Your College Application is Like Baking from Scratch

Any of the students who worked with me this year probably heard my baking analogy so many times they got sick of it. But it’s a valid comparison. When you bake cookies or a cake, the ingredients you use are important. What you add, and when you add it, makes a baked treat that tastes great. Add too much baking soda or leave out the salt, and it won’t taste right.

So what does any of this have to do with college admissions? Your application has parts and pieces that are the ingredients needed for your admission. These ingredients include:

  • Your grades-you want the best grades you can achieve, preferably A’s but some B’s. Avoid C’s or below. If you are working hard and getting C’s–and you have met with your teacher or a tutor for help–you may be taking courses that are too rigorous for you. Take the hardest classes you can handle and still get A’s or B’s.
  • Your coursework–some colleges are very specific about how many years of science, math, foreign language or english they require. They may require pre-calculus or physics. You should be taking four years of all five core subjects–math, english, foreign language, science, and social studies to increase your likelihood of admission. As mentioned above, take the most rigorous courses you can handle. Highly selective colleges will want to see Advanced Placement, Dual Credit, or International Baccalaureate if your school offers these programs. Don’t take a light senior course load unless you are doing a quality internship or co-op in places of courses.
  • Your activities, volunteering and work experience–colleges want to see that you are involved outside your classes. Your activities should reflect your interests, for example, robotics if you are pursuing engineering or student council if you want to go into political science. But they can also be things you enjoy like sports, theater, music and philanthropic activities. Colleges want to see that your involvement deepened–you were in the organization for multiple years, took on a leadership role, and can meaningfully reflect on what you contributed and gained. Having a part-time job is also valued. Volunteering in a meaningful way (not just being dragged by a parent to an occasional food pantry) is also important.
  • Your essays–Whether the personal statement on the common app or a school’s specific supplemental essay, these are a chance to showcase your personality and writing skills. While the personal statement allows you to write about any topic if you choose, you must ensure you are answering the supplemental essay prompts. Use each essay to share something new about you. Don’t just rehash information already on your application or in other essays. This is a chance to round out the flavor in your baking and show who you truly are.
  • Your intellectual curiosity–for students applying to highly selective programs, you want to show how you explored your intellectual interests. Maybe you took a college course during the school year, attended a pre-college university program, conducted research on your own or with a mentor. Being able to express the problems you want to solve and how you have started working on solutions through academic pursuits is critical to differentiating you from others.

As you finish up applications with rolling or January deadlines, good luck. Coffman consulting is always happy to help by brainstorming and reading essays, helping you develop your activity list or suggesting activities to connect to your interests.

Undecided or Declaring a Major–Does it Matter?

As you research and visit prospective colleges, its important to understand how major choice impacts first year admission. Every college handles the admission and application process differently (life would be so much easier if it was standarized). But for many colleges, what you major in and how competitive that major is can have a big impact on the admission process.

There are typically four ways a college may use major in the admissions process. Some colleges require you to declare a major on your application and you are applying specifically to that major. You can often list a second major in case you are not admitted to your first choice. There are often majors that are very competitive (engineering, nursing, computer science, business). These colleges will be looking at your high school transcript for coursework that would prepare you for this major. They will also typically look at activities to see if you have explored this major or demonstrated an interest in the field. They may even have a supplmental essay asking “Why This Major”.

Some colleges will have you declare your intended major, but you are applying to the college or the university, not a specific major. You enter the university as “pre-business” or “pre-math”, take prerequisite courses your first year, maintain a specific GPA and are then admitted to your major as a sophomore. Colleges will be looking at your academic preparation in high school to see that you challenged yourself, took classes that will prepare you for college level work and that you had activities where you demonstrated growth, involvement and leadership.

Some colleges have the above process but you can also be considered for a direct admit to your major. There may be a formal application for this. Or based on your grades, test scores (if considered) and coursework, you are offered a “direct admission” to your major without a seperate application. You typically receive a letter indicating you are a direct admit that explains any benefits to direct admission.

Some colleges, especially smaller liberal arts colleges, often don’t have you declare a major until the end of your first or second year. Their curriculum is designed that it is easy to explore, double major and change majors. They are looking at your high school curriculum to ensure you are prepared for the academic coursework at their college. They want to see activities that show leadership, interests and an indication you will be an activie member of their community. They may ask why you are applying to their college becuase they want you to demonstrate you understand the liberal arts and how their curriculum supports your interests.

At some colleges, the major you select really matters. For instance, the University of California system discourages picking a first and second major in the same college/school. If you don’t get into a business major as your first choice, you aren’t likely to get in as a second choice. They only go to the second choice to pull students off waitlist or if schools have space. Many engineering and nursing programs fill with incoming freshmen. Its very difficult to transfer into the program as a sophomore or from another college. So understand how competitive a major is at a certain school-you maybe admissible to the general university but will need stronger grades, test scores, activitities and courswork to be admissible to a competitive major.

It is important as a prospective student–especially your junior year–to research colleges thoroughly. Look at their website, read how they handle admissions, read about their majors, look at the curriculum and courses you will have to take. Attend a virtual visit or an in-person visit. If they offer sessions with your major or school/college (for example a session with the business school) attend it to get in-depth information. If the admission representative visits your high school, meet with them. This way you really understand how important your major choice will be.

And if you are set on a major, and it is a competitive one, start your college planning early. Using your summer wisely to get experience in your field can be helpful. You want to ensure you are taking all the required classes plus challenging yourself. You want to make sure you have clubs and extracurricular activities that show an interest in your major.

Coffman Consulting is always happy to help. You can schedule a free consultation here. We appreciate the student attending along with the parent(s) so we can set expectations and ensure the student is a willing participant in the process.

Are you a senior who hasn’t started their applications?

Once upon a time, most college students didn’t start applications until sometime in the fall of senior year and submitted them in January or February. Now, the push is to have everything in early, by November 1st, to maximize scholarhips, early action and early decision. But those are technically “early” programs. Most colleges have a regular decision deadline that hasn’t passed. Many colleges offer rolling admissions, which means they accept applications on a rolling basis until their class is full. So all is not lost if you haven’t gotten everything done yet. There is still time to apply to most schools, although top scholarships may have been tied to earlier deadlines.

Where should you start? Here are a few tips

  1. Does you have a list of schools. If not, that needs to be step 1. You should use a search engine like College Board’s My Big Future to compile a list of schools. Look at the admission statistics and pick schools where you have a stronger chance to be admitted (for example–if the published middle 50% gpa range is 3.5-4.1 and you have a 3.2 this isn’t a good fit but if the range is 2.9-3.6 then you do).
  2. Visit the school’s website to research the school more thoroughly and to understand admission requirements.
  3. Schedule a virtual visit (or in-person if it is nearby) to learn more and make sure you want to apply.
  4. Look up the colleges’ deadlines to make sure you can still apply. Note the date all materails must be received by the college so you can have everything in before that deadline (including financial aid forms).
  5. Start the application required by the college. Mostly likely they use the Common Application (commonapp.org) but they may use their own application.
  6. Review the application materials needed for the school and start compiling them:
    • Do you need letters of recommendations? Ask teachers then send them a link through the common app to complete.
    • Are you applying with your SAT or ACT scores? Do you need to send official scores? If so order them.
    • Start completing the college specific questions on the Common Application. Adding a specfiic major or program (honors for example) can result in additional essays.
    • Start drafting your essays. Some schools can have up to three essays so get those started ASAP.
    • Order your transcripts to be sent by your high school.
    • Submit your applications
    • Do they recommend an interview or video submission? Get that created or scheduled.
    • Does it require a Self Reported Academic Record (SRAR)–get that stared and then once the school sends you their SRAR link you can connect your SRAR to their school.
  7. If you want to be considered for financial aid, submit the FAFSA and file a CSS profile if you school requires it.
  8. Check your email often and follow any steps sent by the college including creating an applicant portal account.

While we prefer to start early with students to help them have a thoughtful and strong application process, we can help a limited number of students applying regular decision develop their essays and complete their applications. To start the process schedule a consultation here.

Steps You Might Miss in the Application Process

You have hit submit on your college application and that feeling of “I did it” comes over you. Then a few days later you log into your applicant portal only to see big red X’s saying you missed something causing your heart to race. Sometimes these X’s don’t impact the application deadline and you have some time to get them submitted. Sometimes, missing these items pushes you from early admission into the regular pool. Its important to submit your applications as early as possible to give you time to check application portals to ensure you have completed all the steps. Colleges, especially those highly rejective ones, are also adding more and more steps to make the process complicated. Here are some tips, best practices and advice to make sure you are ready.

  1. Know the requirements: Check the college website, the common application or school application and make sure you understand everything you have to submit. If you need letters or recommendation or forms from a counselor, ask early. Common requirements include
    • 1-3 essays (some majors have additional essays)
    • 1-3 letters or recommendation (some schools have specific teachers they require like english or math)
    • A school counselor form, recommendation or secondary school report
    • Your transcript
    • Your test scores if not applying test optional-check if school accepts self reported scores or if you have to send official. If official order from Collegeboard or ACT at least 4 weeks in advance.
    • An application fee (some colleges are free, some charge up to $80 to apply)
    • Financial aid forms and possible scholarship essays
  2. Start the school specific questions early-Lots of students start the main portion of the Common Application over the summer but wait until they are almost ready to submit to start the school’s actual questions (found under “My Colleges” on the Common Application). However, answering certain questions (like adding a second major or selecting a selective business school) can trigger particular essays. Start these questions early so you see all the requirements you may have to complete (For example adding a second major at Purdue creates a new essay, applying to the Ross School of Business at Michigan opens two new essays that are not easy to write).
  3. Create an applicant portal account: After you apply make sure you are reading the emails from all the colleges where you submitted applications. If you applied using the Common Application you will need to make an account on the colleges applicant portal to manage your application. Follow the steps to create the account. Use the same password on all the sites and share it with your parents. You will be in and out of these sites the next few months.
  4. Check the portal for new requirements: Many schools add new requirements to the portal or new opportunties. This might include
    • A Self Reported Academic Record (SRAR)-the SRAR is a long, annoying form where you have to enter all your courses and grades even if you schools ends a transcript. You can complete it here and link it to schools who require it. We suggest doing this early verses waiting to get the SRAR in the portal. Schools that require the SRAR can be found here
    • An invitation to join an honors program that requires more essays
    • A optional (not really) 2 minute video to submit in place of interviewing (Brown, University of Chicago, Babson, Wake Forest, Claremont McKenna, Goucher, Colby, Washington St. Louis and many others have started doing this)
    • An additional essay required for admission (Grinnell and Hamilton have these)
    • Quarter or semester grades (they want to see how senior year is going)
    • Scholarship invitations which require more essays
    • An optional alumni interview (always do what’s optiional at highly competitive places to show your interest)
  5. File your financial aid forms on time
    • Most schools require the FAFSA but may have different deadlines for when it is due
    • Some schools also require the CSS profile, a collegeboard form that has a fee to file per school.

Requirements change from year to year. It is always best to review the college’s website early and often to make sure you are meeting all their requirements. Missing a step can prevent you from being admitted. Schools that need students will be more flexible. Schools with very low admission rates will not.

If you need help navigating the admission process please reach out. We are starting to work with juniors now for the 2024 application cycle. Book a free consultation here.

Summer Can Make or Break an Application (yes, I know its October)

It takes more than good grades and test scores to get into top colleges these days. The extremely rejective schools and even the selective schools are looking for you to have participated in activities, classes, clubs and programs that help you develop your academic interests. Summer is a great time to do this. While most teens do need to work (and should to build those important soft skills), taking a week or two for a summer or pre-college program can be a way to learn more about your interests, experience a mini version of college life, meet new people and have fun with a topic you enjoy. The reason I’m bringing it up while you are still shopping for Halloween candy is because some programs have already opened their applications.

For my fellow Hoosiers who follow this blog, the Lilly Endowment Inc generously awarded several Indiana colleges with grants to start new youth summer programs. While many colleges are still planning these programs, others are scaling up existing programs. The 27 colleges on this list received funds so keep an eye on their webpages or social media for announcements about summer programs for middle and high schools around everything from the liberal arts, to STEM to sports industries (not athletic camps but learning about sports as a business). Some will be free, others will be discounted and some will charge tuition.

Nationally, there are many great programs, both in-person and virtual. And they range on topics from helping you explore your interest in medicine, to studying marine life off islands in Maine. You can learn creative writing, battle social justice issues, act, studying engineering and more. The people at Teenlife have done a great job curiating lists. I often start on this site, type the subject area into the search box and find a great list of programs. Summer Discovery is another company that offers a wide variety of programs all across the country. You can also find programs on most campuses. Some programs are “pay to play” you just register, pay the fee and go. Others are more competitive and involve an application like the very selective Research Science Institute held each summer at MIT or Yale Global Scholars . LaunchX has a program for students looking to solve business programs for real companies. FIT, Parsons and SCAD all have some amazing programs in fashion. If you like politics consider appying for the Boys’ or Girls’ state programs through the American Legion (your social studies teacher can connect you).

If you are looking for an opportunity to do mentored research with a faculty member, Lumiere Education has programs to help you connect to a network of faculty. Shadowing a professional is another great summer experience. Reach out to your friends and family to ask if you can spend a few days on the job with them to see what they do (be polite and stay off your phone while there).

Doing one of these programs does not gurantee you will get into college. But it will show a college you were interested enough in a subject to take some time out of your busy schedule to go more deeply on the topic.

If you need help finding summer programs that might be right for your child, we are happy to help. Contact Coffman Consulting to schedule a meeting to discuss summer and next year’s classes.

To Ed or Not to ED, That is the Question?

Many of the students I work with are really struggling with whether to apply Early Decision and to which school. Early Decision is a process where you can complete your application to ONE school by an earlier deadline and commit to attend THAT school if admitted. It is considered binding–you have to withdraw your applications to other schools. Students (and parents) often think applying Early Decision will get them into a school that they likely would not have been admitted to applying Regular Decision. That is not usually the case.

Early Decision is a strategy to use with your top choice, when you can afford to attend no matter what the final cost (or you have run the school’s Net Price Calculator and the aid they estimate is sufficient for you to attend), and you fall in the school’s middle 50% of grade point average and test scores. This is where most clients disagree with me. The feeling is “If I’m already in the middle 50%, aren’t I likely to be admitted anyway? Shouldn’t I use my ED at a really selective school”? My feeling is no. If a school normally admits less than 25% of their regular applicant pool and you aren’t in their middle 50%, ED doesn’t improve your chances significantly. No admission is guaranteed. Unless your first choice admits the majority of their applicants and you are solidly at the top or above their 50%, no admission is guaranteed. If you are a likely candidate for admission, strengthen your application with ED.. Otherwise you are just throwing away your time and money preparing an application that will get rejected, and helping an already selective school be more rejective by denying another application.

What is a middle 50%? Admission offices break their admitted students into quarters. They are required to submit data on the group that falls between 25% and 75%, along with a ton of other data on retention and graduation rates, to the Federal Government (if they participate in the federal student aid programs). This data includes gpa and test scores (if they use scores for any of their admitted students). It’s refered to as the Common Data Set. Most college’s publish it somewhere on their website (google the school’s name and common data set) and several college search websites, like Collegeboard’s My Big Future, use it to publish their admission info on schools. Colleges report it around October each year so the data you find on search engines is often a year behind.

A great tool to use for figuring out if you should apply ED is the spreadsheet compiled by Independent Admission Consultants Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy. God bless these two! They look at every school who releases data and compile it in a handy dandy chart showing the ED admit rates compared to the regular admission rates. When you look at the chart, many colleges admit a much higher percentage of applicants during ED. For some the percent is over 75%–so definitely consider ED there. But for others, it goes from an RD admission rate of 6% to 23%, which still means 77% of the applications will be denied. If you aren’t likely a competitive applicant RD, and the admit rate for ED isn’t very high, then its probably not worth wasting your ED shot at that school.

There are hundreds of colleges in this country. Just because something is selective or has a brand name doesn’t mean its the best college for you. There are many very similar schools that can offer you just as strong of an education and who will admit you–making the process positive instead of rejective and disappointing.

If Coffman Consulting can help you develop a balanced list of schools where you will be admitted and happy, let us know. We love helping students find their right fit.

Advice for 11th grade students and parents

Now that I have been through a few cycles as an independent college counselor, I have lots of advice to give. Here are a few tips for families to make the process go smoother.

Start Research Schools Now

As I read numerous essays answering the question “Why are you applying to this school” or “Why have you chosen this major at this school” its clear students don’t know why. They have picked their school because of a brand name or ranking. I probably didn’t know why at that age either. I mostly wanted to go to a college where I wouldn’t be compared to my two older sisters. But colleges, especially the highly rejective ones, care about the why. They want to know you have done your research, understand what they offer, and how it will benefit you. They want you to be happy so you stay, graduate and become a generous alumni. Start now so you have built a list that you are not only excited to apply to, but, can share why.

How do you research?

  1. Visit–through an official admissions visit (not a drive around campus or just meeting someone you know there). Hear the admissions presentation and take the tour. Look around–do you feel like these are your people? Does the campus have classrooms and facililites that will accomodate your interests and needs? Are people friendly and interacting with each other or walking/studying alone? Also go in some buildings not on the tour. Do they not show them because they are old or full of huge lecture halls. Go in the cafeteria and see what’s being served. Drive around the surrounding to see if it feels safe, has things to do and is accessible.
  2. Attend a virtual information session-if you can’t go in-person, see if they offer a virtual session. Many schools offer both a general session about the university and specific ones on majors or schoosl within the university.
  3. Go through the website. Look at the general curriculum everyone must take to graduate. Find your major and the requirements you need to take as well as electives you are excited to take. Look up the clubs and campus life. Read about residence halls and living learning communities.
  4. Follow their social media and read the school paper–what are they talking about on campus? Do they promote issues and events that interest you? Are there problems on campus that might impact your time there (like safety, budget cuts, staff turnover)?
  5. Check out college guides like Fiske, Niche, Collegeboard, Naviance, Scoir, Cappex, and Princeton What are they saying about the school?
  6. Check out reddit blogs if that is your thing.
  7. Don’t get hung up on rankings. They don’t always reflect the experience you will have at a college. They are designed to sell magazines.

Start Your Applications Early

The Common Application is the application used by most colleges. You can create your account as a junior and complete most items on the Common App tab. While the Common Application does make changes over the summer they tend to be minimal. Do not complete anything on the my colleges tab as those will change for 2024. Common App typically releases their personal statement writing prompts very early (they announced Jan 27, 2022 that questions were staying the same for 2023). You can begin your personal statement in the spring/summer.

Colleges often release their essay questions early as well. Follow their social media or join their admission mailing list as they are often announced over the summer (not everyone releases early). Use the summer to outline what you want to share with colleges, what did you like about each school and write their essays. It will make life much easier in the fall. It is not uncommon for students to have 10 or more essays to write.

Create a Plan and Stay Organized

Make a spreadsheet or document with your list of schools, their deadlines, the requirement (essays, recommendation letters, resume, test scores optional or not) and set dates to accomplish the tasks. Mark off what is done. Stick to the plan. Don’t wait until the last minute. Websites crash, people get sick, recommenders forget they said they would write your letter. Plan ahead so you aren’t making a stressful situation more stressful.

If you need help building a college list, navigating the research, brainstorming essays or crafting your application–Coffman Consulting is here to help.

Testing Plans

The world of test optional admissions is somewhat of a moving target. Many schools went test optional during Covid, and plan to stay that way. Many were test optional before. But many are evaluating it on a year to year basis. Georgetown and MIT are requiring test scores for 2023 and Purdue just announced they will require them for 2024. Students should plan to take an SAT or ACT (or both) and then determine whether to use their scores.

What makes this even more complicated is tests keep getting cancelled. Today the SAT was cancelled throughout the south due to Hurrican Ian damage. Last month the ACT was cancelled in California due to wildfires. Schools have had to cancel due to lack of proctors. While much of this is out of students’ control, it’s frustrating if they are trying to get a test in by the October and November Early Action and Early Decision deadlines.

Our advice is plan ahead. Students should register for a test in spring of their junior year, if their high school doesn’t already offer a school day SAT or ACT (Indiana does have a March in school SAT). We’d suggest a March SAT and an April ACT. See how you do then decide which one you felt was a better fit for you. Do some test preparation (buy a book, take a course, do free online or paid online prep). Then take either test again in June. If you are still wanting to raise your score there will be August, September and October tests. But know, the closer to deadlines you test, the more risk involved if tests are cancelled or there is an issue.

Below are the ACT tests dates currently available through July 2023. Visit ACT.org to learn more and register. Also follow ACT on social media for updates and tips.

These are the SAT test dates through June 2023. Vist Collegeboard.org to learn mroe and register. They also provide free test prep through Khan Academy which you can link to through Collegeboard.

Always check with the college where you are applying to know their most recent test policy, if they require you to submit official scores from a testing agency or if they take self-reported scores off your application. Don’t automatically send your scores when you take the test, wait and see if you are happy with the scores and send them at a later date. Understand deadlines and when score reports have to be received by to ensure your application is complete by the deadlines.

As always, if you have any questions Coffman Consulting is happy to help. We are currently accepting clients from the class of 24, 25, and 26, a limited number of seniors applying for January deadlines and students looking to transfer colleges this spring or next fall.

You’ve Been Admitted–What’s Next?

Congratulations. You have been admitted to a college. So what’s next? If you know you have been admitted then you have probably already created a portal accont for that college. If you are asking, “what’s a portal?”, then check your email. Most schools now use an online admissions system to manage the process. You need an account to enter that system, view your account, see your decision letter, financial aid notification, andsometimes apply for housing. You probably received an invitation via email (check your junkmail/spam) to start the process.

  1. Read the emails and texts schools send you. Yes, some of it is just marketing and trying to stay on your radar as you make your decisions. But some of it is important and helpful information. Make sure you are sharing it with your parents/guardians/person helping you through the process. Save them in a file, don’t just delete them.
  2. File your FAFSA form if you want to be considered for need-based financial aid. Some schools also use the CSS Profile. Check the colleges website to make sure you understand the financial aid process for that school. There are schools that make you file a FAFSA even if you are only receiving merit-based aid. You should be able to find this information on their website.
  3. Visit if you haven’t already, or if you need to see it again to make a decision. There are special visit days for admitted students.
  4. Register for housing if you plan to live on campus. Some schools allow you to apply for housing without committing to the college officially–but the housing deposit may not be refundable. If the college has a housing shortage this may be worth doing to guarantee you get housing. Some schools do not let you apply for housing until after you have paid an enrollment deposit.
  5. Once you have made a decision on where you will attend, pay your enrollment deposit. This saves your place in the class and tells the college you are attending. It is usually due by May 1. But there may be incentives to paying it early like housing priorities or an early registration date. Make sure you know when things are due. Colleges can tell you there is not space and you can no longer attend if you don’t meet deadlines.
  6. Pick a registration/orientation date and submit materials. This may include having to take placement tests online, submitting transcripts with any college courses you have taken, sending AP scores. You want the college to have all of this as soon as possible so they have time to apply them to your academic record. Otherwise, you may end up registering for classes you don’t need.
  7. Turn in/upload required health and vaccine information as well as other forms that are required.
  8. Make note of move-in dates and Welcome week schedules (even if you are commuting). These events are designed to help you succeed and connect to others at your college. You need to plan to attend them. They are fun, I promise!

At this point you should be ready to move-in, start classes and take advantage of all the great things college has to offer you. Its an exciting year with many steps but as long as you do them you will be ready!

Senior To Do List

School is back in session. And for seniors, it means you should be applying to colleges. Many colleges have November deadlines for their top scholarships. Here are the steps you should be taking the next few months to have your applications submitted.

1.Create an account at http://www.commonapp.org and complete all the sections on the common app tab

2. Finalize your college list and add the to the Common Application. If they don’t use the Common Application create accounts at either the school specific application or application they use.

3.Look at the requirements for the colleges where you are applying. Click on the college on the left hand side menu and a page will open with information about applying and requirements further down the page.

4. Do they require letters of recommendation (if so have you asked teachers)?

5. Do they have supplemental essay questions?

6. Do you have to send official SAT or ACT scores if applying with test scores (go on to Collegeboard.org or ACT.org to send)?

7. Do they accept self reported grades or do you need to send an official transcript (and do you know how to request transcripts at your school)?

8.Write your personal statement…the Common Application has 7 choices to choose from and most work for the Coalition or school specific applications if you are also applying to schools that use those applications.

9. Start to answer the college specific questions (click on the colleges on the My College tab). If colleges have essays, start to draft those.

10. Click the Recommenders and FERPA section. FERPA is a federal law that protects your educational record. You need to waive your rights to allow your high school to send grades to your colleges. You should also waive your rights to read letters of recommendations. Colleges want teachers to feel they can be honest in the letter. If you are asking to see the letters its harder for a teacher to do that.

11. If your school doesn’t use Naviance or Scoir, then you need to add your school counselor and recommenders in the Common Application. If you do use Scoir or Naviance (or Maya or Xello) check with your school as to how they want you to request recommendations and counselor forms.

12. If you want to invite someone who is not a teacher as a recommender, you can use the invite recommender section.

13. When you have completed all parts of the application, click the review and submit and follow all prompts until you see the Congratulations screen.

14. Once you submit your applications make sure to follow up with other required materials like transcripts and test scores. Some colleges will email you confirming they received your application and have you create a portal to view your application materials and even your decision. Make sure you write down the username and password as you will need to get into that portal often over the next few months.

15. October 1 begin your financial aid process by filing your FAFSA. Some schools also use the CSS Profile. Check the college website to see if that form will be needed. You can start the FAFSA process now by registering for your FSA ID at studentaid.org.

Coffman consulting is always happy to help with the financial aid process or college admission process. To schedule a free consultation visit click here.

Don’t add to those rejections

Many students have a dream college, and its often an Ivy or a highly rejective college like Notre Dame, Stanford or MIT. Many of these colleges have admission rates in the single digits, as low as 3%–meaning they deny 97 of every 100 applicants who apply. The applicant pools are filled with incredibly smart and talented individuals. Why some get in over others could be for any number of reasons, especially when so many have strong grades and incredibly high test scores. It’s almost a lottery.

The United States has over 23,500 high schools, approximately 23,5000 valedictorians (although some schools don’t rank). 22,000 test takers got a perfect SAT score. Most of the Ivies have a freshmen class of under 2,000 students. 36% of Harvard’s Fall 2022 class were legacies (a parent or grandparent attended). There are far more qualified applicants than there are spots in Ivy League schools. Plus, lots of other people apply because they “just want to see what happens”. All of this equals most applicants being denied.

If you are considering a highly selective college you need to make sure you are taking the most rigorous curriculum your high school offers. You need to take all 5 core academic subjects all four years–Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Foreign Language. You need to take the most challenging level of these courses offered, and do well in them (all A’s). You also need to select academically challenging electives. This can include computer science, music, art, or extra core subjects.

While many of these schools are test optional, most applicants are still submitting incredibly high test scores. But even students with perfect SATs and ACTs are rejected. Just because a school is test optional, it doesn’t mean you should apply if your scores and grades are lower than their admitted averages. There are lots of free test preparation resources. Try to increase your score by preparing for the exams.

Activities play a huge role in gaining admission to highly rejective colleges. It is important to have used your summer wisely working, attending academic programs related to your career interests, participating in community service or mission work, or conducting research. During the school year, students should be participating in organizations that demonstrate their interests and passions, while gaining more responsibility and leadership each year. While it is challenging and time consuming to be in marching band or a varsity sport, students must have involvement in addition to those activities.

Finally, engaging and well-written essays help your personality shine through. Think about what information is not in the rest of your application. Use your essays to share that information and create a three dimensional picture of you.

If you still decide to apply, have a balanced list of schools. Make sure you still have at least three schools where you are likely to be admitted, and you will be happy to attend. Nothing is guaranteed but applying to a great mix of schools will help you have options verses receiving mostly nos.

I don’t understand what “Early Action” means

Saturday night, I hosted an application workshop for some local seniors (including my son). It was incredibly inciteful to hear their questions and concerns. One question that came up a lot that, and in multiple follow up email since, is “what is Early Action” and “Should I apply Early Action?”. Early Action is called an application plan. Most schools have one of four–Rolling Admissions, Regular Admissions, Early Action and Early Decision. But to make it more complicated, they have different version of these and sub- categories. Here is an overview of each.

Rolling Admissions–Schools who use rolling admissions don’t have a formal deadline. You can apply any time until their application closes (usually late spring or summer before classes start). You will receive your application decision a few weeks after your application is complete. You typically have until around May to decide if you are attending.

Regular Decision-Applying Regular Decision means you are meeting the school’s deadline, typically in late fall or spring. You must have all of your application materials in to the Office of Admission by the deadline date. They will then send you a decision by their published response date. There are usually not any incentives for applying by this deadline (extra scholarships, housing incentives) and it is not binding (if you are admitted, you are not obligated to attend). You typically have by a certain date (around May 1) to respond to accept or decline the offer.

Early Decision– Not every school offers Early Decision. It is a program where you submit your application early and commit to attend if admitted. It is called “binding” as you, your parents and your high school counselor all sign a document (a section in the common application) that you agree to attend if admitted. You should only apply Early Decision if you intend to enroll. Complete the Net Price Calculator on a school website to see what aid you might receive (and take a screen shot). You may be able to back out if your financial aid will not make it affordable, but it can hurt future applicants from your high school. Many schools use Early Decision to admit a large portion of their class and lock them in to attending–if you have a top choice, and can afford to attend it no matter your aid, Early Decision can be a strategy to help secure your admission to that school (although admission is never a guarantee as applicant pools continue to get larger and stronger each year). You can only apply to one school Early Decision (you can submit others regular decision or early action). If admitted, you must withdraw any application you have submitted to other schools.

Some schools offer two rounds of Early Decision called Early Decision I and Early Decision II. If you are not admitted to a school Early Decision I or if you did not apply under Early Decision I, you can submit an application Early Decision II. The same Early Decision rules apply.

Early Action– Early Action is not binding. You still are applying by an earlier date. You can apply to multiple schools Early Action. If admitted, you are not obligated to attend. It is not binding. Sometimes, scholarships are tied to applying Early Action, and you also receive your decision earlier.

Some schools have Restrictive Early Action, which is basically like Early Decision. You can only apply to one private school via Restrictive Early Action. You can still apply to public colleges. Restrictive Early Action is not binding but you are telling the college they are your first choice.

If your materials will be ready–you aren’t retaking the SAT or ACT and your essays will not be rushed–applying early can be advantageous. However, the best strategy is to apply when you can put forth the strongest application.

If you need help deciding which application program to use or compiling any aspect of your application, Coffman Consulting can help. Schedule a free consultation to learn about our services here.

Advice for New College Students as you Start Your First Year

You are probably feeling a mix of emotions right now from good excited to petrified. That is perfectly normal. You are about to start something new, and it will be hard. There will be times you think “I got this” and times you want to call a parent to come pick you up and drop out (don’t do that)! I have worked at several colleges, teach a new student transition course and have seen my fair share of first year students thrive and struggle (sometimes both at the same time). Here are some of my tips for doing well your first year academically, socially and mentally.

Things You Need

Buy your books: I know they are expensive but buy them. If they come with a digital copy, get that too. And use them, but we will talk more about that later.

A calendar: If you are good at using a digital calendar, great. But using an old fashioned paper planner can be really helpful. Put everything in it from when you plan to eat meals, work out, club meetings, study time, and assignments. You have a lot of free time in college but you need to use it to be successful.

A meal plan: Even if you are commuting, get a meal plan. You will want to eat with friends or grab a coffee and study with classmates. Having the ability to do this easily will help.

Academically

Attend class and sit near the front: You are paying for each class you take, so go to them. Engage with the material, pay attention, take written notes in a notebook not a laptop (it is proven writing things down helps you remember them better than typing them).

Go through ALL of your syllabi: The first day of class your professor will give you a syllabus. It has the course policies (do they accept late work and how many points do you lose), assignments and do dates, reading materials, how to contact your professor and where to find their office. Put all your assignments on the calendar mentioned above, including readings…not just tests or papers.

Go to your professors’ office hours: Don’t be intimidated by your professors. They teach at a college because they like students (at least most of them do). Going to their office hours and introducing yourself could lead to a mentor and a friend. They can explain concepts you didn’t understand in class, give you tips to prepare for exams, review drafts of your paper or suggest books that might help you complete your research, and if you are applying for a job or graduate school–they can be great references. Large colleges/classes may assign you to a graduate student. If that is the case, meet with them. Same results as above can happen. But if you can also meet with the professor, do that.

Seek Help: Everyone struggles in college. The coursework is harder than high school. I got a D in Finite Math at Indiana University. I still went on to graduate school and I’m proud to say I have never used Finite a day in my life. But, I wish I had gotten help. Start with your professor or graduate assistant. It’s helpful to know what you might need help with to give them direction. Are you not getting a specific concept and want them to explain it to you. Are you struggling to do research or write at the college level-most campus have a writing center that can help. Have you never taken lecture notes–there is probably a note writing workshop offered on campus through the Academic Support Center. Need a tutor–that is probably offered as well…check with your advisor. Campuses have all the offices I mentioned above because students struggle. You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last so don’t be embarrassed…ask for help.

Plan Ahead: read assignments before class, it helps you understand the lecture better. Download any notes are materials ahead of time so you can take your own notes on them. If you have a paper due, plan out what you need to do so you turn it on on time (week one–research topic, week two finalize books, week three write first draft and show to professor, week four revise, week 5 its due). Turn things in on time so you get all the points you can. Spend the time doing the work so you don’t need to ask for extra credit! You may have multiple exams in one week, study and stay on up on the work so you don’t have to cram.

Socially

In the world of airpods, residence hall suites, door dash and netflix–it is easy to be in your room or walking on campus and engage with no one. Don’t do that!

Go to the Welcome Week events-there are people on your floor that are new just like you. Suck it up, push past that feeling of being a dork and ask your neighbors if they want to go to events. Some schools will have you assigned to a group with a student leader/peer mentor. If they are organizing events or getting a group to go to events, go with them. You will find you have fun and may actually make some friends (and win prizes). If you are commuting, reach out to the commuter student organization or the Office of Student Life (might be called Campus Life or Dean of Students) to see if there is a group you can attend the event with.

Join a club-Colleges have a club for everything, and even let you easily start new clubs. Go to the activity fair, read the flyers on bulletin boards, check your email announcements, read the chalk messages all over campus and attend something. They will become your closest friends and maybe your future spouse is in one of those clubs.

Attend events on campus: Get a group together to go to the basketball game, see a musical performance or play. Campuses offer lots of events regularly, for a variety of interests. It is always hard to work up the courage to ask someone to go to something, but think about how good it feels when you are asked. You can do the same thing and ask someone else.

Study around campus not just in your room: See if classmates want to have a study group, you can learn thing from others. Or hang in the student center, library, a classroom building. You may run into classmates or faculty helping you feel connected.

Get a job on campus-while some campus jobs require workstudy (a form of financial aid) some do not. Ask your career services or student employment office about campus employment. Working in a campus office helps you get to know staff, faculty and other students. You also learn the ins and outs of the college helping you to better connect to resources.

Mentally

There are many mental health and support services on campus. Make use of them if you are struggling. Talking to a counselor can be incredibly helpful. They can refer you to services and doctors if you need support the university doesn’t offer.

Is hiring a college counselor worth the money?

Just about any task or project in life can be done yourself, but sometimes having an expert to walk you through the process is easier. Many people can watch a YouTube video on how to install a ceiling fan or change their motor oil and do so successfully. But others prefer to hire someone to handle the work.

If you fight with your spouse anytime you do a house project, there is a good chance you may end up fighting with your child when you try to do their applications. Having someone to assist your child can make senior year more enjoyable. Let the college counselor be the task master while you get to go on college tours and buy sweatshirts in the bookstore!

College admissions is by no means an exact science. Watching YouTube videos, reading subreddits and visiting colleges can certainly give you some direction–but the outcome may still not be admission to your top school. College counselors can’t guarantee admission either. When schools are receiving 30,000 plus applications and admitting 3% of those–all we can do is help package your application in the best light compared to past applicants and feedback we gain from schools. But we understand what student who were admitted did–the classes they took, the way they spent their summers, the way they approached essays and whether they applied early decision or regular decision. And the earlier your child starts, the more we can help. Nothing is worse then meeting with a student who dreams of going to a certain school but they haven’t taken four years of a foreign language or have no senior year math–but the school requires it (or in most cases prefers it but doesn’t specify that on their website).

College counselors also know their university counterparts. We attend the same professional conferences, we tour their schools, we attend webinars where they present about the admission process at their college. We get to ask tough questions that give our students more detailed information to use in their college process. And we can often send an email/text/facebook message to get help because we have developed these relationships over the years.

We can also project manage–we know he deadlines, the pieces you need to apply, when test date and scholarship applications open (or we know how to do the research quickly). This can save you significant time when you don’t know where to look or how to find the info easily.

College counseling can be expensive. But when the counselor breaks down by hour the time they are spending with your child to get them ready for college and applications submitted, you will see the value. And when you are panicking or unsure how to approach something, the ability to send an email or a text to get the answer quickly is priceless.

If Coffman Consulting can help with your college search please let us know. We have space for a few more seniors and are accepting freshmen, sophomores and juniors at this time. Schedule a free consultation here.

How to write a “Why this college” essay

August 1st is around the corner, which means you can start submitting the Common Application and other college applications. While many schools only require the personal statement from the Common Application, others have supplemental essays that are required. One of the most common additional essays is the “Why are you applying to this school?” question.

These are typically short, 100 to 400 words. The college wants to see that you have done your research and that you understand what their college has to offer you. They also want to see that you have thought about what you want from a college–and how theirs matches those requirements. Start by thinking about what those things are and make a list:

  • What do you want to study as a major, minor or concentration?
  • Do you want to conduct research with faculty?
  • Are you interested in project-based learning or experiential learning or are you ok with large lecture style learning?
  • What type of clubs and activities do you want to join?
  • Do you want very specific major and curriculum requirements or do you want the freedom to take a variety of classes that interest you?
  • Do you want to study abroad?
  • Do you want big time sports and tailgating, or a vibrant arts scene (or both)?
  • Do you want a traditional campus or to have a major city serve as your campus?

Then once you have compiled the list of things you want in a college, start researching those items at the college where you are applying. For instance, if you want to do research with faculty, is that possible as an undergraduate? Are there particular faculty members conducting specific research that interests you?

Then write an essay describing how what you want from college can be accomplished at this particular school. Don’t rehash their website to them but instead share your vision for your college life and how their school helps you accomplish that.

If you need help building your college list or would like someone to brainstorm essays with you, Coffman Consulting is happy to help.

Jobs That Help Pay For College

Working while in high school (and college) can teach a teen time management, customer service and communication skills as well as how to work as part of a team. It can also help them pay for expenses and save for college. There are many companies that off their teenage employees educational benefits. Between hourly part-time rates reaching $15 an hour, working for these companies literally pays off.

Restaurant companies like Chipotle, Chick-fill-A, and McDonald’s all have tuition assistance or scholarships programs for their employees that you find at the above links. Starbucks also offers excellent tuition benefits.

Many large retailers are launching educational programs including Walmart and Target, however you must attend a specific online college that is part of their partnership. Amazon also offers a program with specific college partners. Home Depot offers employees tuition support after part-time or full-time 90 day employment. FedEx, UPS and Best Buy also have programs for part-time and full-time employees.

Grocery Stores seem to be very generous with Kroger, Meijer, and Publix all having programs. Trader Joes has a competitive scholarship for Employees. CVS offers up to $3000 to employees.

Many companies have programs for the dependents of their employees. Check with your HR department to see if your company has a scholarship program, how to apply and deadlines.

Research has shown that students who work between 10-20 hours a week while in high school or college often have better grades because they learn how to make the best use of their time. But working more than 20 hours a week can negatively impact a students grades. If your student is going to work, why not find a job that also gives educational benefits. Its a win-win!

What Activities are Colleges Looking for?

There was a time where colleges wanted to see a really active student, involved in lots of diverse clubs and activities. Now colleges are more interested in seeing you have an interest or passion that you are exploring more deeply verses superficial involvement in lots of different activities.

While many students choose to do their activities at schools, part-time jobs, church related roles, volunteering in the community, research projects all can show passion. For example-if you enjoy political science getting involved in your student government is an easy way to learn about politics. You could also volunteer on a local campaign and attend your local Boy or Girl’s State. You could even write political op-eds for your school paper. If you enjoy science you could join your school robotics’ team, volunteer at the zoo, work at vet/dentist/doctor’s office, participate in a research project through an area college.

How you use your summer can also be a great way to showcase your interests and passions. There are many summer programs at colleges that allow you to explore subjects. Some are competitive and require admission. Others are more “pay to play” (as long as you can pay the tuition you can attend). You can also take courses at a local community college or on-line. And of course–working in an area of interest is an excellent way to explore future careers.

What’s most important is that you can articulate why you got involved, what you learned from the experience and how it is propelling you forward with what you want to do in the future. If you were forced by your parent to go to a food pantry a few times but you didn’t enjoy it or didn’t connect with the participants–it will be hard to talk about it in an essay or to an admission representative. Be authentic and share what you truly enjoy. Colleges are looking to build a class and create a community filled with a variety of people. You will be happier in that community if they choose YOU because YOU are the right fit for their institution.

Are College Fairs Still Worth Attending?

Back before the days of the internet and before College Board and ACT would sell your information to colleges so they could send you (lots of) marketing materials, families had to attend college fairs. Many colleges would visit a high school gym, hotel ballroom or convention center–each with their own table. Families would go from table to table learning about the school and what it had to offer.

From the admissions side, colleges have seen student attendance at fairs dwindling over the years. Students are busy and often have other ways to build a list of colleges they might apply to or attend. When Covid hit, many colleges were able to take their presentations virtual. College fair organizers also arranged virtual events–and did a great job in many cases.

In-person fairs are back and many students ask, should I attend? I’m going to give my favorite answer, “it depends”. If you are just going to walk around taking pens and brochures (you probably won’t read) and not speaking to any reps–don’t go. But here are a few cases where attending college fairs makes sense.

-If you are interested in a specific school and have questions that would be helpful to discuss with an admissions representative, attend and discuss them. This could include what coursework they recommend to be competitive for admission or a discussion of whether or not to apply test optional. But remember, depending on how busy the fair is, they may not be able to go in depth with you about a personal situation and may need to address more general comments for the entire crowd.

-There are fairs for special topics or populations–LGTBQ+ friendly schools, performing arts fairs with auditions, multicultural students, STEM. If you are looking for schools that are serving a particular population well or cater to a certain major, attending the fair is probably worth your time.

-If you are interested in schools that consider demonstrated interest (demonstrated interest means you have shown you want to attend the school by interacting with them), speaking to a rep at a college fair and allowing them to collect your data (whether through completing an interest card or using a bar scan provided when you registered) will get you added to the database and calculated in the demonstrated interest formula (although visiting campus or attending an on campus event may count more in their demonstrated interest formula).

Prior to the fair, visit the organizer’s website to see which colleges will be attending. If the colleges are ones you wish to visit/learn more from, pre-register. Do some research on the schools so you have questions to ask the reps. Some of the common fair organizers include:

National Association for College Admissions counselors — college fair webpage

Many states and region have a state affiliate of NACAC such as INACAC, NYACAC–google your state and Association for College Admissions counselors to find local fairs to your state. NACAC also has STEM and Performing Arts fairs.

Campus Pride (LGTBQ+ friendly) fairs– webpage

National Diversity College fairs webpage

Each year new fairs are launched–whether at a high school, through a community organization or even a group of like colleges (the Big 10, the 7 sisters, etc). Keep you eyes on your mail and email to see if any of the particular events may be a good fit for you.

If you need help with your college search, Coffman Consulting is always happy to help. We are currently contracting with rising juniors and a limited number of rising seniors to assist with the college application process.

It’s hard to be the parent in the college process

At dinner with my brother recently, he (not so jokingly) said I must be a nightmare on college visits. Its definitely hard to remain neutral. I have strong opinions on what should be included by the college to help the student learn the most about the school. And because my recent visits are for my own son, I want him to be happy and succeed. But I also know what he doesn’t yet know.

I have a crush on several schools we have visited. I also dislike one or two, but understand why my son likes them. I have my heart definitely set on a favorite. There are places I absolutely don’t want him to attend. I have been incredibly impressed by the outreach of some colleges and admission officers, and disappointed in others (like the Saturday visit where the tour guide met us in the parking lot, and couldn’t get into a single building because everything was locked–yes I did fill out the evaluation giving low scores). I hate when schools only offer a tour and don’t include an admissions visit. I hate when we don’t get the itinerary until we arrive (I want to know who we are meeting and how long the day will be). I am appreciative of schools that build in faculty visits–my son is a strong student who likes personal attention. It helps to know who he will be in classes with and what he will learn. I know he has to choose where he will be happiest. I already got to pick my college (and graduate school). No place will be absolutely perfect. But I can’t help have favorites.

I choose my own college, Indiana University, and my major, telecommunications, for weak reasons. I went to a small, all women’s catholic high school in NYC that both my sisters and my mother attended. I wanted to attend a school no one in my family had attended and no one from my high school was attending. My sister was at Boston College and seemed to enjoy going to games and having lots of activities–so I wanted a rah rah type place as well. Indiana is a pretty campus. I didn’t like anywhere else I had visited. I got in fairly early in my senior year. Everyone seemed impressed I was going there. So I went. I didn’t research the curriculum. I liked tv shows so thought I would enjoy making them (I really should have done journalism, marketing or PR). I didn’t know anyone there except a family friend who was a year older. I had a good experience but probably would have enjoyed a school with smaller classes, more personal attention, no sororities (after an all girls high school I didn’t really want to be in one but most of my freshmen year friends pledged, leaving me feeling socially isolated). I wish I had stayed closer to NYC. I should have built more criteria into my college search.

As I watch my son visit schools, the knowledge I’ve learned working in higher education has me looking at things differently than I did for myself. I know he enjoys when teachers know him and like him (so small classes would be better). He loves being part of his cross country and track teams, even though he isn’t the fastest runner. He needs a community or activity to join (he is planning to do ROTC). He likes to get away and have alone time (he’s never shared a room) so he probably will wan to be able to come home once in a while (but I don’t want him home too much either). He forms deep long term friendships but I don’t see him enjoying the party scene of fraternities. He wants to be academically challenged but won’t want to drown in work. He wants credit for his AP coursework, that actually helps him save time towards his degree. He wants to study abroad and do internships. He wants modern facilities with study space, outdoor space, workout space and technology. He wants to study history and political science and has criteria for what those majors include.

I just finished another year of working with a great group of seniors. They are in many places. Some are excited about the school they selected. Others are still struggling to help their child decide or waiting on waitlists. Some are frustrated by the financial aid packages or disappointed by places that didn’t admit their student. And sometimes sad their child isn’t picking a certain school, because they fell in love with it during the process but their kid didn’t. All I can say is there is a college for everyone. No matter what school their child attends, that child can make it the right place for them by getting involved, getting to know their faculty, taking their school work seriously, and going to events like speakers, professional development activities and performances. They should do an internship and consider studying abroad. These activities will help them feel connected.

Parents may always feel some disappointment (my mom still wishes one of us went to Notre Dame, sorry mom). But knowing your child is happy and engaged, has to satisfy you. Now its time to get to work with the next group of seniors.

Coffman Consulting is always happy to help your student with their college search. We are currently enrolling students from the class of 2024 and 2025 as well as a limited number of class of 2023 students.

The Calculus Conundrum

Earlier this year, Insider Higher Education published an article entitled “Does calculus count for too much in College Admissions”. The answer was yes. There has been much research conducted lately showing most non-STEM and non-business majors don’t need calculus. Although research also shows taking four years of math better prepares you for college, especially college math courses. For some, statistics is a far more useful course–especially for majors like marketing to political science to education. But many colleges are still recommending (and many requiring) students have calculus or precalculus to be admitted.

While some middle school students have the ability to take high school math in 7th or 8th grade, most high school students start at Algebra I. They will take some combination of Algebra I, II and Geometry their first three years. Then senior year, they can take precalculus or calculus if they are academically prepared for the course. But many students don’t want to. They prefer to take another course like Finite Math or AP Statistics as a more relevant course (or to just avoid calculus). But colleges often don’t consider AP Statistics as rigorous as calculus.

This is an issue I have seen a lot the last two years, including with my own son. I have students who have worked very hard in high school, have strong grades but don’t want to take calculus. Or they may be ready for a normal level calculus class but their high school only offers AP Calculus AB and/or BC. Prospective engineering and computer science students who were not in advanced middle school classes are doubling up on math to be able to get to an AP level Calculus to be admissible to the competitive programs (because STEM students will need calculus to be admissible in most engineering or computer science programs).

In my son’s case, he is interested in applying to a college that states they want at least one semester of trig, precalculus or calculus. He is registered for AP Statistics for senior year. He decided to take summer school to get in one semester of precalculus. But given his career interests, statistics makes far more sense as a course for him. So what should your child do? Unfortunately, the answer is “that depends”. If you child is planning to apply to highly selective colleges or a rigorous STEM major, they should be taking advanced math–including calculus, and probably at the AP level. Also check with each college your child is considering to understand their requirements and preferred coursework (it can usually be found on their admissions webpage). If your child is not doing a STEM major, not applying to highly selective colleges or programs, or just won’t do well in the course–don’t take it–but again know the school’s requirements to ensure you aren’t preventing your admissibility by not taking a required class (you can always email admissions and ask if you don’t find it on a website).

If your child is considering a highly selective school or field, working with a college counselor can be helpful. We can review their course selection and build a four year plan that ensures they are meeting requirements. We can also identify activities that will support their career interest and preparation. Its great to do something you love and enjoy like theater but if you want to be an engineer, you should have some science related activities as well. If you can’t get those activities in during the school year, having strong summer experiences can also help.

Coffman Consulting is always here to answer questions you may have about the admissions process. You can schedule a free consultation here .

Should you visit colleges in the summer?

Finding time to visit colleges during the school year can be challenging. Students are busier than ever, and often don’t want to miss classes to visit a college. They worry they will fall behind. But is summer a good time to visit, since many college students go home for the summer? Yes, if summer is what works for your family, use it to visit colleges.

Visit the school’s website and look for the admissions section, prospective student section or the visit section. Look to see if they offer in-person visits during the summer. Attend an information session with admissions, or a session held by your prospective major to get specific details about what you will experience as a student and what you will need for admission. Tours of campus, especially when led by a student tour guide, will help you see the amenities, classrooms and dining hall (if open). The student will share their experience and help give you a glimpse of academic and campus life.

Be prepared that things are slower in the summer. It is also time that colleges do a lot of maintenance–so you may find things closed or under construction. There are often summer camps, causing dining halls and gyms to be overrun by elementary and middle school students. There will not be many college students on campus, but there are other ways to connect with students and learn about the campus dynamics.

Social Media is a great way to get the student perspective on their schools. Follow school accounts on social media. If you are interested in a certain activity like ROTC, theater, Greek life–see if they have their own social media accounts. Parents can often join parent pages (and get a sense of any issues on campus as parents will be very vocal). Another great tool is the free app ZeeMee. ZeeMee is a platform where prospective students can follow colleges and interact with their students and admissions staff. They can also interact with other prospective students–meeting roommates and friends before they hit campus. While you can find just about every college on ZeeMee, the formal college partners can be found at https://colleges.zeemee.com/partners

Before you visit do a deep dive on the college’s website and social media. Browse the digital version of the school’s newspaper to learn about the past year’s events and activities. Take a look at the curriculum offered in your major area (are these classes you want to take). These will generate some questions you might want to ask your tour guide or admissions representative. Take a look at the courses they require for admission so that you can make sure your senior schedule is ok or ask any clarifying questions.

And most importantly–make sure you stop by the bookstore for a cool sweatshirt!

College planning for kids/parents to reduce anxiety

Anxiety is on the rise, and the pandemic didn’t help. I’m a mom of teens in addition to being a full-time college administrator and part-time college counselor. I see anxiety and depression every day with the teens in my life. My own son is a junior. I’ve had to figure out how to structure his college planning in a way that doesn’t cause him to shut down and shut me out. Here are some tips I’ve learned from dealing with him and other students anxious about (or just wanting to avoid) college planning.

Set up a regular time to meet–As a manager and a mom, I hate hallway hijacking. It’s that moment when you are headed to the bathroom or doing some task around the house/office and someone stops you to tell/ask you something but you have no time to really think about the answer or remember the details they are providing. Kids are the same way. Sending them random texts or pestering them as they are getting ready for school with “Have you done your test prep” or “did you look at that college I sent you” isn’t going to be helpful. Set up a standing meeting at a regular interval (juniors could be once a month or every other week, seniors every other week or once a week depending on where you are in the search). This will allow you to both be prepared for the conversation and know its coming. Make it fun–have a snack, drink and low pressure. This will cut down on you feeling like a nag.

Have an agenda (it doesn’t have to be a formal one)–have a general sense of what you are going to cover in the meeting. Maybe to start you just want to look through brochures that have been coming in the mall or ask your child to pull up some of the emails they have been receiving. Maybe you want to use the time to set up college visits together looking at the family calendar. Maybe you want to have a frank discussion about affordability a general budget and how to investigate schools that meet that cost. You might use the time to review their essays, or look at application materials. Discuss what you want to cover in the next meeting and let your child add items to the agenda so its not just driven by the parent.

Set a clear to do list for the next meeting–as you wrap up the meeting set out clear to dos for both parent and child. Parent may say “I’m going to do the net price calculator at these schools to see if we can afford them” or “I’m going to set up the visits at the 5 schools we identified”. You might have the child leave with tasks like “research these 5 schools, look at the major you are interested in, the courses they offer, the clubs and activities, do a virtual tour” or “Link your PSAT to Khan Academy and start test prep for the SAT”, “create your common application account” or “ask teachers for letters of recommendation”.

Make time for visits–it is very challenging to figure out where to go to college if you have never been on a campus and met the people who go to school there. Go see a college–a large state school, a medium sized college (public or private) and a small private. Get a sense of what they like and why. If they love the small private but its out of budget–can you find other small privates that give better aid or does the large public have programs that make it feel smaller like a living learning center? You will also make some great memories together. Have you child look up where to eat in the town. Let them get a t-shirt in the bookstore (although some colleges will give them one on the tour). Talk about what they liked and what you heard. Then work together to find schools that are similar.

Build a calendar/plan for applications–students can often get stressed out having to complete all the application materials, write essays, get needed documentation. Building a plan can be helpful for managing that process on top of a busy school, activity and work schedule. Once you have the list of schools where they plan to apply, look at deadlines. When do you have to apply to be considered for merit aid? Put all the schools into a spreadsheet or document with their due dates. List what application you plan to use (common app, school specific app, coalition app, etc). Then work backwards. If you have 5 applications that are due Nov 15 and each requires a school specific essay, set a deadline to have each one done (Plan to submit around Nov 10th to give some flexibility and a safety net as technology can break, people get sick, surprise tests/etc creep up). Plan maybe two weeks for each application. So starting early September will be helpful to make sure everything is done.

Remember your child is a teenager–they are influenced by their peers. They move at a snail’s pace. They don’t understand all the factors that will matter later in life. They are uncomfortable asking for help. They will pick a college based on things like sports team, school colors, dining options even if you think those are ridiculous. All of these things will make every task hard and drive parents nuts. Depending on their high school environment, everyone may be talking about college. The constant discussion creates pressure. Seeing where peers are getting in creates pressure. Home should not add to that pressure. Sometimes “checking out” is a mental health tactic. If they seem to be checking out, maybe bring in their school counselor or a professional to help guide the process or give them someone to talk to that’s not you.

Don’t let them get their heart set on one school, and don’t push a school you want heavily–Admissions is an ever changing experience. Kansas just won the basketball tournament–there applications will probably soar. St. Peter’s in New Jersey will probably see a 30% increase after their tournament experience. As a result they may deny students who would have gotten in when applications were lower. Top schools like MIT are almost a lottery–they can admit anyone who applies and have a great class but they get 33,000 applications for about 1350 spots–its nearly impossible to get admitted. Any school that admits less than 25% of their application pool is a long shot–even if you are a great student. Any school that admits less than 10% should be considered a crap shoot. You need to build a balanced list of schools that include many places your child will be happy to attend and you can afford. Nothing is worse than having no schools your child wants to attend or having no ability to afford where they have been admitted.

Be encouraging-there is absolutely a college for everyone. My most successful sibling went to a college most people have never heard of (SUNY Plattsburg). Be excited about every school they are applying to and be excited about every acceptance. My son will often send me a school that I don’t think is a great fit for him because he is a strong student. He also sends me schools where I know he will not get admitted. I will say “That’s great you like X school–its a great safety school. You might want to look at things like graduation rates and the major courses to see if you feel it offers all you want in a school”. Or if they are super selective I say “you certainly can check it out. There average SAT is around a 1490. You’d need to do some serious test prep and take physics and calculus senior year. But if you are willing to do that, lets keep it on the list”. That lets him decide if he wants to do the work to attend that school.

Coffman Consulting is happy to meet with you to provide some general guidance or work with you throughout the entire admission process. You can schedule a free consultation here.

Paying for College-Scholarships

This time of year, I often get messages via social media from parents asking for tips on where their students can find scholarships. The majority of scholarships most students receive come from the colleges themselves. Scholarships are more of a marketing tool or an incentive to get students to enroll than actual financial aid. Some colleges need to give aid to attract students, some don’t. There are outside scholarships but they take work and are rare. Here are some tips for maximizing scholarship opportunities.

Start early–strong grades and test scores (even with test optional schools) help in the scholarship process. That means starting as a freshmen getting the best grades possible. It means doing some test prep to ensure SAT or ACT scores are strong. Both College Board (SAT) and ACT offer free test prep. And while many schools are test-optional (don’t require SAT or ACT) we are still seeing many top students submit scores to competitive colleges.

Getting involved also helps. Organizations like Key Club (Kiwanis), National Student Government Association, Robotics–give scholarships. Some of these awards are given at a local level, some at a state level and some national–typically for winning a competition. Attending these organizations meetings and conferences is helpful. Read the newsletters or visit the website to find details on their scholarships. Ask the teacher or staff advisor if they know of available scholarships through the organization. Please note these are often one time awards of small amounts, not an award you get each year of college.

Talk to your high school counselor about awards available at your high school and in your community. Many times at senior awards night, several scholarships are given to students. They may be a $500 award for being the top senior spanish student. They may be from the local Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Masons, or other organization. Some may take an application, some may be decided by school staff and faculty. This again is a reason to get involved. Its also a reason to meet with your school counselor regularly (they will know you and think of you when they need to find students for these awards).

There are many scholarship search engines like scholarship.com, fastweb.com or even just doing a google search like “scholarships for women in STEM careers”. But these scholarships are small and take work. Every year you read a story in the media of a student who applied to hundreds of these, won dozens and is paying their tuition through many $1000 and $500 scholarships. If you are willing to do the work, it could be worth it.

Check with your parent’s employers. Many companies have foundations or scholarships for their employees’ children. If your parents or family are involved in a church, community organization (like rotary), a fraternity or sorority, or other club there may be scholarships. Typically they can be found on the organization’s website under community or charitable partnerships. Or ask your parents to check with human resources.

Many employers also often scholarships or tuition programs to their student employees including Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, McDonalds and more. If typically need to be employed as a senior in high school and meet their criteria. Talk to your manager or human resources office for more information.

Most scholarships open in the fall of the senior year and have a deadline. Explore as a sophomore or junior to learn what is out there, what’s required, when is the deadline and how do you apply. Make a list and keep the url addresses so you can easily access your senior year.

To get the most money from schools, you need to be among the strongest applicants in the pool. If you are applying to Harvard–they don’t give much merit (they don’t have to) and everyone is a great applicant. If you are applying to a college that doesn’t have a brand name, you can often get more aid. A secondary benefit is these schools also make applying to graduate school/law school/med school easier–being one of the top students means faculty will get to know you and remember you as such (verses having a class of uber achievers). Those professors will write great letters of recommendation. The environment isn’t typically cut throat making it easier to get good grades. Its also easy to get involved and lead organizations. Faculty know alumni to help connect you to internships and jobs. If merit and cost are a factor for you, you might want to save those brand names for graduate school.

To see how your stats line up to the applicant pool, you can look at the school’s common data set. You can google this and look at the admissions section. Or you can use college board’s website, click search, type in the school name and click the admissions tag. You will see the admission stats for the last admitted class.

If you need help developing a list of schools that will include more merit scholarships, Coffman Consulting can help

Paying for College–so many acronyms and terms

No one can use a TLW (three letter words) like a financial aid office at a college. They also work under many state and federal regulations, causing them to be very process oriented, and not always relational or warm (even though they are great, and often very caring, people).

The Financial Aid Office can often be called Finaid, or FA or OFA (Office of Financial Aid). It is the place that creates your financial aid offer and process the aid. The Bursar, Business Office, Office of Student Accounts is typically the place that handles the actual billing. They are often not housed together or lead by the same manager. This can result in being bounced around when you have questions. I typically recommend parents and students ask the person on the phone (or if you are in person) to transfer you (or walk you over ) to the right person and explain the situation so you don’t have to keep repeating your needs/story over and over. Plus when staff speak to staff, they often explain the situation more clearly using the right lingo–getting the problem solved more quickly.

Financial Aid starts with two forms. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form used by most colleges and the federal government to determine approximately what your family can afford to contribute to the cost of college. It is free–never pay to file it. FAFSA doesn’t give you money. The college creates your financial aid offer and distributes all aid. Some schools use an additional, and more complicated form, called the CSS Profile, a form by the College Board. You do have to pay for each school where you submit the CSS.

There are two categories of aid–merit and need-based. Merit aid typically comes from the college and is in return for a grades, a special talent, or background. Some scholarships have specific criteria because a donor has given the money for a specific reason. But typically, the college is just giving a discount, reducing what they are charging you for tuition. Merit aid may come with the offer of admissions, or shortly after (as a marketing tool) but some schools wait and include it in the total financial aid offer. It typically has a gpa or requirements the student must meet throughout college to keep the award (this is very important to note–lots of students lose their scholarship because they don’t maintain a high enough college gpa).

Need-based aid is based on your family’s financial situation. It typically requires you to file a FAFSA, and at highly selective schools, the CSS Profile. Need-based aid includes funds from the federal government but can also include state and school aid. Need-based aid may include:

Grants or scholarships: free money that does not need to be paid back.

Loans: money you borrow and must be paid back after graduation or leaving the school, more details on loans below.

Work study: students must get a position on campus and will be paid via a paycheck or direct deposit. Part of their salary is paid by the federal government (and some states have work study). Students don’t receive the money if they don’t take a work study position on campus (or near campus–some places partner with the colleges like YMCA or boys and girls clubs). Students will then need to apply this money to a tuition bill or use for expenses/spending money.

The parent and student each need to create a FSA ID to sign and submit the FAFSA. Go to https://studentaid.gov/help/fsa-id to learn more and start that process. You will use this every year you file, so keep them both in a safe place (like in the contacts on your phone).

After you file the FAFSA–which you must do each year for each child in college (if you have two kids in college you file one for each child, each year they are in school, and they each need their own FSA ID), you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). This report is now emailed to the student. Don’t use your child’s high school email as it often is disabled by the high school after graduation. The student email and parent email must be different. Create an email the student can use for the college process. The SAR will provide your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). This is the dollar amount the federal government determined you can contribute to your child’s education. It can range form 0 to over $100,000. Most people don’t agree with the EFC calculated. FAFSA changes are coming over the next few years in a process to simplify the FAFSA but this will detail how it works now.

You can list up to 10 colleges on a FAFSA initially (you can update it later if needed by removing schools and adding schools). Colleges will receive your FAFSA data through a digital file called the Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR). The aid office will use this data to create your financial aid offer. Some schools state they meet need–so they will provide a combination of federal, state and school money to meet your financial need (minus your EFC) to attend that college. That is rare (about 50 colleges). Most schools will do their best to meet your need but may provide a gap==an amount of tuition or costs you still need to pay above and beyond the EFC you are also expected to pay.

Direct Costs are the fees you pay directly to the college or university. This includes tuition, fees (parking, printing, sports, activity–colleges are great at charging fees), room and board.

Cost of Attendance (COA) is a budget a school can set to give you a sense of the expenses you may have as a student including books, transportation, personal expenses, childcare (for adult students) in addition to the direct costs of tuition, room, board and fees.

Some colleges build their aid packages off of the Cost of Attendance. Some build it off direct costs. As you compare your aid packages, make sure you are comparing apples to apples.

Let’s look at two hypothetical aid situations:

College A has a tuition cost of $28,000 a year, room and board is another $12,000 for a total of $40,000

The Families EFC is $25,000

The college takes the direct costs of $40,000

subtracts the EFC of $25,000 leaving a balance of $15,000

They offer $5500 in federal student loans (the federal loan limit)

They offer $2500 in work study

and have a gap of $6000

The family would need to come up with their $25,000 and the $6,000 gap in this situation, so $31,000 plus pay back the loans.

College B also has a direct cost of $40,000

They awarded the student a merit aid award of $19,000 at admission.

They also award the $5500 in loan

The family now has to find $15,500 plus pay back the loans.

There are several types of loans. Federal student loans are subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized do not accrue interest while in college because the government subsidizes the interest. Unsubsidized do accrue interest while in college. Interest rates are not fixed but are low. These loans are in the student’s name. Payments begin 6 months after graduation or separating from school, if they don’t graduate. They can be paid back through a variety of plans (different year lengths, schedules that have the same payment the whole time or a payment plan where payments go up over time as your income increases). Payment plans are decided closer to graduation or when they leave the school. They can be deferred if students go to graduate school. There are some forgiveness programs but have specific requirements. There are limits to how much a student can borrow each year.

Parent Plus Loans are loans in the parent names. Parents can borrow up to the Cost of Attendance if they are credit worthy (haven’t had a bankruptcy). Payment begins 60 days after disbursement of the loan although can be delayed until after graduation. This debt is in the parents’ name, not the students.

Families can also take private loans. These are through a private bank or lender like INvestED (Indiana specific) or Discover Student Loans. These are typically in the student’s names but require a co-signer. Schools typically have a vendor they partner with for private loans, but parents can also explore their own. Interest rates vary as do origination fees.

You don’t have to accept loans and they won’t automatically be added to your account. You have to complete entrance counseling (typically an online process) to make sure you understand what you are borrowing. Then shortly before graduation or if a student leaves a college, they should complete an exit counseling process that explains their payment plans.

Colleges will have a deadline for their financial aid process. State’s often have a specific deadline. You should file your FAFSA by whichever deadline is earliest. Don’t wait until the last minute as technology can crash. You file the FAFSA at http://www.fafsa.gov. It becomes available in October for the next academic year–so for students entering college Fall 2023, the FAFSA will open in October 2022. It uses your taxes from two years prior (known as your prior prior year taxes). For Fall 2023 that is 2021 taxes. You can link directly to the IRS pulling in most of your data but you will need to have all assets and social security numbers for the parents and students available to complete the forms. Check here for specifics.

If the child’s parents are divorced, only the child’s household has to list their assets on the FAFSA. If parents have equal custody, who provides 50% or more of the support (such as health insurance) or who had the child one extra day since there are 365 days in a year. If the household parent is remarried, step parent’s income is also considered. It doesn’t matter who declares them on their taxes, who is paying the tuition or what your divorce decree says. Only the household has to report their income in the current FAFSA structure.

Any person can be selected for verification (like a financial aid audit) so be honest. If you are selected you must submit documentation to substantiate your information. Lying on a federal form is a federal crime.

Coffman Consulting knows just enough about financial aid to be dangerous. But specific questions should be addressed to the financial aid offices, your financial planner or the federal government. But if we can help, we are happy to work with you and point you in the right direction.

Paying for College-Figuring Out What Colleges You Can Afford

College has gotten expensive. We are going to launch a multi-part blog series helping you understand what you can afford as well as how to navigate the financial process and all the terms and acronyms. The first thing to know is very few people pay the actual sticker price published on the college’s website under tuition and fees. Most colleges give some form of aid, especially private schools (state schools often do not give a lot of aid outside some special honors programs). But understanding what aid and what will be your out-of-pocket costs can help you pick a better list of schools (more on what is merit and what is need-based aid in a future post).

Brand name colleges don’t have to give a lot of merit aid. They don’t need to. They get far more applications (usually from people who can and will pay) than they need to fill their class. They use their big endowments to help increase enrollment from lower income and marginalized communities through need-based aid. Every other college is fighting for a smaller pool of high school graduates. They use merit aid to attract and enroll students. Its become more of a coupon or discount than actual scholarship.

During the Obama administration, colleges were required to add a Net Price Calculator (NPC) to their website. Some are better than others. You can put in your family’s financial info and student’s grades and get back some information on the merit and/or need based aid you might receive (schools change their budgets and aid can change year to year so know its an estimate). Print the NPC results for your records (this could help with negotiating later-another blog post to come).

Most colleges will allow you to pay tuition over a payment plan (for a fee). Most payment plans are 10 or 11 payments. Take the estimated aid you might receive, and subtract that from the tuition, room (if your child will live on campus) and board (even commuters should get some meal plan since they are on campus a lot and they will want to eat with friends). What remains is your out-of-pocket direct costs. Divide that by 10 months. Can you cover that with cash flow, savings or will you need loans (we will talk more about loans in this series)? Can you sustain this for the next four years or will the savings only cover one year? Are you willing to take on these loans times four years? If the answer is years–than its a good fit. If the answer is no, you might need to remove it from your list.

Some schools give free books, some have a small fee for a digital textbook subscription but some places books cost as much as $1500 or more a year. So add that cost. Also, how far away is the school. Estimate cost for plan tickets and gas. Many colleges do this for you and publish a Cost of Attendance (tuition, fees, room, board and all estimated expenses). Can you afford these costs for four years? Again, yes means its a good fit. No, means its not.

Some schools make the scholarship process very transparent (University of Alabama publishes a chart–Roll Tide). Others, its a super secret who knows why I got the amount I did process. Never rule out a school based solely on sticker price but do some research to understand if they are stingy or generous with aid–what type (merit or need) and if you will be able to afford the outcome. If after the research, you think its manageable then keep it on the application list. Don’t assume you can just negotiate the aid package. Some schools will allow you to file an appeal, some will only do so if you have new information (change in job circumstance, medical bills, death, divorce), others may negotiate if they aren’t meeting their enrollment goals. Many don’t negotiate at all.

Aid is often tied to specific deadlines. Make sure you are meeting those and submitting all required materials. Paying for college is often seen by the college as a partnership between the family, the student and the school–savings, loans and aid. Going into massive debt for a college, borrowing from a parent’s retirement or home is not a great solution. There are a lot of amazing colleges in this country that admit a high percentage of their applicants and give generous aid.

Regardless, have a conversation about what you can afford so students focus on schools that are realistic. Nothing is worse than falling in love and being admitted to a school you then can’t afford.

If you need help exploring colleges and creating a college list, Coffman Consulting is happy to help.