Financial Advice for High School Graduates

Financial awareness is an area in which many recent high school graduates are not always sufficiently prepared. If this sounds like your child, please make sure to teach your children proper financial responsibilities before they head off to college. You’ll be glad you did!

The New York Times recently published an article that covers useful information on budgets, banking, credits card use, and mobile payments, in addition to many other things. If medical help is needed, does your child have a copy of their health card in their wallet? Also, make sure that your incoming college freshman knows their social security number by heart.

Lastly, sit down with your child and have an honest conversation about the cost of their college eduction. If they helped you fill out the FAFSA then they are already aware of the costs involved. If not, they are now ready to see the financial side of going to college and the corresponding debt that will undoubtedly begin to build up. One exercise that never fails to register with students is calculating how much it costs should they decide to skip a class in college.

College Apps Made Easy would like to congratulate all the high school seniors who will be graduating this month. Its a very exciting time for these students!

SAT's new Environmental Context Dashboard

The SAT will soon be adding the Environmental Context Dashboard to its test, a score which will reflect a student's socioeconomic background. College admissions officers are meant to use this information to further level the playing field in the admissions process. But will this extra information be helpful and give qualified underprivileged minority students a boost?? 

Let us know what you think. Join in the conversation and don't hesitate to tell College Apps Made Easy if you have any specific topic you would like us to cover.

Prepping for the College Application Process

The college application process has only just begun for high school juniors. While applying to college via the Common App has gotten easier there remain things that require serious thought in order to achieve maximum positive results. These include the creation of a well-balanced and realistic college list, identifying the best strategy for when and how to apply, and thinking of how to finance a college education without incurring a massive amount of student debt.

The foundation of every student’s college application process is their academic profile, which is made up of the transcript, GPA/class rank and SAT/ACT scores. Together these three pieces of information will dictate which schools will be on the college list. All too many college lists are either top heavy with reach schools or bottom heavy with safeties. The objective should be well-balanced list of reach, target and safety schools.

The admission rate of a school is crucial in determining whether it will be a reach, target or safety and it is not necessarily the same for each applicant. Some of the factors that can come into play include grades, class rank, rigor of the transcript, legacy, ethnicity, gender, and sadly - ability to pay. Even the reputation of the high school can influence admission. So yes, a student should have a few reach schools on their list, but the focus should be on schools where being admitted is realistic. This also holds true for those students at the top of their class because even with a stellar academic profile the Ivies should never be considered a safety school.

One’s ability to pay for college should always be part of the creation of a college list as well. A school could be a target or safety yet be among the most expensive to attend. As a rule state schools will be less expensive for in-state students, but don’t not apply to those out-of-state colleges either if they fit your criteria. Experience has shown that with the right qualifications these private out-of-state schools have offered financial aid packages that bring the final cost of tuition even with the state school. Therefore a good college list will include several financially safe schools.

Once the college list has been finalized then it’s time to decide how and when to apply. Today’s students can select from Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA), Priority, or Regular Decision (RD). Based on the college list, academic profile and determination, which makes the most sense? Several realities exist with each option: the first is that many colleges fill their incoming freshman classes with candidates from the Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) pools; secondly, qualified students are encouraged to apply Priority to state schools while there are more funds available for financial aid packages; and third, highly selective schools only offer Early Decision (ED), Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Regular Decision (RD) forcing students to choose. These early application options all have application due dates beginning as early as Oct 15th through to early December so work on those applications must start over the summer.

Note: Early Decision (ED) is not a good idea if you aren’t totally in love with the school. It’s binding and students aren’t able to compare financial aid packages. Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) in very similar to Early Decision as it does not allow an applicant to submit any other early applications, yet isn’t binding. It does, however, offer well qualified students a slight edge over applying RD. Think twice before being tempted to use your SCEA on a reach school as it might not be the best strategy.

Regular Decision has January or February due dates giving students more time to put together a strong competitive application, and if applying to a very selective school might be the only valid option. Ideally, it’s really nice to already have a few acceptances by December which is one of the reasons Early Action is so popular.

Regardless of which schools a student is applying to having a strategy in place will improve the odds of being admitted into their first choice schools. Once an application is submitted to a college the fate of the student is in the hands of the admissions officers, so why not take the time to select colleges and universities where the student’s academic profile, and personality, are a good fit ? This will increase the chances of admission and reduce the disappointments.

Advanced Placement (AP) & College Applications

The role of Advanced Placement (AP) classes in the college application process has evolved over the years. When first introduced in the early 1950s, the Advanced Placement Program offered students the ability to earn college credit while still in high school. Today, most high schools offer AP classes and they have become a 'must have' on a college applicant's transcript. Good grades in AP classes and a strong score on the exam show the student's willingness to challenge themselves academically, and a readiness for college level course work.

Colleges began exempting applicants with high AP scores from some of their pre-requisite core curriculum freshman classes, a practice that for high achieving students had the potential of resulting in eliminating entire semesters or more of classes from their college career, and lowering the overall cost of tuition. In theory this plan made sense, but in practice it was not easy to realize for many students.

While the curriculum of a high school AP class is taught during a full year, this same material is covered within the first few weeks of a college freshman year class at which point it goes into material unfamiliar to the student. Those able to proceed to the next class thanks to AP credits will miss out on the balance of this material and find themselves immediately behind in the sophomore level class. Granted some students can overcome this deficit, but the bulk will be overwhelmed, not do well and/or drop out.

Today, the practice of offering college credit for AP classes is slowly disappearing because colleges and universities are finding that the rapid growth of the AP program has in some cases resulted in AP classes not always being as rigorous as those taught in college, and students not as prepared as previously thought. Nevertheless, in today's competitive application environment AP classes are a 'must have' on a student's transcript, but how many and which classes is always the big question.

Nevertheless, if a high school offers AP classes then it is in the student's best interest to have taken at least some. The average student should take AP classes in the subject matters that they are naturally good in, whether it be the sciences or the humanities. While a B in an AP class is often seen more favorably than an A in an Honors class, overloading a student's course load purely to have across the board AP classes is rarely a good idea or successful. In other words, match the AP classes taken to the academic strengths and interests of the student. Having said that, the value of strong grades in Honors or High Honors classes must not be ignored or diminished.

Highly selective college and Ivy League schools expect their applicants to have taken several AP classes, and the corresponding exams, across almost all subject matters. As a guide, check College Board or the school's website for their recommended admission requirements. But, a transcript loaded with AP classes is by no means a guarantee of admission to any of these schools.

As with everything, there are pros and cons to AP classes. Each student must determine whether or not to take AP classes based on their own unique academic profile and goals. A new trend among selective high schools is to eliminate all AP classes in favor of courses that will encourage more 'critical thinking and analysis', a skill that is needed in order to be successful in college course work. But, till this is a fully accepted practice by all high schools, college applicants should strive to have a few AP classes on their transcript to be competitive in the college application process.