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It is that time of year again…time to fill out your FAFSA. I suggest your goal be to get this done the first week of January as it comes available to you January 1, 2016. I know for many of you, this has been on your to-do list, and now you can finally do it. Gather all the information you need about both parent and student, and get started. This includes all social security cards, most recent tax returns, most recent W-2, bank statements, student drivers license, and any investment and untaxed income records.
The first step you will want to do is create a Federal Student Aid ID. This is explained to you step by step following this link, http://www.ifap.ed.gov/eannouncements/attachments/050415FSAIDReplaceHowToCreateFSAIDGuideATTACH.pdf
A few general tips when completing your FAFSA.
Once you complete your FAFSA and submit it, it will take between 3-5 days to process. Once it is processed you will receive an email with a link to your Student Aid Report (known as SAR). This email will let you know if there are any issues that need to be taken care of and also include a short summary of your application. If everything is completed and there are no issues, you SAR will also show your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). Your EFC is used to calculate your financial aid eligibility at each school you have on your list.
Good luck and get to work! The finish line is in site!!
Some students are surprised when at the end of the application they have completed, that the college they are applying recommends a resume or activity list to be downloaded. This is especially confusing when they apparently have already listed these items earlier in the Common App. I often field a panicked student who at the 11th hour, realize, they do not have an activity list/resume to download into the application.
Creating a resume/activity list is one of the first actions I have my students do. This one page snapshot can be so useful for so many as they start their college journey. First, it gives counselors a great picture of who their student is, what they have been involved in and what their interests are. Second, from the very first time students start visiting colleges, they should be bringing their resume with them. Every admissions officer will be impressed with a well dressed student who hands them a complete resume, showcasing what they have been doing throughout their high school career. Every chance students get to connect with their admissions officer, they should take advantage of. The other reason having an already prepared activities list is to be prepared for those colleges that require or suggest a downloaded one at the end of their application. Believe me, the last thing students want to do is to create a resume after spending hours filling out an application.
The goal of an activities resume is to highlight your strengths and inform colleges about your accomplishments and special talents. This is your opportunity to showcase your talents!
To get started, make a list of all of your activities. This should include work experience, sports achievements, summer activities, academic achievements and/or awards, volunteer experiences and community service. Once you have made your list, arrange the activities into categories. These can include Awards and Achievements, Work Experience, Volunteer Experience, Interest and Passions etc. Once you have everything in categories, now put the list in order of importance or significance. That order will be different for each student. Make sure you clearly state when you did the activities and put them in order within the category. Also, include your role within each organization/activity. Don’t forget to be clear about each activity/organization, especially those unique ones that may need a longer description.
There is no right way to creating these resumes, however, it isn’t the time to be creative and cute. This should be a concise, easy to read document that a college can look at and get a good sense of who you are and what you have accomplished. This document should only be one page to make it easier for the admissions officers.
For those younger students (grades 9, 10 and 11) I suggest you keep a running list of activities you have participated in throughout your high school career, including after school activities, those activities outside of school, volunteer experiences, and work experiences. If you have achieved any accolades or awards, make sure you include those. It is easy to forget things when trying to think back four years. Keep adding to this list as you go, this will make your resume writing so much easier and most likely, more complete.
One of the questions our clients ask us the most is, should I risk a lower grade in the tougher class, or get a higher grade in the less demanding class? For most Independent Education Consultants, they will say …it depends. You wonder: what can it depend on; well a few things.
All highly selective and even moderately competitive colleges and universities will be most interested in the rigor of course selection throughout the high school years. If a student with a “soft” schedule applies to a highly selective school, their application will be basically dead on arrival. The school will not take that application seriously and will move onto the next applicant. If a school had to make a choice between a high GPA and a rigorous curriculum, they will pick the curriculum every time.
Schools want to know that no matter the high school you went to, you took the hardest and most competitive course load you could handle. The most important part of high school is push yourself and grow both academically and personally. Part of that includes knowing what course load you can handle. A school does not want you to take all AP classes your junior and senior year, and struggle to maintain good grades. They want you to be selective and decide where you can push yourself and where you give yourself a break. If you are a math and science geek, did you take the highest courses available? Were you successful or was it a struggle? If you can maintain at least a B in your highest level, then you are taking the right course. OR, are you taking a college prep course and receiving a 98% average? If they had to choose between the two, they would rather a B in honors or AP than a 100% in a non-honors course. Yes, your GPA might not be as high, but most high schools will weight your scores, which is also helpful, and all colleges will acknowledge the rigor you have decided to take on.
The colleges and universities will look at what your high school has to offer and what you took advantage of regarding that curriculum. Did your school offer only five AP courses and you take four? Did your school offer 20 AP courses and you take none? How did you compare to the students in your school? How did you do on your AP exams? All of these things are compared and analyzed while making the decision on acceptance.
For my friends out there who have freshmen and sophomores, my advice to them is to map out what they want to take the next four years and see if it is doable. Don’t be tied to this roadmap but use it as a guide of where they are going and what they want to accomplish. Don’t discourage a student if they want to push themselves but at the same time be the voice of reason when you need to be.
So, you ask, is it better to take easier classes and get a higher grade, or risk taking the harder class and possibly getting a lower grade. I say, it depends! What are your interests and strengths, what can you handle while still being happy and productive? These are all important questions to be asking yourself when you start thinking about your course load for next year. There is no correct answer, just what is right for you!
For those of you who are not aware, there will be a new version of the SAT coming out in March 2016. This redesigned SAT has many in the education world concerned for those students in the Class of 2017.
We are advising any of our students who are in that class to avoid taking the test for at least the first three times it is implemented. We know this is a hard thing to digest as you gear up for your junior year, but there are good reasons for this suggestion.
In order to get the best scores you can get on standardized testing, you must be prepared.
This can mean studying for either the SAT or ACT for months prior to the implementation of the test. This should also, with certainty, include mock timed testing of said tests as well. These mock, timed tests are key in letting students know where they are weak and where they may be able to speed along. After each test, students learn by correcting mistakes and looking for patterns that could be helpful with the final test. By analyzing the results, students see where they need to focus their studying.
Due to the implementation of the new SAT in 2016, there are no published study materials for our students, not even from College Board itself. Not only are there no study materials, there are also no mock test samples from previous years as the test is brand new. Without study materials and sample tests, students will be going into the first few tests blind.
The SAT and College Board are wanting you to believe that they are making the changes to this test for “students' success”, but what they don’t tell you is that their market share has been dropping as their competitor, the ACT, has been gaining popularity. Many in the education world are led to believe that the changes have less to do with student success and more with marketing strategies.
The question is, do you want your student to be the guinea pig while the College Board figures a way to gain back its control of the testing world?
Not only will the students not have any study materials, there is also another concern with this new test. With any new roll out, there are bound to be glitches the first few times this test is taken. NO student should have to be a part of that…again. After all, it was just last spring 2015 when thousands of students were affected by a mistake in the test booklets that meant that two parts of the SAT test were not counted. Even though hundreds of students reported scores lower than the first time they took it, the College Board stuck to their belief that by taking out the two sections, scores would not be affected. I think there are many high school students, applying to college right now, who would disagree with that.
There are options for those students who don’t want to be a part of this initial roll-out.
If you feel ready and have studied, there are options to take the SAT this fall and into the winter. There is testing still available in October, November, December of 2015 and January 2016 for the old version of the SAT. Another option is, if possible, wait until two or three tests in the spring are completed and see what the outcome is. A third possibility is to take the ACT. This test has grown in popularity and is now recognized at all colleges and universities in the nation, equally as recognized as the SAT. The one major difference between the ACT is that it’a direct measurement of scholastic achievement and included four sections (reading, language, math, and science) and a writing option as well. Whereas, the SAT is more geared towards aptitude and innate intelligence and the new version will have a reading, language and math component with an option for a writing essay (no longer required).
Whatever you decide, know that there are options out there for your junior. Be informed and educated on this subject so that your child is not part of another SAT debacle.