These are the 5 ‘Must Do’s’ for All College Bound Teens (and the Parents Who Love Them)

May 25th, 2023 by

Last night I had the privilege of attending commencement ceremonies for the Xceed Preparatory Class of 2023! And I’m not gonna lie, I got a little emotional. You see, we’ve been advising Xceed families since the school’s inception 6 years ago and we were so thrilled to celebrate with the students, to help shine a light on their varied talents…and to showcase their many successes. This Xceed class was the largest one yet with 39 graduates honored. Congratulations to Xceed seniors and to all seniors who are reaching this milestone!

At YCC specifically, it is long-term relationships (like these) that we forge with all of our college-bound families that is our greatest source of pride. If you think about it, you get it: we’re working with people’s most precious ‘assets’, their children, and their money (hopefully in that order)…and we’re tasked with helping guide the former into adulthood while protecting the latter. It is a tremendous responsibility, one we take very seriously.

So candidly, I feel blessed to be invited to witness graduations like last night’s and to be entrusted by so many for so long — most of our families are with us for years. It’s not uncommon for us to advise a family all the way through their oldest child’s entire college experience, and to then work with multiple younger siblings, cousins and even nieces/nephews. And yet, as every parent knows, no two children — even those with the exact same genetics — are alike. Thus no two college plans are alike.

And though this is indisputable, there is, however, one common denominator to all of our students successes. Preparation. Actually, advanced preparation.

Which brings me to today’s point (admit it, you were beginning to wonder if I had one?)! We have a saying in our firm:

In order to…GET AHEAD, it helps to GET A HEAD START.

Even as we process what we learned in the last admissions cycle, we’re already starting to prepare our next class.

Hey 11th graders: (and the parents who love them), time to get serious about applying to college.

Actually if you have a child in high school – of any year – you should probably pay attention. You’re likely already receiving a fair share of college-related ‘literature’.  And by the end of 11th grade, it’s easy it is for you/your child to become overwhelmed by this constant barrage of information and misinformation from every source imaginable about the college application process. So if you think it’s a nuisance now, once your student begins 12th grade, it can get a whole lot worse. 

But it doesn’t have to be. Applying to college can be systemized, stress-free, efficient, even ‘enjoyable’… and… gaining admission to school that you’ll love and paying a reasonable price you can afford without dipping into your life savings or taking on onerous student loan debt is achievable! That is…if you start early, get good advice and act upon it.

The most widely accepted college application, The Common Application, officially goes live on August 1st, BUT you can actually create an account now and begin filling out the basics. Which is a very good idea. You can also get a preview of the essay prompts and begin putting together a resume outlining your extra-curricular activities, awards and honors, community service and volunteer activities, etc., as this info will need to be entered on the application. 

Here are some other college-related activities you should be considering this summer:

  • Building (if you’re in 9th/10th grade) and/or Finalizing (if you’re in 11th)  Your College List – Though many students reflexively apply to as many as 20 schools, an ideal list is perhaps half that size and is a focused one that includes a balance of reach, target, and safety schools.
  • Visiting Colleges – While summer is not always the optimal time to see colleges at their most vibrant, it is convenient for families.  Not surprisingly, colleges expect many visitors during summer months, so there will be frequent tours and info sessions. Visiting is the best way to express interest in a college, which can sometimes help in securing an offer of admission.
  • Preparing for Fall Standardized Tests – We recommend that all students take the SAT or ACT before the end of 11th grade. The Fall dates (September – November) represent the last opportunity for many students to secure the score they want for the EA/ED deadlines. Summer is a great time to prepare for these exams.  Get yourself a tutor or private class (call us for a recommendation).
  •  Putting your finances in order – Make sure that you look up the priority financial aid filing deadlines for every school on your child’s list. You will definitely want to complete everything ahead of those deadlines. To that point, make sure you complete any financial planning or strategic changes now, or well in advance of the end of the year. In this regard, 10th grade parents, you are already half-way into what is called your ‘first base income year’ year – the tax return year that will be utilized by the government and the colleges to determine how much you may warrant in need-based grants and scholarships. Also, don’t forget that there are some big changes coming to the world of financial aid this fall (click here to see my review of these changes and how it could affect your family).
  • For 11th graders, specifically! This is a true game changer: Registering for our College Application Boot Camp (First class is June 15) – This 6 week live-taught program is exclusively for rising 12th grade students (parents are invited to the orientation on June 15). The best part is that by the end of the class, ALL enrolled students will have a completed college application, including a fine-tuned college list, a well written/edited Common APP essay, application resume and activities list. Guaranteed!  NOTE: This is the 17th year we are offering this class and we guarantee a seat for our Platinum and Gold clients. We deliberately keep class size low so that each student receives the kind of individual guidance to ensure their success. We are reaching our capacity, so claim your spot here. Our Early Bird savings will expire on Monday, May 29, so we urge you to take action today!

Finally, on behalf of our firm, on this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who have lost their lives in service to our country and extend our gratitude to all those who have and continue to serve. And to all, we wish you  a safe and enjoyable start to the summer season.

Our offices are open all summer and we are here to answer any college planning related question you may have.

Huge Changes in Financial Aid Rules- What Every Family Needs To Know!

May 8th, 2023 by

In 17 years of helping students and parents navigate the college admissions and financial aid landscape, I have personally prepared and submitted around 4,000 financial aid applications. During that time, there have been a few, relatively minor tweaks to the main financial aid application – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Well that’s about to change.

What we are about to see with the next admissions cycle (2023-24) and, in particular, the changes to the Title IV financial aid rules, represent the most significant change to higher ed access in years. Parents of current 11th graders and younger students should pay close attention.

A few years ago (December 2020) Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, a piece of legislation that was long in the works and was attached to a Covid relief bill. The new rules incorporated in that law are scheduled to take effect in the Fall 2023, impacting the academic year 2024-25. Like most legislation, if you know the loopholes and the landmines inherent in the rules, you can greatly benefit. If you don’t, there is a much greater risk you’ll needlessly suffer. Below are some highlights – including our researched analysis of its likely impacts.

1. The FAFSA will be simplified (hence the name of the law), with questions reduced from 108 to 36. This is very good, and it should make it easier for families at all income levels to apply for aid and not be deterred by a complicated application. On the other hand, with fewer data points to feed the algorithm, it becomes even more critical that your application is completed/submitted sans any mistakes – particularly in the interpretation of what information is being requested (i.e., never ever identify a 529 or Prepaid plan as your child’s asset AND you don’t value your business in the same manner as you would on an IRS document or on a loan application).

2. Pell Grants should be available to more families. This is also good, making college more affordable to low-income families. Separate from the legislation, the maximum Pell Grant is likely to increase, benefitting the most needy families. That said, it’s important to remember that while Pell Grants offer the largest aggregate of grant dollars available, they are distributed in relatively small increments (currently the max Pell Grant is around $7,395) and are only available to lower income families (generally, AGI less than $60,000). Many of our readers and the families we work with will be unaffected by this change as they enjoy the largest discounts — as in sizable five figure scholarships –  in the form of Institutional (not Federal) grants. At the ‘right’ schools, these are available to families with considerably higher incomes – even to those whose AGIs are greater than $200k.

3. The definition of “untaxed income” is changing, with the most common types no longer reported on FAFSA. Untaxed income is a traditional killer when it comes to financial aid, as these amounts are added back to a family’s income when calculating what the family can pay. Examples include 401K contributions and child support. While some untaxed income will still be reported, the definition is changing which will benefit many families, particularly those where child support is a primary source of income.

4. Colleges must be more transparent when disclosing their costs. Many families are confused by the published information about how much a school actually charges. Some colleges have been traditionally (and intentionally?) opaque when it comes to sharing their cost of attendance. Starting next fall, colleges must adhere to federal guidelines when disclosing how much they charge. It remains to be seen how well this new regulation will simplify the cost structure but I will stay optimistic for now.

5. For divorced or split households, the definition of a “custodial parent” is changing. This new rule may impact which parent is required to disclose financial information on the FAFSA, which in turn could negatively impact how much financial aid a student will receive.  Prior to this change the FAFSA only required the financial data of the household where the child resided 51% of their time. The new law defines the custodial parent as the one who provides the most financial support. This definition may be subject to interpretation.

6. The new FAFSA formula no longer considers the number of students in the family who are enrolled in college. This is perhaps the most significant, most problematic and possibly the most devastating change, especially for middle and higher income families with multiple children attending college at the same time. Under the current rules, when families report income and assets to determine what they can pay, the federal formula divides that amount by the number of students who will be enrolled. For example, let’s say your family’s AGI is $150k and the FAFSA determines that you have an Expected Family Contribution of $40k. If you have two students enrolled in college then each contribution would be $20k, which makes sense. But that rule is going away, and you would be expected to pay $40k for each child. So, on the face, this change seems devastating… BUT… and it’s a big BUT… the CSS Profile (the Institutional financial aid application) is NOT changing this rule — and according to my sources, colleges who use the CSS Profile to determine institutional aid have no intention to follow the FAFSAs lead on this matter. Equally important, it is the CSS Profile (a very complex and intrusive financial aid form with about 250+ questions) and the colleges/universities that require it, that offer the highest amount of scholarship and grants! CSS Profile schools are also the most generous schools. So, net net when you apply to the right (as in generous) colleges, your opportunity to reduce the cost of your child’s education increases significantly.

And, the average ‘discount rate’ has reached an all time high of 56%, so don’t let these changes deter you. So, while sticker prices are rising and financial aid rules are making it more challenging for some families, the schools themselves (especially private ones) are still finding ways to offer significant discounts which allow middle class families more opportunities to afford what appear to be very expensive universities.

In fact, over the past 17 years, our students have received approximately $33,500 per student per year in institutional, federal and state grants. So, while there is most certainly going to be disruption in the financial aid system this coming year, it need not be a negative experience for your family. Financial aid is somewhat of a high stakes game in that when you know the rules – of both Title IV finance regulations AND college admissions, you know how to work those rules to your family’s advantage. When you don’t, you do risk missing out on opportunities and needlessly leaving thousands of scholarship dollars on the table.

For parents with current 11th grade students, we will be discussing these changes and exactly what you/your child can do to take full advantage of them during our summer application bootcamp. Specifically, we will be incorporating the changes and how it should impact your child’s college list during our Parent Orientation which will take place on June 15. As this program is guaranteed to all of our Platinum and Gold families we have limited seats still available. You can click here to see our syllabus and to ensure your child can participate.

As always, please call my office (954-659-1234) or send me an email if you have any questions about the new Financial Aid regulations or any other college planning question or concern.

Record Setting LOW Admit Rates – What you need to know about your child’s admissions chances

May 1st, 2023 by

Today is ‘Decision Day’ for our college-bound high school seniors  (and the parents who love them). May 1 is the day that the deposits are due, and let’s just say it can be an equal parts anxiety-inducing and euphoric day. Mostly euphoric we hope, but the day can be anxiety-inducing for many because this year has been yet another record-setting year for low acceptance rates among the ‘top’ (read: popular) colleges. More schools than ever are reporting single-digit admit rates – schools you may have not considered ‘selective’ even 5 years ago. NYU, for example, is reporting that they received more than 120,000 applications – and accepted only about 8% of those. UPenn also claimed a record number of applications – 59,000. As did Dartmouth with nearly 29,000 applications. Duke had over 44,000 applications and accepted only 4.8% of them. Fueling this madness are the usual suspects: unrelenting marketing by colleges with a healthy assist from a number of ‘nonprofit’ educational services (like The College Board, to name one). There’s also more and easier ways to apply to multiple schools than ever before. And then there is the sad truth that there’s an appalling lack of access to college guidance (national average is 502:1, as in 502 12th graders to every college counselor).

The result? We see a growing number of high school students (and the parents who love them) who are finding themselves adrift, reflexively applying to dozens of colleges regardless of fit, spreading themselves thin and failing to do the ONE THING that can actually move the needle on this whole process.

Though there will always be a lot of uncertainty inherent in College Admissions, the fact remains that ultimately, the decisions are still made by people. We’ve been saying this for over a decade. In that time, technology has advanced, applications have changed, tests have been overhauled…and yet, there remains one constant in the Admissions and Scholarship Process.  It’s that with the right strategy – and more importantly – with the right execution of that strategy, your child can positively influence the outcome.

From an admissions standpoint, please understand that nearly all colleges will be rejecting legions of qualified applicants – MANY of whom would have been admitted just a few years back.  

In fact, back when most of today’s parents were applying to college, it was rare for a school (even the Ivies) to accept fewer than 20% of its applicants. Today, there are many schools with single digit admit rates!  And they are all ‘proudly’ setting (and celebrating) new record low acceptance rates. And many, many more will admit between 10 and 20% of applicants, including schools you might not expect.

This is happening despite the fact that overall college enrollment reached its peak in 2011.

This news shouldn’t surprise any of our clients or our readers– we’ve been reporting on and preparing our students for these type of long odds for 17 years.

One irony is that while college admissions has become increasingly competitive, the tuition discount rate (the amount of institutional grant and scholarships offered to admitted students) has reached a record high of 56%, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). Yes, that means that we expect most of our students to pay LESS than half of the published price for their college education (which can equate to literally tens of thousands of dollars).

These types of outcomes and opportunities do not happen without a proactive and strategic effort. For years, we’ve emphasized the importance of niche positioning when it comes to standing out in a crowded Admissions and funding process. That’s because despite the mania, the college process remains a very ‘personal’ one, managed by real people who are moved by emotion and subtleties that are not reflected in scores, GPA or class rank.  What separates two seemingly identical students on paper are intangibles – what we call an ‘X’ Factor.

In our practice, we develop an individualized and targeted Admissions strategy for each of our families. During high school this allows the student to shut out the noise and work on their plan…and when the time comes, they resist the pressure to defensively submit applications to ‘cover their bases’ and instead focus on building their case before a list of 8-10 schools that we know will consider their value (be it academically, socially or even geographically) and be capable of meeting the entire family’s needs.

The truth is that while there is now more information available than ever – including various school rankings, net cost calculators, ROI estimates, etc.,  the process is becoming more daunting and confusing than ever. This need not be the case for you and your students. There are 4000 universities and many right options for each child and budget. The goal is to identify those that meet your family’s needs and implement a strategy well before your child hits submit on their first application.

In just over a month, we’ll begin our summer Application Bootcamp for rising 12th graders (current 11th graders). In that 6-week program we will be working with each student to fine-tune their college lists and admissions strategy, create a killer college application and write a unique essay that will ensure that their application gets the attention it deserves. Every single student who participates is guaranteed a submit-ready college application prior to the beginning of 12th grade.

This is the 17th year we’ve offered this program and past students who have participated have been able to receive their first ‘yes’s’ early in the Fall. You can click here to see our 6-week syllabus and/or to register your 11th grader. Note – this class is guaranteed for our Platinum and Gold clients and it does fill up – we usually have a wait-list so if you’re interested, reserve your student’s place today. 


P.S. One way you can judge the results of our program is by the number of options our students get to choose among. So with our heartfelt congratulations to our seniors and their families, here is a sampling of the places our students are heading next fall.

Babson College  Brandeis University  College of Charleston  Cornell University
Dartmouth College Elon University  Embry Riddle  Emerson College
Florida Atlantic – Wilkes Honors College  Florida Institute of Technology
Florida International University  Florida Polytechnic  Florida Southern
Florida State University  Georgia Tech  Indiana University  Marist  McGill University
New York University  North Carolina State  Notre Dame  Nova Southeastern University
Ohio State  Penn State  Purdue University  Reed College  Skidmore College
Southern Methodist University  Texas A&M  University of Central Florida  University of Florida  University of Illinois  University of Maryland  University of Miami  University of Michigan  University of Pennsylvania  University of South Florida  Virginia Tech  Wellesley College

A New College Rankings System – And How to Build Your Optimal College List

April 13th, 2023 by

Faced with what The Wall Street Journal once called a ‘mind-numbingly complex’ process of evaluating 4000 universities and determining which are the ‘best’, families often turn to independently produced and widely-touted but rather dubious indices and rankings systems (yes, US News, I’m talking ’bout you).

I have so many students who, when they’re first building or paring down their college lists (which we’re doing right now with our sophomores and juniors), will point to the rankings and say that they’ll only consider the top schools, which presumably are the ‘best schools’.

My response is often: Rather than consider what’s ‘best’, let’s look at what’s ‘best for you.’

Let’s start, for example, with identifying schools that offer academic programs, or majors, you’re interested in pursuing. My alma mater, Tufts University, is currently ranked #32 by US News, but you can’t take a single business class there. Is that a better choice for a DECA kid who is keen on studying business than #41 Boston University? or even #44 Case Western Reserve University? Probably not.

Now I’m not against using data to inform your college planning decisions. Data can be very useful. It’s just that ‘rankings’ are just a starting point. They are not an absolute.

As a whole, the rankings like those in US News do offer a singe place where data on schools is collected. And when that data is deconstructed, students can learn some interesting things about the schools they’re researching. But, when rankings are used as whole-scale evidence that the 15th ranked school, Washington University of St. Louis, for example, is ‘better’ than the 25th ranked school, New York University, there are real problems. There is nothing geographical, cultural or academic that makes it possible to really compare these two universities and assign a generic ranking that determines whether one is better for your child than the other. Fit matters – academic, social and financial!

In an effort to address these issues (and, let’s face it, to compete with the aforementioned rival media outlet, US News), the NY Times recently introduced a ‘Build-Your-Own’ rankings tool with 900 colleges and universities in its database. It’s an interesting endeavor with an appealing premise — and you can try it here. My concern is that any ranking system based on an individual student’s preferences is actually far messier — and thus less reliable — in execution than it is in its intent. That’s because many of the data points utilized to feed the algorithms include factors like post grad earnings of former financial aid recipients and racial diversity. These are measurable considerations but not exactly quantitative in that they are subject to the human interpretation of the people feeding the system. Like most any data, rankings data might be ‘numerical’, but not exactly objective.

So, how do you build a ‘perfect list’ of colleges? First, be mindful that there is no optimal list that applies to all. There is, however, an optimal process by which to build that list. And that process starts with each individual student identifying preferences (academic interests, high school performance, career aspirations, campus lifestyle, location and locale, student organizations, average class size, etc.), while taking into consideration the family’s ability to pay (budget, expected family contribution, financial aid generosity, availability of merit scholarships, etc.). Then it moves to looking at the schools that can meet those criteria.

The list-building process should be initially inclusive (think 40 schools to be researched in 10th/11th grade). And then a good college list is one that is ultimately focused, intentional and strategic (think 12 max by the summer before 12th grade).

Remember to consider the financial realities and make sure you understand your family’s Expected Contribution and your particular talents/achievements so that you can anticipate the level of discount you’ll receive from each school you’re considering (We utilize software that can accurately project this in advance). Nothing is worse than including schools on your list that you categorically won’t or can’t attend. And finally, recognize that a large majority of any applicant pool will meet the school’s requirements – this is competitive – so make sure you build a list with a mixture of reach, target and likely schools from an admissions and financial basis.

As we move into the final stretch of this academic year, we begin to focus in earnest on making sure our 11th graders are positioned to submit their applications BEFORE they get mired in the academic crush and pressure of 12th grade. This includes making sure that each student has the right colleges on their list!

If you’re an 11th grader (or a parent who loves one), there are steps you can be taking now to ensure that the entire application process goes smoothly – without the needless stress that comes with doing things late or without the proper guidance. We like to say, to get ahead it’s good to get a head start!

And with that in mind, we’re opening our early bird registration for our 17th Annual Summer College Admissions Bootcamp. This is a 6-week program with live instruction and one-on-one office hours. We guarantee that every attendee will have a submit-ready college application (including a stand-out essay and activities list) BEFORE the start of the next school year.

You can review the syllabus here – and if interested, register your child today. Please keep in mind that this program is guaranteed to all of our Gold/Platinum clients at no additional charge and has sold out to the public every year. We often have a waitlist of students, so be sure to register your rising 12th grader and avoid being on the outside wishing your child enjoyed the necessary support. We hope to see your soon-to-be rising 12th grader in our class!

Again, check our our syllabus by clicking here – and feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions about this program – or any other component of the college planning process. I know it may appear daunting right now, but I promise that with the right support, it need not be!!

Secrets to a Successful Financial Aid Appeal

March 29th, 2023 by

Here’s a little something that many of our newer readers are surprised (in a good way) to learn. Unlike typical admissions decisions, the financial aid offers that accompany your admissions letters are far less final. With financial aid, you have more room to maneuver, to appeal, even (gasp!) to negotiate a stingy offer than you do an unfavorable admissions decision. Notice the language difference: admissions decisions, and financial aid offers.

The latter can be countered, as in you can make a counter-offer, request to ‘be reconsidered’, or appeal for more money. And here’s the best part. Quite often, when done so correctly – you’ll get more. Sometimes quite a lot more.

So, should you be appealing your financial aid offer?
Well, that depends (which I know is annoying, but it’s also true). Actually there are many good reasons to appeal a financial aid offer, but first and foremost, you have to determine if the offer you have received is fair (as in, is it consistent with both the school’s stated financial aid policy and it’s historical practice).

The first thing I do when presented with an award letter is calculate how much the student deserves to receive. This way I have a benchmark to compare the award with, instead of merely crying “it’s not fair!” 

How do you calculate a “fair” award?  By applying the financial aid formulas and researching what percentage of financial need the college meets.

The financial aid formula is:
Cost of Attendance – Estimated Family Contribution = Need.

Cost Of Attendance means how much it takes to send your child to school for one year – tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, travel expenses, insurance, and so forth.

Estimated Family Contribution is an amount that the government determines that you can afford to pay each year.  It’s derived from filling out the FAFSA and in some cases, the CSS Profile. 

(Most families are unhappy with their EFC because government formulas often have little relevance to a specific family’s financial circumstances.  For example, a family of 4 with an adjusted gross income of $150,000 and one student in college will have an EFC of about $30,000, or approximately 1/5 of their income.  There are ways to reduce your EFC, but that takes advanced planning of a year or two.  So the best time to start is when your student is in 10th grade or earlier).

So if Cost of Attendance is $80,000, EFC is $30,000 you will show financial need of $50,000. (COA-EFC = Need).

The next step is to research how much need the college says they’ll meet and how much they have historically met.  All schools discount to some extent. Perhaps your child’s dream school is a generous one, and meets 90% – in this case $45,000, leaving only $5,000 unmet.

I realize your eyes could be glazing over right now, so I’ll stop with the calculations.

But if you’re still following, we just figured out that a fair award is $45,000. If you receive that amount or more, I would not bother appealing, but it depends on the allocation (grants vs. loans and work study). If you receive less than $45,000, I would question the award and consider an appeal.

Now, all of the above assumes that the financial aid applications the family submitted did not contain any errors that may have inadvertently inflated the family’s expected contribution. Many applications do contain such errors, and these can be costly. But they can also be addressed, explained, and/or appealed.

Perhaps, for example, upon review, we realize that you have accidentally inflated the value of your small business by using an IRS standard as opposed to the Dept. of Ed. formulas. Or perhaps, you included the value of the 529 your parents’ purchased for their grandchild or worse, you misclassified this asset as a student asset (note: student asset are more heavily penalized in both the federal and institutional financial aid methodologies). In those cases, we submit corrected applications along with an explanation for the changes. I’ve seen cases were retirement accounts or home values are included in assets, and this, too, can be unnecessarily costly.

We’ll also appeal on behalf of families who may have experienced a change in life or financial circumstances that is not reflected on the financial aid applications (note that the financial aid applications are using data from January of your high school child’s sophomore year to December of their junior year — and things do change). We’ll request reconsideration for an award if the family has experienced a job change, a medical issue that results in high expense or time away from work (lost wages), a natural disaster, or some other event that has a significant financial impact.

The best way to appeal is to write a letter to the financial aid office and copy the admissions person who signed your child’s acceptance letter. Admissions has a vested interest in having your child say ‘yes,’ so keep them in the loop. Some schools have institutionalized the appeal process, with websites explaining their process and specific forms to complete. You’ll want to follow their rules and procedures, or you’re simply wasting your time.

Make sure that you are both thankful and positive in the letter – tell them how much you appreciate their original offer (even as you are about to ask for more!).  Describe how eager your child is to attend this prestigious school.  Then mention that, as it stands, what they have offered is not enough for your son or daughter to be able to attend. If you can demonstrate that you were under-awarded, do so here.

If you have background about your finances or other relevant information that did not show up on the initial financial aid forms, this is the time to explain it.  And don’t be afraid to use emotion to paint a vivid picture for the financial aid officer, who, for the most part, tends to be an actual human being with feelings! 

If you were laid off, describe not only the financial impact but also the pain and suffering that you experienced. If you’re self-employed and your business suffered a downturn, this letter is the place to demonstrate it and make the reader feel that they’re right there with you.

Before you ‘appeal’, you should probably wait until you have received all of your ‘offers’. That way, if you received a more compelling award from a competing university, you can mention it!  Sometimes (not always), you can use it to play one school off the other, particularly if you can honestly say something along the lines of “Your fine college is Charlie’s first choice, but he received $12,000 more in grants from Faber College. If you can come close to matching Faber, he’s coming to your school!”

One cautionary note – don’t bluff!  You’d better be able to prove that you were offered a better award package elsewhere, because you may be requested to produce it.  And finally, make sure you call it an “appeal.”  Never use the word “negotiate” – the theory (still unproven) is that financial aid officers think that word is too transactional so to be safe, stick to the more academic ‘appeal’.

If you’re the parent of a 12th grader who is currently reviewing your financial aid offers and would like more in depth information, check out this podcast Carla and I recorded a couple of years ago. If you still have questions, you can send me an email and perhaps we can improve your offer.

As always, thank you for following our content and allowing us to help support students and their success!


How March Madness Can Lead to Real Money in April

March 8th, 2023 by

March Madness is around the corner, and with it comes my 15th annual University Generosity Bracketology. So I’m going to get right to the point.

Some colleges are generous.
Some colleges have strong basketball programs…

…and some colleges are both generous AND have strong basketball programs.

Why does all of this matter? There are two reasons – one is critically important, and the other is, well, trivial but fun.

In my 15+ years of guiding high school administrators, students and families, the issue of affordability is often central to the conversation around assembling a list of colleges. It’s no secret that the cost of attendance (COA) at both private and public universities has been on the rise. Back in 2007, when I began advising families, the average COA at a private university was (only) about $56,000 per year; that number is closer to $80,000 today and still on the rise. I just spoke with a family whose daughter was admitted to NYU. Their COA at the Tisch School is a whopping $93,132 per year! However, most families we work with will pay far less than the COA.

Remarkably, the COA at state universities, especially here in Florida, has only increased slightly to about $23,000 annually. State costs have risen steadily across the country, but not at the same level as private college costs. But that’s only half the story.

What is less understood is the way colleges “discount” by offering need-based or merit-based aid, or a combination of the two. In fact, all colleges offer discounts, just not in the same way or at the same level, nor do those discounts apply across the board to all students. What is of critical importance to you and your family is to know: 1. which colleges are likely to offer a discount to you; 2. whether that discount will be in the form of need-based or merit aid; and 3. how you can maximize your chances at either or both.

Just looking at the numbers below from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), tuition discounts have been on the rise for several years, approaching a whopping 54.5% during the 2021-22 academic year:

These numbers largely reflect merit discounts, or awards based on grades, test scores, and other factors based on high school performance. Truth is, many colleges offer discounts as a strategic incentive to lure students to enroll.

In brief, the merit discount strategy works like this:

Colleges charge a high price so that the public perceives an intrinsic value. Then, they will offer a big “scholarship” (read: discount) which makes both student and parents feel good and will make the student more likely to enroll. The amount of the discount may vary based on academic performance, but it also might be a way to target students from specific socio-economic backgrounds, high schools, or zip codes. After the discount the remaining cost is still significant so that the school enjoys an impressive sum, but it’s low enough that mom and dad can figure out a way to pay. And, they can tell all their friends that their brilliant child earned a scholarship.*

The other way that schools discount is by offering need-based aid to families who demonstrate financial need on the FAFSA and the CSS Profile. The calculation for need-based aid is more direct and transparent, though changes to the federal formula in the next admissions cycle (2023-24) will result in some confusion for many families. Still, most schools publish the amounts they award, on average, as a percentage of the need. So if a school meets over 80% of the demonstrated need (there are many of them!), we would consider that to be quite generous.

There are about 70 colleges who meet 100% of the demonstrated need. You might conclude that these schools are particularly generous, and therefore you should apply to them to get the best financial aid package. But that depends on your own family’s income and net worth. An Ivy League school will appear super generous to a family earning less than $100,000 per year, but that same Ivy will offer exactly $0.00 in merit aid. So, for families earning in excess of, say $300,000, an Ivy League school isn’t generous at all. This is one reason why students should apply to schools that are right for them, not only academically and socially but also financially, as opposed to selecting the same colleges that your friends are applying to.

So what does this have to do with March Madness? Long time readers may recall that each year I take a look at the Men’s Division 1 basketball bracket of 68 teams, and I apply my own “University Generosity” formula to predict the winners. By doing this, we can see how schools differ in their degree of generosity. My methodology may not win you much money in your office pool, but it could yield incredible gains in terms of scholarship and need-based aid when your child receives his/her acceptance letter in April of 12th grade.

Selection Sunday is next weekend, March 12. Next Tuesday, March 14 I’ll be announcing my #UniversityGenerosityBracketology bracket live on Facebook, at approximately 12 pm ET. I’ll send a Live link before the event, you can follow us on Facebook at

No athletic event gets me quite so excited as March Madness. The Cinderella stories, the buzzer beaters, the upsets – every March this event always delivers. So I figure, let’s try to learn something about these colleges and their generosity in the hope that it will aid in the process of selecting colleges for your child. Come and enjoy the excitement with me, and let’s identify the most generous colleges among the 68 lucky dancers, er, participating teams.

If you would like more insight into the college admissions or financial aid processes, don’t wait until the last minute when your child is already in the midst of his/her senior year. The best plan is an early plan – reach out to me at or call us at 954-659-1234 to learn how we might be able to assist you and your child with this exciting yet complex exercise that is college admissions.

Don’t Fall in Love This Valentine’s Day!

February 9th, 2023 by

With Valentine’s Day only a week away, I’m asking all 9th, 10th, and 11th grade college-bound students NOT to fall in love.

With any particular college, that is.

But before getting into all of that, I must confess that I’m a hopeless romantic. I married my college sweetheart, entranced by her beautiful blue eyes, Cheshire cat smile and sense of humor the moment we first met. We’ve been together for 28 years, and she’s my best friend. In that sense I am extremely lucky.

But this isn’t about me.

When it comes to colleges, I often hear students express their intense desire to attend a particular school, and while I welcome the enthusiasm, I think it’s important for applicants to keep an open mind and remain realistic when it comes to the college search process. In other words, play the field. Think of the college admissions process as a dating exercise. You’re not getting hitched.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know that college admissions has become extremely competitive, especially at the schools ranked in the top 50 or 100 (Oh, I really hate to reference the rankings, but I’m just trying to make a point). For this reason, I don’t want students to become smitten with a single school that has a single digit admissions rate, only to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in having a deliberate focus when it comes to college admissions. If you identify a school that appears to check ALL of your boxes and feels like the perfect fit, then you should take particular actions to position yourself for the best possible chance at admission. Be sure to apply yourself academically in high school to meet their academic standards. Really prepare for the SAT/ACT. Go visit their campus and take the tour. Learn more about their majors and be able to envision or trace your academic path from freshman to senior year. Communicate with your admissions counselor. Talk to current students to learn about life on campus. Be prepared to answer their supplement questions on the application, including why you think you’re a good fit (this question goes both ways, as in why the college is a good fit for you).

The thing is, you should engage in this behavior at more than just one college. The goal is to have multiple good options. That way you’re not stuck feeling lost and without direction if you are deferred or denied. Even if you love a school and you’re applying early decision, you should be able to imagine yourself on more than one campus.

College admissions can be an emotional experience, and a learning exercise… And, if done right then it’s also an opportunity for growth. The best results come when students take a reflective approach, really spending the time to discover their purpose in seeking a college degree after high school.

For many students and their families, a college degree has become merely a credential for advanced employment. While I don’t deny that importance of this emphasis — all future careers will require some post-high school education — I also think that the college years can be an opportunity to challenge the intellectual spirit, to push oneself to his or her academic limits, become an independent adult, and to discover and appreciate the role and responsibility that one has a contributing member of our society. Our world needs that. And while all of our students definitely need to acquire pragmatic training, skills and knowledge beyond what high schools today are providing, they’ll also need to develop human artistic expression; to respect and learn from our many differences as both individuals and as cultures; to think critically and independently; and to understand the values that make our open, democratic society worth fighting for.

Maybe that’s just the hopeless romantic in me. I welcome your comments.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Don’t Let Deferrals Define December

December 20th, 2022 by

If you know me outside my “College Pete” work persona, you may know that I am a die-hard sports fan, specifically for the Miami Dolphins. I was sitting on my couch with my daughter last Sunday, tirelessly watching (and screaming at the TV) the Miami Dolphins struggle against and lose to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football. She raised a point to me that put the devastating loss into perspective: at the end of the day, I was watching a football game, and there were moments in the game (like Tua’s repetitive incomplete passes) that remained out of my control.

Now you may be reading this email wondering, Peter, how does coping with another Dolphins loss even compare to college admissions for college-bound students? December is notoriously a big college decision season, specifically hearing back about early action or early decision. For many students, the answer is neither admitted nor denied, but rather “deferred”. I want to emphasize that a deferral does not equate to denial or rejection from a college or university. Over the years we have had multiple students go from ‘deferred’ to ‘accepted.’! That said, it does mean that for some, you’ll have to live with the ambiguity of ‘wait and see’, which we know is much easier said than done!

That said, ambiguity is PART of the College Admissions process and part of life. However, that doesn’t mean that it feels fair. Let’s face it – most of us have at some point in our lives felt as if there was a ‘game’ being played around us where we weren’t given the rules to win. We hear this a lot about the college admissions process. As in, ‘it’s just NOT fair.’ For the most part, they’re right. The College Admissions ‘Game’ (which includes both access and affordability) is NOT played on a level playing field. Those students with greater access – to test prep, to good guidance, to an engaged parent who graduated from the college they’d like to go to – do have a leg up on those who don’t. It doesn’t mean they are necessarily smarter or better students, but they do have more resources or leverage and they are utilizing them to be better prepared for this particular process, which ultimately makes them better candidates for admission. And therefore the odds do seem to tip in their favor.

In contrast, seeing the Miami Dolphins lose on Sunday Night Football is entirely fair, even if I don’t like the result. At the end of the day, that’s just an athletic contest, the parameters are much more well-defined and finite, and the result, frankly, will have little impact on my life or that of my fellow Dolfans (unless you’re betting on the games, which I do not).

There are, however, a few reasons to justify the deferral decision and still continue to be proactive. There are many reasons, and rumored reasons, for a ‘deferred decision’. Among them: they want to see your 1st semester grades, perhaps they want you to take the SAT or ACT once more, or they had more applicants than anticipated. Perhaps they were truly overwhelmed by the number of applications received and they didn’t yet review your application. Maybe they’re waiting to see the size of their overall applicant pool to manage their ‘Admit Rate’. Perhaps they are waiting to see who withdraws, now that binding Early Decisions have been received, in order to manage their ‘yield.’ We’ve discussed all of these with our colleagues and with admissions officers directly, and we’ve heard all of these reasons floated. Perhaps we’ll never know about your application specifically, but what we do know is that unlike a rejection, you can actually do something about being ‘deferred’. And doing the right somethings, can help a deferred applicant become an admitted one!

If you have been ‘deferred’ AND it is truly a school that you want to attend, here is your opportunity to communicate with your admissions officer (yes, you can actually talk to them), demonstrate some interest and possibly move the needle in your direction! Granted, you should have been corresponding with them already – either way, now is an opportunity. If a school shares specific instructions on next steps to address a deferral, such as sending updated test scores or a 1st semester grade report, be sure to comply as soon as you can. And if there is anything new in your life since your application was submitted, perhaps an award, or new leadership position, or a new job, be sure to let them know.

Unlike admissions decisions, financial aid offers are far less final, and therefore you have more room to maneuver, to appeal, even (gasp!) negotiate. Notice the language difference: admissions decisions, and financial aid offersThe latter can be countered, as in a counter-offer or appeal. Oftentimes there are very good reasons to appeal a financial aid offer, such as a recent job loss, a medical issue that results in high expense or time away from work (lost wages), a natural disaster, or some other event that has a significant financial impact. I have written about financial aid appeals before, and surely next spring I’ll have an update for you on that topic.

With admissions decisions, at the end of the day you’re either admitted or denied. There is no in between, no gray area (OK, you could get wait listed but that’s a Spring email). Appealing admissions decisions is largely a waste of time unless you have unique circumstances. Becoming a National Merit Semi-Finalist, winning the Spelling Bee, or earning a First Place Scholastic Art & Writing Award are all noteworthy and important to communicate when it comes to a deferral, but they will not likely change the decision from denial to admit. To move that needle, you will have to demonstrate something egregious, such as a legitimate mistake in the communication of your transcript. I suggest that you put that ‘appeal’ energy into communicating your value and interest to the next school(s) on your list!

On a less dismal note than deferrals, I want to recognize YCC’s Class of 2023 for earning acceptance into the following schools via Early Action, Early Decision, or Rolling Admission (so far). While we may have assisted many of these students, all credit goes to them for their success. Congratulations!:

Arizona State University, Babson College, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dayton University, Drexel University, Elon University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, FAU-Wilkes Honors College, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida International University, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida Southern College, Florida State University, Indiana University, Lynn University, Marist College, Michigan State University, Nova Southeastern University, Ohio State University, University of Arizona, University of Central Florida, University of Delaware, University of Kansas, University of Pennsylvania, University of South Florida

At the end of the day, don’t let deferrals define your December. You (hopefully) will get admitted into college and receive (potentially with some assistance) a much desired financial aid package. That’s my wish for you and your family for the Holidays and New Year.

Prep, Panic & The Real Importance of PSAT Scores (which are coming Soon)

November 21st, 2022 by

When you attend a live concert (assuming of course that you could get tickets –  hello, Swifties);  or even when you watch someone give a motivational Ted Talk on YouTube, you can bet those presenters probably had a ‘realistic’ rehearsal with a sound check. You know: “Testing, testing,1, 2, 3. Am I coming in loud and clear?”

Doing so helps them prepare themselves for their big performance gig and ensures they sound just right in the particular venue. Even before that sound check test on the stage, the band you’re seeing in your hometown on their cross-Atlantic tour, or the local stand-up comedian readying himself to crack jokes took countless hours to rehearse their acts over and over again to make sure they could do their best when the red lights went on.

You’ve probably heard the adage: hard work will beat talent every time. I’m not sure this applies in every setting, but it works in most. That’s because we have learned that intentional preparation and practice performed under realistic conditions will reduce anxiety and set the stage (pun intended) for your own peak performance – whatever that may be – every time.

If you’re an athlete, you may also spend time practicing on the field before you play in the big game coming up that weekend. Personally, I have spent hours trying to improve my swing and stance on the driving range, so I feel prepared and confident in my abilities on the actual golf course (and trust me, it’s a tough blow for me when I come up short – ask my family how I react when I come home after a tough day on the tennis court or golf course).

For those of you interested in STEM, you may spend hours tinkering away with a code to make that AI bot do a certain action, or mix different chemicals in a lab to develop just the right concoction for your experiment to prove your hypothesis correct.

You get the picture, right?

I obviously believe in practice and preparation. So when my clients – especially those with 11th graders ask, “When do we start with taking the diagnostic test for SAT/ACT? When do we start test prep and take the actual test’, my knee jerk reaction is to tell them to start prepping for the SAT and ACT NOW.

However, like everything in academia, the best response requires a more nuanced, personal, and thoughtful approach. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to standardized testing strategies, and the timing of test prep. Here are a few considerations you should be mindful of as you consider your own testing goals/needs/opportunities.

One consideration is to evaluate the math courses you have completed so far. My first question I ask families who inquire about testing is “When did you take Algebra II?” For 11th graders, if you have already taken this course, feel free to take the SAT or ACT in your first semester. If you have NOT yet taken Algebra II, or you’re in 11th grade and taking it now, then wait until 2nd semester to sit for the SAT and ACT. The rationale behind this is to make sure students are prepared on test day without any surprising material that they haven’t yet covered in school.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020 (and frankly for nearly the decade prior to that), many colleges and universities have opted for test-optional or test free policies for college admissions. Many schools have continued to relax their stance towards considering test scores as part of college admissions, and have been evaluating students based on other factors such as their grades, extracurricular activities, and their personal essays on the Common Application instead. In fact, according to Higher Ed Dive and, 1,835 colleges will be making SAT/ACT test score submissions optional for Fall 2023 applicants, including but not limited to the Ivy League, UNC Chapel Hill, the New England Small Colleges (NESCAC), Stanford, Rice, WashU, and even here locally in Florida at University of Miami and others.

Florida public universities such as Florida State University and University of Florida still require their applicants to submit their test scores as well. And still other schools with more rigorous academic programs, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Georgetown University require applicants to still submit their test scores since they may require more stringent mathematics programs and want to further evaluate each applicant’s performance, according to and The Washington Post.

The College Board has announced that, starting in 2024 the SAT will be fully digital, making sections of the test shorter, and decreasing the amount of time to receive test results from weeks to only days after taking the test. The changes to the soon-to-be digitized SAT will include two hours instead of three to take the test, shorter reading passages with one question per passage, and will allow students to use a calculator for the entire math section.

To all 11th graders who have already started prepping, and some who have even taken their first test – good on you. But for those 11th graders who have not (or 10th graders who are in Algebra 2), the time is most definitely NOW to investigate tutors and to begin the preparation now or right after the New Year, so that you can be prepared for either a February or March test. There are many different approaches to take when preparing for a standardized test like the SAT or ACT. At the end of the day, do what you think would make you the best candidate for the schools you’re considering.

In just about 3 weeks from now, many students in 10th and 11th grade will receive the results of their PSAT tests. Unless you are among the small percentage of 11th graders trying to qualify for national merit opportunities, the PSAT should be viewed as a practice test and absolutely nothing else. Colleges will not ask for, nor will they care about, your PSAT score. Period. Full Stop. The PSAT score report should be considered an opportunity to identify where to focus your aforementioned preparation! It also kicks off your college admissions ‘season’ in that colleges will begin marketing to you in earnest. Within weeks of receiving your PSAT score, you’ll become inundated with college brochures/emails etc. It’s important to remember that there are nearly 4000, 2-year, 4-year and vocational schools and that you shouldn’t fall in love with a school because they have a big marketing budget. It’s best to fully explore your academic interests, post-high school aspirations and your family’s budget — and then formalize an admissions strategy  (and testing strategy) that considers all of these factors. 

How to Save Both $100s and then many $1000s on College

October 17th, 2022 by

‘Tis definitely the season – and no, I’m not referring to the fact that Home Depot has Christmas decorations for sale. For me, my colleagues and our college-bound families, we’re plowing through this year’s admissions/applications season. (We spent the weekend wishing the best to all our Florida applicants as they submitted their FSU applications this Saturday, as well as those who sent apps to UNC-Chapel Hill).

At the same time, we’re now also neck deep into financial aid season. Since Oct 1, when the FAFSA and the CSS Profile ‘officially opened’ we’ve assisted with many financial aid applications on behalf of our student applicants. We have proprietary software that helps us process these forms efficiently, but the real work takes place in the planning, well before we complete or submit a single financial aid form. Just as ‘smart’ holiday shoppers plan out their lists, leverage early sales, etc. to get ahead of the curve to maximize savings and availability of best items when gift-shopping; the ‘smartest’ ‘college shoppers’ will create an integrated admissions and funding strategy well before their child’s 12th grade year to optimize their admissions choices and to get the best ‘deals.’

College planning is more than keeping track of important deadlines, submitting test scores, and filling out the proper forms – that’s the bare minimum. The way to truly maximize your college admissions and scholarship options is to create a college plan early in high school. For our practice, the ideal time to begin is just before you/your child chooses their 11th grade classes (the 2nd semester of 10th grade). This allows us to start working with our students before they get into the really heavy academic lifting of 11th grade, and just as the prior-prior look back period (that’s a legit technical term and thing) for all financial aid decisions begins.

Now, because I know we have far more readers than we do actual one-on-one clients and not everyone has been able to get started this early in the process, we also like to pass along tips that can help anybody save money, regardless of where their student is in the process.

For example, there are a lot of hidden fees in the admissions process – and these fees can add up. For example, you have to pay to submit your college applications to most colleges, AND you also have to pay a fee to submit some of your financial aid applications. Yes, I do realize the irony that the nonprofit College Board charges you to submit the most challenging – and beneficial – financial aid document, the CSS Profile.

In addition, they (the nonprofit College Board SAT and its evil twin the ACT) also charge you to send test scores to the schools on your list. And if you’re a little late in this process, they’ll charge you a rather exorbitant rush charge. But nowadays at many schools, YOU (yes, you) can personally self-report these test scores to colleges – at absolutely no cost – and then, once you’ve decided where you’d like to attend, you can have the official report disclosed prior to enrolling. If you click here (, you’ll see the list of colleges that will let you self-report and avoid paying multiple reporting fees.

Now that said, this test score reporting/sending decision can get trickier than it appears. Again, this is where planning matters. Many schools don’t require you to submit your test scores at all to be considered for admissions. When working with our students, we base the decision on when to submit scores on how you performed relative to the 50th percentile of matriculated students at any school. We often will recommend that you submit scores to some schools but not to others (an email for another day – or you can search my blog for all that I’ve written on Test Optional Strategies for Admissions and Scholarship $). Again, the answers are in the planning. Nonetheless, check out the link above to figure out whether and where you can save a few bucks in the sending process and self-report instead.

As we mentioned, to all the Florida-based students who applied to FSU by October 15, we wish you the best of luck and hope to hear good news about your application on December 15. University of Florida applicants: you have a bit more time to check once, twice, and even three times to make sure you submit your best admissions application. UF applications are due November 1. Early Action deadlines for college applicants applying out of state should also remember to submit by November 1 (or November 15 – check with your school).

If you have any questions about any of the topics above, please feel to reach out. Have a great week!