College Admissions & Financial Aid 101: The Expanded Edition

After facilitating a lively Brown Bag Lunch discussion at Hewlett Packard in Roseville, CA called, “College Admissions & Financial Aid 101”, I wanted to l expand on a few answers, as well as offer additional tips for families:

About the information college’s review in applications during admissions decision making:  

    • The four main areas of information considered when determining college admissions for applicants are: Grades and Grade Point Average (GPA), Classes taken during high school (i.e. the types and academic rigor level), College Admissions Test Scores (i.e. SAT or ACT scores), and Extracurricular Activities.  These four categories of information are weighted equally during the college admissions process.  The college essays, when requested, can further explain and inform college admissions officers, about the person behind the qualifications listed in the application.  

College Essays

    • Although briefly mentioned during today’s Brown Bag lunch, the college essay is a key part of college applications, and a more complicated part to complete.  The autobiographical college admissions essay challenges 16-17 year olds to think about not just what happened in their lives, but the meaning of that happening–AND explain the what and the meaning in 500 words or less.  The college essay is often the one place of the application that offers an extended opportunity to explain who the student is as a person, and give context to his/her extensive leadership and academic acumen–as seen in his/her grades, test scores and extracurricular resume.  

On how college selection BEFORE application can affect affordability 

    • Finding affordable options for college, without compromising the student’s standards for academic rigor and quality of experience, can require additional effort during the selection process.  Knowing both what the student wants and will value about a college experience, as well as ideas regarding his/her intended career goals, are a starting point for matching colleges to the student.  Information is not the issue.  A college’s website, for example, is a wealth of information.  For tips and advice how to select colleges for application and wade through the mountain of information available, listen to our three-part podcast series on the relationship between financial aid and college selection.  

Additional Info about College Savings Vehicles

    • A four part series of guest posts by Cynthia S. Meyers, a certified financial planner in Sacramento, will better explain the college savings options available to families and grandparents.  Families can face difficult choices between saving for retirement versus college expenses, which Cynthia addresses in Part 4 of her posts.    On another note, I’d caution families to view savings and assets for college, as one of many methods for paying for college.  With the continuing increase in college tuition, families are faced with a complex forecasting in order to save the “full amount” needed to pay for college.  A combination of current income, assets (or savings), loans and scholarships are often used to pay for the college degree. 

More about the School Profile

    • Since college applicants are considered within the context of his/her particular high school, the school profile or detailed description of the high school, is an important piece of information for the college admissions officer.  A blog post from last fall will give more details about the school profile and its role in the college admissions process.  Additionally, private universities often assign admissions officers a “region” or “territory” to specialize their admissions responsibilities.  The regional admissions officer will be the one to travel to his/her territory, build relationships with high schools within that location, and often will be one of the admissions evaluators for applicants from that region–in order to most accurately place the student within the context of his/her high school educational experience.  

To Prep or Not?:  More about studying for the SAT and ACT

    • The challenge of the SAT and ACT is not typically the content knowledge the student is being asked to recall.  The difficulty of the SAT and ACT is being asked to recall knowledge, starting at 7:45 am on a Saturday morning (not always ideal for the typical teenager), over the course of 3 hours and 45 minutes of testing time–which usually means a 5 hour experience including breaks.  How each student builds the stamina for this extended test taking experience, with all the pressures of believing the outcome will determine the rest of their lives (i.e. where they’ll be admitted to college, which will validate their 4 years of high school academic stress and efforts), is an individual decision.  Starting with what a student knows about his/her test taking abilities and experience can then help the student match themselves with the right preparation program.   Our previous blog post shares more insights about SAT and ACT preparation. 

The University of California (UC) by the numbers

    • As we discussed, UC admissions is becoming more selective, given the increasing numbers of applications–139,758 freshman applicants systemwide for Fall 2013–and the increasing qualifications amongst those applicants. (The concern about the competition can increase, with that one kid every parent knows who was sure to get accepted to the UC and didn’t.)  The individual qualifications of each applicant are considered “holistically”, which includes their essays.  The previous year’s incoming class, the graduation rates of the seniors, state funding, yield (explained in the following blog post), wait-lists etc are all factors that influence admissions and the numbers of applicants admitted.  The subjectivity of the process can be difficult to predict, yet with a thorough college selection process (see above bullet) college bound students and their families can diversify their applications to have a range of choices once acceptances return. 

Other tips to plan for college expenses

    • Paying for college starts with knowing the family’s finances.  As our prudent planning podcast series discusses, understanding the family budget and ability to pay as a family (especially when multiple children will be attending college simultaneously or in consecutive years) is key to determining the amount of scholarships, loans, asset liquidation, current income will be needed to pay for college expenses.  The more parents understand their ability to pay the expenses for each child, then frank conversations as a family can begin so each child understands how college expenses will be covered and effect the entire family.  Guilt and the sense that one sibling may be taking a greater share of the family’s financial resources can arise without open dialogue, as discussed in a previous podcast.  In addition, planning for college expenses as a multi-year endeavor will help see the overall picture.  Lastly, here’s a few more financial aid tips as discussed with Dan Elliot of News 10 Sacramento.

Need vs. Merit Based Aid

    • Here’s short podcast giving more details about need vs. merit based aid.  Ask potential colleges for application about their merit aid policy.  (Tip for families younger than high school Juniors: knowing more about how to qualify for merit aid can be a helpful tool for guiding decisions about academic progress and classes to take during high school, as well as how leadership activities will be rewarded with college scholarships.)

For more advice how the above information applies (or not) to your family’s situation, contact Creative Marbles Consultancy at (916) 457-4090 or see our contact us

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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