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  • Suzanne Shaffer

    Title: Owner
    Company: Parents Countdown to College Coach

    • verified

    Years of Experience

    About Me
    I counsel parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. My Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips and the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze. In addition to being a member of the Unigo Expert Network, I am a College Money Insider Expert, the College Prep Expert on CollegeExpertPanel.com, and the College Coach for Galtime.com. I am also one of the college experts on S

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  • Admissions Expertise

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


      Take advantage of your campus visit by talking to current students. The tour guide and the info sessions will give you the basic information. Students can help you get a feel for the campus and the student body itself. Ask them about what campus is like on the weekends, is it easy to find an internships, and are the professors truly accessible to the students.

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


      Guidebooks, relatives and rankings are all valuable components in the decision process. But college visits will help you decide whether or not the campus is a good fit. Talking to current students and even professors are other components in your decision. Relying solely on one or two things can cause you to have a distorted view of the college and keep you from being realistic about what they can offer you.

    • Do colleges look more favorably on applicants who can pay full tuition?


      The colleges will tell you no. But the simple fact is that a student who can pay tuition on their own is appealing because they don't have to provide any financial aid. There are need blind colleges but it's much like test optional colleges. The information influences their decision whether they admit it or not.

    • Do prep school students have an automatic advantage?


      Prep school students aren't given preference (at least colleges won't say there are) except for the fact that academics at prep schools are advanced, compared to public schools. Prep schools give students more opportunities to excel academically and more opportunities to be involved in extracurricular activities. The are two things that colleges look for in applicants--a well balanced student.

    • Do rich kids have an automatic advantage in college admissions?


      I'm not particularly fond of the term "rich kids" but if you are asking if colleges look favorably on those students who can pay their own way--the answer is yes. However, this only applies if the student meets all the other qualifications for admission.

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


      Very few students know what they want to study specifically when they enter college. However, many scholarships are related to specific majors of study. If you do have an interest in a particular major, explore classes in high school that might give you an idea of whether or not you truly do like them, such as: theater, music, architecture, or science.

    • Does class size matter?


      Small class sizes mean more attention from the professor and more connection with your fellow classmates. If you're the type of learner that requires a more intimate setting and interaction, class size will matter to you. If you're the type of learner that is self-motivated and can study on your own, the size of the class will most likely have little affect on your grade or your learning outcomes.

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


      There is not a magical number, but if the student is interested in attending the college contact is important. Check in with the admissions office when you visit. Make an appointment to speak with an officer. Talk with the financial aid office. And don't forget to email them afterwards thanking them for their time. If you don't show interest in them, they won't show interest in you.

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


      Hometowns (or states) affect admission to state universities because you are considered a resident, and tuition is less than for out of state students. Other than that, it's not a benefit to live where the college is located.

    • Has social media impacted the way colleges communicate with students?


      Colleges are now able to connect more personally with students using social media and students are able to communicate in the same way. Colleges have recognized the value of this type of marketing and have begun to reach out to students and parents using the tools available in social media: Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Some colleges have even begun to text messages to students about the applications and acceptances. It's a whole new college world out there.

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


      Absolutely. Not enough contact communicates that you are not that interested in their college. Connections with school administration (financial aid and admissions) remind them that you are indeed interested and when they receive your application they will remember you. If you don't show interest, they won't be interested in you.

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


      Sit down and have "a talk" with your parents and let them know that while you do need their help, you want to "drive the car" during the process. Ask them to help you with organization and advice, but explain to them that you are trying to become an independent and responsible adult. Tell them that colleges expect YOU to "own" the process and you want them to see that you are capable of just that. Thank them for their help and support and assure them that you can handle this important task on your own.

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


      Statistics show that most students stay within 50 miles of home when going to college. Being close to home can be a benefit or a draw back. On the one hand, it allows the student to travel home often. On the other hand, it discourages independence and could keep the student dependent on their parents. Consider carefully the decision to remain in-state, especially when discounting other private colleges that might offer better aid packages to students out of their area.

    • What do admissions officers look for in an applicant?


      The admissions process is purely subjective. Each admissions officer looks for different things. But one thing is for certain--you must stand out from other applicants. Each applicant needs to market themselves to the admissions officer. Find a hook and make yourself shine. Spend time on your essay and your personal statements. Those are documents they look at and hook them.

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


      I recommend that students maintain a separate email address for all college communications (i.e firstnamelastname@gmail.com). Students should also investigate online organization tools and app tools that help them keep all their college info in one place. Additionally, a large wall calendar will help the entire family remember important dates and reminders. Take advantage of your smartphone by setting alerts for important application deadlines.

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


      If a student begins to cultivate relationships when they enter high school, they will be able to get great teacher recommendations during the college application process. Cultivating those relationships is key because if the teachers know you, they can write a more personal, detailed recommendation for you. Don't wait until the fall of senior year when teachers are swamped with recommendation requests. As them the beginning of the summer so they have time to think about it and write a better letter.

    • How important can athletics be as a hook for college admissions?


      The sad and often unpopular fact is that very few students actually receive athletic scholarships. If you are looking for athletics to provide scholarships, your efforts are better served on academics. However, participating in sports (one sport consistently) can communicate that you are committed and able to be a part of something that is larger than you are.

    • Where should I start my college search if I want to major in the arts?


      I recommend that all students begin their search with College Navigator. This search engine allows students to choose options that will craft a list based on the options they choose. This program offers concentrated information on each college as well: financial aid, scholarships, etc.

    • When should parents begin saving for college?


      The sooner the better. But if you haven't done so and your student is approaching high school, you should start finding ways to stuff some money aside every month. Encourage your student to work during summer breaks but don't put the money in their name because that money will be used to decrease your aid substantially.

    • Are there ways to waive college application fees?


      Many colleges will waive fees based on financial need. Contact the individual college to ask about a waiver.

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


      AP courses are an excellent way for students to save money on college tuition. Once the student completes the course they can take the AP test for that course and receive college credit for it. Translation--saving on the cost of high college tuition. It's conceivable that enough AP courses could send you to college as a sophomore with 15 credits under your belt.

    • Does credit score have an impact on students' ability to apply for loans?


      Credit scores typically impact private student loans. Federal loans are more forgiving and most students and parents qualify regardless of their credit score. Private student loans may require a co-signer if the student is not credit worthy or their income level is not high enough to justify the amount of the loan.

    • How can students save money on textbooks?


      There are 3 ways students can save money on textbooks: buy used, rent, or consider an ebook version of the text if available. You can compare textbook prices on Amazon.com and there are other sites such as Chegg that allow you to do this as well. Check with your college bookstore for discounted versions of used textbooks.

    • What are some convenient, well-paying jobs for students who need to work while in college?


      In today’s competitive job market, you must prepare for your future after graduation. The good news is that campus career centers are concerned about this goal as well. The even better news is that there are paid internships available to prepare you for your future career. If you need a job to help pay for bills, ask the career center to help you locate paid internships related to your major. By using this strategy, you will kill two birds with one stone: snag a decent paying job and use your job experience to build your resume and your network.

    • What are the most popular extracurriculars?


      Set yourself apart by finding an activity that you are passionate about and do this throughout high school. The most important tip about extracurriculars is: be consistent. Find one or two things that interest you and stick to them. This shows your ability to persevere and commit. These are characteristics college look for. One student I know was passionate about the Civil War. He spent his high school years caring for the gravestones of the fallen. This set him apart from other applicants.

    • What are some tips for acing the college interview?


      Best tip: be yourself. Don't try to impress with big words or philosophical statements. Let the admissions officer know your interest in the school and ask intelligent questions (not ones you can find in the college's pamphlets or on their website). Do your research before you go. Be polite, dress appropriately, and send a thank you email afterwards.

    • Does the college interview really count?


      Yes. It's a key factor in your offer of admission. Colleges need to know that you are interested and excited to attend their school. Non-interest and lack of follow-up afterwards could mean they will find another applicant who demonstrates interest. Why would they offer you admission if you're just applying for the sake of applying.

    • Are there things a student should never say during a college interview?


      Never say, "My parents want me to go here". That will get you a big rejection on the admission application. Another no-no: don't say you want to go there because it's a party school.

    • How many schools should I apply to?


      Most students apply to between 7 to 10 colleges. Make sure that your applications fall into 3 categories: your reach schools (colleges that might be a reach but POSSIBLE); your match schools (colleges that you would be right in line with the average student accepted); your safety schools (colleges where your qualifications are measurably above the average applicant).

    • In what ways, if any, can taking a gap year be beneficial for an applicant?


      Gap years are beneficial if the student has a plan: study abroad, travel the world, volunteer overseas, work at an internship, etc. Taking a year off to decide whether or not college is for you is not the best idea. If you do this, take some community college courses so that once you do decide, you will have some classes under your belt.

    • If your parents are too involved, can they hurt your chances?


      Yes. Colleges frown upon over involved parents--they call them helicopter parents (hovering over their students). If a parent is pushy, controlling, or speaks for the student, colleges could get the impression that the student is not independent and would not do well in an environment where they need to act as an adult.

    • How can parents help students with the college search and application process?


      The hardest part of parenting a teen is coaching them to do things themselves and attain increased levels of independence. As far as the college process goes, you have three roles as a parent. I call them the 3 C’s. Chart the course by helping them plan for the future. Catalog the journey by keeping track of the details. Cheer them on by encouraging them to study hard, volunteer and get involved in extracurricular activities. Be a coach, not a taskmaster, by following the three C’s: Chart, Catalog and Cheer. Your teen will be happy, well-rounded and prepared for college.

    • Any advice for parents on paying for college?


      If you have time, start saving. If you don't have the time, encourage your teen to begin searching for scholarships early. Their GPA can also help with leveraging more merit aid upon acceptance. Finally, compare prices and look for colleges with the best value and the most financial aid. As a last resort you can certainly borrow, but before you incur debt I would exhaust all your other resources.

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


      If you student is 18, colleges are not required to inform parents. The best you can do is ask your student regularly about their progress. After all you are most likely contributing to the education expenses. If you're investing you should know their progress.

    • How can parents help students with the application process?


      Parents should help students stay organized, stay on top of deadlines, and help with the scholarship searches. They should also participate in the decision process--giving advice and guidance toward the final selections.

    • What are the best ways for students to make sure all their credits transfer?


      Communicate with the new school and ask for a list of approved transfer credits. When taking community college courses, make sure colleges accept the course credits when you transfer by asking the college advisors before you set your schedule.

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