This is a message for all the bright and talented students (and the frantic parents who love them) who are lying awake at night worried about a C+ in 9th grade Biology honors  or a less than stellar SAT outing or some other perceived ‘blemish’ that will keep them from getting into a competitive college.

While roughly 2 million students apply to college every year, there are north of 3,500 institutions of higher learning.  Sure you’ve heard of a lot of them – some largely for the work their football team does on Saturday.  But there are many other terrific options, which may be lesser known (to you) now, but are real gems. And I’m not talking about 2-year colleges.  I’m referring to some very competitive schools with stellar programs, but perhaps smaller football players… and marketing budgets. And some of these are literally looking for ways to make it easier for you to find them, for them to accept you and help you pay for it.

Take Goucher College, for example.  It’s a small suburban school with great fine and performing arts programs, located on a beautiful wooded campus, close to DC and just outside of Baltimore, MD.   Jill and I visited there about 5 years ago and were impressed – both with a forward-thinking administration/student population and with the generous discounting practices.   This year Goucher College became the first college in the nation to offer applicants the option of submitting a straight-forward (their words), two minute video selfie in lieu of a traditional application/transcript.  Said their President on announcing the initiative: ‘At Goucher, we believe that students are more than the numbers and other data on their academic records…’

They are not alone.  Many colleges today recognize that a student’s true essence (and potential) cannot be captured by a four-hour exam or even a forty minute class.  Colleges are looking for passionate students who will contribute to their campus life.  Bard College in NY (which gives about 2/3 of its students some form of institutional aid) began offering applicants the option of forgoing the traditional application and instead submitting 4 – 2,500 word essays chosen from 20 scholarly questions such as this one:

  • “Using the text of The Constitution of the United States and arguments written in support of the ratification contained in the Federalist Papers, discuss how, if, and why the Constitution remains an effective tool for governing the United States of America. Do you perceive a conflict between the original historical context and the realities of contemporary political life?”

Not an easy task by any stretch, but certainly a good option for a scholarly-minded student with a less than scholarly high school transcript.  It happens.  So does this:  students will get great grades in rigorous courses, but won’t test well on Standardized Tests.   And if this describes your student, there are LOADS of options and a real and growing movement, as in nearly 1,000 schools that de-emphasize standardized tests in their admissions process.  And that list is growing.  Some of the universities on this list are considered quite prominent nationally.  And many are among my favorites:

American University (where Jill got her MBA), Smith College (where my mom went), Union College, Rollins, Marist, Muhlenberg, NYU, Wake Forest, Bates, Bowdoin, Connecticut College…

Note that many of these schools offer institutional financial incentives (five-figure merit scholarships) for desirable students — and many of those are awarded to students who choose to submit test scores that do exceed the school’s average. If you’re a great test taker, these could be some of your best Admissions and FINANCIAL options.   For more information about colleges with ‘test optional’ policies or to view a full list of test optional schools, check out the  National Center for Fair and Open Testing.  

Bottom line is this:  to get into a good college with a good discount to boot, you don’t have to be good at everything!  You have to know what you are good at, how to demonstrate that… and most importantly where (as in which schools) will appreciate and reward you for it!   If you’ve been a long-time reader, you’re familiar with this message – I’ve been shouting it for years.  Good news is that I’m starting to see it echoed in the main stream.  Case in point – this article in the NY Times – which talks at length about how the right Admissions strategy is often the best Financial Strategy for families who haven’t saved enough for college (which is 97% of us, by the way).

Paying less for college often starts by having the right Admissions strategy — just as you (or your student) will evaluate schools by where s/he will be a good fit academically, socially and career-wise, so too should you evaluate whether s/he will be a good fit financially.   And that does not mean reflexively ruling out schools that don’t have ‘brand names’ or with higher sticker prices.  Remember, private colleges with small marketing budgets but strong endowments (and sometimes unconventional admissions options) often offer generous merit and need based scholarships that can render the cost equal to that of a seemingly ‘less expensive’ public option.  By having an open mind and arming yourself with accurate information well before your student gets ready to submit their first application (or even finalize their list), you may find that you will have far more options and far LESS stress than you thought.   My recommendation:   Get educated about how college works today and you’re far more likely to get a good night’s sleep tonight.

Best,
Peter

P.S. To get more information on how the college admissions and financial aid processes intersect, attend one of my workshops.  They’re free and open to the public.  Click here to register.

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