Over the years, parents have cornered me and asked me questions about the college admissions process and their college-bound teens. While those questions are varied, and sometimes specific as they relate to their own circumstances, here is my list of the 10 most asked questions:
1. What can I do to help my “average” student stand out and get accepted to college?
The good news is that the admissions application is not just about grades or test scores. They look at the overall picture: grades, SAT scores, essay, student resume, and interviews. There will always be a college that recognizes value and potential. Grades are important, but they aren’t the only way to sell yourself.
2. Should I fill out the FAFSA even though I think we make too much money to qualify for financial aid?
Yes. The FAFSA is what colleges use to determine your EFC (Expected Family Contribution), which is used to determine the financial aid package. This package is not just federal aid. It’s composed of grants, scholarships and loans- much of which is merit-aid directly from the colleges themselves. If you don’t fill it out, your teen can’t get any of that money, including student and parent federal loans.
3. My teen isn’t motivated to make good grades. How can I motivate him/her to try harder?
Your student needs to be invested in the process. If your child wants to go to college, grades are part of the process. Encourage teenagers to talk with current college students (they can do this online) or consider finding them a mentor – someone who can motivate them to do their best. Nagging won’t work. Punishment won’t work. Reward and encouragement from you and others will produce much better results. Sometimes there is no better motivator than other students.
4. Is it really worth spending hours and hours of time looking for scholarships?
Yes and no. A large portion of scholarships/grants come from the colleges themselves. But, there are also thousands of other scholarships available to college-bound teens. It’s worth registering on some scholarship sites and applying to those that are a good fit. Don’t neglect local scholarships. These are often the easiest to win because there is very little competition.
5. We can’t afford to pay for college, does that mean our teen won’t be able to go?
There are all kinds of ways to finance a college education: student loans, work-study, college grants and scholarships. Most everyone qualifies for a federal parent loan and all students qualify for federal student loans. But be wise about the college choice and apply to the best fit schools that provide the most merit aid. Be cautious about your borrowing and consider the best options.
6. How many colleges do you think my teen should apply to?
Here’s a good formula: Three reach colleges (colleges that might be a reach but still attainable); four good-fit colleges (colleges that are a good match for the student); and three safety colleges (colleges that the student will be at the top of the applicant pool). Having choices also means the colleges are in competition, which translates into negotiation for you with the financial aid package.
7. What’s the most important tip you could give me about the college admissions process?
Find those “perfect fit” colleges. Do the research and evaluate choices based on student body, academic programs, college visits, location and financial aid awards. If the college is a good fit, admissions officers will value the student for his/her contribution to the student body and will back it up with money. Those are the colleges you want in your application pool.
8. My son/daughter has just been wait-listed by their first choice college; what should we do?
Be proactive. Your child should send a letter to the college and let them know how much he/she wants to attend. If there is more information that didn’t make the application, send that as well. Let the school know that, if given the chance, he/she will attend. Then take a look at the other colleges that offered admission and evaluate them again. Often the second- or third- choice college will ultimately be a better fit and if a college wait lists you, the odds of getting off the list are often slim.
9. My teen’s SAT scores aren’t that great; will it affect his/her admissions chances?
The bottom line is that most colleges do look at those SAT scores. But, it’s just part of the overall picture. The best advice I can give is make contact with an admissions representative from every college your teen is applying to. This personal contact can and will make a difference when the admissions application is reviewed. Do this by visiting and making an appointment to chat. Then hang on to the business card and stay in contact until acceptance letters arrive.
10. My teen is so scatter-brained and we keep missing deadlines. How can I help him/her get organized?
Set up a landing zone for college material. Use a desk, a file cabinet, a bulletin board, a wall calendar, and task-focused apps to keep track of deadlines. Start freshman year - or as soon as you can - and remind them that the floor or backpack is not the best place for this material. Once a student gets used to putting everything to that one spot, it will be easier to find, file and locate all the college related materials.