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  • Diana Hanson

    Title: Common Sense College Counseling
    Company: College Mentors

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    Years of Experience

    Colleges I Attended
    UCLA Certification in College Counseling
    Professional Affiliations
    Prior Job
    College Mentors
    About Me
    I've been working with students and parents for six years. I love working with students of all backgrounds and academic levels. There are great colleges for every student, and I can help you find the colleges that meet your needs as well as maximize the opportunities for financial aid.

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  • Admissions Expertise

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


      Try to go when classes are in session! That way you will have a chance to see what the campus feels like when students are on campus. Plus, you may be able to sit in on a class or two after the formal tour, so as to get a stronger feel for the college. I also recommend taking a look at the school newspaper as well as perusing the campus bulletin boards to see the kinds of activities in which students engage.

      Sometimes, it's the non-academic aspects of a college that help you make your college decision from among similar schools.... So, don't forget to see a dorm room, try out the campus eateries, and check out the recreation center/gym facilities for students.

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


      They certainly can be, as long as you make them one part of your college search. You'll want to make sure that you look at several, that you understand what criteria the book or site uses to assign rank, and so on. They're all a good way to start investigating, but not the best way to make your final selection.

      When you're deciding which college to attend, take in offered information from trusted sources, and then make sure you're spending time at the college's website, talking to alumni or current students, visting the campus, and talking to admissions.

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


      Most important is developing activities in which you have real interest. Colleges like to see depth of commitment to activities, so settle on a few activities in which you have shown growth/leadership. In terms of organizations, of course, highly selective colleges will welcome academic honors as well as depth of activities.

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


      Contacting a college shows 'demonstrated interest,' an ephemeral but important piece of college admissions decisions. Colleges try to determine which students are most likely to attend, if offered admission, so, showing demonstrated interest can be a key component. You can show interest through contact with the college(s) to which you apply, through campus visits, emails to the admissions office, filling out a student interest form online, filling out a athletic interest form, and more.

      One caveat, though: make sure that the questions you ask are not ones readily answered through a little bit of time on the college website. For example, asking about deadlines would not be a good way to show interest, whereas a question about a particular major, campus activity, etc. would be.

    • Does class size matter?


      Class size can make a huge difference for some learners. If you're someone who learns best through discussion, then smaller class sizes will be a huge benefit to you. Similarly, smaller class sizes provide an opportunity to get to know your professors, fostering student/teacher collaboration, even on research projects at many smaller liberal arts colleges.

      Students who do well learning through lectures/note taking will do fine in the large classes typically found in entry level coursework at larger colleges and universities. Even in that course model, students have weekly smaller meetings with grad students.

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


      Do you play a sport, write for the student newspaper, volunteer at your place of worship or in the community, and belong to the debate club? That makes you a well-rounded student with a wide range of interests.  Colleges are looking for curious students who have a zest for life—in addition to having academic credentials—so make your diverse interests an asset by including them in your applications, both in the essay(s) and volunteer/activity listings.  While colleges do like to see some consistency in your extracurriculars, there are also benefits to trying a variety of clubs/sports/activities throughout high school. It shows you're doing your job--finding out who you are and what you enjoy!

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


      I just ran into a very common mistake on an application--one that is both egregious and easily avoidable--putting the name of the wrong college in your application essay or short answer. Imagine that I am an admissions dean for Favorite University, which, along with Central U and Interesting U, is one of several popular colleges. Many students cross-apply to these three schools, which are academically similar...so, the three colleges are competing for the same students.

      Now, a student who is applying to all three, using the Common App, writes an essay about her aspirations to become a mechanical engineer, and when submitting to Favorite U, she ends the essay, "...and that is why studying engineering at Interesting U is my goal." Oops.

      Careful proofreading of each essay--even when it's on the Common App--could have prevented this error, which may compromise the student's admission chances to Favorite U.

    • How do I choose between two very similar schools?


      I would suggest going to each college for a visit, if at all possible, even if you have visited before. Many colleges offer an 'admitted students' weekend, where you have an opportunity to sit in on a class or two, stay in the dorms, and so on. By experiencing both colleges once more, in close proximity, time-wise, your better fit may emerge.

      Have you compared each school on a series of elements that are most important to you, e.g. course offerings in your major, class size, internship opportunities, clubs, recreational facilities, dorms, study abroad opportunities? If so, and you're

      still have trouble making the decision between two similar schools, you're likely to be happy at either one. Perhaps, at that point, you might want to look at the financial aid offers again and see whether one is the better "deal" financially.

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


      Early decision (ED) is a binding agreement between you and a college in which you agree that you WILL attend that college should they offer you admission. You can only apply to 1 college ED. If you're accepted, you have to withdraw all your other applications to other colleges. You'll generally also need to turn in financial aid information early so that the college can provide you with estimated financial aid at the time of acceptance.

      Early Action (EA) most commonly is non-binding; you are indicating to a college (or more than one) that you are very interested. You apply early and find out early, but have until May 1st to decide (as with regular admission). You can apply to several colleges EA.

      There is also a new "restricted" Early Action at some colleges. It's kind of a hybrid--in most cases, "restricted" or "single choice" EA means that you are (with a few exceptions) applying early only to ONE college--but you aren't bound to go there as with ED; you could wait and go to one of your regular decision schools.

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


      Once you've narrowed down your choices to one or two, having an overnight can be super helpful--it will give you a strong sense of a particular college. When you contact the college regarding an overnight, ask to attend a class or two in your area(s) of interest as well as spend time with your 'student host' participating in college activities. If you're an athlete and going to an NCAA III college, contact the coach ahead of time and try and arrange to attend a practice (some will invite you to practice with the team). Also, make sure you find time to wander the town around the college to get a feel for day-to-day life there.

    • In all of your years working with students, what were some of the most unexpected admissions successes you witnessed?


      One student dreamed of attending UC Berkeley. His 3.6 average and middling SATs, by the numbers, wouldn't get him in. However, this student's positive attitude and amazing work ethic helped him create his success. He took a strong academic load and participated in sports; he also took care of his younger siblings and was, in many ways, the adult in his single parent family. He wrote a strong essay about his family life and was rewarded with acceptance to Cal! Students take many roads to college success.

    • In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?


      If you have a number 1 college on your list, a college that you so love that if you get admitted, you'd be ready to pack your bags, then consider applying early decision. There are a couple of items, though, to take into consideration before applying ED:

      I. If your 'dream' college is a super reach (your grades/test scores are at the low end or below the middle 50% for that college), you may want to hold off and apply regular decision so that the college will see your 1st semester grades.

      2. If financial aid is an issue--i.e. you can only afford to attend if you get a certain amount of money--make sure you look into the college's financial aid policies for ED. If it's a CSS Profile college, fill out an early Profile to send along at the same time as the application, so the college can give you a financial aid estimate along with your admission decision.

      I also strongly recommend that you use a FAFSA forecaster (access it at studentaid.gov or fafsa.ed.gov) to determine your amount of need. Many colleges promise to meet full NEED, but there can be a huge gap between what the government says your need is and how much you can actually pay.

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


      College tuition isn't really negotiable--to reduce the amount you pay, however, there are several things you can do to reduce your out of pocket cost:

      1. Target colleges where you have a good chance of getting Merit Aid--this means colleges where your credentials are at the high end for that particular college--most schools post the available merit or talent scholarships on their site, along with the academic requirements for receiving them.

      2. Through financial aid--File your FAFSA on time (and CSS Profile, if your college(s) require it).

      3. Parents of younger children, start saving now! Consider opening a low cost 529 college savings plan (research which have the lowest administrative costs).

    • How can I work with schools to boost my financial aid? Are there other sources of student aid?


      A significant change in family circumstances is often the only reason that colleges will allow an appeal. First, go to “Financial Aid” on the college website, and see whether they have appeals information. If not, send a message to the financial aid office (preferably a specific person) outlining exactly what has happened. If you filed a CSS Profile, amend the “special circumstances” section, and re-send. Finally, even if an appeal does not yield a result, you may still have the option to take out additional student loans. The first year Stafford loan maximum is $3500, and while a college may limit the subsidized portion (government pays the interest while you’re in college), you always have the option to request the remaining amount in an unsubsidized loan (interest accrues while you’re in college).

    • To find scholarships, where should I look, what's needed of me, and which ones seem craziest?


      Find outside scholarships by turning your remarkable or unusual interests or traits into dollars. There are scholarships for just about everything you can think of, from hair color to country of origin—the more obscure, the fewer applicants you’ll be competing with! Scholarship search sites let you complete a profile and be matched with scholarships. Three good sites are Fastweb.com, Moolahspot.com, and Scholarships.com.  You can also do a Google search for any combination of traits and the word scholarship.  An excellent resource to help you decide what’s reputable is Finaid.org.  

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


      Budgeting in college can be difficult. For many of you, it may be the first time you've had to juggle a food allowance (usually in the form of a rechargeable card from your college), day to day expenses, and more, while also making sure that the tuition gets paid.

      One way to keep track of your expenses is to use online (and phone app) budgeting tools, such as Mint. Your bank may also offer similar tools. On the other hand, there's always the tried and true method of envelopes--after you figure out how much money you want to spend in each budgeting category (e.g. books, laundry, recreation, food that's not included in your meal plan, clothes, etc.) and put the amount for the week or month (your choice) into labeled envelopes.

    • Is it possible to negotiate the school's offer?


      The short answer is rarely. Under normal circumstances, you cannot negotiate financial aid offers--it's not like playing off two car dealers to get the best price. However, occasionally, you might see a situation where an extremely strong student has received acceptances to two colleges, but the one that is his/her first choice gives a smaller financial aid award. I have heard of situations where the family provided the other college's award information to the first choice school and asked for them to match it. There's a slight chance that the favorite college might make a change to the offer to replace some loan money with grant money, but they'd really have to want the student.

      There is one case when you absolutely SHOULD contact a college to talk about a financial aid offer, and that's when there has been a material change in a family's financial circumstances. Should that happen, then you can (and should) approach a college and ask for a professional review of the financial aid offer, and provide information about the changed circumstances.

    • How many schools should I apply to?


      The number of schools is less important than making sure you have a great mix of schools. Have you selected colleges that meet your needs academically and socially? Assuming you have, I usually recommend having 2-3 colleges in each category of enrollment expectation--reach, target, and safety. Though, of course, many students will have more or fewer on their list. Generally, students who are able to visit colleges ahead of time will have fewer on their application list than those who won't be visiting in person until after they receive acceptances.

      I also recommend making sure that your safety schools are all colleges you'd enjoy attending. (I define a safety school is one where your grades and test scores are above the middle 50% for that college and where the college accepts at least half the applicants...and remember that these are also the colleges where you have the best chance of receiving merit aid).

    • What questions should students with learning differences be asking during the college search?


      You'll want to visit/contact the office of Disability Services at each college to which you're thinking of applying and check out the services that they offer. While every college is required to provide accommodations according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the quality of support can vary widely. Depending on the type of learning differences you have and the accommodations required, you may want to select colleges that have comprehensive programs (often at an additional cost), but not necessarily. Many students with learning differences thrive at colleges of all kinds. One key will be for you to be proactive and advocate for yourself. If you find that difficult to do, check out some of the comprehensive programs (e.g. University of Arizona's S.A.L.T., University of Denver's LEP, Hofstra's PALs, etc.) on the University Web Sites.

    • Do colleges keep parents informed of their child's academic progress?


      Colleges do not keep you informed of your child's academic progress--they only communicate with the student. Even though you're considered financially responsible for your student until the age of 24 (or post Bachelor's degree), you do not get any information about the student's course work, progress, grades, health care, finances, or anything else, unless your student specifically gives the college permission to have contact you. Even then, you will be the one asking (your child or the college)...the college will not reach out to you.

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