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  • Reecy Aresty

    Title: College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author

    Company: Payless For College, Inc.

    • verified

    College Specializations
    Princeton University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, New York University, Carnegie Mellon University, Vanderbilt University, University of Miami, Stetson University, University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, University of South Florida-Main Campus, Emory University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Villanova University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach, The University of Tampa, Nova Southeastern University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Northeastern University, Northwestern University, Loyola University Chicago, Georgetown University, University of Maryland-College Park
    Years of Experience
    33
    Languages Spoken
    English, French

    Colleges I Attended
    U of Akron, Temple University
    About Me
    For over 33 years, I've been helping families send their kids to the college of their choice for less than they ever imagined. My special area of expertise is using legal strategies to qualify families for maximum financial aid. My successes in appealing unappealing financial aid award letters are legendary. Examples: U PENN before appeals - $0; After - $33,000; Princeton 2nd semester bill - $15,252; aid rec'd $18,030! For more info go to PaylessForCollege.com.

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  • Admissions Expertise

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

       

      Yes & here are a few:

      1. Working with or tutoring the handicapped or disabled

      2. MADD, SADD

      3. Becoming an Eagle or Sea Scout

      4. Working with homeless organizations

      5. Starting your own fund raising organization highly impresses colleges, & I speak from personal experience

      6. And many more

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

       

      It all depends who you're calling and about what. Surely, no one needs to be a pest with questions that can be answered w/o the necessity of a phone call.

      On the other hand, if the student has developed a rapport (which they should have) with higher ups in admissions, etc., it's an entirely different story.

    • Does class size matter?

       

      Obviously a lecture hall of 500 won't afford anyone a 1 on 1 with a professor as a small class of 20-30 will. It's also important to make sure you're taught by someone who wrote the book rather than someone who read the book. Teaching assistants are not as valuable as a professor who has a biography 3 pages long! Be sure to take all this into consideration in the college selection process.

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

       

      Obviously, this assumes phone & em contacts, but you don't want to be a pest if the answers are available w/o a phone call. However, contacting higher ups who you met (you did meet some, didn't you) on your numerous visits is a completely different matter.

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

       

      ED for some, & Early Action is recommended in most cases, but many schools have Rolling where you find out much quicker; avoid regular like the plague, unless there's no other option. The early applicant gets the ticket the quickest!

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

       

      As best you can, but don't put them in a corner so they'll refuse to make the college of your choice a reality. Placate them if necessary, but under NO circumstances should they FORCE you to attend any particular college or only colleges on THEIR list. If so, seek out a counselor and have them talk to your parent(s). Your future is at stake, and you surely don't want them to really screw it (you) up!

    • How many schools should students apply to?

       

      At least if not more of what follows:

      2-3 sure admits

      2-3 mid range

      2-3 reach

      Just make sure none of your schools are out of reach!

    • How much do alumni recommendations matter?

       

      It all depends who the alums are, like a past president or ex-director of admissions. It's not what you know, but who you know - never forget that!

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

       

      Well in advance. Here's an old caveat:

      Plan your work, work your plan.

      Nobody plans to fail, but too many fail to plan.

      Make sure your portfolio is the best it can be, and set up an interview. Having an LOR from a world class person in the field can be worth an admission ticket!

    • How should expat applicants approach the admissions process?

       

      It's really the parents who are & I've had several. The student applies as if they were living in the US, and when financial aid time comes, an experienced person's services are highly desired. Please note, the further away they live, the more of a travel allowance can be requested & rec'd in the appeals process.

    • Once accepted, how do you choose between colleges?

       

      Often it's financial aid that matters, even though that shouldn't be the deciding factor. The best curriculum is the #1 priority - and always will be!

    • What are some tips for college visits?

       

      Make sure it when school is in session. try to arrange a meeting with a chairman of a dept you plan to study under, and a meeting with the provost can enhance your chances immensely. Talk to current students and ask pointed questions, and be sure to stay out of the financial aid office.

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

       

      Qualifying for college credit which saves big bucks in college costs, and enabling the student to concentrate on more electives w/o having to take every required course.

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

       

      First of all, if you did advanced planning, you'd have already had an interview w/the chairman of whatever dept your looking to get into, and more importantly, an appt w/the provost of the university. That surely can be the coup de gras!

      Make sure you eat in the cafeteria if you'll take meals there, talk to students, visit a dorm, stay out of the financial aid office, and take pictures to be reviewed later. Ask the guide what % of need-based aid is usually met, & what % is gift aid.

    • What are the most politically active colleges?

       

      When I was in college, it was Columbia when Jerry Rubin was active & also Berkeley. Sadly, today students are more apathetic because Congress is so inept at accomplishing what's necessary to fix the economy.

    • What are the quickest ways to research colleges?

       

      Take virtual tours on the Internet, talk to current & students who graduated, visit schools close by if they're on your list.

    • What are women's colleges like?

       

      Probably boring for some w/o any guys. However, they're probably great for the vast amount of women students. Being a guy, I don't have the best answer.

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

       

      It's a little late in the game, but here are a few:

      1. Strive for the best grades & test scores as possible

      2. Make sure you've obtained fantastic LOR's

      3. Ace those interviews!

      4. Pile on community service hours

      5. Visit your favorite house of worship and say a few prayers

      6. Whatever else is necessary to fulfill all school requirements

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

       

      A lot! But here's just a few things:

      1. That maybe they should have studied harder & gotten better grades, test scores while in high school

      2. That they shouldn't have earned more than their income protection allowance

      3. That they should have had <$100 in their name so they wouldn't have lost so much in financial aid $$$

      4. That maybe their parents should have attended a free admissions/financial aid seminar, and if they did and had a free consultation, hired an expert

      5. And so much more

    • What exactly are US News and the College Board?

       

      US News & World Report is a world class magazine that publishes college rankings every year. The College Board in the home of more college info than you can imagine. It's also where you fill out the CSS for 200+ colleges that request this financial aid form.

    • What extracurriculars are most important?

       

      It could be debate, year book, president of a language club, but it all depends on what the student intends to accomplish and focus their energies on.

    • What if you can't visit a school?

       

      Start with a virtual tour & seek out graduates to get their perspectives.

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

       

      Need blind refers to a family's financial fingerprint NOT being factored into the admissions process; need sensitive is just the opposite. Very few schools use the latter.

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

       

      It's the parents, not the students who will be doing the hiring. Most families should seek out third party experts for a "free" consultation well in advance of the senior year to know what the process is all about and if their family could benefit - and not just financially. What's the value of getting an edge in admissions & being accepted to the college of your choice?

      All the financial aid in the world is useless without that coveted admission ticket, because paying for college is the easy part; getting in is the tough part! After 33 years, I can categorically make that statement.

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

       

      I'm assuming this means that the 11th grade is over. If not, be sure to ask special teachers for LOR's. Waiting until the fall can be too late, as they'll be bombarded by your classmates. Make sure that if they work in the summer that they'll earn <$6,000 in 2012, otherwise, for every dollar earned over, they'll lose 50 cents in financial aid! Contemplate starting your own fundraising organization to get a real boost in the admissions process & hire your friends as your asssistants.

      Make sure that if you have to visit a college campus that at least a summer session is in progress. Poor planning resulted in this decision.

    • What should students focus on during the application process?

       

      Everything that pertains to it. Make a list of ALL components and check them off when completed.

      Here are just a few:

      1. Have an on campus interview w/the chairman of the dept you plan on focusing on & at the same time hopefully meet w/the provost of the university to present your credentials. This should be accomplished as a non-applicant as early as the 10th grade

      2. Making sure all SAT/SATII/ACT tests are completed

      3. Meeting ALL deadlines

      4. You get the picture

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

       

      Here's one of my favorite caveats:

      Plan your work, work your plan. Nobody plans to fail, but too many people fail to plan.

      Applying to college is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and EVERY student needs that all-important edge in admissions, so don't screw it up!

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

       

      The optimum time for an on campus visit is as a non-applicant way in advance of entering the 12th grade! If not, make sure school is at least in session when you go.

      Eat in the cafeteria if you'll be taking meals there, visit a dorm or 2 where you might reside, speak w/numerous students about courses, professors, cost of books, or about any other concerns you may have. You should have a prepared list, and check off everything if possible. Take the following advice:

      Plan your work, work your plan. Nobody plans to fail, but too many fail to plan.

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

       

      For students who will take SATII's & the ACT in addition to the SAT, make sure you plan well to be able to take the tests multiple times if necessary to satisfy an particular college's requirements. Also, be sure to pile on as many community service hrs as possible. Make sure your income for 2012 will be <$6,000, or you'll lose 50 cents in financial aid for every dollar earned over that. Obtain great LOR's now to avoid the rush in the fall.

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

       

      Not submitting applications on time, never visiting the college, only answering the basic application questions, and not submitting or sending other paperwork. Neglecting to have an interview or not submitting any LOR's, not applying for one of the college's own scholarships. But here's one that's often overlooked - having way too few community service hrs on your transcript.

    • What is the best way to start researching colleges?

       

      Talk to your guidance counselor for advice and contact admissions experts for some ideas when you start your own research. Get copies or search the Internet for Princeton Review ratings, CRS (College Raking Service), Best Colleges, and any number of specific reports on engineering, arts, music, drama or other such schools. Be sure to have your checklist out to rate the schools based on your preferences. This is just the beginning!

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

       

      Public schools will traditionally have stricter guidelines on financial aid, have many more day students, less professors & more teaching assistants. You could wind up being lost in the shuffle. In FL as in many other states, it could take you 5 or more years to graduate.

      There's also less flexibility in course structure.

      Private schools can offer whatever they want in financial aid, and many have huge endowments and can attract the best professors in various fields. The student retention rate is much higher, and most students are assured of completing 120 credits in 4 years or less.

      What really matters is that the school is right for you - big or small, urban or rural Big 10 or smallest 100, you have your criteria & that's all that matters. After you visit & talk to current & past students, you'll have a better idea of just what to expect.

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

       

      That the schools have the right curriculum and backup programs if you change your major. How much a school has awarded in financial aid is also a factor as well as what % of freshmen are there after 4 years. You should have a checklist of what's really important to you and make sure the school can satisfy all your needs wants & desires.

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

       

      Early action = sooner notice. ED (only 1 school applied to) is a binding contract that if the student is accepted, they must send a letter to ALL other schools applied to to have their application withdrawn! They're telling the school that financial aid is of no interest, only being accepted is. This can be a nightmare if aid is not forthcoming.

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

       

      Most applications travel the same course - transcript review by 1 or more, actual application review w/or w/o essay review, which can stand on its own, interview results factored in (there had better have been one), and possibly a committee meeting to make the final decision. Impossible to determine exactly how many people were involved from beginning to end.

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

       

      Here are a few from your list - you better have one:

      Where's the health center?

      What's the likelihood of graduating in 4 yrs?

      What % of students graduate with job offers?

      What specific scholarships are there, if any?

      How easy is it to trade roommates?

      What's the likelihood of becoming an RA?

      What % of financial need does the school meet?

      You'll surely have your own, but these are pretty good for starters.

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

       

      Have a meal in the cafeteria.

      Check out a dorm or 2.

      Talk to current students to get some specific questions answered.

      Visit the town if the school is in an isolated or small town setting.

      Try to meet with a professor or 2 in your area of study, because you did research in advance and have tentative appt's.

      If you'll have a car, find out the parking fees & where the lot(s) are located in relation to the dorms.

      If you're Greek minded, check out some frat or sorority houses.

      Naturally, you'll have other things to see that were on your list - you better have one!

    • What does an ideal incoming class look like?

       

      Ethnically diverse, & geographically as well, plenty of intn'l students & a number of students with various disabilities round out most freshman classes.

    • What does the evaluation process look like?

       

      It goes something like this:

      The transcript is reviewed 1st, and if it passes the litmus test, the application will be read; next comes essay review, and lastly LOR's & the interview (there better have been one) are factored in.

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

       

      Those who are in your primary area of study, assuming you have one. Stay out of the financial aid office, so you don't become a "marked" person. Frat or sorority folks if that's your interest, or maybe a coach or 2 if sports is important.

      You really need to have this all planned out in advance, and it all goes back to my favorite caveat:

      Plan your work, work your plan. Nobody plans to fail, but too many fail to plan. The admissions/financial aid process begins in the 9th or 10th grade, and I speak from 33 yrs of experience!

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

       

      An overnight stay should be very important, and if you get one, be thankful. Make sure to have a change of clothes & whatever happens find out if it's typical or out of the ordinary. Don't assume anything, you can be painfully surprised. Be sure to follow whatever rules there are, and find out in advance - but you should have already known that.

      Hopefully you'll be able to audit a course or 2, talk to some professors on a one-to-one, and possibly present your credentials to some admissions folks & the provost - and don't for a minute think that's out of the question! I've had 10th & 11th graders meet w/chairmen of dept's & presidents of universities when the schools DON'T even have on campus interviews! It's all in the planning if you do it right.

    • What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?

       

      Having acceptable #'s, a successful interview, has had correspondence with admissions personnel or the Provost or has met them personally. Going out of your way to impress upon them that you want that precious, all-important admission ticket!

    • What are some common myths about the admissions process?

       

      That just having the numbers will get a student admitted; students whose numbers are lower than last year's average have no chance of being accepted, an interview isn't important & neither are a resume or outrageous LOR's.

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

       

      I would assume so to get a better idea of what a particular applicant has to offer a college other than just their numbers.

      I'm an unknown because of my financial aid strategies that guarantee to qualify families for maximum financial aid, and my successes at appealing unappealing financial aid award letters are legendary. Any college would always prefer to award less financial aid than more.

    • Admissions officers - what is the most memorable experience you've had in admissions?

       

      Although I'm not an admissions officer, one of my students had the following experience:

      During his interview he brought the 3 things I always recommend one have: a resume, a special essay entitled, "Why I Must Attend [Your college] ", and the coup de gras, a business card. He presented his resume immediately, and after about 15 minutes, he gave him the special essay. When it was all over, he turned to leave and did a 180 and said, "Let's exchange business cards!"

      After he got his acceptance letter, he called the person who sent it and asked specifically what it was that made the final decision, and she said that when he left, the interviewer ran down the hall screaming, "Look what I just got (holding up the student's business card)!" That was the decisive factor.

    • Does gender bias exist in college admissions?

       

      Naturally, but not as much as in the past & ethnic bias as well - don't kid yourself into thinking that college is a perfect world!

    • How has technology changed the admissions process?

       

      I think it's pretty obvious with the computer age, the vastness of Internet technology, videos, CD's, etc. Most evaluations are done electronically, and too often an acceptance e/m replaces a fat letter!

    • How do admissions officers choose among applicants who are on the bubble?

       

      Most likely if they had a chance to personally meet the student that could make the difference. The known vs the unknown can weigh heavily. However, to cover their butts, they could accept 1 and defer and/or wait-list the others. Too difficult to give an exact answer as there are so many variables.

    • How do admissions offices choose between several qualified applicants?

       

      This is almost the same question as the last one, except now we're talking about more students, but the unknown factor is now how many will actually be accepted.

      Most likely if they had a chance to personally meet the student(s) that could make the difference. The known vs the unknown can weigh heavily. However, to cover their butts, they could accept a few and defer and/or wait-list the others. Too difficult to give an exact answer as there are so many variables.

    • How do financial aid administrators decide on an aid package?

       

      Some schools meet financial need 100%, others 50%. There are many factors in addition to the EFC, but the initial aid offer is usually substantially LESS than what can be obtained in the appeals/negotiation process. I've spent 33 years in financial aid trench warfare and speak from experience.

    • What trends have you noticed in admissions?

       

      The standards are getting tougher. Additionally, there has been some relaxation in ED conditions.

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

       

      At ED schools it's binding & you can get out of it - but in May where will you apply? Wash U in St. Louis has an ED program with a Dec. 31st deposit date; no deposit, no binding contract. But it's still very late in the game to start applying in Jan.

    • How can students stand out on their application?

       

      Having 1,000 or more community service hrs in combination w/a high GPA. Fluency in 3 languages is always a plus as well. SAT/ACT scores from 9th or 10 grade can also be impressive in addition to dual enrollment. These are just a few.

    • How tailored to each school should an application be?

       

      Only some of the answers can be tailored, as the application itself is a pre-printed form. Try to get it across that this school is your 1st choice.

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

       

      Parents being illegal immigrants, poor grammar, misspellings, inconsistent or missing information, resident aliens w/o a TOEFL score, and a host of other things a college might consider a red flag.

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

       

      On the Common App if the college asks for any additional info you'd like to submit. Just make sure it's not too many characters. Otherwise, submit it directly to the director of admissions, or give it to the interviewer at the beginning of your interview.

    • What exactly is the common app?

       

      It's found at commonapp.org & used by over 400 colleges, some of which use it exclusively.

    • What is a college admissions hook?

       

      In my opinion it's something extraordinary that makes the student stand out like Yao Ming does in a crowd.

    • What is the universal application?

       

      The Universal College Application is an online admissions application consortium for college-bound students, and can be found at universalapplication.com.

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

       

      I have a GRID which I give to each family so they can list all items to be submitted to a college and the dates they are due. This way NO deadlines should be missed. Also, have a file folder on each college w/copies of all correspondence.

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

       

      You read my mind! Here's one of my favorite caveats:

      Plan your work, work your plan.

      No one plans to fail, but too many people fail to plan.

      Best time to get LOR's is after Jan. in the 10th, 11th, or even the 9th grade. At that time of year, teachers are no longer bombarded w/requests from desperate students. They'll have plenty of time to write a great LOR. Be sure to give them the name & address of the director of admissions at specific colleges you're applying to. Otherwise, they may address it, To whom it may concern; that's the same as, Dear Occupant, & we all know where that mail winds up!

      I've had situations where the teacher asked the student to write something & they signed it, but that was only after I enhanced it and it went back to the teacher for their final approval & signature.

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

       

      Yes! You read my mind! Here's one of my favorite caveats:

      Plan your work, work your plan.

      No one plans to fail, but too many fail to plan.

      Best time to get LOR's is after Jan. in the 10th, 11th, or even the 9th grade. At that time of year, teachers are no longer bombarded w/requests from desperate students. They'll have plenty of time to write a great LOR. Be sure to give them the name & address of the director of admissions at specific colleges you're applying to. Otherwise, if they address it To whom it may concern; that's the same as Dear Occupant, & we all know where that mail winds up!

      I've had situations where the teacher asked the student to write something & they signed it, but that was only after I enhanced it and it went back to the teacher for their final approval & signature.

    • How do prospective students get recruited for their sport?

       

      First, they have to be in the NCAA Clearinghouse to get athletic scholarship offers. There are many admissions experts who specialize in athletes. Seek out someone who has had a successful record and take it from there. It's really who you know that can make the difference.

    • How does financial aid work for prospective athletes?

       

      They can get an academic or, depending on the college, an athletic scholarship. Be sure to join the NCAA Clearinghouse so qualify. There are also private athletic scholarships students can qualify for, and the list is endless.

    • When do student athletes need to begin the recruitment process?

       

      They should hopefully be noticed when they begin high school. They need to be doing research all throughout high school and join the NCAA Clearinghouse as early as possible. LOR's from coaches they personally know can be invaluable!

    • What is the difference between regular acceptance and acceptance off of a waitlist?

       

      If acceptance from the waitlist comes much later that regular acceptance, then the financial aid offer might be substantially less do to the timing. In some instances, it won't make a difference, but usually it will, or at least the college may make you think there won't be enough financial aid for the student. Colleges are known to play dirty tricks on families, just in case you didn't know!

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

       

      Rather than go off half cocked, talk to a professional & get some free advice. If the school is that important, perhaps hiring someone to appeal on your behalf would be worth it. But remember, they prepare the letter - you sign it!

    • How can you get in off the wait list?

       

      Yes, but it takes tenacity and a superior appeal letter. In some cases a personal visit to appeal in person & speak w/whoever sent you the letter.

    • How can you get in off the waitlist?

       

      Previous asked but...

      Yes, but it takes tenacity and a superior appeal letter. In some cases a personal visit to appeal in person & speak w/whoever sent you the letter.

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

       

      Start your planning early so you'll be able to satisfy each school's requirements. If your scores keep increasing, keep taking tests. Remember this:

      Plan your work, work your plan.

      No one plans to fail, but too many people fail to plan.

    • How do you save money for college?

       

      529 Savings plans, 529 Prepaid tuition plans, and to keep the money out of the financial aid calculations, tax deferred annuities. There are other ways, but most involve a larger degree of risk. The most important thing is that the money will be there, and proper income planning & asset repositioning will provide you with the opportunity for maximum financial aid.

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

       

      A 529 plan is a qualified savings vehicle that allows the owner to have tax free gains when the money is used for higher education. The best site for more information is savingforcollege.com.

    • What's the best way to evaluate an offer of acceptance after being waitlisted?

       

      Determine the % of gift aid vs self-help, and the amount of unmet need. Make sure all aid you're qualified for is offered - very often it's not. It's always best to have an expert give you some no cost advice before you make a costly fatal error.

    • Are retirement funds considered on financial aid forms?

       

      The account value isn't, but the contribution is added back to the AGI (Adjusted Gross Income - 1040 Line 37) and then assessed. In many cases the loss in financial aid is greater than the tax savings on the contribution! Check with a financial aid professional for the best way to benefit from this.

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

       

      By NOT having a Custodian Account in the student's name! They can purchase a Prepaid Tuition Plan so it's not considered a parent asset and also make contributions to a 529 Savings Plan that benefits the student, and a 529 Plan needs to be monitored closely. They can also write a check to the college, but I would only recommend it if the family didn't qualify for any need-based aid whatsoever. If the parents have terrible credit, they can also be the guarantor on a PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students).

    • How can families reposition their assets and income to receive a better financial award?

       

      Into fixed tax deferred annuities & specialized life ins. products. The principal will be guaranteed, safe, insured, outside the financial aid calculations & liquid! If the parents work for a living, it's impossible to have any of their income paid to anyone else, but if they own a small business, they can put all their the students on the payroll and be guaranteed to pay less in taxes. There are other legal strategies I've been using for 33 years, but too numerous to mention here.