CFNC.ORG: Each student has already created a profile and completed some college searches. Each student will also be introduced to the transfer navigator section of CFNC.
Federal Student Aid FAFSA
DECIDING ON A COLLEGE
Where to Apply?
There are two obvious, but worthwhile, questions which should be answered
when considering possible colleges: Do I want to go to school here for four
years? Do I want to live here for four years?
As opposed to high school, you will probably not be going home at the end of
the school day in college. In fact, you may stay on campus for months at a time.
Some students are attracted to a college in the abstract, because of academics, athletics, appearance, etc., and they fail to consider the importance of the fact that this is going to be their home for the next four years.
You probably will not reach an answer to these questions until you visit the colleges, but it is still worthwhile to keep them in mind from the very beginning of the application process.
You should apply to schools in each of the following categories:
_Reach schools(one or two long shots or those schools to which you have less than a25%chance of being admitted): Do not worry if you do not think youwill be accepted into these schools, as long as there is a chance.These are the schools you would like to attend if everything went your way. The very top schools are often expensive, but they can be a good investment.
_Possible schools (three or four of these which can be characterized as those schools where you have around a 50%chance of being admitted): These are schools to which you think you have a good chance of being accepted and which you would like to attend. These schools provide a good education, and they may give you a generous financial aid package for the simple reason that you are qualified.
Likely schools (one or two sure things or those schools to which you have greater than a 75% chance of being admitted): Think about likely schools both in terms of academics and finances. There is no sense in having a
$100,000 likely school, in most cases, unless you have been promised a full scholarship of some sort. Look for likely schools among your local state universities.
When compiling your list of schools, begin with the “likely” schools,then determine your “possible” schools, and end with your “reach”schools.
Factors to Consider
The following are factors to consider when choosing a college:
1.Money: Can you afford it? Is it worth the expense? Are you a strong candidate for financial aid?
2.Distance: How far away from home do you want to be? Do you want to go home daily,on weekends, every break, or only for Christmas and summer?
3.Location: Urban or country, north or south, coastal or inland, mountains or plains?
4.Climate:Hot,cold, humid, etc.
5.Living arrangements: What are the dorms like? What is the food service like? Is campus housing guaranteed? Can you move off campus if you want to?
6.Where your friends plan to go: Some people want to start all over again by making new friends, and therefore want to attend a college nobody else from their school is attending. Others want to make sure that they already know a few people when they arrive at college.
7.What your parents think: They know you better than anyone else (yes, better than you know yourself), they want what is best for you, and they are most likely paying for your education.
8.What your guidance counselor and/or teachers think: They do not know you as well as your parents, but they also want what is best for you, and they have professional expertise to help determine what colleges might be good for you.
9.School size: Small—less than 8,000 students; medium—between 8,000 and 20,000; big—over 20,000
10.Academics:Look for specific programs that you like and general strengths that match yours.
11.Will the school allow you to fulfill a musical, artistic, or athletic talent
(e.g.,by playing a varsity sport or performing in a school band)? Do not forget that no matter how badly you want to play a sport, you still have to live with that school for four years, and you will need your education to lay the groundwork for the next step in your life. You only have four years of eligibility for a varsity sport, but you have another sixty years after that for which to prepare.
Visit a school before you apply to it. You would not buy a house without first seeing it, going in, walking through the rooms, and getting a feel for it. College is a large investment of time, effort and money.You must have a reasonable expectation that you will like it at a particular school before committing yourself to attending it.Visiting schools will save you the hassle of applying to a college and later discovering that you do not want to go there. Before you visit, call the admissions office and make an appointment to meet a representative. Do not show up and ask for an interview. Not only is it rude, but it is at best fruitless and at worst a strike against you. Find out if you can take a tour of the campus when you visit.Ask for information on this when you call to make an appointment. Try to set up an interview with a professor of the department in which you are most interested. Professors often enjoy talking to prospective students.
Attend a class or two. Talk to the students. Students often like it if you stop them in the quad or go to them in the cafeteria and ask them their opinion about the school. They often have helpful information about the school, and even tips on how they got accepted.
As you conduct your visit, ask yourself questions about the following:
1.Academics:Challenging but not overwhelming?
2.Extracurricular:How many? How involved are the students?
3.Environment:Location,climate . . .
4.Social life: Will you fit in? Is it too wild? Is it too mild?
If you want to go to one school more than any other, visit. Be ready to tell them why you want to go to their school since it may affect their decision-making process. Some selective colleges will give preference to a student who visits over one who does not.
THE ADMISSIONS DECISION
Grades and Courses
The best way for admissions officers to know that you will be able to handle the work is for them to see your high school grades. The later grades are more important than the earlier, so it is not too late if you had a bad first year to raise your GPA. Of course, do not stop working if you had a good first year.
Colleges want to see that you challenge yourself in your courses and you are doing well in them. Very selective colleges want to see that you took the most challenging program offered. In any case, all schools want to see motivation and academic ability.
Do not stop working the second semester of your senior year. Colleges see all of your grades, and they reserve the right to reject an applicant already accepted because of a sharp decline in performance their senior year. More importantly, you want to make sure that you are at your best when you enter college, and the best way to ensure this is to maintain your study habits throughout your senior year.
SAT—Take the SAT exam, preferably in the spring of your senior year.
You do not want to take the SAT more than three times—you will appear too greedy.
The difference in value between 590 and 610 is worth more than 20 points.Take the SAT again if you have a good chance to make it into the next set of hundreds.
Take the SAT only once if you are a horrible test taker. If you score a310 verbal the first time, to get a 320 the second time is not going to make you a more attractive candidate. Although not as common as the SAT, colleges also accept the ACT. If you perform below your ability on the SAT, you may want to look into taking the ACT instead.
Take the SAT only once if you do extremely well the first time that you take the test. You do extremely well if you get over 700 in each of the three sections of the test.
Colleges pay slightly more attention to the critical reading score than the math score, unless you indicate that you want to be a math or science major. So far, the writing section has not been weighted as heavily as the other two sections. If your scores are low, do not try to explain why. Admissions officers have heard all kinds of explanations and they are extremely skeptical about excuses. The only thing you will accomplish is to draw attention to your scores. If your scores are low because of an objective reason, then have your college counselor explain this to the college. Be certain, however, that itis a very good reason.
Otherwise, you are better off not saying anything.
SAT II (subject tests) – Find out if the colleges to which you are applying require SAT II tests. If they do, they will probably require two or three of them. Aim at taking all three one-hour exams on the same test date during the spring semester of your junior year or the fall semester of your senior year. Usually June of your junior year is the best time to take SAT II tests.
Because they are given on the same dates as the SAT, you will not be able to use too many dates for SAT II tests.
If the colleges to which you are applying do not specify which subject tests they want, then you should take English, math, and either a science, a history, or a language.
High SAT II scores can help to offset low SAT scores.
The choice between what is known as “early decision” (ED) or “early action”
(EA) should generally be made by students who have decided on a college or university that they believe is exactly right for them and who have a strong academic record from freshman through junior year. In general,these students have performed very well on their first SAT test. The distinction between ED and EA is that ED is binding, while EA is not.The choice by the student to go ED in the admissions process means that, if admitted, all other pending applications must be withdrawn by the student, and the student must attend that ED school. Due to the seriousness of the ED decision, students should certainly have visited the school beforehand.
The reason schools have instituted this option in the admissions process is that they are interested in reporting a high yield of acceptances (i.e., students that actually attend the school when accepted). You are making their spring admissions process easier. Because of that, they might give you a break. However, some schools receive so many early admissions applications that the percentage accepted is as low as the percentage of regular admission acceptances.
In any case, the decision to go ED or EA can greatly affect the admissions decision. This option must be given careful consideration by the student beforehand. In most cases, the EA applicant pool is stronger and more competitive than the ED applicant pool at colleges that offer both options.
If you will be using a typewriter instead of a computer, make a copy of the application and then type everything onto the copy first to see how things fit before typing on the application you will send.
Make sure your final application is neat and clean. It is worthwhile to request another application and wait an additional two weeks rather than to send one that looks like a five-year-old put it together with crayons.
Every part of the application should be typed unless it states otherwise.
Early is better than late. The earlier you submit your application, the better chance you have of being accepted. Competitive colleges receive thousands of applications for early admission by late August.An admissions officer may review only forty or so regular applications in September, but review four hundred a month in December through February. You will receive a better – and more favorable – review earlier rather than later.
Be sure that the college to which you are applying has the intended major you indicate. Offering a course in a subject is not the same as offering a major in it.
Do not specify a major in an area in which you are not outstanding.Applying undecided is not a disadvantage—it is better than indicating pre-law, pre-med, or even business unless you are applying to a competitive business school.
Intended career: undecided is the best. Colleges prefer to work with people who haven’t decided what they want to do over the next fifty years. Law and medicine are the worst—they are very common and it may make college look like a stepping stone and nothing else. Almost as bad is to say that you want to “work with people” or “help people” (it is too vague or may sound fake).
Travel is a plus. Try to fit everything within the space they allow you on the application. If you absolutely need more space, type “see attached” and attach a good quality paper page to your application.Write down your name, social security number, and the whole question before you fill in this additional page. But keep in mind that admissions officers have a lot of paper to read. Ensure that you make a copy of everything before you send it.
Begin your essays during the summer before your senior year. Colleges rely heavily on essays in admissions decisions. The more time you can spend on them, the better.
The point of your essay is twofold: first, to show that you are a decent writer; second, to demonstrate that you are a responsible, mature person.
Do not use your essay to apologize for the weak spots on your application.
Submit extra materials if they are called for, but do not flood the office with
Unrequested materials—they have a lot of papers to go through as it is.
Write about something that is important to you. Even if they give you the topic, look for something you care about regarding that topic.
In general, avoid travel essays: they are hard to read and do not usually yield many insights.
Do not try to describe all your interests and activities.
The following are some ideas regarding topic selection and the general approach to your essay:
1.Do not repeat information from other parts of your application: Use your essay to expand on an interesting aspect of your application that you only had a brief chance to mention earlier, or to bring out some outstanding quality or achievement that you could not include anywhere else.
2.Avoid generalities: Try to “tell the story” about yourself. This involves talking about specific things that happened to you at specific times. One good way to avoid generalities is to talk about people. People are much more interesting than theories, ideas, ambitions, etc. People can represent, and even incarnate, all these theories, ambitions, ideals,etc.
3.Be humorous if you can, but be very careful. Once again, you are better off showing your true self instead of trying to sound like someone else.
4.Maintain the right tone: respectful,witty, informal, and spontaneous.
Your essay should read like a good conversation if read aloud. Do not force it. Be yourself.
Avoid the following themes:
1.Any topic that is very personal, but which is relatively common: your relationship with your girlfriend, your personal philosophy, the“best game of my life” or similar athletic essays, how much you love yourself, etc.
2.Any topic that might be divisive and give the reader a reason to dislike you: you’re political views, your religious beliefs, etc.
3.Any topic that might possibly present you as a poor college prospect: how much you like to party, how much psychotherapy has changed your life,or how much you dislike studying.
4.Any topic that you think should be written about for the good of humanity: the evils of drugs, the importance of a college education, large plans for changing the world, or trendy topics such as “ethnic cleansing”or “the preservation of the ozone layer.”
In general, avoid any topic that you do not care about, but that you think the admissions officers probably do. Also avoid any topic that you care about, but nobody else does – not even your closest friends.
Ask yourself what you want to write about. Then ask yourself if others,namely admissions officers, want to read about this.
If the topic can be illustrated using a person, be as specific as possible. Write about people who are relevant to you personally, and not those relevant to the general public.
Think about the form you might use. A straight prose is fine, but if your theme lends itself to another approach, gives it a try. But remember: it has to be very good so as not to appear pedantic.
Write drafts. Set them aside for twenty-four hours and re-read them to spot clichés, triteness, vagueness, dullness, grammatical errors, and misspellings.
Do not use uncommon words merely to sound educated, and stay away from quotations. Make sure the draft is typed: the essay becomes more impersonal and it is easier to critique.
Does the essay focus on your theme? Does it ramble? Is it confusing? Is it boring? Remember that good writing is writing that is easily understood.
Simply write what you want to say. Don’t get distracted writing about what you want to say.
Does the introduction grab the reader’s attention? Remember that your essay is one among thousands.
Ask someone whose opinion you trust to read your essay and give you feedback.
Ask that person the same specific questions you asked yourself when looking at your draft.
Review your essay for typos, spelling and grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, inaccurate usage, unnecessary words, or anything else that does not sound right to you. Read your essay out loud to locate rough spots. Have a good writer critique your essay, and have a good speller proofread it.
Make sure your essay looks physically attractive and that the print is easy to read. You will have a friendlier reader that way.
Colleges want students who are capable of doing the work. They also want students who are interesting and thus will contribute to the atmosphere of the school. They judge how interesting students are by looking at their extracurricular activities.
Quality and commitment are much more important than quantity. Colleges do not want to see someone who does everything minimally. They want to see someone who sticks with things long enough to rise to a position of leadership and responsibility. In fact, you do not want to pad your application with an extremely long list of activities. You should list the activities in accordance with the importance they have for you, and the importance you think they will have for the college.
Some examples of activities that look impressive on an application,especially if you held a position of leadership, are: debate, choir or orchestra, a varsity sport, community service activities or organizations, and anything unusual that takes significant time and effort.
Three factors to consider when listing extracurricular activities on your applications:
1.Show commitment and leadership:Activities that show you have the respect of your peers are the best way to demonstrate leadership. That means you need activities that bring you into contact with your peers.
2.Explain those which are not obvious: Be straightforward about what you did and the different activities in which you participated. Do not try to make them sound more impressive than they are.
3.Skip those you only participated in minimally or which were not important to you.They only distract from those which are significant.
An after-school job is not a disadvantage. There are good reasons to have a job, such as a need to earn money for your family (everyone will respect a teenager who has the maturity to work because his family relies on him to bring in some income), or the fact that you are working at an interesting place that is going to make you into a more interesting human being and, therefore, more qualified for admission. In any case, colleges will want to see that you bring the same sense of leadership and commitment to your job as you do to your other extracurricular activities.
Be prompt – teachers are busy.
Who to pick for recommendations: teachers who know you and like you, who are in fields where your principal interest lies, who are good writers, and, if possible and appropriate, who are alumni of the college to which you are applying. Fill out the top part of the recommendation form, sign the waiver line—colleges are suspicious when a student does not sign the waiver since the recommender has no guarantee of confidentiality—and give it to your teacher with a stamped, properly addressed envelope.
Send a cover letter to the teacher – thank him, underline the date the recommendation is due, and ask him to keep copies in case you need him to send it to more colleges.
Attach a résumé listing accomplishments to refresh the teacher’s memory:career interests, hobbies, classes you took with that teacher, and any other pertinent information.
Send thank you notes. You should be truly thankful because your recommenders are helping you, and it takes time to write recommendations. It is also a polite way to remind a teacher to do it.
As the deadline approaches, call the teacher to politely ask him if he has sent the recommendation. Thank him for his help.
Do not submit too many extra recommendations: once again, admissions officers have a lot of papers to read, and they generally do not look favorably on unrequested materials.
If you decide to submit extra recommendations, it is better if they are written by unknown people who know you well, rather than by well-known people who do not know you.
When visiting a college, make sure to call ahead of time to set up an interview with someone from the admissions office. Never show up unannounced and inquire about an interview.
Be on time, neatly dressed, and well groomed. If you must be late, be sure to call ahead of time and notify them of your anticipated arrival time.
Rehearse questions to yourself about your GPA, SAT scores, employment, your school, extracurricular, goals, and why you are interested in the college.
Answer questions to the best of your ability and relax. Do not be afraid to admit that you do not know something. Your interviewer wants to see that you carry yourself well, that you have a clear and analytical mind, and that you are ready to learn.
Be prepared to take some initiative in mentioning things you want to emphasize.
Carry your half of the conversation, and do so with enthusiasm.
Ask questions about the college that demonstrates knowledge and a sincere desire to learn more. Ask about housing, internships, study abroad,and questions that show you have looked at the curriculum and majors.
Explain discrepancies in your application; i.e., why you did not take some class, or the good reasons for certain grades you received.
Explain relevant items that would not fit into the application, such as family background.
Do your homework: Do not ask questions that are answered in the general brochure – they show you are ignorant of easily-known facts about the college.
In general, you should be applying to schools that you are interested enough in attending that it comes through that you know as much as you could find out about them.
As much as possible, save the best for last. Start interviewing with the schools in your “likely” or “probable” range, and save the“reach” schools for last. This way you will be best prepared for it.
Make sure you send a thank you note to your interviewer or any other school administrator with whom you talk. It is polite, and it keeps your name in front of them.
The tangibles in your application (GPA, SAT scores, etc.) will show the college what type of candidate you are. The application reader,however, will ultimately decide whom he likes best according to intangibles in the application: the overall impression of the candidate, whether he is the kind of student the college is looking for, what kind of person the college will contribute to the workforce if it admits this candidate, and other such considerations.
There are certain attributes, sometimes referred to as “tips” or“hooks,” that might change the ratings and help you to be accepted over more qualified applicants such as: geographical location, a special skill, or a “legacy”—the son of an alumnus or faculty member.
Aspecial skill can be a helpful attribute. For example, a good musician might gain admission if he is otherwise qualified and the band director is looking for someone who plays his particular instrument.
If you would play for a sports team from the beginning and contribute to that team, then you should be accepted as long as you meet the minimum qualifications.
The college contacts most of these candidates once they apply, and in some cases the college even encourages them to apply. If you play a sport, but would not contribute from the beginning, you will enter a pool with all the other applicants who can do the same job. If you do not get in from that pool, then you enter the general pool with all the other applicants to the college. Mention in the application any physical disability. Be sure to attach a doctor’s statement.
An unusual background is a plus. It is also helpful if you have a name that will bring good publicity to the school.
Even among need-blind colleges, it might make a difference – when deciding between two people who are otherwise equally matched – if they learn from other parts of the application that one candidate’s family has financial means and is willing to spend it on the school.
After the admissions decisions are made, but before sending the acceptance letters out, the admissions office will review the incoming freshman class to look for two things. First, is there the right male-to-female distribution?
Second,is it sending the wrong message to some high school? Is it admitting a lower-rated candidate—at least on paper—and rejecting a higherone from the same school? Is there a good reason to do that?
FI N A N C I A L A I D
Your college education will cost a lot of money, in many instances over$100,000. Somebody will have to pay this sum – you, your parents,the college, the taxpayers, or some scholarship-granting organization. How much you pay will partly depend on how professionally you approach the application process.
In your initial search, do not rule out a college because of cost. The Free
Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) will determine your family contribution (how much you are expected to be able to pay), not how much you will pay.
A financial aid package will be a combination of:
_grants or scholarships which do not have to be repaid;
_loans which have to be repaid, usually after you leave school; and
_work,usually provided by the university.
Ask for financial aid information from the colleges themselves. Because of stiff competition among top colleges, some of them are coming up with innovative ways to defray costs. Read the literature carefully.
When putting together the list of colleges to which you are going to apply, you need to add a couple of financial safety schools. These are schools that are inexpensive enough that you can afford them or schools that you know want you so much that they will give you all of the aid that you need.
The decision to go into debt should be made carefully. You need to determine how you are going to pay back the debt after graduation.This is especially true if you are almost sure that you are going to attend a graduate program afterwards. At the same time, the quality of the school may make it worth your while to incur some debt.
How Financial Aid Works
All colleges use the FAFSA, which is the only form used by state schools.In addition, many private colleges use the PROFILE form from the Education Testing Service (ETS) or some version which they create for their own use. This form will determine the size of your family contribution – how much the college thinks your family can pay for your college education. If the college is “need blind”—most colleges are—then the college will offer you a financial aid package to bridge the gap between the expected family contribution and the college sticker price. This package will consist of a combination of grants, loans, and work-study.
The PROFILE form borders on being intrusive in its questions; it is similar to a tax return. You should be careful in filling out this form because it will determine how much you are expected to contribute.
There are many other sources of financial aid. But you must remember that the constant is your family contribution. Colleges will sometimes use any other aid that you receive to diminish your financial aid package as opposed to your family contribution. It is worthwhile to receive outside sources of aid, but not always wise to devote a lot of time to seeking them.
Not all financial aid offers are the same, even if they promise the same amount of money. There is some information you may want to understand before accepting an offer. How much of it is in grants? How much is in loans? What is the interest rate on the loans?
Some noteworthy websites on financial aid are:
Difference between a Grant and a Scholarship
A grant is money that is given by a non-profit organization that will generally be tax exempt. One of the best examples of this organization is the government. However, corporations or foundations may also provide grants to students as well. Grants will generally be given for a project, and the student will be expected to report information about the project to the donor.
Scholarships will require students to meet certain requirements, both before and after they've obtained it. Most of these scholarships will require students to have a minimum GPA, and they may also require them to take a certain number of credit hours within the first 12 months of their schooling. While some scholarships are based on gender, others are based on the field the student is majoring in. The key difference between scholarships and grants is that scholarships tend to have more rigid requirements for selection, and they are specifically geared towards those who are entering college.
1.Set up a list of courses you want to take as preparation for college:core courses—English, math, science, history, language, honors courses, and courses of personal interest. All of your grades count from now on.
2.Set up a list of extracurricular activities, including sports, for the school year as well as the summer.
3.Read the books on the summer reading list.
4.Investigate summer programs or jobs.
5.Look at applications to see what colleges require.
1.Update your list of courses and extracurricular activities for the rest of high school.
2.Take the PSAT.
3.Visit colleges during the summer.
JUNIOR OR SENIOR YEAR
1.Buy a desk calendar to note important dates and set your own targets for action.
2.Set aside a desk drawer or file for college application materials:catalogs, papers, copies of documents, receipts, and notes of phone calls.
3.Attend college visits offered.
1.Take the PSAT. Make sure you know your social security number.
2.Begin conversation with parents about college.
1.Make a preliminary list of colleges you would like to attend. Have some colleges in each of the categories: reach, possible, likely.
2.Request information from all colleges on your preliminary list.Politely ask for and write down the name of the person you talked to in the admissions office; it makes for easier follow-up. Keep a record of any “action” on a piece of paper. Keep a piece of paper for each college on your preliminary list. Keep a folder for each one of these colleges in your desk drawer or file folder.
3.Start looking for a good summer job. Christmas break is a good time to do this.
1.Through the school guidance counselor and college financial aid offices, begin educating yourself about financial aid possibilities.
2.Look into ROTC programs if you are interested.
1.Take the SAT I exam.
2.Try to visit as many colleges as possible on your preliminary list from December.
3.Identify teachers, counselors, and employers for possible letters of recommendation.
4.Try to attend at least one college fair.
1.Read local newspapers to find out what local, civic, and cultural organizations give financial aid to graduating seniors.
1.Take SAT II subject tests. Aim for three one-hour tests –math,English, and one other, such as a science, a history, or a language.
Summer between Junior and Senior Year
1.Write the application essays. If a college’s current application is not available, look at its essay questions from the previous year.These essays take time, so begin early!
2.Visit more colleges.
3.Prepare personal résumé to give to teachers when asking for recommendations.
SENIOR OR SUPER SENIOR YEAR
1.Ask for and review all application forms. Some applications have two parts, and you need to send in Part I to get Part II.
2.SAT? The registration deadline for the October SAT is in early September.
3.Do you need to take SAT II subject tests? Check with colleges regarding which subject tests they may require.
4.Work hard in school. Colleges will look at your most recent grades first.
1.Ask teachers for recommendations. Try to give at least one month’s notice before the due date.
2.Give secondary school report forms to the school’s main office and complete transcript release forms.
3.If applicable, fill out applications for “early decision” /“early action.”
4.Check for financial aid opportunities: school counselor, library,private groups, local, state, and federal programs.
1.Fill out FAFSA and other financial aid forms – check deadlines. The first of January of the year you anticipate entering college is the earliest you can submit this form.
Start looking for a good summer job.
1.This month is the traditional deadline for applications to most competitive colleges. Photocopy applications before typing or printing on the computer for practice. Always you’re your applications even if you are given a choice. Keep a copy of everything you send to the colleges.
1.Prepare for the AP examinations in all your AP courses.
1.Carefully review financial aid packages from colleges. Look at how much of your need is covered, not how much they offer.
2.Ask for advice if you have to put down a non-refundable deposit before you hear from all colleges.
1.If you are wait-listed by a college, you should call, visit, and write. Ask what else you can do. Perhaps they will consider additional recommendations.
2.Take AP exams.
1.Accept financial aid awards.