Friday, January 18, 2019

Are AP Classes Worth It?

As we head into course selection season, high school students have many choices. One of those choices may include AP (Advanced Placement) classes. Should a student take AP classes? If so, how many and which ones? 
Which AP Classes Should I Take?

There isn’t one right answer- it really depends on the individual student. 

The Advanced Placement Program is organized and administered by CollegeBoard, the same company that administers the SAT, the PSAT, and SAT Subject tests. High schools typically offer several AP courses. The AP classes contain college-level material and are designed to prepare students for the AP tests given in May of each year. Doing well on AP tests can earn students college credit or advanced standing in their future college or university. This saves two precious commodities for a first-year college student: time and money!

Colleges like to see that students are willing to take a challenging curriculum and that they do well in those classes. Since AP classes compare to college-level courses, they demonstrate to admission representatives that a student is ready for the rigorous academics of college. 

Successfully passing an AP class can demonstrate the student’s interest or passion in a subject. If biology is your thing, consider taking an AP Biology class. We hear over and over that colleges are looking for students who have demonstrated a passion or commitment throughout their high school years. Carefully consider areas of interest and passion for learning a specific subject. Review the courses that are offered at your high school and then use AP courses to build a profile that represents your true interests and abilities.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Financial Aid Season Begins Oct. 1st!

Parents of current high school seniors entering college in the Fall of 2019, as well as parents of college students who will still be in college next fall, should gather the necessary documents in the coming weeks to prepare for filing the FAFSA on or about October 1st.

FAFSA is the Free Application for Student Financial Aidthe form all families should complete to see if they qualify for federal aid (and with the high cost of tuition these days, many wealthy families DO qualify). This is also the mechanism for getting student and parent loans, as well as some college scholarships. If you're still not convinced that you need to complete the FAFSA, please take a moment and check out these common myths concerning federal financial aid. 

While you can't complete and submit the form until October 1, you can make your job easier then by gathering this information now: 
  • Social security number for parent(s) and student.
  • Driver’s license number for student.
  • 2017 Tax forms for parent(s) and student  .
  • Records of untaxed income, such as payments to tax-deferred savings plan for you and your child (if applicable).
  • Current bank statements for parent(s) and student.
  • Information about any business that parent(s) or student owns, as well as investment mortgage information, stock, bond and other investment records.
  • A list of colleges and universities (up to 10) to receive your FAFSA information.

An FSA ID, is needed for both the student and one parent to be able to electronically sign the FAFSA You can create a FSA ID now at

Remember, you do need to complete a FASFA each year of college, although it's easier after the first time. There are some first-come, first-served aid programs, which is why you want to submit your FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible. Here's a link to a downloadable book, Filing the FAFSA, that you may find helpful, especially if this is your first time filing or if you have special circumstances.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Common Application Information

The Common Application is now used by over 770 colleges. While the application doesn't officially open until August 1, 2018 for the Class of 2019 to begin applying to colleges, students can enter demographic and other information now and roll over the account when it opens. This will give applicants a jump start into the upcoming season. Here's a brief video about the Common Application and the new features for this year:

By the way, the Common Application is still open for high school graduates who have not yet settled on a college for the fall. There are still hundreds of colleges looking to fill spaces for the fall of 2018!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Be Thoughtful About Timing of College Applications

Early Options in College Admission Decisions

While rising seniors will hopefully spend time this summer working on college admission essays, many should also spend time working on a college admission plan. There are several options available for students interested in applying to college early. The advantage to these early programs is that students will often have an admission decision by the end of December.

  • Early Decision (ED): For colleges offering ED, applications are usually due in early November, with a decision from the college by mid-December. Students may only apply to one college under ED, and if accepted, are bound to attend that college.

  • Early Decision 2 (EDII or ED2) is in place at some colleges to capture those students who didn't get into their ED schools (or who missed the ED deadline). There is often a quick turn-around between the time a student gets a "no" from their ED college and the deadline to apply to an EDII school. Just like ED, students must attend the EDII school if accepted.

  • Early Action (EA) has an early deadline like ED, but students can apply EA to multiple colleges. While applicants find out the college's decision early (usually by the end of December), the student has until May 1 to inform the college of their decision.

  • Early Action 2 (EAII or EA2 or Early Action Round 2) generally has a later application deadline than ED or EA. Students hear back from the college earlier, but have until May 1 to inform the college of their decision.

  • Restrictive Early Action (REA) or Single Choice Early Action offers all the benefits of EA, but applicants are not permitted to apply to other colleges early.

There are benefits to these programs, but it is important to "read the fine print" to make sure the pros and cons are carefully weighed before submitting an application early. As always, the most important part of applying to colleges is making sure that the school is a good fit.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Dreaded College Decision: You've Been Wait Listed

You've been sort of rejected for now, but maybe we'll accept you later...or we might reject you later...or you may never hear from us again….

Such is the world of college admission wait-lists. The NACAC 2017 State of College Admission Summary, reports for the Fall 2016 admission cycle, 39 percent of institutions reported using a wait list. Institutions accepted an average of 23 percent of all students who chose to remain on wait lists.

The takeaway is that students should understand that being wait listed is likely a “no”. Basically it’s a way to say, “We like you, and under different circumstances we would have said yes, but unfortunately we got so many applications this year that we are unable to admit everyone who would be successful at our college”

It stinks, but it's a tool colleges use to manage enrollment. Colleges are also reporting that they are accepting a decreasing number of students from their wait lists, and they typically wait until after May 1st to inform candidates of their decision. Most colleges do not rank or prioritize their wait-list, leaving students with no sense of their chances of eventually getting an acceptance from the school.

To check your college's wait list statistics, go to Big Future and type in a college name. Select “Applying” from the left column and look at Wait List Statistics at the top. 

Not very encouraging, is it? There are, however, some steps wait-listed students can take:
  • Keep emotions in check. Do not let anxiety or anger rule the day. Okay, you can crumple up the letter, kick the trash can, have a good cry, but then it's time to move on with some action steps. Remember, the college is simply managing its admissions. This is not a personal statement about your worth as a student or as a person.
  • Move ahead with the college search. Evaluate the schools that have offered admission, or continue applying to colleges that have a good probability of offering admission.
  • If you really believe the college that wait-listed you is your best option, send a letter reiterating your continued interest. You want to show that you are the type of student they want on campus. If you've had an improvement in grades, received a recent honor or published in a professional journal, send those as well.
  • Talk to your school counselor. They may be willing to contact the admissions office to convey your interest and to offer their support for your credentials. 
  • Don't stay trapped in limbo-land. Admission from a wait list is not in your control. Move ahead with other college decisions. You may ultimately attend the school that wait listed you, or you will head off to a college that said yes right away.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Want to Get to Know a College? Read their Campus Newspapers or Magazines

Tufts Collegiate magazine

Visiting a college is a great way to learn more about them, but online research can be a great way to discover the hot button issues on a campus. Recently I learned about one campus's "disgusting dorm" and what the students planned to do about it from their school paper. I also read about another college's plan to take away the "free laundry" benefit and the students' protests in favor of keeping it. Try to pick up a copy of the campus paper while on a tour, but most are available online. Here are a few popular college newspapers:

The Bucknellian (Bucknell University)
The Exponent (Purdue University)
The Lantern (Ohio State University)
The Daily Tar Heel (UNC Chapel Hill)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


 Yes, I know we are still in the season of winter, but students interested in more formal summer program opportunities will find application deadlines as early as March. Summer is a great time to explore some interests and learn some new skills. A summer program shouldn't feel like work, though. This should be a fun enriching experience and the great news is that there are options from one day to 10 weeks, from no fee to thousands of dollars,
from computer game design to building bridges in a far off land. If you can think of it, likely there's a summer experience for it!

When researching summer opportunities for your student, here are a few things to consider:

  • Is the program accredited?
  • How long has the program been running?
  • Who makes up the staff and faculty and how they are hired, screened and trained?
  • What is the student to faculty ratio?
  • What safety protocols are in place?
  • How are medical needs handled?

You are looking for a good fit opportunity, so seeing the facilities in advance, talking with previous campers and having clear expectations about what your student hopes to get out of the experience will go a long way in ensuring a successful and valuable outcome.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Common Application RollOver

Nearly 700 colleges accept the Common Application. Students can now rollover their Common Application information, which helps rising juniors and seniors plan ahead and save time later.

Here's a list of the sections that will roll over:

  • Profile 
  • Family 
  • Education 
  • Testing 
  • Activities 
  • Writing 

 Some things won't roll over though:

  • FERPA Release Authorization 
  • Recommender Invitations 
  • Forms submitted by recommenders 
  • Answers to college specific questions
When the Common App launches August 1, rising seniors and transfer students can log in using the same email and password to rollover their account. They can then complete the FERPA authorization, recommender invitations and specific college questions before double-checking and then submitting. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Talking to College Kids About Money

There have been some recent news articles warning parents that by paying their child's college costs the student may in-turn have a lower GPA. In an article submitted to the American Sociological Review, researcher Laura T. Hamilton considered what effect financial parental investments have on student GPA and degree completion. Her findings showed that if parents paid for colleges, grades tended to decrease.

Rather than focus on the "whys" of this finding, this is a great
opportunity to talk to your current or prospective college student about the financial investment of a higher education. If parents simply "write the checks", they are missing an important learning moment. Money is mostly invisible to today's generation that deals in gift cards, digital wallets and plastic. The realization that cash is our form of currency is truly an after-thought. Here are some tips for getting that financial conversation going:

  • be up front about the cost of tuition and room and board. Compare it to something tangible. For example, "The amount of money we will be paying for your first year of college is nearly equal to the cost of both of our cars. After we re-buy both the cars this year, we have to do it again three more times so you can graduate from college."
  • talk about what, and how much, you are willing to pay for this education. Be up-front about any costs they are expected to pay. For example, some students are responsible to cover the cost of textbooks. This is a great incentive for students to seek out bargains at places like CheggAmazon or
  • discuss the covert costs of college with your student so they are aware that tuition and room and board are only part of their education investment.
  • if your student will be responsible for paying back any loans, consider putting that in writing to give them the chance to sign a contract and to feel the obligations of that contract.
  • be clear about spending money. Are you giving your student an "allowance"? If so, are there any strings attached, such as "this money may not be used to take your girlfriend to a fancy restaurant"? If parents expect students to earn their own spending money, give them plenty of notice.
  • make sure your student is aware of the many credit card offers they are about to receive. Share your credit card statement with them to point out the box that shows how much you will pay if you only pay the minimum each month. College is expensive enough without racking up credit card debt.
  • besides credit card chats, engage in talks about budgeting and bank account fees.
Many high schools had courses on basic finances for students. Few schools offer them anymore (due in part to, well, finances) so it's up to parents to be the teacher. If you're not a good money manager, seek out someone who is, or consult a book like, The Complete Guide to Personal Finance for Teens and College Students by Tamsen Butler.

Learning about money is just another part of your child's education. Don't miss out on this chance.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

College Drop Out Rate

Many high school seniors are in the midst of making that all important decision, "Where am I sending my deposit check before May 1?"

As we work with students in this decision-making process over the next few weeks, it's disheartening to know that as many as one in three college freshmen don't return to school for their sophomore year.

Yup, nearly 33% of these excited college freshmen-to-be will drop out of college before their second year and nearly 50% of them won't finish college and get their degree...How can this be?

Students have lots of reasons. Dr. Robert Pitcher of the Educational Development Center at the University of Alabama offers ten reasons- ranging from poor high school preparation to selection of the wrong college to psychological problems (which includes homesickness and a difficulty fitting in).

Public Insight Network conducted a large study to try to figure out why students start a college degree, but don't finish it. Many former students say they went to college because it was expected of them, not because they wanted to go (maybe American students should embrace the idea of a gap year in the way that students in Europe do). Other former students cited an inability to afford college or a realization that what they wanted to do didn't require a college degree.

So, what's a parent to do?
  • Talk to your kids. Tell them the statistics of staying in school.
  • Balance your comments about college. Don't only talk about all the fun. Talk about the tough stuff too- the hard class work, the homesickness, the challenges of living with a bunch of people you don't know.
  • Make sure your students are aware of the support at college- resident assistants, resident directors, the counseling resources. Tell them that everyone at the college wants each student to find success and that many people are available to help as needed. Make sure they know that you are open to outside help if the student believes the college resources are unable to meet needs.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Don't minimize your student's feelings. Going to college is a time of transition and won't be a straight upward arc. There will be set-backs and some upset during the transition. Keep talking.

There are many safety nets in place for students as they begin college. Convincing students to use those nets may be the tougher battle.

Monday, March 20, 2017

When to Start College Planning

I recently read that parents spend 300+ hours helping their teens through the college admissions process. I suspect that number may be higher when you factor in the number of hours parents spend searching through resources trying to get answers to their questions. 

The admission process is quite fluid and frequently changes. No one heard the term "demonstrated interest" just a few years ago and now it is a mainstream phrase in the search and application process. Options such as gap year and a pre-college year are becoming more accepted now.  Planning testing schedules, organizing college visits and researching college majors can suck up a lot of time and energy. Since families generally cram all college planning into the spring of junior year through the fall of senior year, there isn't much time to spare. 

So what's a parent to do?

Start Early- The summer before junior year is the ideal time to plan out SAT or ACT testing. This
gives students time for prepping for the tests before school even begins. The early high school years are not too early to visit some colleges and talking about college should begin in the late middle school years to maximize summer program opportunities and plan out coursework.

Get Educated- I hear parents say all of the time, "I don't know what I don't know". It's true that college planning can feel overwhelming and it's difficult to know where to start. Talk to others who have gone through this recently with their own children. Talk to knowledgeable college counselors. Read reputable resource books and websites about college planning.

Don't Panic- We want our teens to enjoy their high school years and putting pressure on them may backfire in a host of ways. Identify your stressors about the process and create a plan. There is help available so don't hesitate to reach out to your high school college counselor or an independent college counselor for assistance.They can save you a great deal of time and stress so you can focus on enjoying your teenager and these fun months.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tools for Planning College Visits

Map of Colleges

Spring means college visit season for many students. Open houses, admissions sessions and student-led tours are great ways for high schoolers to get a feel for a campus. As you plan your visits, here are some tools for your "College Visit Toolbox":

  • Hedberg Map's Professor Pathfinder series or Wintergreen Orchard's spiral bound College Atlas and Planner offer printed maps for those who prefer to use a highlighter to map out their own route.
  • Many colleges offer their own mobile apps to enhance your visit. Check out each college website or call the admissions office to ask about apps. 
  • If you're undecided about whether to visit a particular college, try a virtual tour first. Sites like YOUniversity and GoSeeCampus offer an overview right from the comfort of your sofa. Check out a virtual tour before visiting a college to help you get "the lay of the land" before stepping foot on campus.
  • For people looking to let someone else do their college visit planning, full service companies such as Off2CollegeTours and CollegeCampusTrips will custom design an itinerary based on individual needs.
It's important to visit colleges before making the decision of where to apply. Seeing the lay-out of the campus in person, visiting the buildings and talking to students, staff and faculty are the best ways for students to determine if a particular college is a right-fit.

Have fun!

*My College Helper is not responsible for and has no control over the above listed sites and products and their mention should not be taken as a recommendation or endorsement.*

Friday, February 17, 2017

What to do at a College Fair

Attending college fairs can be a great way to check out a bunch of schools at one time. NACAC maintains a list of national college fairs.  You can find local college fairs through your high school guidance office or by searching online with "college fairs" followed by your zip code.

Walking into a gym filled with rows of tables can feel overwhelming though, so make sure you have a plan. Here's a three minute video that explains what you can expect at a college fair and here are a few tips so you can make the most of the event:

  • find out in advance which colleges will be attending. Target those colleges you want to know more about first, and then do a walk-through to learn about colleges that might not yet be on your radar screen.
  • Organize some questions in advance. You may want to ask the representative about the academic and social atmosphere, which types of students do best at the college and if any new programs are being added in the next few years.
  • Remember your manners. Shake hands, make eye contact, say please and thank you. This may be the very person who will hold your application in a few months. Don't make an unfavorable impression.
  • If you have continued interest in any of the colleges, follow up with a brief email to the admissions counselor you met.
    A simple "it was nice to meet you" and perhaps a follow-up question or two, will show your interest in the college.
Take advantage of college fairs as a way to jump-start your search or to narrow down your choices. This is time well invested in your search for a right-fit college.