Wednesday, April 15, 2020

College Planning Concerns & COVD-19

For many of us, the Coronavirus pandemic is the first time we’ve ever had to face a situation that is truly beyond our control. If you’re a junior who’s planning to apply to college in the fall, it is no doubt heightening the sense of stress and anxiety around college admissions that you were already experiencing. The timing could absolutely not be worse for you. While there is nothing beyond practical safety measures that we can do to manage the impact of COVID-19 on our lives, having information about what you can (and can’t) do to keep your college process on track might give you some peace of mind.

The Most Important Thing to Know

It’s scary to accept, but you are powerless to control the ways our current situation will affect college admissions in the fall. The cold, hard truth is that we simply don’t know what impact it will have on things like application deadlines, the admit rates of colleges, or how things like spring semester grades and SAT/ACT scores will be used in evaluating applications. In many cases, the colleges themselves are still answering these questions. Don’t create extra stress for yourself by trying to find answers where there are as yet none to be had.

The good news is that colleges understand what you’re going through. They will not hold you accountable for things that you can do nothing about. What does this mean for you?

Spring Semester Grades

Different school districts are taking different approaches to instruction and grading for spring semester. Some schools are doing online instruction while others are not. Some are continuing to give letter grades, while others are grading pass/fail. Colleges understand this. They are working to figure out how to factor this into the admissions process.

Whatever your school is doing, continue to work hard and earn the best possible grades. This is one thing that you can control, so make the most of it!

SAT/ACT Testing

Several colleges have dropped or modified their testing requirements for the class of 2021, including the University of California system and some top tier universities like MIT (which has dropped its subject test requirement). It seems likely that more will follow suit.

Even before the pandemic, many colleges were “test-optional,” which means scores would be considered if submitted but weren’t required. You can find a list of these schools here:

The College Board and the ACT have plans so students can make up tests that were cancelled. You can find updates here:




This is an unprecedented time, and there are many things we can't answer right now. But it will pass, and you will go to college in 2021. The most important thing you can do right now is take care of your physical and mental health, so that when we emerge from this challenging time, you're ready to resume your journey to college.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Smart Ways to “Visit” Colleges Without Leaving Home

Visiting campuses is a great way to learn about colleges and get a real sense of whether they are a fit for your goals and needs. But sometimes, costs, time constraints, or unexpected obstacles (like a global pandemic) can make going to colleges in person impractical or even impossible. Luckily, there are still lots of ways you can check out colleges without even leaving your couch. 

College Websites

This seems super obvious, but people often overlook the wealth of information that can be found on a college's website. If you take the time to delve beyond the landing page, you can learn about their history, educational approach, the majors they offer, the clubs and other activities that are popular on campus, and even the layouts of the various dorms. There are lots of pictures, and often virtual tours, not just of the campus itself, but possibly even academic departments. Colleges often put a lot of time and money into their websites because they are the public face of their school and offer visitors a one-stop shop for comprehensive information. Give them a look.

Social Media

It's no surprise that colleges take advantage of young people's preferred mode of communication. Most colleges have at least one YouTube channel full of videos, and you may also find channels for specific departments, activities and interests. Through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and tumblr, you can get all sorts of insights (the UC Berkeley bathroom graffiti tumblr is a must see!) that really bring a college to life.

Virtual Tours

They're not a perfect substitute for actually strolling around a campus, but you can still get a good sense of the surroundings and vibe of a campus through a virtual tour, especially if it's one that's hosted by a tour guide and has been filmed when classes are in session.

Campus Reel

I think this company is so valuable that it deserves its own spot on the list. CampusReel offers student-generated videos from over 300 colleges. They're designed to be "authentic and honest," provide a "lens into campus life," and enable you to "explore different perspectives." Plus, the site is free and easy to navigate and the videos are casual and fun -- they're like having an actual student who has no agenda show you around campus. Imagine having a friend at every college you're considering reach out to give you an enthusiastic personal tour; that's CampusReel.

These alternatives may not have the glamour of hopping on a plane or taking a college tour road trip, but they're still valuable ways to learn about possible colleges without investing a lot of time and money. And with so many campuses currently closed, these might be our only "visiting" options for some time to come. Make the most of them, and have fun exploring!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Demonstrated Interest: Showing Colleges the Love

You've found your best match colleges, filled out the applications, and written thoughtful essays. You've sent your test scores and transcripts and gently nagged your harried teachers until they submitted their recommendation letters. That should be it, right? Check those things off your list, and your college application work is done.

But some colleges are interested in more than your academic and personal accomplishments -- they want to know how much you like them. They track what's called demonstrated interest, or the different ways you show just how much you care about becoming a student at their school. This can be useful information for colleges, because it benefits them to accept students who will will seriously consider attending if they are offered admission.

Demonstrating interest might feel like one more task in the already crazy and complicated process of applying to college. It's definitely work, but it's an opportunity to communicate to your favorite colleges that you are serious about becoming a part of their community.

So how can you show colleges that they're not just an afterthought you decided to throw on your Common App at 11:55 on the night of the deadline? You don't need to overdo it, of course, but if a college is high on your list, here are some ways to communicate your true feelings.

Super Quick & Easy 

  • When a college you care about sends you an email, open it. It seems a little creepy, but yes, they are keeping track of your opens. 
  • Take surveys they send and watch their videos. Again, creepy, but they're paying attention. 
  • Social media. Follow and like.  

A Little More Effort

  • Reach out to admissions offices by email to ask questions (but make sure they're genuine and not just things you can get answers to on the website). After you've established a connection with someone, be sure to send a follow up message when you apply, thanking them and letting them know that your application is headed their way.
  • Have a major in mind and want to know more? Contact academic departments with your questions. Office staff (and sometimes even professors) are happy to help. Do the follow up thing here as well. 
  • Want to make a real impression? Use the telephone to make your contacts. A conversation often feels a lot more personal than an email and will help people at the college really see you as a human who has the enough genuine interest (and courage) to make actual live contact. 

Really Going for It

  • Go meet admissions officers in person. Most colleges share their travel schedules on their websites. You can often meet them at college fairs in your area or at info sessions at your high school. Be sure to introduce yourself, ask any questions you have, and get their cards. A follow up email or call can help them remember you when application time rolls around.
  • Visit campuses. Of course, this can involve a lot of time and money, and colleges certainly don't expect that you can make these trips. But if it's possible, an extended campus visit where you take a tour, attend an info session, sit in on some classes, meet admissions officers and students, and experience the life of the campus and surrounding area is the best way to figure out if a college is right for you. If you can make a visit happen, be sure to sign up for the tour and info session online ahead of time or at the start of the tour...because (no surprise) the college is keeping track. Side note: If a college is within two hours' driving distance from your home, there's no excuse not to visit. You'll just seem lazy and indifferent, which is not attractive. 
Once you've demonstrated that interest, how do you make sure the colleges know about it? Personal connections will obviously be remembered (and noted in your application file), and the wonders (terrors?) of technology monitor most of the other contacts. You might also be given the option to list your "contacts" with a college on the application itself by checking off the ways you've learned about the school and noting the dates of visits and names of connections. Craftily working your efforts into an essay response is another way to provide evidence.

Not every college tracks demonstrated interest (large state college systems like the University of California and California State University, for example, can't be bothered), but increasing numbers of private and smaller colleges are eager to figure out how much they mean to you.  

So if you really do love a college, go ahead and show it; those clicks and calls could play an important part in bringing the two of you together. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Making the Most of Summer

Not so long ago, summer vacation meant hanging out at the local pool, working at a part-time job, and maybe taking a family trip where you spent half your time having fun and the other half wishing you had a different family. But today's teens all too often see summer not as a well-earned break, but as yet another thing they have to "maximize" to create college applications that will stand out from the competition. They stress about what they should do, if it's "unique" enough, and whether it will impress admissions officers. They feel pressure to do international service trips or find professors who will take them on as research assistants. These things can be awesome, of course. But the best approach to summer is often simple, and involves just three things: Recharging, learning, and having fun.

Recharging. A teen's life can be stressful and non-stop. The school year is packed with classes, homework, extracurriculars, and family responsibilities These days, adults and kids alike have to make a conscious effort to stop and rest. Adults and teens often have different ideas about what "resting" means. For kids, it could involve sleeping for long, hibernation-like stretches, relaxing in nature, pursuing creative projects, binge-watching Netflix, hanging out with friends, or (sigh) playing video games. Whatever they do to rest, it should result in an energy-gain, not an energy drain, and as long as it's part of a well-rounded summer plan, parents should do their best not to judge.

Learning.  Learning can mean many things. Maybe it's reading those books you haven't had time to enjoy all year. It could be studying for the SAT or ACT, taking an academic class in a subject you'd like to explore or one that will help you feel prepared for the coming school year. You could get a job at a local cafe, start that podcast you've been thinking about, launch a small business doing something you're good at. Take a cooking class, be a lifeguard, make an app, learn to silkscreen t-shirts, visit all the regional parks in your area. Learning doesn't have to happen in a classroom or a research lab: valuable opportunities to grow intellectually and personally are all around you. And here's a secret: Colleges are interested in hearing about whatever you do, even if it's not an "organized" activity. It gives them great insight into who you are and what kinds of talents and interests you'll bring to their campus.

Word to the wise: Avoid the temptation to overload. Summer is only ten weeks long. You can't do everything. Pick two learning activities and make the most of them.

One more thing: If you're planning to apply to a competitive major that you're passionate about, use part of your summer to deeply explore that subject so you can show colleges that your interest is genuine (and so you can confirm that interest for yourself). This is especially true for majors like engineering, business and the arts. Invent, launch, create, collaborate! At competitive colleges, you'll need to demonstrate your "strong interest and aptitude" if you want to have the best possible shot.

Having Fun. Ideally, whatever you do to recharge and learn will bring fun along with it. But it never hurts to make room for even more fun, either planned or spontaneous. Enjoy the long, warm days of summer, and don't feel guilty about it. Sure, you could spend all day everyday doing "productive" things to add to your resume, but in the long run, you're likely to accomplish more and be inspired to give your best effort to your activities if your life is balanced and you invest in creating your own happiness.

However you choose to spend your summer, it should reflect what's right for you. If you think taking on an intense, competitive internship will help you recharge, learn and have fun, go for it. If you want to study for the ACT while road tripping with your family and then learn how to use editing software to make a video documenting your travels, that's great, too. Keep in mind that the best summer opportunities don't have to be complicated, and they are often just a bike ride from home.

Don't worry about what colleges want to see on your applications; focus instead on what will bring you the greatest personal reward. Colleges welcome students who are curious, self-aware, and willing to take risks in order to learn and grow. What that looks like is up to you.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Is Community College Transfer Right for You?

Not all students can or should go straight to a four-year college after high school graduation. Maybe cost is a concern, or you're uncertain about moving away from home, or you just aren't ready to choose a college yet. For kids who want to begin college but find the timing isn't right for a "traditional" college experience, following a transfer path at a community college can be a smart choice.

How Does It Work?

Increasing numbers of kids attend community college as a pathway to transfer to a four-year college or university. State community college systems are designed to enable students to complete the first two years of general education and prerequisites required to transfer to a state college or university; by offering courses that are “articulated” to specifically fulfill the lower division requirements of a four-year university, they offer a straight “pipeline” into earning a four-year degree. Many state colleges and universities even guarantee a spot to community college students who successfully complete a transfer program and meet a minimum GPA requirement.

Many private and out-of-state public colleges and universities also welcome transfer students. While some, like Stanford, accept only low single-digit numbers of transfers, others, like USC, accept close to a quarter of those who apply. Some private colleges have “articulation agreements” with state community colleges that are similar to those shared between community colleges and state public four-year institutions, which facilitate a smooth transfer of credits.

While students traditionally choose to transfer to a four-year college as juniors, some colleges do accept students as freshman or sophomore transfers after they have completed a semester or year of community college courses. This is more common at private colleges; at some public colleges, like the University of California and CSU system, it is very rare that a student will be accepted as a transfer with fewer than 60 credits (junior standing).

Working with an on-campus transfer counselor is crucial for students planning a transfer to four-year college; it’s essential that kids take the right classes to fulfill the requirements of their future college or university, and the path can often be challenging to navigate on their own.

The Benefits of Community College Transfer Path

Lower Investment

Community college can save thousands of dollars off the cost of the first two years at a four-year college. Completing two years of lower division coursework at a community college is inexpensive (and, in some states, may even be free). In California, the cost of one year is around 11% of the cost of attending a University of California campus and 20% of attending a California State campus. At a state college where the cost of four years of attendance is $100,000, for example, spending two years at a community college before transferring would bring the cost to nearly half. Because students typically attend community colleges near their homes, many choose to live at home while they complete their degrees, lower overall costs even further.

Support & Connection

While community colleges are bustling places, class sizes are generally small and afford students close contact with professors and peers. This is great for kids who value teacher support and the chance to build connections that can result in outside opportunities and strong letters of recommendation that can be useful when applying to four-year colleges.

Growing Room

Some kids need more time to mature before moving straight to college, and community college can be a great “stepping stone”. Kids build academic and personal independence, but generally still live at home and have the benefit of family support as they prepare to launch. Just as a gap year can be a great way for kids to mature and find their feet before heading off to college, community college provides the same opportunities in a more academic, structured (and less expensive) way. For kids who have faced mental or physical health challenges in high school, this interim educational phase can be even more important, as it affords additional time to adjust after high school and make sure everything is in place to meet a student’s needs before she moves on to the independence of a four-year college experience.

A Fresh Start

In addition to providing a slower transition to college, community college can also give a student who has had academic challenges a “clean slate”. In most cases, once a student begins community college classes and has earned a certain number of credits (which varies by college) they are no longer required to submit high school transcripts or SAT/ACT scores when applying for admission to a four-year college. This means that regardless of what happened in high school, a kid who does well at community college can end up being accepted to many great four-year colleges that would have denied him admission as a freshman.

Improving Your Odds

In states like California, where admission to top-tier public four-year universities is increasingly competitive and out of reach to even the most highly qualified high school students, spending two years at community college can greatly improve the likelihood of acceptance. In fact, the UC recently announced that it will now guarantee a spot at a UC to all qualified transfer students, hopefully as soon as 2019. Currently, this benefit is extended to some California community college transfers through the Transfer Admission Guarantee program (TAG). Several UC campuses participate in TAG, which guarantees students a spot at a single campus of their choice provided they meet all general education requirements and achieve a minimum GPA. Students can "tag" one campus and still apply to other UCs in the system. UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego don't participate in TAG, but it's an option at the other six campuses.

If you are shooting for a top-tier school like UC Berkeley or UCLA, attending a community college can also make admission to these campuses much more attainable; a student who wasn’t eligible for admission to these UCs as a high school senior will find it easier admitted as a junior transfer as long as his or her grades are very strong.

No matter what path you choose to get your undergraduate degree, there will be pros and cons. Community college transfer students do miss out on some things, like the experience of living in a dorm and the sense of pride that can come with attending a prestigious college as a freshman. But for many students, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Community college can be a smart choice for kids in a variety of situations and who have a wide range of goals and ambitions. In college, as in life, there are countless ways to get where you want to go; community college might be the right one for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

AP Classes: Maximizing Benefits, Maintaining Balance

The popularity of AP classes at U.S. high schools is booming. Most schools offer at least a few advanced placement classes, and many give kids the opportunity to choose from more than 20. Along with the increased availability of AP classes, so too has the pressure grown for students to take advantage of these advanced courses, which are now viewed as one of the keys to acceptance at competitive colleges and universities. As a result, many students pack their schedules with AP classes, often at the cost of sleep, social life and extracurricular activities. But are APs necessary to get into college? How many should kids take, and how many are too many? 

Colleges expect students to be actively engaged in learning and to demonstrate a high level of mastery in the courses they take. A common guideline is that students should take the "most rigorous courses available to them." This doesn't, however, mean that kids should take every AP offered at their high school. The key is to balance APs with regular college preparatory coursework, a process which should take into account the rigor of the class as well as students' interests, strengths, and tolerance for stress.

Some APs are more challenging than others and carry heavier homework loads. Not surprisingly, APs in "academic" areas like science, math, English and history tend to be more difficult, while those in the arts, languages and social sciences are considered "softer". Of course, the relative challenge or ease students experience in a course depends in large part upon the areas where they excel and those where they aren't as proficient. 

In general, students should build an AP course schedule that includes the subjects of their greatest interests and strengths. If a student is equally strong in math/science and the humanities, diversifying to include courses in two or three subject areas can demonstrate that he or she has a solid foundation across the curriculum. It's also important to be sure that the course load is balanced; no schedule for a conscientious student should regularly consume more than three to four homework hours per day.

If a student has already chosen a college major of interest, taking AP classes related to that field can be beneficial to demonstrate both strong interest in and aptitude for a subject (this is especially true of the sciences, computer sciences and engineering). While AP credit may be counted toward lower division major requirements at some colleges, don't be surprised if competitive majors at selective universities won't accept AP credit to waive foundation classes. This doesn't mean the classes aren't worth taking, however, as they will provide strong preparation for successfully approaching the major's coursework.

If a high school doesn't offer an AP class in a student's area of interest or if he or she wants the flexibility to pursue advanced study outside the regular school day, there are alternative ways to take classes. Several accredited online and independent high schools offer AP classes throughout the year. While sometimes expensive, this can be a great option for kids who want to complete work over the summer or are unable to fit a course into their school day.

Another frequently overlooked option is community college courses. While community college courses aren't APs (which is a standardized high school course), they are in some ways even more valuable in that they demonstrate a student's ability to master a college level curriculum as well as be successful in a college environment. Students can take general education classes or focus on a particular area of interest related to a potential major. When applying to college, students send their community college transcript along with their high school transcript, and the courses are "weighted" in the calculation of the GPA just as an AP class would be. If the courses are transferable, the credits earned can typically be used to fulfill lower-division requirements or even prerequisites for a major. Community college is affordable and students enjoy the freedom and independence they have outside the high school classroom.

If a student wants to take an AP class but is worried about the challenge, consider adding the course to the school year schedule and then taking an AP "pre-course" over the summer through a platform like EdX. These MOOCs (massive open online classes) are offered by major universities and are often self-paced. Students can get a head start on understand the AP material and hopefully relieve some stress and homework time during the school year by laying a strong foundation before the first day of school. 

AP classes can be a valuable aspect of high school education, but it's important to maintain a healthy perspective when choosing classes. Earning a B in a tough AP class is usually better than getting an A in a regular college prep class, but Cs should be avoided. Kids shouldn't take on so many APs that the place their sleep, sanity or GPAs at risk. They should choose classes that that will deepen their learning and help them develop as confident students rather than focus on racking up AP credits. In education, there is no single "right way" to do things, so don't be afraid to take the "less is more" approach at times or to look for non-traditional ways to show colleges that you are a curious and self-motivated learner. By pursuing the courses that are right for you in high school, you can trust that you will get into and thrive at a college that is the best match for you. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Summer College Planning for Rising Seniors 2018

Summer is almost here! If you're a college-bound senior, now is the time to begin key college planning tasks and alleviate the stress and chaos of the coming fall admissions season. There are numerous ways you can use your summer break to get ahead of the curve on your applications.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

SAT Subject Tests: A Crash Course

What Are They?

The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour exams designed to test your knowledge in specific subjects. Students can choose from among 20 different tests in five subject areas. The tests are based on material that is taught in high school, and they give you the chance to showcase what you have learned and demonstrate to colleges how you are uniquely qualified in your best subjects. If you're doing well in your classes (and especially if you're taking advanced classes such as honors or AP) you're probably prepared to take subject tests and do well on them. 

Should I Take Subject Tests?

Around 160 colleges and universities require or recommend that students provide two (and sometimes three) Subject Test scores along with their SAT or ACT scores. They may also require scores if you are applying for a specific major. Check the websites or call the admissions offices of the colleges you are planning to apply to to see if you will need to submit scores. 

Even colleges that don't require Subject Test scores will often consider them when reviewing your application. This can be a great opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants and give colleges are more complete picture of your academic interests and abilities. If you're planning to apply to a particular major or program, subject tests can also let you show your preparation in those areas. 

In short, if testing doesn't make you a crazy person or a complete basket case, it's probably worth it to spend an afternoon taking Subject Tests in areas where you excel. 

When Should I Take The Tests?

Since Subject Tests are based on material taught in high school, it makes sense to take the tests in subjects you are currently studying (and doing well in) as close to the end of the course as possible. For example, if you take Chemistry as a sophomore and are getting great grades, take the Subject Test in May or June of sophomore year when the information is still fresh in your mind. After taking the main SAT reasoning test in March of junior year, you might take Math 2, US History, literature, or some combination of tests in May or June. 

If you're taking AP classes, you're exceptionally well-prepared to succeed on the Subject Tests, but the college-level knowledge that AP classes teach isn't required to score well.

You can take up to three Subject Tests at a single administration, but you can't take the reasoning test and Subject Tests on the same day. 

Am I Prepared?

For the Literature Subject Test, 3-4 years of college-preparatory study is recommended. The test reflects what is commonly taught in high school, but due to differences in high school classes, it's likely that you'll find questions on material that you've never studied. Don't worry about this: It's possible to do very well on the test even if you haven't learned everything that is covered (you can even get an 800 without answering every question correctly). This also applies to the U.S. and World History tests. 

After taking one year of Biology, Chemistry or Physics, you are ready to take Subject Tests in those areas. Again, don't be concerned if you haven't learned all the material that is on the test. 

There are two Biology tests: Biology E and Biology M. Take Biology E if you feel more comfortable answering questions about biological communities, populations and energy flow. Take Biology M if you feel more comfortable answering questions about biochemistry, cellular structure and processes, such as respiration and photosynthesis. You can't take both tests on the same date, but you can take them on two different test dates.  

While the SAT offers two levels of Math Subject Tests, Math 1 and Math 2, almost all colleges are only interested in Math 2, which covers three years of college-prep mathematics (two years of Algebra plus Geometry) as well as trigonometry and elementary functions (pre-calculus). For most students, this means that the earliest the Math 2 Subject Test should be taken is the end of junior year. 

There are also two types of foreign language tests: With listening and without. Like Math 2, almost all colleges want only scores from foreign languages "with listening". You should have at least two years of strong preparation in the language (more is better). Ideally, take the test as close to the end of the last level of the language that you plan to take in high school. 

Just to make things even more fun, the College Board only offers foreign language tests with listening in November. In general, this means the best (and probably only) time to take the tests are in November of senior year.

The College Board website has a wealth of information to help you learn about and sign up for Subject Tests. 

Even if you find you don't need to take them, Subject Tests are probably worth the time and brain fatigue. When it comes to college admissions, you never know what might make the difference between getting in and getting passed over. It can pay to take advantage of every opportunity you've got to shine. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

IRS Data Retrieval Tool Returns to FAFSA

Families who plan to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2018-19 academic year may find the process easier this year, thanks to the relaunch of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. After being shut down last spring following ID hacking that may have put up to 100,000 tax payers at risk, the tool has been revamped to address security issues. Starting October 1, families can use the tool to upload their tax information for 2016 directly from the IRS to their FAFSA, saving time and the potential headaches of entering data by hand.

As part of the new process, the exact income numbers from filers returns will be "masked" once they have uploaded. The data fields on the student aid report will simply say "transferred from the IRS". This new data security measure is worrying to some, who are concerned that potential errors in their tax returns that they are unable to see on the FAFSA could damage their eligibility for financial aid. If accuracy is a worry, however, entering data by hand directly from returns is still an option.

Whether you decide to utilize the Data Retrieval Tool or not, it's a great idea to get started on your FAFSA as soon as the site goes live on October 1. You'll be well ahead of submission deadlines and you'll be able to determine your family's expected family contribution toward college costs prior to submitting college applications, which can be valuable if you are trying to adhere to a budget and want to be sure your college choices are affordable.

Want to learn more about financial aid for college? Check out my previous blog posts on understanding financial aid and tips for planning a successful financial aid process. Additionally, here are some useful links to help you navigate financial aid.


Expected Family Contribution Calculator

How Federal Student Aid Is Determined

Smart Tips for College Financial Planning

For many families, the cost of a college education today is daunting. The total cost for a year at a CSU is now around $26,000; at a UC, $33,000; and many private colleges have sticker prices of $40,000 or more. 

To help manage college costs and make informed financial decisions, I recommend families do three things: 
  • Plan ahead
  • Set clear priorities
  • Understand actual costs
Planning ahead means not just saving money for college, but understanding early on what the cost of college is likely to be and how much financial aid through scholarships and loans your student can expect to receive. You can get a head start by using the FAFSA Forecaster to determine how much colleges expect you to pay toward the cost of college (your Expected Family Contribution). Knowing your EFC can help you estimate what your actual costs will be at various colleges and use this information to make smart choices about where to apply. 

Setting clear priorities early can also help guide a successful college search. What are the top three to five things that matter to your student and family? If cost is one of those factors, be sure to make it a priority in your search. Looking only at schools that are within your financial parameters or that you can reasonably assume might be with the assistance of scholarship dollars can help you avoid disappointment and wasted time. 

Understanding the actual cost of colleges can be tricky. While at a public college you can generally expect to pay close to the "advertised price" (most public colleges offer few scholarships), the actual cost of a private college can vary widely and is usually far less than their "advertised price" (thanks to plentiful scholarship offerings). But many other factors such as graduation rates, travel costs, and extremely varying costs of living at certain campuses also impact the overall total cost. 

In an effort at transparency, colleges now provide a net price calculator to help families get an estimate of the total cost of attendance based on the college's financial aid policies. These tools are very helpful and can easily be found on the financial aid page of college's websites. 

If you need help navigating the complex world of college financial planning, I provide basic guidance on the necessary forms and timelines as part of my comprehensive packages. For families in need of more extensive guidance, I offer three options to provide you with in-depth understanding of the financial aid process and your expected costs, detailed financial comparison of various colleges and expected scholarship dollars tailored to your specific situation, and much more. I'm happy to work with your family to make college a rewarding and affordable experience!