The Edge Our college admission blog

A Stress-Free And Fun FAFSA?

by Admitster December 30, 2015


Another great guest blog post from our friends over at NCSA Athletic Recruiting!

Think about how stressful it can be to learn about the college admissions and recruiting processes. Put that same learning curve, the same nerve to figure out a complex project with a definite due date, into a much smaller window and you get the FAFSA!

Did you know that for students who attend school for four years, the average incurred cost of loans is approximately $147,000? Further, know that the window to complete the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on January 1st. You can submit your FAFSA at any time (between January 1st, 2016 and June 30th, 2017), but some families feel time crunch because depending on your school, state, and type of aid, awards go out on a first come, first served basis.

Don’t stress out. Seriously. This FAFSA paperwork isn’t going to hurt you. Just be sure that you don’t make errors when filling out your FAFSA – check out this post to avoid the most common mistakes!

Here are the top ways to fill out the FAFSA without stressing out about it:


The FAFSA will ask your family to provide information in five categories. Specifically, you will be asked about:

  1. The student-athlete.
  2. The student-athlete’s dependency on his/her parents (this is a legal question – does a parent or guardian list the student-athlete as a dependent on their tax returns?).
  3. The student-athlete’s parents or guardians.
  4. The student-athlete’s financial background.
  5. The schools that you want the FAFSA to send information to directly.

There are also a bunch of advanced tips (from Chegg) about the FAFSA that can help you to understand some of the more complicated arrangements some families might pursue to maximize their student aid.


In addition to the general bucket categories we listed above, you’re going to need to have a couple of things on-hand that you probably don’t have memorized. Take some time to gather this information together so you don’t feel like you’re searching through your lock box and paperwork and losing your place in the FAFSA. You’ll need:

  • Social security numbers for the student-athlete and parents (if the student-athlete is filing as a dependent).
  • Driver’s license numbers.
  • W2′s from the current and previous year.
  • Tax returns from the previous year (since you probably haven’t done your 2015 taxes yet, the FAFSA lets you use the most recent one you have).
  • Information about any additional benefits you might have: welfare, veteran’s, social security, investments, etc.
  • Information about any additional financial figures that you might need to report: businesses, mortgages, etc.

Did you know that missing out on important financial aid information can mean paying as much as $90,000 extra?

All of the above will help the FAFSA to compute your Expected Family Contribution. Also, please remember that no matter your family’s income, it behooves you to complete a FAFSA.


This might come from years of trumpeting that my sport was other sports’ punishment, but I am a firm believer that there’s a silver lining in everything. Hill repeats? There’s going to be a downhill soon enough. Circuit workout? Get an awesome song playing and it’ll make the time fly by.

ncsablogDo the same when you fill out the FAFSA. Put on some music that everyone enjoys. (I know, I have a dad, too — that might be easier said than done.) Give yourself a reward when you’ve finished it – maybe the family can go out for pizza or an ice cream.

The FAFSA may seem like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, it’s time that your family gets to spend together!

We have an incredible resource library of tips, how-tos and strategies for every part of your recruiting process. Want access? Get started with a recruiting profile!

LinkedIn University Rankings – Big Data!

by Katie Z, Ph.D December 28, 2015


This blog has visited the subject of college rankings many times before – see, for instance, here and here. Furthermore, the College Scorecard, while NOT a ranking, does allow you to compare schools on different measures, including average annual cost, graduation rates, and salary after attending. There is no single ranking system or tool that you should definitely be using to assess possible colleges to which you may apply, but it is advisable to be aware of the different options that are out there for comparing schools. Some examples include:

  • U.S. News & World Report – Our rankings “allow you to compare at a glance the relative quality of institutions based on such widely accepted indicators of excellence as freshman retention and graduation rates and the strength of the faculty.”  For more information on their methodology, click here. To see the full ranking, click here.
  • Forbes – “We ignore the abstract (reputation) and wasteful (spending-per-student) to focus on one measurement: outcome. From student satisfaction and graduation rates, to career success and student debt, this ranking counts what matters.” Click here for their ranking.
  • Money Magazine – Our rankings indicate which schools “deliver the most value—that is, a great education, at an affordable price, that helps students launch promising careers.” See here for more information on their methodology, and here for Money’s Best Colleges.
  • The Times Higher Education –  Our list “judges world-class universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” Click here for more information.

Today I want to introduce you to yet another ranking system, and one that I think you’ll appreciate! It’s the LinkedIn University Rankings, which is based on career outcomes – “From university to career, see which universities are launching graduates into desirable jobs.” That is, these rankings are based on the career paths / employment patterns of the 396 million LinkedIn members – it’s really very cool! For instance:

The top school for aspiring accounting professionals?  Villanova University

The top school for aspiring designers?  Carnegie Mellon University

The top school for aspiring finance professionals?  University of Pennsylvania

The top school for aspiring investment bankers?  Georgetown University

The top school for aspiring media professionals?  New York University

linkedinYou can also search for more specific career outcomes. For example, are you interested in working at Pixar? Then perhaps you should consider the Character Animation Program at the California Institute of the Arts. Beyond the lists, there’s also a university finder tool – “Tell us what you want to do, and we’ll show you which universities send the most alumni into that career.”

As this article from The Wall Street Journal points out, “The results from LinkedIn – by virtue of the size of its membership – offer the latest significant development in the way big data are reordering perceptions into how college influences a person’s career.” The article, however, also points out that these rankings must be taken with a grain of salt, as LinkedIn “doesn’t collect information on income, wealth, race or gender, and only considers graduates who obtained their degrees within the past eight years.” Still, the LinkedIn University Rankings definitely have the potential to contribute interesting and relevant information in helping you to address the ever-important “Where should I apply?” question, as the data allows you to further assess a potential college’s value, in terms of life post-graduation. Check it out!

The Gift of Admissions Advising

by Katie Z, Ph.D December 24, 2015



Dear Readers,


Happy Holidays


You’ve been busy with college applications – and for many of you the college admissions whirlwind is ongoing, casting a shadow over your holiday celebrations. I sincerely hope, however, that you’ll find some time over the coming days to just RELAX! Surround yourself with good people and set some time aside to NOT think about your applications, even if that’s only a few hours here and there. Then, once you’ve been thoroughly immersed in holiday goodness, take a deep breathe, know that you can do it, and work to cross that college application finish line – you’re almost there!

Furthermore, if you’d like some guidance and support along the way, you know where to find it. Our admissions advising and essay review services are a great gift (peace of mind!), whether for yourself or for someone you care about who’s in the midst of his/her journey to college. Working alongside our experts, students gain confidence and submit exceptional, well-written college applications. Know also that we are currently offering $50 off for new clients who purchase at least one hour of admissions advising. The offer expires at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and to take advantage of it all you need to do is click here and then enter the code “peaceofmind” when prompted. T’is the season…to submit all of your college applications!

Team Admitster wishes you Happy Holidays!

Expert Advice: Managing Your Supplemental Essays

by Rachel Katzman December 22, 2015


By now you’ve very likely narrowed down your college list and are in the midst of completing your applications. You’ve even written, reviewed, and finalized your Common Application college essay. As you log into your Common App Dashboard, you’ve seen which schools have writing supplements, and which ones don’t…or so you think. The reality is that lurking in the “Questions”, “Academics”,  and “Other” sections of the Common App, remains what I call Hidden Supplemental Questions.

Sometimes these require 100 word responses, for example, asking you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity. While you should write and proof-read these responses carefully, they seem manageable. Other supplemental essay requirements, however, can be more demanding. For instance, while Harvey Mudd College doesn’t list a writing supplement on its dashboard, in the “Questions” section, the college does ask prospective students to write two different 500 word essays. That’s like writing two more common application essays! For a student who is just now noticing this requirement, he/she may be feeling panicked about the upcoming January 5th deadline!

spiderBeyond sometimes “hidden” supplemental essays, others are notoriously quirky. For example, the University of Richmond prompts prospective students to “Tell us about spiders” (their mascot). The University of Southern California asks (engineering) students to tell the school about their browsing history. The University of Chicago even has an essay on the “oddity of odd numbers.” Why such topics? The schools are trying to better understand how you think, how you write, and how you will creatively and intellectually thrive at their school.

As admissions experts, we can confirm that your responses to the supplements do matter and, more importantly, that they can “wow” an admissions committee by helping you stand out among other candidates.

Here’s some advice for how to do them well:

Input all of your data up front. Sometimes, program-specific supplemental essays don’t appear until you input your intended major. The more carefully you input your data, the more quickly you can catch something that might otherwise go overlooked.

Have certain answers pre-prepared. For questions that ask you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity, your academic interests, or your personal background, you should develop clear, concise answers that you could both write about in 100 words and discuss in greater detail if you were having a longer interview with and admissions officer. You should use specific details to answer these questions, practice your responses with a friend or family member, and craft written explanations that you can use with multiple schools.

Do your research. There are two questions that always have to be customized:

  1. The question that asks you to explain your interest in your intended major – While you might be certain that you want to major in chemical engineering or English literature, schools distinguish themselves through the varying ways that they structure their programs. Bioengineering at Penn looks different than it does at UC Berkeley. Schools will often have cool interdisciplinary majors and minors that might help you to anchor your response. For example, Rice offers a minor in Global Health Technologies that can be paired with a variety of majors. One way to distinguish yourself as a candidate is to find each school’s unique approach to your intended major, and use this to help focus your essay.
  2. The question that asks “Why (insert school)?” – This is a question that you should NEVER cut and paste from one application to the next. It requires you to do some research up front. Scour the college’s website to learn more about academics, student organizations, research, news, study abroad activities, and campus life. Pair these online resources with any other experiences you’ve had with the school, for instance, a campus visit, interviews, and/or conversations with students and alumni. The more you can be specific and personalize your response, the more you will feel confident about why you’ve selected the school and, by extension, you will present yourself as a smart, informed, candidate.

Keep in mind that college admissions is a two-way street. You should of course provide details about your recent accomplishments and current interests. However, it is equally powerful to present what you want to do in the future. For instance, write about how you want to go into cyber security, start a business, document refugee crises, or design engineering solutions for developing countries – whatever you aspire to! Using specific examples about the school to which you’re applying, let admissions officers know why attending their institution would help you to reach your future goals. Be sure to also elaborate on how you will be an asset to the school during your time as an undergraduate there. Remember, college admissions is a two-way street!

Make a calendar for the next two weeks. While these essays can be brief, they are numerous and cannot be written in one sitting. Plan out your holiday break with well-paced deadlines, and share those deadlines with someone else (perhaps an expert at Admitster) so you hold yourself accountable and don’t write anything at the last minute.

It’s never too late to get help!

We can help you to make decisions, provide expert knowledge of your schools and their admissions processes, and plan and review your essays. You can use both our essay review service as well as personal admissions advising, thereby using your time efficiently to not only manage, but to optimize the potential opportunities that are offered by these supplemental essays.


Deferral From Your Top-Choice School – What?!

by Katie Z, Ph.D December 19, 2015


It’s December 19th and if you applied early to your top-choice school then you’ve now likely heard back about whether you’ve been accepted (congratulations!), deferred (read on), or rejected (don’t despair!). If you’ve been deferred, it doesn’t mean that your application has now been thrown in the bin but that your application to the school will be considered again within the context of the regular admissions applicant pool. That is, there is still hope for an offer of acceptance! A deferral, however, also means that you shouldn’t put all of your eggs into that one college’s basket. You have work to do on refining your college list and ensuring that you submit all of your regular and rolling admissions applications on time. In other words, this chapter in your life is not yet closed and your college admissions puzzle is not yet complete!



A few things to know:

  • As is always the case in college admissions, don’t take a deferral (or rejection) personally. Remember, this process is, to some extent, “an unpredictable crapshoot“!
  • Officials in admissions offices across the country are working to build a well-balanced class and are out to find good fits for their school. I recommend that you see being deferred as an opportunity for the college to learn more about you, helping them to determine whether you would be an asset to their incoming class.
  • Deferral rates vary greatly by school so depending on where you applied you may have left the starting gate with an excellent chance of being deferred, regardless of the quality of your application. For instance, articles from The Huffington Post and IvyWise tell us that:
    • Georgetown University defers all of the applicants who aren’t accepted in the early round.
    • Over 70% of the applicants who applied early to Harvard were deferred to the regular admissions round.
    • Likewise, at MIT over 65% of the early applicants were deferred.
    • Amherst College deferred nearly 40% of its early applying applicants.
    • Northwestern University only defers around 1-2% of its applicants.
  • Remember, college admissions is a two-way street! If the college will accept it, you can write a deferral letter reaffirming your enthusiasm for the school and also letting them know about any accomplishments, including your first semester grades, that your parents are writing to family and friends about in this year’s holiday card. However, be sure to follow the school’s instructions following a deferral, in terms of further information they expect to receive from you and/or boosts to your application that they’re willing to accept, e.g. additional letters of recommendation. Also, keep in mind that your social media presence is a great way to let colleges know of your continued interest in them!

A deferral is not a rejection, after all. You may yet be admitted to your top-choice college. However, try to keep yourself open to other opportunities at other schools as well – ensure that your college list is full of great options for you in terms of good fit. Finally, and as ever, know that we’re here to help if you need or would like any additional admissions guidance and/or support. Just e-mail us at “” or click here for more information!

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