Thursday, February 28, 2019

How to Weigh Your College Options

How to Weigh Your College Options

Posted  by Suzanne Shaffer

Weighing college offers
It’s that time of year. College admissions offices have been sending out offers of admission along with financial aid award packages. The long wait is over and it’s time to make a decision. Which college will your student attend? 
Before committing, however, you should weigh your options. You would never purchase a home without determining its value, fit for your family, and location. The college decision should be approached in the same manner. 

How to Choose the Right College

Once your student has looked at the colleges on their list that offered admission, here are seven steps to take before making a final choice.
1. Compare the financial differences.
College is expensive. If you’ve done your homework and discussed your college budget with your teen, it’s time to evaluate and compare the financial aid awards. The best colleges are using the new Financial Aid Shopping Sheetcreated by the U.S. Department of Education. This sheet breaks the award letter down into segments, including all the information you will need to evaluate the award. If the college doesn’t use this, you can print out your own copy and transfer the data they provide.
2. Discuss the decision with others.
Tap into your network of family and friends and encourage your student to take advantage of social media to connect with current students. There is great value in listening to other opinions, as long as they use the information for their own decision. If you know alumni, they are a great source of information as well.
3. Ask questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The ball is in your student’s court and before they make the final decision, they should have all their questions answered. You are now the consumer and a potential customer. Colleges are more than helpful and would be happy to answer any and all questions. 
4. Consider factors unrelated to the education.
Other factors might be the college location, family travel expenses to and from parent weekends and move in days, cultural influences off-campus, and extracurricular activities such as Greek Life and intramural sports. While these factors might not be the only aspect of the decision process, they are certainly things to consider.
5. Delve further into academics.
Once the offer of admission arrives, students should dig deeper into the specific programs offered and how the campus fosters those interests. If they are a music major or an acting major, are there opportunities to participate in performance art on campus? If your student is interested in stock trading, does the campus have a trading room? Along with the courses offered in their major, the college should encourage their interest by providing opportunities outside of the classroom.
6. Explore the campus
Don’t make a decision without taking a second look, especially if they didn’t look closely the first time around. Visit the campus again and talk to current students, attend some classes, explore the dorms, eat dinner in the student union, and if possible, spend the night. Getting to know a college is just like getting to know a person—you need to spend some time with them.
7. Make a pro/con list
Ask yourself:
  • What type of setting is best suited for your success: small classes or large lecture halls?
  • Does the college’s strength(s) match your own interests and goals?
  • Do you want a close-knit campus community or do you need room to spread out?
  • Are sports, Greek life, and tradition important to you? Does each school offer what you are interested in?
  • Location! Do you see yourself in a big city, suburban, or rural campus?
  • What kind of housing options will be available to you?
  • If you change your mind about your major, does the school offer “backup” fields of study that interest you?
Revisiting these questions can help you highlight the list of pros and cons helping to make your decision more clear. Once you have the list, do a side by side comparison.

Make an Informed College Choice

The offers of admission mean that for the first time in the college process, you and your student have the power to decide their fate. But with the freedom to choose also comes the responsibility to make an informed choice. The college choice is not only a large financial investment; it’s an investment in your student’s future. 
Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

How to Appeal a Financial Aid Letter

How to Appeal a Financial Aid Letter

How do you appeal a financial aid letter?
Should you appeal a financial aid award?
What kind of college awards can you appeal?
I directed these financial aid questions to Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized financial aid expert, who has just published a book entitled, How to Appeal for More Financial Aid Awards. Mark is publisher and VP of research at, who has been quoted in roughly 10,000 media articles.
I was pleased to have an opportunity to conduct a Q&A with him on appealing financial aid awards. Here are my questions and his answers:

Are parents underutilizing the ability to appeal financial aid awards?

Many parents think of the financial aid award letter as a done deal, with no opportunity for an appeal. Others think they can bluff their way to a better deal using their skill at bargaining. Neither is correct.
Only about one percent of students receive adjustments to their financial aid packages because not enough families appeal for more financial aid, and of those that do, many approach the process incorrectly.
Successfully appealing for more financial aid requires an understanding of the financial aid process. College financial aid administrators have the authority to make adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or to the cost of attendance when there are special circumstances that affect the family’s ability to pay and their cash flow.
Special circumstances include financial circumstances that have changed since the year upon which the FAFSA is based and anything that differentiates the family from the typical family.
Financial aid administrators are not mind readers. They will not know about a change in income or unusual expenses unless you tell them. But, if you do tell them, they can make adjustments that can lead to a better financial aid package.
A key benefit of the switch from prior-year income to prior-prior year income on the FAFSA is that it sensitized families to changes in income, causing more of them to appeal.

That one-percent figure is discouraging! How did you get it?

There have been some surveys of financial aid administrators and students that suggest a 1% rate (albeit higher at higher cost colleges). I also analyzed data from the federal National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.
Very selective private institutions often claim a very high appeal and professional judgment rate. While I believe that they are higher, due to the higher cost, the numbers I’ve heard are just not believable.

What is the first step parents should take if they want to appeal a financial aid award?

If a family wants to appeal a financial aid award, their first step should be to call the college’s financial aid office to ask about the process.
Some colleges have a form for the family to complete. This form collects information about the most common special circumstances. It helps the college perform a holistic review of the family’s financial circumstances.
Other colleges will ask the family to write a letter to the financial aid office. This letter should summarize the special circumstances and the financial impact of each special circumstance on the family’s ability to pay for college.
The family should also gather documentation of the special circumstances. The best documentation is independent, third party documentation that provides information about the special circumstance and the financial impact on the family. Bills, receipts, and letters from people who are familiar with the family’s situation are especially helpful. The appeals process is driven by documentation.

Who should parents contact? The financial aid office or the admission office?

The financial aid office is responsible for need-based financial aid. Thus, an appeal based on the family’s inability to pay should be directed to the financial aid office.
Merit scholarships are usually managed by the admissions office.

What are the essential elements of a successful financial aid appeal?

A financial aid appeal is more likely to be successful when the special circumstances are due to factors beyond the family’s control. One-time events that are not reflective of the family’s ability to pay during the award year are also likely to result in a successful appeal.
The success or failure of a financial aid appeal depends on the special circumstances and the documentation. The purpose of the appeal is to inform the college financial aid administrator about financial circumstances of which they were not aware. The appeals process is based on information provided by the family. If you provide the financial aid administrator with information about financial circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college, you are more likely to have a successful outcome.
If the family is honest and the special circumstances genuinely affect the family’s ability to pay for college, the college financial aid administrator will try to find a way to help the family, even if the special circumstance is one for which the college does not normally make an adjustment.

With most schools not meeting the full demonstrated financial need of a student, what will prompt a school to offer more assistance?

Photo by NeONBRAND on UnsplashThe financial aid appeals process is formulaic. If special circumstances affect the family’s ability to pay, the college can make adjustments to the data elements that are used by the financial aid formula to calculate the expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is then used to calculate the family’s demonstrated financial need. The financial aid package is then based on the demonstrated financial need.
A change in the inputs leads to a change in the outputs.
A college that does not meet the student’s full demonstrated financial need will still leave the family with unmet need. But, an increase in demonstrated financial need will lead to an increase in financial aid. The unmet need may therefore be smaller than it was before the adjustment.

With preferential packaging a reality – students whom colleges want receive better financial aid – will the decision be heavily colored by how academically attractive a student is?

The decision to make an adjustment does not depend on the student’s academic performance, nor does the amount of need-based financial aid.
The amount of financial aid is based on the student’s demonstrated financial need. A successful financial aid appeal will lead to an increase in the amount of financial aid.
How the financial aid is allocated among the different types of aid, such as grants and scholarships, student employment and student loans, will depend on the college’s packaging philosophy. Depending on the college, an increase in financial need might lead to an increase in grants or an increase in student loans or student employment, or a mix.
Generally, a college’s packaging philosophy has a baseline approach to allocating funding among the different types of financial aid. Preferential packaging may tweak the amount of gift aid relative to this baseline.

Who makes the ultimate decision about more financial aid? The financial aid office, the admission office or a combination?

Congress delegated the authority to make adjustments to the FAFSA and the annual cost of attendance to the college’s financial aid administrator. Neither the admissions office, the college president nor the U.S. Department of Education can override the decision of the college financial aid administrator. There is no appeal beyond the college financial aid administrator. The college financial aid administrator is the final authority with regard to need-based financial aid.

With many schools struggling to fill their freshmen slots, how would you advise appealing a merit scholarships award?

Decisions regarding merit aid may fall within the purview of the admissions office. But, often these decisions are formulaic, even automated, with very little discretion. The admissions office might be able to award merit aid to a student who fell short of the standards for merit aid, but subsequently improved their academic performance. But, unless there’s a spectacular development, like the student wins a prestigious award, the admissions office is unlikely to pull much additional money out of a hat.
So, the best approach to appealing for more merit aid is to let the college admissions office know if the college is genuinely your first choice and to provide the admissions office with information about any new developments that affect the student’s desirability. Also, provide the admissions office with information about colleges of similar quality with which the college competes for students and which have offered you a better financial aid package. Arm yourself with information about the typical amount of aid offered by each college. Know your net price at each college. The net price, which is the difference between the college’s annual cost of attendance and the gift aid (grants and scholarships), is the true bottom line cost of each college. And, if you don’t get what you want, be prepared to walk away.

Wouldn’t a major factor in upping merit awards be how a school’s freshmen deposits are doing? Wouldn’t higher competing awards be a major factor in getting a better merit award from a particular college? 

Colleges do a significant amount of budgeting and predictive analytics to understand their numbers. Just as students worry about whether they are going to get in, colleges worry about their yield and summer melt. But, if the college’s numbers are off significantly, they are not going to be able to fix the problem by making big swings in the amount of aid they offer. You might be able to get a few thousand dollars more, but not a few tens of thousands of dollars more. If the college offers too many students too much money, they will blow their budget, which can be just as bad as having too few students enroll.
The college will have done a lot of analysis to understand why their numbers are off. If you are waffling on accepting the offer of admission for one of these reasons, you might get more aid.
If you have a better aid offer from a competing college, it can sometimes lead to a better aid offer from your first choice college. But, the competing college must be of similar quality to your first choice college and one with which your first choice college successfully competes for students.
If the other college is of lower quality, they may be using money to attract academically talented students. If so, your first choice college will not try to match their offer.
If the other college is of much greater quality, you’re likely to end up there, especially if they offer a lower net price.
So, it is only in the middle where you have a chance of getting more financial aid from a college, if you are likely to enroll if they improve the aid offer.

What suggestions do you have for appealing an Early Decision award?

The main reason why a college will release a student from the early decision commitment is if the family is unable to afford the college. So, first appeal for more need-based financial the same as you would with any other college. If the revised financial aid offer is still not enough, explain why to the college.
But, you should really never apply early decision to any college. Early action is ok, but not early decision. Early decision involves a commitment to attend if admitted. This prevents you from shopping around for a more affordable college.

Become a smarter college shopper…

The best way to cut the cost of college is to become an educated college consumer. The easiest way to do that is to enroll in my self-paced, online course – The College Cost Lab – that you can access right now!

Count Basie Impact Scholarships

This is a reminder that the deadline for submitting an application for the Count Basie Center’s Arts Impact Scholarships is Friday March 22 at 4 PM.

Here is the link to information on our website:

Please let me know if you have any questions !

Susan Brennan
Education Assistant
732-224-8778 x125

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Scholarship Opportunities

Attn: College Students. Here are 4 scholarships for Y-O-U!





  Check your Scholarship Match results for more matches for your child. We add new scholarships constantly! 

TCNJ- Open House

Visit Opportunities:

This marks the first week of Daily Tours for the spring semester! We'll also be hosting 2 Open Houses and an Accepted Students Day in the coming months. To register, please see our visit site (though registration is not required to attend. All are welcome!)
Daily ToursFebruary 12th - May 10th
Lion's Day Open HouseSaturday, March 30th
Lion's Day Open HouseSunday, April 28th
Admitted Students DaySaturday, April 6th

We cannot wait to hear from you and your students in the coming weeks and months. Until then, enjoy the extension of National School Counseling Week and gift yourself and your coworkers some gratitude!


    Kaitlin Neinstedt
    School Counselor Liasion
    TCNJ's Office of Admissions

Monday, February 25, 2019

Villanova College Day

Good Afternoon High School Partners,

Villanova University's Center For Access, Success, and Achievement (CASA) would like to invite you and your students to the annual College Day on March 20, 2019 and April 10, 2019. The event will begin at 10am and run through until 2:00pm. Throughout the course of the day students will attend information presentations held by the Admissions and Financial Aid Departments where they will get all their questions answered about the college application process, applying to schools and the financial resources available to make it all possible. They will also explore Villanova’s very own challenge ropes course where student collaborate to accomplish mental and physical tasks. They will also go on a campus tour, interact with a student panel and possibly learn how to use any university library system to help them save on the cost of books in the future. Did I mention that we feed them for free also?

College Day is a wonderful opportunity for prospective students to visit Villanova and get the college application wheels turning. In CASA our goal is to increase Access not only to Villanova but to all advanced degree institution.  This event is open to all of your students: those interested in Villanova definitely but also those who have never stepped foot on a college campus. Please join us. Application deadline are approaching fast. We look forward to your visit.

*Transportation will not be provided.*

For Sophomores: March 20, 2019
Registration Deadline: March 8, 2019

For Juniors: April 10, 2019
Registration Deadline: April 1, 2019

To Register:

Thursday, February 21, 2019

LendEDU’s Fourth Annual College Risk-Reward Indicator (CRRI) | 2019 Edition

For the fourth consecutive year, LendEDU has analyzed nearly 1,000 colleges and universities to tell you which institutions give you the most bang for your buck, otherwise known as the college risk-reward indicator.
Our research, news, ratings, and assessments are scrutinized using strict editorial integrity. Our editorial staff does not receive direction from advertisers on our website. Learn more here