Jane’s Tips

Oberlin grad procession

Jane’s #1 Tip: Visiting a College Can Be Very Important

Visiting a college is an important part of the search and exploration process. Research by colleges shows that applicants who visit are more likely to enroll. Therefore, many colleges treat the visit as proxy for “likely to enroll” and as a positive factor in their admissions deliberations. Visiting is one of the elements of “demonstrated interest” that many colleges like to see.

For students, the process of visiting colleges allows for broad preferences to evolve as they learn about different programs, styles of instruction, levels of academic rigor, and the look of the students, facilities and the campus and as they react to the different environments. It gives applicants the language to interpret and understanding what different options can provide.

Visiting a particular college enables the student to learn about that school and to consider if that environment and community matches his or her criteria and is a place that he or she might like to later apply to. Information and impressions gleaned from the visit will help the applicant articulate a comprehensive and targeted answer to the “why I want to go to x college” essay prompt that can be a part of that school’s application and will increase the likelihood of being admitted.

Information sessions are full of information about what a particular school values as an educational institution and in the college admissions process. They often provide that college’s definition of terms, a roadmap of sorts, and keys to their particular code for gaining admissions. Applicants and their parents should pay close attention and listen for the tips that a good information session can provide.

Jane’s #2 Tip: Don’t Be a Stealth Applicant

Don’t be a stealth applicant, meaning a student who does research online without making himself or herself known to the college. Colleges, particularly liberal arts colleges and those that are not larger public institutions, need to know that applicants are actively interested in learning more about them. They say that if the first time they hear about an applicant is with an application then they may conclude that he or she wasn’t very thoughtful about the process in general or about them in particular. Therefore, the student needs to make contact with a college as part of his or her search process.

At a minimum, students need to visit colleges’ web sites and go to the admissions or visitor pages to find the prompts that allow them to sign in and sign on to receive information. That will put students on the colleges’ radar. It will demonstrate their preliminary interest in learning more about the colleges and will ensure that they are not stealth applicants.

Jane’s #3 Tip: If Cost Is Important, It Should Be Considered Early On

Cost is an increasingly important consideration. If cost is going to be a determining factor in selecting which school an admitted student can attend, it should be considered as a guiding factor early on in the college search process. Families should not wait until the end of the process (when they are filing the financial aid forms after January 1 of the student’s senior year) or until receiving financial aid awards. Instead, they should develop an overall search and application strategy that considers cost.

There are a number of different approaches to try to reduce cost. Having “financial safety schools” and being strong in an applicant pool for schools that offer merit scholarships should be important components of an overall application strategy that considers cost. Being in a position to compare different admission offers (and therefore having not applied under any binding early decision plans) may be another important component.

In planning to apply for financial aid, parents should consider moving money out of the child’s name in the year prior to filing the FAFSA and CSS Profile. In the federal means analysis formula that determines the expected family contribution, children’s assets are assessed at a higher rate than parents’ assets, meaning that more of that asset is determined to be available to pay for college. Moving money out of the child’s name protects those funds. (While children’s assets are assessed at a rate of 20%, parent’s assets are assessed at a maximum rate of 5.64%.)

Jane’s #4 Tip: Understand the Basics of Financial Aid and Merit Scholarships

When considering cost, students and parents should understand that there are two major categories of financial assistance that may be available. They are financial aid and merit scholarships.

Financial aid is typically based on financial information. It requires the completion of financial aid forms, which include the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and, for many schools, the CSS Profile. The FAFSA uses standard formulas which calculate a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Financial need is the difference between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and EFC. It is critical to understand that financial need will likely be addressed through loans and grants and in different amounts or proportions by each school to which the applicant has been admitted. Keep in mind that the total COA can also vary greatly by school.

Merit scholarships are offered by some schools. They are awarded by the admissions office without regard to financial need and generally without having to complete any specific merit application. They are offered to applicants as an inducement to enroll. To qualify the applicant must have a strong academic profile within that applicant pool or have a special talent that is valued by that school and the school must offer merit scholarships.

For every school, students and parents should investigate whether merit scholarships are offered. If they are, that information should be available on the college’s web site under admissions or financial aid.

Published in Larchmont Dish (www.larchmontdish.com) January 2010.

The CEP is the Certified Educational Planner which Jane holds, and is the mark of distinction for independent educational consultants and high school counselors.

Jane Hoffman is a Certified Educational Planner (CEP). The CEP is the mark of distinction for independent educational consultants and high school counselors. It reflects the highest level of professional achievement and signifies extensive knowledge and commitment to the profession and to providing the highest quality of service to students and families. It is conferred only after demonstration of expanded institutional and professional knowledge.

CEPIECANACACJane Hoffman is an active member of a number of professional associations in college admissions and counseling, including the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners (AICEP), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Jane is a graduate of IECA’s Practices and Principles Training Institute and adheres to IECA’s Principles of Good Practice. Since it is important to remain current, Jane frequently attends national conferences and participate in professional exchanges that provide the latest information on admission policies, practices, trends and developments. Jane regularly visit colleges and meets with admissions officers to learn about each school’s culture, educational programs, institutional priorities and admissions practices. Ongoing professional development activities also include taking courses online, completing webinars and consulting with colleagues.