College Pete

{10 Days Left} Key College Application Deadlines Looming + Your Questions Answered

{10 Days Left} Key College Application Deadlines Looming + Your Questions Answered

We are in the peak of college application season, and I wanted to take a quick minute to remind you of three key early action deadlines coming up a week from Sunday, October 15 for FSU, UGA, and UNC.  In addition, many other schools have early deadlines of November 1 or November 15. And still other universities – like Alabama, for example, have open ‘rolling’ admissions and are already actively reading applications AND admitting qualified applicants.

In other equally critical news, the CSS Profile opened last week. This important financial aid application is the key to being awarded the vast majority of big time, 5-figure grants from most selective private, ‘expensive on paper’ schools like the Ivies, Duke, Stanford, UChicago, and others. I’m sure many readers have heard of The FAFSA  (the financial aid application required by all schools), but it is the more complex, invasive CSS Profile that is arguably more important to middle and upper middle class families looking for a real tuition discount.

And finally, at this time of year I receive several questions every day from parents and students who are uncertain about how the process works. Since the questions are often similar, I’ve offered responses to the more frequently asked ones.

Without further ado, here are my answers to your FAQs:

Should I apply Early Decision?
Early Decision (ED) is different than the Early Action (EA) mentioned in the intro of this blog post. The difference is that ED is binding, which means that if you are admitted to that school you are making a commitment to attend. Generally, early action has no such stipulations.

It’s important to note that you can only apply ED to one school and the deadline is usually November 1. Of course, if you’re deferred or denied (you should hear around mid-December) you can throw your effort behind ED2 (at a different school), which is also binding and usually has a January 1 deadline. A limited number of schools offer ED1 or ED2 – it’s not available everywhere. But the advantage is mostly twofold: 1. You typically have a better chance at admission since you are making a commitment to attend. Schools love to boost their yield, and with ED the yield is just about 100%. Some schools have an ED boost where the admission rate is double the rate than their overall pool. So there can be a significant admissions advantage; 2. You learn of the decision by Christmas for ED1 and by February 1 for ED2. It’s great to know where you’ll be attending before the Holidays.

Some things to consider with Early Decision: Are you (the student) 100% sure that this is your first choice school? This is an important consideration for students who may be somewhat fickle and not sure of where they want to spend the next 4 years. If you are not certain, then I would advise against Early Decision. Be sure to visit campus before making this ED commitment. Another consideration is the financial picture. With Early Decision you will not have the opportunity to compare financial aid awards. I tell parents that it’s critical to either know your Student Aid Index (SAI) before applying so that you know whether the award you receive is a fair award. Of course, if you are prepared to pay the entire cost of attendance then the financial question is irrelevant.

Should I apply for financial aid?
I usually advise all families to apply for aid regardless of income or net worth, because some schools want to see a FAFSA and CSS Profile before awarding merit scholarships. There is little harm in applying for aid, and your financial aid application should not impact the admissions process in any negative way. Some parents, especially those who are high earners or have a very high net worth, just don’t want to go through the trouble of completing the forms. and yes, it can be a hassle (the CSS Profile has 17 sections!). But I think it’s the smart thing to do, especially if your adjusted gross income is below $225,000. If you’re above that number you should still apply, you just have to manage your  expectations (depending on the school) regarding a tuition discount.  

Should I apply for scholarships?
I would never discourage any students from ever applying for private scholarships. Having said that, most of the big scholarship money rests with the colleges themselves as opposed to private entities who offer scholarship money via a contested process (read: contests). For example, a top applicant to UM or Northeastern can expect a $20,000 renewable merit scholarship in addition to other possible aid. That’s $80K over a 4-year period! That same student would have to scramble to apply to hundreds of small scholarships to secure a similar amount, and they may not be renewable. I tell students at this time of year to prioritize their applications and essays; they can work on scholarships next month, once they have met their Early Action deadlines. Check out www.GoingMerry.com for a good collection of private scholarships. Note I do encourage most, if not all, of my students to apply in time to meet a school’s EA deadline (if one exists)

Should I submit my SAT/ACT scores?
With so many schools now test optional, it’s possible to submit your application without including your test scores. Many more schools adopted test-optional admissions during Covid, and they have continued this policy for the time being (I expect more schools to go back to requiring test scores in the years ahead). When deciding whether to send your scores, you should know the mid range score for that particular school. If your scores fall within the range or above, consider sending your scores. If you are below the range, then I would usually advise against sending scores. Some colleges, like the Florida public schools, Georgetown and MIT all require test scores. You’ll want to check with each school to learn their requirements for reporting scores. Some colleges want official score reports from the College Board or ACT, while many other schools allow you to self-report your scores at their application status portal.

Can you help me?
Yes, I get this question a lot, especially this time of year. If you are a 12th grader looking for guidance on the application process and essays, unfortunately it’s too late for us to help you. If you’re a 12th grade parent looking for help with the financial aid process, then we can still definitely help. But, if you’re a 10th or 11th family, now is the optimal time for us to connect and get started. Don’t be one of those 12th grade families who waited and delayed getting help, thinking you could do this on your own. There is so much planning that goes into college admissions and financial aid, so an early start is definitely better. 

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