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Have a question about application strategies, tuition, campus safety, or what to expect your student’s first year at college? Ask the experts at Collegenquirer! Collegenquirer experts are a diverse group of senior professionals and higher education leaders from colleges across the country. They’re knowledgeable, objective, easy to “chat” with online—and they’re always on call. All you have to do is ask.
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Lower Our EFC?
Q: I heard that if we can lower our family’s EFC, we’ll be eligible for more financial aid.
A: For most families, that is true – lowering your Estimated Financial Contribution (EFC) can make a difference in the amount of financial aid you are likely to be awarded. Here are some strategies to lower your EFC:
- Since income is counted more heavily in the EFC formula than assets, and retirement funds are not considered assets, reduce your income by upping your 401K contributions.
- Home equity is not counted an asset either, so consider using savings or non–retirement stock portfolios to pay down or pay off your mortgage.
- No more than 12 percent of parental assets can be applied toward the EFC, while 35 percent of student assets will be counted. Experts advise putting college money away in your name, not your child’s.
- A whopping 50 percent of student income is assessed for the EFC. Students who don’t need every penny they earn should consider sheltering some of it in an IRA or other retirement account.
Applying early? How early is best?
Q: Does it matter how early my son submits his applications, as long as it’s before the deadlines?
A: For the most part, that depends on the deadline. For rolling admissions, it’s best to apply as soon as possible after the application process opens, because applications are typically accepted only as long as space is available. Applying early decision/early action may also improve your son’s chances, since college admissions profiles sometimes report a higher acceptance percentage for early applicants than traditional ones. Be aware, however, that early decision has its drawbacks (see What’s the Rush? Early Decision and Early Action on this website).
If your son is applying regular decision, remind him that common sense makes the best sense here. The most important thing he can do is take the time to write a thoughtful essay, carefully proofread each application before it goes out and make sure any other paperwork he needs is in order. There’s no advantage to applying months before the deadline, but it’s a good idea to apply with enough time so he won’t have to worry about transcripts or letters of recommendation arriving late or scramble should anything need to be resubmitted. Wherever he applies, he’ll be notified when his application file is complete. And when it comes to applying to college, that alone is reason for relief.
In-state tuition breaks for out-of-state students?
Q:My daughter lives in Virginia. We have some interest in a North Carolina college, but we do not want to pay out-of-state tuition. Is this negotiable?
A: While the cost of tuition may or may not be negotiable (depending on the school and your daughter’s circumstance), your daughter may qualify for tuition reciprocity—an agreement between participating colleges that offers in-state or reduced tuition to students from neighboring states. To find out more about tuition reciprocity in your region, and about the particular school and program your daughter wants to attend, you or your daughter can visit the Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market website for a listing of participating colleges and universities in 16 SREB states (including North Carolina), answers to frequently asked questions and details on how to qualify. You can always inquire directly at the office of admissions, but check with the SREB Academic Common Market first. You may find opportunities you and your daughter never even considered.
Contacting Colleges: Who Makes the Call?
Q:Should I communicate with colleges on behalf of my daughter?
A: Considering colleges is often a family project. But you know teens differ in the amount of help they want, or they’re willing to accept. Show your support by encouraging research into colleges—including visit planning, providing organizational help and useful feedback, reviewing materials together and staying involved. However, when it comes to contacting colleges directly, except for things like financial aid, encourage your student to own the process. After all, she’ll be the one applying to and attending college. Handling communication is a great place for her to start.
What’s Wrong With State Schools?
Q:My high school senior is only interested in private colleges. How can I get him to consider top state schools without seeming too intrusive?
A: A: Parents and students alike often have limited ideas about the pros and cons of public vs. private colleges. If the cost of tuition is a factor, be up-front and let your son know. If not, support your son’s considerations, while pointing out that finding a “good fit” is key to a successful college experience—and that means finding a college that meets his academic, social and career needs. Keep in mind that aside from financial constraints and family responsibilities, this is a choice your son must make. As long as you carefully consider the choices together, his decision should make everyone happy.
Did the FAFSA. Now What?
Q: I’ve gone through the FAFSA financial aid process. Where can I find other funds for college, such as scholarships?
A: Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be part of your college financial aid plan, but it shouldn’t be the only part.
Use the web to search for scholarships, but steer clear of scholarship search services that charge fees. Go for free,reputable sites such as FastWeb, College Answer, Scholarships.com. You should also explore the opportunities in your own hometown. It’s likely that local companies, organizations, foundations and other groups offer scholarships based on academic performance, community involvement, athletics, the arts or other criteria. Many companies offer scholarships to the children of their employees.
A Public Ivy League?
Q: “I’ve heard there are some public schools that are known as “Public Ivies” — (like Ivy League schools, but not as expensive). Is this true?
A: The Ivy League was formed as an athletic conference among eight private colleges and university in the Northeast. Each maintains highly selective admission standards. While there is no such thing as a public Ivy, the term has been used to describe state institutions with rigorous academic offerings and, in many cases, a high degree of admissions selectivity.
The cost of these colleges can vary significantly depending on whether you reside out of state or in state. (In-state tuition is typically a very good value.) Among the schools often included on these lists are:
- The College of William & Mary (Williamsburg, VA)
- Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA)
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
- University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
- University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
- University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
- University of Wisconsin (Madison, WI)
- University of Vermont (Burlington, VM)
- University of Texas at Austin (Austin Texas)
- Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
High School Sophomore To-Do List
Q: My daughter is a high school sophomore. What can she do now to prepare for the college admissions process?
A: Be sure your daughter connects with a counselor as early as fall of sophomore year to build a course plan that meets the minimum requirements for college admission. She should enroll in challenging courses such as honors or AP, and she should also be on track to complete four years in English, history, math, science and a foreign language. If your daughter is showing weakness in any of these areas, consider hiring a tutor or enrolling her in a supplemental program. In addition, encourage your daughter to form study groups among friends in the same classes – you might even offer to host some of their meetings in your home.
While college entrance exams will not count until junior year, your daughter can take the PSAT, the PLAN (which is practice for the ACT) and SAT subject tests for practice. When she receives her test scores, she can use these as a basis to prep for the real thing. Your daughter should also be reading books and newspapers outside of class to develop reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.
Something else to consider—top schools value students’ extra-curricular experiences, particularly those that help develop leadership skills. Encourage your daughter to talk to family, friends, neighbors and community members about their lines of work. For example, your daughter might want to try to find a part-time summer job connected to a career that interests her, or perhaps a volunteer opportunity.
Is Tuition Negotiable?
Q: Is a college’s tuition negotiable?
A: Many parents are surprised to learn that a school’s advertised tuition and/or financial aid award can be negotiated, much like the sticker price of a new car. Your success, however, may have less to do with your negotiation skills as it does the strength of your student’s application. The more desirable your student to an admissions committee, the more likely they are to bump up their discount rate or “find” a scholarship to sweeten the deal.
What makes one student more desirable than the next? For starters, students who exceed the school’s strategic goals for selectivity and diversity are extremely well positioned. Second, if you can produce a financial aid package from another (i.e., competing) institution, you may stand a good chance of the school matching or beating a competitive offer.