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Why Parents Hire Independent College Advisors

By Sara Schroeder and Lee Oller

College admissions today is vastly different than it was when we applied to college. Now our sons and daughters are just numbers in a vast applicant pool of seniors, all vying for spots at increasingly more selective colleges.   Adding to this altered landscape are annual tuition hikes, reduced enrollments to meet stringent budgets, and the prospect that it may take five or more years for a student to graduate. High school counselors, needed now more than ever, are being cut from school budgets or struggle to get the job done in a shorter work week.   As a result, more families are seeking independent college advisors to guide them through this quagmire of college applications.

Like a tutor, a good advisor will teach, motivate, inform, and engage the student while simplifying the process for everyone. If you are considering using the services of an advisor, we offer you ten good reasons why this is an excellent choice for many families entering the college admissions process. 

Top Ten Reasons for Hiring a College Advisor:

10        You worry about your student finding the perfect college in an application process that can be overwhelming.
(Fact: There is no ONE perfect fit for a student. There are more than 2000 colleges and universities in the US and nearly 200 in California alone, so odds are there are many that would fit the needs and wants of your student.)

9         The application process seems far more complicated than it was when you were in high school, even for students who are applying only to California schools.  
(Fact: Huge applicant pools mean increased selectivity, and budget woes mean fewer spots for students. 100,320 seniors applied to UC campuses this year. Some of the UC and CSU campuses once considered to be “back-ups” are today considered selective.)

 8        Your child knows exactly what he wants to major in OR he has absolutely no idea what he will major in, so you don’t know how to find the college that will meet his academic and other needs.   
(Fact: Reports suggest that 80% of all college students change their major at least once, and the average student changes his major three times before settling on one! A college advisor will work with your child to find colleges that satisfy several of their needs.)

 7          You hear other parents talking about doing their “FAFSA” and you wonder if it’s a new exercise regime.
(Fact: The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a federal document that families must complete to be eligible for most forms of financial aid.)

 6        You hear that the college essay is important, but you have no idea how to offer writing advice to your child.
(Fact: Although the essay is not as important as grades and test scores, due to increased college selectivity, this writing sample may be a “deal breaker” for a student. A college advisor guides the student to develop compelling narratives written in his own voice.)

5         You would like to take the pressure of the college search process off the parent/child relationship. 
(Fact: The college application process takes time, patience and a certain degree of objectivity. Even parents with ample information about the process may benefit from input from a knowledgeable third party.)

4         All of your friends are hiring college advisors for their children.
(Fact: There are good reasons for hiring a college advisor, but do your homework: Get references from friends and neighbors and ask about a counselor’s experience and education.)

3        Your local high school counselor is over-worked and you are concerned that your student may not get all the attention he needs.
(Fact: With the current budget cuts in our public schools, it’s not uncommon for one counselor to assist 300+ seniors with their college applications.)

2         You are worried when you hear that many University of California and California State University students are taking six years to graduate.
(Fact: Many students are taking longer than the traditional four years to graduate. The once typical path where a student attends a community college for two years, transfers to a UC or CSU in two years, then graduates with a bachelor’s degree is as common today as finding “a $100,000 house in Silicon Valley,” according to a CSU publication.)

 1         You want the best education for your child.
(Fact: Don’t worry! It will take time and hard work--mostly on the student’s part--but with guidance and encouragement your child will find a school that is right for him! An independent college advisor can help you find that right fit.)


Should You Go Public or Private?

Choosing between a public or private college is one fork in the road that many college-bound students face. There are certainly differences to consider, but surprisingly, cost might not be one of them!

Including a mix of public and private colleges in your initial college application list usually makes sense. When you are ready to fine tune your list, the considerations below may help you narrow the field.

Considering Out-of-State Public Colleges?

At most public colleges, "non-resident" students (students from other states) must pay higher tuition rates that are often comparable to those of a private college. If you are interested in attending an out-of-state public college, find out if it participates in a "reciprocity agreement" or offers "out-of-state tuition waivers."

Reciprocity agreements guarantee reduced tuition to students from neighboring states. Not all public colleges participate in these agreements, however, and restrictions often apply. To find out more, consult your high school guidance counselor, independent advisor or the college's admissions office.

Out-of-state tuition waivers allow non-residents to pay reduced tuition if they meet certain criteria, such as a high GPA; interest in a particular field of study; or parents who are alumni, faculty, or staff. Eligibility rules for tuition waivers vary so check with the college directly.

Cost and Financial Aid

The essential difference between public and private colleges is the source of their funding. Public colleges are largely supported by state taxes. Private colleges are largely supported by tuition and donations.

Public colleges are a good deal for state residents because tuition and fees are reduced for them. Out-of-state students usually pay much more. (Each public college system has its own rules for determining state residency, so check those rules carefully if you have any concern about your eligibility.)

Many people assume a public college is cheaper than a private college. But the posted "sticker price" of a private college is rarely the real price. If a private college strongly appeals to you, consider waiting for its financial aid offer before making a final decision. More often than not, private colleges offer scholarships and grants that significantly cut your actual cost, even bringing it close to the cost of a public college.

Admission Advantages

Public colleges give admission priority to state residents. Because there are fewer spaces for non-residents, requirements for out-of-state students can be more strict and admission more competitive. At highly selective state universities, however, your state residency won't give you as much of an edge because you are competing with many other highly qualified state residents. A private college might view an out-of-state applicant positively because his or her residency helps create a geographically diverse student body.

Affiliation and Student Body

One of the most important factors in choosing a college is how you feel about the students attending the school. Some private colleges have a strong affiliation with certain religions or philosophies and attract students who share these affiliations. Others have a commitment to a certain type of student, such as the historically black colleges or women's colleges. Public colleges, and many private colleges, have egalitarian missions that support student diversity.

Time to Graduate

Savings from lower tuition may evaporate if you take more time to graduate than you planned. This unfortunate scenario can happen if it is difficult to get into the classes required for your major, a common situation at many public colleges. On average, private colleges show higher four-year graduation rates. You can look up a college's percentage of students graduating in four years using CollegeData's College Match.

Where to Live

For some students, the location of the college is very important. Students wanting to attend college closer to home may find many public colleges within a few hours of their home town. Students wanting new cultural and geographic experiences may find that private colleges and even out-of-state public colleges fit their requirements.

Impact of Campus Size

Many students believe that private colleges, which tend to be smaller than public colleges, incur less red tape and offer more personal attention than public colleges. Students looking for a wide range of majors and lots of school spirit may assume a large public university is the best option. But in actuality, it is entirely possible to find small public colleges and large private universities that have these qualities. If college size is important to you, you may miss some good candidates if you limit your search to only public or only private colleges. It's important to look carefully at each individual college and to separate rumor from reality.

Prestige and Reputation

It is tempting to assume that investing in an education at a selective private college is worth it because your degree will be more valuable. But in reality many highly successful people graduated from public colleges. If you are set on getting a name-brand private college degree, you may have another option. If you plan to go on to a graduate or professional school, consider getting a lower cost undergraduate degree at a public college and attending a private college for your advanced degree.

Which Is Better?

Once you have considered how well a college meets your requirements, whether it is private or public might make a difference. The academic resources and diversity of a large public college system can be tempting. Or the personality and location of a private campus might be right for you. What is most important is choosing the college that meets your highest priorities at an affordable cost.

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On the Road with your College-bound Teenager

By Sara Schroeder

Taking a Road Trip may be one of the more important aspects of your student’s college search process.  We’re talking about college visits, where a student goes beyond the virtual and literally steps onto a college campus.

Some parents may balk at the time and expense that college visits can entail, believing the student “knows what he wants” or has seen so much of the campus on line, he feels like he’s actually been there.  But, college campuses can be very different from the way they look in pictures, and campus visits allow the student to see how the people there and the campus “vibe” match his interests. A visit can often be critical in helping him decide which colleges he chooses to apply to, and ultimately, attend.

College “road trips” can be rewarding and fun for parents and students.  In fact, they often provide long stretches of time for you and your child to talk and share together this college search adventure.  (My daughter and I have never laughed so hard as when we struggled with our rental car’s navigation system wending our way through the streets of Boston.)  But parents will want to remind themselves that they are along to provide the cash, the car and the map (or navigation system.)   It is the student’s job to picture themselves on each campus, and keep a record of their observations and feelings. 

Be prepared when you visit a campus.  Call or sign up online several weeks (if not months) in advance to book a tour.

Schedule an interview with an admissions person, as well. (Some colleges don’t “require” interviews, but ask for one anyway.  Even if you are interviewed by an upperclassman, you will have made an impression with someone tied to the school.) 

Ask questions. On organized tours, encourage your student to walk close to the guide where he can hear and ask questions.  (Parents will inevitably have questions, but may want to save those for later.) 

If possible, hang around the campus before and after the tour, mingling with the students, maybe even eating in a dining hall.  If you can attend a class, meet  a professor, or stay overnight, you will know the school even better.   It is particularly important for students going into the performing arts, or other specialized departments, or athletics, to meet professors, coaches, and students while visiting.

Ideally, and especially if the choice is narrowed down to two or three schools, a student should visit more than once.  The first time might be a “look/see;” a tour, information session and interview.  The second time might be to visit a class or two, or even spend the night in the dorm and attend classes.  Some schools offer a program for admitted students.  If such a school is still on the student’s radar, he will want to attend this session before he makes a final decision.

Some quick points:

  • Plan to visit when school is in session.
  • Students needn’t “dress up”, but the jeans with holes and the t-shirt with a skull or marijuana leaf emblazoned on the front are best left at home.
  • Visiting more than two schools in a day is probably pushing it.
  • Take time to look at the world outside the campus—is there a town or city nearby?  How close is the nearest shopping, cinema, airport, etc.
  • Don’t consider a “drive-by” a legitimate visit.
  • Allow plenty of time for parking and walking to the Admissions Office.
  • Take notes during or after the visit so you remember what you liked and didn’t like about the college.  Months later when you are evaluating your choices, you’ll be glad you recorded your feelings and observations.

Remember, this trip allows your student to make critical choices for himself.  The campus visit--unlike paging through books or staring at websites—is no longer just theory.  It often makes the whole concept of heading off to college a very real, very possible conclusion. 



Decisions, Decisions!

Comparing Acceptances and Financial Aid Offers from Colleges

By Pat Brands

Spring is around the corner, and high school seniors and their parents may be feeling relieved that the college application process is behind them. But not so fast!  Shortly after the March 2nd deadline for submitting state and federal financial aid forms, high school seniors will begin to receive financial aid award letters. For parents, reading through these letters and forms and trying to arrive at a decision about which college to attend is a lot like trying to assemble a complicated toy on Christmas eve: the directions are lengthy and confusing, time is running out, and they just want their child to be happy! 

Parents, it’s important to go over each letter carefully in order to identify the best package for your student.  Financial aid can come in many forms:  grants and scholarships (funds you do not have to pay back), loans, and work study.   Each college determines the amounts of the various financial aid instruments available.  As you review the offers you’ve been given, here are a few tips:

  • The key issue is not how much aid the student is being offered, but rather how much the family is being asked to borrow. Some colleges will meet the student’s full financial need (as determined by the federal government), whereas others may “gap” the student. If a college opts not to meet a student’s full financial need, the award letter will often suggest the parent take out a loan to fill the “gap.” For most freshmen in college, the maximum loan in a student’s name will be $5,500, so if the college suggests that you, the parent, take out a loan, too, your son or daughter has probably been “gapped.”
  • College financial aid offices can estimate the amount of federal and/or state financial aid a student will qualify for in the form of a grant. Pell grants are for very low-income students. Cal Grants are awarded to low and middle-income students who will attend college in California.
  • In addition to loans, your student may be offered funds through a program known as Work Study. Often, both on and off-campus jobs are available.  Research indicates that working ten to fifteen hours a week will not adversely impact grades, and may in fact enhance the student’s adjustment to college life by structuring discretionary time, and connecting the student with adult mentors: professors, student life professionals, administrators, etc. Pay can range from minimum wage to well over $10 an hour, so ask for specific information about hours and wages.
  • Many financial aid award letters offer institutional grants and/or scholarships, both of which are “gift” aid. There are often strings attached, however, such as maintaining a minimum GPA in order to qualify in subsequent years. Ask if the scholarship is renewable. Be aware, too, that as students approach college graduation, financial aid awards typically contain less gift aid, and larger loans. Some majors, such as nursing and teaching, offer loan forgiveness programs.

As you compare award letters, consider, too, the likelihood of graduation within four years. Even before recent state budget crises, the time to graduation at a University of California campus was four years plus one quarter. Graduation from a Cal State campus was close to five years, on average. Transferring from a community college to a UC or CSU campus can result in additional time before earning the Bachelor’s degree. Private colleges, by contrast, may guarantee graduation within four years, so even if the family contribution is larger than at a public institution, four years at a private institution may cost no more (or perhaps less) than five or more years at a public university. Plus a private college may offer the best financial aid package. 

If the college that costs more is your child’s “dream school,” your decision should take this into account as well. After completing the freshman year, your student may now be considered a resident student, enabling him or her to qualify for a wider range of grants and scholarships, and academic departments sometimes offer aid or paid internships to continuing students.

Taking things one year at a time may be the best decision, especially when a young person’s dreams and aspirations are at stake.