Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting in...

Brief update...

M started to apply to schools in mid November.  She met two early action deadlines on 11/15.  Both of those small private, liberal arts schools have accepted her.  She also has received her acceptance from the one public school to which she has applied. 

We have yet to apply for financial aid, but so far every school has awarded her scholarships.  You want numbers, here they are...

Liberal Arts School One
Annual Tuition, Room & Board, and Fees: $51,465
Initial Annual Scholarship(s) Offered: $21,000
Pre-Financial Aid, Annual Cost: $30,465

Liberal Arts School Two
Annual Tuition, Room & Board, and Fees: $50,290
Initial Annual Scholarship(s) Offered: $20,000
Pre-Financial Aid, Annual Cost: $30,290

Public School One
Annual Tuition, Room & Board, and Fees: $21,920
Initial Annual Scholarship(s) Offered: $8,000
Pre-Financial Aid, Annual Cost: $13,920

We can't afford $30K per year, but $14K is about what we are spending to feed and educate M now.  So the public school option is giving us what we wanted - a financially doable college option.  We are hoping that financial aid offers bring the liberal arts schools more in line with the public school option.  If they do, M can make her choice based on the merits of the schools - and not the cost to attend.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Over the last 16 months, M has toured 21 schools (19 with me from New Jersey to Missouri and 2 local schools with her high school.) Application season is finally here.  There are three ways of applying to a college; "Regular Admission,"  "Early Action," and "Early Decision."   Early decision is binding.  This means that if they accept you, you have to attend.  Therefore you can only apply to one school Early Decision (ED).  Early Action and Regular Decision are non-binding.  So why would you apply ED, why not wait to compare financial aid offers?  Schools accept a higher percentage of their ED applicants.  If you fit their student profile, the school is hard to get into, and it is your clear first choice - it may make sense to apply ED.  The downside is that you are bound to the school and loose all negotiating ability when it comes to financial aid.

In the very beginning I gave our stated goal of applying to 7 schools; 2 "reaches", 3 "matches" and 2 "safety schools," but that isn't exactly how it worked out.  M is applying to 8 schools, only one of them is a reach and none of them are true safety schools, but many of them are almost guaranteed to accept her.

Let me define those terms again; "reach schools" are schools the student would love to get into but they fall short of that school's typical student profile when it comes to test scores or grade point average, "safety schools" are those where the student exceeds the school's average student.  From there I bet you can figure out what makes a "match school."

So here is some data about each school, its students and its rates of acceptance and retention - in the order of M's preference. 

Looking at the 25th percentile of ACT scores, you can see that her second favorite school - (a top 15 national university according to US News & World Reports) - is her reach school.  And now let's look at school #1; (a top 20 Liberal Arts school).  It is a match and it is hard to get into (36% acceptance rate).  It could be a candidate for an Early Decision application.  So now let's look at the financial side of the equation, one of my sources calculated that with our situation, school #1 should be the second cheapest school on the list - with an annual cost of less than $19,000.  The only school cheaper is the only public school and the one ranked last on her list.  Also when we toured school #1, they said that they don't negotiate on aid packages, their offers cover 100% of need, and they cap loans at $3,500 per year.

I didn't expect her to apply ED anywhere - as you can see, I didn't even include ED deadlines in my table - but all of the stars lined up and M asked to apply ED to school #1, so I agreed.  And we do all need to agree.  Applying ED requires the signature of the student, a parent, and a school counselor. We have until the end of the year to send in that additional form.

Notice also that M has a four-way tie for 4th.  That is OK.  Making artificial fine distinctions in your fall rankings doesn't make much sense.  She may very well feel differently in the spring when things really matter - and you don't want the somewhat arbitrary fall rankings to influence her final decision.

The second-last of her 4th ranked schools (when listed alphabetically) is one of the more difficult to get in to (34% acceptance rate) and more like the top 2 in terms of rankings, retention and graduation rates.  It is also projected to be among the least expensive.  It is a rare liberal arts school in that it offers engineering as a major.  You will also note that it is the furthest from home.  M & I visited this one on our first trip 16 months ago.  In fact it was so long ago that M couldn't remember our visit and wanted to drop it from her list, but I asked her to first meet with their admissions representative when he came through town doing interviews.  She liked what he had to say, and I agreed to pay for an 8th application.

The rest of her 4th ranked schools and her 3rd ranked schools are small Midwestern liberal arts schools with similar numbers all up and down the line - I can see why they rank near each other for M.

M still has two applications to complete.  She plans to meet an Early Action deadline tomorrow, and a Regular Decision deadline in mid-January.  She met a few mid-November Early Action deadlines, so we should get a few decisions before Christmas...

Next Up: Financial Aid (and scholarships?)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The List

And then there were 12.  

Using M’s criteria (and expanding on it) my original list of schools to consider contained 45 schools.  We eliminated some schools because the Princeton Review surveys indicated they wouldn’t be a good fit socially.  We eliminated some schools because when we visited, they didn’t feel right.  We eliminated some schools because M’s ACT scores were higher or lower than their typically admitted student.   

You should consider many schools and then trim your list.  Remember our goal is to find 7 schools to which M would like to apply (8/1/13).  And now, just before application season, we are down to 12.  We have visited 8 of these 12 and we will visit the remaining 4 this month.  So we will have a list of between 8 and 12 schools that M has visited and liked.  She has her favorites and I have mine.  One similarity between our lists is that the harder it is to get into, the more we like the school – but that is not why they are our favorites.  Here are the key stats for me…
SchoolsAcceptanceACT^Cost*Return6yr Grad RateUS News@Forbes
2 Univ. 8 – 15%3314K – 21K96% - 98%93% - 96%1, 143, 57
4 Lib Arts34% - 37% 3018K – 20K91% - 95%87% - 88%17 - 3648 - 82
4 Lib Arts60% - 78%2821K – 25K88% - 91%76% - 82%59- 82167-296
1 Public L.A.74%2716K89%70%Region 10359
1 Lib Arts70%2423K81%63%Region 11358
^- Average or 25% and 75% ACT Score.
*- Expected annual costs, according to using M’s real data (grades, gpa, parental income)
@-US News has separate rankings for “national universities,” “national liberal arts schools,” and “regional (midwest) schools.” 

So the top schools (by rankings) get better students (by ACT scores) and have higher percentages of their freshman returning for their sophomore years – and higher graduation rates.  They also tend to have better financial aid, so they actually cost less.  The down side is that they are popular schools to apply to, so they have the lowest acceptance rates.

M’s high school career has been very good.  Her numbers; GPA, ACT, class rank are better than mine ever were, as is her extra-curricular resume (plays, sports, clubs, leadership positions.)  That said, I consider the national universities to be a “reach” for her, and the last liberal arts school listed above to be a “safety school.” calls that safety school a “good bet” and lists all of the other schools as “maybes.”

In a month we should have the list down to the 7 or 8 schools to which she will apply.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Happy New Year!

So 5 posts in August and then… nothing.  It is hard making progress on the college search when school is in session, but we did manage to attend two college fairs.  The first was for “colleges that change lives” (some small liberal arts schools that are below many people’s radar) and the second fair was a more general college fair.  Both were in September.  So what have we been doing since then?  Not too much. M took the ACT in December and has been ignoring, reading and/or filing her incoming mail.   And I, of course, have been tweaking “the list.”

I learned in August that M was interested in medium sized universities, and she liked being within a day’s car trip from home.  So I went back to Princeton Review and to College Data and searched for schools using the new criteria.  I found a few more schools worth checking out, and added 4 to her list.

Let me talk about for a moment.  This site has a great search tool, called “college match” that allows you to create a list based on geography, majors, size of school, difficulty getting in, average student debt, and more.  It then compiles a list that looks like this…

I think I told you that I love spreadsheets.  And with a little input regarding your student’s grades, classes, and test scores, it can tell you which of these schools are a “Good Bet”, “Maybe” or a “Reach” for your student.  And if you answer a few financial questions, it can calculate an estimate of how much a particular school will cost you.  

You can see for yourself that ticket price and your cost are not related to each other.  For example, Princeton has a sticker price of $57,495 per year, but is estimated to set me back just $14,492.  While Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas has a much lower sticker price ($26,788) but is likely to cost me just $1 less than Princeton.  Nothing against PSU, but I think Princeton is probably worth the extra buck.  This is actionable information; useful in deciding where to apply.

You can sort by a wide variety of data including freshman satisfaction and (4 year) graduation rates – and then save schools into your “data locker” for future use.  

My next adventure, nailing down the spring break road trip (across Indiana & Illinois) and planning the summer trip(s) (Iowa & Minnesota).