The secrets that admissions officers don’t want you to know

Here are the Common App essay prompts for 2021-2022.

For the first time in almost five years the Common App has introduced a new essay prompt:

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

These colleges went to remote learning and still raised tuition

According to CNBC, until the coronavirus crisis, nothing had been able to slow the pace of annual college tuition increases.

Year after year, college costs edged higher, rising 3% to 5%, on average — outpacing inflation and family income.

However, in the midst of the pandemic, schools are under pressure to keep these increases in check. Several institutions said they would freeze tuition during the ongoing economic crisis, while a smaller number announced discounts or even more dramatic tuition cuts.

As a result, this year increases in tuition and fees were the lowest in three decades, according to the College Board — rising just 1% to 2% in 2020-21 at public and private colleges.

And yet, there were schools that raised their prices anyway, including some of the nation’s most elite institutions, with healthy enrollment numbers and solid endowments.

Stanford, Yale, Wellesley, Amherst, Brown, Dartmouth, Rice and Grinnell College all raised undergraduate tuition for 2020-2021 about 4% to 5%, even though classes are being taught largely online, according to a recent report by GoBankingRates. 

“There are no instructional cost savings for Grinnell to pass along to students who enroll online,” according to Grinnell’s website. “Consequently, we will not apply a universal discount to the cost of courses offered online.”

Harvard University and California Institute of Technology were fully remote in the fall and invited only a limited number of students on campus for the spring. However, tuition still increased roughly 4% at both institutions.

These days, tuition accounts for about half of a school’s revenue and providing a college education — even online — is only getting more expensive, according to Richard Arum, dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine.

Paying for faculty is one of a school’s largest expenses and those outlays remain fixed, plus there are extra costs from software and technological upgrades as well as new public safety measures due to Covid-19.

Already, universities have announced revenue losses in the hundreds of millions.

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.