We’ve all got those words, phrases, and sentences that we use all the time. I over-use the word “apparently,” and some quick searches through this blog make me realize I apparently also over-use the phrase “all the time.” But behind the words and sentences that we repeat often are the ideas and worldviews that drive us. So this week I thought I’d explain the thoughts and motives behind some of the sentences I use most in my job as someone who writes about college admissions and advises students on their own admissions paths.
I want to go over the basic terminology necessary to understand college applications. So many of us—college consultants, high school counselors, teachers, parents, university admissions departments—take it for granted that our students are completely aware of all the terms and lingo, even though the terms are rarely actually taught. If you’re trying to be a first-generation college student, came to this country recently and are new to the system, and/or go to a high school that doesn’t emphasize college preparedness, then some (or a lot) if this may be understandably new.
Now is the season when acceptance letters begin to arrive for a lot of seniors, and with acceptances come financial aid packages. (Remember: you never know how much a university is going to cost you until you apply and get accepted.)
The bad news is that very few students receive "full ride" scholarship or aid packages that cover everything. The most-quoted number I could find was about 20,000 per year, or 0.3% of applicants, though that number is possibly outdated. The NCAA says about 2% of high school athletes get college scholarships.
The good news is that around 88% of students do get some sort of discount. If you get an aid offer that isn’t a full ride, you probably want more. You may need more, but needing and wanting can be different. How do you ask for more money?
Gapping is an informal financial aid term. It has to do with colleges offering less financial aid than they believe you need. After you fill out your FAFSA form (and possibly your CSS Profile), you will get a dollar amount called your E.F.C., or Expected Family Contribution. This is how much the government formula says your family should be expected to pay for college. The cost of a university, minus the EFC, is your need. If a university offers you less than your need in financial aid, then there is a gap. They’ve gapped you. You’ve been gapped. This is what gapping is all about.
So basically: high school students don’t know what college tuition costs in their area; they realize they don’t know; many assume it’s unaffordable; many give up on college because of their (often inaccurate) estimates of cost.
These findings make a lot of sense. The actual cost of college is complicated, because it’s different for each person at each university. It’s completely reasonable not to look into college if you’re pretty sure you can’t afford it. And really, why would we expect 9th graders to know how much a college education costs?
Last week I wrote about scholarships and a few big-picture guidelines to use when searching for funding. Think like a donor to understand why the big money is probably going to be at the college itself. Look to the organizations you already belong to. Understand how much you need and what you’re willing and able to do. This week I’d like to give three specific examples of what I’m talking about to see how this works.
As I’ve been talking to clients and other 12th-grade students lately, Early Decision keeps coming up. Whether or not to apply E.D. is a difficult choice for a lot of people. While I’m generally more “pro-E.D.” than a lot of other advisors, that enthusiasm is tempered with a number of reservations. So let’s go over some of the reasons to apply Early Decision, and also some of the reasons not to. (Remember, E.D. is the “binding” early application process. You can read more about it, including why schools even offer E.D., here.)
Undermatched is the term for students who go to a college that is less selective and elite than what they could get accepted to. If you could get into one of the 20 most selective colleges but don't apply to any of them, then you are undermatched. If you probably would not get accepted to any of those (and most of us can't), but could still be accepted to one of the 200 most selective colleges but don't apply, then you're still undermatched. It has to do with the difference between where you could be accepted to versus where you actually apply.
Everyone knows that college is expensive. There are plenty of universities whose full published price is higher than the median family income in America. The numbers can be so big that they're hard to imagine and even harder to make realistic decisions about. So here's an exercise I do with most of my consulting clients. You can do this at home with your family.
There are currently around 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. that claim to offer need-blind admissions. Need blind sounds really great, but what exactly does it mean?
Need blind means that the school's admissions staff don't take your financial situation into account when they consider whether to accept or deny you. Your ability to pay isn't a factor. It does not mean that they don't know anything about your financial situation.
Now is the season when acceptance letters begin to arrive for a lot of seniors, and with those come financial aid packages. The bad news is that very few students receive "full ride" scholarship or aid packages that cover everything....When you get your aid offer, you're very likely to want it to be more. You're also pretty likely to need it to be more, though wanting and needing are different. How do you ask for more money?
College is expensive. Very expensive. Which is why most students receive some form of financial aid to help them pay for it. There's all kinds of terminology for all kinds of different financial aid, but let's first look at two broad categories.
Merit aid. This type of aid isn't based on financial need. It's a school's way of trying to entice you to enroll by lowering the cost for you.
More and more high school programs are focused on getting students through college, not just to college. About 10 years ago, some of the major charter school networks made college graduation a goal. Posse has been around since the late 1980s. College Possible has been doing their thing since 2000. What wisdom can you gain from these success-through-college programs even if you're not a part of them?
But maybe you're out of the most direct danger and wondering what this means for your financial aid. Maybe, on top of the distress of 20 trillion or so gallons of water being poured on our area and entire neighborhoods being destroyed, you've realized that what's going to help your family get through this is spending your college savings on something other than college.