Monthly Archives: January 2014

What are colleges really looking for?

ColumbiaLowStepsSnowIMG_3975What are colleges really looking for?

“What did he do wrong?” asked an unhappy mother who’d begged me for insights after her son was rejected by the top five colleges on his list. This boy had not been one of my clients, so his mother summarized his profile: straight As at a fine high school, impressive SAT scores, glowing letters of recommendations and several summers devoted to foreign travel and academic challenge. She showed me a photo and told me anecdotes. I could tell he was a bright and charming boy, beloved by family and friends.

“What did he do wrong?” she repeated. She was not the first disappointed parent to ask me this question. I know she won’t be the last. But the fact is, it’s the wrong question. And it reflects a basic misunderstanding of the college admissions process.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” I assured her. “It’s just that there are thousands of excellent students, and they’re all competing for a small number of spots. The numbers were against him. They’re against everyone.”

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The time to file the FAFSA is now

ColumbiaWalkSnowIMG_3970High school seniors: after getting your college applications in on deadline, you probably feel you deserve at least a month’s vacation.  In principle, I agree.

But in the real world, now is the time to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is the basic form that must be completed by students (or their parents) who hope to receive need-based federal student aid, including Pell Grants, federal loans and work-study jobs. It’s also used by many colleges to help determine how much non-federal aid to give you.

Most colleges that offer aid require you to file the FAFSA. Some also ask for an additional form, such as the CSS Profile. And a few have their very own financial aid forms you will be required to fill out. The FAFSA, however, is the generally the first and most important one. January is the time to start working on it.

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