Category Archives: Spreadsheets

Choosing Where to Apply Based On Your Financial Situation

If money is in shortage in your household, you need to be strategic on where you choose to apply to College. That’s a simple sentence for a complex process, but I will break it down.

Pixabay JugglingOne thing that you may have had drilled into your head (certainly something I drilled into my kids’ heads) is that you need to get good grades in High School so you can go to a good College. This may be a double-edged sword, if your family can’t afford to pay for your College education, which is why you must consider your financial situation. I will repeat once again, DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN to avoid paying for College with student loans. Those payments will haunt you for YEARS after you graduate and may reek havoc with your credit rating. Students loans now exceed credit card debt in the US, and those loans have an incredibly high default rate, meaning a lot of students are unable to pay back their loans, which is very stressful and hurts their credit rating. A bad credit rating makes it hard to buy your first home or maybe even get a job, as many businesses are now checking applicants’ credit ratings. The double-edged sword is that DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU APPLY, good grades may qualify you for more financial aid and more merit money, but then again, it might qualify you for more financial aid but no merit money, or more merit money, but little-to-no financial aid. In this post, I refer to highly selective Colleges, which is a generic term. When I say highly selective, I mean Colleges who generally accept less than 15% of it’s applicants.

Colleges with Large Endowments

Colleges with Large Endowments

  1. Financial Aid – highly selective Colleges
    1. Highly selective Colleges have large endowments which often mean more generous financial aid.  Many selective Colleges will also emphasize that they consider their applicants “need-blind”. This means that while your application goes to the Admissions Office for consideration, your financial forms are sent to the College’s financial aid office, so that Admissions can decide whether to admit you regardless of your financial need. Here’s the catch – those highly selective Colleges are extremely hard to get into – better grades and test scores help your case, but even exceptional students who apply to a highly selective college have a low chance of acceptance.
      1. The Colleges with Large Endowments spreadsheet illustrates how large endowments often mean not only that more students qualify for financial aid (for example, Stanford University states that most students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year will likely qualify for free tuition), but also that all or most of your financial need will be met. Note that the spreadsheet is ranked in the order of the Endowment Per Student, because large universities may have substantial endowments that don’t add up to much, if you compare the size of the endowment to the number of students. My methodology for finding these Colleges means there may be other Colleges with a large endowment per student that is not included in this spreadsheet.
      2. The consequence of both financial and merit money is that a) some private Colleges may cost you less than public Colleges and b) many students with financial need AND good grades and test scores apply to highly selective Colleges. While it may be hard to get in, if you do get in, you are in a very good financial position. But you have fierce competition.
  2. Financial Aid – less selective Colleges
    1. Pixabay Gold Bars

      Some Colleges Run Out of Financial Aid Money

      Colleges with less money in their coffers often can’t afford to meet all of a student’s financial need; they often make up the difference with student loans.

    2. Their standards for who qualifies for financial aid are often more stringent than more selective Colleges.
    3. This is why it is important to apply as early as you are ready, because as Colleges use up their financial aid budget, they will be less generous with their financial aid. The early bird is more likely to get the worm!
  3. Merit Money – highly Selective Colleges
    Good grades and test scores often mean more merit money, but that is often not the case at highly selective colleges. Merit money is generally used by Colleges to woo exceptional applicants. But if you are a highly selective/desirable College such as Princeton, Yale or Columbia, for example, you don’t need to woo those applicants – they come to you in great numbers. That’s why you will see many selective Colleges offer little to no merit money.
  4. Merit Money – less selective Colleges
    This is where you can really make an impact on the amount of tuition you pay. All students should be considering a wide-range of Colleges, in terms of selectivity. The so-called “Safety” “Target” and “Reach” schools. If you have a strong academic resume, some of those schools will likely be generous in their merit money. They are wooing you to increase their perceived selectivity. How do you find those schools? Check out the post Finding Colleges with Generous Financial and/or Merit Money.
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Summarizing Important Variables

Defining and then summarizing important variables is a great tool for comparing options. In the College search, this process begins with deciding what should be included on the list of important variables to compare, but is refined as you realize you are willing to compromise when a College comes short on one of your variables but remains on the potentials list. Here is an example:

As you compare Colleges, you realize that a College you really like doesn’t offer both degrees you are interested in pursuing. Attending this College would mean either passing on one of those degrees or possibly lengthening your time in College, as you have to earn the degrees from two different Colleges. On the other hand, the College you really like has a strong music program and has both intramural and club swimming. The other Colleges that offer both degrees either don’t have much of a music program or don’t offer club swimming. You decide to leave that College on your potentials list, which leaves you pondering what is most important to you. If the College that doesn’t have a double degree isn’t eliminated, are there other Colleges you should re-consider, that you eliminated because they don’t offer the double degree? Does not having a strong music and swimming program a deal breaker?

Pixabay Spreadsheet

Breakdown of Important Variables

Here is a sample Breakdown of Important Variables Whenever possible, I try to make these breakdowns in Spreadsheet format, to make them both more sortable and for ease of comparison. But sometimes a spreadsheet won’t do, as in this case. Here is an explanation of what made it onto this sample breakdown.

  • The first four items all have to do with money:
  1. Tuition, Room & Board
  2. Scholarships
  3. Graduation Rate
  4. AP Credit

The first 2 items have to do with how much the College costs on an annual basis, the next 2 items are identifying how long you might attend the College. Notes are included about guaranteed housing or minimal required years on campus, in case how long you can/must stay on campus is an important variable for you. Knowing how many years you may be staying on campus can be important, because room and board may be less or more expensive off campus. If it’s difficult to graduate in 4 years and/or you are receiving very little AP credit, then you will likely spend more time on campus getting your degree, which increases the amount of tuition you will pay.

  • Campus Size

You may decide either the physical size of a campus, number of enrolled students and/or average class size is an important consideration for you. The person who made this breakdown was concerned mainly about the average class size, but wanted to consider the number of students, because even in a large school with small classes, the campus dynamic usually changes when there are many students on campus. They also wanted to consider whether graduate students were on campus, because that might mean graduate student teachers, less research opportunities for undergraduate students or possibly access to graduate level classes as an undergraduate. They chose to add campus size, because they felt it would be a consideration if the campus was unusually large, which might mean long walks to get to some classes, or unusually dense, in terms of the number of students compared to the campus size. In this case, there was one College that was unusually dense and another College that was unusually large. This might not be an important variable, but it may become one if it varies widely from the norm. I suggest looking not merely at average class size, but also how many classes have less than 20 students, more than 50 students, etc. You may choose to not list all of that information in this Breakdown, but you would add a comment if a College was unusual in the way the Class Size broke down.

  • Activities

The last 3 items have to do with activities that are important to the prospective student. Note that these items are not listed as a yes or no. The activities summary include factors the student has discovered that are relevant to their particular situation. For example, this student is interested in performing in a College Orchestra. They’ve learned that some Colleges give priority to music majors, which is important if this student is not planning on being a music major but hopes to play in the Orchestra.

Note that none of the items in this Sample Breakdown include any emotional/gut feedback. That information is compared separately. This breakdown is a logical summary to help you be practical about your potential Colleges. If the student fell in love with a College that did not show favorably in this Sample Breakdown, they will have to spend time either a) justifying why this College should remain on the potential College list, b) reconsidering what are the most important variables, or c) eliminating this College from the potential list.

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Be a Strategic College Applicant

After deciding WHERE to apply, a strategic College applicant must decide WHEN and HOW to apply to your potential Colleges.

Deadlines & Timelines helps you track what needs to happen before you can apply as well as follow deadlines. Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission and Restrictive Early Action help you determine the pros and cons of each application plan and identify which application plan may be best for your situation.

Pixabay Spreadsheet

Analysis of Application Plans Acceptance Rates

But that is a lot of information, so you need to create tools to help you evaluate how/when you will apply to each potential College – you need to be a Strategic College Applicant. For example, make a spreadsheet that breaks down acceptance rates by Application Plan for each of your potential Colleges. The spreadsheet will quickly help you identify clear advantages and disadvantages, in terms of acceptance rates.

Pixabay Sharing Information

Share Your Experience

Please leave a comment and share how you made your decision on WHEN and HOW to apply to your potential Colleges.

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College Criteria

If you are working with a College Counselor, they will guide you through the process of searching for Colleges, which will include creating a list of College criteria, to help you narrow the 4,000+  Colleges to a shortened list of Potentials, which are you best match Colleges.

Pixabay Magnifying GlassMaybe you are ahead of the game and are thinking about Colleges before you meet with a College Counselor, or you won’t be hiring a College Counselor or you/your parents want to visit some Colleges while on vacation the summer after Freshman year of High School. Where to begin? I believe one of the most overwhelming aspects of the College Application Process is the College Search. For more advice on the early College Search, see Setting Realistic Expectations with Limited Knowledge – The Early Search and Choosing Where to Apply Based On Your Financial Situation.

Pixabay Spreadsheet

General College Criteria

A good place to start is to consider General College Criteria that is important to you. This sheet can get you started in thinking about what matters and what doesn’t. Do you have other ideas for what should be added to this list? Please leave a reply.

Pixabay Sharing Information

Share Your Experience

Did you make a great spreadsheet with your College Criteria? If you found a creative variable to consider, please share it by leaving a Comment.

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Do I Fit the Adjusted Student Profile?

Pixabay A Different BirdAs you look at Colleges’ stats, you should begin to recognize variations from the norm. These variations are important in understanding both the nuances/personality of that College and how those nuances might affect your chances of being admitted. Once you know these nuances, you can assess how you feel about them and determine if you fit the typical student profile, after adjusting for something that does or does not apply to you (varsity athlete, or first generation to attend College, for example). Here are some examples.

Student Athletes – Chances of Being Admitted
Are you looking primarily at smaller, Division 3 private Colleges? Maybe you’ve checked out the 6 Colleges you are interested in, and noticed that typically 7-15% of males and 3-10% of females at those Colleges are varsity athletes. But then you notice that nearly 30% of a particular College’s male students are varsity athletes. It would be a good idea to determine why there are so many male student athletes at this College, and to adjust the typically admitted student profile to adjust for male athletes only (if you are a male athlete) or non-male athletes only (if you are not a male athlete), to get a better sense of your chances of being accepted at that College. Admissions Offices may have different Admissions standards, depending on whether you fit into a particular category. This will likely require asking current or recent students about their understanding of the reasons for the variation from the norm, as well as a frank discussion with an Admissions Officer, as Colleges don’t readily publish this sort of information.

Pixabay Swimming PoolStudent Athletes – Nuances
I found this example to be very interesting. The Claremont Colleges are a Consortium of 5 Colleges. The Consortium groups their varsity athletes onto combined teams. One team is comprised of students from Harvey Mudd (one of the country’s top math, science and engineering undergraduate Colleges), Scripps (an all womens’ College) and Claremont McKenna. The other team is comprised of students from Pomona and Pitzer. Here is a breakdown of the percentage of student athletes from the Harvey Mudd, Scripps and Claremont McKenna team:

COLLEGE % Male Athletes % Female Athletes
Harvey Mudd 16% 13%
Scripps 0% 15%
Claremont McKenna 40% 37%

One thing that makes these variations in athletics participation even more remarkable is that Claremont McKenna has 34% and 62% more undergraduate students than Scripps and Harvey Mudd, respectively. As I asked about these significant variations in varsity student participation, I learned some important information. Harvey Mudd, typically a very technical school, tends to have less athletically-orientated students (shall I say nerds?). Scripps, being an all womens College, has no male athletes and for some reason has less female athletes. So Claremont McKenna fills out the team with a lot of student athletes. That leads to the question, do more athletes apply to Claremont McKenna because they want to be a student athlete and/or to socialize with other athletes, or because they believe (or in fact are) more likely to be accepted into Claremont McKenna? Either way, I would certainly be considering whether my being or not being an athlete at one of these Claremont Colleges impacts my chances of Admission. But these athlete stats might also tell you something about these College’s atmosphere. Whether accurate or not, I’ve been told Claremont McKenna is more of a jocks College, and Harvey Mudd is more of a non-jocks/nerdy College. Beyond academics at these Colleges, you may have an opinion on which atmosphere appeals to your personality.

Cappex provides a fair amount of athletics information, including how many male and female students participate in a particular sport. College Niche actually provides what percentage of students are varsity athletes.

First Generation College Student

Likewise, determining if a College accepts a larger number of first generation College students might tell you something about that college. Do they have a mission to encourage all students to become College graduates, so they accept more first generation applicants? Did they realize that as they became more selective, they had a less diverse student body (which often but not always goes hand in hand), so have made it a policy to accept more first generation College students? Maybe they live in a more socio-economic diverse region, so they encounter more first-generation College applicants? Maybe their need-blind (they consider the applicant separate from their financial need) admissions policy translates to more students with parents who did not attend College and therefore require more financial aid to apply to that College? Time to find out more about why they have a larger number of first generation College students and ponder what that means, in terms of both the campus atmosphere and your chances of being admitted.

Pixabay SpreadsheetAs discussed in Organize Your College Data, it’s helpful to create a spreadsheet with a quick breakdown of the typically admitted student and related information, including number of applicants, acceptance rate, test scores, financial aid, endowment and your thoughts on whether a College is a Target (or Match), Reach or Safety school. It’s important to modify the criteria in this spreadsheet to target your special interests/situation.

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Finding Colleges With Strong Programs in Your Intended Degree

Pixabay Undecided

You may have no idea what you want to study. But even if you think you know what you want to study, you might change your mind

I’ve read articles stating that 80% of College students change their major at least once. Therefore, picking a College solely because of their reputation in a field of study you are interested in is probably not a great idea. On the other hand, if you think you want to be an Engineer, you might as well pick a College with a strong Engineering program. The question is, how do you find Colleges with strong programs in your intended degree?

If you are already keen to do a particular thing, you should certainly consider Colleges’ reputations in that field, but not as the only variable when considering a College’s Academic qualities. Maybe you start out in Engineering and then decide you would prefer to be a Surgeon. If the College you chose for Engineering has a good Science/Pre-Med program, then great. Otherwise you will be wondering if you should transfer Colleges. But keep in mind that if you are looking at years of post-undergraduate schooling to obtain a Masters or higher degree, maybe a College with a pretty good Science program is all you need for undergraduate school.

How do you figure out which Colleges have a strong program? 

  • Check to see where accomplished Professionals in that field of study attended College.
  • Ask those accomplished Professionals which College programs they hear good things about. You may hear that Professionals in that field went to a mixed-bag of undergraduate Colleges, but generally attended 1 of 5 strong Graduate schools.
  • Research options on the internet, in articles, publications for that field of study and various College-Search resources.
  • Clarify your research with an Admission Officer or with a knowledgeable Professional: is the specialty at this particular College more research-based when you are more interested in tangible applications? Is this particular College, which is listed in many articles as strong in writing, really strong in creative writing, while you are interested in non-fiction?
Pixabay Spreadsheet

Colleges With Strong Writing Programs

As you find potential Colleges with strong programs in your field of interest, add them to a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet tracks Colleges with Strong Writing Program, as an example.

Pixabay Sharing Information

Share Your Experience

Have you found a great resource for learning about strong College programs? Please share it by adding a Comment.

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Tracking Your Applications

Tracking Your Applications is important, because while Colleges will likely contact you if part of your application is missing, you never know when there will be a hard deadline that you will miss due to an incomplete application. Remember that with every interaction, you are being evaluated and that you always want to make a good impression.

Appearing to not have your act together, as demonstrated by an incomplete application, is not a good idea. Furthermore, you may have met the minimum applications requirements, but planned to add an optional piece, such as a flowing Letter of Recommendation from your Music Teacher or Coach, beyond the standard LORs. That LOR is filed by the Music Teacher or Coach directly to the Common Application, so unless you are tracking your application closely, you may not realize that they had not gotten around to filing that LOR.

A large part of stress is worry. Do I know what needs to be done? What are the deadlines? Did I get it done? Do I need to follow-up? These are the types of questions that keep us awake at night. Organizing, documenting and tracking are skills that enable busy people to fall asleep at night – they have an organized a process which determines what needs to be done when, and they document and follow that process. These are important life skills, that help you beyond this one, important process. Below is a sample spreadsheet for tracking the Application Process, by College.

Pixabay SpreadsheetApplication Checklist

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Admissions Interview Preparation

Pixabay Job Interview

Initial Impressions During an Interview are Important

You are a rising Senior or Senior in High School. You have scheduled an interview with an Admissions Officer or Alumni. Even if they tell you that the Interview is not highly considered, a very weak or very strong impression can still have a major impact on your chances of being admitted. Some Colleges highly consider your interview. Interviews are your opportunity to share your narrative, explaining apparent weaknesses in your resume and highlight your strengths. It’s time to make an impression, which means it’s time to prepare!

If you want to know a College’s general policy regarding the importance of interviews, go to Go to Collegedata.com and type in <College name> in the enter College name box. Choose the Admission tab and scroll down to Selection of Students. Many factors that can impact admission are listed, including Interview. These variables are categorized as either Very ImportantImportantConsidered or Not Considered.

College Interview Advice Resources:

My general advice:

  1. Check out the Admissions webpage, their marketing materials and and any interactions you have had with the College. What personality comes out in these materials? It’s a quality they are likely actively trying to exude and encourage. Quirky, offbeat? Probably don’t want to sit through the interview stone-faced and without demonstrating your personality (although even if their tone is not quirky and offbeat, please don’t sit through the interview stone-faced!). Aggressive, intense? Better demonstrate your confidence and high goals.
  2. Even if you have read and retained a lot of information about the College, your memory may let you down at a time of stress, such as during your interview. To help you retain what you learned about a College, and to have notes to refer to during the interview if your memory lets you down,
    Pixabay Spreadsheet

    College Summary Pages

    I suggest creating College Summary Pages. These pages include basic College information you should know for your Admissions Interview, as well as your notes on why you love this College and questions you would like to ask about the College. Whoever is interviewing you will be impressed by your organized, thoughtful approach to the interview when you ask relevant questions that can’t be easily answered on the College’s website.


How Important is Interview Prep?

Sometimes you feel too busy to do all this prep. Here’s my why you prep story:

My daughter had an interview with a Connector, set up with the aid of another Connector (see the bottom of my Word of Mouth post if you don’t know what a Connector is). The Connector had the ability to impact my daughter’s visibility at a College she loved. In fact, during the meeting with the Connector, he set up a meeting for her at that College (for the NEXT MORNING, because he was so well connected and respected). Here’s the deal about this Connector – he was INTENSE! High energy, kept company with high-profile CEO’s, non-stop varied interests and activities. This was a successful and powerful person, doing our friend who connected us a favor by sharing some of his time with us to give advice and assistance.

purzen-Icon-with-question-mark

Review Sample Interview Questions and Rehearse Your Answers

On the way to the meeting, I suggested to my daughter that she go through some sample interview questions and advice, which she did half-heartedly. During the meeting, this Connector asked her several direct, probing questions – “What did you learn from your experience traveling abroad?” “If you love this school, why aren’t you considering that school?”, etc. etc. At first, my daughter did just an OK job of answering these questions, and this Connector immediately called her on it – “That’s not a good answer!”. I could tell my daughter was intimidated, but she started thinking better on her feet. BOOM! He quickly made her understand something I had been trying to teach her, but the impact was much greater with this high-profile Connector calling it like it is. After the interview, we got in the car and she immediately pulled up some sample interview questions and advice, and spent 2 hours reading and rehearsing answers in her mind, so she could be better prepared for next morning’s campus meeting that this Connector had set up for her.

This experience also led to a great discussion about a new concern for that College. “Are all the graduates that intense?”, she wondered. “Do I want to go to school with a lot of students with that personality?” “Will I be able to hold my own?” We agreed that not all graduates from this College were likely to be as intense as this Connector, but she was going to spend time while on campus scrutinizing the students’ personalities.

Remember that someone who is interviewing you is taking time out of their day to spend time with you – respect them for doing that, and make the interview worth their while! Last bit of advice: you may be running around on campus attending tours, information sessions, meeting with Admissions Officers and maybe a few other people. Track your appointments, so that you make sure you are where you are supposed to be at the right time, but also to help you remember what you did and with whom on each campus.

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Share Your Experience

Do you have other advice for Admissions Interviews? Please leave a Comment.

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Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Regular Decision, Rolling Admission

It’s time to figure out some application strategy, in terms of when and how to apply to a College. You have options for how you apply to a particular College. Those options may include Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Regular Decision and/or Rolling Admission Application Plans, depending on the College. Before we get into the details, it’s important for you to understand an important factor in the Admissions game, which is Yield.

When and how you apply to College can have a big impact on outcome.  In general, there are five ways (or plans) to apply to College:

  1. Early Decision (ED) – sometimes there is ED1 and ED2

    Applying Early Can be a Good Thing... Unless it's Not

    Applying Early Can be a Good Thing… Unless it’s Not

  2. Early Action (EA) – sometimes there is EA1 and EA2
  3. Restrictive Early Action (REA) – AKA Single-Choice Early Action
  4. Regular Decision (RD)
  5. Rolling Admission (RA)

Colleges don’t offer all of these options; typically they offer RD plus one other application plan, unless they offer RA.

A College’s policy regarding offering financial and/or merit aid for different admission plans (ED vs. RD, for example) are important considerations that should be discussed with the College’s Admission Officer. It is also important to research and discuss admission rates for the different application plans. Finally, ask about early application plans acceptance rates, adjusted for athletes and legacies.

About 450 Colleges have Early Decision or Early Action plans.  To determine which application plans are offered at a particular College, type <school name> undergraduate admissions deadlines in your search engine. Again, a College Counselor can be invaluable in navigating this complex process.

Checkout Deadlines and Timelines for related information.

Pixabay Spreadsheet

Application Plans, Deadlines by College & By Date

See the spreadsheets below for ideas on how to track application deadlines for each Application Plan they offer. You will want to track this information by College and by due date.

Application Plans, Deadlines, by College

Application Deadlines, by Date

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