Do Clubs Look Good on College Applications?

If you’re looking to try to optimize your college admissions chances, you might be wondering if you should join clubs in high school. At Signature College Counseling, our students often ask if belonging to clubs will look good on their college applications and if they need to participate in a variety of activities. Our simple answers to these questions: yes, and not necessarily. Let’s explore this topic deeper.

The College Resume

For each of our students, we develop a student resume with them. This resume includes all their activities, informal or formal, that they do outside of their academics. We strongly recommend that you start tracking your activities as soon as you begin your Freshman year. It will make it so much easier when the time comes for filling out those college applications, when you need to provide the name of the activity, the dates you participated, and the number of hours per week and weeks per year you participated – yes, you do need to provide all of this information. Activities can include:

• Honors and accomplishments, including academics, sports, music, drama
• Activities outside of your academic curriculum
• Community service, work or internships
• Leadership activities, clubs
• Athletics, in school or outside of school
• Religious activities
• Hobbies and interests
• Special Accomplishments (such as being 1st clarinet chair or selected as MVP or Chess Team Captain)

Quantity vs Depth of Club and Activity Participation

Many students question if they are really heavy in one area, like music or athletics, do they need to do volunteer work or join a variety of clubs so that they can check the box for all the different activity areas. Our response to them is do what you enjoy and do more of it. This is what is important to college admissions officers. When reviewing an applicant’s activities and resume – about 80% of schools allow you to upload a resume – they are looking to see if there is a trend. By that we mean, can they easily glean what a student is actually interested in and passionate about. For example, if you love music, even if you’re not going to be applying as a music major or theater major, and your resume demonstrates that you participate in a variety of music activities, it’s clear that’s a passion of yours. Or, if you are a three season athlete participating in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, and you’ve been doing it for all four years and you also volunteer in that capacity as well, this shows that you are passionate about those sports.

What Colleges Are NOT Looking for When It Comes to Activities

Ideally, you don’t want to check the box for the sake of checking the box, saying to yourself, “Well, OK, I did one volunteer activity, one season of soccer, and one year of band and that’ll be good enough because that way I’ll be able to put something in every category of activities on my college applications.” This is not what college admissions counselors are looking for. They are looking for depth over breadth.

Going back to the question of whether clubs look good on college applications, yes, they do, but we recommend that you think about the types of clubs you want to join that will make you happy and do more of those. Join a club that you’re very interested in and participate in it over the course of many years. And if you obtain a leadership position, whether it’s a treasurer, vice president, or president, and can grow in that organization, that’s wonderful. It shows your interest and your depth.

This is better than participating in a club for one year and then quitting that club and joining a different club the next year, which indicates neither rhyme nor reason and fails to demonstrate a trend for the admissions officers. Following this path doesn’t mean that you won’t get into college, but it can affect your chances depending upon the colleges you’re applying to, what the other applicants are like, and what the college is looking for.

So when considering joining clubs, think about what interests you, what you are passionate about. Your activities tell your story. What story do you want to tell?

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Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What GPA Do You Need to Get Into College?

So you’re wondering what type of GPA you need to get into college. Actually, there is no specific overall set GPA that is required per se. There are over 3,000 higher education institutions in the United States, and they vary in how selective they are when it comes to admissions. Some institutions are general admission, which means that anybody who wants to go there can go there, and there’s some schools that are incredibly selective and even if you have a perfect GPA you may not be accepted. In reality, there are so many factors, other than just GPA, that go into acceptance at schools.

Factors Colleges Consider Aside from GPA When Determining Admission

While GPA is important, it is not the only determining factor. Schools also consider things like:

• SAT/ACT test scores and where they fall in their applicant pool.
• Primary essay and supplemental essays.
• Course rigor. For example, one student may have a 4.0 GPA, but their course rigor doesn’t include AP, IB or honors classes while another student that has taken very difficult course rigor may have a lower GPA.
• Courses taken, i.e., did the student stop at chemistry or also take physics
• The major the student is applying for. Are they applying for business or engineering or for Arts and Sciences (something like biology, communication or journalism) or are they going undecided. Depending on what major the student is potentially applying for, admissions officers may look at the classes taken in high school and the grades for those classes.

So, as you can see, when it comes to the question of “What GPA do I need to get into college?” there is no simple answer. College admissions is so much more complex than your grade point average.

And it’s even more complex than just the list above. In order to create a more diverse student body, admissions officers may also consider your geographic location. A college may be looking for students from Iowa and not looking for many from New York. If students apply from Iowa or North Dakota, and these are students that they’re looking for because they’re looking for diversity in their student body, somebody from Iowa who has possibly a lesser GPA than somebody in New York may be accepted while the New York student is not.

We don’t know why one student has been accepted and one has not. In our industry, we look at trends. Signature College Counseling works with over 100 students every graduating year, and each year we look at our students’ acceptance data and try to figure out the secret sauce – but in all honesty, there are so many parts to the recipe. There’s so much that goes into why a student is accepted or not accepted at a specific school that the GPA is just a piece of the admissions puzzle. What we will say is that admissions officers will first look at the high school transcript because that is the greatest trend that a college can look at of how successful a student is and how the student operates.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Does Early Decision Mean?

There are a variety of ways to apply to colleges and it’s important to have a clear understanding of what each means so that you can make an informed decision as to how you want to apply. You should note that not all colleges offer all ways. We address each type of application below.

Early Decision

The most important thing to note about an early decision application is that it is binding. If you are accepted you must attend that school. When you apply to a school early decision – and you may only apply to ONE school early decision – you, and 1 of your parents, sign a contract that you will go to that school if it accepts you. The early decision deadline is typically November 1st or November 15th, sometimes in between. Not all schools have an early decision option. You will usually receive a response by the middle of December or before the holiday break. Because early decision is binding it is so important to make sure you understand your finances. We recommend that you use the net price calculator when applying early decision. Go to the website of the school to which you’re thinking of applying early decision and go through the net price calculator to get an idea of the approximate price of attendance. You may be surprised as to what the price actually is, and it’s important to have a financial understanding BEFORE you hit the submit button.

Early Action

Applying early action means just as it sounds: you apply early and you will hear back from the school early. Early action is not binding. If you get accepted early action, you are not contractually obligated to go to that school. You can apply to more than one school early action, and you don’t have to give an answer early. You have until the regular acceptance deadline to decide. We think, however, that the early bird has the best opportunity to get the worm. So, we encourage our students to apply early in the process. We have them start submitting their college applications in the middle to the end of August and well before the typical November 1st early action and early decision deadlines. College applications are date and time stamped so admissions officers know when you submitted your application, and submitting early can show interest and demonstrate diligence.

Regular Admission

Then there is regular decision. A regular decision deadline can be as early as November 1st, or even some October 15. Schools with regular decision can also have a priority deadline, such as University of Maryland and Penn State. This priority deadline means that if you apply by the priority deadline you will get priority. If you apply afterwards, who knows about your admission decision. For the most part for schools that offer early action and/or early decision, regular decision typically starts at the beginning of January and sometimes can go to the middle of January. If at all possible, you don’t want to wait until the deadline to apply. We always tell our students to not pay attention much to the deadline, but rather submit your applications as soon as you possibly can. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the deadlines but that you should be proactive because there’s a finite number of students that the school is going to accept. If you wait until the deadline, they may have already accepted 75% of the students, which reduces your chances of acceptance.

Rolling Admission

With rolling admissions, when you submit your application to the school, which can be as early as the beginning of August, they will start to review it and within a few weeks you’ll receive a response. University of Pittsburgh is one school that uses rolling admissions.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of what early decision means and how this type of application compares to early action, regular admission and rolling admissions.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Early Should You Submit a College Application?

Many of our students ask us how early they should submit their college applications. We always recommend the earlier you submit your college application the better. But how early you can submit hinges on the type of application you use. There are three types of college applications: the Common App, the Coalition Application, and a school’s proprietary application. Let’s dive into each to answer the question.

The Common App

The Common App is as its name implies: the most common application that students use. This application is used by over 900 colleges and counting. We find it to be the easiest application to use. If a college uses several different application formats, including the Common App, we recommend using the Common App. A new Common App is released every year on August 1st. So, for students entering college in the Fall of 2023, the Common App opens on August 1, 2022.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on the Common App prior to this day. Click here to read our blog on this. Rather, it means the earliest you can submit the Common App for the following fall is that date. However, some schools may not have released their school specific questions and supplemental essay topics by August 1st. Some don’t do so until the middle of August or later. So, you may have to wait a little longer before you can submit your completed Common App. This submission does not include SAT/ACT test scores, official transcript or letters of recommendation, as those are sent separately. Once you have completed the application, including the school specific questions, supplemental essays and primary essay, and you have reviewed it, had someone else review it as well, and you feel good about it, then go ahead and submit it.

The Coalition Application

There’s also the Coalition Application. While this application is similar to the Common Application, we find it much more tedious to use. If you have a choice of using the Common App or the Coalition Application, we recommend using the Common App as it is much better put together and much simpler and straightforward to use. But you may not have the option. For example, the University of Washington only uses the Coalition Application so students have no other choice (The application that UW is using is changing as of August 1 and we are awaiting the decision on this). As with the Common App, the Coalition Application has a section for general information, which you can fill out at any time. Typically, starting August 1st colleges start to release their school specific questions and supplemental essay(s). So with the Coalition Application the earliest you can submit your application is August 1st, IF those school specific application questions and supplemental essays are available.

School Specific Proprietary Applications

And then there are school specific proprietary applications. Some schools only use this type of application, whereas others offer a choice. For example, Rutgers has its own proprietary application, but they also accept the Coalition Application. If you want to use their school specific application, that typically doesn’t become available until early September. So, you’re not going to be able to submit that application any sooner. Other schools, like MIT, only use their school specific application, which usually does not become available until mid-August. In addition, the University of California system of schools has their own separate application. With these types of applications, the dates vary.

Summary

So as you can see, how early you should submit a college application really depends on the school and which application or applications they participate in. Each will become available at different times. Your submission date will also hinge on when schools release their school specific questions and supplemental essays. You can submit your application as soon as you have completed it, checked it over, and determined that it is ready to go. You don’t need to wait for SAT/ACT scores, transcripts or letters of recommendation. We always recommend the earlier submission the better.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

When Does the Common App Open for 2022

For students entering college in the fall of 2023, the Common App opens on August 1, 2022. But, that doesn’t mean you have to wait until August 1st to start working on the application. You should be gathering the information you will need way before that date, and you can even start filling out the Common App before then – yes you read that correctly! Read on to learn more.

Prep for the Common App Ahead of Time

Before you start filling out the general portion of the Common App, you really need to do some preparation so you have all the information you need at your fingertips. We recommend that you take the following steps ahead of time.

Create a Resume

You should create a resume that includes the grades in which you participated, and the average hours per week and weeks per year you participated. Only include high school activities in this log unless you started an activity prior to high school and continued it through high school. Otherwise, leave out middle school activities. You should also include any honors or awards that you have received.

Research Colleges

Gather information on colleges so you can determine where you want to apply. Do searches online, take tours, go to information sessions. Our blogs below provide great insight on the college search:

What to Consider When Searching for Colleges
Searching for Colleges by Major
How to Research Colleges
How to Find the Best College for Me
How to Search for Colleges Online
What to Look for When Searching for Colleges

Our blogs and videos are full of additional information.

Start Filling Out the Common App BEFORE 8/1

Although the “New” Common App doesn’t open and become live until August 1st, you can fill out the general portion of the application before then. Just create an account and log in. You will then see the Common App tab. Click on that tab and you can start filling out the general information sections. You can do this anytime before August 1st. So what happens if you fill out this information prior to August 1st? When the new Common App becomes available, the information that you completed in the general information section will get converted over to the new Common App.

Even if you list some schools, that list will also transfer over to the new Common App – but any answers you completed for the school specific questions will not.

The Essays

There are two types of essays within the Common App: the primary essay and the supplemental essays. You can definitely begin working on the primary essay/personal statement before August 1st. In fact, we highly recommend that you do so. BUT don’t upload it before August 1st.

The supplemental essays are essay prompts that are specific to a certain school. These come out with the new Common App, so you need to wait until August 1st to start on these essays. Some schools won’t release their supplemental essay prompts until after August 1 so you just need to continue to check until they are listed.

Submitting Your Common App

You may have heard that because you plan on taking your SAT or ACT again, or that your transcript and letters of recommendation can’t be sent until October, that you should wait to submit your Common App. That is not the case. All those pieces are mutually exclusive. You can submit applications as early as you want, whenever they are ready after August 1st. If you’re going to take the SAT or ACT again, you can wait until those scores get back and then submit those scores. But there is a caveat to this: some schools will ask you in their questions if you are applying test optional, so if you’re not sure, you have to hold off on applying to those colleges that ask that question if you are waiting on test scores to come in and deciding on whether so submit them or not.

We hope this helps you understand the current Common App, in this case for 2022, but it’s really for any year, opens August 1st.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Makes a Good College Admissions Essay?

We get asked by our students all the time as to what makes a good college admissions essay. By this, they are referring to that personal statement that goes to all colleges. The essay is probably the most daunting task in the entire application process because it starts with a blank sheet of paper. Even when you look at the seven prompts that the Common App offers, one of them is you can write about anything you want!

There is no hard and fast rule as to what makes a good essay. We tell our students and families that the essay is really about you presenting who you are. It can be funny, serious, or heart wrenching. The important thing is that it’s about you. You should not focus on what the college wants to hear. College admissions officers say all the time that they want you to tell them more about you! We stress to our students and families that the essay brings your application to life because everything else is basic information about you.

What Makes a SUCCESSFUL College Essay

The essay provides an opportunity for the student to show a side of themselves that isn’t found anywhere else on the application. There is no set “right” topic to write about. We’ve had students who have written about how they wore short pants their whole life or how their whole family is tall and lives in a small house. Others have written about their nose and their hair. There have been a myriad of topics over the years, and every single one of those essays has been phenomenal. Some funny, some not so funny, some funny and then get serious – it’s all about the student demonstrating their personality and style.

Writing the essay is a time of self-reflection, and it’s really important that it’s written in the student’s voice. The student should write to the best of their ability. That doesn’t mean somebody shouldn’t review the essay for grammar, punctuation, and flow, but it should not be a compilation of words that that student would never use. The college admissions officer, over the course of their tenure, has read tens of thousands essays and they can immediately pick out if an essay is written by a parent or if it has been edited by a parent in a significant manner. Certainly a parent can offer encouragement and support for their child, but it’s not necessarily a good idea for the parent to say that the topic is not a good one, as it can be devastating for the student.

What the Essay Should NOT Be

The essay is NOT:
• Meant to be a literary masterpiece
• A report or research paper or graded paper
• To be written in a style that exceeds the capabilities of the student
• An illustration of how well an essay coach can write
• An over-edited piece that sound like the insights and voice of an adult
• A group effort or a family project
• A time for a parent to be critical of their child

College admissions representatives read thousands of essays every year and they can tell when a well-meaning adult has taken a heavy hand and/or the writing reflects someone other than the student. They know when they’re not getting a true reflection of the student and doing any of the above can really hurt the student’s admissions chances. The admissions rep may wonder what else on the student’s application has been driven by somebody else.

So bottom line: A good college admissions essay is one where you are genuine and where you are expressing your true self.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Is It Bad to Put Undecided on a College Application?

We can’t tell you how many times we have been asked by our students if it is ok to put undecided on their applications to colleges. Our short answer to each one of them: No!

In reality, most students are undecided when it comes to picking a major. It’s perfectly OK to put undecided on the college application. At 15, 16, 17 years old, how are you supposed to know what you want to necessarily do with your life? After all, throughout high school you’ve been told what math to take, what science to take, what English to take, what history to take, your foreign language, etc. Your exposure to all the different majors that are out there for you to potentially delve into is untouched. And here’s a fact to note: 80% of students in college changed their major at least once while in college.

Life Is a Winding Road

Just because you’re going to major in something in college doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Our founder, Liz, started out as a music major her freshman year, and in sophomore year changed to business. She has been in some sort of business her entire life, but in reality everything is really a business. Liz never imagined being a college counselor while she was in the large corporate world for over 20 years. Yet, here she is, an independent college admissions counselor running a thriving business.

Applying Undecided

So much of your life is ahead of you. You don’t know what’s in store or how your feelings will change. Putting undecided on a college application is completely fine. If you’re applying to a university undecided, then probably the school/college you would be applying to is Arts and Sciences or whatever that university may call it. You may decide upon a major in business or communications or fashion design or some fine art or even engineering. The world is your oyster!

For the most part, with all the different majors that you can select from, you should note that there are some schools where you apply undecided to their school of Arts and Sciences that it may be a little bit more difficult to get into. This is because typically there are so many students who apply to Arts and Sciences and therefore it may be a little more competitive. We haven’t found that to be the case at many schools, but there are definitely some, such as Penn State, where a vast majority of students apply to their school of Arts and Sciences, so it can be a little bit more difficult to get in there. However, the last thing you want to do is apply as a business or engineering major, if you’re really not sure that’s what you want to major in, which are typically the universities more selective majors.

We’re hoping this helps dispel the whole theory that putting undecided not on a college application is not something you should do. Remember there is an 80% you’re going to change your major at least once anyway.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Start the College Application Process

The college application process starts with compiling the information you will need to fill out your applications. You should begin to gather this information as soon as you decide to commence your college admissions journey. It will make the process that much easier to complete because you will have everything at your fingertips!

The Student Resume

At Signature College Counseling, we have each one of our students create a student resume – whether they start with us in 9th, 10th, 11th grade or their senior year. This document contains a bulk of the information you will need for your applications, such as:

• A complete list of in-school and out-of-school activities
• The grades in which you participated in those activities
• The average hours per week, and per year, which you spent on those activities
• Any leadership positions you held
• Any awards you received for these activities

Preparing this resume takes time, but it is so well worth the effort in creating it and keeping it current.

Your List of Colleges

Next up is your list of colleges. In addition to the information above, you will need to have narrowed down the list of colleges you will be applying to. You can start your college applications with the general information, but very shortly thereafter you’re going to have to list the colleges you’re applying to and fill out specific questions from those colleges, along with possibly supplemental essays for those schools.

We have A LOT of information on our website about the college search process – both videos and blogs – that can help you with your research, such as:

• How To Begin Your College Search
• What to Consider When Searching for Colleges
• How to Narrow Your College Search
• Searching for Colleges by Major
• How to Decide Which College to Go To

Also, click here to view our College Planning Timeline.

Class Schedule and Transcript

When filling out the college applications, you are also going to need your senior year class schedule, as well as your high school courses and final grades (You may need to enter that information into the common application or your self reported academic record for some schools). At the end of your junior year, you should ask your guidance office for your high school transcript.

Choosing an Essay Topic

As you start approaching the summer before your senior year, you need to start thinking about the topic for your primary essay aka personal statement. If you are using the Common App essay, the length will be a max of 650 words. FYI about 900 schools use the Common App for their admissions process. Here are some blogs on the topic:

• When Should You Write Your College Essay
• Length of College Essay – Tips
• What Should I Write My College Essay About
• How Do I Start a College Essa<y/a>
• How Do You Write a Good College Essay

We always have our students complete their primary essay as soon as they finish their junior year and before the end of July. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today!

In general this is how to start your college application process. Hopefully, the blogs and videos we mentioned above will help you on your journey.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Do Federal Student Loans Work?

Trying to figure out how to fund your college education can be overwhelming. You’ve heard that you can get loans from the federal government, but how do they work? How much money can you receive? How do you qualify for those loans? We’re going to break it all down for you.

The Types of Federal Loans.

There are three types of undergraduate loans through the federal government:
1) subsidized federal direct student loans
2) unsubsidized federal direct student loans
3) parent plus loans

With the subsidized federal direct student loan, the federal government pays the interest while you are attending school and during the six month grace period after you leave college. For the unsubsidized federal direct student loan, the interest accrues while you are attending school and you are responsible for that interest after the six month grace period after you leave school.

Anyone can qualify for the unsubsidized federal direct student loan, regardless of financial need. The student applies for the federal direct student loans and no cosigner is required.

As the name implies, the parents of the student apply for the parent plus loans.

How Much in Federal Student Loans Can I Receive?

The maximum allowed loan amounts for your undergraduate years vary based on your year of study:

• First Year of Study – Max of $5500
• Second Year of Study – Max of $6500
• Third & Fourth Years of Study – Max of $7500 each year

There is a need based portion of each of the above amounts. If you qualify for that portion based on your income, part of those max amounts become subsidized i.e., interest is paid by the government while you are in school and during the grace period after leaving college. The maximum subsidized amounts are:

• First Year of Study – Max of $3500
• Second Year of Study – Max of $4500
• Third Year of Study – Max of $5500

Note that the unsubsidized interest will start to accrue as soon as you take the loan and will grow and eventually will compound over time at the interest rate that’s designated. The same concept applies to the interest on the subsidized loan after the six month grace period. So, the amount you end up paying over time will be greater than the amount of the loan you have taken out.

How Much Can I Take Out in Parent Plus Loans?

With the parent plus loan, parents can borrow up to the cost of attendance. Because this amount can be a lot of money, it is important to understand what the ramifications are for when you have to start paying these loans back, how much your payments will be, and how those payments are going to fit your budget.

If you are trying to decide which type of loan to take out, you should note that the student loans have lower interest rates than the parent plus loans. Recently, they’ve been a little bit above 3% and the parent plus loans have been around the 5% range. Congress votes every year on these interest rates. As interest rates rise, so do the interest rates on these student and parent plus loans.

:How You Go About Getting the Federal Direct Student Loan
The first thing you need to do is fill out the federal Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This application must be completed in order to get any federal direct student loan.

Once this application is complete, the colleges that you have been accepted to will receive the information and put together your financial aid package, which will most probably include references to the federal direct student loans. They will also break down any subsidized and unsubsidized amounts.

You then decide whether you’re going to take the loans or not. If you choose to take the federal direct student loans, you have to let the school know. You typically notify them of your decision through your student portal. You simply check off that you want to take the loan and then they will apply it to your account.

In addition, the first year you take out a federal direct student loan, you must complete entrance loan counseling online through the federal government. Why? Because the federal government wants to be sure that the student who is taking out these student loans understands what it means to take out a loan. This entrance counseling takes about 45 minutes or so. It consists of a series of passages you read, followed by questions you need to answer. Don’t worry, it’s not a test. If you don’t get the answer correct, you’ll simply go back and read the information again and then try to answer the question once more.

Once you “pass” counseling, you need to read and sign the promissory note for the loan, which says you will pay back this loan when the time comes. Again, no cosigner is required. This is strictly a student loan. Note: Although you only need to complete the Loan Counseling once, each year you take a direct student loan you do need to sign the associated promissory note.

How to Apply for the Parent Plus Loan

Applying for the parent plus loan is a bit different. Like the direct student loan, you must first complete the FAFSA and have your own parent FSA ID. But unlike the student loan, you must complete a Parent Plus Loan application. It’s not a difficult application to complete. You are asked for some information and then they will look up your credit score. It’s a relatively low threshold that your credit score has to meet in order to be approved for the federal parent plus loan.

You should apply for the parent plus loan between April-June before the student is heading off to college that fall AFTER you know which school your child will attend. You can also apply for thi loan later on as well, as you need the funds to pay for your child’s college education. Once you are approved, the information will be sent to the school. Note that you can change the requested amount, and as mentioned above, you can borrow up to the balance of the cost of attendance.

So that is how federal student loans and parent plus loans work for higher education. We hope this provides you with information to help you make an informed borrowing decision.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Much Will My Student Loan Payments Be?

As college consultants, we’re often asked how much student loan payments will be. After all, it is something that should factor into the college search; you want to be able to afford to pay for your education after graduation and still have a life!

But, this is a very loaded question, and a topic that we feel deserves some deeper discussion before we just dive into numbers.

The Bigger Prospect of Taking Out Loans for College

For us, the right college is one that is a SAFE fit for the student. By SAFE we mean socially, academically, financially, and emotionally. We include financially in this formula because it plays such a big part in how you (the student and the student’s family) will live life after graduation.

We work with a lot of students and families and we want them to truly understand what the ramifications are for taking out loans. As adults, we have a better grasp on how $100,000 in loans could financially strap us for decades. But students don’t really understand what that means. They don’t understand how difficult that amount could be to pay back over time, or even what it would cost to rent an apartment and live on their own. So being proactive in understanding what you and your family are willing to, and can, pay for college education is paramount. It is something that we encourage families to talk about early on in high school, in ninth grade and maybe even before, but definitely in the ninth and tenth grade time frame, before you start to look at colleges.

There are many people who start the college journey late in the game in junior year or summer after junior year or even fall of their senior year. You do NOT want to wait until then to talk about what you are willing to and can afford to pay for college education with your child.

We also know families who say, “We’ll do whatever we have to do to have Joey go to college.” This type of thinking can have significant ramifications. Parents maybe can’t retire when they had planned to because they have strapped themselves with essentially another mortgage. Or the student who decides to go to a school that they’ve been wanting to go will have to take $100,000 or more out in loans. We can’t stress enough how important it is to discuss the financial fit early on in the process.

Some Examples of How Much Student Loan Payments Will Be

If you’re going to take out student loans, the first type of loan to consider is the Federal Direct Student Loan. The allowable amounts for this type of loan are $5,500 the first year, $6,500 for sophomore year, and $7,500 for the third and fourth years, totaling $27,000. This is the lowest interest loan you’re going to be able to get as a student. Currently the interest rate is a little over 3%. Last year it was around 2.5%. And this loan is in the student’s name, no one cosigns for it.

With the Federal Direct Student Loan, the student does not have to start paying it back until six months after they get out of college. If you qualify, then part of that loan can be subsidized, which means the federal government will pay the interest on that loan while the student is in college. So, essentially it’s kind of like getting free money.

Now, let’s analyze a student loan payment example. Let’s say that you are going to attend a school that costs $60,000 a year and your parents don’t qualify for financial aid. The school has given you $20,000 in Merrit money, so that brings the cost down to $40,000 a year. Your parents say they can only afford to put $15,000 towards your college education each year. That means if you go to that school, you’re going to have to take out loans for $25,000 a year for four years. And we hope that you graduate within four years because that doesn’t always happen. But, let’s say for these purposes you graduate in four years. $25,000 for four years is $100,000 right. Compound interest on the loans could increase that amount by another $10,000, but for the sake of this example, we’re going to stick to the $100,000 amount.

We want to direct you to a program that we use with our students called Debt Salary Wizard on mappingyourfuture.org. With this tool you can see how much your loan payments are going to be on that $100,000 with an estimated interest rate and a repayment period. You can also see how much you can afford to borrow in student loans based on an expected salary amount.

For our example, let’s say you have a 4% interest rate (which, by the way, is low because the interest rate that you get from a private loan is going to be much higher than that) on the $100,000 and a repayment period of 10 years. You would then have an estimated monthly payment of $1012 and your required salary to pay that amount would be $151,000. Maybe .001% of students come out of college making that kind of money, and there’s plenty of people who won’t make that in a lifetime.

If you had borrowed $75,000 over the four years and had a 4% interest rate and a 10 year repayment period, your monthly payment would be $759 and your required salary for that amount if you’re going to live on your own and have to make payments for food, electric, rent and car insurance is $113,000. Again, we don’t know a lot of students coming out of college making that kind of salary.

Now let’s say you borrowed $25,000 with the 4% interest rate and 10 year repayment period. Then your monthly loan payment would be $253 and your required salary would be $37,966, which would be more in line with what you could expect to make right out of college.

To Sum Up Student Loan Payment Amounts

As you can see from the figures above, the moral of this story is to go to a college that fits you not only socially, academically and emotionally, but also financially. There are many colleges out there for you. Don’t strap yourself with debt. We cannot stress this enough. We have had graduates come to us after the fact and ask how to get rid of their loan payments and we tell them you don’t, you have to pay it back.

We hope this has helped shed some light on taking student loans out and being very responsible about it. There’s all different ways to attend college and you don’t want to be strapped down with overwhelming loan payments in your adult life.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Touring Colleges in the Summer

So many people ask us when is the right time to go visit colleges. Should we take a tour during the school year when the students are in session? Is it ok to visit colleges in the summer? Certainly, it would be ideal if you could go visit every college that you wanted to during their school year while they were in session, but sometimes that is just not possible or practical with everything that is going on in your daily life, i.e., sports, activities, volunteering, family events, etc. As a result, visiting a school during the summer months is perfectly fine.

Some Summer Tour Planning Tips

If you want to make the most of those summer visits, it’s important to make a plan.

Sign Up for the Tour and Information Sessions WAY Ahead of Time

Since the pandemic, it has become more difficult to sign up for tours and information sessions since they fill up quickly. You need to book your visit in advance. We’ve been finding with the families that we’ve been working with that the sessions are filling up because either the schools aren’t offering as many information sessions and tours or putting a cap on the number of students and people that can attend. So it’s important to be very proactive in signing up ahead of time.

Sign Up Using the Student’s Name and Email Address

For tracking purposes, you should sign up for a tour and information session using the student’s name and the email address they will be using for applying to colleges. This allows the colleges to tie the visit with their application. This is very important to show demonstrated interest. There is a correlation between showing demonstrated interest and college admissions – and you want to make sure you are showing interest!

Do Your Research Ahead of Time

You want to be sure to maximize your tours and information sessions. And to do that, you need to put in some work BEFORE you visit the school:

Attend a virtual information session
• Take a virtual tour
• Review information on the school in the Fiske Guide to Colleges (If they have an overview in Fiske – Around 400 colleges do)
• See what students are saying about the school on www.unigo.com
• Visit the school’s website to look at their programs and curriculums

How to Research Colleges – Follow this Checklist
Best Websites to Research Colleges
What to Consider When Searching for Colleges
How to Research for Colleges Online
How to Begin the College Search

Prepare a List of Questions to Ask the Tour Guide and Admissions Officers

You’ll want to have your questions ready so you can get the information you want to know most. Don’t be shy. Ask away! Some good questions to ask include:

What’s your favorite thing about this school?
Why did you choose this school?
What kind of clubs do you belong to?
What’s the outside environment like?

Ask questions so you can dig deeper. It’s all about you finding a set of colleges that are your SAFE match: socially, academically, financially, and emotionally. For more sample questions, read our blog Good Questions to Ask on a College Tour.

Use Our Campus Visit Checklist

We’re happy to share our Campus Visit Checklist. It is on our website you go to our website and it has different sections that allow you to cover all the different pieces of when you’re on campus, as well as a section for notes. It is phone and tablet ready. Just fill it out and it will be sent to your email. We always tell our students to create a main campus visits folder and move that completed campus visit checklist into that folder so you can always go back and access it.

Take Pictures

When you are on campus, be sure to take pictures of the college and save it to an album on your phone with the name of that college. Trust us – after visiting multiple colleges the images in your mind will all start to blend together!

Summer College Tours Summary

All of the above may seem like a lot to do, but it’s not really that much. If you just make a plan, you can maximize your summer visits and have a better feel for whether the college is a SAFE match for you.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

When Can Colleges Offer Athletic Scholarships?

When college coaches can offer athletic scholarships to students varies by sport and division. The rules continue to change. What we outline here today may not be accurate for tomorrow, a month from now, or a year from now. So we strongly encourage you to ALWAYS check with the NCAA to ascertain the current rules for your sport.

When College Coaches Can First Contact You

Before we get into when colleges can offer scholarships, let’s address when their coaches are even allowed to first contact you. You may have heard about Johnny or Jane so-and-so getting offered a full scholarship from a college coach when they were in seventh grade. This scenario is extremely unlikely. Most Division I and Division II coaches are not allowed to reach out to an athlete before June 15th of the student’s sophomore year in high school. This does not mean, however, that the coaches are not recruiting. They are looking at athletes early on – in seventh, eighth and ninth grades – but they cannot commence a conversation with a student that young. There are ways, however, that coaches skirt this contact rule. For example, they may reach out to a club coach and then the club coach will tell the athlete to contact the college coach. This avoids direct contact by the college coach. And by all means, students can reach out to the college coaches themselves at any time.

When College Coaches Can Verbally Offer Athletic Scholarships

Just as there are initial contact rules related to age, there are also rules as to when a college coach can verbally offer a high school athlete a scholarship. A college coach cannot offer a verbal commitment or scholarship offer before September 1st of the athlete’s junior year of high school. There are some caveats to this date depending upon the sport, such as football, men’s/women’s basketball and baseball, but this is the general rule.

When an Athletic Scholarship Offer Becomes Binding

A verbal scholarship offer is not binding. Either party can get out of the offer. An athletic scholarship offer only becomes binding when you officially sign the offer.

Some Things to Note About the Availability of Athletic Scholarships

We want to stress that it is unlikely that a student athlete will receive a full ride scholarship. Full athletic scholarships are few and far between. Our video What Percent of College Athletes Get Full Ride Scholarships dives into the topic in depth. Plenty of students and parents come to us saying, “Johnny plays soccer and we’re looking for a full scholarship.” Well, that’s most likely not going to happen. So, don’t bank on an athletic scholarship paying for Johnny’s college education. In reality, 90% of the students that come to us who want to be athletes in college end up not playing at all because doing so just doesn’t match their needs academically and socially.

We hope this information answers your question about when colleges can offer athletic scholarships. But again, just as a disclaimer, what we state today may absolutely be different in the future as the rules are continuing to change, so please look at the NCAA website for the most current rules.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can You Accept Admission to Multiple Colleges?

One common question we receive from our students and families is whether you can accept offers from multiple colleges or universities. In short, the answer is no, you cannot.

When a student or family advises us that they are going to put down deposits with several schools and then worry about deciding later which college or university will be the final choice, we cringe – for many reasons. Let us explain.

Why You Should Not Accept Admission to More than One College or University

There are various reasons why you should not put down a deposit with several schools, and these impact you as the student, other students, and the colleges and universities where you applied.

1. You Would Be Breaking a Contract with the Colleges

The first and foremost reason is that when you submit your application to any college or university, you electronically sign something that says you will only accept an offer from one school. So, theoretically, this should be the end of discussion. You might ask yourself, “Why would that be? Why is this such an important rule and contractual obligation that I have to live by?” Well, let’s explore that further below.

2. Colleges and Universities Rely Upon Your Contract and Acceptance

Let’s look at the logistical reasons behind the contract that you signed electronically. When you put down a deposit with a university or college, you are in essence saying to them, “I’m accepting your acceptance and I’m going to attend your school.” The college or university then fully believes that you’re going to attend. So that school holds a spot for you. As a result, they are not going to accept any other students because they have a set number of students, called their yield, that they have budgeted for to accept their acceptance as freshman coming in for the following year. This yield is a very important number to schools. Even though they may be non-profit organizations, the yield is a revenue generator for many colleges and universities – and everything is based on dollars and cents. If you put a deposit down on the school, they are counting on the income associated with your attendance. That is the rationale behind the contract of accepting admission to only one college or university. Keep in mind that you can only attend one school so it is an impossibility for you to attend more than one if you put down more than one deposit.

3. Accepting Admission to Multiple Schools Hurts Other Students

Now, let’s look at it from the perspective of other applicants. As we mentioned above, when you put down your deposit, the school holds a spot for you in the incoming class. As a result, other students may have been waitlisted or rejected. Accepting a school that you will not be attending, takes up the spots of other applicants who may very well have wanted to attend that university or college. Your actions are hurting others.

4. Breaking the Contract Can Hurt Your Admission

And let us point out what could be the most motivating reason for not accepting admission to more than one school: if you put down multiple deposits and the schools that admitted you find out, they can pull your acceptance and then you are out of luck!

We’re hoping this explanation helps you understand that when you accept admission to multiple colleges and universities you are not only breaking a contract, you are also negatively impacting the schools, fellow students, and possibly yourself. Even though you may not have read the fine print online, you can only accept an acceptance from one school. That is the golden rule. So our advice is to do your due diligence. Do more research on the colleges and universities you’ve been accepted to. Go back and visit. Go to accepted students days. Learn more about the schools – the academics they offer, the personality of the school – and make your decision by May 1st of your senior year, the very latest. Just put down one deposit to accept that acceptance.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Accept an Acceptance Letter from a College

Congratulations! If you are reading this, chances are that you have already been accepted to the college that you want to attend. Your hard work has paid off. But, now what? How do you accept the school’s offer of admission? Just like each school notifies students of their acceptance differently, so too does each school have their own acceptance of admission process. Below we highlight the different ways you may be required to accept your offer of admission.

How Schools Notify Students of Acceptance

Often how you reply to an admissions offer is tied to how you were notified. So, let’s break down the varying ways colleges let students know they have been accepted.

• By Text

Ok, by this we don’t mean that you have received a text that says, “Congratulations! You have been accepted to our school.” Rather, you may have received a text to check your applicant portal. Upon receiving an application, most schools have students set up an applicant portal. This portal is used to monitor that all of your documents have arrived (your transcript, letters of recommendation, and any other additional information that the college may have asked for, such as your test scores). Sometimes schools may also ask for additional items, which you would submit through the portal. We always advise our students to check the portals every day so that they can keep a running checklist of which schools have received which documents and what’s outstanding. If you have set up a student portal, a school may send you a text to check it when they have made an update that you have been admitted. You then log into the portal and whoosh you see you have been accepted. Some schools even have electronic fireworks and confetti. Very exciting to see!

• By Email

Similar to the text notification, you may have received an email telling you to check your portal, with the same type of notification process as that of the text. Or the email itself may advise you of your acceptance. Some schools even email you a video that announces your acceptance with fanfare, which is kind of fun.

• By Snail Mail

Yes, even in today’s electronic world, some schools send out their acceptance letters via snail mail. You may get a notification from the school by email or through your portal that advises they will be sending out admissions decisions in the mail. And, they may even provide the dates that they plan on doing so. Most schools that advise you of admissions decisions electronically may also send you their responses in the mail.

How to Accept Your Offer of Admission

Regardless of how you have been notified of your offer of admission, each college to which you have been accepted will specifically state how you should accept their offer. It is very important that you carefully read and follow the school’s specific acceptance process. Sometimes they will mail you a form via snail mail that you have to complete. Many times you can accept the offer right on your applicant portal, which is for sure the easiest way. If you received notification via a video, you should check the applicant portal which should have information on the school’s acceptance process. Practically any time you accept an admissions offer, you will also have to put down a housing deposit to hold your spot in the upcoming class, which is usually between $200 and $500. Note that this deposit is non-refundable if you eventually decide not to attend that school.

VERY IMPORTANT! You can only accept ONE offer of admission. You sign a contract when you submit your application that you will do so. Accepting more than 1 offer of admissions is not only unethical, since you can clearly only attend 1 school, but if a college finds out you have done so they can rescind their offer of admission to you. In addition, remember that there are plenty of other students who may have been placed on a waitlist for a school and if you accept 2 offers of admission (which is unethical and contractually wrong) you are taking up a spot for students who may want to attend.

Advising a College that You Will Not be Attending

If you decide not to attend a school to which you have been accepted, we strongly recommend that you let them know that you are declining their offer. There are potentially other students on that school’s waitlist who are patiently waiting for students to not accept their acceptance. Letting the school know you won’t be attending allows them to move students from the waitlist to the acceptance pool.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Why Do Colleges Defer Students?

It’s that time of year. The responses to your early action and early decision college applications are starting to roll in. While you are hoping for a yes, you open the envelope and see that you have been deferred. Your heart sinks and you wonder why you were deferred. It’s not a yes, it’s not a no; rather, you’re in limbo – and it’s frustrating to say the least. The waiting continues for another few months. But know that you are far from alone. Other students are suffering right along with you. So, let’s dive into exactly what it means to be deferred by a college and why you may have been deferred.

What Does Getting Deferred by a College Mean?

Deferrals typically happen when a student either applies early action or early decision to a college or university. When you apply early action early or decision, you are applying earlier than the regular decision pool of applicants. The benefit to applying early is that you can learn whether or not you have been accepted much sooner than the typical spring admissions decisions – unless, of course, you have been deferred. If you receive a deferral decision, it doesn’t mean that you have been rejected. It means that there may have been a very competitive pool of early action/decision applicants and that you didn’t make the cut in the first round of decision making. There is still hope. You get another shot at acceptance as the admissions officers consider your application again along with the regular applicant pool. You will find out whether you have been accepted or not when the college makes their regular application decisions.

One important thing to note if you applied early decision and you were deferred: you are no longer in a binding agreement if you get accepted in the regular decision pool. You can still decide not to attend that college or university.

So that’s what a deferral means – they are deferring you from that early pool of applicants into the regular decision pool of applicants.

Why You May Have Been Deferred

There are various reasons why a college may have deferred a student, such as:

• The college received an overwhelming amount of applications.
This is what happened at the University of Michigan several years ago. The school received so many applications (Upwards of 80,000+) in the early action pool that they could not review them all. So, they had no choice but to defer many applicants into the regular decision pool. One of our students, who was an excellent student, got deferred and then was accepted in the regular decision round.

The student did not necessarily meet the criteria within the early application pool to warrant an acceptance.
The college’s early applicant pool may have been very competitive and the college or university determined that student did not quite meet the criteria amongst all of the early applicant applications so it moved the student to the regular decision pool for another chance at admission.

Rather than reject the student, the school automatically deferred them.
There are some schools, such as Georgetown (at least in years past) where if you do not get accepted in the early action pool you are automatically deferred. There are some concerns around this system. Being deferred still gives students hope that they are going to get accepted. Certainly, a student may very well get accepted if they get deferred into the regular decision pool, but acceptance at extremely selective colleges, such as Georgetown, is difficult no matter how good of a student you are. By deferring everybody into the regular decision pool these schools give hope to some students that are never going to get accepted.

What you can do if you are deferred

If you have been deferred, you can use this to your advantage by letting them know if you have any updates to your activities, grades or possibly test scores. This can help boost your application in the regular decision round. Some schools welcome this information and it allows you to express what has transpired since you submitted your application. There are some schools that may not want you to do so or may only want some updated information. They either will express this in their deferral communication or you can call the school and ask.

Here are some more of our blogs on being deferred that you might want to read:

College Admissions Deferred vs. Waitlist
Deferred from College: What to Do Now
What Does It Mean to Get Deferred from a College?

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Do Colleges Look at AP Exam Scores for Admissions Decisions?

You’ve worked hard, taking advanced placement classes. These courses are incredibly challenging throughout the year: the reading, the homework, the insight needed for class participation. Then, of course, there are the culminating AP exams themselves. The amount of time studying for them is significant, and the tests themselves are difficult. Now it’s time to submit your college applications and you wonder if the colleges will look at your AP exam scores as they make their admissions decisions. You are likely asking this question whether you did well on the exams or not. The answer affects you either way. In general, whether college admissions counselors look at your scores is really up to you. Let us explain why.

To Submit or Not to Submit Your AP Scores with Your College Applications

I am asked by my students all of the time if colleges will consider their AP exam scores when determining admission. My answer is it depends. Some schools require you to report your scores. The number of such schools are very few, but there are schools that do, such as Princeton, which requires a student to self report all test scores. So in those cases they will see and consider your scores. Whether the schools that don’t have such a requirement look at your scores really comes down to you deciding whether they do or not. There is a self-reporting section on the Common App, and typically in other applications that you complete. It is in this section that you can share your scores with the school at the time you are applying. I advise my students to very carefully consider if they want to share those scores at the time of application.

If the student has scored a 4 or 5 on ALL of their AP exams, I say sure, self report the scores. But if they have scored below a 4 on any of the exams, I recommend that they think carefully before self-reporting the scores with their application, even the high scores. Why? Well, you don’t want to highlight your low scores. I know, you are probably saying to yourself, “But why shouldn’t I highlight my high scores?” Well, the college admissions officers are looking at your transcript. They will see what AP classes you have taken. If you only report the good scores, they are left to wonder what happened with the other AP exams. So I always recommend an all or nothing approach when it comes to AP exam scores. If you received a 4 or 5 on all exams, by all means self-report your scores so the college admissions officers can see them.

If You Don’t Submit AP Exam Scores with Your Application, When Do You Submit Them?

Of course you want credit for your hard work. So If you did not submit your AP exam scores with your application, you should submit them to the college you will be attending after you have accepted their admissions offer. This will allow the school to assess whether they are going to provide you college credit for any of the AP courses that you have taken. Typically, most of the time schools want to see a 4 or 5 in order to give you credit for the class. Every so often they will give credit for a score of 3 depending upon the exam.

To Sum It Up

Most of the time, it is up to you whether a college will look at your AP exam scores during the admissions process. The vast majority of colleges do not require that you submit your scores at the time of application. If you scored a 4 or 5 on all of your AP exams then by all means self-report. If you did not, you may want to hold off on reporting so that the schools don’t see the low scores or wonder what happened with the other exams if you only submit your high scores.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Do Colleges Care More About GPA or SAT?

GPA or SAT – which is more important to college admissions counselors? We are often – actually almost always – asked this question by students and parents throughout the college application and admissions process. The answer isn’t simply that one holds more weight than the other when counselors are determining admission status. They both work together. The GPA demonstrates what you have accomplished throughout your high school years – the highs and the lows. It covers homework, tests and class participation. In essence, it is an excellent indicator of your overall academic abilities. The SAT or ACT rates where you are on a national level compared to other students. These standardized tests measure intellect rather than academics. So, they support your academic profile rather than define it. Let’s dive deeper into this.

What Colleges Look at First: Your GPA

I have visited well over 400 colleges since starting Signature College Counseling, and I speak to the schools’ admissions officers during these visits. I will tell you, the first thing they say they look at when reviewing an application is your high school transcript. Why? Because your transcript is the best judgment of who you are academically as a student. For this reason, I cannot put enough emphasis on showing your strength in your academics during your high school years. It is so important for getting into college. In the end, it’s all about choices: the choices you made in regard to your academics and the choice you will make on or before May 1st about the college you are going to attend. You don’t want to have any regrets that your lack of effort hampered your college choice.

SAT and ACT Scores Are Reviewed After the Transcript

When it comes to your SAT or ACT scores, they certainly play an important and supportive role. While some schools became test optional prior to COVID-19, since the start of the pandemic, many schools – practically all schools – have gone test optional in their admissions process as the pandemic has continued. This may very well change as we come out of COVID and back to some sense of normalcy. Some schools that have gone test optional during COVD may revert back to requiring test scores hereafter. This has caused a lot of students to think that it doesn’t really matter if they take the tests, that the schools don’t want their scores. However, that is not what test optional means. Rather, test optional means the student has the option of not submitting their scores. But make no mistake about it, and I always say this to my students, submitting your SAT or ACT scores is always better than not submitting as long as you are at least within the mid 50% of the standardized test score statistics for that particular college. Why? Because those scores are another support for your academics.

To Sum It Up

College counselors first look at your transcript, then your SAT or ACT scores. This is because the transcript demonstrates your academic capabilities overall and the standardized test scores support your academic profile. Even if a college is test optional, I recommend to my students that they submit their test scores if they fall within the mid 50% range or higher for that specific college.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can You Combine Scholarships and Financial Aid?

With the cost of college today, students and families are always trying to find ways to pay for those ever increasing tuition, room and board expenses. One question we are often asked is whether you can combine scholarships and financial aid to reduce out of pocket costs. While it’s an interesting question, it does not really have a definitive answer of yes or no because whether you can or cannot varies by school. Let’s break it down.

Scholarships vs. Financial Aid

Scholarships are funds that you receive that you don’t need to pay back. They are based on credentials rather than financial need. There are different kinds of scholarships. You can receive scholarships directly from the school, which are called institutional merit aid or merit funding. The college will say, “Hi Joey. Thank you so much for applying to our college. You’ve been accepted and you’re going to be awarded $20,000 a year for four years as long as you maintain a 3.0 GPA.” There are also outside private scholarships. Just to be clear there is not a huge amount of private scholarship money out there for each individual student and it’s a lot of work to apply for those scholarships for not a whole lot of return. But that being said, we never deter families from applying. Those private scholarships come from an outside entity and many times are sent directly to the college that you’re attending and they don’t need to be paid back.

Financial aid is money you receive from a school based on the financial needs of the student and family. Our blog How Much Financial Aid Should I Expect outlines how financial aid awards are determined and how to calculate your estimated Expected Family Contribution. Some of this aid is in the form of grants that do not need to be paid back, and others are in the form of federal loans, which do have to be paid back.

Unfortunately, you cannot always add outside scholarships on top of other merit money or financial aid money. There are some schools that reduce your aid awards by the amount of outside scholarships you have received. For example, if a school has already awarded you $20,000 a year in financial aid and you receive an outside private scholarship for $2000, they will reduce your aid to $18,000. We do not agree with this because the student worked really hard to get these scholarships from the outside, but it happens. Many schools don’t make this reduction, but some do. It can be a lot of effort applying for these outside private scholarships and yet rather than help you they may simply reduce the package already received from school.

Our advice is to call the admissions office of the schools you are interested in attending and ask if they reduce any money that is awarded to you from the school by outside scholarships so that you know upfront whether you will be able to combine scholarships and your financial aid award.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Who Fills Out the FAFSA-Parent or Student?

If you want to receive any financial aid from the federal government for college, including federal student loans, a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) must be completed. But who fills out the form? The parent? The student? The answer, actually, is not really one or the other. Rather, both the parent and the student need to complete information on the FAFSA.

The FAFSA Is in the Student’s Name

Since the financial aid is for the student, the FAFSA is in the student’s name. The student needs to create an FSA ID and password. This ID will be their access to the FAFSA throughout college. The FAFSA needs to be completed for each year for which you want to apply for financial aid. The student will use this same ID each time they log in to complete that year’s application.

While the FAFSA is in the student’s name, the parent needs to also create an FSA ID, since they will need to submit information to be included in the FAFSA as well as use that ID to approve and submit the FAFSA, along with the student.

Both the Student and the Parent Need to Supply Pertinent Information

The FAFSA requires you to submit a variety of information, financial and otherwise, related to both the student and the parent. You will need to provide social security numbers, income, tax deferred retirement contributions, investment and bank account information, any real estate owned other than primary residence, whether you own a business, and more. Our blog How to Fill Out the FAFSA Form provides great tips on what you need to have on hand to complete the application.

Note that you can simply pull information from the IRS into the FAFSA application to save time and ensure accuracy. This is done through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which is accessible when you are completing the FAFSA.

You Can Start Filling Out the FAFSA on October 1st

When it comes to financial aid, the early bird gets the worm. So, we always recommend that our students and families fill out the FAFSA as early as possible. You can start doing so on October 1st. Read our post on this topic, click here.

Avoid Common FAFSA Mistakes

It is so important that you properly complete the FAFSA. One simple mistake can be a costly one. Our blog Common FAFSA Mistakes identifies the top 10 mistakes we see people make on the application. We highly recommend you read it to make sure you don’t make the same ones!

Changes to the FAFSA Are Coming

The federal government has decided to make several changes to the FAFSA, starting with the 2023/2024 aid cycle, which will begin when the FAFSA opens on 10/1/2022. Our blog Changes To The Fafsa: Student Aid Index Replaces Expected Family Contribution dives into what you can expect on the horizon.

In summary, it is the student who creates the FAFSA account, but both the parent and the student need to fill out the form and enter pertinent information.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Request Transcripts on Naviance

Each high school determines which features of Naviance they want to implement for their school and students. Although there are some high schools that allow you to request transcripts through Naviance and make that feature available, there are many schools that do not. There are also many schools that have a “Request Transcripts” function within your account, but that’s not how you request transcripts from them. It can be confusing, we know. The best thing for you to do is to go to your guidance office and ask them how you request transcripts to be sent to all of your colleges. For some high schools, it’s a paper form, for others it’s an electronic form, and some schools do it through Naviance. If your school allows you to request transcripts through your Naviance account, you will want to follow the steps outlined below.

Step-By-Step Directions for Requesting Your High School Transcript through Naviance

1) If you haven’t linked your Common App to Naviance, you will need to do so prior to proceeding with the following steps. Read our blog on How to Connect Naviance to the Common App.
2) Log into your Naviance account.
3) Click on Colleges I’m Applying To.
4) Then, click on the Request Transcripts button, which should be located in the upper right hand corner of the screen.
Check “Initial”, meaning you are requesting your initial transcript be sent to your colleges
5) Scroll down a bit and click on the down arrow to select which schools you want to send the transcripts to. When you click on the down arrow, all of your schools will appear.
6) Check the box next to the schools where you want your official transcript sent.
7) Scroll to the bottom and click Submit.
That’s it!

If your school uses this feature within Naviance to allow you to request transcripts to be sent to your colleges, it will receive notification of your requests and then it will send your official transcript directly to the schools. Of course, it is always a good idea to check to be sure that they requecived your request and are processing it.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Request a Letter of Recommendation on Naviance

Letters of recommendation are key components of your college application. There are various ways to request these letters. Some schools want you to do so through the Common App. Others ask you to make the request on their proprietary application. And many schools have you do so through your Naviance account. Below we explain how to request a letter of recommendation via Naviance.

7 Steps for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation in Naviance

1) Log into your Naviance account.

2) Access the Letters of Recommendation Request hyperlink. There are a couple ways you can find this button:
• Click on the Colleges Applying To button and scroll down to the Letters of Recommendation Request hyperlink OR
• Click on the Home button, then click on Letters of Recommendation

3) Once you are on the Letters of Recommendation screen, you will see your list of schools. Click on one of the two Add Request buttons.

4) Next, click on the Select a Teacher button. Review the list of teachers and select the teacher you want to ask for a recommendation.

5) Select the schools you want to receive the recommendation. If this teacher’s letter of recommendation is only going to be sent to select schools, click the box next to each school to which you want to send this teacher’s letter of recommendation. If you want to send the recommendation to all the schools on your list, click on the Select All button and you will see all of the check marks next to those schools that allow letters of recommendation. More times than not you’re going to send it to all the schools that require or even allow letters of recommendation. There are some schools that don’t allow letters of recommendation at all and there are some that only allow one. For example, SUNY Binghamton only allows one letter of recommendation and University Pittsburgh does not want any.

6) Send a note to the teacher. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and you will see a box for you to type in a note to your teacher. We always have our students write a note to the teacher thanking them for agreeing to write their letter recommendation. In this note, if you have previously sent the teacher some information relating to them writing your letter of recommendation, or are planning to send them this information (i.e., resume), you can let them know this in this note to them.

7) Once you have written your teacher’s note, click on the Submit button, which is on the bottom right corner. That teacher will show up on the screen and you will see the status of the recommendation letter.

Be sure to monitor the status of your letters of recommendation. Once the status changes from Requested to either In Progress or Submitted, you will know that the teacher has completed the recommendation and it has been submitted.

One Important Note: Always ask your teacher if they will write a letter of recommendation BEFORE you add them because you need their agreement before you move forward with the above steps.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Admissions Decision?

The applications are in and now the angst begins! How long will it be before you hear back from the colleges you applied to? Around the holidays? January? Spring? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer. When you receive an admissions decision really depends upon the individual school and how you applied, but there are some general timing guidelines. Below, we break down admission decision timing to help calm those nerves.

Admission Decisions Vary by Application Type

you receive an admissions decision hinges in part on the type of application you submitted. By application type, we are referring to regular admission, early action, early decision and rolling admission.

Early Decision

If you applied Early Decision, you will likely hear back in December or January. It really depends upon the school’s application deadline and when they have committed to releasing their Early Decision admissions decisions. Typically the decisions are sent about 4-6 weeks or so after the deadline. Some schools have two Early Decision deadlines: Early Decision I and Early Decision II. For example, American University has an Early Decision I deadline of November 15th. Students who apply by that deadline will receive an admissions decision by December 31st. Their Early Decision II deadline is January 15th and those students will receive a decision by February 15th.

Early Action

Most schools’ Early Action deadlines are in November, typically the 1st or 15th. Another popular Early Action deadline is December 1st. Again, each school’s deadlines vary. The earlier deadline schools usually send out their decisions mid-December – January. But again, every school is different. Even though Northeastern’s Early Action deadline is usually November 1st, they typically don’t release their Early Action decisions until later in January, while The Big Ten schools most of the time let students know before the holidays.

Regular Admission

If you applied Regular Decision you should expect to receive an admissions decision in February or March. Everyone, regardless of when they submitted their Regular Decision application, will receive notification no later than April 1.

Rolling Admission

Some schools use Rolling Admissions, meaning they evaluate applications as they are received rather than waiting to review all applications after a deadline. This means you will receive an admissions decision more quickly. For example, if you applied in September or early October, you may receive a decision by the end of October or even sooner.

Check the School Websites for Admissions Decision Dates

As you can see, when you receive an admissions decision really varies by school. Many colleges will provide when they will release their admissions decisions on their website. The Early Decision schools, especially the highly selective schools, will usually have very specific release dates and times, i.e., December 16th at 6:00 PM. So be sure to check the schools to which you applied.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Track College Application Status

You’ve submitted your college applications. Congratulations! The hard work is finished, but there is still work to be done. You need to make sure the application was received and that every part of your application has been submitted, such as test scores, official transcript and recommendation letters. This is something you should be doing daily. How do you do it? Through online portals. Let’s walk you through it.

Setting Up Application Portals

Once you have submitted an application to a college, that school will usually send you an email asking you to set up your applicant portal. We can’t stress enough that you should be checking your email every day. You want to set up your portal as soon as you receive this email.

You will be setting up a portal for every school that sends you this email. Depending upon how many schools you applied to, you can be setting up quite a lot of portals. So, you really need to keep track of your login information for each of these portals. Jot them all down in a physical notepad, your computer or your phone. Just make sure you have them in several places so that you don’t lose them.

For the schools for which you used a proprietary application, such as Rutgers, many times you would log into the account you created for that application and track your application status there in that specific portal (This can vary by school so please refer to their website to see how this is handled.)

The portals are pretty user friendly. They will identify and provide the current status related to all of the application items that the college is requiring, such as:

• SAT/ACT Scores (if you are submitting them)
• Official High School Transcript
• Letters of Recommendation (If they require them)
• Resume (Typically this is optional but if it is required, it will be listed)
• Additional Essay(If this is required)

There’s a myriad of things that could be asked of you on your applicant portal and so checking the status of your college application with each school, every day, is very important.

How to Monitor Your Application at Schools that Don’t Have Portals

There are some schools that don’t have an applicant portal. They will send you emails about the information that you are missing. It is SO easy to miss an email. So, for the schools that don’t have a portal, and if you haven’t received any information from them about your application status, be sure to call the school admission’s office and ask if they have all your application information.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Is It Better To Apply Early Decision

For those of you wondering if it is better to apply early decision over regular decision, it is important to note that for many schools, applying early decision can increase your chances of being accepted. You must remember, however, that applying early decision means that if you get accepted, you are contractually bound to attend that school. So there are some things you should carefully take into consideration BEFORE you apply to a school early decision.

When Applying Early Decision be SURE that School Is at the Top of Your List

Since you must attend the school to which you applied early decision, it must unequivocally be the one school that you absolutely want to go to. So, you better be positive that the school is the best fit for you. Do all your due diligence before you apply. Our blogs How to Find the Best College for Me and How to Narrow College Search can help you make sure the school fits you socially, academically, financially and emotionally.

Consider the Cost of Attendance

You need to ask yourself, “Will I be able to afford this school?” If there is even a question about being financially able to attend the school, you should think twice before applying early decision. Some schools will allow you to submit your financial information before applying so they can do a pre-read of your finances and provide you an estimate of how much money you would receive from a financial standpoint. You can also use their net price calculator on their web site to calculate your estimated net cost. This can help you make a better informed decision as to whether applying early decision to the school makes financial sense.

Why Applying Early Decision Helps Your Chances of Acceptance

Because early decision is contractually binding, the school knows you will attend if they offer you an acceptance. They don’t have to wonder about whether you are going to accept, but rather can already start making their yearly numbers. This is why applying early decision increases your chances of acceptance.

So, in answer to the question as to whether it is better to apply early decision, doing so is only better if you know definitively that is the school you want to go to and that you can afford to attend the school.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Many Colleges Can You Apply To?

Our students and families always ask:

• How many colleges should I apply to?
• How many college applications is too many?
• How many reach schools should I have on my list?
• How many schools should I apply to early action?

These are all great questions. And honestly, you can apply to as many colleges as you like. Realistically, if you have done your due diligence when it comes to your college search (virtual tours, college visits, reading websites), you should have narrowed down your choices to a list of probably 8 to 12 schools. On that list, you should have at least 1 school that you know you should get into and that you will be happy to attend. That is the only requirement I have for our students. Although some may feel that you should have the bell curve of 2-3 reach schools, 3-7 target schools and 1-2 safety schools, I am not of that belief whatsoever. Reach doesn’t mean good and safety doesn’t mean bad. There are some students that won’t have 1 reach school on their list, which is perfectly OK. Every student is different, and all factors need to be considered, socially, academically, financially and emotionally, your SAFE match.

The One Criteria Every School on Your List Should Meet

We stress to our students that there is one thing you need to ask yourself about EVERY school to which you plan on applying: “If this school is the only school I get into, will I be happy to go there?” You need to ask yourself if it meets your criteria socially, academically, financially and emotionally. If it doesn’t meet that criteria and you don’t think you will be happy going there, there is no reason to be applying to that school. It doesn’t matter if the application is free or if the school doesn’t require supplemental essays. If you don’t want to go there, you should not apply.

Applying to a Number of Reach, Target and Safety Schools

When creating your list of potential schools, it is important to have a balance of schools. You don’t want to apply to all reach schools since, God forbid, you don’t get into any! And you want to make sure that you have at least one school on your list that you pretty much know you will be accepted to.

So, in answering the question of how many colleges you can apply to, the number is too many if you are applying to schools that you don’t want to go to. As to how many schools you should apply to, we recommend following the ranges and guidelines outlined above. Our blogs How to Find the Best College for Me and How to Narrow College Search can help you identify the schools that best fit you socially, academically, financially and emotionally.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can I Apply Early Decision and Early Action?

Generally, you can apply early decision to one school and early action to other schools; however, there are some caveats. Remember, early decision is binding, it is contractual. You can only apply early decision to one school because if you are accepted to that school, you have contracted to attend that school upon admission. Early action is not binding, it simply allows you to potentially receive an early response to your application. You do not have to make a decision on an early application admission until the normal reply date. Usually, you can apply early action to as many schools as you like, along with your single early decision application, but there are some schools that have something called restrictive early action which can impact the number of your early action applications, as well as whether you can even apply to another school early action. We go into this in more detail below.

What is Restrictive Early Action?

Restrictive early action is also referred to as single-choice early action. In essence, restrictive early action indicates to the college that they are your first choice. If you wish to apply restrictive early action, you need to sign an agreement with the school that you will file only one early action application at a private school – their school. You are not contractually bound to attend the school upon admission as you would be when applying early decision, but you are prevented from applying early action to other private schools. You can, however, apply early action to public institutions (Please check the specific rules for each school that you will be applying to Restrive Early Action – The rules can vary).

Some school’s restrictive early action requirements may even prevent you from applying to another school early decision. Princeton is one such school. It does not have early decision, but it does have restrictive early action that prevents you from applying early decision or early action at other private institutions with some exceptions for international institutions and colleges with rolling admissions.

The Applying Early Action and Early Decision Takeaway

For the most part, you can apply to a single school early decision and other schools early action, but there are some caveats. Each school has its own set of rules regarding applications, so it is important to know and fully understand the application requirements of each school to which you want to apply.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

When Is the Best Time to Submit College Applications?

As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm. And that also applies to submitting college applications. With all the technology and data available today, colleges can tap into submission timing. They date and time stamp your application. Submitting your application much earlier than set deadlines indicates to them that you have sincere interest in attending their institution. That interest then plays into admissions decisions. As to the best time to submit your college applications, while specific deadline dates hinge on the type of application you are submitting – early action, early decision or regular decision – we recommend to our students that all applications, regardless of type, be submitted no later than the end of September or early October. Our students actually aim to submit some, if not all, of their college applications at the end of summer before school starts.

Keep in mind that early action and early decision deadlines are typically around November 1st, with some later and a few earlier. So you need to know the specific application deadlines for each school to which you are applying. But if you are diligent and do your work, you won’t have to stress about those deadlines at all because you will have submitted your applications long before they arrive.

To Submit Your College Applications by End of September, You Need to Start Working on Them Early

We are of the belief that you should not put off until tomorrow what you can do today. And this is particularly true when it comes to working on your college applications. Time is of the essence! Students that work with our team work on completing the general portion of their Common Application in the June-July time frame prior to the start of their senior year. They focus on the general information of the application, as well as the primary essay, at this time. Then, when the new Common App and other applications become available in August, we work on those applications.

Below are some articles that will help you complete your applications:

College Application Timing Takeaway

Colleges know if you’ve been diligent and been working on your application earlier rather than trying to submit it at the last minute. So, our advice to you is to work on your college applications over the summer and submit them by the end of September, or at least way before the deadline.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Colleges Use the Coalition Application

Today, there are about 135 schools and colleges that are members of the Coalition for College, using their application for admission. You can find the complete list of schools that use this specific application on the Members page of their website. There you can search by school name alphabetically or by state, as well as search by public or private schools. You can also narrow your search to schools that accept the Coalition Application for transfer students.

Why the Coalition for College Was Founded

The Coalition for College was created back in 2015 to help with access for students to different colleges. According to the Mission section of their website:

“Coalition for College member schools are united in their mission to support lower-income, under-resourced, and/or first-generation students; to provide responsible financial aid; and to bolster students’ success in college—and beyond.”

They also say “that all students benefit from early engagement in the college application process.” This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. I always say the earlier you start the more successful your college search and application process will be.

Some Thoughts on Using the Coalition Application

My team and I have used the Coalition Application with our students more times than we can even count. We have also had discussions about this application with our colleagues. We all seem to feel the same way: the Coalition Application is extremely cumbersome, especially compared to the Common App. Some schools, including the University of Maryland, have even added themselves to the Common App, in addition to the Coalition Application.

If you have the option of using the Common App over the Coalition Application for a school to which you want to apply, we recommend using the Common App. The Common App is much more direct and user friendly than the Coalition Application. If the school accepts both applications for admission, it doesn’t matter to them which application you use.

Some schools use the Coalition Application and their own proprietary application, such as Rutgers University. In this case, we recommend using the school’s proprietary application, which tends to be more straightforward.

For schools that only use the Coalition Application, unfortunately, you have no choice.

We tell our students to only use the Coalition Application as a last resort because it is a much more cumbersome, complicated application than either the Common App or the schools’ proprietary applications.

We hope this information makes your college application journey easier.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Does Early Decision Work

There are several ways you can apply to a college – depending, of course, upon the type of options they offer. Our article Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission provides some insight on each application type. Here, we are going to dive into what you need to know about applying early decision – what it means and how it works.

What Does Early Decision Mean?

In essence, early decision means that you can be accepted to a college much sooner than you would have if you had applied regular decision – usually months earlier. This option, however, is not offered at all schools. While it is nice to know if you are accepted to your top choice early in your senior year, there are some restrictions that come along with this benefit that you need to be aware of to help you weigh the pros and cons of applying this route.

What Does Early Decision Mean?

In essence, early decision means that you can be accepted to a college much sooner than you would have if you had applied regular decision – usually months earlier. This option, however, is not offered at all schools. While it is nice to know if you are accepted to your top choice early in your senior year, there are some restrictions that come along with this benefit that you need to be aware of to help you weigh the pros and cons of applying this route.

Early Decision is Binding!

If you get accepted to a school through early decision, you MUST attend that school, regardless of what other schools you have applied to or been accepted to thus far. You, and your parent, actually sign a contract committing to this. If accepted, you will have to pull your applications from any other schools on which you are waiting for a response. So, you better be 100% sure that you truly want to attend any school to which you are going to apply early decision.

You Can Only Apply Early Decision to One School

Because you are contractually bound to attend the school that accepts you early decision, you can only apply to one school using this type of application.

Be Sure of Your Financial Situation

Because you can only apply to one college via early decision, you are likely not to have heard back from any other schools. As a result, you won’t be able to compare financial aid packages. This makes it even more important to understand your financial situation. Can you afford the school without any aid? Will you or your parents qualify for financial aid? When you apply early decision, you will need to pay careful attention to the special financial aid application deadline because it is typically much sooner than the regular decision financial aid deadline. Many schools that offer early decision will do a pre-read of your finances so you can have a good idea of how much money you may receive. Not all schools offer this, but some do, so you should definitely ask.

How to Apply Early Decision

When you apply early decision to a specific college, you fill out the application as you would any other application, but you select that you are applying Early Decision. You will not be able to submit the application until you and 1 of your parents have contractually agreed to the early decision requirements.

Early Decision Notifications

Typically early decision responses come out at a specific date, and sometimes even a specific time of day. Check with the school to find out its notification process.

What If Your Early Decision Application Is Not Accepted?

If you were not accepted in the early decision round, meaning you were deferred into the regular decision pool, follow the school’s directions for next steps. You may need to submit additional information, such as updated grades or test scores or your continued interest in the school. Some schools do not want you to submit any other documents or information. Make sure you follow the school’s guidelines.

Remember, early decision is binding so it’s important that you understand how this application type works and if it is right for you.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Length of College Application Essays – Tips

When it comes to completing college applications, one of the most daunting aspects is the essay. While “What should I write about?” may be the top question we get from our students, “How long should my application essay be?” comes a close second! In answering how long the essay should be, the answer really depends on the type of essay – whether you are referring to the primary essay (Or also known as the personal statement or Common App essay) or the supplemental essay. As we explain in-depth below, the lengths definitely vary.

Primary Essay Length

By primary essay, we are referring to the essay or personal statement on the Common App or the main essay that you will be submitting with your application to all of the colleges to which you are applying. As we have mentioned in previous articles, you can submit the same main personal essay with all of your college applications. But just how long should that essay be?

The maximum amount of words that you can have in the Common App primary essay is 650. For the schools that don’t accept the Common App, you need to follow each school’s individual requirements. The limit does NOT mean that your essay has to be that long. When writing your essay, while you want it to be substantial and meaningful, your goal should not be about making it the longest essay. You should instead be focusing on conveying your message to the reader, i.e., the college admissions officer. It doesn’t matter if you tell your story in 400, 500 or 600 words. What is important is that you are able to say what you want within the space limits afforded.

Supplemental Essay Length

Some colleges require that you submit supplemental essays in addition to the primary essay. The supplemental essay is a prompt that is specific to a certain school. You must respond to that prompt as it is part of the application. This essay only goes to that college and the length of the supplemental essay varies. Each school has its own requirements, so it is very important that you pay attention to them. The supplemental essay length limits can be as short as 50 to 100 words, while others can be 250 words or more, and still others have a maximum as long as 800 words. Again, just like with the primary essay, don’t worry about stretching your essay to the word limit, focus instead on the content.

Word vs. Character Limits

When writing these essays make sure you notice whether the length limits are noted in words or characters. This particularly applies to the supplemental essays. Google Docs, Word and other programs track both word and character count. As you are writing, keep checking to make sure you are not exceeding the length restrictions – you don’t want to negatively impact your application to any of the colleges on your list.

Final Message on College Application Essay Length

Focus on making your college application essay long enough to get your message across in a succinct manner without exceeding the maximum number of words or characters that the essay outlines.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

FAFSA Expected Family Contribution Going Away?

There recently have been articles about the upcoming changes related to the Expected Family Contribution, which is part of the financial aid calculation. Our article Changes To The FAFSA: Student Aid Index Replaces Expected Family Contribution is one of them. The changes have caused a bit of confusion among parents and students alike, as I have been asked quite a few times, “Is the FAFSA Expected Family Contribution going away?” Let me clarify this for you. The NAME “Expected Family Contribution” IS GOING AWAY and being replaced with “Student Index”. The concept is staying!

What Does Expected Family Contribution Mean?

The Expected Family Contribution is the amount the federal government and institutions say a family can pay for one year of the child’s college education.

What Has Changed with Respect to Expected Family Contribution?

Recent changes were made to college financial aid as part of a large COVID bill passed by Congress. The changes related to Expected Family Contribution are causing much confusion for parents and students. Let’s break it down.

1) The name is changing to Student Aid Index. The term Expected Family Contribution was really very much a misnomer. People were under the impression that the amount calculated was what they were expected to pay. And although that calculation is typically a very high number in relation to what a family feels that they can pay, it is by far not only what they are going to pay. On the contrary. Expected Family Contribution is actually a baseline. Colleges will view that number and depending on your financial aid need may provide you 20% of what your financial need is, they may cover 80% of your need or they may cover none of your need. The actual financial aid provided varies. Because the Expected Family Contribution does not necessarily equate with what you are required to pay, the federal government decided to alleviate the confusion and change the name to Student Index.

2) There will still be a calculation, but that is also changing a bit. First off, the FAFSA will be shorter. Second, families having an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less will have a Student Aid Index calculated without assets. Third, higher income families will likely see a higher Student Aid Index now.

3) More students will qualify for the full Pell Grant.

When Will these Expected Family Contribution Changes Take Effect?

The changes will start happening October 1st of 2022 based on the academic year of 2023-2024 because that’s when you start applying or can start applying for financial aid for the 2023-2024 academic year.

In summary, the FAFSA Expected Family Contribution is not going away. The name is changing, the FAFSA is getting shorter, and the calculation is changing.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Does Undeclared Mean on a College Application?

Sometimes students are cautious about applying to a school undeclared or undecided because they are not really sure what it means by doing so and what impact it has on their acceptance chances. Checking undeclared or undecided on a college application simply means that you are not sure what you want to major in. “Undeclared” is not a specific major, it is just a notation that you have not yet decided which area of study you want to pursue. And, that is perfectly OK. I have probably said it a million times, but 80% of students change their major at least once in college. So, it’s OK to be undecided. Somewhere along the way, you will make a decision. Think of “undeclared” as a placeholder. You are applying without a specific degree in mind.

Does Applying Undeclared Mean Different Things at Different Schools?

Generally, everyone says “applying to college” but there is a difference between colleges and universities. And that difference impacts how you apply. When applying to a university, you may actually apply to a specific college within the university, such as the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing or the School of Engineering. Typically when you apply to a specific college within a university, the school will ask you to select a major or an area of interest, and some programs may require that you do. Most colleges do not have separate colleges within the institution. And those smaller, private colleges tend to offer exploration time before a student even has to declare a major.

While you don’t need to declare a major for a specific college or school, just know that applying undeclared is not held against you in the application process. I would say for the most part my undecided students do just fine – and there’s a lot of them! But, some schools may limit your ability to move from undeclared into a specific major or program because they require students to start that program their freshman year or transferring may have specific minimum requirements and GPA in order to do so. Be sure to understand any major restrictions at the colleges to which you are applying before you check that undeclared box.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Colleges Track Demonstrated Interest

Colleges want to know which students have a significant interest in attending their school – and they go to great lengths to find out. They carefully track students that show demonstrated interest. How? Typically, through an elaborate software program they have purchased.

Student Actions that Colleges Track

There are a variety of actions that colleges keep an eye on, including:

• College Visits
• Virtual information sessions and tours attended
• Opening of emails from the college
• Clicking on links within emails and navigating through the college’s website
• Following the school on social media

Yes, Big Brother is watching! So, if you are considering applying to a specific college, it would be in your best interest to visit the school in person and/or sign up for any virtual prospective student sessions they may offer, be sure to check your email regularly and open any emails the school may have sent you, and follow the school on Facebook or Instagram and liking their posts.

Do All Schools Track Demonstrated Interest?

While many schools track demonstrated interest, not all schools do so.

Why Do Colleges Track Student Interest?

A school spends significant time and funds tracking students’ demonstrated interest because of something called “yield”. This is the number of students that the college has budgeted for the incoming freshman class. It comes down to anticipated revenue. Colleges have found that the more interest you show in them, the more likely you will accept their offer of acceptance, and this will help them meet yield numbers.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Does a 529 Affect Financial Aid?

In short, even though a 529 account is for a child, it is considered a parental asset and is figured into the Expected Family Contribution, which affects financial aid awards. Below I explain the impact of a 529 account, or multiple 529 accounts, on the amount of financial aid your child could receive in more detail.

Benefits of a 529 Account

A 529 account is set up by the state and is specifically for your child’s college education. You can save money in this account without having to pay taxes on the earnings. If you have three children, you can have a 529 account for each child. If you have 529 accounts for multiple children, you can switch funds from one child’s account to another without there being any kind of penalty, at least at this point in time.

A 529 Account Is a Parental Asset

While there are great benefits to investing in a 529 account, there is a drawback you may not be aware of: the plans are considered in financial aid amount determinations. I’m not a financial advisor, but I had 529 accounts for my children and I’m going to explain in simple terms how these plans affect financial aid awards.

The parent is typically the owner of the 529 account with the child being the beneficiary. Because of this technicality, the account is considered a parental asset. Yes, I know you are saying, “But these are for the children!” Unfortunately, the government includes a percentage of the monies in these accounts in the overall aid calculation.

How a 529 Account Is Addressed in Financial Aid Calculations

The 529 account, or multiple accounts if you have more than one, gets grouped in with all the other assets you may have in non-retirement brokerage investment, cash, savings and checking accounts. All of those assets are assessed at about 5%. What does this mean? As an example, say you have $100,000 in 529 accounts for all of your children – because remember it’s a parental asset – so you have to include all of your 529 accounts not just the account of the child for whom you’re filling out the financial aid application – it will be assessed at a rate of about 5%, so approximately a little over $5000 is going to be tacked onto your Expected Family Contribution. Your Expected Family Contribution is what the federal government and/or institution says you can pay for one year of your child’s college education. There are lots of different factors that go into calculating that Expected Family Contribution, such as income and assets, and one of those assets is your child’s 529 account. The Expected Family Contribution is going to be changed in October 2022 for the 23 to 24 academic year and called the Student Aid Index, but that’s a whole other Tuesday Talks with Liz video.

So don’t be caught off guard when filling out the FAFSA or other financial aid forms. You will need to input information on ALL of the 529 accounts that you own and be prepared for having a portion of those accounts affect any financial aid award.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Does Financial Aid Cover Books?

In short, yes, financial aid does cover the cost of books. Financial aid covers anything that falls under the cost of attendance, which includes:

• Tuition
• Room and Board or Off-Campus Housing and Food Costs
• Books
• Supplies (lab equipment, web-based programs, paper, pens, pencils, etc.)
• Computer
• Transportation to and from Classes (public transportation or car maintenance expenses and gas)

As you can see, books fall under the cost of attendance umbrella.

Does It Matter If the Financial Aid is a Loan or a Grant?

Financial aid refers to both grants and loans. So, the cost of books will be covered whether your financial aid is in the form of a loan or a needs based grant.

How Can You Use Financial Aid Money to Buy Textbooks?

Typically, financial aid money is sent directly to the school. Then, the school disburses the excess funds to you, up and above the direct billed expenses. You would then use those funds to buy your school necessities, i.e., books.

What If I Don’t Receive My Financial Aid Funds in Time to Buy Books for When Classes Start?

Many times students don’t receive their financial aid funds until after classes start, but of course they need the books for their classes. In this case, any school that participates in a federal student aid program must provide a way for the student to obtain the needed books and supplies.

FYI – What Financial Aid Doesn’t Cover

You cannot use financial aid funds for:

• Activity fees related to school groups and clubs, fraternities or sororities
• Social activity expenses, i.e., school concerts
• Season school sports tickets
• Decorations for your dorm

Ask yourself if what you would like to spend money on is a need related to attending the school or want, something you simply would like to do.

For more information on this topic, read our blog What Do Student Loans Cover?

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Is the High School Code?

Throughout your college admissions journey, you will be asked to provide your High School Code. If you’re like most students, you may be confused as to what that even is. This code is actually something called the CEEB (College Entrance Examination Board) code. Each school, whether it is a high school, college or university, has its own unique CEEB code associated with that specific institution.

What Do You Need the CEEB Code for?

The CEEB code is used to make sure all of your information is properly identified and sent to the correct place. You will need to insert your high school’s code on your college applications, including the Common App. This allows the colleges to make sure they have connected you with the right high school.

You don’t need to only worry about properly inserting your high school code. During the admissions journey you will also need to insert the codes associated with the colleges to which you want to apply to ensure all of your information gets to those institutions. You will need to insert this code when sending SAT and ACT scores, as well as transcripts, teacher letters of recommendation and financial aid information through the FAFSA.

What If I Don’t Know the Codes for My High School or Colleges on My List?

Don’t worry if you don’t know your high school code or the codes for the schools to which you want to apply. You can get the high school code from your school’s guidance office. You can also search for CEEB codes on the Code Search page of the College Board’s website. Plus, the Common App and SAT application have built-in search functions to help you quickly and easily find the codes you need.

Hopefully, this information helps answer your questions about your high school code, as well as the codes for the colleges on your search list.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

College Planning Webinars

Our FREE Webinars Are Full of Great Information

At Signature College Counseling, we love educating students and families about the college planning process. As you can see from our blogs and videos, we really want to share our knowledge to help you successfully navigate this process. We also give FREE college planning webinars throughout the year. Anyone can view them, all you have to do is sign up. You can find information on upcoming webinars on our Presentations page. We recommend that you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, where we announce new webinar dates, as well as post links to our latest blogs and videos. We know you have so many questions during this journey, and these webinars and our other content address a broad range of popular topics.

Our Webinars Dive into Admissions, Standardized Tests and Financial Aid

We offer several, different webinars, including:

College Planning and Financial Aid: What You Need to Know.

This is an overall webinar that provides college admissions tips focusing on:

The college search
The application process
The college essay
SAT vs. the ACT
How college choice will affect your bottom line
College sticker prices and what they really mean
A real-life example of a family’s financial aid picture and how this affects the decision they make
Making the final choice

Calculating Your Expected Family Contribution (soon to be called the Student Aid Index)

Navigating the SAT and ACT Landscape

Some Additional College Planning Advice

If we’re going to talk about college planning, I want to stress that searching for information on the colleges that you’re considering applying to is really important. This is not a time where you just do a very superficial view of each college. You need to go in depth, gathering information from all different kinds of sources, whether it be from our content, attending virtual information sessions for the colleges, or searching other informational websites like College Board’s Big Future, which has college visits so to speak, or college information sessions, as well as virtual college fairs. If you are going to attend one of these fairs, you need a plan. Look at the list of schools and figure out which schools you’re interested in and then attend those events. There’s typically well over 100 colleges, maybe even more than that, which attend and it’s overwhelming if you don’t make a plan.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Do College Recommendation Letters Have to be from Teachers?

College admissions counselors want to learn more about you through recommendation letters. Typically, you send in two recommendation letters with your application. I’m often asked by students if those letters must be from teachers. Ideally, yes, the first two recommendation letters should be from teachers from 10th or 11th grade from your core courses, with at least one being from 11th grade, if possible.

What If You Can’t Ask Two Teachers from those Grades?

Sometimes it is not possible to obtain two letters from teachers from your sophomore and junior year. Each student’s circumstances are unique. What’s important is that you ask teachers who know you and can write about you as a student. The whole point is for these letters to shed light on how you are as a student and person. College admissions officers want to get a feel as to whether you would be a good fit for their school.

Can You Submit Recommendation Letters from Non-Teachers?

You can definitely submit additional recommendation letters from people who were not your teacher in school. For example, if you are applying for a fine arts major, you may want to (And may be required to) also submit letters from your art teacher, voice teacher or piano teacher. If you are involved in scouts, you may want to submit a letter from your scout leader, or if you are active in your church’s youth group you may want to submit a recommendation from that leader. Just keep in mind that recommendations from these individuals should be in addition to the two letters you are getting from your core teachers, they should not replace either or both of them, and they should be from someone who knows you well and over the course of time.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.


Related Topics

What Is a Teacher Evaluation for College
Read What to Do as a Junior to Prepare for College to learn when to ask for Letters of Recommendation

What Is the Deadline for FAFSA?

All FAFSA forms/applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. central time on June 30th of the academic year for which you are applying. For example, if you are applying for aid for the 2021-2022 academic year, you must file the form/application by 11:59 p.m. central time on June 30th, 2022. If you need to make any corrections or updates to your application, you must submit them by 11:59 p.m. central time on Sept. 10th of that academic year, i.e., September 10, 2022. Filing so late, however, will impact the aid you receive as you would receive it after the academic year.

Note: Each College Has its Own FAFSA Deadline

While the federal government has its own deadline, that is not the only date you need to take note of. You need to pay attention to the FAFSA deadline for the schools to which you are applying. It’s really important that you understand the list of schools that you or your child will be applying to and what their financial aid deadlines are – and those deadlines are much earlier than the federal government’s deadline.

FAFSA Deadlines Also Differ by How You Apply to the School

Not only do FAFSA deadlines differ by school, they can also differ by how you apply to that school, meaning whether you are applying early action or early decision (remember early decision is binding, early action is not). Sometimes if you’re applying early action, and most of the time when you’re applying early decision, schools want you to submit your financial aid forms sooner than if you’re applying regular decision.

Estimated School FAFSA Deadlines

The short answer to what is the FAFSA deadline is that it can vary. Usually, the school FAFSA deadlines fall anywhere between November 1st to sometime in February. Be sure to go to the Financial Aid section of the website for each school to find that school’s specific financial aid and FAFSA deadlines. You must adhere to those deadlines, not the later federal government deadline, if you want to be considered for aid from that school. If you miss the school’s deadline, you may get no money. I recommend creating a spreadsheet that lists each school and their financial aid and FAFSA deadlines so you don’t miss out on any funding opportunities as these applications also are tied to scholarship opportunities.

State Financial Aid Deadlines
In addition to the above deadlines, if you are applying to colleges within your state of residence, you need to keep track of your state’s financial aid deadline. Click here to see a list of the state deadlines.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Long Should a College Application Essay Be?

We work with so many students each year on the college application process. One of the most popular and frequently asked questions is: “How long should my college application essay be?” This is a great question. After all, you want it long enough to tell your story, but not too long so that the reader’s mind starts to wander. You also don’t want it too short, as you want to convey that you put serious thought into your work. So where does that leave you? What is that middle sweet spot number?

Note Fixed Word Counts

From a logistical standpoint, college applications will typically tell you the maximum number of words, characters or pages your essay can be. For example, some may say between 200 and 250 words is acceptable. If you are using the Common App, which is the application that most colleges use, the primary essay is referred to as the Personal Statement. The maximum number of words for the Common App Personal Statement is 650. These word counts don’t mean that you need to write 650 words. The limit merely means that your essay cannot exceed that amount. If the application states a certain figure, make sure you follow those guidelines and don’t exceed the allowed limit. That said, you never have to aim to reach the maximum word count.

Use as Many Words as You Need to Tell Your Story Without Going Over Set Limits

When it comes to writing your college application essay, it isn’t a matter of using up the word count allotted to tell your story. Rather, it’s about the impact of your story on the reader. Focus on reaching the reader rather than reaching the word count.

Our Best Advice on Length of College Application Essays

Make sure you’re mindful of the maximum number of words, characters, and/or pages that a college may state for your essay – and don’t exceed them.
Don’t be over wordy.

Tell your story in the space provided to make the most impact – that doesn’t mean that you need to use up all the space allotted.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can You Put Middle School Achievements on College Application?

When it comes to college applications, it is so important to put your best face forward. And part of that involves highlighting your achievements. So often we are asked by our students if you can, and should, include your middle school awards and activities on your college applications. The short answer is no, you should not. Pre-high school accomplishments are really not relevant to the college admissions process. Admissions officers are focusing on what you did in 9th through 12th grade. In general, they do not care to see what you did before you started high school. There are, however, two qualifiers to this: participating in long-standing activities and playing high school sports.

Long-Standing Activities

If you have been involved in a specific activity over a long period of time that extended into high school, then you should include those early dates on your college application. For example, if you were involved with the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts starting at a young age, then you should include the date of the beginning of that involvement, whether you started in middle school or prior, on the activities section of the application. The same holds true for things like gymnastics, playing a musical instrument, or other interests or volunteer work – provided your involvement started prior to, and continued into, high school. Colleges will want to see that you are passionate about an activity and that you committed to sticking with it for a long time. It is also acceptable to include any awards you received for these activities during those pre-high school years.

Playing on a High School Team While in Middle School

Quite often talented athletes “play up” while in middle school, meaning that they are brought up to play on the high school teams. If this is your situation, you should definitely indicate this middle school activity on your college application. It is an honor that can help you stand out in a pool of applicants.

In summary, if your middle school activities and achievements don’t fall within the above two qualifiers, don’t put them on your college applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Accept a College Admission

The college acceptances have arrived. You’ve narrowed down the options and made your decision. You know which school you want to attend. Now you just need to let them know you accept! But, just how do you go about accepting their offer of admission? While it may seem overwhelming, accepting an admissions offer is pretty simple. Let us break it down for you.

Log Into the College’s Student Portal

You likely set up an applicant portal with a school once you submitted your application. You can often accept admission within the portal.

Follow the Instructions Outlined in the Acceptance Letter

You will typically receive an admissions offer in the mail or, more frequently by email directing you to your applicant portal to view it. That letter, whether it be paper or electronic, will provide you with how to accept the offer. Simply follow those instructions. We recommend putting a checkmark next to each item listed in the letter to make sure you didn’t miss any acceptance requirements (Print it out if the letter is electronic).

Put Down Your Deposit

Part of accepting admission to a college is putting down your deposit, often referred to as the housing deposit. This cost can range anywhere from $100 to $500+ and is typically non-refundable. Paying this deposit secures your spot in the incoming class. You should be able to do this through your applicant portal as well.

Don’t Miss the Acceptance Deadline!

May 1st is known as National College Decision Day. This is the deadline colleges set for student replies to admissions offers. Ideally, you want to notify the college of your acceptance prior to this date. If you submit your deposit prior to the May 1 deadline, it would be appropriate to send an email to the other colleges admissions offices letting them know that you are declining their offer, since there are other students who will want to attend those institutions that have been put on a waitlist that may then receive an offer from that school.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Turn Down a College Coach

You’ve worked hard, put in the time and commitment, and now it’s paid off. You have a group of college coaches wanting you to come play for them. They have all expressed interest in you being part of their team. Congratulations! This is what you have been dreaming of and striving for. While all the interest is surely exciting, you can only commit to one team.

So how do you turn down the offers from the other coaches? Politely.

You are probably feeling a bit awkward rejecting a coach’s offer. Having to reach out to this authority figure can be quite intimidating. But there is really no need to feel that way. College athletics recruiting is a business. Coaches are used to having players tell them they have chosen to attend another school. The important thing is for you to politely communicate with them and to do so in a timely fashion.

These coaches have spent time meeting and connecting with you. They have taken time out to watch you play, either in person or through film. The courteous thing to do is to:

Let them know how much you appreciate their interest
Thank them for their help through the process
Decline the offer by explaining why you are going in another direction
Wish them all the best.

Ideally, you should pick up the phone and call each coach. But, if that isn’t possible, send them each an email.

Don’t Drag Out Declining a Coach’s Offer

As you know, there are only so many open slots on a team roster. There could be other athletes waiting for offers to join those teams. You want to give the coach an opportunity to reach out to those athletes and fill your spot. Turning down a coach in a timely manner allows them to update their recruitment list.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

College Waitlist Chances

When March rolls around, so do the final college admissions decisions. In addition to acceptances and rejections, you could possibly receive a notification that you have been put on a school’s waitlist. What does that mean for your chances of later being admitted to the college? Well, that is really a loaded question because the answer depends upon the school and its applicant pool.

What Does Being Put on the Waitlist Really Mean?

First, let’s address what being on a school’s waitlist means. A waitlist notification is not an acceptance and it’s not a decline. What happens is the college has accepted a certain amount of students and they’re going to wait to hear from those accepted students on whether they are going to attend the school before they decide if you will be admitted to the school. If there is a shortfall in the number of students that the college wants their freshman class to be, they may go to their waitlist to accept students who originally weren’t accepted, but weren’t declined, to ask them if they wish to attend the school. So being put on the waitlist is like being put on hold to see if you will be accepted.

What Are Your Chances of Being Waitlisted Turning into an Acceptance?

Whether you EVER come off of the waitlist really hinges on the school and what its applicant pool was like that year. By this we mean the pool’s qualifications, the number of students who were accepted, and the number of available slots. Where you fall on the waitlist also plays a role in your chances of being accepted. It comes down to how deep a school needs to dig into its waitlist to fill its incoming class numbers. There are some schools where students never come off the waitlist because they have received the number of students that they planned for to attend their school that fall. Many times, highly selective institutions never go to their waitlists and yet they put an inordinate number of students on it, providing them hope that they will eventually be accepted. I can’t say why they do this, but it can be heart wrenching to see a student keep their hopes up knowing that it most likely won’t happen.

In short, it’s hard to say whether you have hope of moving from that waitlist to the acceptance list. Your chances are very specific to each college.

If you have been put on the waitlist, here are some things you can do to improve your chances with a college:

Visit the campus, even if you have done so previously. Stop by the admissions office, take a tour and attend an information session. Try to meet with an admissions officer to let them know how much you want to attend their school.

If you don’t need financial aid, let the college know. Financial aid standing is often a component in selecting waitlist students for admission later.

Be accessible and ready to make a decision. Many times schools provide students with only 24-hours to make a decision once they have been offered admission. If you don’t respond in time, the school may remove you from the waitlist and move onto the next student on the list.

Don’t stay in limbo waiting to hear if you have been moved from the waitlist to the acceptance list. You really have no idea what your chances are of being accepted. Put a deposit on a college that you have been accepted to by that May 1 deadline that you would like to attend and move forward. Picture yourself there and start planning. You could be waiting a long time, if ever, to hear from the waitlist school.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Prepare for College as a Sophomore

The college search and application process is incredibly important. The sooner you start preparing, the more successful and enjoyable this journey will be. There are plenty of things sophomores can be doing. Here are some tips on how to be proactive throughout 10th grade.

1. Cataloging Your Activities

When it comes time to fill out your college applications, you will need to provide a list of the activities in which you participated throughout high school. When you get to senior year, you may not remember everything you did in freshman and sophomore year and when you did it. To make completing the activities section of the application easier and less stressful, you should start informally cataloging your activities during your sophomore year, if you have not already started doing so. Be sure to include the name of the organization, a brief description of the activity you performed, the date, and the amount of time spent on the activity (Average hours per week and weeks per year). Keeping a running journal of these activities in a notebook or on a computer works just fine. Wondering what types of activities are important? Read What Do Colleges Look for in Extracurricular Activities.

2. Start Drafting Your Student Resume

Once you start tracking those activities, you should take it one step further and start drafting your resume. What is that? Well, it is a more formal document that highlights all of your activities and accomplishments – from honors and sports to leadership and volunteering to hobbies and jobs. As mentioned above, you will need to include this information on your college applications. And, if you do it as you go along, you may be able to copy and paste the information into the Common App, or other applications, when the time comes. Our article How to Make an Activities Resume for College Applications has some great advice to help you prepare for application time.

3. Begin to Research Colleges

You will want to start making a list of colleges that interest you. You can start by searching for colleges that have the major or interests you want to pursue. If you don’t know what you want to do, move on to location, size, demographics, activities, school personality, etc. Read What to Look for When Searching for Colleges for more detailed information. Once you have compiled a list, then take a deeper dive into each school. The goal is to find your SAFE schools – schools that match you Socially, Academically, Financially and Emotionally. Our article How to Find the Best College for Me takes a closer look at this concept.

4. If Possible, Go on College Visits

The best way to get a feel for a school is to step foot on its campus and to ask the right questions. Sophomore year is the ideal time to start visiting schools. Junior year will be a busy one and time will get away from you faster than you think! So take advantage of your free time during sophomore year and visit college campuses. If a school is too far to visit, or the pandemic is halting tours, virtual tours and information sessions are a great way to start to get a feel for the school. Our College Visit Planner, College Visit Checklist and Good Questions to Ask on a College Tour will help prepare you for your visit or virtual information session.

5. Focus on Your Grades

It is important that you keep up with your studies. The transcript is the first thing that a college will look at because it is the best trend of who you are a student. Don’t forget, you’re going to college because you’re going to be getting a degree. So admissions officers will be placing a strong emphasis on your grades.

These are just some of the main things you can do as a sophomore to prepare for the college search and application process.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

When Should You Start Visiting Colleges?

Visiting colleges is a really important piece of your college journey. You want to get a true feel for the school’s personality, and stepping foot on campus will help you do just that. There is no hard and fast answer as to when you should start visiting colleges. You can start as early as your freshman year of high school and continue visits into your senior year. Because junior year is such a busy year, we recommend that if you haven’t already started, that you begin visiting colleges at the end of sophomore year or the summer before junior year.

When It Comes to Campus Tours, the Earlier You Start, the Less Stressed You Will Be

In junior year, time quickly gets away from you – especially if you play sports. So start your research, make your list of schools, and schedule those college visits early. Research colleges online and make a list of schools that interest you based on majors, size, location, school spirit and more. Our article What to Look for When Searching for Colleges can help you get started.

In 9th grade you can certainly dabble in college visits. In 10th grade, you should definitely jump in and start taking tours and signing up for information sessions. It is important to get a flavor for what it is like to be on a college campus and what to look for – and the earlier the better. This will give you an opportunity to really cast a wide net, then narrow down your college search so you can find schools that fit you best.

And, by getting this head start early, you will be less stressed when it comes time for completing those college applications. You will have an idea of what you like and don’t like about the schools you were interested in. And, you may even have more time available to visit those on the top of your list a second time.

Fit in Visits in Your Spare Time

Free weekends, school vacations and holidays are the perfect time to schedule a college visit. If there are colleges in your local area, start there. When taking a trip or heading to a sport tournament, see if there are any colleges on the way or in the area where you are staying and fit in a tour. Some families even like to schedule their vacation time around schools they want to visit.

By 10th grade and early into your junior year, visiting schools starts to get a lot more serious. So I would definitely suggest during your sophomore year, and certainly the second half of your sophomore year, to start visiting schools, continuing to do so into your junior and ultimately your senior year. I always say, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today – and that applies to college visits.

Looking for help with the college search and application process?

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can You Appeal a College Rejection?

While you may be able to appeal a college rejection, the chances are incredibly slim that the school’s admission decision will change for the positive.

Every so often, I am asked by my students after all the admissions decisions are in, “Can I appeal a rejection from a school?” Honestly, if you have been declined from school, it is extremely rare that the rejection will ever turn into an acceptance, especially for those highly selective schools. To put it bluntly, the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.

I’m always a realist. I tell the students and families that I work with, in the beginning when they contract with me, that I’m very real with you. In fact, that’s part of what they hire me for. So the few times I am asked this question, I am completely upfront with them. I tell them the chances of successfully appealing a college admissions rejection are very, very slim.

In fact, there are some schools that will absolutely not even entertain an appeal.

If you choose to appeal to a school that will accept your request, you should have a compelling reason for doing so and be able to back it up. Meaning, you need to provide the school with pertinent information about why they should accept you AND that information should be information that the school did not already have in its possession. You can’t just highlight information in your application. If you ask the college admissions office to re-evaluate its decision, and request that they accept rather than decline you, you need to provide the school with new information it didn’t have in its hands to consider previously, such as an incredibly extenuating circumstance.

So, don’t hold out hope that a college will change its mind. In reality, if you have received a rejection, the chances are excellent that the rejection will be the college’s final decision – even if you appeal it.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone and by email.

How Does a 529 Plan Affect Financial Aid?

A 529 plan impacts financial aid as it is considered in the determination of whether you qualify for financial aid, and the amount of aid for which you qualify. Below we outline just how it affects the aid amount.

A 529 Plan Is Treated as a Parental Asset on the FAFSA

When filling out the FAFSA, be sure to have your 529 Plan information handy. Although the child may be the beneficiary of the 529 plan, if the parent is the owner of the account it is considered a parental asset, along with your non-retirement brokerage accounts as well as savings and checking, amongst others. As such, you must include it in the parental asset section of the FAFSA.

But it isn’t just that child’s 529 plan you must disclose. You must also list the 529 plans for any other of your children of which you are the owner. Yes, you read that correctly. All of the 529 plans that you own are considered parental assets and must be listed on the FAFSA. If you have multiple children, that asset amount can add up quickly! Let’s say you have four children and you own 529 accounts for each child, with each account holding $25,000. Your parental asset would be $100,000, not the $25,000 you may have been thinking when you went to fill out the financial aid form.

How Much of the Funds in the 529 Plan Are Included in the Aid Calculation

The financial aid formula notes the difference between parental assets and child assets. Each is assessed at a different level.

A parental asset is assessed at about a 5% rate. So if all of your 529 plan assets total $100,000 your assessed amount would be $5,000. That $5,000 is what is included in the financial aid calculation and the total for your Expected Family Contribution. The Expected Family Contribution is what the federal government and/or institution says you can pay for your child’s college education for one year. There are some changes to the Expected Family Contribution on the horizon that do involve assets that you should take note of, which you can read about in our recent article on the changes to the FAFSA.

In summary, a 529 plan does affect financial aid – both whether you qualify and if you qualify, how much you will receive. This is because any 529 plans that a parent owns, even if they are for their other children, are considered parental assets. These parent owned plans are assessed on the FAFSA at a rate of about five percent and included in the Expected Family Contribution calculation. So be sure to have all of your 529 plan information on hand when you are filling out the FAFSA.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Do Colleges Look at Disciplinary Records?

College admissions officers will look at disciplinary records IF a high school provides them.

Most college applications, including the Common App, inquire about disciplinary information. By disciplinary records, we mean suspensions – in school and out of school – as well as other infractions that violate school policies where the student has been disciplined.

This topic arises when I work with students who have disciplinary records. If this is the case, the student and parent will of course inquire if colleges will look at this information when making their admissions decisions. After all, it is something that can significantly impact whether a student is admitted to a college. I advise that if college admissions offices are provided with disciplinary information, they will review it, and can weigh it when making an admissions decision.

What to Do If Your Child Has a High School Disciplinary Record

If you have a child who has a record you are concerned about, the first thing you need to do is speak with someone high up in the high school about the privacy policies related to disciplinary records. That can be the head of guidance, the principal of the school, and/or the superintendent of the school district. This is a really, really important thing to do. I say this because many times with the students I have worked with that have a disciplinary record, the high school was not allowed to divulge that information. There is often a privacy clause that says they cannot release this type of information – even to colleges. So, it’s important that you understand the privacy piece of the puzzle before your child goes ahead and responds to any questions related to disciplinary records on college applications.

Once you have this privacy information in hand, you want to make sure that the guidance counselor who is going to be working on your child’s college applications clearly understands the legalities and the rules related to disciplinary records and release of that information.

Disciplinary Records and College Applications Takeaway

Are colleges going to look at disciplinary records? Well, they will only have the opportunity to look at them if they are given to them from the high school. That’s why it’s very important to understand from the high school’s perspective if they are even legally allowed or will divulge that information. This is a complicated issue and it’s something that needs to be looked at on a case by case basis.

Looking for help with the college search and application process?

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Percent of College Athletes Get Full Ride Scholarships?

There are a lot of myths about athletic scholarships. One of the biggest misconceptions is around full ride scholarships. I work with many high school athletes who go on to play a sport in college. These students and their families often ask me, “ What percentage of high school athletes get full scholarships in college?” The simple answer is very, very few. When I advise them of this, they then go on to say things like, “But Johnny is a great soccer player and we’re going to bank on getting athletic money to put him through school.” I advise them that they should not bank on that.

College Sports Scholarship Numbers

The vast majority of college athletes do not receive any scholarship money. Only about one or two percent of high school athletes are awarded any type of sports scholarships in college. A good percentage of those students receive very little money. And the number of those that receive a full scholarship is extremely minute. For these reasons, I always advise my students and families not to bank on their athletic abilities paying for college. If it ends up that the student receives scholarship monies for playing sports, wonderful, but the extremely vast majority of the time that is not the case.

Amount of Athletic Scholarships Is Tied to Specific Sports

Whether you receive an athletic scholarship is also directly related to the sport you play. For men’s sports, the big scholarship money is in football and basketball. And, that is where the full ride scholarships tend to be. For women’s sports, full scholarships are available for basketball, volleyball, tennis and gymnastics.

Which Division the College Falls In Impacts Scholarship Awards

Athletic scholarships are also limited to Division I and Division II schools, and there are requirements those schools need to follow when awarding those scholarships. Division III schools are not allowed to award athletic scholarships, but they can award merit scholarships and may consider extracurricular activities, such as sports, when doing so.

Great Article on College Athletic Scholarships and the Myths Around Them

There is a very informative article from U.S. News & World Report that takes a deeper dive into the subject of the scholarship monies available for college athletes, particularly full ride scholarships. I recommend you read it for more detailed information on this topic.

Again, the percentage of student athletes that actually get a full ride scholarship to college is very, very, very few. I recommend that high school athletes look at other avenues to pay for college and not bank on a sports scholarship.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How to Ask for More Scholarship Money from a College

We are asked pretty frequently by our students and families how you go about requesting more funding from colleges, whether it’s in the form of financial aid or a scholarship. We have written a blog on negotiating financial aid awards, which you can read for further advice on that topic. Here, we are going to focus on asking for additional scholarship money. First off, you should know that it is always fine to go back and ask the college for more funds. There is no downside. But, you need to be prepared to have a school stay firm in their scholarship amount.

There are some schools that just flat out will not give you more money. They simply say that this is the award and it is all they are going to offer you. And, there are some schools that don’t even give any merit money at all. Remember, merit money is based on your credentials. If your credentials are not sufficient, you will not receive any scholarship.

When Asking for More Scholarship Money, You Need Proof to Support Your Request

When you go back and ask the college for additional scholarship money, you need to have some proof to support your request. What does that mean? Well, you need to show the college comparisons of scholarship awards from other schools. But, it is not the award amount itself that is considered. The college wants to know your actual net cost for each school. What is that? The net cost is the cost of the school minus the scholarship amount. So, if the school cost $60,000 and you received a scholarship for $15,000 your net cost is $45,000. They want to compare net cost to net cost. Before you request more money, be sure to have the net costs from all the schools that awarded you scholarships at your fingertips.

That, however, is not the only thing the school will consider when assessing whether to increase your scholarship award. They also look at the quality of the schools. The school wants to compare apples to apples. What do we mean here? We mean that if the college that you’re going back to ask for more scholarship money is pretty selective, you want to show scholarship amounts from other selective schools. You don’t want to ask a selective school for more scholarship money if you are towards the bottom end of the applicant pool and you are only providing proof of a school that’s not nearly as selective as that school. Doing so will not help your request. You need to show award letters for schools that are of equivalent “academic quality”.

Be Selective in Your Scholarship Requests

We suggest that the schools to which you are going back to ask for more scholarship money are close to the top of your list, that they are schools that you really want to attend. You don’t want to waste anybody’s time if you’re really not thinking about attending that school.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And that is true with scholarships. There’s no problem with going back and trying to work on getting more money. We have definitely had many students that have received additional funding as a result of their requests. Go ahead and plead your case.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

College Planning & Financial Aid: What You Need to Know

Signature College Counseling:
College Planning & Financial Aid: What You Need to Know

This video presentation, hosted by Liz Levine of Signature College Counseling, offers parents and students all they need to know to successfully navigate the college prep process.

Are Colleges Requiring SAT for Class of 2022?

We’re getting a lot of questions these days about whether colleges are going to make the SAT and ACT “test optional” for the class of 2022. The honest answer is, right now in February 2021, we just don’t know whether or not schools will be requiring these tests for admission.

Because of COVID-19, for the class of 2021, we would say that 98% of colleges went test optional. As a result of the pandemic, test dates were cancelled, so students simply did not have the opportunity to take the SAT or ACT. As a result, colleges really had no option but to make the test optional for admission. Although, there were, however, some schools that still did require the tests for the class of 2021.

In February 2021, we are still in the midst of the pandemic and we have no idea of when it will come to an end. So it is reasonable for high school juniors to question if the SAT and ACT will be required for their graduating class. Right now, we really don’t know what is going to happen with the test dates and if they will continue to be cancelled because of high infection rates. Although the vaccine is starting to finally roll out, we have no firm dates of when everyone will be vaccinated. Will it be in the spring? Summer? Will infection rates start to drop so that more students can take the tests? If so, many of the schools that went test optional for the class of 2021 may go back to requiring the SAT or ACT for the class of 2022. Everything is really up in the air right now.

We Recommend that Students in the Class of 2022 Register and Take the SAT / ACT If Possible

With everything so uncertain, we are advising our students in the class of 2022 to plan on taking the SAT or ACt. Since we are unsure if they will be required, you want to be prepared. And if the schools to which you want to apply end up being test optional, you want the option to be able to decide on whether you are going to submit the tests. Maybe you will have a fabulous score that could really help your chances of getting into the school.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram where we will keep you posted on the latest developments on the SAT and ACT requirements for the class of 2022.
Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone and by email.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can You Get Student Loans Without FAFSA?

Let’s face it, the FAFSA is time consuming and can be overwhelming. So, it’s quite tempting to skip filling out the federal government’s financial aid application if possible. While you can get student loans without filling out the FAFSA, they may not be the best loans for your financial circumstances. You can obtain a private student loan without filling out the form, but if you want to get a Federal Student Loan or a Parent PLUS Loan, you must fill out the FAFSA.

When the FAFSA Is Required for Loans and Aid

When you apply to college, you can get various responses:

• Subsidized Federal Student Loans
• Unsubsidized Federal Student Loans
• Parent PLUS Loans
• College Grants and Financial Aid – Colleges require the completion of the FAFSA and/or the CSS in order to obtain grants, and financial aid monies
• College Scholarships – Some colleges require that you have a FAFSA on file in order to receive merit funds awarded from a school

When a FAFSA Is Not Required

There are plenty of private student loan servicers that provide student or parent loans that do not require completion of the FAFSA, such as Sallie Mae. However, they will require credit checks and loan approval, and for students, they will probably also require an adult consigner. Parents can also take out home equity loans to cover college costs – another option for obtaining funds without completing the FAFSA.

Student Loan FAFSA Takeaway

You can get student loans without completing the FAFSA, but those types of loans are through private vendors. All Federal Student Loans and Parent PLUS Loans require submission of the FAFSA – in addition to being offered grants or other forms of financial aid, such as work-study. There are also some colleges that require you to have a FAFSA on file if you have been awarded merit funds (Based on your credentials).

Looking for help with the college search and application process?

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

When Do Student Loans Start Accruing Interest?

The basic answer to when student loans start accruing interest is right away. Whether you have to start paying that interest immediately depends upon whether it is a federal or private student loan, as each one’s interest rules can differ.

Interest on Federal Direct Student Loans and Parent PLUS Loans

Even though Federal Direct Student loans do not need to start to be paid back until six months after you leave college, interest starts to accrue on these loans as soon as you take them out. The interest starts to accrue at the interest rate in effect on the date when you take the loan. The interest rate changes every year as set by Congress for new loans that a student or parent takes out. If you have a subsidized federal loan, the federal government covers all the accrued interest costs. With federal student loans, you don’t need to pay the interest right away. You can defer interest payments along with your loan payments until six months after you leave school.

Interest on Private Student Loans

Each private loan servicer is different. So, you should reach out to them to determine their rules on how they handle interest. Typically, interest on private student loans starts to accrue, and you may be responsible for paying it, right away. Just as with federal student loans, many lenders, will allow you to defer interest payments, along with principal payments, until six months after you leave school.

If You Can, Pay the Interest While In School to Save Yourself Money in the Long Run

If you let the interest accrue, it will be added on to your loan amount. That means you will pay more over time in the future than if you paid the interest as soon as it started to accrue. This is called compounding. So, while you may have taken out a $5000 student loan, the loan amount will be quite a bit more than that when you leave school once you add the accrued interest on to the amount. As you accrue the interest, your loan amount keeps growing if you go the deferred route.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

College Admissions Deferred vs. Waitlist

Being deferred from a college versus being put on a waitlist are two totally different college admissions responses. Let’s say you applied early action or early decision and you get a response that says you’ve been deferred. What does that mean? A deferral letter means that your application has been moved to that school’s regular decision pool for further consideration. The school is not declining or accepting you at this point in time; rather, they are deferring your application so that you are now going to be considered along with all of the regular decision applicants. Waitlisting happens towards the end of the admissions considerations when the regular decision pool responses have come out. Like a deferral, you have not yet been rejected or accepted. If you have been waitlisted by a college, you have been put on a list of people considered for admission after the school hears back from their accepted pool. If a school has “spots” left after they hear back from their regular admissions pool, they can go to the waitlist and accept more students.

Reasons for Deferral

There are many reasons why a college may defer a student. The admissions officers may want to see additional materials and grades to see how a student is doing their senior year. It could also be that the school had a large number of extremely qualified candidates and your application did not stand-out among them in this first round because of grades, test scores, activities, etc.

Hearing From a College After Being Deferred or Waitlisted

If you apply either early action (the non-binding early application) or early decision (the binding early application), you can receive a response from the college that will say you are deferred. This means that the admissions office is putting off making a final decision on your application for the time being. They place your application in the regular decision pool and consider it against all of the other regular decision applicants. Now, you wait again to find out if you were accepted, declined or waitlisted.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

When Do You Have to Accept College Admissions Offers?

So many of my students ask me if there is a deadline for accepting their college admissions offers. When you apply to a number of colleges, the admissions responses will start rolling in, usually staggered, over a period of time. Students typically want to receive all of their responses before accepting any college admissions offer. But, of course, you don’t want to miss any deadlines for doing so. Note that the drop-dead national college acceptance deadline is May 1st of your senior year. This is known as National College Decision Day. The date is the acceptance deadline for all admissions applications. Early decision applicants are bound to attend the school if accepted and are typically required to send in a deposit way in advance of the May 1st national deadline and also have to retract their applications from all other schools that they have applied to.

You Can Accept the Admissions Offer Prior to the May 1st Deadline

While May 1st is the drop-dead deadline, you can accept a college’s admissions offer anytime before then – as long as you’ve been accepted to the school. I would say about 70% of my students, at least those who know which college they’re going to attend, accept their admissions offers before April 1st of their senior year.

How to Accept a College’s Admissions Offer

Once accepted, you have to acknowledge the acceptance with the college. To do so, you will either fill out a paper form sent by the school or note your acceptance under your school’s student portal. Along with your acceptance, you will have to typically send a housing deposit of a few hundred dollars. Each college’s acceptance requirements will be outlined in your admissions letter or email.

College Admissions Acceptance Key Takeaway

The absolute deadline for accepting admission to the college you wish to attend is May 1st of your senior year in high school, also known as National College Decision Day. Again, this deadline does not apply to early decision applications. That is dictated by your early decision agreement that you and 1 of your parents signed when submitting your application.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Important Are College Interviews?

In short, college interviews can be a very important part of your admissions process. They are a way to bring your application to life for the school’s admissions officers. Interviews also offer you a valuable opportunity for the school representative to understand who you are as a person and why you want to go to that specific school.

Be Prepared for the Interview

You want to put your best foot forward for the interview. That means you need to prepare. By prepare we don’t mean to make yourself into somebody that you are not, but rather that you want to present yourself the best way you possibly can.

Be ready to tell the interviewer about yourself. In two to three minutes, you should give that person an overview of who you are. This doesn’t mean list all your accomplishments, but instead present a side to you that the interviewer wouldn’t have seen or known from looking at your application.

You should also be prepared to answer “Why do you want to attend this school?” If you have scheduled an interview, you should have already visited / toured the college (At least virtually if circumstances prevented you from visiting in person), as well as conducted your research about its academics, student life, campus, organizations and activities, etc. So make sure to draw from all this information you have gathered to express why you are so interested in attending this specific school.

Scheduling the Interview

Interviews are typically set up through the college’s website. Some schools, however, require the interview be scheduled by phone. Although many interviews are conducted in person, keep in mind that many interviews are now being done virtually.

Not All Colleges Offer Admissions Interviews

While you may want to schedule an interview, not all colleges offer interviews. So, you need to find out if the schools to which you are applying offer interviews. 70% to 80% of colleges do not interview. If the schools you are interested in offer an interview, take advantage of it. You should note that there are different types of interviews. There are interviews with admissions counselors – if you can get an interview with an admissions counselor, all the better as they are the ones who are going to be evaluating you. Often, however, the interviews are conducted by alumni who have volunteered their time to interview applicants.

Interview Takeaway

Interviews can be game-changers. If the schools to which you are applying offer an interview, take advantage of that opportunity. Remember, you always want to put your best foot forward, so make sure you are prepared. Do your homework and be ready to tell the interviewer about yourself and why you want to attend that specific college.

Looking for help with the college search and application process?

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Do You Set Up a College Visit?

Just Follow these 3 Simple Steps

Setting up a college visit is fairly simple. It really hinges on knowing where to go online to schedule your visit. Practically all colleges have calendars on the Admissions or Visit sections of their website. Once you find the right page, it just takes a few clicks of the keys and you are all set.

1. Find the Visit Scheduling Page

Go to the Admissions section/page of the website of the college you want to visit. That page will typically have a link that says Visit or Visit Us or Tours. If you don’t see anything about a visit or tour on the college’s main Admissions page, simply google the school name and visit, i.e., Visit Vasser or Northeastern Campus Tours, and you should easily find the page you need in the search results.

2. Select the Day and Time for Your Visit

Once you have found the right page on the college’s website, search for the Visit, Schedule a Visit, Schedule a Tour or similar button or link. Click on that link or button and you will most likely be taken to a calendar that shows available days and times for a tour/visit. Click on the day you would like to visit the school.

3. Submit Student Information

Once you have picked the day and time of the visit, you will be directed to provide student information, such as:
• Name
• Whether You’re a Prospective Freshman or Transfer
• Number of People Visiting
• Birthdate
• Academic Area of Interest
• Semester You Plan on Enrolling
• Email
• Phone Number
• Address
• Parent Contact Information
• Name of High School

Once you submit all of the necessary information, you will get a visit / tour confirmation. You should also receive necessary visiting information, such as directions, where to park, building check in, etc.

That’s it. Just follow these three steps to set up your college visits.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What to Do If You’re Deferred from College

There are some things you can do if you are deferred from a college to help with your admissions process, which are outlined below. But before we get into the specific actions, let’s make sure you know what deferral actually means.

What Being Deferred Means

A college deferral means that if you had applied early action or early decision to a college, that school is not going to accept you during the early action or early decision process. They are going to defer – or put off – making a decision about your admission and push your application to the regular decision pool of applicants. So, a deferral is not a decline nor is it an acceptance; it is a second chance for admission into a college.

Things to Do If You Are Deferred from a School

So, you were deferred. Now what? What can you do to help your chances of being accepted? Here are some tips.

Decide If the College Is Still a Top Choice for You

Consider if the school is still on the top of your list. If so, of course, you will want to do whatever you can to improve your chances of getting admitted and follow our tips below. However, if you have changed your mind about the school, you won’t want to put in the effort.

Follow the College’s Guidelines

First and foremost, if the college from which you were deferred specifically states to NOT send them anything else, then don’t send them anything! It is very important to make sure that you read everything that the college has sent you that relates to deferral. If they don’t want you to add anything to consider in the admissions process, then follow that direction. If the college did not tell you to not send them anything, follow the recommendations below.

Send Mid-Year or First Quarter Grades

Your midyear grades or your first quarter grades might boost your application if they were better than the grades that you sent previously. Improved grades could make a positive impact on your admissions status.

Email the Admissions Office

Write an email to the admissions office restating your reasons for why the school is a top choice for you. In this email, you may want to update any achievements that have happened since you submitted your application so that they can note that in your file.

Send an Additional Letter of Recommendation

Now is a great time to send another letter of recommendation from a specific teacher that you may have missed when you were sending your application.

Visit the School

Visiting the school is always helpful. First and foremost, it demonstrates interest in the school. It also helps you make a more informed decision about where the school stands on your list of choices.

In addition to the above, make sure to not negate or put aside the other schools you have applied to regular decision. Make sure you follow up on everything with those schools as well. You want to keep all of your options open.

Looking for help with the college search and application process?

We help students and families through the entire

How Long Does It Take for Colleges to Make Admissions Decisions?

The timing for admissions decisions vary by school and the way you apply. A college could reply in as little as two weeks or as long as months! Here is a breakdown of the typical timelines for regular decision, early action, early decision, and rolling admissions.

Decision Timeline for Rolling Admissions

Some colleges have rolling admissions. This means that they evaluate applications as they receive them. So, if you applied to a rolling admissions school, like the University of Pittsburgh, you could possibly learn of their decision within two to three weeks of receiving all of your information (application, transcript, test scores (if applicable), letters of recommendation, etc.).

When You Could Receive Admissions Responses for Early Action and Early Decision

As the name implies, if you are applying early action or early decision, you will receive your admission decisions earlier than if you applied regular decision. Some schools even break it down into Early Decision 1 and Early Decision 2 dates. When you are applying early action, you typically have deadlines between November 1st and January. So, you could hear about your decision before the holidays, but you could also hear sometime in early to mid-January, if you applied Early Action. For example, Northeastern typically sends out their early action admissions decisions towards the end of January.

As for Early Decision, which is binding, the dates are usually very specific as to when the college will respond to you and tell you their admissions decision. Some schools will actually tell you not only the day, but also the time that they are going to release their decisions. Early Decision admission responses typically come out before the holidays.

Dates for Learning Regular Admissions Decisions

If you apply to a college by regular decision, you probably will not receive an admissions response until February or March – even if you applied and submitted everything required during September or October. So if you are really interested in a school, and would like to know an acceptance decision sooner, you should consider applying Early Action, if the school offers this.

As you can see, there is no set admissions decisions timeline. How long it takes for you to receive your admissions decision depends upon the college and how you applied.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Is a Regular Decision Deadline?

The regular decision deadline is the last day that you can submit your application for admission to that particular college or university for the following school year (unless there is also rolling admission then you have to adhere to the rolling admission deadline). Regular decision deadlines vary school by school. The latest regular decision application deadline dates tend to be in January, with some as late as February or beyond.

Multiple Deadline Dates

If you are applying regular decision to a group of colleges, it is important to find out, and keep track of, the application deadlines for each individual school. You don’t want to miss out on applying to the school you wish to attend because you had the wrong deadline date!

Other Application Deadlines

A school can have multiple ways in which you apply:

Early Action – you can receive an early response and are not bound to attend the school
Early Decision – you can receive an early response and are bound to attend
Priority Admission – if you apply after the deadline you may not be considered at all
Regular Decision – typically the latest date you can apply to a school
Rolling Decision – applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, typically with a later deadline, such as May or June

Each school does not have all of the above ways to apply. They select which ones that choose to offer to their applicants.

Read our blog When Is the Deadline for College Applications for more information on each type of application.

You need to know when each school’s regular decision deadlines are because submitting an application after the deadline could mean that you’re not even considered. So, find out each deadline, keep track of when it is approaching, and make sure you submit your applications on time.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What to Expect on an Official College Visit

You have been invited to go on an official college visit. After the initial excitement over the invitation dissipates a bit, you begin to wonder what this all entails. You may be thinking, “What does official mean? What can I expect to take place during this type of visit?” An “official college visit” refers to athletic recruiting by a school.

This extended invitation means that the college or university is so impressed with your athletic abilities that they are willing to pay for you to visit the college to try to get you interested in coming to their school and playing on their team. This can be at a school of any division. The difference is that there are a maximum of 5 official visits a student-athlete can attend for in Division 1. For Division 2 and 3, the number of visits are unlimited.

What Is Meant by “Paying” for Your Visit

When a college invites you on an official visit, they are paying for your:
• Travel
• Accommodations
• Meals

It is important to note that typically the school is paying for your expenses related to this visit – not the expenses of your parents, family or other person accompanying you on, or bringing you to, the visit.

What Transpires During the Visit

Each school has its own official visit protocol, but you can expect to potentially:

• Meet with the coaching staff
• Meet the team
• Tour the athletic facilities
• Attend one of the practices
• Tour the campus
• Eat in the cafeteria
• Join in a social event
• Interact with one or more members of the team who may show you around the school
• Eat a meal with the team
• Spend the night in one of the player’s rooms

Do You Need to Be Extended an Official Visit to Be Recruited?

No, you can be recruited by a school – even a DI school – even if you don’t go on an official visit. This happens all of the time.

Can I Go on More than One Official Visit?

Yes, you can go on multiple official visits. But, you can only have an official visit with a college once, and you can only have five official visits to DI schools. There is no limit on the number of official visits to DII or DIII schools or for unofficial visits (where travel, lodging and meals are not paid for).

The purpose of an official visit is to get to know the school, coaching staff and team better so you will consider the school during your college search decision. So, you can expect a good deal of engagement during your time there. What makes a visit official is that the college is paying for the expenses associated with your visit.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

College Regular Decision Notification Dates

So you have applied to one or more schools regular decision. Now, the waiting begins. The anticipation is driving you crazy. How long will it take for the schools to respond to my application? When will I hear whether I have been accepted or not? These are very common questions that I’m sure every college-bound student asks themselves. Unfortunately, there is no definitive date. Decision notification dates vary from school to school.

Decision Dates Are School Specific

As with every other aspect of the college application process, notification dates are school specific. For example, if two schools’ regular decision deadlines for submitting applications is January, one school may notify you about your decision in February and the other school in March. You just don’t know.

Some schools set March 31st as their regular decision notification date, with some even waiting until April 1st to let you know your admissions status.

There are some highly selective schools that will set a hard date and time of day on which they are going to release their regular decision admissions notifications so that they release all decisions together. Other schools simply release them as time goes on. So, really, you can receive your admissions response anytime after you submit your application.

Is There a Final Date or Deadline for all Regular Decision Notifications?

You should receive a regular decision admissions notification by March 31st or April 1st the latest. We always consider April as decision month, when you can explore and then decide which school you are going to attend.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Can You Still Apply for Financial Aid After the Deadline?

Yes, you can apply for financial aid after a deadline, but it is very important to note that doing so can impact the amount of funds you receive. When you apply for financial aid late, you may receive less than you are eligible for – or perhaps, even more detrimental, you could be awarded nothing at all. Here is what you need to know about the deadlines.

If You Can Apply After the Deadline, What Does the Deadline Really Mean?

The financial aid deadline is kind of like a line in the sand that’s drawn where if you apply before the financial aid deadline, you will be considered for financial aid according to an average of what they typically provide depending on your financial aid position.

The Importance of Applying for Financial Aid BEFORE the Deadline

There is a finite amount of funds available; financial aid is not infinite. So, if you apply after the deadline, regardless of your financial aid position, you could receive little or no assistance. Even if your aid need is extensive, you may get no money because you failed to apply by the deadline and funds may have already been depleted.

Know All the Financial Aid Deadlines and Requirements

So, it’s really, really important to know the financial aid deadlines for each of the schools you’re applying to. It is also important to note that a school may have multiple financial aid deadlines: one for early action, another for early decision, and one for regular decision, depending on what that school offers. So be sure to look on the colleges’ websites to find out what their financial aid deadlines are as they differ by school – and make sure you submit your financial aid forms prior to then!

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Does It Mean to Get Deferred from a College?

You have sent in those early decision or early action applications and now you are sitting on pins and needles waiting for the responses. After several excruciating months, you finally get a notification. But wait, it’s not an acceptance or a rejection.

The college notified you that you have been deferred. “What does deferred mean?” you think to yourself. In simple terms, it means that you did not get accepted in the early action or early decision pool of applicants.

You do, however, get a second chance at admission!

Types of College Application Responses

When you apply to college, you can get various responses:

You can be accepted
You can be declined
You can be put on a waitlist (which is a whole other topic)
You can get deferred

Deferral of Early Application Decisions

If you apply either early action (the non-binding early application) or early decision (the binding early application), you can receive a response from the college that will say you are deferred. This means that the admissions office is putting off making a final decision on your application for the time being. They place your application in the regular decision pool and consider it against all of the other regular decision applicants. Now, you wait again to find out if you were accepted, declined or waitlisted.

So, being deferred just means that the decision on your admission is going to be considered again along with the regular decision applications.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Do Students Apply for a Direct Stafford Loan?

In working with students and their families on the college planning and financial aid process, I am frequently asked how students can apply for the direct Stafford loan. Let me start by saying, although they – and you – may be asking about the Direct Stafford Loan, the loan is no longer called the Direct Stafford Loan. That is something it was called years and years ago. Currently, this loan is referred to as the Federal Direct Student loan. Below is more information on this type of loan, along with how students can apply and qualify for it.

What is the Federal Direct Loan?

The Federal Direct Student Loan (formally called the Direct Stafford Loan) is truly a student loan. It is the student who applies for and receives this loan. Parents do not cosign for this loan.

What Is the Maximum Direct Loan Amount?

The maximum amount you can receive in a Federal Direct Loan depends upon your year of college:

• Freshman Year: $5,500
• Sophomore Year: $6,500
• Junior Year: $7,500
• Senior Year and Beyond: $7,500

Is this Direct Loan Subsidized?

If the student financially qualifies, a portion of the Federal Direct Loan can be subsidized, meaning the federal government will pay the interest while the student is in school at least half-time, for the first six months after the student leaves school (grace period), and during a period of deferment. This qualification is based on financial need as demonstrated by the FAFSA form.

Below are the amounts of the subsidized portion of the loan, assuming the student qualifies:

• Freshman Year: $3,500
• Sophomore Year: $4,500
• Junior Year: $5,500
• Senior Year: $5,500

How You Apply for and Accept the Federal Direct Loan (Stafford Direct Loan)

1. Fill Out the FAFSA

To apply for the Federal Direct Loan, you must first complete the FAFSA form. The FAFSA is the initial part of getting any federal student aid, including the direct loans, as well as receiving financial aid at many institutions. So, it is important to complete this form as early as possible. The form becomes available October 1st of every year. You need to fill out this form and add the schools to which you will be applying so that they have your financial information.

2. Accept the Loan from the School You Will Be Attending

Once the form is complete and you have been accepted to a school you will receive and award letter that will list the Direct Student Loan and its amount. Once you have accepted admission at the college of your choice, you can then accept the Direct Student Loan through the college. The school you will be attending will then notify the government about your attendance. You will then be awarded the loan and it will be credited to your bill. Any student can qualify for the Federal Direct Loan – even if your family makes $2 million a year. The only part of the loan that hinges on financial need is the subsidized portion.

Once you receive notice that you are awarded the loan, you will need to accept the loan.

3. Complete Student Loan Counseling

After you are awarded and accept the loan, you will need to complete the student loan counseling, which takes about 45 minutes.

4. Sign the Promissory Note

To finalize the application and acceptance of the Federal Direct Loan, you will need to sign the promissory note.

How Students Apply for the Direct Stafford Loan Takeaway:

Applying for the Federal Direct Student Loan (formerly referred to as the Direct Stafford Loan) involves four steps: (1) completing the FAFSA; (2) being awarded and accepting the loan from the school that you’re going to attend; (3) doing the student loan counseling; and (4) signing the master promissory note.

Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

How Important Are AP Classes for College Admission

There is so much to consider in the college planning process. One key factor is the high school classes that you take. When making class schedules for the next year, I am frequently asked just how important AP classes are when it comes to college admissions. The relevancy of taking AP classes really comes down to the colleges to which you will be applying and how those courses connect with you as a student. Read on for a deeper explanation.

Whether You Should Take a Specific AP Class

Let me first say that you need to take courses that challenge you but are not overly rigorous. There is no point in taking a class in which you would struggle just so you can say that you have taken the class. A poor or so-so grade in an AP class is not better than a good grade in a non-AP class. I have worked with many students who don’t take many, or any, AP classes at all and they got admitted into wonderful schools that are great fits for them and that provide them with a great education. So, taking a specific AP class was not an important admissions deciding factor.

Often students will ask, “Shouldn’t I take this AP class?” when they haven’t taken any other AP classes in their high school curriculum. We talk about the class itself to decide if they should or shouldn’t take it. Let’s say it is a student who is not very good at math, that it is not their strongest subject, and they are trying to decide if they should take AP Calculus. I am concerned that this student would struggle in such a class and would advise against it because it is extremely likely that the student would not get a good grade. You need to determine if the AP class is a good fit both in terms of interest and capabilities.

Are Colleges Looking for Specific AP Classes?

When it comes to considering AP courses, it is not about colleges looking for a specific set of AP courses on your transcript. One class is not going to make all the difference in whether you are admitted. When you are considering the highest and most selective colleges in the United States, of course rigor is important, but that is still only as it relates to the student and who they are – their interests and what they are capable of doing.

The Importance of AP Classes Takeaway:

It is important to understand that there are plenty of colleges – there is not just one college that is right for you. You need to be who you are and do what works for you. So, it’s not about saying that AP classes are so important for college admissions – that is way too general of a statement and absolutely not the case. Carefully weigh if taking a specific AP class matches your abilities and interests.

Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Do Colleges Look For In Extracurricular Activities?

When reviewing college applications, admissions officers look at more than just the courses you took and the grades you received in those courses. They dive deeper to see who you are as a person and whether you would be a good addition to their school. One way to get a glimpse of who you are is by looking at the activities in which you were involved during your high school career. This is not something typically shown on the high school transcript – although classes focused on art, orchestra or band may provide some insight. Rather, the activities we are referring to are extracurricular activities, which relate to information that you will share during the college application process. I am asked a lot about what types of extracurricular activities colleges are looking for in a prospective student. The answer is not cut and dry. It is not simply that one type of activity is better than another. For example, a competitive math club is not necessarily better than playing football. And, being involved in 10 activities doesn’t make you a better candidate than someone who is only involved in one. What really matters is the depth of the activities rather than the breadth – and how involved you really are.

Colleges Look at Depth Rather than Breadth When It Comes to Extracurricular Activities

I visit colleges quite often – I have visited over 400 schools. When I visit them, I try to sit down and talk with the admissions officers. When it comes to extracurricular activities, they always say they are looking for depth, not breadth. It’s not about having 50 different activities that you are involved with once or twice. They would rather see that you are doing activities you enjoy and that you are doing more of them. So, it could be that you are a gymnast and your whole extracurricular life is about gymnastics. Whether it is competing, training or volunteering, it is all about gymnastics. So, that is incredible depth. Looking at activities in this light gives a college counselor a better glimpse of who you really are as a person.

When It Comes to Activities, Do Something that You Enjoy

When you participate in activities that you enjoy, you will more likely do more of those activities. This involvement shows who you are outside of the classroom, which is what the college admissions counselors are looking for. They are not looking to see necessarily how involved you are, but rather where your interests lie.

Extracurricular Activities for College Application Key Takeaway:

It is important to be who you are. When it comes to extracurricular activities and college applications, it is not about checking the box; it is about exploration, learning and growing. Remember, college admissions officers are looking to see who you are, not that you have participated in a plethora of activities.

Looking for help with the college application and financial aid process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

Do Colleges Look at Weighted GPA?

This is a question that typically weighs heavily on every student’s mind. You’re taking more difficult classes – honors, AP, courses offered through colleges. These more difficult classes require more work, both in terms of actual workload, daily preparation and studying. So, of course you would want a college to give your grades in these classes greater weight when considering your application than regular track courses. So what consideration do colleges give to these more challenging courses? Here is a simplified overview.

Weighted GPA on the High School Transcript

The first thing college admissions officers look at is typically the high school transcript. Generally, a student’s weighted GPA is listed on that transcript, along with all the courses you took and grades you received throughout high school. So, if your transcript contains a weighted GPA, the college will look at it.

How Does One School’s Weighted GPA Compare to Another School’s?

So the weighted GPA is on the high school transcript, but what does this exactly mean? The weighted GPA is different amongst all the high schools in the United States because each school may weigh courses differently. Additionally, some high schools have high honors, AP and IB courses, while others may not have these offerings. So how do college admissions officers take into account a weighted GPA with so many differences among high schools? When they look at the student’s weighted GPA, they consider the courses the student has taken, the course rigor and what courses that particular high school offers.

Weighted GPA Takeaway:

If a weighted GPA is part of your high school transcript, college admissions officers will look at it, but they will consider it in relation to the courses that you have taken, the grades that you received in those courses, and the rigor of those courses.

Do you have more questions about GPA, standardized tests, and other college application admissions factors? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

If My Parents Are Divorced or Separated, Who Fills Out the FAFSA Form?

One very common question related to the FAFSA is which parent fills out the form and supplies their financial information if the parents of the student are separated or divorced. The rule is that the parent with whom the child spends the most time is the parent who completes the FAFSA form.

What If the Parents Are Not Legally Separated or Divorced Yet?

When determining who completes the FAFSA, it is important to note that you do not have to be legally separated or actually divorced for only one parent to complete the form. To trigger the one parent per form rule, the parents only have to be physically separated and living in 2 separate residences.

Which Parent Completes the FAFSA Form If there is Joint Custody?

There are times where the parents share joint custody of the child, i.e., where the student truly spends 50 percent of the time with one parent and then 50 percent of the time with the other parent. In this case, either parent can complete the FAFSA form. Ideally, you would want to select the parent with the lower annual income and the lower dollar amount of non-retirement investments. This is because it is a heavily income-driven calculation and non-retirement assets (Excluding your primary home) are considered as well. Certainly, there are other things to consider as well, but that is the parent you would probably want to choose to complete the FAFSA form if you have a separated or divorced situation.

We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.

What Does Early Action Mean?

When you apply to college, you may have options as to the way in which you apply:

• Early Action
• Early Decision
• Regular Decision
• Priority Application
• Rolling Admissions

Here, we are going to delve into what “Early Action” means and how it is different from “Early Decision.”

Early action means that you can apply to a school early and receive their response early. So, if you are applying to a school with an early action deadline of November 1st, you will most probably hear from them before the holiday break. You may also not hear back until January. The point is that you will hear back from a school to your early action application sooner than if you had applied regular decision.

Do All Schools Offer Early Action?

No, not all schools offer early action. It is important to note what types of application options the schools to which you want to apply offer and their deadlines for each. On the Common Application this is listed under the “College Information” section for each college under the “My Colleges” tab.

What is the Difference Between Early Action and Early Decision

Early action just means that you can hear back from a school earlier than if you applied regular decision. Early decision means that not only are you applying to a school earlier and hearing back earlier, you are also contractually bound to attend that school if you are accepted (barring some financial exceptions). So, early decision is binding, while early action is not.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.