6 Ways College Applicants Can Stand Out

College counselors have long urged high school students to find and focus on their passion. But developing it to create new opportunities for yourself and others can really grab the attention of admissions officers.

For many of them, there’s a certain sameness to the applications they read, so when prospective students carve out their own opportunities, colleges notice, says Maria Laskaris, former dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College and now a senior private counselor at Top Tier Admissions, a company focused on helping applicants navigate the admissions process. “We tell students to push beyond what the school offers,” Laskaris says.

U.S. News talked to experts to find out how to make your college application stand out

Build on your academic strengths. Schools are looking for students who have not only done well but who have also challenged themselves, as they are more likely to succeed in college-level courses. Reviewers also take into account the level of rigor available at a particular school.

The key is to plan ahead and start in eighth or ninth grade to build a foundation that will open doors to advanced coursework later on. For instance, being ready to get advanced algebra out of the way sophomore year puts you on track to take calculus before earning that high school diploma, which might set you up better should you apply to a program that requires it, such as engineering.

Get a handle on the tests. Of course, colleges have long relied on standardized tests to help them differentiate between students in a way that grades alone cannot. Increasingly, applicants are choosing to take both the SAT and the ACT.

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University in North Carolina, suggests doing just that to determine which test better suits your test-taking style. You might opt to sit for your preferred test again, but twice should be the limit, he says.

Think outside your school’s extracurriculars. No matter what your interests are, find ways to use them to make a contribution to your school or local community.

Consider recommendations carefully. The ideal scenario is when you can ask an instructor who taught you more than once – such as during freshman year and again later on – because then they can speak to your growth and how you might have overcome any particular challenges.

Do a social media check. It’s not unusual for schools to be alerted by alumni, community members or others to social media that paints a student in an unflattering light.

Show up, to the extent you’re able. Visiting the campus shows the admissions office that you’d be likely to attend if accepted. Showing up is still a great way to reveal what schools refer to as “demonstrated interest,” a factor that some 70 percent of colleges say plays at least some role in their admissions decisions, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Is your student still undecided on a major? Or needs help with their college journey?

Schedule your First Consultation Today!

Why An Extensive And Well-Conceived College List Is Important

It used to be that parents panicked when they received the first tuition bill. But today, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. Now colleges are panicking they won’t have enough students who enroll this fall. College financial aid apps are down 17% overall from a year ago.

As a result, we are seeing colleges employ aggressive marketing strategies like never before.

In the past few years, to attract students, private colleges have been raiding their endowments to come up with more and larger tuition discounts. 

We believe that colleges will continue to negotiate with students from higher-income families and increase the student’s tuition discount (reducing out-of-pocket college costs) provided the correct strategic plan is executed by the family. More about that below.

Historically, of all appeals made for additional funds, only about 1% are successful. However, that percentage goes up dramatically if the student has applied to ten competing private colleges in the same academic and cost range.

The more schools a student targets with similar characteristics, the greater the odds of having at least two significantly better offer packages, thus enabling you to negotiate a better deal from the favored college. A successful outcome could easily save your family $5k to $15k per year at your students’ preferred school.

Colleges know that if you’re taking the time to ask for more money, your student has pretty much made up their mind to go to their school. If turned down, there’s a 90% chance the student will enroll anyway. That’s why an extensive and well-conceived college list is so important.

If students and parents proactively take on their college search from a marketing perspective, they would be targeting schools where they are in the top 20% of applicants, the cost of attendance would be about the same, and the amount of merit aid they offer students with similar “college capital” is above average.

When negotiating a better price for a car, new home, or college, you need to come from a position of strength. Having multiple offers is your best bet to increase the odds of getting the price you want (or closer than you would have been).

Because the college list is the single most important factor in executing a game plan that will result in a student going to the RIGHT COLLEGE, for the RIGHT REASONS, and at the RIGHT PRICE is why we stress Career Cruising and speaking with Teresa about college choices. 

Does your student need help to create their college list, figuring out a career choice that matches their innate abilities, writing an essay that stands out from the rest, and/or preparing for SAT/ACt tests? 

Schedule your First Consultation below.

Article by: CFS

Why Choosing The Right Major Is Key To Success

A college major is a subject area that students can specialize in and build job skills.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES are often faced with two significant decisions that will shape their futures: which college to attend and what to study.

Similar to the vast number of colleges, options for a major are numerous and wide-ranging. The decision on what to study can have a lasting effect, shaping future work experiences, earnings and other choices connected to a profession. Because of the importance of the decision, some advisers urge students to pursue their passions.

“You have to enjoy what you’re majoring in. That is key,” says Erin Moriarty, dean of undergraduate admission at Loyola University Chicago.

Typically a bachelor’s degree requires four years of full-time study, with a portion of that coursework dedicated to the student’s chosen major. The number of credit hours required for a major in college can vary depending on the program. Students may also choose to double major in college, studying two disciplines simultaneously, which requires coursework for both.

Work on the college major can be spread across the four years if a student chooses his or her field early on, or it can be concentrated in the junior and senior years, experts say. According to admissions officials, either way is fine for most programs.

Moriarty says some academic programs may require coursework in the first year, citing education, nursing and engineering as examples of majors requiring instruction from the start.

It’s important for students to decide on a major by the end of their sophomore year, notes Brian Troyer, dean of undergraduate admissions at Marquette University in Wisconsin, because “the upper division coursework within a particular major is going to be pretty heavy during junior and senior year.”

The most popular college majors, based on National Center for Education Statistics data on degrees conferred in 2014-15, were “in the fields of business (364,000), health professions and related programs (216,000), social sciences and history (167,000), psychology (118,000), biological and biomedical sciences (110,000), engineering (98,000), visual and performing arts (96,000), and education (92,000).

College majors can be conventional, such as business, or off the beaten path. California State University—Fresno, for example, offers majors in viticulture and enology through its agriculture program, where students learn about grape cultivation, wine production and the industry.

In a region ripe for wine production, graduates work in vineyards cultivating grapevines, working in pest control or making wine, says Sonet Van Zyl, associate professor of viticulture at Fresno State.

“There are more job opportunities than there are people available,” Van Zyl says.

That shortage of workers sounds familiar to Tom Cortina, assistant dean for undergraduate education and teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science.

“We, meaning academia, are not actually graduating enough computer scientists to fill all of the positions out there that are computing related. That’s how in demand (computer scientists) are,” Cortina says.

He adds that interest in the computer science major has spiked in the last decade. But even with an increase in the number of graduates, he says it isn’t enough to keep up with a booming industry. Cortina believes the need for workers in computer science will continue to grow. As it does, schools will need to produce more graduates to keep up with the already high demand.

Another field experts expect to grow is unmanned aerial systems, often referred to as drones.

“We’re coming up with new ways to use unmanned aircraft systems in everyday life all the time,” says Paul Snyder, assistant professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota. Snyder says uses for drones include agriculture, real estate, medicine, security and more.

Another in-demand major at the University of North Dakota is petroleum engineering, which fetches the highest median earnings among college majors, coming in at $136,000 annually, according to research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“Our graduates make a good amount starting out and move up quickly to make more,” says Bailey Bubach, a petroleum engineering instructor at UND.

While petroleum engineering comes in as the highest-paying major, social work is an example of a career track on the lower end of the scale. Georgetown research shows that entry-level psychology and social work graduates earn a median annual income of $28,000.

However, social work advocates say the field isn’t about the money. “It’s really hard work, but it’s incredibly satisfying. You get to help individuals and communities turn their lives around,” says Anna Scheyett, professor and dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia, adding that the “rich and meaningful” career trumps money. Declare Major on College Applications Three current college students share insights on this necessary application decision.Caroline Duda July 3, 2017

Like her peers in other fields, she sees her industry as one that will continue to grow. “I wish I could say that we are going to become obsolete because social problems are going to go away, but I think we’re a growth profession,” Scheyett says.

To help students narrow down their college major options, some schools offer online quizzes. Loyola University Chicago has a 35 question online quiz to help students learn more about potential majors. Moriarty says it’s built around common questions admissions officers hear from applicants, and students can match with more than 50 different majors.

“The goal of (the quiz) isn’t to say that this should be your direct path, but to provide options based on someone’s interests, to get someone to think outside of the box and understand what majors are really out there,” Moriarty says.

Marquette offers a similar quiz, but instead of suggesting individual majors, it groups students into categories such as communicator, entrepreneur, helper, problem-solver and thinker. When a student completes the college major quiz, suggested disciplines are matched to their results.

Troyer says offering this range helps students think about what’s out there. “Framing it in this way helps them think a little more outside the label of a particular major that a university may have or not have and makes them think about who they want to become,” he says.

While admissions experts say it isn’t necessary for students to know their college majors until the end of their sophomore year, there are advantages to deciding early. Troyer says students can research programs in their majors to help them choose a college, which also allows them to take high school classes that will complement their future studies.

[Read: Find the Best College for Your Major.]

While selecting a college major is an important choice, admissions officials say students shouldn’t feel locked into a major they don’t enjoy or struggle with. Students who wish to change career tracks can do so in college, shifting into another major that better suits them.

Moriarty urges students to discuss the decision with their advisers as soon as they can.

“You need to have those conversations with your academic adviser,” Moriarty says. “A lot of times, if you change early enough it doesn’t affect your four-year plan. It depends on what you’re changing to and what you’ve taken, and that’s where academic advisers are so crucial.”

And for prospective students feeling the pressure to choose a major early, Moriarty says they shouldn’t worry about their choice being factored into admissions decisions.

“For us, it doesn’t hinder their application or chance for acceptance,” Moriarty says.

How We Can Help With Choosing The Right Career Path

For more than a decade, we have assisted hundreds of students find a career path that fits them. The tools we utilize have propelled 92% of our students to graduate their 4 years in 4 years! This in return saves parents money on college and for retirement. Also, the student is less stressed and more focused on their studies.

Is your student unsure about their career path?

Do you want a more efficient way to save for retirement while paying for your students college?

We can help! To make sure that your student succeeds in college and in career, schedule your First Consultation below.


Josh Moody, Reporter

Josh Moody has covered college admissions and international education for U.S. News since …  READ MORE

Tags: educationcollegesstudentscollege majorscollege admissions

How is the 529 Plan Used?

Up to this point, parents have SAVED for college and SHOPPED for college. Suddenly, you come to a momentous occasion–you have to PAY for college. Gulp! Often parents face this first payment in May of their child’s senior year. Parents must understand what expenses can be paid tax free from their 529 plan. What exactly are “qualified expenses”? What things can you NOT use their 529 funds for?

How do we define “qualified expenses”?

Generally, qualified education expenses are “expenses required for the enrollment or attendance of the designated beneficiary at an eligible educational institution.

To use 529 funds to pay for qualifying expenses remember the student must be attending college more than half-time. If less than half time, the expenses cannot be paid for from the 529 without a tax penalty. The student needs to be enrolled “at least half the full-time academic workload for the course of study the student is pursuing.” If 12 credit hours is considered full-time, the student needs to be taking at least six hours for their expenses to qualify.

Let’s get specific.

What are qualified expenses? What can be paid for with 529 money?

  1. Tuition
  2. Fees
  3. Books, supplies, and equipment
  4. Expenses for special needs services necessary for the student to be able to attend college
  5. Room and board
  6. Computer or peripheral equipment, computer software, or internet access
  7. Apprenticeship programs (added in 2019)
  8. Student loan payments (added in 2019)

Some nuances to keep in mind.

Fees do not include parking or similar “optional” fees a student chooses to buy. Parking is not required for attendance at the college. Fees do not include health or other insurance payments even when purchased through the college. Sports expenses or health club memberships are not a covered fee. So, sorry…football tickets are NOT a required expense for college.

Textbooks are a qualified expense, and 529 funds can be used to pay for them. (Parents will probably use their personal money to pay for books so be sure to remind them to save those receipts to be reimbursed by the 529 plan.) Textbooks need to be required reading for the course. Supplies and equipment also have to be required items for the course in order for 529 funds to be used.

Obviously, payment for a dorm room on campus is included as a qualified 529 expense. Some parents are surprised to find out that off campus housing may be included too. Remember, the student must be enrolled at least half-time. The cost for off campus housing cannot exceed the allowance for room and board set by the college in their cost of attendance calculations.

Computers need to be used by the beneficiary during their time enrolled in school. Software used for entertainment like video games does not count as a qualified expense. Cell phones are not included as a qualified expense–no matter how “smart” they are.

Some details about student loan repayment

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. Among its provisions was the expansion of the use of 529 funds to include student loan repayment. With this change, qualified expenses include principal and interest payments on student loans.

Borrowers can use up to $10,000 in 529 funds to pay student loans. This limit is per beneficiary. A 529 plan can be transferred to another beneficiary who also could pay up to $10,000 in loans. Contributions to 529 plans can be made at any time including throughout college. As a result, post graduation loan repayments can be made with tax free money.

Be careful if using the student loan interest deduction on federal taxes. Interest amounts paid for with 529 funds do not get included in the total interest claimed on taxes.

What expenses can not be paid for with tax free 529 funds?

In addition to some of the items mentioned above like health insurance, parking, and football tickets, transportation costs is among the items not considered a qualified expense. Even though the student does need to get to and from the college, it is not considered a necessary expense.

Did you know that we have a much BETTER option than your 529 Plan? Schedule your First Consultation below.

Who Should Be Responsible for Student Loans?

What’s in a name?

Well, when it comes to a loan, kind of a lot. When you take out a loan and sign your name to the document, you assume responsibility for paying that loan off. This is true for all types of loans including housing, auto, and student loans.

Student loan debt is among the most severe type of debt facing Americans today. In fact, it is the second-highest form of debt, trailing only mortgages and racing past credit cards and auto loans. This causes a lot of stress for students and parents as well. 

As advisors, we find that many parents of college-bound kids attempt to assume all or some responsibility for the loans incurred by their children. While this often comes from a place of love and support, it is important that parents and their children know that their child, whose name is signed on the dotted line, is the one ultimately responsible for their student debt.

While the student has the largest responsibility for their debt, that doesn’t mean that parents don’t play any role in the process.

Student debt vs retirement

Parents dipping into their retirement savings to fund education costs can actually cause more harm than good. As the saying goes, there is no loan for retirement. Retirement relies on your personal savings vehicles and other supported programs that you have spent time, energy, and money to build. 

Remember, your financial goals and wellness matter. Retirement is one of the biggest savings goals of your life and it is important that you not sacrifice your present savings as it could harm your future wellbeing. By forsaking some of your savings now, you could also put yourself in a position where you need to rely on your children financially which can cause strained family dynamics.

This really comes down to financial priorities and working to organize your financial life in the most effective and efficient way possible. When it comes to finances, it may seem like everything is essential and while retirement and education are both wonderful goals, it is important to set and follow through on the expectations you set for the many financial priorities in your life. 

The option to cosign

Should your student need to borrow more money than the federal limit allows, they would need to turn to private loans from an outside lender. These loans tend to carry stricter credit and income thresholds, enlisting the need for a cosigner. In fact, MeasureOne found that 94% of undergraduate private student loans had a cosigner in the 2015-2016 term. 

Cosigning on a loan could be a good way for parents to help their children secure the money that they need, but it doesn’t come without a price. When you cosign a loan, you become responsible for the balance should the student not be able to pay. This legal implication is important and could harm your credit if the payments aren’t made consistently and on-time. 

After 3-4 years of consecutive and reliable payments, you can petition to have your name removed from the loan. This is a complex process that examines the liability of the loan and the credit of the borrower. 

Apply for a Parent Plus Loan

A Parent Plus loan is a federal loan designed to help parents cover the costs of education for a dependent. This loan needs to be considered gingerly as it has many implications, namely that the loan will always remain in the name of the parent, and can never be transferred to the student even after they graduate. Interest rates vary each year and the current fixed rate for the 2020-2021 term is 5.30%. 

Offer support in other ways

Love doesn’t always have to come in the form of signing on the dotted line. There are so many ways for parents to offer support to their students. Let’s take a look at a few. 

  • Drive up to school and take them to dinner.
  • Help cover additional expenses such as books, gas, groceries, rent. This could help them save on cash in the meantime and save it up to repay their debt.
  • Give them some money to repay loans when you can. You can supplement that as a birthday present or make it apart of a holiday gift or special occasion. You can help out significantly without taking on the full burden of the responsibility yourself.
  • Be there for them and include them in your meetings with your financial advisor. This space can give them a forum to ask their questions and get professional help from someone your family knows and trusts. 

So when it comes to student loans, names become important. The responsibility of the loan rests on the person who is signing it but that doesn’t mean that student loans aren’t a team effort. There are so many ways for parents to get involved and help their kids understand and manage the responsibility that comes with paying for education. 

College Funding Mistakes

According to College Aid Pro, money worries can keep parents up at night. Paying for college can be scary stuff causing parental nightmares. We’ve collected some of the biggest mistakes families can make that can cause some scary financial struggles. Let’s try to turn those nightmares into sweet dreams.

Not having the parent money talk BEFORE starting the college search

We can’t all afford a Porsche, right? Why go out and test drive one if you are going to have your heart broken when you can’t afford the payments?! We feel strongly the same can be said about the college search.

Although we always mention that families rarely pay the full college sticker price, they still need to be aware of how much a college will cost them after all the available aid, savings, and strategies to pay for it.

Families need to sit down with their student before starting college visits to talk about what they can afford, what would need to be paid for with loans, their loan comfort level, and how they want to approach the search in a smart financial way.

Once everyone is on the same page financially, no one’s heart gets broken.

Being unaware of their Expected Family Contribution

Part of that parent money talk is knowing a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount the government expects a family to be responsible to pay towards college. This number may be a ridiculously high figure, but knowing it is the key to understanding whether a student is a need-based candidate or not. Their college search can hinge on this knowledge. Click here for a good estimated EFC calculator.

Not filing for financial aid (completing the FAFSA)

We’ve mentioned it before…billions of potential college grant dollars go unclaimed every year because people do not file the FAFSA. Even if a family does not think they’ll be eligible for need-based financial aid (because they know what their EFC is, right?!), fill out the FAFSA anyway.

Having a FAFSA on file is helpful in case something changes their financial situation in the future like illness or unemployment. Also, the FAFSA is required for federal student loans and some colleges require it for scholarship consideration.

Students earning too much money or having too much savings

What’s wrong with students earning too much money?! Shouldn’t they work to earn money towards college? Well, yes and no. Money earned by students or saved in the student’s name is assessed at a higher rate on the FAFSA.

Colleges expect dependent students to pay 20% of their earnings and savings towards their college costs. Parental assessment is only 5.6%…a big difference.

If a student is a borderline need-based financial aid candidate, earning too much money could push them out of eligibility for funds they might otherwise have qualified for.

Being unorganized

Closely following the act of filing the FAFSA is filing it on time. When financial aid money is gone, it is gone. If a family forgets to file on time, it could be too late to correct it later when they realize their mistake. We urge everyone to finish filing their FAFSA by November 1st and to file it every year their student is in school.

Student loans are part of the picture for most families. Once students become graduates, they need to stay organized and aware of their financial commitments. We’ve heard stories about students forgetting about the existence of some of their loans and missing payments along the way. This disorganization will put them into a big financial hole affecting their credit and condition.

Part of being organized includes staying on top of a graduate’s situation if making student loan payments becomes a struggle. Don’t wait to investigate consolidation, deferment, and other options until they are practically in default. Credit histories have been wrecked by waiting.

Being unfamiliar with a student’s scholarship terms and conditions

Academically talented students may be offered scholarships from their colleges. This news is great, but sometimes students forget the terms and conditions of their scholarships a year later.

Most colleges require scholarship students to maintain a certain GPA and minimum number of credit hours to keep their scholarship. If a student only takes 12 credit hours per semester, they may fail to meet their scholarship conditions. If their GPA drops below a 3.0 or 3.5 (depending on the school), suddenly their sophomore year costs more than they planned for.

Many scholarships are only offered for a 4-year period. When a student is thinking about changing majors (see the next point), remember a 5th or 6th year will be without a scholarship.

Changing the major (sometimes once…or worse MANY times!)

Changing the major…possibly the biggest nightmare a parent may have. We (and probably you too) hear stories all the time about a friend’s student who is changing their major. Did you know the national 6-year graduation rate is only 59%? Yes, we said “6-year.” Although not the only reason, changing a major is a big contributor to this problem.

Of course, more years equals more costs for parents. Choosing the right major can be trickier for students. Money is a cut and dried subject. Making a choice about a major and career…not so much.

Students need to be exploring their interests in high school. Thinking about what they like and are good at. Doing research about careers. (If you need direction in this area, our friends at At The Core are a great resource.)

Taking out parent loans or private loans when federal loans are the better option

We strongly discourage parents from taking out loans in their names to pay for college. Loans in the student’s name are the best option. (You can read more parent options in this blog.Borrowers over 60 are the fastest-growing segment of student loan debtors as parents choose to take on the loan burden for their kids. The result is a nightmare for retirement.

Being taken advantage of

Our final nightmare scenario we hear about are scams. We simple say “beware.” Scholarship scam services charge high fees for something families could do on their own. FAFSA filers want to charge to file the FAFSA which families can do for free.

Plenty of great FREE resources are out there to help. So, let’s avoid these nightmare situations with some pre-planning and awareness, and sweet dreams will be had by all.

5 Steps to Choosing the Right College

How to choose the right college:

Consider priorities, focus on goals and enjoy the journey.

Acceptance letters are rolling in and choosing a college is about more than the name on the diploma. Where a student goes to school touches numerous aspects of his or her life, from academic studies to social activities and beyond. Considering the importance of this decision, prospective students should think carefully about where they decide to enroll when looking over their options. Accepted to several of your top-choice colleges? That’s an enviable position to be in – though it might not feel like it.

Follow these 5 steps to help you make a college decision.

1. Develop your short list.

  • A lot of thought should go into developing a short list of schools you would like to attend. But what kind of factors should drive your thinking when crafting that list? Brennan Barnard and Rick Clark, authors of “The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together,” urge students to think about location, enrollment size, majors and programs, the people on campus, opportunities outside of the classroom, cost and selectivity.

2. Rank your priorities.

  • Carefully consider your wants and needs when thinking about where you’ll spend the next four years or longer. One way to do this, write Barnard and Clark, is to create a list of those wants and needs.

3. Don’t procrastinate.

  • Experts suggest getting started on the application process by the start of your senior year in high school. And plan plenty of time for college visits, taking standardized tests, writing essays and asking for letters of recommendation.

4. Go back to schools.

  • While you should have gotten a feel for campus life during initial college tours, take another trip to each school and ask 10 to 15 detailed questions, says Bob Roth, author of several books on college success.

5. Focus on your endgame.

  • Ask yourself where you want to be in four years. If you can pinpoint a reasonable job and financial outlook, consider which college might best help you reach those goals.

Why Federal Student Loan Exit Counseling Matters

LIFE AFTER COLLEGE CAN be a challenging period full of changes. If you have federal student loans, they will enter repayment six months after you leave school or drop below half-time enrollment, and that can be a big transition both financially and personally.

Further complicating matters, many student loan borrowers realize near the end of their education journey that they have forgotten the information needed to manage student loans in repayment, especially borrowers who started their education four or more years ago.

That’s where federal student loan exit counseling comes in. You likely learned a lot during your entrance counseling at the start of your education journey when you accepted federal student loans, but you may have forgotten some of that knowledge along the way. Exit counseling can be a great refresher of some key things you need to know to repay your student loans.

Exit counseling is required for all federal student loan borrowers. Borrowers who received a subsidized, unsubsidized or PLUS loan under the direct loan program must complete exit counseling when they drop below half-time enrollment, leave school or graduate. Private student loan borrowers with no federal loans are not required to complete federal student loan exit counseling but may be required to complete a similar program offered by their lender.

Exit counseling is provided online and typically takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. Like entrance counseling, exit counseling topics include the following: Understand Your Loans, Plan to Repay, Avoid Default and Make Finances a Priority.

With so many competing demands on your time, it can be tempting to view student loan exit counseling as just one more item on your to-do list and rush through the session as quickly as possible. But the information it provides can help prepare you to repay your federal student loans, so you should slow down and be sure you absorb it.

Federal student loan exit counseling is worth your time because it can help you:

  • Learn key terms and vocabulary.
  • Understand your loan repayment terms and plan options.
  • Learn how to avoid default.
  • Get financial planning tips.

Learn Key Terms and Vocabulary

Learning how to manage student loan repayment can sometimes feel like speaking a foreign language. There are so many terms that may feel unfamiliar, especially if a student loan is your first financial product. Overlooking an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the related terminology can lead to confusion and frustration down the road, especially if you wait until you need to troubleshoot a problem.

Exit counseling is a chance to brush up on key student loan-related terms and financial vocabulary – like endorser, forbearance and annual percentage rate – that you likely encountered during entrance counseling but may have forgotten. For quick reference, the Federal Student Aid website also maintains a glossary of these terms that you can refer back to later.

Understand Your Loan Repayment Terms and Plan Options

Navigating federal student loan repayment can be complicated. Beyond the standard 10-year repayment plan, the federal student loan program features several additional repayment plans that you can choose from, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each when making your selection.

Student loan exit counseling is your opportunity to learn more about these repayment plans and select one that is aligned with your goals. For example, standard repayment is the fastest and most cost-effective way to repay your student loans. Depending on your financial situation, however, you might find that a plan with a smaller monthly payment initially that grows over time as your salary likely increases – known as graduated repayment – is a better fit.

You can take advantage of the opportunity to choose the best repayment plan for yourself by spending some time with the U.S. Department of Education’s online Loan Simulator repayment calculator, which allows you to estimate your monthly payments on each plan.

Learn How to Avoid Default

Exit counseling is also a good time to learn about the options that are available to you as a federal student loan borrower if you ever experience financial hardship that affects your ability to repay your student loans. It’s important to be aware now of the tools in your toolbox so that you can be proactive and address any problems as they arise.[ 

READ: Student Loan Default: What to Know. ]

Fortunately, the federal student loan program offers many options for struggling borrowers, from pausing payments to lowering monthly payment amounts based on your income. Being aware of these tools and using them as needed can help you avoid going into delinquency and then default, which can damage your credit score and affect your future ability to borrow.

Get Financial Planning Tips

Student loan exit counseling can also help you with your personal finances because it covers financial planning and goal setting. It includes tools to help you think about income taxes and how to access tax incentives for student loan repayment, as well as prompts related to building credit and strengthening your credit score.

Following these tips can get you off to a good start repaying your student loans and put you on a path to a healthy financial future.
10 Big Student Loan MistakesView All 12 Slides

Meghan Lustig, Contributor

Meghan Lustig is the manager of government affairs and member services for Education Finance   READ MORE

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Student Loan Ranger helps prospective and current students and recent graduates make sense of borrowing options, student debt and loan repayment. Previously authored by the Financial Counseling Association of America, National Foundation for Credit Counseling and American Student Assistance, the blog is currently authored by Education Finance Council, a national trade association representing nonprofit and state-based higher education finance organizations. EFC’s member organizations have helped more than 2.5 million families plan and pay for college.

Article by: Meghan Lustig, U.S. News Contributor

Meghan Lustig is the manager of government affairs and member services for Education Finance.

The Elite.

While the national acceptance rate is much higher, the average at these highly selective colleges was 7%, per U.S. News data.

Getting into a dream college can be a tough task, particularly if it receives an abundance of applications. Some schools are highly exclusive, accepting only a small percentage of applicants. Among the most selective colleges ranked by U.S. News, the fall 2018 acceptance rates range from 4% to 8% at these 13 institutions, including ties.

While applicants to these 13 schools face long-shot odds for acceptance, that isn’t true at the majority of schools across the U.S. In fact, the national average acceptance rate at the 1,363 ranked schools that provided acceptance rate data to U.S. News was 67% in fall 2018. Broken down, that means two out of three students were accepted last year at schools to which they applied.

The most selective schools, however, accept only small proportions of applicants. Stanford University in California, the college with the lowest reported acceptance rate among ranked schools, only took in 4% of applicants in fall 2018.

Selectivity demands high standards. According to U.S. News data, the average SAT score for students admitted to Stanford in fall 2018 was 1420, well above the national average of 1068. Admitted students in the 25th-75th percentile range scored between 720-800 on the math section and 700-770 on the evidence-based reading and writing portion. The national average scores on those sections are 531 and 536, respectively, according to the College Board, which administers the test.

U.S. News data also shows that freshman students admitted to Stanford who submitted their high school GPA had an average 3.9 GPA, and 96% of those who submitted their high school class standing were in the top 10% of their class.

Right behind Stanford are Harvard University in Massachusetts and Princeton University in New Jersey, both of which had a 5% acceptance rate for fall 2018 applicants. Across all 13 of these schools, the average acceptance rate was a mere 7%.

Of the colleges on this list, six are Ivy League schools. Looking at other factors, these 13 colleges range in size, location and by institutional category. There are 11 National Universities represented here, defined as institutions that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Also on this list is one National Liberal Arts College, a type of school that emphasizes undergraduate education and awards half or more of its degrees across liberal arts fields. Likewise, one Regional College appears here, a type of school that focuses on undergraduate education but grants less than half of its degrees in liberal arts fields.

Students interested in attending a highly selective school should understand the admissions standards, recognize the competitive nature of getting in and familiarize themselves with how colleges choose students to admit.

Below is a list of the 13 colleges where it was most difficult to gain acceptance in fall 2018. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

Stanford University (CA) 4% 6 (tie), National Universities
Harvard University (MA) 5% 2, National Universities
Princeton University (NJ) 5% 1, National Universities
Columbia University (NY) 6% 3 (tie), National Universities
Yale University (CT) 6% 3 (tie), National Universities
California Institute of Technology 7% 12 (tie), National Universities
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7% 3 (tie), National Universities
University of Chicago 7% 6 (tie), National Universities
Alice Lloyd College (KY) 8% 21, Regional Colleges (South)
Brown University (RI) 8% 14, National Universities
Northwestern University (IL) 8% 9, National Universities
Pomona College (CA) 8% 5, National Liberal Arts Colleges
University of Pennsylvania 8% 6 (tie), National Universities

What are your thoughts on the top 13 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates?

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College Acceptance Letters

It’s about that time!

Many of our clients have been reaching out to let us know that their child is receiving their acceptance letters. YAY! Naturally, the next question that is asked is, “What happens next?” Well, here’s what you can expect from the letters and how to respond to them.

“Congratulations! I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve been admitted to…”

No words could be sweeter if you’re a high school senior looking for confirmation that you’ve been accepted into college. College acceptance letters can represent the moment that many high school students have been working toward, figuring out your next chapter in education and beyond.

When Springtime of senior year rolls around, you can expect to start hearing some rumblings in the hallways. “Macy got her acceptance letter, so did Trevor. Alannah heard back from all four of her schools. Is mine LOST? Does this mean I didn’t get in?!” Nerves can take over, leading you to your mailbox every day after school or constantly refreshing your inbox. The anticipation is completely normal, but it doesn’t make the waiting game any easier.

Whether you’ve applied to one school, or ten, chances are you’ll soon be presented with a decision from a college or university that holds the key to your future! When that day finally comes, here’s what you can expect from the letters, and how to respond to them.

What is a college acceptance letter and what does it include?

College acceptance letters, although varied from school to school, follow a pretty predictable format.

First, an acceptance letter will make it clear if you’ve been admitted or not. If you see the congratulatory message you want, let that sink in! You’ve worked hard and it’s been recognized. If you are seeing a rejection, know you’re not alone – and this isn’t the end of the road. Did you know? Tina Fey was rejected from Princeton, Tom Hanks got a ‘no thanks’ from several colleges, and Steven Spielberg was reportedly rejected from UCLA.

If you’ve been accepted, you’ll see some information about upcoming events for prospective students – these are to help get you familiar with the campus and opportunities that the school can provide, and you should look at this as your chance to decide if the school is really the best fit for you. (Take advantage of these types of events: you may have been accepted to several schools, so now is the time to be extra clear about your wants, needs, and which school fits those best.)

Finally, you’ll want to make note of any deadlines included in your letter. Usually, the school will tell you the deadline for you to make your decision. This date is pretty universal, and typically falls on or around May 1, because you would have heard back from all of the schools you’ve applied to by then.

When are the letters sent out to accepted students?

The big question: when do colleges send out acceptance letters? If you’re wondering when acceptance letters arrive, know that it can vary a little bit based on the schools and when you applied. There’s also a little bit of variation in how decisions are conveyed: you can expect many colleges to send acceptance letters by email or online portal, though some will still send a formal letter in your mailbox, too.

If you applied for early action or early decision to your dream school, it’s likely that you sent in your application earlier than you would have otherwise, typically by November. Your conviction and commitment to the school will be rewarded by an early decision (hence the name), and you should expect to hear back in the winter months: December, January, or February.

If you’ve applied to multiple schools and are unsure of which you want to attend, you probably submitted your application for regular decision, usually by February. In this case, you should expect to see letters come in through mid-March to early April. You should expect to hear back from schools by the first week of April. Why? Because of the May 1 timeline that colleges and universities rely on.

With that said, there is a chance you won’t hear an official decision until the summer. How can that be? Well, for students who are waitlisted, you may not receive final word until the school has more insight on just how many admitted students will accept their invitation to attend and register for classes. That means, for some students, you could find out as late as August. If you’re going to keep a school that has waitlisted you on your list of potential destinations, be sure to have a backup plan (whether it’s a gap semester or year, a short stint at your local community college first, etc.).

How to respond to a college acceptance letter

Your next steps may hinge on whether or not you’ve applied (and been accepted to) more than one school. Since the average student applied to four colleges or universities in 2018, let’s assume you have a few options.

Now may be a good time, if you haven’t done so already, to create a spreadsheet of the schools you’re still considering. You’ll want to include the decision deadline noted in your acceptance letter – don’t lose track of this! The last thing you want to do is miss an opportunity to attend your dream school just because you couldn’t remember when you needed to notify them you intend to register (and submit your deposit; more on that below).

If you’re still in comparison mode, use the spreadsheet to keep track of information on housing, meal plans, and even the details of your financial aid offer letters (which will arrive separately – learn more about award letters). Your offer letters are particularly important if you’re not sure which school to attend. One school, for example, may offer you a large financial aid package, while another may have little to give you. The budgetary implications may help you choose between your various options. You can use a College Planning Calculator to help figure out the full cost of college, further informing your decision.

Once your college acceptance letters are in and you’ve decided which college or university to attend, it’s time to notify your school of choice. You can usually do this by filling out a form and sending it to the college along with a non-refundable deposit. This deposit (which can typically range from $50-$500) is used to secure your spot in the incoming class of students. It’s important to note those deadlines and make sure to send the deposit before the deadline hits, so you don’t lose your spot.

This is also the time to let the other schools know that you don’t intend to enroll. Again, this can be done with the form given to you as part of acceptance letter packet. You should aim to do this by May 1.

Next steps after responding to your college acceptance letter

So, you’ve taken the next step in your journey and enrolled in college – congratulations! So, now what?

You have a few key things to remember:

  1. Whatever you’ve been doing to get into college, keep it up! Colleges can rescind their offers, so now is not the time to slack off. Use this time to continue studying (maybe you have some AP tests that you can take to save money on future college courses), look for summer internships in a field you think you might want to study or a summer job so you can save money, or enjoy the last few months you have with your high school friends before you’re off to your next chapter!
  2. Be sure to keep your social media profiles free of any content that would portray you in a negative or inappropriate light. Your social media accounts are an extension of your transcripts and resumes. Don’t do anything that would embarrass you, your family, or your future college and classmates.
  3. Your college is chosen, but there’s a lot of planning that still needs to take place. For example, how are you planning to pay for college?

    Remember those financial aid offer letters I mentioned? Those are really important, and now that you’ve chosen your college, you just need to reference the one that came from your school. It should list what types of financial aid you qualify for, and can include federal loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study. You’ll need to formally accept part or all of your financial aid offer (or none of it, if you choose), so be sure to do that in the timeline indicated by the school.

    If you haven’t already, start your scholarship search now. Contrary to popular belief, scholarships aren’t just for valedictorians and quarterbacks; there are scholarships for everyone! Are you left-handed? There’s a scholarship for that. Love to bake? There’s a scholarship for that. An expert asparagus grower? There’s a scholarship for that, too! Make sure you’re using this time to find scholarships, carefully apply, and make the most of the free money out there earmarked for your future.

    After you’ve nailed down scholarships and accepted parts of your financial aid offer, you’ll have a better idea of how much of your college costs (tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, etc.) are covered by the funds you’ve outlined. If there’s a gap, you have a few choices to consider, including using some of your savings or income, or taking out a private student loan. This monthly budget worksheet and student loan calculator can help you determine what’s right for you. Helpful hint: don’t take out more in student loans than what you expect your starting salary in your desired profession to be.

That’s a lot to soak in – so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember to pause, celebrate, and keep your eye focused on your future. You’ve done the tricky part and now it’s time to show the college why they were smart to admit you.

Article by Ashley. She is a Sallie Mae employee and a graduate of Immaculata University. A mom of two young girls, her favorite dinner topic is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).