The Edge Our college admission blog

College Application Fee Waivers

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 10, 2016


As you may well know, the cost of applying to a school can range from no fee at all (especially if you’re applying online) to upwards of $90, and the average cost of an application fee per school is $41. In other words, application fees alone can cost you hundreds of dollars! However, don’t let that discourage you from applying – there’s a form offered by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) that you should be aware of.

Specifically, if you click here, you’ll access the NACAC’s Request for Admission Application Fee Waiver form. You should send the completed form directly to the college/university from which you’re requesting the application fee waiver, and it’s up to the school to then determine whether they accept or decline your application.

Fee WaiversAs the NACAC states on their website, students are eligible to use the form if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • “Student has received or is eligible to receive an ACT or SAT testing fee waiver.
  • Student is enrolled in or eligible to participate in the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch program (FRPL).
  • Student’s annual family income falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
  • Student is enrolled in a federal, state or local program that aids student from low-income families (e.g. TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
  • Student’s family receives public assistance.
  • Student lives in federally subsidized public housing, a foster home or is homeless.
  • Student is a ward of the state or an orphan.”

Furthermore, be aware that your school counselor (or an independent counselor or TRIO representative) will also need to sign the form, verifying that you are eligible to apply for the fee waiver. For a list of frequently asked questions about the form, click here. Also, be aware that transfer students need to use a different form in order to apply for application fee waivers.

Do your research and you’ll find that there are options out there (including use of Admitster‘s powerful college admissions tools and resources) that are available to help you, financially and otherwise. Fee waivers are but the tip of the iceberg!

The Seriously Cool College List Builder Tool

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 31, 2016


list makingLike all journeys, the path to college begins by taking a first step. Now, you may have been thinking about college. You may have been working hard to keep your grades up and to engage deeply in the extracurricular activities that you love. You may have started to mull over different possibilities of who you can ask for letters of recommendation. However, for many, the college admissions process has been little more than a thought experiment – until now. Now the time has come to put pen to paper / fingers to keyboards and start work on the first draft of your college list! This is important because once you have established the foundation of a great college list, you can start looking ahead to further exciting steps in the process, such as scheduling college tours over the summer months, visits that can help you to then further refine your list. Of course, there are a number of different factors to consider when thinking about where you may want to apply to college, not to mention the financial aspects of being an undergraduate student, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Happily, we’re here to help!

First of all, some basic list-building tips: Your list should include at least three reach schools (where you have a 10%-33% chance of acceptance), three target schools (where you have a 34%-66% chance of acceptance), and three safety schools (where you have a greater than 66% chance of acceptance). You should also have one school on your list where you have a 95% or higher chance of acceptance, and you should include two schools where you have at least an 80% chance of acceptance. And fear not – the College List Builder tool lets you know your chances of admission at each of the schools on your list, so you’ll have all of the information you need at your fingertips! “The College List Builder tool?”, you ask? Yes! Read on…

Through Admitster, you have two different options to help you build a well-balanced and robust list of schools. Option #1 is to take 20 seconds to register a FREE account with us, giving you full access to the online College List Builder tool. Then click on “My Profile” to enter some information about yourself, for instance, in terms of academics, extracurricular activities, and leadership initiatives. From there, click on “My College List” and let the fun begin!

Depending on where you are in the college list-building process, you can do a few things:

  1. If you are starting from scratch and really aren’t sure where you’d like to apply, then simply click on “Take The Survey” – we’ll ask you a few questions about your preferences and will then offer suggestions of colleges you may be interested in, based on your survey responses.
  2. If you’ve already started building a college list and have a few schools that you know you’d like to apply to, but still need to expand your list, then click on “Find Similar Schools.” We’ll use your profile and the schools that others like you have applied to, and show you relevant suggestions for additional schools that you may want to consider. We may even surprise you with some schools you’ve never before heard of but would love!
  3. If you believe that you already have a nearly-completed college list in-hand, then you can enter all of those schools into your “Current List” and we’ll let you know whether your list is indeed well-balanced and complete, or whether it needs further revision. Voila!

However, if you’re looking for more personalized college list building guidance, then you may want to consider Option #2. This route means taking advantage of Admitster’s Your Perfect List service, through which our experts work with you to build your college list. We’ll get to know you better, through questionnaires and/or interviews, and throughout the process you’ll be informed of the thinking behind each suggested addition to your college list. Click here to learn more about this fantastic service!

Having a balanced and well-considered college list is one of the first tangible steps that you’ll take on the journey to college. Through the use of our free, online College List Builder tool and/or personalized, affordable Your Perfect List service, Admitster offers incredible guidance and support as you begin your college admissions adventures! It was Lao Tzu who spoke the words, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Know, however, that the road to college need not be traveled alone. We’re here to help.

Journey-To-College Websites To Know

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 11, 2016


As is the case with any adventure on which you embark, preparation is the key to a successful journey. Those of you who are currently on the trek towards college can attest to the fact that there are many ups and downs along the way. Studying for and taking standardized tests can be stressful! Securing financial aid can be daunting! Finding your best-fit schools, keeping your GPA up, securing great letters of recommendation, working on draft after draft of your college essays, chiseling out time in your busy schedule to volunteer while also engaging deeply in your extracurricular activities, figuring out how best to show admissions officers that you really do care about others, that you have grit and perseverance, that you exemplify characteristics of a real leader, that you’re brilliant and unique, and that you’d be an awesome addition to their incoming freshmen class – it sometimes feels a bit like this…



…and you’re doing all that you can just to keep from capsizing! Well, nobody said it would be easy. I can promise you, however, that the journey to college will be worth it in the end. That moment when your acceptance letters begin to arrive (along with some rejections, I would suspect) is one of which you can and should be proud!

As for the arduous journey, there are some wonderful resources out there to help you along the way. Consider the above photo. The situation looks grim, I concede, but now let’s consider that the two adventurers have taken a canoeing skills course (e.g. how to navigate one’s canoe through rough waters), that they are both exemplary swimmers and are outfitted with life jackets, that the canoe was designed specifically to handle rocks and rapids, that the two men had the good sense to pack all of their belongings in waterproof bags, and that those bags are secured properly in their canoe. Suddenly, we aren’t as apprehensive when thinking about what happens next. College admissions is no different! If students and their families take advantage of the resources that are available to them, and prepare as best they can before embarking on (and during) their pre-collegiate adventures, chances are excellent that everything will work out well in the end.

Today I want to bring your attention to some great resources, websites that can really help you along the way and to which I find myself constantly referring the students with whom I work. Readers, these websites are the strong canoes, waterproof bags, life jackets, and important how-to and know-how resources of the college admissions journey! From A to Z …

  1. Of course, Admitster must be mentioned. We’re working to help level the college admissions playing field and offer free, online, do-it-yourself college counseling tools: The College List Builderaccurate predictions of your admissions chances at your top-choice schools; and the awesome What If? Engine, which allows you to play around with hypothetical situations to see the impact these changes have on your chances of admission at the schools on your list (e.g. how do your admissions odds change at different schools if you, for instance, slightly boost your GPA, take on a new leadership role, or spend a few hours more each week volunteering?)! To access these free tools, you need only spend ten seconds registering an account with us. Admitster is also proud to offer affordable services – I speak of admissions advising, personalized help with putting together your college list, our college essay reviews, and tutoring and test prep services. Through these offerings, Admitster helps you (students and parents) to own the journey to college. Finally, our awesome school partnership program, Partnership For College Success, offers college counseling for every student!
  2. Net Price ExamplesCollege Abacus (and Pell Abacus, if you qualify for free or reduced-price lunch) is a tremendous resource for calculating net price estimates at the schools on your list. Remember, when thinking about where to apply, you should never rule out a school based on its sticker price! The net price (tuition & fees MINUS aid & benefits) is the number that counts, and College Abacus is the website that can show you those calculations of net price. To give you a quick example, these two randomly-chosen colleges (above) have similar sticker prices but look at the difference in the net price calculations for this student – they’re significant!
  3. CollegeScorecard SkidmoreIn writing the 2968 Series for this blog, I often direct readers to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. The scorecard is meant to improve transparency and does a great job of giving you snapshots of the potential schools on your list, including statistics on the ever-important graduation rate, the average annual cost for federal financial aid recipients, including by family income (the example on the right is for Skidmore College), the percent of students receiving federal loans, and retention rates, among other important information. The scorecard also shows you how the school compares to the national average on each of the different factors being reviewed.
  4. The FAFSA4caster, brought to you by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is a great online tool to check out – “FAFSA4caster will help you understand your options for paying for college. Provide some basic information and we’ll estimate your eligibility for federal student aid!” 
  5. If standardized tests are not your forte and/or you’re just curious to learn more, FairTest has compiled a list of over 850 schools around the country that are test-optional – click here to access the list of test-optional colleges and universities!
  6. If you’re a student-athlete who hopes to continue playing in college, then NCSA Athletic Recruiting is an organization to know about! They help student-athletes to connect with college coaches, provide valuable information about the recruiting process, and help student-athletes to find scholarships and grants, recognizing outstanding athletic achievements. NCSA also offers a recruit-match technology, to “help ensure that athletes choose schools that are a good fit for them athletically and academically”, and an iPhone app that “lets you stay connected to coaches and NCSA no matter where you are.”
  7. A smart way to gain some insights into whether a school will be a great fit for you is to check out the college on This website is home to college reviews written by current students, allowing you to “access insider guides to every aspect of campus life with thousands of unbiased student reviews and ratings.” You can, for instance, learn more about a college’s academics, dorms, weather, party scene, food, on-campus parking, and local area, to list but a few examples!
  8. is a great way to earn money for college, starting as early as 9th grade. As is written on their website, you can “instantly earn micro-scholarships for achievements in class, sports, clubs, and more.” has over 150 college partners and “if you are accepted and choose to attend one of those colleges, the micro-scholarships you earned for that particular college are automatically added to your financial aid package for that school.” Click here to learn more!
  9. Scholar Snapp Solution, which was first developed by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation back in 2008, works to help you increase your access to college scholarship funds. How is this accomplished? As is stated on their website, “The Scholar Snapp Solution will help you complete applications faster by pre-populating basic information requested in all scholarship applications and will help you find money for college by matching your data with the qualifications of various scholarship providers.” In other words, this online tool provides users with the resources needed to both find scholarships and make it easier to apply for them – nice! To read more about it, click here.
  10. Finally, we get to Z – ZeeMee is helping students get seen by colleges! You simply sign up with them, and then upload videos, photos, and documents to your account. You can then add your ZeeMee link to your college applications (they’ve even teamed up with The Common Application, making it easy to add a ZeeMee field on your Common App) and admissions officers will have access to it! Like Admitster, ZeeMee is working to level the college admissions playing field, writing on their site, “Regardless of your background, we want you to have the ability to tell your unique story and showcase what you are passionate about, without having to pay a single dime.” Cool!

Have you come across any other websites/resources that were extremely useful to you as you navigated the choppy college admissions waters? If so, please let me know about it in the comment box below! I love hearing about new resources, tools, and ideas that make the journey to college a little less stressful and a little more fun…

How To Get A Great Letter of Recommendation

by Admitster May 5, 2016


Today’s guest blog post is contributed by ScholarPrep! The organization brings students, parents, and counselors together to prepare for the college and scholarship application process. The ScholarPrep Organizer saves time and money by encouraging students to start planning for their future now, helping them to set goals, organize information, and track their progress.

Most scholarship applications require a letter of recommendation, and some will require as many as three! The individuals you will ask to write these letters are called your references. Be aware that securing a great letter of recommendation takes a little planning on your part.

Here are 8 tips to keep in mind:

1. Start thinking early about who could write you a good letter of recommendation. Common examples include teachers, your principal, school counselors, employers, community members, and church leaders. Anyone can act as a reference for you, as long as they are NOT related to you. Did you know that teachers are the most common required authors of recommendation letters? It is important to build relationships with your teachers early to ensure that they will be willing and able to write you a good letter of recommendation.

2. For certain scholarships, some people will serve as better references than others. If you’re applying for a community service-focused scholarship, for instance, it would benefit you to get letters of recommendation from individuals who have interacted with you in this capacity. However, if you are applying for a math scholarship, you will want to ask people who can attest to your mathematical abilities.

3. If you are given a copy of your recommendation letter, be sure to make copies for yourself and also to save a digital version. These saved letters can be used in situations that do not require the recommendation to come directly from the author. Keep in mind, however, that original, signed letters may carry more weight than electronic or copied letters.

4. Come up with a diverse list of potential references, for instance, not a list comprised only of teachers.

5. Provide your recommender with a copy of your resume. Even though you should be choosing people who know you well, it is helpful to remind them of your activities and accomplishments. This will make it easier for them to talk about specific examples of your skills and experience, ensuring a more personal letter. You should also tell them specifically what the recommendation is for, so they can highlight the reasons why you should be chosen.

6. If there are special requirements for the letter, these will be provided to you. Make sure you read them carefully. For example, some committees require that:

  • a survey be completed by your recommender, which should then be submitted along with his/her letter;
  • the letter to be printed on official letterhead;
  • the letter be sealed, and then signed across the seal; and/or that
  • the letter to be mailed to them directly from the author.

7. It is a nice gesture to provide your recommender with all the materials that they will need to deliver your recommendation. For example, if the author is instructed to mail the letter directly to the scholarship committee, make sure to provide a stamp and envelope, unless it must be sent in an official envelope. Once again, be sure to read all of the directions!

8. Send a thank you note to everyone who wrote recommendation on your behalf. Send another thank you note if you receive the scholarship, letting the recommender know your happy news and mentioning your appreciation for the role they played in you receiving the award.



Quick Tips:

  • Start early to build relationships with individuals who you may use as references.
  • Come up with a list of potential references.
  • Choose people who know you well, as most applications will ask how long you have known each other.
  • Make sure your references are strong writers and that they are comfortable writing letters of recommendation.
  • Ask well in advance of submission deadlines for letters of recommendation. Not only is this courteous, but it also ensures that they will have plenty of time to complete the letter before it is due.
  • Don’t expect to be able to read the recommendation before it is submitted. Rather, choose your references wisely because many letters must be sealed!
  • Follow the specific requirements given on each application.
  • Provide your reference writer with your resume and any other information and materials they will need.
  • Thank your references, and send another thank you if/when you receive the scholarship.

Do you have other tips? Tell us in the comments below how you got a great letter of recommendation! Do you need ideas on who you could ask to write you a letter? Ask us!

College Acceptances 2016

by Katie Z, Ph.D April 29, 2016


Below you’ll find a sampling of schools where students using Admitster’s services were accepted in 2016. These schools range from rural to urban, from East to West, from small to very large, from less selective to highly selective, from NCAA Division I to Division III, and from liberal arts to public institutions. You get the picture – the schools are just as diverse as the students who applied to them.

We couldn’t be prouder of our students’ acceptances! 


University of Alabama



Arizona State University



Hendrix College

University of Arkansas

University of Central Arkansas



California Institute of Technology

Harvey Mudd College

Pitzer College

San Jose State University

Santa Clara University

Soka University of America

University of California – Davis

University of California – Irvine

University of California – Los Angeles

University of California – San Diego

University of California – Santa Barbara

University of California – Santa Cruz

University of San Francisco



Colorado College

University of Colorado – Boulder



Connecticut College

Quinnipiac University

Sacred Heart University

Trinity College

University of Connecticut

Wesleyan University



University of Florida

University of Miami

University of South Florida



Georgia Institute of Technology



DePaul University

Loyola University Chicago

Monmouth College

University of Chicago

University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign



Purdue University



Iowa State University

University of Iowa



Tulane University



Colby College



Johns Hopkins University

Salisbury University

University of Maryland



American International College

Assumption College

Becker College

Boston University

Brandeis University

Curry College

Eastern Nazarene College

Harvard University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MCPHS University

Merrimack College

Mount Ida College

Northeastern University

Salem State University

Simmons College

University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Western New England University

Wheaton College

Wheelock College



Augsburg College

The College of Saint Scholastica

Macalester College

University of Minnesota – Duluth

University of Minnesota – Rochester

University of St Thomas



Missouri University of Science and Technology


New Hampshire

Franklin Pierce University


New Jersey

Princeton University

Rutgers University


New York

Colgate University

Cornell University

Fordham University

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Hunter College

Ithaca College

Long Island University – Brooklyn

Marist College

New York University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Skidmore College

St John’s University – New York

SUNY – Albany

SUNY – Buffalo

The City College of New York – Grove School of Engineering

Union College

University of Rochester


North Carolina

Davidson College

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill



Case Western Reserve University

Oberlin College

Ohio State University



University of Oklahoma



Reed College



Carnegie Mellon University

Lafayette College

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pittsburgh



Belmont University

Vanderbilt University



Baylor University

Houston Baptist University

Rice University

Trinity University

University of Houston

University of Texas – Austin

University of Texas – Dallas

University of Texas – Tyler

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

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