The Edge Our college admission blog

Admitster’s School Partnership Program

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 23, 2016


College Coaching For Every Student

If you’re an administrator or guidance counselor at a high school in the United States, there’s a decent chance that your students have little or no access to a college counselor. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, using Spring 2012 data (from the nationally representative High School Longitudinal Study of 2009), reported that:

  • “Less than two-fifths of counselors indicated that their school had a counselor whose primary responsibility was college applications or had a counselor whose primary responsibility was college selection”, and
  • “About half of counselors (54%) reported that their counseling department spent less than 20 percent of their time on college readiness, selection, and applications.”

diplomas smallStudent-to-counselor ratios vary greatly by school and by state, but the national average is an unfortunate 471 students to 1 counselor – click here for more details. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported that, across the country, one in five high schools completely lacks a school counselor! And that’s not all. A 2015 Survey by Achieve, Inc. reported that “of the 767 college instructors from four-year and two-year colleges, universities, and technical institutions”, 78% believed that high school graduates are not well prepared for higher education. This New York Times article sums the situation up well: “… public high schools across the country struggle with staggering ratios of students to guidance counselors.” Grim.

There is a great deal to consider when pondering college admissions strategies for each of the individual students at your high school – not only in terms of thinking about where to apply and whether each senior has a finalized college list that is robust and well-balanced (in terms of reach, target, and safety schools), but also whether students would be advised to apply early action or early decision, via the regular admissions process, and/or to schools with rolling admissions policies.

Along these lines, the 2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts have been released, but what is the best college essay writing strategy for each student? Should students take the SAT or the ACT, and how can they best prepare? To further consider are the backgrounds and personal stories of your students (and how to make that uniqueness shine in their respective college applications), the financial aspects of applying to and attending college, individual circumstances (e.g. being cognizant of the resources that are available to first generation students as they engage in the admissions process), course enrollment advice, thoughts regarding who would be best suited to write letters of recommendation, issues pertaining to social media, gap years, college tours, fly-in programs, summer plans – the list goes on and on, and taking into account all of the above for each of your students is certainly a tremendous undertaking. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin!

On top of everything, there has been a complete whirlwind of changes in the college admissions world over the last few months. More schools are becoming test-optional; changes have been made to the FAFSA;  the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Making Caring Common project released its influential Turning The Tide report; and the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has emerged on the scene (e.g. these 58 colleges and universities will accept the Coalition application for the upcoming admissions cycle)!

What are you (the school principal or guidance counselor) to do? After all, college counseling has been shown to have a significant impact on college access and should be an important aspect of a student’s high school experience. Still, with time, personnel, and other resources often strained, how can a high school’s administration bring such a program, emphasizing individualized attention and college guidance, to fruition?

Admitster’s Partnership For College Success Program can help. College coaching for every student in your school? Flexible, customized guidance and support? Comprehensive services for schools, students, and families? YES! Click here to learn more about Admitster’s school partnership program, helping every student to succeed on their journey to college.

College Loans

by Admitster June 5, 2016


I’m happy to welcome back to the blog Blaine Blontz, Admitster’s Financial Aid Consultant extraordinaire! 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 college financial aid and/or financial planning questions, you can reach him at e-mail address

fafsaThis time of year, when families have decided where their high school seniors will attend college in the fall, a new set of questions comes into play. Admissions applications and financial aid forms have been completed, but parents are often left wondering how they will cover the remaining balance. This being the case, let’s take a look at something that’s commonly used to help bridge the remaining cost gap – college loans.

Considering the cost of college, it’s not unusual for families to need to utilize college loans. These are made available through the Federal Government, private banks and credit unions, and sometimes even schools themselves. Furthermore, not accounting for loans that are in a parent’s name, students are graduating from college with over $20,000 in loan debt, on average.

Here are some of the more common loans that are made available to families:


These loans, formerly referred to as the Stafford Loans, are in the student’s name and provided through the Federal Government. Students become eligible for this loan by filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

These loans are provided to college students in specified amounts. They come in subsidized (government pays the interest) and unsubsidized (families are responsible for the interest) forms, based on need as determined by the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. While a family may not qualify for subsidized Federal Direct Loans, you can’t be turned away from the unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan because you make too much money or have too much in assets. This is a common misconception!

Here’s a bit more info on Federal Direct Loans. The interest rates for the 2016-17 Federal Direct Loans will be announced later in the summer.


Because the Federal Direct Loans have a maximum amount that can be borrowed, which is commonly not enough to cover the full remaining balance, parents are often left to look into other options. One of the more common loan options is the Parent PLUS Loan.

This is another loan through the Federal Government. The difference between this loan and the Federal Direct Loan is that the Parent PLUS Loan is a loan in the parent’s name, as the name of the loan would indicate. This loan is applied for on a pass/fail basis at a fixed interest rate provided by the government each new school year. Parents can apply for the maximum amount needed to cover any remaining balance.

Check out a previous article on common loan myths to avoid confusion when it comes to repayment of the Parent PLUS Loan.


Alternative loans are the common name for loans through private banks and credit unions. While you will find several banks that can provide a student loan, the more common lenders in this space are those like Sallie Mae, Discover, and Wells Fargo.

Alternative loans are applied for in the student’s name. However, since students who are entering college traditionally don’t have much, if any, credit history, they are often required to provide a co-signer on the loan. This is often a parent, but it can be anyone, not just those who are related to the student. In this way, alternative loans can be a good alternative for families that have a credit-worthy co-signer who is NOT a parent.

These loans have a range of rates that institutions can provide you with before application. However, they often can’t provide a specific rate for families until an application has been submitted and processed. It’s not uncommon for families to see which rates they can receive through alternative lenders and then compare these to the Parent PLUS Loan rate.

Further, while the loans through the Federal Government have standard fees and terms, these features for alternative loans can vary depending on the institution lending the money. Families will want to be aware of these fees, terms, and fine print as they decide on which loan option is best for them.

For more information on the merits and pitfalls of popular loan options, click here!

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.

529 College Savings Plans

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 25, 2016


On The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari album you’ll find the catchy tune, entitled simply 409. The song’s lyrics are familiar to many – “She’s real fine my 409, she’s real fine my 409, my 409. Well I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes (giddy up, giddy up, 409). For I knew there would be a time (giddy up, giddy up, 409), when I would buy a brand new 409.”  Translating this to the world of college admissions, the lyrics might go a little something like this:529

She’s real fine my 529
She’s real fine my 529
My 529
Well I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes
(Giddy up, giddy up, 529)
For I knew there would be a time
(Giddy up, giddy up, 529)
When I would save for my college financial climb


If you haven’t already come across the term 529 Plan, there’s no time like the present to learn more about it! A 529 Plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or college/university. Research the term online and you will, of course, be presented with an overwhelming amount of information. However, here are a few important things to know:

  • There are two types of 529 Plans – prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. Through prepaid tuition plans, you can lock in tuition at current rates. Specifically, you’re able to purchase tuition credits now that can be used for future college expenses, allowing you to pay future tuition costs at today’s prices.
  • College savings plans, on the other hand, allow you to put funds aside in order to save for college. Your investment growth is based on market performance. Money can be taken out tax-free when it goes towards qualifying expenses – tuition, fees, books, room & board (if the student is in school at least half-time), and other supplies required by the school for the student’s academic pursuits.
  • State plans vary and you do not need to enroll in your home state’s plan but, rather, can shop around for the 529 Plan that suits you best. For instance, you can live in Mississippi, have a 529 College Savings Plan in Massachusetts, and go to school in Montana! Keep in mind, however, that a number of states offer benefits and incentives (such as state income tax deductions) that hinge on you having a 529 Plan for the state in which you live. Still, as is pointed out in this article from the U.S. News & World Report, that shouldn’t stop you from also looking into plans offered by states other than your own. For information on specific state 529 Plans (both prepaid and savings plans), click here.

In terms of additional resources, I recommend:

  • FINRA’s 529 Expense Analyzer, through which you can calculate costs for a specific 529 Plan or compare costs associated with two different plans.
  • Click here for information about Private College 529 Plans (there are over 275 schools which offer these).
  • has in place a “5-Cap” rating system, which considers different 529 Plans based on factors such as performance, cost, features, and reliability.  Click here to see their ratings.

There’s a lot of information out there about 529 Plans, but taking the time to sort through it, researching and finding the plan that works best for you, will help to ensure that you’ll soon be singing that happy “She’s Real Fine My 529” tune!

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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