Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at Peter@TheAdmissionGame.com
Is it necessary for my daughter to take the ACT if she is planning to take the SAT in the spring? And if she is planning on some sort of engineering major, which subject tests will be helpful? She has taken the Chemistry Subject Test and I am curious which others will help?
It will only be necessary for your daughter to take the ACT if she wants to see how well she might do on the test. It is possible that she will find herself more comfortable with the ACT and that her ACT score might be comparatively better than the SAT. Should that be the case, she might decide to focus on the ACT as her test of choice. On the other hand, if she is comfortable with the SAT, then there is no need to take the ACT at all.
As a prospective engineer she would be wise to take one of the Math Subject Tests and, possibly, the Physics Subject Test. By the way, this is a good question to ask of some of the colleges that might appear on her wish list.
I have heard that it is better to wait until our student has been admitted to colleges before completing the financial aid applications. What are your thoughts?
Waiting to apply for financial aid is risky as the application process for financial aid is actually concurrent with the admission application review process. Moreover, institutions begin “spending down” their respective financial aid budgets as they make commitments to admitted students. If you wait to apply, the odds are that, even though you can demonstrate that you need assistance, the money will be gone. Follow the financial aid deadlines so that, in the event that the admission outcome is positive, a notification of financial aid (if need is demonstrated) will follow immediately. I also suggest engaging financial aid officers with clarifying questions whenever they come up.
Do colleges award merit scholarships based on financial data given by the family or is it a totally separate consideration that takes into account only the student’s grades and achievements?
You are closer to the answer than you might realize. Merit scholarships are awarded in recognition of special talents, perspectives or achievements that are valued by the institution. Your family financial circumstances should be immaterial to the consideration. On the other hand, the awarding of need-based financial aid is a reflection of your family’s financial circumstances. Need-based financial aid awards will typically include grants, loans and work-study. By the way, both scholarships and grants are free money to the student—it doesn’t have to be repaid. One is given on the basis of merit, the other on need.
Is there is an income number above which there is little chance of receiving any need-based aid? The family contribution calculator at one school suggested that 30% of my pre-tax income was my EFC and therefore my child would be ineligible for any aid. I guess I could contribute 30% to tuition if the rest of us move and don’t eat so much! Being a small business owner my taxes are typically not completed until late March or April and they tend to be complex thus making the process of filling out the FAFSA difficult. Is it a worthwhile exercise?
I wish there was an easy answer—and that I could give it to you. The fact is your EFC is a factor of your income and assets, both of which become muddled when you are self-employed. Unfortunately, I am simply not sufficiently expert on the actual machinations of the methodologies or your circumstances to be able to advise you.
That said, be careful about putting too much stock in online EFC forecasters, especially if your child is considering a private institution. Such calculators fail to capture all of the nuances that affect need analyses across the board. Instead, ask for face-to-face meetings with financial aid officers at schools of interest during which you ask for an estimate of your EFC. To get it, you will need to provide your most recently completed tax (IRS) return—all estimated assessments will be verified later with more current returns. The results might be the same as you would have found with the online forecasters, but you should at least have the satisfaction of knowing you have had a hearing with financial aid officers.
What if the “perfect” college fit turns out not to be the “perfect” fit after all? My daughter has decided that she made a mistake and the school she is attending (first year) is not the perfect fit.
What you are hearing from your daughter is not at all uncommon. For lots of reasons—some good, most bad—first year students often get the notion in their heads that somewhere else is better. I can’t tell you how often I have heard first year students assert that most of their hall mates are going to transfer (they don’t). Whether the “grass is greener” elsewhere or the young person is simply dealing with transitional issues, the transfer conversation is actually quite common.
My advice—let it ride. This is all part of growing up—and developing confidence in “growing away” from home. I wouldn’t engage in debate. Rather, be supportive. Listen to what she has to say. In all likelihood, she simply needs more time to become comfortable in her new environment. No place will be perfect until your daughter makes it so. As she starts to sink “roots” at her current school, her involvement with affinity groups will strengthen her sense of identity in the community of which she is becoming a part. Conversely, if you “rush to her aid,” you run the risk of enabling her to succumb to her insecurities and she will not learn to make the space her own. If she is still openly concerned about her future at this college in April, she will still have plenty of time to consider a transfer. The odds are the whole conversation will have disappeared by then if you let it.