Recently I spoke with a high school freshman who attended a college fair. He told me how overwhelmed he was by all the options and decisions that are ahead. He’s a freshman, he doesn’t have to make any decisions yet, but he was already overwhelmed. I have spoken with parents of juniors and seniors who are intimidated by the process and sometimes we deal with intimidation by putting things off. The best advice I can give you is to start and take it one step at a time. The longer you wait to start, the more overwhelming the process will be. I like lists so I recommend writing down your first couple of steps and start there. Here are some beginning steps for each year:
Freshman and Sophomores:
- Focus on your grades.
- Choose your extracurricular activities wisely
- Explore ares of interest to narrow down areas of study in the future
- Visit a few schools to get the idea of what you like or don’t like about each one
- Think about getting a job.
- Prepare for the SAT/ACT tests and take one of them at least once this year
- Visit colleges
- Continue to explore different areas of study
- In the spring or over the summer you can start writing essays, the Common App releases the essays for the next year ahead of time.
Seniors (early Fall)
- Start by writing down all of the deadlines so you don’t miss any
- Make sure you have any SAT/ACT tests scheduled that you still want to take
- Make a list of colleges you want to apply to and see what their application process entails
- Start filling out applications
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the scandal with Independent Educational Consultants who used bribery and immoral techniques to get students into high ranking colleges. Sad? Immoral? Frustrating? YES! Surprising? Sadly, no. For as long as there have been rules, regulations, and set ways of doing things, there have been people who have tried to find ways around those rules. It’s especially frustrating for students who are applying to and are accepted to schools based on their own merit, to those who aren’t accepted to schools despite their hard work because they went about it legally and morally, and to all types of professionals in the admissions industry who see a few giving them a bad name.
Here at Propel we help students find a best fit school. A best fit school is one that a student is accepted to on his or her own merit, a school where a student can be successful once he/she is there, a school that will prepare the student for success after graduation, that is true success. Up front we want you to know that we can not guarantee admission to a school or any type of scholarships or financial aid. We will help you explore, give you tips to improve your applications, and work with you to help you find success.
On that exciting day when your child’s acceptance letter comes in the mail (or through the online portal) one of the awaited portions is the financial aid package. How much will you pay? How much aid will be given? Can you even interpret your financial aid package?
Interpreting Financial Aid
Often when students look at the financial aid package they find that they are “awarded” money in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans. Wait, did you get that last part? Yes, you are “awarded” a loan. A loan that doesn’t tell you the interest rate, a loan that doesn’t let you know how much more you will have to take out in order to complete your degree, a loan that you will 100% have to repay. Be aware that student loans are one of the only forms of debt that can not be written off during a bankruptcy. You are stuck with this debt for life, or until you pay it off. According to a Brookings Institute study 28% of first year borrowers didn’t even know they had loans!
Should I take out a Loan?
We are often asked if we think that a student should or should not take out a loan. That is not for us to decide. The advice we will give is to make sure that the amount of debt you incur makes sense for the amount of money you will make once you graduate. Also keep in mind that finding your perfect career right out of college isn’t a guarantee so your starting pay may be even lower than anticipated. It is clear that taking out loans allows people access to higher education and often that benefit will outweigh the curse of paying them off, just make sure they are not too high of a burden.
Be aware of the package you’re offered when you finally send in that acceptance. We’re here to help you read between the lines of your financial aid package. Then we will celebrate with you when you make your final decision for your next big step!