January 2018 Newsletter

Keeping Track of the College Admissions & Financial Aid Process

Dear Parent(s),

With more colleges now offering Early Action admission, the expectation is that along with the acceptance letter financial aid will be offered at the same time. Sadly, this is not always the case. Decision dates and financial aid awards are not always in sync.

If your student hasn’t received an award shortly after their acceptance, check to make sure that all the financial aid forms have been filed. You can do this by accessing the college’s admissions and financial aid portal. Your student will have the username and password. Then ask the school when awards are sent.

If it’s a college that requires the CSS/Profile, oftentimes the date of the award notification is right on the receipt page. The more competitive schools will send their award notifications sometime in March.

Another upside to filing earlier, is parents will have more time to plan how they will meet their out-of-pocket contribution. The hitch is tax returns used to file the FAFSA, which is necessary in the awarding of need-based financial aid, are from 2016. The consequences for families whose incomes went down in 2017 will have to contact the colleges and ask that their most recent tax return be used rather than their previous years.

Know the College/University Logins and Passwords

Keeping track and following up on admissions and financial aid applications used to be a time consuming and often fruitless task. Calling admissions to see if a transcript arrived usually meant that you would leave a message and hope that someone would eventually get back to you. When you did speak to someone, often you would be told that the paperwork is “in process”, meaning that its status hadn’t been updated and you should check back in a couple of weeks. This is a very inefficient use of time and can be frustrating for parents.

Today, it’s much easier to check on the progress of a student’s applications. I mentioned the portals a few paragraphs up, and colleges now provide web portals that contain the status of both admissions and financial aid.

When your student learns that their admission application has been received, they are provided a link to their portal with login instructions. These portals allow for 24/7 access to see what requirements have been met and what are left outstanding.

If you go online to check something that you know was completed and the status reads “not submitted”, it is not usually cause for concern. Accounts take time to update, so check back in seven to ten days to check the status.

Juniors & Standardized Tests

Students who took the PSAT last October should have received their results a few weeks ago.

What is a good PSAT score? As familiar as I am with standardized test scores, it’s hard to explain. Here’s where it starts to get confusing: a good score depends on several situations. First, it depends whether your students is a sophomore or a junior. Tenth graders will have lower scores than juniors– but that’s okay; they have time to catch up with subjects they haven’t taken yet. It also means their national ranking will be higher.

For example, a sophomore with a decent PSAT score of 970 translates into a 1020 SAT score. A PSAT score in the Fall of their junior year could be 1150 which would be the equivalent of a 1200 SAT. And not all scores are treated the same.

If you live in the more competitive states like Michigan, Illinois or North Carolina and you’re interested in your state university, your student will need to score higher than in the more traditional states (I am not going to disparage any state).

So, what do these tests measure and why are they important? The SAT is a reasoning and critical thinking skills test, while the ACT is an achievement test. Roughly one-third of students will do better on the SAT, one-third will do better on the ACT, and one-third will do equally well on both. Because colleges accept either test, know which test your student will shine.

But why are they so important? Actually, colleges are not all that thrilled distilling a students transcript to a single factor. They do know they are much more than their transcripts. There are many students with excellent grades for one reason or another just do not do well on standardized tests.

You may know that more colleges waive test scores as part of the admissions application. These schools are known as Test Optional. This means that students don’t have to submit their test scores to be considered for admission. There is one drawback: merit awards are usually based on a matrix of grades and test scores. This means that your student may be overlooked for these funds.

Who Ever Heard of an Athlete Not Training Before the Big Game?

Can you imagine a swimmer showing up for a big meet without having been in the pool to train? It’s the same thing with the standardized tests. A student who decides to “wing it” without any preparation, practice, or training might as well sleep in. It doesn’t matter how many A’s a student gets. Often, it is these same students with the 4.0 GPA that end up with mediocre SAT and ACT scores.

These tests are not just for admission. In many cases, they play a critical role in how much financial aid they will receive.

Free money from a college is typically based on a matrix. The higher the GPA and the higher the test score the higher amount of scholarships and grants a student will receive. A student with a 4.0 and an 1160 SAT could be awarded $8,000 in free money, while the student with a 3.8 GPA and 1360 SAT could win the student $18,000.

Those extra 30 or 40 points matter. Urge your student to get into the pool and practice!

Financial aid letters are showing up in emails and front doors. There is so much to know about how aid packages, how the award was put together, if your student received what they should have, and how do you go about asking for more.

Colleges vary in so many ways that parents, and especially the student who wants to go to a particular college, should research the appeal process.

There are two kinds of financial aid appeals: need-based and merit-based.

In the case of a changed financial situation, there are four things you want to communicate to the college.

  1. What happened?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. What are you doing to improve the situation?
  4. What do you want?

If you think that your student deserved more in free money because they are a great student, then it’s up to your student to do the asking.

That’s it for this month. Have a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

John Tillman

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