The Edge Our college admission blog

College Application Fee Waivers

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 10, 2016

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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!

Journey-To-College Websites To Know

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 11, 2016

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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…

JimAndrewCanoe

 

…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 niche.com. 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. Raise.me 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.” Raise.me 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

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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.

Essays

 

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!

Homeschooling And The College Admissions Journey

by Katie Z, Ph.D February 24, 2016

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It was not so very long ago that I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to pay, when a headline on a nearby magazine caught my eye. It read: “Homeschool Got Me Into Harvard – Why The New Road To The Ivy League Just Might Lead Through Your Living Room.”  Really! See?

HomeSchooled

 

Here’s the article. From it, we learn that the girl on the magazine’s cover is named Claire Dickson. She was homeschooled throughout her childhood and, you guessed it, is now a member of an elite university’s freshmen class (Cough! Harvard! Cough!). The article also informs us that about 2.2 million students in the United States are homeschooled (i.e. about 3.4% of the American student body), and that this number is steadily growing. Further:

“To find out what elite academic institutions think, I call Matt McGann, director of admissions at MIT. He’s entirely optimistic: “The homeschooled students in our population are a great addition to the MIT community. They are students who are more likely to have designed their own education curriculum, and they may be more independently motivated to learn,” he says. “I think as the nature of homeschooling has evolved, colleges are seeing more and more homeschooling applicants who are appropriate for this environment.””

Another recent article, this one from NBC News, states, “While the percentage of homeschooled applicants is still tiny, admissions officers say their applications often stand out.” Let us not forget “that uniqueness is kind of the hidden currency of college admissions“! Indeed, more and more colleges, on their admissions websites, have information aimed specifically at homeschooled teens, as they work to further diversify their student bodies. See, for instance:

It is clear from these examples, and many more, that when homeschooled students apply to college they generally must comply with some additional requests, such as scores from SAT Subject Tests, a school-specific homeschooled information form (for instance, this one from Wheaton College), an additional application essay, and/or additional letters of reference. Admissions officers, of course, also expect to see applicants’ high school transcripts. Homeschooled students can meet this demand in different ways, for instance, in the manner suggested by Hillsdale College:

“Official high school transcripts come from a homeschool clearinghouse, guild, or association. If transcripts are unavailable, we encourage you to consider FastTranscripts.com, offered in concert with the Home School Legal Defense Association.”

Furthermore, as Amherst College points out on their admissions website, “The Common Application also provides students with the Home School Supplement to the Secondary School Report. We highly recommend that homeschooled candidates submit the Home School Supplement in addition to the Secondary School Report and other required forms in the Common Application.” Curious to learn more about the Home School Supplement, I reached out to The Common Application for more information. They responded, “Once the home school counselor is assigned and ‘home school’ is noted in their account, they will then be required to answer a supplement in the Secondary School Report that is to be submitted with their transcripts, testing, etc.” Nice!

Also of note:

  • Admissions committees are oftentimes curious to learn more about why the decision was made to homeschool the prospective candidate – the college application essay can be a great opportunity to elaborate on these experiences!
  • Colleges will likely ask prospective students who have been homeschooled for a guide to the curriculum that the student used. Some schools, such as Vanderbilt University, will provide homeschooled applicants the option of completing a curriculum summary, such as this one, which they helpfully provide.
  • Some schools, such as Bowdoin College, will strongly recommend that the prospective student, as part of his/her application process, have an interview.
  • Other schools, such as Bucknell University, “encourage home-schooled students to enroll in a college summer program during the summer before their senior year, or enroll in a college course junior or first semester senior year.” Be aware that some colleges ask for these types of experiences, and then plan accordingly!

All in all, colleges will consider applications from homeschooled students on a case-by-case basis, and different schools will have different requirements for these non-traditional applicants. As Dartmouth College states on their admissions website, “Dartmouth receives many applications from home school students, and our holistic review process means we consider each applicant within the context of their educational environment, community, and opportunities.”

While homeschooling alone won’t get a student admitted to college (admissions committees will be looking to see that there was a strong homeschooling environment, one that provided the student with opportunities to excel academically and otherwise, and that the student is motivated and bright), those who have been homeschooled should be aware of the fact that opportunities for higher education abound. Do the research on the admissions policies at different colleges, work hard, and be sure to tell your unique story when the time comes to apply! And, of course, if you need any guidance or support along the way, Admitster can help you to own your journey to college!

The Importance of Community Involvement

by Admitster February 8, 2016

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Today’s guest blog post is written and 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. To learn more about ScholarPrep, click here


 

Community involvement is essential to a well-rounded and impressive college or scholarship application, and community service/volunteering demonstrates community involvement!

Definition: Community service is defined as an act of volunteering one’s time to help others in need. Typically, community service, or volunteering, takes place through a legitimate channel, such as a non-profit organization or a student club.

What counts as volunteering?

While doing nice things for others is a great way to spend your time, the following examples do not constitute community service: helping a neighbor out by mowing their lawn, volunteering time on a local politician’s campaign, or raising money for your cheerleading squad at a bake sale. Community service is an act of giving back to your community, for instance by volunteering your time in a home for the elderly, working in a soup kitchen, or tutoring children who need extra help in school.

Helpful hints for demonstrating community involvement:

  1. Set a goal for the number of volunteer hours you want to have completed by the time you graduate. A goal of 200 hours means 50 hours each year during your high school career. Your goal will depend on your career path or emphasis.
  2. Diversify your service. Try to find at least three organizations to volunteer with, even if the majority of your community involvement is through only one. This shows that you are committed to the act of volunteering itself, and not just to a particular organization or group of individuals.
  3. Seek out community service opportunities as soon as you graduate from 8th grade to ensure that your hours will be spread out over time. A large number of hours accumulated nearing graduation could look like procrastination and leave others questioning your commitment to community involvement.
  4. Some scholarships may require verification of community service. These verification letters should be provided by the individual responsible for overseeing the community service and should include the volunteer’s name, the organization for which they volunteered, and the dates and hours worked. Keep a copy of all verification letters in one place.
  • Bonus Tip: Anyone who has supervised your community involvement is a great person to ask for a letter of recommendation!
Volunteer

 

Quick Tips:

  • Set a community service goal.
  • Continue brainstorming ways to get involved and diversify your service.
  • Log your community service hours.
  • Keep all verification letters.

What are some ways you are showing your commitment to community involvement? What is your favorite way to volunteer? Tell us in the comments below!

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