With admissions and financial aid priority deadlines rapidly approaching, I’m buried neck deep in paperwork. So I was pretty excited to see Corin Porter, SUNY Binghamton’s Florida Admissions Representative, on my calendar last week.

I’ve always enjoyed meeting and spending time with Admissions and Financial Aid representatives from colleges across the country. But this meeting was extra special.

For starters, it was in person! The fact that Mr. Porter was in town, once again making the rounds of the local college fairs is notable. Last year admissions travel was ground to a halt, with all admissions outreach completed online through virtual events. Though nearly every college and university still offers plenty of virtual options on their websites – virtual tours, virtual info sessions – sometimes there is just no substitute for human, face-to-face interactions. This is one of those times.

Aside from that, I couldn’t wait to discuss the many changes – peel back the curtain so to speak – on what’s happening in higher ed — since the last time I had met in person with the Admissions and Financial Aid team.

A lot has changed…. like, for example:

– Florida public universities notwithstanding, most colleges and universities continue to de-emphasize standardized test scores in their admissions practices. None of the SUNY schools require test scores from their applicants.

-Also, many smaller colleges and universities are doing away with legacy advantages (even among early decision applicants). Combined, these two trends are having quite an impact on ‘selectivity’ ratings in this way. The more applicants a school has, the lower it’s admit rate which is determined by dividing the number of applicants (which has gone up exponentially for most ‘test optional’ schools) by the number of applicants accepted (which has remained the same). It’s simple math – and while the lower the admit rate, the higher a school gets ranked, it does not really tell us anything about whether a school is ‘getting better.’ It does tell us that the whole process is getting more competitive – which means you have to become more strategic in your planning.

– Which brings me to another trend, one that we’ve been predicting, factoring in our counsel and writing about for years. That is this: the firewall that was once firmly installed between the Admissions office and the Financial aid is becoming increasingly porous. In many cases, the two offices are now fully integrated – with both positive and negative results for applicants. (You can read more of our analyses on this trend here).

But, as it relates to today, and on the plus side, there is this: many universities are adopting the practice of using ‘scholarship’ to offset the cost of attendance (to discount their ‘gross’ price to a more palatable and affordable net price adjusted for each student in a bespoke manner). SUNY Binghamton is one of those universities.

Note: Binghamton’s tuition for out of state students is under $25,000 – high when compared to the in-state Florida tuition (c. $6,300), but quite low when compared to other out of state universities (nearby Penn State is $36,000; Indiana University is $38,000). Furthermore, Binghamton considers all applicants for scholarship, so if you find yourself in the top 25% of their applicant pool in terms of GPA and test scores, you stand a good chance of earning a big discount off the cost of attendance. That, in a nut shell, is the upside of the marriage of financial aid (business) with admissions (academic) and it represents a huge opportunity for many middle income families.

So, what hasn’t changed in higher education?

Quite a few things:

1. Going to college – even one that seems too expensive on paper – can still be affordable. IF you choose the right schools for your child’s academic and professional aspirations AND your budget at the outset, then you will be able to execute a college plan that will provide your child with real opportunities of happiness, future success and financial freedom. How?

2. Well, that’s the other thing that hasn’t changed. Algorithms and technology aside, it is still people (just like Mr. Porter) who make admissions and financial aid determinations about other people (just like your child). And herein, lies the true secret to a successful admissions and funding plan.

Like most of his colleagues, Mr. Porter is young (more likely closer in age to the students than to you or me), full of positive energy, and he’s eager to meet and speak with students who are interested in his school. Tell your kids that he’s not scary – and – as we tell our students, ‘he’s an Admissions officer – NOT a denial officer. He wants to find students for his school – and he wants to help them get into and afford to stay there!’ His great preference is to speak with interested students, as opposed to fielding calls from parents of interested students. So if you are tempted to call an admissions office on behalf of your child, please resist for his or her benefit. Don’t be that parent.

Schools like SUNY Binghamton, with its location in upstate NY, admittedly may be a stretch for many of my readers, who may be based in South Florida. But the principles of strategic planning remain the same.

When it comes to selecting colleges, wherever you choose to apply, it’s important to have an integrated strategy – one that combines your admissions prospects with your family’s ability to pay the bill. If you need financial aid and/or scholarship to offset the high cost, then you need to consider a separate set of schools than the student whose family can afford the entire cost of attendance. You may not think that’s fair, but a successful admissions strategy must take this into account. If you get admitted to a number of schools that you cannot afford, then you need to be prepared to take on onerous debt to earn your diploma. This could have disastrous consequences for your future.

I’m obviously a strong proponent of higher education and the benefits of earning a college degree. Not only do the majority of jobs being created require training beyond what our high schools are offering, but college graduates also have higher earning potential over their lifetimes, and they are more likely to keep their jobs during a financial downturn. But there has to be value in the equation. There IS a proper college and/or post-high school program for everyone. You don’t need to take on burdensome student loan debt to earn a quality education, even at a private university or out of state school.

If you want to learn more about developing an integrated admissions strategy for your child – one that incorporates your admissions prospects with scholarship and your family’s ability to receive financial aid, then either reply to this email or give us a call, 954-659-1234. We’re here to help.

Oh, and, if you’re looking for a change of scenery, and you want a diverse academic experience with students from across the Northeast United States, then schools like Binghamton should be on your radar. With a strong liberal arts tradition, an excellent business school and an engineering program with a variety of different programs, SUNY Binghamton is worthy of consideration for students everywhere.

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