The Edge Our college admission blog

College of the Ozarks – Missouri’s Work College

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 17, 2016


It wasn’t too long ago that I came upon a YouTube video entitled, “College of the Ozarks: How To Go To College For Free.” Naturally, my interest was piqued, just as it had been when I first read and then wrote about tuition-free Berea College. You can watch the College of the Ozarks clip yourself, but these are the highlights:

  • “College of the Ozarks is a four-year liberal arts college. It is also a work college…our students graduate from college debt-free.”
  • “We have a very unique setting. We’re a thousand acres campus in Point Lookout, Missouri. We have more than 100 work stations that they (the students) can avail themselves at. We have a fire department. We have a print shop. We have The Keeter Center, which in and of itself makes up our largest work station – it is a four-star lodging, dining, and conference facility.”
  • “After their freshmen year, students are allowed to select their top-three choices of work stations on campus.”
  • “This college is giving us the opportunity to work for our education. That’s valuable. It’s something you’ll take away from it – it builds your character, and your work ethic, and it also means you’ll graduate without debt.”

priceThe school has certainly earned its nickname (first bestowed upon it by the Wall Street Journal back in 1973), Hard Work Ubut the students, for all of their hard work (a minimum of 15 hours per week to cover tuition, along with their academic work), certainly benefit hugely, graduating from college with zero debt. Furthermore, and as is pointed out on the school’s website, “The College openly discourages debt by not participating in any federal, state, or private loan programs and leads by example through having no institutional debt of any kind.” The school will also not accept “students who insist on taking out loans“! College of the Ozarks is certainly unique – but what about the quality of the education students receive there?

A recent article from Business Insider shines further light on the school, for instance, reporting that “it accepts just 8.3% of applicants and has small class sizes, with a 15:1 student teacher ratio.” Furthermore, College of the Ozarks offers 27 majors and 32 minors, and can boast of a strong academic program.

Keep in mind, however, that the college is a Christian school, so it may not be a “best-fit” college for everyone. As their Public Relations Director, Valorie Coleman, pointed out in the aforementioned YouTube clip, “Our vision is to develop citizens of Christ-like character, who are well-educated, hard-working, and patriotic – it’s for the development of the whole citizen.” The College Scorecard also reveals that while 63% of students graduate after six years (which is above the national average of 43%), that Hard Work U may not fit the bill for all students, even if attending does pay the bill! As ever, do your research, visit if you can, and determine for yourself if College of the Ozarks would be a great undergraduate institution for you.

Along these lines, beyond College of the Ozarks and Berea College, there are five more work colleges in the United States. They are (drum roll please!)…

  1. Kentucky’s Alice Lloyd College
  2. Illinois’ Blackburn College
  3. Arkansas’ Ecclesia College
  4. Vermont’s Sterling College, and
  5. North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College

To learn more about work colleges, visit The Work Colleges Consortium!

As the consortium writes in reference to College of the Ozarks, “For more than 100 years, College of the Ozarks has educated the head, heart, and hands of countless young people.” In short, this unique school is one to have on your radar screen! You can visit this page for more general information about the college (including its many accolades), here to read more about the school’s Work Education Program and, if you’re interested in applying, you can find out about that process here. If you’re willing to work hard, a debt-free college education may well be in your future!

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…

Choosing Your Best-Fit College

by Katie Z, Ph.D April 21, 2016


National College Decision Day falls on May 1st. This is the day when those students who applied to and were accepted at multiple colleges must formally accept one offer and make a deposit at their future school, showing their intent to attend in the fall. It’s an exciting time! Decisions are being made! But how, exactly, does one decide between a number of different offers? In fact, how does one even decide where to apply in the first place? The answer comes down to one thing – best-fit.

Now, there are a number of factors to consider when working to determine “best-fit”, the first of which is financial fit. If you’ve already applied and received them, an important step is to make sense of your various financial aid award letters – this is how to wrap your mind around them! When thinking about finances, remember also to consider not the sticker price of your potential schools, but the net price of attending these different institutions. Be sure to identify schools within your budget!

Next up? Academic fit! Now, academic fit does NOT mean that the college was ranked in the top 5% of schools in the nation on the US News & World Report‘s list of “Best Colleges” (although the list is certainly one way to compare schools on various indicators, including the important “6-Year Graduation Rate” statistic). Rather, you should consider such factors as whether the school offers majors you’re actually interested in, has class sizes that will work well for your personal style of learning, and whether there is a strong core curriculum in place. In the words of Malcolm Gladwell, “We strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the finest institutions we can. But rarely do we stop and consider whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest.” In short, be sure to consider more (much more!) than only a school’s prestige when thinking about where to attend.

The College of Charleston SCContinuing on, you’ll also want to take into account a potential school’s physical fit. Characteristics of a school’s physical fit include location (check out the American Institute for Economic Research’s College Destinations Index for detailed information on seventy-five of the top-ranked college towns and cities in the country!), the climate, the size of the campus, and the school’s facilities. For instance, if you hope to live on-campus throughout the duration of your studies but the school only guarantees housing for first year students, this is something to consider. If you can’t stand temperatures below 65 degrees and your potential school is located in Maine, this is something to consider. If you live in Connecticut, have a fear of flying, and were accepted at a school in California, this is something to consider. If you thrive in an urban setting and are considering a school surrounded by fields and bales of hay and cows, this is something to consider. You get my point.

Finally, we come to social/cultural fit – will you enjoy being a part of the school’s community? You may be asking yourself how you can determine social/cultural fit before actually moving into your dorm room and enrolling in classes at a school. Fear not! There are ways to gather clues ahead of time. To begin with, visit the college, take a tour, meet current students, and get answers to your questions (e.g. Are there fraternities and sororities?  What about sports teams?  Which clubs and organizations are popular?  How diverse is the student body?  What percentage of students hails from abroad?). Then jump onto your computer and make a few more visits, this time to websites.  For example, have you landed on yet?  It’s a great resource for helping you to determine fit, as it is home to over a million student reviews of their colleges and universities. For instance, if Vanderbilt University is one of the schools you’re considering, you can find 1,033 reviews of the school on, including student feedback on factors such as overall experience, academics, housing, Greek life, health & safety, athletics, the party scene, technology, the local area, campus food, diversity, and even the weather! These are subjective reviews, of course, but they can help to provide you with some insights into what life on campus may be like.

Remember, college admissions is a two-way street and your decision of where to attend is just as important as decisions that were made by admissions committees around the country in terms of who to accept. Take the time to do your research and you’ll be well-equipped to choose your “best-fit” college on May 1st. Happy National College Decision Day!

5 Genius Ways To Maximize College Financial Aid

by Admitster April 14, 2016


American Honors

This post first appeared on the American Honors blog. American Honors is a selective honors program offered at community colleges across the country. They help students find, prepare for, and transfer to their best-fit schools to finish their four-year degrees.

To visit their website, click here

Paying for a college education is increasingly an expensive endeavor. With sticker prices of top schools soaring over $200,000, figuring out how to pay for college is more important than ever.

The good news: there are some clever ways you can maximize your financial aid. Here are the five top ways to make the most of financial aid.

To be clear, none of this is professional legal, tax, or financial advice. You should always consult a professional adviser before you make decisions about your personal situation.

1. File FAFSA Early

Believe it or not, one of the best ways to maximize your financial aid package is to file your FAFSA  as early as possible. This is because some schools, and now seven states – Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington – award aid money on a first-come, first-serve basis until funds are depleted. If you’re applying in select locations, failing to file your FAFSA early can literally be a costly mistake. In general, it’s good practice to file in January when registration opens. To learn more about how best to be prepared for the FAFSA, click here!

2. Move the Money

collegefund3Call your parents over for this one. Before you begin the financial aid process, consider moving the aspiring student’s assets over to the parents’ personal accounts. Here’s why: When the Department of Education reviews your income, assets and family information, it will come up with a figure known as your EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. The EFC is how much money you’re supposed to be able to pay toward college expenses, and the college you attend will use that EFC figure to determine how much aid you get.

“Assets belonging to the student are assessed at a 20% rate. Parents’ assets are assessed at 5.65%.”

Under current financial aid formulas, your EFC is higher when there are assets specifically in the student’s name. That’s because all assets belonging to the student are assessed at a 20% rate, but parents’ assets are assessed at 5.65%. For example, for every $10,000 of the student’s assets, your EFC goes up by 20% ($2,000). For every $10,000 in parents’ assets, however, your EFC goes up by 5.65% ($565).

By strategically positioning your family funds, and keeping large assets out of the student’s name, you can increase your eligibility for thousands of dollars in additional college financial aid. Moving over the funds effectively shields it from being considered the teen’s asset while retaining a parent’s ability to put it towards college.

3. Use Cash to Pay Down Debt

Having debt like credit cards or car loans doesn’t reduce your eligibility for financial aid, but having cash does.

“Pay down debt and make big purchases before filing the FAFSA.” 

If you have a lot of savings, consider spending some of that savings to pay off your debt. This has the primary advantage of reducing your EFC, the asset base by which your need is assessed. As with any financial plan, however, be sure to consult with a financial adviser!

4. Don’t Overstate Your Assets

When you’re filing your FAFSA, pay very close attention to every question that asks about your assets and income. This is important, as you are legally allowed to exclude or omit certain income sources and various assets that you may own. For example, you don’t need to report any of the following as assets:

  1. Your primary residence
  2. Your car
  3. A boat you may own or furniture in your home
  4. Untaxed Social Security as income

Mistakenly reporting these items on your FAFSA can unwittingly increase your EFC, thereby slashing your college financial aid.

5. Appeal Your Financial Aid Package

You got in to your dream school but you received a disappointing financial aid package. It’s a gut-wrenching scenario, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the line. You can appeal and even negotiate your financial aid package. Specifically, if you had a substantial change to your financial situation or if other schools have awarded you wildly different aid packages, it may be worth contacting the financial aid office at your top-choice school.

Remember, always remain grateful and courteous, while making a strong case for yourself. Be prepared to provide supplemental documentation supporting your claim, as well as any other information requested by the school.

Bonus Tip: Make College Cost Less!

This one is a little sneaky. Any aid you receive can go a lot further at a school that is more affordable.

A smart way to do this is to start college at a two-year community college, and then transfer after two years. This is especially helpful when your financial aid doesn’t quite cover all the costs you need for four years — it might just be enough for your final two years at that expensive dream school. Plus, if you do well during your first two years, you’ll be in a better position to fill the gap with scholarships when it comes time to transfer!

Guest Post

What Is IDOC?

by Admitster March 29, 2016


I’m happy to welcome back to the blog Blaine Blontz, Admitster’s knowledgeable Financial Aid Consultant! Blaine is the founder of Financial Aid Coach, one of the country’s leading financial aid consulting firms, and has helped countless families to navigate the complex and oftentimes confusing financial aid process. If you have any financial aid questions, you can reach him at e-mail address

So you’ve submitted the CSS Profile, which certainly wouldn’t be mistaken for a short application, and you feel some sense of accomplishment. You’ve finished the financial aid process!

But wait, on the confirmation page you see that there could be other documents requested from schools. And there are these four letters that CSS Profile schools keep mentioning:


So what is IDOC? Well, it’s short for Institutional Documentation Service, and it’s the official online system that the College Board uses to collect families’ federal tax returns and other documents on behalf of participating colleges and programs. If you applied to several CSS Profile schools, chances are good that you will need to submit some documents via IDOC.

GirlsAtComputerTo log in, simply follow this link. Don’t worry, you DO NOT need all three pieces of information to log in. While most families won’t know their IDOC ID, that’s OK. You can simply use the student’s social security number and date of birth to log in. You’ll then be taken to a screen that lists the tax forms that are required and the schools that are requiring them. While you have the option to mail these forms to the College Board to submit directly, it’s recommended that you scan and upload the forms instead.

Here are the common forms requested by schools via IDOC. These examples are for those applying for the 2016-17 school year:

  • Parent 2015 tax return
  • Parent 2015 W-2
  • Parent 2015 1099s
  • Student 2015 tax return
  • Student 2015 W-2
  • Student 2015 1099s
  • Non-Custodial Parent 2015 tax return (if applicable)

Some schools will also request other forms. You’ll also need to complete steps even if you don’t have the forms listed. For example, if the student wasn’t required to file taxes, they will still need to complete, sign and upload a non-filer form provided through IDOC.

One thing to note is the request that all files scanned and uploaded be less than 9 MB in size. Some of these documents are going to be fairly long in terms of pages, and thus they will take up significant file size. One trick to this is to use a tool like Small PDF to compress the files to a more manageable size in order to allow for upload.

So, there you have it. That’s what schools mean when they refer to IDOC. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions related to this or other financial aid matters!

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