not find it the best use of their time and energy. Students should ask Financial Aid Offices about the impact such scholarships will have on financial aid packages. Some colleges may use the funding to reduce their own grant component, which means there is no net advantage to the student at all; others may be willing to reduce the student’s loan component. Schools’ policies on this issue, the size of the scholarship and whether it is annually renewable or not, should all be factored into a student’s decision to apply to an outside scholarship.
  • Most of the discussion up to this point focused on American citizens and eligible non-citizens like permanent residents. This is because federal aid, which will be a very significant component in domestic student’s financial aid package, is not available to international students. Colleges need to meet such students’ financial need from their own funding, and bar a few schools with exceptional endowments, American colleges cannot afford unlimited aid. International students who need aid should therefore apply to colleges with this in mind. While the most selective colleges may have the biggest pocketbooks, they will also have the largest number of exceptional and needy international applicants. A lesser-known college may have smaller resources but also have fewer applicants vying for that aid. A student who is an American citizen applying from overseas remains eligible for federal aid, and a student who has lived in the U.S. but never took American citizenship or permanent residency is not.

In general, there are a few tips students and families intending to apply for financial aid, should consider:

  • Be clear that you know what numbers you are talking about and that you are not comparing the cost of apples and oranges with each other. The total sticker price used to determine financial need includes tuition but also the other expenses that a student will need to cover in order to attend that college: cost of accommodation, books, health insurance, travel home, and personal expenses. That huge number may be a “total” price and not just tuition cost.
  • Ask every college to which you apply for aid whether it will meet 100% of your demonstrated need, or only a portion. Some colleges may practice a form of “bait and switch,” and after attracting freshmen with generous aid will cut off that help after a year or two.
  • Every strategy your family has considered for “gaming” the system, even the really drastic ones like having a student declare him or herself emancipated from parents, have been tried and rejected. There are few loopholes, so while you should be thoughtful about the process and seek out advice, you should also know that there are limits to what you will be able to do to increase your eligibility.
  • The process requires organization and attention to details and to deadlines. If you miss deadlines, you may find that a college has awarded all the funding it has available. Deadlines will vary from college to college, and even within a single school there may be different ones for different scholarship programs.
  • Do your taxes earlier than you may normally be inclined to – otherwise every figure becomes an estimated one and you may not have the clarity about your obligations that you may like.
  • Be as thorough and detailed as you can. Vague information will not increase your financial aid package, only make its delay likely!
  • Inform yourself about each college’s unique financial aid policies – is a school need-blind for students like yourself, does it award merit aid and do you need to apply for it, what are the deadlines, how does the school treat outside funding, what forms are required and, above all, how does that college assemble a financial aid package based on its own institutional resources (no merit aid, no loans under a certain income level, and so on). All this information should be on its website.
  • Never hesitate to phone a Financial Aid Office to ask advice, or to find out how you can appeal an offer. It may be simply a matter of incorrect or missing information. But be assured that schools do view paying for college as a worthwhile investment on your part that may require some sacrifices – families whose appeal rests on their inability to maintain their vacation home or their yacht are unlikely to find a receptive audience!
  • Remember that, contrary to what you may believe, the financial aid officers are constrained by specific rules and policies. They are not salesmen who can haggle to their hearts’ content about the price of the used vehicle but people who are incredibly knowledgeable about financial and tax policies. They are also, based on my own professional and personal experience, people who are interested in helping you pay for college. Be nice to them!

Here are some of the resources that students and their families may find useful: [a website that provides one of the largest free and searchable databases for scholarships] [an overview of very useful advice about financial aid] [a good search engine for outside scholarship resources] [a useful overview and search engine]

Mark Kantrowitz, founder of, is the author of a book, “Secrets to Winning a Scholarship,” published in February 2011. (Unigo is a useful site for advice about colleges – College Goals counselors sometimes contribute to its Expert Network] [a very useful site for international students wishing to study in the US] [International Education Financial Aid] [a list of schools that award financial aid to international students]

Students’ efforts to find their dream schools should not simply revolve around concerns about funding, but this requires planning, research and forethought. Good luck![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What You REALLY Want to Know about Colleges?

What You REALLY Want to Know about Colleges?

Visiting a college campus can be overwhelming. By the time you (and your parent) sink back into your car, do you feel you know more? Or are you more confused? Try to ‘do your homework’ on some of these issues before (and after!) you schedule your trip!

Below is a list of campus options and characteristics which current college students and professional educators consider important benchmarks in evaluating the educational and developmental opportunities on any campus. Some will be more significant than others for you, but we hope this list will help you to learn more about the schools you visit, and to see each campus deeply, beyond the buildings and the trees.

  • Does this institution challenge your assumptions and take you outside your comfort zone? Will it prepare you for future globalization and for living/working within the increasingly broad diversity of values, perspectives, experiences within your country?
  • What are the opportunities for cross-disciplinary studies – through concentrations/majors?
  • Independent Studies? Group Independent Studies? What supports?
  • What are some of the strongest departments for undergraduate students?
  • If you are interested in, for example, how children or adults learn, will you be able to find relevant classes in many areas/departments, including Psychology? Sociology? Education? Public Policy? Computer Science? Philosophy? Cognitive Science? Modern Culture and Media?
  • What attention/support do students get from faculty in the department in which they chose to major?
  • How is teaching valued vs. research by the faculty? By the university?
  • How easy is it to change curricular choices? Programs? Majors?
  • What opportunities are there for students and faculty to interact outside of the classrooms? (Do they all use the campus coffee shops, lunchrooms, service projects, attend campus lectures, etc.)
  • How does this university value its undergraduate college(s) compared to its professional schools?
  • During college, will there be opportunity for you to do academic work in groups?
  • What are the consequences of taking academic challenges that don’t work?   Of making mistakes, without failing? – are they viewed as learning experiences?
  • Are classes/sections led/taught by other students? Graduate students? Undergraduate?
  • How hard is it to get into the courses you want?
  • What size are the average classes – for first-year students and sophomores? Especially science classes?
  • Is there a requirement or opportunity to do a thesis or a capstone project?
  • What are an undergraduate’s chances of doing research with a faculty member? Summers? Semesters? 1st, 2nd,3rd, 4th year?
  • Are there opportunities to work as a Teaching Assistant? Are in-the-field internships available?
  • Are there Study Abroad opportunities – summers? Semester/year?  What percentage of students study abroad? Where? In what academic year? Support for students abroad? Does Financial Aid ‘travel’ abroad with students?  How many/what programs are based at this school? Issues about transferring credit?
  • Does this college allow its students to Study Away in the USA – summers? Semester/year? Programs? Transfer credit available?
  • What are the resources on campus for Study Skills training? By peers? Professionals? Cost?
  • What is the Academic Advising Program like for first-years? Sophomores? Upperclassmen? Concentration/majors? Who advises – faculty? Professionals? Student peers? How do students rate advising? How do they use it? Departmental support?
  • Are there opportunities to work as a Peer Academic Advisor? Or as a Peer Residential Advisor? If so, must they monitor/report on their constituents? Are there professional/adult/faculty Residential Fellows?
  • Do students mainly live off or on campus, after their first year? How open/closed are the dorms? How do people who do not live in the dorms gain access?
  • What are the students’ major issues regarding safety? What safety measures have been put in place?
  • What percentage of the campus is fraternity/Greek oriented? How big a part do they play in all students’ life?   What’s the general attitude towards ‘nerds and geeks?’
  • What are the creative opportunities? University supported and/or student initiative opportunities in theatre? Music? Dance? Debate? Student government? Service? . . . on and on –
  • What does the weekend social life revolve around? Are there off-campus options? Do students talk about having fun learning, or is fun = partying? What are the alcohol policies, and how are they enforced?
  • How are athletes/athletics perceived? Supported? By faculty? Administration? Students? How are the athletic/exercise facilities for non-athletes?
  • What is the college’s attitude towards taking a Leave of Absence (time off) for personal reasons [medical, family]; for employment, internships, personal development, travel, study elsewhere?
  • What kinds of leadership opportunities are there? Curricular? Co-curricular? Off-campus?
  • What kind of support is there for students interested in applying for scholarships and fellowships during college and after graduation – campus-based, national or international (Danforth, Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, NSF, etc.)? Or for minority fellowships? (Mellon Minority Fellowships).
  • To whom do students turn to learn about graduate study? About professional study? (law, medical, dental, business school).  How do they get recommendations?
  • How strong is the Career Services program? It is available to students in their 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st year of college? Does it help with obtaining summer positions? Internships? Is there any financial help available to the student who has the opportunity to take a terrific but unpaid internship? Who are some of the strongest recruiters on campus? Can a student receive academic credit for an internship?
  • When students come back to this campus for their 5th or 10th reunion, do they look up faculty? Do they visit them in their offices? Their homes? Get invited to a meal or to stay the night?
  • Is this school likely to help you become who you want to be? Are the faculty/departments aware of what graduates will seek to do with their skills? Are they oblivious, tolerant or helpful?
  • Do students at this school say they love it & wouldn’t want to be anywhere else? This is most important!


Campus Visits

Campus Visits

How to prepare for your visit?

  • Timing: Search every school’s website, sooner rather than later, to see whether you have to sign up for a tour and an information session, and whether or not on-campus interviews are available.
  • Preparation: The more you have researched a college before you arrive on campus, the more you will know what it is you need to know. If you walk away from a visit being able to say only that, “It is a good school,” “It is a pretty campus,” “They do research” or “They have a study abroad program,” then it has been a wasted opportunity. So arrive on campus ready to find answers to the questions you have prepared!
  • Accommodation: Many colleges will have a section about local accommodations on their admission website – try to stay close to campus so you can spend the evening in the local neighborhood or even attend an event on campus. Keep in mind that winter weather in parts of the US can have a big impact on any travel plans!
  • Directions: Print out a local map or use your phone for directions, since campuses are confusing hives of activity. Make note of public parking and bring along some quarters for parking meters!

What to do when you visit?

  • Arrival: Leave time to find parking, sign in at the admission office, and pick up the business card of your regional representative.
  • Interviews and classes: Check if a college offers on-campus interviews – these are mostly informational (to tell you about the college) and conducted by senior students, and fill up quickly. Check if you can attend a class (if school is in session), and observe the classroom dynamic.
  • Admission session: As the centerpiece of a campus visit, the info session will usually be presented by an admission officer with the assistance of a student. More formal in approach, these events are helpful in describing the application and financial aid processes; in giving you an opportunity to listen to and learn from the questions of others; and in exposing you to both the platitudes that are the stock of the admission profession but also to deeper insights into what makes that college distinctive and a good fit for your own aspirations. Here are some questions to ponder:
    • what is the relative acceptance rate for Early Applications and Regular Decision?
    • is admission need-blind or need-aware?
    • what proportion of students are local, and how many come from elsewhere in the US and the world?
    • how will winning outside scholarships affect your financial aid package?
    • when do you have to declare your major?
    • how easy is it to switch between majors and programs?
    • how extensive are the general education or core requirements?
    • which are the most popular and the strongest majors offered?
    • how extensive is the advising system?
    • how extensive are the study abroad options and how many students participate?
    • what are the interesting community service opportunities on and around campus?
    • can non-arts majors make easy use of the school’s arts and theater resources?
    • how long are you guaranteed housing on campus?
    • how many students stay on campus over the weekends?
    • how hard is it to get into the courses you want and the ones required for graduation?
    • what is the graduation rate over four or six years?
  • Campus tour: If the information session presents the formal face of the admission office, the campus tour will give you the perspective of an engaging and informative current student, share fun facts that an admission officer will not, and give you a brief taste of life on campus. You may want to ask the tour guide these types of questions:
    • what they like most about their school, and like least?
    • what they wish they had known when they first chose that college?
    • what the classes are like, both in faculty-student interaction and size?
    • whether they have ever been locked out of taking a class, and how they resolved it?
    • whether the advising system has lived up to their expectations and met their needs?
    • how often they meet with their professors outside of class?
    • where students hang out on campus, and study?
    • how important fraternities/sports/alcohol are to campus culture?

The role of Parents?

  • College visits are tiring, but this may be the last extended time to spend with your child before s/he leaves for college. Enjoy it!
  • Don’t feel compelled to give them harsh reality checks and put a damper on their dreams – the application process will do that very effectively!
  • Don’t argue about seemingly ridiculous criticisms of every college you visit, but accept that their comments may in fact be a screen for another set of unspoken concerns and anxieties.
  • Above all, enjoy their company and take pride in the fact that this is your reward for those Sunday nights gluing together a school project, the endless cupcakes you made for class events, the early mornings next to the ice rink, and the weekends spent alongside the soccer field!

Have a WONDERFUL time visiting some outstanding educational institutions, and carry that excitement with you into the application season![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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