Friday, December 4, 2020

Basic Facts & Assumptions-read this first!

Grades are always the #1 thing colleges examine for admissibility. #2 is the rigor of courses you are enrolled in: college prep, honors and AP courses. If you are easily earning As in college prep courses, colleges expect you to move up. #3 are test scores (ACT or SAT). Are your scores consistent with your grades? A student with a 3.9 GPA and 550 SAT scores indicates a terrific work ethic that is overcompensating for average test scores. A student with 640 SAT scores and a 2.8 GPA is an underachiever: the test scores say the student is far more talented than the B- average he or she is earning in high school. At most colleges, scores and GPA must be commensurate. Students with the high GPA and so-so test scores should consider test-optional colleges, and students with the B average & high test scores need to work on their grades as much as possible, especially junior & senior year. Use & Naviance to see which colleges are a good match for you.

Boys may have an easier time getting into some colleges. Nationally, there is a 60/40 ratio of girls/boys on most campuses. Yes, there are more girls going to college than boys. Colleges that wish to balance their gender ratio may take a less qualified boy. An interesting Time Magazine article from April 2008 article explains more. Still true in 2020.

Yes, college is expensive. When I went to a small private Catholic college (Merrimack College in No. Andover, MA) in the mid-1980s, it was around $9,000 a year and my parents, bless their hearts, did not complain until it went up to the $10,000 mark. I have a hard time imagining paying, for example, $73,000 a year! The good news: some colleges are more generous than others in grants rather than loans. Most of the time you will need a strong GPA to qualify. Try not to get too much into debt going to college! Take a look at a college's profile on ("paying" on the left) to see what percent of their financial aid package is loans as you'd prefer this percentage to be lower than the one for grants/scholarships which you do not have to repay. You also want to see if they will "meet" a high percentage of your financial need. Take a look at the same page for the average financial aid package, and how much is a loan. Also check out the "average indebtedness at graduation" in other words how much money will you owe after you graduate? You may be surprised.

Check out the example of Merrimack College at Click on "Paying" link on the left, then Financial Aid by the Numbers tab.

On one end of the spectrum, for example, you have Wellesley College whose percents are generous at 90% grants and 10% loans. (That's if you can get into this highly selective women's college!)

Consider University of Maine Orono: sure, it is less expensive to go there in the short term, but check out the "average indebtedness at graduation" number from college $34,000. The percents: 51% of the average financial aid package is a loan, while 49% of the package is grants. It is not fair to compare a state university with a highly selective private school, but I do this to illustrate the point: do the research and know what you are getting into.

Some parents say "I'll never qualify for financial aid." You don't know until you apply. See if the formula shows your family as needy or not. The EFC at the end of the process is the number you are looking for. Also, each college has a Net Price Calculator on their financial aid page. Parents can input their income and assets and find out how much that college may cost.

There are so many more applicants to Ivy League school these days! Here's something I read about the Ivies that bears some reflection: if you really want to attend an Ivy and have average SAT scores (550s), please rethink that decision. How would you feel being in classes with students who all have SAT scores in the 780s who can read twice as fast and not have to study as hard as you? It may not be the right place for you; the right fit may be at a college that has a greater variety of students. Here are some sobering statistics about Ivy League admission. You have a greater chance of admission (1) if you are the strongest candidate (gpa, SAT scores, extracurriculars with leadership) and (2) apply Early Action or Early Decision and (3) have a hook or "wow" factor. Run your numbers here for a reality check. Keep in mind that the average acceptance rate for 4-year colleges is 65%. Why are students obsessed with getting into colleges that are likely to reject them, with an admit rate of 9%? There are so many great colleges out there, but students feel a higher admit rate means it's not a good school. How frustrating! Here's some advice:
"There is a school with a mission for every student. If you are a conservative student, you can find a list by Young America's Foundation that says Hillsdale College in Michigan is a Top 10 school for you. If you are a lefty activist, Mother Jones says you might want to consider California's community colleges, Howard University, or James Madison. If you are looking for the best value, Kiplinger's says SUNY-Binghamton and SUNY-Geneseo are right up there with the University of North Carolina and the University of Florida. If you want a college in Massachusetts that focuses on building "character," the John Templeton Foundation cites Bentley, Brandeis, Holy Cross, Eastern Nazarene, Gordon, Mount Holyoke, Stonehill, Tufts, Wellesley, and Worcester Polytechnic." (source: Boston Globe, "Degrees of Individuality" 5/16/07)

  1. Start early.
  2. Get organized.
  3. Know the deadlines for applying and for merit aid.

Think long and hard about where you'd like to spend a year of your life, if not four years. It is not a four year sentence, however, so if you are not happy you can transfer!

Visit. Visit. Visit. One senior told me: "I thought St. Mike's (VT) was first on my list until I went to visit, and found it just wasn't for me. BU was last on my list until I visited and I loved it!" You never know!

Please make an appointment to talk to me about the college planning process! I'd love to see what your family has in mind for your student, and learn more about him or her. What about applying to a school that is not as difficult to get into, and perhaps qualifying for an Honors program there, and merit money? Schools that don't usually attract students with a 3.5 gpa may be thrilled to nominate your student for an Honors program and offer some merit money. That way, your student will be challenged at a school and it may be more affordable.

Once, a parent told me I was not encouraging enough to their child. I had tried to talk the student into creating a college list that was not relying on super-competitive colleges, hoping to stem future disappointment. It may seem like I give mixed messages: I support all our students with whatever decisions they make about applying to college, yet I may have to gently remind them how hard it is to get into some schools on their list WITHOUT coming across as mean! Another counselor put it wisely: "I didn't take my job because I like to stomp on the hopes of youngsters, and yet that is often the way in which my messages are interpreted." It's a tricky position to be in. Please know that I always have the student's best interests in mind, with the most hopeful expectations for their future, and always talk to me if a different approach is more appropriate for your student.

FAQs - Standardized Testing

When should I take the SAT?
Juniors are advised to take the SAT once or twice in the spring of their Junior year. Seniors are advised to take it once in the fall of senior year. If you are applying early decision or early action, you will want to complete your testing in June or October. If you test later than October, those scores may not arrive in time to be a factor in the early admission decision.

Practice taking the test by buying or borrowing an SAT practice book or by taking practice tests on Khan Academy.

Although they are no longer required, you may want to take Subject Tests in June following successful completion of a course like Bio (soph year), Chem & US History (jr year), English, Math.

Research shows that your score should go up a bit between the 1st and 2nd time you take it, even with no prep. You just become more familiar with the test, and have likely completed some coursework that helps you prepare. After the 3rd test, there is little improvement at all.

What's the difference between the SAT and ACT?
They are both standardized tests and all colleges will accept either test. There are differences, both in content and strategies. Here is a chart to illustrate those differences: Princeton Review.

What can I do to prepare for the SAT?
Read. Read. Read.

Sign up for the SAT Question of the Day and Khan Academy, all free.

Learn new words every day.

Read some more.

Do well in all your classes.

Ask for help if you need it.
What about Boarding School after Cheverus? That's an option some students look into. The best resource on the web is TABS.
links verified 12/2020

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