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  • Nancy Milne

    Title: Owner

    Company: Milne Collegiate Consulting

    • verified

    Former Admissions Officer at
    Cornell University University of Vermont
    College Specializations
    Cornell University, University of Vermont, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Williams College, Indiana University-Bloomington
    Years of Experience

    Colleges I Attended
    B.S. and M.S. from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ed.D. from Indiana University Indiana University
    Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree, Doctoral Degree
    Professional Affiliations
    Prior Title
    Director of Admissions-Cornell University
    About Me

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  • Admissions Expertise

    • Any tips on getting the most out of campus tours and info sessions?


      One of my favorite strategies when visiting schools is to follow the tour guide who I think is most like me. Even if they divide the group up, I don't necessarily stick with my assignment.

      My favorite question to ask is: "If I was going to donate a large sum of money to the school, how would you like to see it used?" This is a polite way of saying, "So, what don't you like about school ABC?" Try to ask this question of current students, faculty and staff as well. They may need a few moments to think about their answer, but responses can be very insightful.

    • Are guidebooks, relatives, and rankings useful in choosing a school?


      Any information is fair game in the college selection process. How much weight you put on each piece is variable. While guidebooks certainly facilitate an initial impression, depending on the author you may come away with different viewpoints. I personally like the Fiske Guide for it's list of overlapping schools. The Insider's Guide is equally valuable for it's student perspective. While relatives always have opinions, they may be dated/biased not to mention pushy. Rankings are definitely not the end-all-be-all. They help sell magazines, their methodology is subject to change and often don't even rank what's really important to the student.

      Independent Educational Consultants make a point of touring campuses all year long. Thus, they can often be a wonderful resource when creating "the list." Of course Unigo as a worthy website is a given! I personally love the schools who participate in the National Survey on Student Engagement. These institutions get the fact that there is more to college than academics and by keeping the students active on campus, everyone is happy.

    • Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?


      Colleges are looking for students who have committed themselves to an activity or organization. They are looking for leaders, not followers. It will impress the committee if you haven't just dabbled in a bunch of different random experiences, but rather you're involvement is sustained over time with an increasing amount of responsibility/depth of experience. Whether this activity is musical, theatrical, political, athletic, etc. does not matter as much as demonstrating by your involvement, how passionate you are about the organization.

    • Can colleges revoke admissions offers? What behaviors can cause this, and how can students protect themselves?


      An offer of admission is based on the facts presented in the application. If your circumstances change, you must realize that your offer may be in jeopardy. A typical situation may involve senior year grades. If you were borderline in the first place, you can be sure that the school will be requesting your final year grades. Depending on your high school's policy and the college's policy, you may be denied admission for legal violations that occur after the fact. Bottom line, keep up your hard work, don't be tempted to slack off and you'll be packing for school as planned.

    • Can the number of times you contact a college impact your chances?


      Colleges love to hear that you love them. They would much rather admit a student who really really really wants to be there, than someone who is just applying for the heck of it. Statistics show that retention rates are higher for the students who apply early action, a common way of demonstrating how interested you are in the school. Whether you visit, call, email, chat with a rep visiting your area; often these contacts are logged and referred to when it comes to decision time. Of course, you don't want to be obnoxious in your efforts to show them how much you can see yourself on their campus. Too much of anything can work against you, so proceed accordingly.

    • Do you need to have a prospective major, or is it okay to be undecided?


      Honestly, even if you declare a major, the chances of you changing your degree interest before you graduate is good. So if you want to begin undecided, that's just fine. The advantage to being open minded about a major is the opportunity to explore areas you might otherwise not make time for. In addition, you may discover a subject that you'd never heard about and fall in love with. Keep in mind that certain majors will require you to apply directly to their program from day one because there is the matter of course sequencing. Other programs will have limits on the number of students they can enroll, so take that under consideration as well.

    • Does class size matter?


      Class size matters depending on your personal learning style. There are some students who much prefer to remain anonymous and blend in with a big auditorium full of people. Other folks enjoy the opportunity to be known by the teacher, dig deeper into a discussion, hear other's thoughts on a topic; which can occur in a seminar style environment. It is not uncommon for large lectures to also offer small discussion sessions. Even in a large class, a student can get to know the professor by utilizing office hours and sitting closer to the front of the class. Some faculty members employ the socratic method, regardless of class size. If you are more of a listener than a talker, this may make a difference to you. Learn what you can about the teacher, so you choose a course that matches your learning preference.

    • Does your hometown have any effect on your chances of getting in?


      Your hometown could impact your chances of getting in, both positively and negatively. If you are from an area that is underrepresented at the college, you may be pursued by the institution because they want the geographic diversity you would supply to their stats. Conversely, if your high school or surrounding high schools tend to see a lot of students applying to the same colleges, your chances decrease. Universities want a variety of students in their classes, so they won't automatically take every student who applies from the same area. In this case, you are not only competing against the applicant pool as a whole, but against your current classmates as well.

    • Early, rolling, regular: When should you apply?


      I love rolling admissions. Submit your application and hear back usually within 4 weeks. How nice to have an offer in your hip pocket early in the process. I promise, the clouds will part, the sun will come out, life will be good!

      Early Action is another good option. It is non-binding and again, you'll know your status by the holidays. Another reason to apply EA relates to the rate of acceptance being higher at that time.

      Early Decision is binding and in my opinion, only for those who have known their whole life this is where they are meant to be. Teenagers are still exploring, changing their minds, subjective to new ideas; so to commit early in the game may not be to everyone's advantage. Plus, if financial aid is an issue, you've just lost an opportunity to compare offers.

      Regular admission gives you the most time to submit all of your materials. Deadlines tend to be around the February 1st timeframe. The pool will be largest at this time, so proceed accordingly.

    • Does it matter how many contacts a student has with the school?


      Demonstrated interest is the term used today when referring to campus contact. While some schools will log and make note of any email, phone, mail, or in person visits and take that as a sign of interest; other schools don't care or take the time to track those contacts. Those schools who care about your interaction with their campus do so because they see it as a way of determining how likely you are to enroll, should you be offered admission. Schools would much rather enroll students who sincerely want to be there, than those who are "phantom apps", meaning they have never heard of the student until the application is submitted. While there is no magic number of contacts, make sure you don't over do it and become a pest.

    • How do you build a good relationship with your high school guidance counselor?


      Guidance counselors are in this business because they truly enjoy working with teenagers. Because caseloads can be HUGE, it may be difficult for them to get to know everyone as well as they would like to. You can help by making a habit of stopping by, bringing them up to date on your application status and whatever else is going on in your world. Trust me, they will love to see your face and be happy to help you.

    • How do you deal with overbearing parents during the college process?


      I find most parents only want what is best for their student. Still, this can often lead to tension on the home front during the college search process. I find a division of labor can be most productive: one parent is the travel agent for college visits, one parent tackles the financial piece and the student is in charge of all things application related. I try to impress on my clients that we are preparing the student to handle the independence that comes with college. It is important to allow the son/daughter to own the admission experience.

      As an independent educational consultant, I also keep the parents in the loop with articles tailored just for them. Unigo's website can keep them busy and content for hours! Healthy doses of praise for all they are doing to support their child in this transition from high school to college can also go a long way. Mom and dad are struggling just as much as Junior at the thought of what the future will bring. I find that a sense of humor, along with a checklist of tasks to keep everyone busy and focused, can be the ideal solution for the helicopter parent.

    • How do you go about contacting alumni from a school you're interested in?


      The admissions office will typically keep a list of alumni who are willing to talk to prospective students. Typically these will be recent grads who can relate to your phase in the search process. Keep in mind that you will do best just to listen to what they have to share. While it may feel biased, you can be sure it is sincere, as these folks are volunteering their time to talk to you. Make sure you have a list of questions to keep the dialogue going and in a direction that is useful to you. Recognize that there is a difference between an information interview and an evaluative interview and proceed accordingly.

    • How do you indicate to a school that they are your first choose besides early decision?


      School's love to hear that you really see yourself on their campus. You can demonstrate this by visiting, interviewing, making reference in your application, staying in touch via email, etc. Students who apply early, whether it is rolling, EA or ED admissions; are sending a message to the school that they are seriously interested in attending that institution. It's a 2-way street: students want the school to want them, but schools likewise want to know that students have made them their first choice.

    • How do you know if community college is right for you?


      Community colleges vary from place to place. While some serve as a stepping stone to a four year institution, others offer degrees only available through them. Maybe the student can't afford the cost of a 4 year school, or needs to be available to help on the home front. Or suppose the student needs to work so they can't handle a full course load/can only take classes at night. A local 2 year institution may be the best fit. Community colleges are often a good transition between high school and university for the student who hasn't found their stride. Review level courses, skill building classes, and survey seminars can prepare a student to be successful at the next level of education.

    • How important is it to visit each college and network with the admissions reps?


      The student who makes it clear that they can really see themselves at school XYZ is on the right track. When it comes down to the final seats left to fill in the class of 20XX, a student who has made an impression on someone, checked out the campus if it is within 6 hours of home, or been in contact with the school asking pertinent questions, will be remembered first. Not only will you be making your interest known, but you may discover in the process that the fit isn't as right as you thought. The more information you can gather about a school, the better informed your decision will be.

    • How many schools should students apply to?


      With the advent of the Common Application, it has become way too easy to submit way too many applications. If you have a good balance of schools on your list, 6-8 submissions should be sufficient. There is nothing gained by accumulating acceptances as badges of honor. If you haven't figured out the school is the best fit for you before you apply, having to sift and winnow through a pile of offers isn't going to be much easier. Granted, financial aid may be a critical component in your decision making process and that is something you learn only after you're in. Otherwise, do yourself and the admission readers a favor, and be reasonable about where you apply.

    • How much do alumni recommendations matter?


      Each school will have it's own policy regarding alumni involvement in the application process. For some institutions alums will serve as interviewers when a student can't make it to campus. Whether the alumni serve in an evaluative or informative capacity will again depend on the college's instructions. Written letters of recommendation are generally expected to be from your high school teachers, guidance counselor and occasionally a coach. To pad your file with too many supporting documents can become cumbersome for the admissions office.

    • How should art students prepare for the college admissions process?


      Start creating a portfolio, NOW. Ask your art teacher for guidance and assistance with this. When visiting schools with art programs, ask for feedback on you portfolio BEFORE you have to submit it for application. It is also important to have studied the various mediums. Even if your portfolio is primarily of one technique, your transcript should show that you stretched yourself and have some experience with photography, ceramics, wood, paint, metal, etc.

    • How should you approach a college visit as an accepted student?


      Once an institution has decided they want you, it's time to dig even deeper. Many schools offer opportunities to visit again, stay overnight, all geared to a group of students at the same point in the decision process. If such an offer is not forthcoming, it is worth asking if there is a chance to do any of the above. The more you talk to people on campus, the more you see the campus at all times of the day/week, the better your knowledge base when you have to put down that deposit.

    • Is it better to stick close to home or go to school far away?


      Whether you attend school in your "backyard" or fly to the other side of the country, is a completely personal decision. Some students are ready to experience the independence that distance will dictate. Others may feel better, knowing that they can still go home for Sunday supper. For some folks there is the thrill of experiencing a different climate/culture/etc.; while others are more comfortable with what they know. There are a lot of schools out there and everyone is looking for the one that feels right to them.

    • Once accepted, how do you choose between colleges?


      There are a number of factors to consider before putting down your deposit on May 1st. One, can you afford the school? Two, does it offer everything you are looking for or will you be compromising. Three, does your gut just tell you this is the one? Definitely take advantage of Admitted Student Days, so that you give yourself another opportunity to evaluate the campus. Don't stop researching, just because you have an offer. Now is the time to drill even deeper to determine the best fit.

    • Should students approach the college process differently in this economy?


      It is prudent for students to be fiscally responsible when they are considering college. Some questions to consider: Will my future career options really be any different if I go to Low Cost U, versus High Cost U? Will my job upon graduation allow me to pay back any loans and still enjoy a comfortable lifestyle? How can I reduce the cost of college: qualify for scholarships (that high school transcript does matter), work on campus (studies show a busy student is a more productive and organized student), take the maximum number of credits each year (you may be able to graduate a semester early). There is a fine line between doing what you love and doing what will support you. Hopefully you will find that balance between career and salary.

    • Should students consider taking a year off in between high school and college?


      It is certainly not uncommon for students to wait a year before starting college. Depending on the situation, some may do it for financial reasons, others because they just aren't ready developmentally, or family circumstances prevent attending right away. Some students may apply and then request to defer their admission for a year. Others may use the year off to explore an interest/passion, maybe through a Gap Year program. There is no rule about when you must begin college, so figure out what makes sense for you and trust your decision.

    • What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?


      Retention rates refer to the number of students who return for a second year of school. If the rate is high, that is an indicator of satisfaction. If the rate is low, it represents the number of students who are not returning is large. Students may have chosen the school for it's low tuition rate, to save $$ for future semesters elsewhere. Others may have realized they don't connect with the other students. Some folks will discover that everyone leaves on the weekend and they don't/can't. Or maybe you've changed your major and this school no longer has the courses you need to pursue your degree. There can be any number of reasons for the freshman retention rate and it is definitely a number worth factoring in to your application equation.

    • What are some differences between rural, suburban, and urban campuses?


      A rural campus is often what support the town it is in. Rural does not have to mean boring. A perfect example is Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Because of it's premiere School of Music, Broadway Touring Productions and major entertainment swing through campus on a regular basis.

      Suburban campuses tend to be on the fringe of a town. It may feel like you have one foot on campus and one in town. It's a way to not be remote and still not feel overwhelmed by an urban city.

      Urban campuses tend to be surrounded by the city. Opportunities abound as a result, but don't confuse that with distractions.

      Some students will feel more comfortable attending school in an environment similar to the one they've grown up in. Other students will welcome the chance to experience a different lifestyle for at least four years.

    • What are some questions to consider before applying to an online school?


      Make sure you do your homework on the program before signing up. Talk to a program director, not a salesperson. Investigate the course quality. What are the professor's credentials, what is the class size, are there teaching assistants? Is tech support available, will your credits transfer, is the school accredited? Ultimately make sure you have an advisor, who can help you plan your coursework and who will help when problems arise.

    • What are some questions you should ask on an overnight stay?


      Overnight stays are a wonderful way to get a feel for the campus, beyond the classroom. After a full day of classes, students need to chill and this is a perfect time to get your questions answered. Find out if folks stick around on the weekend, observe how quiet/noisy the dorm. Does the campus feel busy in the evening, what is everyone doing: studying, exercising, goofing around, etc. I'm always curious what other schools people considered before they chose this one and how they made their decision. If student/faculty interactions are important, ask. If community service opportunities are important, ask. The student hosting you for the evening was in your shoes a year ago, they volunteered to host you, they get it; so make the most of the time and ask away!

    • What are some tips for college visits?


      A visit to campus is the chance to get a feel for the vibe of the school. Pick a class of interest and sit in on the lecture/discussion. See if you can connect with a faculty member in your area of interest. Have a meal in the cafeteria and initiate conversation with your table mates. Pick up the school newspaper to read when you get home. Pay attention to bulletin board postings, student activity tables, library traffic. Try to get a sense for how engaged the students are on campus. Do folks stay around on the weekend, if so what do they do? Make sure the residence halls look like a place you'd feel good about going home to after a tough day of classes. If recreation is important to you, are you pleased with the facilities? And most of all, if possible see if you can spend an overnight on campus. That is when you'll really see what goes on.

    • What are the benefits of taking AP exams in high school?


      The advantage of taking an AP course in high school comes when you do well on the exam. Every school has a different threshold, but it's worth trying for the right score. Colleges may award course credit without having to take the class on campus. Other schools may use it as a means of placement in the right level once you arrive on campus. The bonus is that it may allow you to sidestep some general overview type lecture class and get right down to the nitty gritty of the topic. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, take the test.

    • What are the best ways to navigate a college's website?


      Navigating college websites can be a challenge. Everyone organizes them differently and some have so many layers that it is easy to get lost! Initially just start poking around. If something intrigues you, go with it. Before long you will find yourself circling back to the same info. Now it's time to be purposeful in your browsing. Click on the academics field. Next, click on the admissions tab and learn what you can about the process for that school. Make notes and be organized as you explore. Before you know it, you have checked out the school inside and out.

    • What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a college?


      Choosing a college is such a personal experience. It can be challenging to not succumb to the influences of family/friends, marketing tactics and financial factors. It is important to determine that the school offers the course of study that interests you. It is equally critical that you feel good about the extracurriculars as well. Distance from home, size of school, location of the campus, and financial aid are all valid points to weigh in the decision making process.

    • What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?


      A visit to campus is the chance to get a feel for the vibe of the school. Pick a class of interest and sit in on the lecture/discussion. See if you can connect with a faculty member in your area of interest. Have a meal in the cafeteria and initiate conversation with your table mates. Pick up the school newspaper to read when you get home. Pay attention to bulletin board postings, student activity tables, library traffic. Try to get a sense for how engaged the students are on campus. Do folks stay around on the weekend, if so what do they do? Make sure the residence halls look like a place you'd feel good about going home to after a tough day of classes. If recreation is important to you, are you pleased with the facilities? And most of all, if possible see if you can spend an overnight on campus. That is when you'll really see what goes on.

    • What are the most politically active colleges?


      There is quite a list of colleges that consider themselves politically active campuses. Quantifying that list is difficult, as is being totally inclusive in this space. The College Finder, by Steven Antonoff has 3 pages of Colleges for the Politically Aware. They range in size, location and campus type. The usual suspects include: UC Berkeley, UW- Madison, Georgetown, NYU, just to name a few.

    • What are the quickest ways to research colleges?


      Obviously the web will give you an immediate read on colleges. Whether you use school-specific sites,, or other search engines; there is nothing like the instant feedback from the internet. Talking to folks is another avenue to pursue when gleaning information. Guidebooks, view books, and educational consultants/guidance counselors are other options to consider.

    • What are women's colleges like?


      The only difference between co-ed and women's colleges is the lack of men. Facilities, degrees offered, opportunities, extracurriculars, athletics are still available and often at a higher quality. Without men to compete against, women say they are able to develop their leadership skills better. Research and lab experiences abound, alumni and career connections tend to be strong. And then there's the lack of distraction aspect that comes from an absence of the opposite gender. While a single gender experience isn't for everyone, and some would say there is greater "drama", the remaining schools have been around for a long time, so something is working well.

    • What can high school seniors do to enhance their chances of admission?


      By senior year students would be wise to have all their ducks in a row. Application completed and submitted as soon as possible, interview scheduled and done, campus visit made, recommendations requested, FAFSA started are all critical aspects in the admission process. Plus there are thank you letters to write to your references and anyone you've met on campus. If you have timed everything right, you won't be scrambling at the last minute to make a deadline. You've demonstrated your interest, you've written a memorable essay, your interview went well, your grades and scores are what they are. Take a breath and let the waiting begin.

    • What do college students wish they'd done differently in high school?


      The number one regret I hear from clients is always about their poor academic performance during HS. While you can't change the grades, you can try to improve your transcript with the time remaining. An upward trend in grades means a lot to the admissions committee.

    • What do current students wish they had known when applying to college?


      I often hear students are dissatisfied with their college experience because they failed to consider the whole picture. Maybe the school is ranked well, but it is too remotely isolated for you. Possibly the campus is beautiful, but everyone bails out on the weekend and you live too far from home to do the same. You thought you wanted to be anonymous in a BIG lecture hall, but feeling like a number is too impersonal now that you're living it. Big time sports sounded fun, but the partying that comes with it doesn't appeal to you. Make sure you do your homework and consider the college of your dreams from all angles: weekday/weekend, daytime/evening, town/gown relationship, winter/spring, just to name a few.

    • What do students really think about their school?


      It often feels difficult to learn about a college because everything seems biased. The tour guides, admissions staff, websites all put a positive spin on the campus. Yet, you know that not everything can be perfect. Check out the opinion/editorial pieces in the student paper. Hang out late at night when defenses are low and you might hear the real deal. Ask my favorite question: "If you could change anything about the school what would be it?" Read The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, written by current students of each campus. Check out student reviews on Bottom line, what you think about the school is what matters.

    • What exactly are US News and the College Board?


      Both US News and College Board are sources of information often used during the college search. US News uses rankings that help sell newspapers, but it's methodology remains suspect. They look at inputs vs. outcomes, i.e. average scores of incoming class rather than statistics on the graduating class. The College Board also administers the infamous SAT. It is a not-for-profit focused on educational issues.

    • What extracurriculars are most important?


      Extracurricular activity in general is what is important. Schools want to see that you have interests other than final grades. Whether you are involved in athletics, music, politics, job; hopefully you've demonstrated commitment and possible even leadership tendencies. This isn't about quantity and how many lines you can fill on an activity resume. It also isn't about following any "right formula" with your free time. Do what interests you and everything else will fall in place.

    • What if you can't visit a school?


      There are many reasons why a trip to campus may not be an option. Don't despair. You can still demonstrate interest other ways. When the admissions rep visits your school/area, make it a point to connect. Scour their website, learning everything you can about the institution. Request an opportunity to correspond with a current student, alum, faculty member. Do try to figure out a way to visit once you have been accepted. There is nothing like that gut feeling when you step on campus and determine it's the one for you.

    • What is "need blind" and "need sensitive" admissions?


      Need blind admissions refers to the policy where a school evaluates an applicant without knowing their financial circumstances. This policy allows an institution to make offers of acceptance regardless of the candidate's ability to pay.

      Need sensitive admissions refers to the policy where a student's finances are taken in to consideration when evaluating their application. If two students are on the "bubble" and one can afford to pay tuition, while the other may need significant assistance; that may sway a decision.

    • What kind of student should be looking at a highly selective school?


      If you are someone who thrives in an atmosphere with a strong academic press, then please consider the selectivity of the school. If you enjoy being surrounded by others with a serious commitment to their education, you want to be looking at a selective school. If you have a strong transcript, demonstrating rigor in the curriculum; then considering a highly selective school has merit. Please don't bother applying if you are just trying to earn the "badge" of acceptance or the coursework expectations seem overwhelming before you've even begun. If you are interested in an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on a project or in a lab, this may be the environment for you.

    • What kinds of students should consider hiring an independent college counselor?


      Independent consultants can take a lot of stress out of the application process. These professionals not only tour campuses on a regular basis, they can dedicate their time to just your college search. Hiring a counselor may help you recoup the cost in the long run, as they can help determine "fit" and suggest schools you may never have considered. An IEC has an arsenal of resources at their disposal, time tested strategies for negotiating the search process, and they love working with teens. When you consider the cost of higher education, this is a small price to pay to "get it right".

    • What should high school students do before the summer of their senior year?


      The summer before your senior year of high school is the ideal time to focus on all things admissions related. Tour schools, fill out the Common App, write those essays, request those letters of recommendation, open the FAFSA, schedule interviews, stay focused. If you can be done by the time school begins, you will be soooo happy. There are plenty of other activities demanding your attention in senior year, how nice to be able to give them you undivided attention. Plus, if you apply early, you'll hear back sooner; another BIG relief when that first offer hits your mailbox.

    • What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?


      While it is possible to make a big school feel small, a small school is always going to be, small. Maybe you come from a small high school and liked knowing everyone. Maybe you came from a large high school and didn't like not knowing everyone! Once on campus at a large institution, you can join groups that will narrow your focus on a smaller population. An honors program, special interest dorm, student activity clubs are all ways to personalize your experience on campus.

    • What should students focus on during the application process?


      There are a lot of pieces involved in college admissions. There are a lot of schools out there to consider. There is a lot going on in a high schooler's life. Put that all together and it is easy to see where the application process could feel overwhelming. By creating a system of files, timelines, support people, it is all manageable. These are also skills that will be of value in college. The student needs to own this experience and take responsibility for the application process. Each part of the application is important for it's own reason. There is very little that you have control over because your grades and test scores are what they are. The essay and interview give you an opportunity to add a dimension to your application that wouldn't otherwise be there. Focus on proofing, print previewing and preparing and you'll be fine.

    • What should you do if your high school doesn't offer advanced classes?


      If your school doesn't offer AP courses or an IB curriculum there are other options. You may take a class at the local college, earn credit and maybe even get some assistance on the tuition from your high school. Pursuing a course on-line may be a possibility and again, your high school may have an agreement with a program offering the class of interest. There is alway the thought of seeking out a teacher who would allow you to do an independent project/course that would challenge you beyond what is offered. And finally, some faculty are willing to let you make the course more challenging by doing extra credit work at the Honors level.

    • What's the best time to visit a college campus?


      There are just so many good times to check out campuses. Obviously, if school is in session you will be able to sit in on classes, see real students, eat in the cafeteria, etc. That's assuming you have a day off/skip school to go on a weekday. If a weekend visit it must be, you'll be able to check out the vibe: suitcase school, library packed, lots (or not) to do, etc. Obviously, there is no controlling the weather. Since you would be on campus for 9 months you might as well experience it under any climate. Unfortunately, summer is often the easiest time to travel, so just keep in mind that things may be operating on a limited/modified basis. No matter what, it's always helpful to walk the walk, so you can talk the talk. Safe travels!

    • When should students start the college search?


      As an independent educational consultant I work with students at all phases of the search. Typically students get serious about the college search during their junior year in high school. That is not to say one can't begin sooner. What is important is that the student is engaged in the process. For some students that interest begins as a sophomore. The sooner one starts thinking ahead, the easier it is to make sure the high school curriculum will meet the needs for college entrance. One of my favorite lines says: "before junior year, college visits should be no more than drive-bys at a speed no less than 25 miles/hr!" Obviously if you are visiting grandma across the country and this is your chance to check out schools, you should do it. Please don't wait until fall of your senior year to tackle this project. By spreading out the components to the application: visits, requesting letters of rec, writing essays, filing the common app, filling out the FAFSA; you can enjoy this journey stress free.

    • Where should students begin with the college search?


      The college search can be overwhelming initially. Take it one step at a time, starting early enough so you aren't pressured. Independent educational consultants, college fairs, guidance offices, campus tours/info sessions, family and friends, guidebooks (The Insider's Guide), websites (Unigo!) all serve a purpose in the quest for information. If you are self directed and motivated, go for it. Some folks need a little more direction to get in the groove. Having a sense of large vs. small enrollment, public vs. private institution, rural/urban/suburban campus, and major of study can help narrow down the options. Sometimes it's hard to decide what comes first. Just dive in and eventually you will create a context in which to compare all the information as you collect it.

    • Who should come with you on college visits?


      I encourage parents to let the student drive the show when visiting campus. Hang back, save your questions for later, allow the applicant time to process all the information. While mom and dad are common chaperones to campus, grandparents and aunts/uncles can often be best. At this stressful time, mom and dad are often perceived to be uninformed, thus their questions could be oh so embarrassing! Extended family has the luxury of not being so closely invested in the process, so may actually make better observations and know when to share them. My number one rule is that once you've left campus, wait for the student to volunteer their thoughts. Don't start asking questions or sharing your impressions, until the student has had a chance to digest everything they just experienced.

    • Why is it important for students to have a college admissions marketing plan?


      Having a college admissions marketing plan sounds a little intense to me. While it helps to find a "hook" or way to stand out in the crowd, I'd hate to see you come across as a "package" and not a person. If you follow all of the recommendations for a successful application, you will have basically marketed yourself. The essay is still one of the best ways to personalize your application, by writing about something that will be memorable to the reader and specific to only you. It is important that you remain consistent in your application materials, so that your passion comes through. Remember, they are looking to enroll a well rounded CLASS, not a class of well rounded students. By bringing a mix of artsy, athletic, politically oriented, socially concerned, etc. students to campus, the school will have achieved their goal and you will be surrounded by an interesting mix of new friends.

    • How important are college rankings when choosing a college?


      Thanks to the infamous Newsweek, Forbes, etc. magazine rankings, print media isn't obsolete yet! The methodology of these reports remains suspect and thus should be taken with a grain of salt. A much better gauge of a college can be determined by comparing the Common Data Set, available on every school's website. What is the freshman retention rate, what percentage of students graduate in 4 years, how engaged are the students (see National Survey on Student Engagement), what is the average loan debt of graduates. These are more useful points of discussion than what one college president thinks of another college or yield rate comparisons. Try not to be swayed by all the marketing bling and focus on what really matters: the quality of the education for the price.

    • Can what I post on Facebook affect my chances of getting accepted?


      In this day of the internet, you must realize that anything out there on the web is fair game. Some schools have actually gone the route of assigning one staff member to just check out online profiles. The last thing you want the admission committee to see is that photo of you at the underage keg party. It's a perfect opportunity to verify that you really are the person represented in your application. You stated you play the violin and there is a photo of you in the orchestra. You stated you love classical music, but your page is all about punk rock, hmmmm. Bottom line, put your best face forward and make your parents proud.

    • I want to make the most of campus visits. What should I do, look for, and ask while I’m there?


      A visit to campus is the chance to get a feel for the vibe of the school. Pick a class of interest and sit in on the lecture/discussion. See if you can connect with a faculty member in your area of interest. Have a meal in the cafeteria and initiate conversation with your table mates. Pick up the school newspaper to read when you get home. Pay attention to bulletin board postings, student activity tables, library traffic. Try to get a sense for how engaged the students are on campus. Do folks stay around on the weekend, if so what do they do? Make sure the residence halls look like a place you'd feel good about going home to after a tough day of classes. If recreation is important to you, are you pleased with the facilities? And most of all, if possible see if you can spend an overnight on campus. That is when you'll really see what goes on.

    • As a high school junior, what are the most important things for me to do before senior year?


      There is no time like the present. If you can get those teacher recommendations requested before the summer, great. Try to crank out those essays over the summer and you will be way ahead of the game. Visit colleges during your winter and spring breaks, while students are on campus and you don't have to miss school. Have mom and dad start filling in the FAFSA so they just have to update after the first of the year. Take the SAT/ACT. Open the Common Application and fill in all the blanks. Finally, mark you calendar with every fall deadline and all you'll have to do your senior year is hit "send" when the time comes. Now doesn't that feel good?

    • We don't have time or money to visit some schools I’m really interested in. What can I do?


      Schools understand that it isn't always possible to visit in person. Still, that is no excuse for not learning your way around campus. Ask to speak to/email a current student, alumnus, faculty member and definitely an admissions rep. Learn all you can from the school's website, Unigo's website, view books and conversations with anyone familiar with the institution. If an admissions counselor visits your school, absolutely make an appointment to connect. Make thoughtful and valid inquiries regarding aspects of the program/school that you can't find the answers to on your own. By digging a little deeper and going the extra mile researching what the campus has to offer, not only will you impress the committee, but you'll be ready to work as a tour guide once you're admitted!

    • What makes a school large or small and what are some advantages and disadvantages of each?


      Everyone has a different definition of big and little. Depending on your high school/town size what may seem huge to you is tiny to someone else. Regardless, it is critical to determine what feels right for you. While large schools can be made to feel small (through Honors Programs, residential learning colleges, etc.), a small school may not offer enough variety over time. Major institutions typically support athletics, diversity in the student body and a wide array of majors/minors. Smaller schools offer the promise of more dedicated face time with faculty, strong connections among the student body, and a more liberal arts education in general. You'll know what feels right to you as you begin touring schools and realizing just what those enrollment numbers stand for.

    • If I haven’t found the right extracurriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?


      There is no such thing as the "right" extracurriculars. Colleges are looking to enroll students who will create a well rounded class. That does not mean they are looking for all well rounded students. Ideally admissions officers are hoping to find folks with a "spike". They are seeking out the individuals who have a genuine passion, will make a contribution to the campus environment, you know: fit. They aren't as interested in the person who has dabbled in everything, but never demonstrated interest in anything. Maybe you weren't Student Body President, but you were on Class Council all four years. Maybe they really need a tuba player this year, but have enough violins. Remember, they are evaluating you on your whole application, not just one piece.

    • What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?


      Proof, print preview and don't procrastinate! That is the number one issue with applications. It is all too easy to overlook errors after you've read your work umpteen times. Despite spell check and word counts there is still much that can be wrong. And just because it looks like it's formatted correctly, print previewing may show otherwise. The worst situation is waiting until the last minute. What if you have technical difficulties? Always plan time to deal with last minute circumstances.

    • What are the most accepted or exaggerated myths about the college admissions process?


      Students think colleges are looking for well rounded people. Really what they are looking for is a well rounded class. Schools are interested in the student with a "spike", that something extra that makes them stand out. They aren't as excited about someone who knows a little about a lot, as they are about someone who has a real passion for something. Colleges want to create a class with diverse interests, so they need some who are politically active, others who are creatively oriented, some who are leaders and others who are worker bees. It is not possible to create a perfect profile, as the applicant pool is a dynamic entity. One year they may really need tuba players, so that matters; another year they may need divers for the swim team. Just present yourself honestly and the admissions folks will decide if your profile is the best fit for their insitution.

    • Tuition aside, what benefits and drawbacks exist by going to school in-state vs. out-of-state?


      Benefits to attending school in-state would include: may be closer to home, logistically easier to get home, not as expensive to get home. You become the local expert for the out-of-staters. You may feel more comfortable with the diversity factor being what you've grown up with.

      Benefits to attending school out-of-state: exposure to a different place. Opportunity to "start fresh" without high school classmates in tow. Chance to experience some cultural diversity.

      Drawbacks to attending school in-state: you may just feel like college is a very close extension of high school. Proximity to home may make it too easy to leave campus too often.

      Drawbacks to attending school out-of-state: limited visits back home due to distance, extra effort required to acclimate to new surroundings.

    • What is the best way to start researching colleges?


      How you research colleges depends on your personal preferences. If you love your computer, you can surf the web. If you value other's opinions, start asking anyone you respect for their thoughts on their alma maters. If you love holding a book in your hands, head to the library or bookstore and you'll find plenty to choose from. You may find it helps to focus on areas of academic interest and schools that specialize in that field. Size and location are also common points of distinction made early in the process. While all this research can be fascinating, it can also feel overwhelming; that's what college counselors are for. Don't hesitate to ask for help is sorting through the information; staying organized at this time is important and you can't ignore your high school studies.

    • What are the main differences between large public universities and small liberal arts colleges?


      The difference between large and small colleges comes down to numbers. Whether it is the size of the lecture halls, classes, number of professors vs. TAs you have contact with, opportunities to work in research/labs/internships as an undergrad. Sports and the variety of extracurricular activities will generally be more predominant at large public schools. At a university there is a greater emphasis on a specific major rather than just a liberal arts education. I always point out that you can make a BIG place smaller (i.e. Honors College), but you can't always make a small place feel larger.

    • What are the most important factors to consider while researching colleges?


      Obviously you are going to care about the academic press at the college. I also believe that it is important to consider the extracurricular options as well. All work and no play is not healthy. Plus, if you've had a tough day in the classroom, you want to look forward to going back to your residence hall. How engaged are students on campus, does the place empty out on the weekends, what do folks do to relax? It goes without saying that financial aid packages can be a deal breaker. Please, please, please make sure that you look closely at those award letters and separate out the grant/free $$ and the loan/debt burden you'll be saddled with. Some students will only want small size classes, while others are looking forward to big time college sports. Others want city vibe, some want the suburbs and others like the idea of being in the middle of no where with a cute campus town. All of these factors are easily observed as you tour campuses.

    • How many colleges should I apply to? How many reaches? Safety schools?


      I recommend 6-8 applications. Think of having 2 in each category with some room to spare if you just can't let go of a couple. Managing more than that can get crazy, keeping track of essay topics, deadlines, etc. Plus, if you haven't narrowed your choices down by the time you apply, it isn't going to be much easier once you learn of your acceptances. The more realistic you are during this entire process, the less stressful it will be for you. Offers of admission are not to be viewed as badges of honor. Remember you are looking for a match to be made, not a prize to be won.

    • What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?


      Early action is a non-binding decision that you learn about before the normal deadline. You are compared to a smaller pool of applicants as a result of the earlier deadline.

      Early decision is a binding offer that commits you to that school. You can only apply ED to one school, so there won't be any conflict from multiple acceptances.

    • What process does an application go through? How many people see it?


      Every school processes admission applications differently. While some schools divide files by geographic territory, others concentrate on certain majors only. At some institutions files are read by numerous individuals and then again within a committee meeting. In some situations faculty are part of the process and at other places they are not. Depending on the deadline cycle: rolling, early action, early decision; some schools offer a closer read than others.

    • What are the most important questions to ask a tour guide on a college visit?


      Be sure to use this time to ask a contemporary any questions that are important to you. If you care about the quality of the food service, the amenities in the residence halls, whether the campus empties out on the weekend, where students tend to study, etc; this is your chance to find out. One of my favorite queries is: if money were no object, how would you like to see it spent on campus?

    • What should I make sure to do and see on a college visit aside from the tour?


      I like to eat in the cafeteria; both to taste the food as well as rub elbows with current students. Check out the bulletin boards, pick up a copy of the school newspaper, explore the "off campus" options. If you can make an appointment with a faculty member in your area of interest, bonus! An overnight can be a plus because that's often when the campus comes alive. Don't rush your visit if the school is a strong contender. Take time to sit in on a class, attend a sporting event, see a production on campus. This could be your home for the next 4+ years so you want to know you'll be comfortable there.

    • What types of students, faculty, and staff should I try and speak with while visiting a college?


      While talking to the president of the student government may be enlightening, don't overlook the less involved student too. Each student will have a different read on the school and it pays to hear it from all angles. Faculty love to talk about their fields, so expect bias and watch the clock! Residence life staff are often fountains of information, as are dining hall workers and the admissions rep for your area. Some schools will restrict access to these kinds of conversations until you are accepted, so don't be surprised if you have trouble connecting initially.

    • Are overnight stays important? How should I prepare for an overnight stay?


      I think overnight stays are a huge bonus. Often they are only available to admitted students in an attempt to seal the deal. Because college students tend to stay up late, this gives you a chance to really see things in action. At the end of the day, students let their guard down and may be more candid than in a formal tour/info session. Go in to it with an open mind, you may be surprised by some of the behavior you witness.

    • What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?


      Admissions counselors are looking for students who have grit, resilience, are humble, wise, and demonstrate courage, to name just a few desireable character traits. They want you to have something to offer the college community. That could be a political bent, interest in community service, musical ability, athletic prowess, etc. Schools are looking for students who will be engaged while on campus, both academically and socially.

    • Should prospective students contact admissions officers during the application process?


      It is totally appropriate to contact admissions officers during the application process. You may have a question about your candidacy and how to represent yourself on the application. Your may have a question about the school that no one can answer. If you were deferred or wait-listed you need to indicate your level of interest and add any new information to your application. Obviously during decision reading time, you can expect to wait for a response, while the counselors are in committee. Admissions officers are human and their job is to help you determine if the school is a good fit for you and them. While they may seem like the judge, the jury, and the hangman; that is only one aspect of their position!

    • Should I try and network with admissions officers or professors during a college visit?


      I think a conversation with a faculty member can be invaluable. If you have very specific goals for college, this is the time to explore the reality of making them happen. Taking the time and effort to connect with a professor or admissions rep on campus is a great way to demonstrate interest. Depending on when you visit, the timing may just not work out, but it is worth a try.

    • Are admissions officers open to establishing relationships with college counselors?


      In this world of admissions, it's all about making connections. The better the college counselor understands what a college is looking for, the easier it is to guide students to a best fit. Likewise, if admissions officers have a good understanding of the secondary school's profile, they can better evaluate an application for best fit. It is common practice for colleges to send reps to high schools to meet with students and their counselors. It is also typical for college counselors to tour schools to learn more about their campus. These relationships are all very ethical and appropriate as long as there is no expectation of special consideration being granted as a result.

    • Has the economy affected college admissions offices?


      Absolutely. Travel budgets have been cut, meaning less school visits made. Applications numbers may have increased, but the number of staff to read them hasn't. Those expensive glossy brochures are quickly being replaced by social media sites and the web. Some offices have had to scale back their accepted student day festivities. Other schools have felt the pressure to admit students who don't require as much financial aid. The recession is being felt everywhere on campuses.

    • Do admissions officers know each high school relatively well?


      Typically admission staff are given a region or area of the country that they are responsible for. This means they are the ones who travel to those territories, do the first read on those applications, interview the students from their area. This allows the college to better understand the circumstances the students are coming from. In addition, schools include a profile when they send the transcript. This document shows the rigor of the curriculum offered, average test scores, etc. for that school. The more students that matriculate at the college from the same high school, and depending on how they perform, the more knowledge the admission committee has to go on.

    • Do college admissions officers look at applicants' Facebook profiles?


      If there is something in the application that indicates a closer read is needed, Facebook may be consulted. Some offices actually appoint a staff member to routinely check applicant's profiles on the internet. Facebook can quickly validate an impression or clarify a discrepancy in an application. In the age of the internet, it is all fair game.

    • Are supplemental materials read? Do they have an effect on admissions?


      IF a college has indicated a willingness to accept additional pieces with the application, then they will be read and included in the admissions decision making process. Some schools just don't have the time or resources to deal with anything beyond the standard application. If in doubt, check with the admissions office before wasting your time and theirs.

    • How many apps does an officer read over the course of a year?


      Every school receives a different number of applications, has a different size staff, and has it's own system for application review; thus there is no magic number of apps an officer reads over the course of a year.

    • How much time do admissions officers spend with each application?


      Time spent on each application varies from campus to campus. Industry average states that 15 min/application is pretty typical. This is why you don't want to write a loooong essay, add extra materials they don't want to see, or otherwise burden the reader with excess information.

    • What trends have you noticed in admissions?


      One of the most challenging trends lately has been the shear volume of applications received by institutions. Between the Common Application making it easier to apply to multiple schools, concerns over financial aid award decisions, and the importance of a degree for future success; admissions offices are experiencing higher yield rates.

      Admissions offices are also relying on social media to connect with prospective students. These teenagers have grown up with technology as a part of their life, so glossy view books and snail mailings may not appeal to this audience.

      There has also been a slow increase in the number of schools who are going test-optional. One can only hope that this trend will continue to grow, as studies show that the high school transcript is a much better predictor of success in college.

    • In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?


      I recommend applying early decision in only 2 situations:

      One, if you have absolutely no financial concerns so your decision is not dependent on an award package.

      Two, if you have known your WHOLE life that this is the school for you and you will just die if you don't go there. I think at age 18 if is hard to know anything for sure, so proceed accordingly.

    • What are the benefits of applying early action or early decision?


      The benefits to applying early are that you will be evaluated in a smaller pool of applicants, which will increase your chances for acceptance. Another bonus would be learning sooner vs. later that you got in! Early action acceptances allow you to take a deep breath and know that someone wants you, no matter the rest of your application decisions, it's your ace-in-the-hole. Financially, there is more money in the financial aid bucket earlier in the game, which can be appealing. My theory is, you have a deadline for every school; so why not shoot for the early one and be done. Trust me, it will make the rest of your senior year so much nicer.

    • Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?


      Early decision IS binding. In the rare situation, with documentation, you may be released from the commitment. Realize that this could impact future applications and proceed cautiously. This is why I prefer early action options to early decision.

    • Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?


      Colleges have supplements because they may feel that the Common Application doesn't provide them with some needed information. Often it is an opportunity to ask an essay question unique to that institution.

    • How can students stand out on their application?


      The best way to make your application stand out is to make your essay memorable. Admissions officers read a LOT of applications and they can all blur together. If you can make them laugh, nod in agreement, relate to what you are saying; chances are that you will be remembered during the final cut and that is a good thing. The essay is your chance to put a face on your admission application. Schools are looking for values, experiences you will continue on campus, something about you that isn't mentioned anywhere else in the application; make it fun to read.

    • How tailored to each school should an application be?


      I would only tailor an application to a specific school if there is a required essay prompt for that college. There is a reason it is called the Common Application, it saves you having to recreate the wheel for each university. The chances of mentioning a specific program in one essay and then forgetting to change it in the next, are too great to risk such specificity. You need to portray who are you, not who you think they want; so be yourself and be consistent, it will all play out fine.

    • Can students apply to college online?


      The Common Application is the most popular college admission form and available only online. There is also the Universal Application used by a number of schools and done online. The campuses that don't participate in these applications may still have their own online applications as it has become a popular way to streamline the process.

    • Do all the pieces of the application need to reference one another?


      Each section of the application stands on it's own. The only place they connect may be in the short answer when an explanation is being given for low grades, rationale for course selection, or some other issue that may have raised a red flag.

    • Do colleges view online applications the same as paper applications?


      Unless stated otherwise, I believe schools will treat applications the same, whether done online or paper. The colleges realize that it may not always be an option to apply using the internet, thus they can't penalize someone for turning in a paper application. At the same time, it is not uncommon for the schools to encourage students to apply online by offering to wave the administrative fee, if they do.

    • Does it help to include supplemental materials with your application?


      I counsel my clients to use caution when adding extra materials to an application. It is one thing if a school has requested further documentation. Otherwise, it is a case of less-is-more when it comes to your file. Admissions offices have only so much time to read each folder. A fat folder could be viewed as a burden, a red flag or a really interested applicant; depending on the reader/college. Always check with the institution for their policy and you'll be fine.

    • Does submitting your application ahead of the deadline improve your chances?


      If you are applying to a rolling admissions school, then by all means don't wait until the deadline. You could hear back within four weeks, it will put you in the queue for housing, class registration, financial aid awards, etc. This is a perfect example of why sooner is better when applying. For EA and ED applications, they will be read as a batch and all decisions communicated at the same time. However, don't wait until the night before, just in case there is a technical glitch. For regular deadlines some schools will track when you applied because they will use that information when putting you in line for other campus assignment details. Don't take a chance on missing out, submit asap.

    • What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?


      Common red flags for application readers would be:

      *a sudden dip in grades with no explanation

      *a discrepancy between gpa and test scores with no explanation

      *a strong transcript, but lacks the rigor the school offers

      *a poorly executed essay

      *incriminating letters of recommendation

    • Is a student-submitted resume suggested? How/when/where?


      A student-submitted resume is fine if you just have soooooo many activities/awards/extracurriculars to list that they just don't fit on the Common App section. If that is the case, note "see attached resume" and don't fill in that section. Application readers don't have much time, so don't waste it by making them re-read information stated elsewhere. That said, make sure that you aren't listing minutia that doesn't belong in the application anyway. If you are just trying to "pad" the file, don't go there, they will see right through that. It never hurts to have a resume ready to go. Create one now and it will be easy to just update it as your life proceeds.

    • What exactly is the common app?


      The Common App is a standardized on line form used by over 300 colleges. The beauty of this invention is that you no longer need to enter the same information for each school. Just complete the application once and then indicate the schools you would like to receive the application. The downside is that students find it easy to apply to more schools than is really necessary/reasonable.

    • What is a college admissions hook?


      When most people talk about having a "hook", I believe they are referring to their essay. It's the opening line that catches the reader's attention and makes them want to keep reading. Some people may think it refers to the "spike" in you profile that makes you stand out from the crowd. While you appear well-rounded, there is an area that you are REALLY passionate about, or that makes you really unique aside from the rest of your application. You can't force a "spike", you either have one or you don't.

    • What is the universal application?


      The Universal Application is an online application similar to the Common Application, just used by different schools.

    • What are the most important components of the application?


      All parts of the application are important. I would say your high school transcript is #1. The committee will be looking at not just your grades, but whether your took a challenging course load and how you performed. There is a lot of discussion out there about the value of test scores, each school has their own theory on that subject. Next most valuable aspect of the application would be the essay, demonstrated interest and recommendations. The schools only ask for information they are going to factor in to their decision making process.

    • What are the best ways to stay organized during the application process?


      Learn organizational techniques now and you'll have greater success in college. I recommend that my clients create a file for each school. In each file is a checklist that tracks all the pieces of an application. Note the dates you submitted your test scores, asked for a recommendation, submitted the recommendation, etc. Whether you do this on your computer or a hard copy, it will help create order among all the steps involved in applying. In addition, designate a calendar dedicated solely to college application deadlines, test dates, campus visits, etc.

    • How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?


      Your best recommendation is going to be from a teacher who can best articulate their thoughts. This may not be the class where you got a top grade. It may be the class where you made the most progress from beginning to end. It should be from a teacher in the core areas, preferably one you had junior or senior year. Make sure you make the request with plenty of lead time and you will be rewarded with kind words.

    • How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?


      It's always the same teachers who get asked for recs. Do your teacher a favor and give them plenty of lead time. I love my clients to request recs before summer vacation of senior year. This gives the teacher plenty of time and avoids the typical crunch time in the fall. Offer to sit down with the teacher and talk about your future, interests outside their classroom, etc. Or, create a brief resume since often the teacher only knows you from that class viewpoint. You are flattering a teacher by letting them know you valued the education you received from them. Teachers teach because they enjoy watching their students learn and mature. They are on your team, don't be shy about approaching them.

    • Can students speed up the recommendation letter process and still get great results?


      The only way I know to help move the reference process along is to provide the recommender with a resume/bio sheet to work from. Often the teacher doesn't know you beyond their classroom and it is helpful to give them some context to work with. By giving your reference plenty of lead time, you should feel confident that the result will be beneficial. No one likes to feel like they are under the gun, so don't set up this dynamic with the person you are asking to do you a favor. Make your deadline/timeline clear, touch base in a few days for a status update, but don't pester the person.

    • What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?


      First, contact the admissions office to see if you can learn where your application fell short. Address those issues in a letter, expressing your continued interest in the institution. If they offer interviews and you didn't have one yet, by all means try to schedule an appointment. Quite possibly it is your transcript that is a concern; all the more reason to not slack off senior year and definitely send along your grades as soon as they are available. Whatever you do, don't badger the admissions office, don't stalk them on facebook, remind yourself that everything happens for a reason and this is why you applied to other schools. Good luck!

    • When should parents begin saving for college?


      It is never too early to save for college. The more you have in savings the easier it will be to meet your family's expected family contribution without relying on loans. The EFC is predominately determined by the parent's income. Colleges ignore retirement assets so that won't hurt you chances for financial aid.

    • How do I understand my financial aid package and which tips and tricks can maximize my aid?


      Deciphering your financial aid package can be a challenge. Each school has a different format for explaining your awards. Comparing packages between schools can be difficult. Start by analyzing how much money will need to be repaid, how much is merit/grant/free dollars, and how much money they are expecting you to contribute.

      The concept of tips and tricks really doesn't have a place in this situation. Your aid package is calculated using data that is static and depends on last year's numbers. There really is no way to beat the system.

    • How can you get in off the wait list?


      First, contact the admissions office to see if you can learn where your application fell short. Address those issues in a letter, expressing your continued interest in the institution. If they offer interviews and you didn't have one yet, by all means try to schedule an appointment. Quite possibly it is your transcript that is a concern; all the more reason to not slack off senior year and definitely send along your grades as soon as they are available. Whatever you do, don't badger the admissions office, don't stalk them on facebook, remind yourself that everything happens for a reason and this is why you applied to other schools. Good luck!

    • How can you get in off the waitlist?


      First, contact the admissions office to see if you can learn where your application fell short. Address those issues in a letter, expressing your continued interest in the institution. If they offer interviews and you didn't have one yet, by all means try to schedule an appointment. Quite possibly it is your transcript that is a concern; all the more reason to not slack off senior year and definitely send along your grades as soon as they are available. Whatever you do, don't badger the admissions office, don't stalk them on facebook, remind yourself that everything happens for a reason and this is why you applied to other schools. Good luck!

    • How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?


      Within the application, standardized scores are just another aspect used in creating a profile of the applicant. While some schools may place more weight on them than others, there is a growing list of colleges who have become test optional. If there is a discrepancy between course grades and test scores, the school may be looking for an explanation in the additional information section of the application. Never leave it to the imagination of the committee, address the issue up front and take ownership for your work. High school grades have been found to be a better predictor of success in college, so focus on doing your best in class and you will be rewarded.

    • What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and ACT?


      I personally love the daily question found on both the College Board's and ETS's websites. It also doesn't hurt to become familiar with the type of questions you will be asked, as the format doesn't change. While the SAT is more about your problem solving and reasoning skills, the ACT covers acquired knowledge. The day before the test please get a normal night's sleep, eat a good breakfast, allow yourself plenty of time to arrive at the test site, and keep breathing! Once you have your scores you will know if you want to retake the exam and/or do a more in depth prep course. Most schools will only look at your highest scores, regardless.

    • Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?


      Each school will let you know if a test is required and what one. Often the ACT and SAT are equally accepted. Tests need to be taken in time for scores to arrive by the application deadline. If you are not satisfied with your score you are welcome to retake the test. Please don't waste your time and money retaking the test without doing a better job preparing yourself. Also, taking the test more than 3 times is probably not going to result in a significant improvement in your score.

    • How do you save money for college?


      Whether you invest in the stock market or save you pennies in a jar, what matters is that you are intentionally making an effort to save for college. Having a job in high school is a good thing. It demonstrates your ability to manage your time and take responsibility. There will always be unexpected expenses once you arrive on campus, so the more you have saved, the better off you'll be. Working while in college is another good idea. Again, studies show that the busier you are, the more organized you will be. Campus jobs often come with flexibility, the opportunity to meet new people, and put some change in your pocket. Everyone's circumstances are different, so how you save for college will be different from the next person.

    • How can a student figure out which standardized tests to take, when, and how many times?


      While the ACT and SAT are generally accepted interchangeably, their differences may appeal to one person over another. The SAT will penalize you for guessing, but the ACT doesn't. The ACT covers science, while the SAT doesn't. Some students do well on one over the other, some do well on both and still others have no success on either. It is really a factor of your schedule when it comes to timing the tests. Most students take them for the first time in junior year. Some students will retake the exam after studying harder, working with a tutor or test prep program. If you don't do anything differently between test dates, the likelihood of your score changing is slim. Remember, test scores are just one piece of the application picture and at test optional schools they aren't even a factor.

    • Is the SAT still as important as it used to be? If so, how?


      The SAT is still required for admission to a number of schools. Depending on the institution, more or less weight may be given to your score. Research continues to demonstrate there are issues with standardized tests, that can't be ignored. For this reason, the list of test optional schools continues to grow (see At some schools, SAT scores may factor in to merit aid awards.

    • Are there ways to waive college application fees?


      It never hurts to ask. Often your guidance counselor will have waivers available. Sometimes the college will mail you an application with the notation "fee waived".

      Depending on the school and your profile, it may be a way to save a few dollars in the process.

    • What is a 529 plan and how can you start one?


      As a college savings vehicle, 529 plans can be very worthwhile. To start one you will have to make a minimum deposit when you open your account. After that, you will need to contribute a certain amount each year. Every plan has it's own rules, so make sure that you understand the contribution requirements for your plan.

    • Can taking AP courses help students reduce their financial burden?


      Absolutely! If you score high enough on the AP Exam, you may qualify for college credits without having to take another class on the subject. This will put you ahead in terms of class standing, possibly allowing you to register earlier as if you were a semester farther along than you otherwise would be. Should you end up changing majors, those extra credits may save you from having to extend your time on campus. Depending on the institution, your may qualify for additional merit awards (aka free money) if your score on the AP Exam is high enough.

    • Do students have any financial aid options if they have already committed to a school early decision?


      Early Decision acceptance generally indicates that you are prepared to pay, whatever the cost of attendance. While an ED acceptance is binding, you will still receive a financial aid award letter that may include loans, grants, scholarships, work study, and your family's expected contribution. In these current economic times, some institutions are willing to go back to the drawing board if your circumstances have changed since applying. If a school REALLY wants you, there may be some wiggle room, but don't count on it.

    • What are the pros, cons, and costs of various SAT and ACT prep methods?


      Everyone's learning style is different. While some students are disciplined enough to study independently, others need the strong arm of a tutor or test prep service to keep them focused. How much money you spend on these options depends where you live, how long the course is, and who is providing the instruction.

    • For students with divorced parents, who is responsible for paying for college?


      The custodial parent and if they have remarried, the step-parent, will be responsible for paying for college. According to the financial information gathered on the FAFSA, the formulas are based on the parent you have lived with the majority of the year.

    • Has the economic downturn affected financial aid?


      Obviously, the current economic situation has had an impact on everyone. More students are feeling the need for monetary assistance in order to attend college. Some schools have had to cut back their assistance because of lack of funds available. The U.S. government controls what the rules and boundaries will be for subsidized loans. Meanwhile colleges and universities are looking for ways to fill the gaps created by reduced resources.

    • How can a student's grandparents help pay for college tuition?


      If your grandparents are feeling generous, they are welcome to write checks to cover your college bills. If they aren't feeling so inclined, but have the resources, perhaps they'd make an interest free loan deal with you. Of course, either of these arrangements will increase the pressure for you to succeed, since they are putting their faith and money on you.

    • How does a step-parent affect financial aid?


      If the custodial parent has remarried, then the step-parent's financial circumstances will also be taken in to consideration. If there is a step-parent for the non-custodial parent, they are not included in the financial formulas.

    • How is financial aid determined?


      Every school will have it's own financial aid formula for determining aid awards. While most schools will require the FAFSA and or CSS Profile, how they choose to use that information will vary from campus to campus. Depending on a school's endowment, need-blind/need-aware policy, when you apply (because the pool of money eventually dries up); will determine your package.

    • How much does college really cost?


      College costs vary from school to school and student to student. There are so many more factors to consider beyond tuition, room and board. The price of books, transportation, clothing, sporting and performing arts tickets, are just a few more variables to factor in to the total. Whether you are willing to pinch pennies or go in to debt with loans, will impact your cost of college equation.

    • How much time is spent on each student's financial aid package?


      There is no magic number when it comes to time spent reviewing a student's financial aid situation. Because every student is coming from different circumstances and each school has different policies, it's difficult to generalize. You can be certain that your file will be given a fair review. Financial Aid staff view their job as helping to make college accessible for students, so they want to help. While it may not feel like it when you appeal a decision, they are doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them.

    • If you are a US citizen wanting to study abroad, how does financial aid work?


      Whether your financial aid follows you abroad will depend on your school and the exchange program you are traveling with. Typically the school will support your interest in a foreign experience, so they will help subsidize the cost somehow. There is a wide range in the cost of study abroad programs, depending on the length of the program, location, housing/meal situation, etc. Because working abroad is not usually an option, your may feel like you are missing an earning opportunity as you head off overseas. The experiences and opportunities that await you abroad can't be measured in dollars alone.

    • Is it possible to renegotiate your financial aid package?


      You can always ask, you have nothing to lose. If your circumstances have changed, they will definitely be receptive to your situation. If you can state your case in a cool, calm and collected manner you will be met with greater success. Trying to strong arm the financial aid counselor will get you nowhere. These professionals have seen and heard just about every scenario. They have guidelines they follow to maintain fairness. Treat them with respect and you just may experience results.

    • Is there a difference in financial award for students who are accepted off the wait list?


      The only difference in your financial aid award if you were wait listed, might be a result of your financial review occurring later, thus dollars available being fewer. Some schools will take your financial circumstances in to consideration when deciding to accept you off the wait list. Other colleges are "need blind" so they don't make their acceptance decisions based on anything other than your academic and extracurricular merits.

    • What are some different ways that students can pay for college?


      Students can use a combination of ways to pay for college. Ideally, merit based grants and scholarships are the best option, as they have no repayment obligations. Work-study jobs can be convenient and lead to other opportunities. There are also jobs available on and off campus, that don't require you to qualify for work-study and can be good resume builders too: Resident Assistants, teaching assistants, lab assistants, to name a few. Loans come in many forms, but all will come with interest due upon repayment. Maybe a family member will offer you an interest free loan, that would be great.

    • What are the best ways for students to negotiate their college tuition?


      While college tuition isn't really negotiable, how you pay for it may be. First don't rule out a school based on it's sticker price. Depending on the institution's endowment for financial aid, an expensive school may actually cost you less in the end. Also, realize that financial aid administrators are there to help you pay for college, so talk to them, explain your circumstances and see what can be done.

    • What are the different forms of aid a student can receive?


      Financial aid can come in the form of free money: scholarships and grants.

      Financial aid can come in the form of work study hours: on campus job scheduled around your classes.

      Financial aid can come in the form of loans: various platforms, all charging interest and offering various repayment plans.

      Financial aid awards may be a combination of the above, it just depends on your situation.

    • What are the most common mistakes students make on the financial aid application?


      Most students procrastinate on this task. It really isn't that difficult and in some cases it can truly be a case of first-come-first-served when the money is being handed out. It is also critical to make sure you leave nothing blank or you will just delay the process. Some students think they can "beat the system", but last year's income and this year's assets can't be changed and that is what your aid will be based upon. So gather all of the documentation you'll need and plug the answers in to the form NOW, you'll be glad you did.

    • What can students do if there is a change in their family's financial circumstances?


      In these current economic times it is not uncommon for family financial circumstances to change. Make an appointment to speak to someone in the financial aid office. These folks are human, they do this for a living, their job is to make college as affordable as possible for you. Trust me, they want to help. Don't get discouraged if they don't have a "magic wand", keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities that may come along.

    • What do students need to know about financial aid?


      Students need to realize that financial aid refers to monetary assistance for college. Some of that assistance will come in the form of loans that need to be repaid with interest, while other aid is offered through grants and scholarships with no strings attached. Plus there is work-study, which allows a student to hold a job on campus that is convenient with their class schedule. Bottom line, what makes a "good" financial aid package depends on the breakdown of the various types of money offered.

    • What figures should you consider when you evaluate a financial aid offer from a school?


      Your financial aid offer will usually include a number of categories. First, there will be free money: merit awards, scholarships, grants. Second there will be loan options, of which there are numerous types. Third, you may qualify for work-study hours. And finally it will indicate what your family's expected contribution will be. So it is then up to you to decide if you want to meet your expenses using loans or some other means (i.e. savings), explore the work study options if you qualify, and decide if you feel like the return on your investment will be worth the cost.

    • What is the best way for students to finance their education?


      Obviously, the best way for students to finance their education is without incurring loan debt. Strong grades and high test scores could help secure merit scholarships (aka free money). Depending on your circumstances or field of study, there may be grant funds available (aka free money). If you qualify for work study that's a great way to combine work with classes. Studies show that the busier you are, the more organized you will be; so don't dismiss the idea of working while in college. Keep your eyes and ears open and you may find that hidden pocket of money just waiting for someone to get it.

    • What is work study?


      Work study is my favorite form of financial aid (not counting scholarships and grants!). These jobs are located on campus, hours can be worked around your class schedule, and often the responsibilities of the position allow you to actually study at the same time. Checking out books at the library, working the front desk at your dorm, handing out towels at the rec center, are just a few examples of work study jobs.

    • What should students do if their non-custodial parents are out of the picture?


      Non-custodial parents are automatically out of the picture when it come to financial aid. The FAFSA is only interested in the financial information of the parent who you reside with the most. If that parent has remarried, the step-parent's financial information will also be taken in to consideration.

    • What should students do if their parents don't want to pay for college?


      If your parents don't want to pay for college you aren't alone. There are many students whose parents either can't or won't subsidize four years of higher education. This is exactly when your savings/scholarships/grants/work-study/jobs/and loans come in to play. Obviously, the ideal scenario would mean no debt for you, but that just may not be an option here. Try to remember that college graduates earning potential is more than those who never advance beyond a high school diploma. It may feel like you are digging yourself in to a hole, but a bachelor's degree will never be devalued and you will appreciate having it in your hip pocket.

    • What is the FAFSA?


      FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the governmental application that every student must submit in order to be eligible for federal financial aid.

    • Should assets and income of stepparents be recorded on FAFSA?


      When filing the FAFSA answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived with the most during the past 12 months. If that parent is remarried, then the stepparent's assets and income will be recorded as well.

    • Should students pay someone to help them with the FAFSA?


      How you spend your money is a personal decision. The FAFSA is not a difficult form to complete, as long as you have all the supporting documentation handy to refer to as you are completing all the steps. It can be a very valuable lesson in economics for the student if they are willing to participate in the process.

    • How is the FAFSA different from the CSS profile? What is the CSS profile?


      While the FAFSA uses a federal methodology, the College Scholarship Service is a private company that provides educational services to colleges. Using the CSS Profile a school may determine how to distribute it's own funds, while the FAFSA is used for dispersement of federal financial aid funds.

    • How do you fill out the FAFSA?


      Ideally you will fill out the FAFSA on line. Beginning on January 1st of the year you will start college, you may file your FAFSA application. You will need to file a new FAFSA every year you are seeking financial aid. You will need your completed federal tax return from the previous year, including all schedules. You will also need your social security number and driver's license number. In addition your current bank and brokerage/investment account statements. Any other records from any other investments, mortgage statements, records of child support paid to or received from a former spouse. Lastly, financial statements or a corporate tax return, if you own a business or farm and records of untaxed income such as Social Security benefits, welfare payments, and tex-exempt interest income.

    • How do I manage my student loans?


      While borrowing for college has become common today, it is still critical that you do so carefully. Excessive borrowing could become a burden, so it is critical that you examine the interest rates on loans and the repayment terms. Please proceed with caution as you travel this slippery slope of money management.

    • How can I use student loans to help pay for college?


      Federal Higher Education Loans are designed for just this purpose. The Unsubsidized Stafford Loan is a low-interest, federal student loan and NOT based on need. The Subsidized Stafford Loan is also low-interest, but IS based on financial aid. The Perkins Loan is available to the students with the greatest need. And the PLUS Loan allows parents of students to borrow funds based on their credit history.

    • Can students work with loan companies to reduce their loan burden?


      The benefit of a federal loan occurs when they are forgiven in the event of total disability or death, if the student serves in the military or teaches/practices medicine in certain types of communities.

    • What are the advantages of loan consolidation?


      Federal consolidation loans don't require application or origination fees.

      Federal law limits the period of time for loan repayment and caps the interest rate on the loan.

      Pay attention to interest rates, as you can only consolidate once.

    • What are the best ways to pay off student loans?


      The best way to pay off student loans is as quickly as possible. The satisfaction that will come from being debt free is huge. Expenses are only going to continue to accrue upon graduation, so the less money you have tied up in loan payments, the better.

    • What are the most common scholarship scams? How do I avoid them?


      You should NEVER have to pay to apply for a scholarship. It is also easy to get the feeling that there is a lot of money waiting to be won, but often there is only one fortunate recipient and tons of candidates. Before disclosing any personal information, do your homework. Check out the source of the award, talk to your college counselor, be thorough in your research and don't do anything in a hurry. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    • What are the best places to look for college scholarships?


      There are sooooooo many places to find scholarship opportunities. I would start in your school's guidance office. Often the local awards offer your best chance. The internet is loaded with ideas, but proceed cautiously. There are scams out there wanting you to pay money to search for money, don't do it. Realize that the number of applications for national awards can be staggering, so don't get your hopes up.

    • Is it better to focus on winning several small scholarships or one large one?


      No one has the crystal ball on this issue. If you have the time and qualifications, why not apply for the small and large scholarships; you just never know. There is no limit to how many awards you can compete for, but realize that it can take on a life of it's own and become overwhelming. So, do your homework and focus your efforts on opportunities that are truly realistic.

    • What are Scholarship Selection Committees typically looking for?


      Obviously Scholarship Selection Committees are looking for individuals who best represent the intention of the award. They are looking for students who they feel deserve the award, based on financial need, academic prowess, work ethic, etc. Scholarships tend to be very specific, so their criteria will expect you to be a perfect match to win. Put your best foot forward. Be honest, humble and organized with your application and you just may be rewarded.

    • Is it possible to keep getting new scholarships as an entering freshman?


      Once you are on campus there will be a whole new crop of scholarship opportunities to pursue. These potential awards may come through your academic department or a campus organization in which you are active. Residence life, greek life, alumni affairs are all sources where money may be available. Keep your ears open, watch bulletin boards, ask around and you just may be rewarded.

    • How can students use their essay to improve their chances of getting a scholarship?


      Scholarships are generally seeking more than name, rank and serial number to base their awards on. By being articulate in the essay, you will command the attention of the committee. The more specific you can be regarding why you are the perfect match with the award, the better. Show, don't tell; use details to make it memorable; be conversational in tone vs. analytical; and tell a story that belongs only to you. Good luck!

    • What types of scholarships might I be eligible for?


      Your eligibility for scholarships is dependent on your strengths. They may be academic excellence, athletic ability, financial need, or civic minded to name a few. Some scholarships will require more extensive applications than others, so it is up to you to decide if your eligibility is truly viable and worth your effort. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, when it comes to free money; as long as it hasn't cost you anything to apply in the first place.

    • What can I do to increase the likelihood of getting a scholarship?


      The more things you do well, the greater variety of scholarships you could apply for. At the same time, showing a deep passion for one activity may work to your advantage as well. Make sure that you apply the same amount of concentration on these applications as you did on your college apps. In fact, you may be able to tailor some of your college essays and not have to start from scratch. Be yourself and be optimistic.

    • What are the best ways for students to manage their college expenses?


      It's never to early to create a budget. This is a valuable skill that you will use for the rest of your financial life. If you have to record every expense, it will make you much more conscious about where your money is actually being spent. If you only pay in cash, you will avoid overspending and incurring interest charges that come with credit card purchases. As a rule students are pretty good at finding the "deals" and taking advantage of a free meal here and a free t-shirt there. Rather than feeling sorry for yourself and lack of funds, make a game of trying to spend as little as possible and enjoy the savings when you really need them.

    • What are some ways that students can make money while in college?


      There are usually plenty of jobs to be had on college campuses and the local businesses around the town. Whether you are washing dishes in the dining hall, waiting tables at a restaurant, serving at catered events on campus or working as a resident assistant in the dorms; there is money to be earned. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will learn about all kinds of opportunities for employment. Some jobs will work better with a student schedule, some will pay better, and some may be only available to those on Work Study status. Regardless, studies show that the busier you are, the more efficient you are with your time. So find time for work and you'll enjoy having some extra change in your pocket!

    • What are some good money-saving tips for students?


      College students have typically been lauded for their resourcefulness. Before any purchase try to analyze whether you REALLY need it. Maybe you can "make do" with something you already own, maybe you can find it "on sale", maybe you could share the expense with a friend. Those daily coffee drinks, vending machine sodas, and pizza parties may be eating in to your savings. Do without for a while and enjoy some calories saved and money in the bank.

    • What are some of the hidden costs of college?


      While most college budget worksheets have a category for "incidentals", this is where I find it easy to spend money without realizing how quickly it adds up. Those late night pizza orders, that Starbuck's drink you NEED on a hot or cold day, the reality of what it costs to do your laundry, spending money at the convenience stores rather than a discount location; can all do damage to the bottom line. Fortunately, most students are watching their finances, so you won't be alone and misery loves company. College students are really really good at finding the FREE deals on campus and appreciating them too.

    • How can college students find the best banking plans?


      Unfortunately there is still no simple way to compare banking plans. Every financial institution seems to have a slightly different spin on their services, making it difficult to compare apples to apples. Your fellow students may be your best resource. Typically you want something you can access locally, without incurring transaction fees. Some banks are more student friendly than others. Location of ATMs, service fees, hours of operation, etc, are just a few of the considerations to keep in mind.

    • How can students save money during the admissions process?


      First of all watch deadlines. If you have to register late for one of the national tests, you'll pay extra. If you didn't list a school as a recipient of one of your free score reports, you'll pay extra. If you didn't get your paperwork together in time and have to use an express mail service, you'll pay extra.

      Depending on your personal financial circumstances and the particular school, application fees may be waived. Rather than visiting a school far far away, consider waiting until you are accepted. If you know the schools you are applying to don't require the SAT/ACT, save the money by not taking the exams.