Additional insights to answer the complex questions Hewlett Packard employees asked during our second College Admissions and Financial Aid Brown Bag Lunch, since we were limited in our discussion time last week. Each topic is bolded, with the details listed below:
- College Application Essays
The autobiographical college application essays are a meaningful part of any application, as one of the only extended opportunities for applicants to provide insight to college admissions officers who they may never meet. Self-reflection can prove challenging for already busy Seniors, which will inevitably lead Senior applicants to have to write about themselves and their talents, which can feel like bragging, as we discussed a few weeks ago, and here, and here and here.
- Advanced Placement (AP) vs. International Baccalaureate (IB)
In general, college admissions officers are looking for evidence that the student challenged themselves to take a rigorous courseload within what classes were offered at their high school. Both AP and IB classes are recognized as challenging and rigorous; in our experience, choosing an IB program over an AP curriculum is a personal choice for each student and their family.
- Extracurricular Activities
In talking with college admissions officers around the country, I have not discovered a competitiveness ranking amongst extra-curricular activities. Generally, college admissions officers recommend students choose extracurricular activities based on personal interest, not on creating a resume to get into college. For more information, we addressed the challenge of choosing extracurricular activities in a previous podcast.
- College Selection & Affording College Costs
In the past few years, we’ve advised more families prioritizing college prices as a factor in choosing colleges for application and enrollment. Like any consumer purchase, “shopping” for colleges can be “time well spent” so students find the campus that fits their academic, career and life preparation goals. During the “shopping around”, families and students can determine how much the family budget can afford for college expenses, and forecast which campus may offer merit aid and other scholarships to help pay for the costs. Our three-part podcast series and tips given on News10, can help families articulate individual values and needs, and research potential colleges for application.
- 2013-14 Federal College Loan Interest Rates
Undergraduate student loan interest rates for the 2013-14 school year are fixed at 3.86% interest for the life of the loan. Parent PLUS loans disbursed for the 103-14 school year include a fixed interest rate of 5.41% for the life of the loan. (Note: student and parent PLUS loan interest rates may change in subsequent school years, as interest is now tied to 10 year U.S. Treasury rates) (For more about student loans, see our previous post: Is College Financial Aid Really Aid?)
- More about Student Loans
Generally, colleges will list student loans as a part of a financial aid award letter, yet don’t always tell students and parents the terms of any student loans offered. Students and parents are smart to ask about interest rates, repayment terms, or penalties, in order to understand future costs of student loans. There are repayment calculators and other tools to help students understand their obligations and possible future costs, as I shared in my own story of borrowing student loans.
- Two Households Supporting One College Student
According to our experience advising families about completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), if the college student’s or soon-to-be college student’s parents are divorced, the student reports the income and asset values for the parent who provides 51% of their financial support during the calendar year on the FAFSA. (Note: which parent claims the college student or soon-to-be college student on their tax returns does not matter for the FAFSA.) For more details, see the FAFSA website.
- Reporting 529 Plans As Assets on the FAFSA
The Federal Government has changed the reporting requirements for 529 accounts. The value of the 529 account should be reported as a PARENT’S asset, NOT a student’s asset on the FAFSA, even if the student is the beneficiary on the account. In families where the parents are divorced, and the parent who DOES NOT provide 51% of the student’s financial support for the calendar year, yet has a 529 savings account for the student’s college expenses, the 529 WILL NOT be reported on the FAFSA. Only when disbursements are made from the non-51%-financially-supporting parent’s 529 to pay for college expenses, then the following school year the student will report the disbursements as UNTAXED INCOME on the FAFSA, which can change financial need in subsequent school years.
Please contact Creative Marbles Consultancy with any additional questions about your child’s college plans. We’re open to new Senior clients seeking only editing assistance for the complex college admissions essays to craft a competitive personal statement that provides the insights college admissions officers need. We can be reached at (916) 457-4090 to set an appointment.
The above information comes from our 35 years of collective experience as educators, and our on-going quest to continuously improve our knowledge. We encourage readers to continue their own research, to complement our expertise.