Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Financial Aid Mythbusting

For the most part, applications are wrapping up and the second, and very important season of the admissions year is beginning:  financial aid

Let's look at some of the myths surrounding financial aid

Myth #1: I won’t qualify for aid.
This is perhaps the biggest and most believed myth about financial aid. Sure, there will be families with incomes that will not qualify for need based aid, but they still should file the FAFSA. Every student that does qualifies for unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans.
 You never know when the family’s financial circumstances will change. Loss of job,divorce, or death can take a toll on income and assets. Having the forms already filed will stream line the process should the need arise.
Applying for aid is the only way to know for sure if you are eligible.

 Myth #2: I can declare myself as an independent student.
The federal government has a very strict definition of what makes a student independent: he or she must be older than 24, married, serving in the armed forces, enrolled in a graduate program, orphan or ward of the state, emancipated, homeless or financially responsible for a dependent.
Unfortunately, the federal government dictates that if a student is less than 24, his or her parents are responsible for paying for their education – whether or not parents actually can is another matter.
Myth #3: I didn’t qualify for aid the first time, so I won’t qualify again.
Just as circumstances change, so does financial aid. As stated earlier, a job loss or divorce. or unanticipated medical costs due to illness can have an impact on whether or not a student is determined eligible for aid. If a family has two students enrolled in college at the same time, both of those students may then be eligible for financial aid. With that in mind, students and their families should apply for financial aid with the FAFSA every year.
Myth #4: I shouldn’t accept a financial aid package with any self-help.
Many families hear “student loans” and automatically reject the financial aid package – as well as the school. The truth is that student loans have the lowest interest rates of any type of loan.  While you hear horror stories of students graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, that’s not necessarily the reality. The trick to tackling a financial aid package with student loans is to borrow smartly.
Some families want their kids to have “some skin in the game”.  Student loans are great for this.  The student is the one who ultimately will have the greatest benefit from their education.
Also, another form of self-help is work study, aka,campus jobs. It may not pay tuition, but it will put some cash in the student’s pocket for weekend activities
Myth #5: I can’t appeal my financial aid package.
When you get your financial aid letter, it may seem as if there is no compromise or ability to appeal. Fortunately, that’s not true either. While you can’t make changes to the FAFSA at that point, financial aid officers are always willing to work with students and their parents. Many times they are the unsung heroes.
Sometimes, financial aid officers can find ways to add to the financial aid package. As students decide during the summer months that they really don’t want to go to a particular college – or to college at all – their financial aid at that school becomes available. Some families are able to benefit from this sudden allowance of financial aid if they contact the school and ask about any further available financial aid opportunities in July. This is known as “summer melt”.
Don’t fall for the myths.  If you do, your ability to pay for the school you really want to attend could be in jeopardy. So before you make any hard decisions, make sure you’re working with the truth about financial aid and paying for school.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mastering the College Essay

As college applications season kicks into high gear, the application item that seems to strike the most fear in students is the essay.  Follow these tips for a great essay!

·       Show, and then tell. 

Use an anecdote, a real life moment, to grab the reader in the beginning.  Showing takes advantage of those concrete details that we can’t resist: the specifics of something that happened. Who can resist the juicy stuff? Then the writer can “Tell” or explain, analyze, reflect, etc., on what happened later in the essay.
“I don’t hear anything but my own breathing and footsteps” rather than “When you take a step back and observe how modern society functions, it appears quite chaotic and busy.”
This essay is about contentment found through rock climbing.
Remember, college admissions folks read thousands of essays, don’t bore them!

·       Be authentic.
Be yourself.  Don’t try to impress.  Be likeable.  Be honest.  This is a student’s time to shine, to let the colleges learn more about who the applicant is beyond grades, test scores and activities.  Don’t think about what you think the colleges want to hear.  It is more important to be engaging than impressive.
“I am a good loser.  It is an art I have perfected.  When I was six, I lost a button up my nose”…

·       Narrow the lens and own the story.
Be specific.  Use all of your senses through adjectives and details. Owning the story means no one else could tell it and it didn’t happen to anyone else.  It doesn’t have to be an extraordinary event; it just needs details so nobody else could tell the story the same way.
“I was extremely nervous before the orchestra started playing”… Probably every kid in the orchestra felt that.  Instead, “I was sitting on the stage with my violin resting on my shoulder, and I was sure I’d never been that nervous.  I looked out into the crowd and somehow found my dad”.
The best essays are meaningful experiences that also make for good stories.

·       Don’t repeat information from the rest of the application.
As the editor of the school newspaper, a student would certainly be proud and want to write about it.  But it was already listed on the activities section of the application. So rather than writing about what it is like to be the editor, narrow the lens and recall a particular story associated with being the editor, owning the story with rich details.  Another approach is to share a story that has not been mentioned anywhere on the application.  Remember, the college is wanting to get to know the applicant better.

·       Sound like a high school senior.
Find the balance between too formal and too casual as the student tells the story in the first   person. This is difficult for teenagers as they are not accustomed to this type of writing.  Ask these questions:  Is this something the student would actually say to someone else? This keeps the writer from being too formal. How would you say it if you were describing it to your favorite teacher?  This keeps the writer from being too casual.
“Participating in varsity baseball has been a valuable experience for me because it taught me the importance of committing to my goals”.  I don’t know too many teenagers that would actually say that.  But they might say:  “Varsity baseball was the first time in my life that I actually wrote a goal down on a piece of paper and promised myself I was going to do it.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Welcome to the new school year!

With school starting back, here are some tips for all high school students!

-Get involved!
Join a club, play a sport, or participate in an activity that sounds interesting. The high school experience will be greatly enriched, new friends made and perhaps a passion found.

-Grades are important!
Every year! Think of it this way, by the end of sophomore year, 1/2 of a student's grades are in the books. One misconception is that junior year is the most important, but really every year is. In many cases, colleges will only see the first three years of a student's grades when applying to college.

-Take advantage of college visits to high schools and the college fairs!
Throughout the fall, many colleges will be visiting local high schools. Students can meet the college reps and learn more about colleges without having to take big trips.  Additionally, the national college fair at the Oregon Convention Center will be November 2-3. More than 300 colleges will be in attendance and another great way to learn more about colleges.  Go to www.nacacnet.org for more info. After doing a bit of research, students can plan to make some visits.

-Have the Money Talk!
Families need to sit down and clearly communicate financial expectations for college. Will the parents/ grandparents absorb the cost? Is there an expectation for the student to contribute financially or otherwise (through scholarship, work)? Is there an expectation that the student should have some loan debt? Every family has a different philosophy and communicating this among involved parties will create a much less stressful situation later. And don't forget to think in terms of four years, not just the first year.

-Start early on applications!
There are many parts and pieces to college applications, so starting early with testing, identifying teachers for recommendations and essay writing will ease stress so often association with the college application process.  Be aware of all deadlines. Every school is a little different and late applications are not accepted!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

discovering Whitman

Discovering Whitman

Being an independent counselor in Portland Oregon, Whitman College has always been just enough off the beaten path that I had not a chance to visit.  What a great opportunity to visit as a post HECA conference tour.  Boarding the bus at 7:15 am after a very fun and beautiful evening on the Portland Spirit, 42 fellow counselors and I traveled to Walla Walla, “the town so nice, they named it twice”.  I was familiar with Whitman and it’s out of the way location.  I wasn’t familiar with what makes Whitman a special place.

After lunch and a campus tour, we met with Adam Miller, director of Admissions.  I was already getting a sense of “why Whitman” from the themed houses, to the open quads to the laid back Northwest feel.  Miller described it best:  “Whitman is a place for those students that go about their college search a little differently”.  Whitman is out of the way; Spokane (not really considered a major city by many) is three hours away.  Portland and Seattle are four hours away.  There is a small regional airport in Walla Walla, but does not serve Portland.  Students that choose Whitman are looking for something out of the way. 

In an environment that is challenging but not competitive, professors are not afraid to take the class out of the classroom, whether to Ankeny Field or to the nearby state penitentiary to study the judicial system.  Nearly 30% of students participate in Greek Life, yet the atmosphere is open to all and anything but the typical party scene.  The student panel we heard was varied in their activities and studies, yet all shared enthusiasm on their Whitman experience.  Hard questions were asked from this group of counselors and these students embraced them.  Of course, that is why they were chosen, right?

We enjoyed an evening on our own in Walla Walla which provided the opportunity we don’t normally get on such tours.  Walla Walla has a vibrant downtown with a farmer’s market, great restaurants featuring local wines, ice cream and candy shops as well as bike and outdoor shops.  Although a student wouldn’t need to use the bike shop in town as Whitman’s outdoor program provides all the equipment and excursions a student could want.  The Scrambles program is an outdoor adventure (many choices) for incoming freshman. The outdoor program at Whitman is top rated in the state.

Another one of our stops around the Whitman campus was in the Hall of Music.  We were treated to Dr. Susan Pickett and her student research assistant.  They shared their love of music and in particular the project they are working on this summer: transcribing female composer’s work from the 18th century.  Her student Ryan, received a Parry grant (exclusive to Whitman in the music department) to compensate him for his work over the summer.  The passion from both student and professor were evident and I marveled at the opportunity this young man was having doing one on one research with his professor.
With new appreciation for the town of Walla Walla and especially Whitman, we boarded the bus home Friday for Portland.