Scholarships: Fact vs. Fiction

We get a lot of questions about “outside scholarships” to help pay for college. Will my child get a scholarship because he or she is left handed? Will my child get a scholarship because he or she has allergies? Will my child get a scholarship because he or she is the great-great-grandchild of Abraham Lincoln’s best friend’s niece?

The first two questions are legitimate, and we get those questions multiple times per year. But as ridiculous as the last question may sound, some people seem to think there is a full-tuition scholarship out there for everything, and that this is the best way to pay for college.

At every workshop, Mike talks about the best places to get “free money” for a student’s tuition and room and board. Most people do not realize that the absolute number one place to get scholarship money is not the federal government, not the local YMCA’s yearly scholarship fund, and certainly not the high school’s guidance department. The number one place is from the colleges and universities themselves.

Only 4% of scholarships given out every year come from private sources. This number is surprising to most families, especially when there is a misconception that there are so many scholarships available outside of the colleges and universities. In reality, most of these scholarships pale in comparison to a merit scholarship offer coming directly from a college itself, when the right student applies to the right school.

Our financial aid search tool, part of the student’s Career Cruising account, makes it easier for both students and parents to find private scholarships that they may be eligible for. Each scholarship may require a different essay, a different application, and potentially an additional interview. If families have the time to complete all of this, it may be worth a shot.

However, we stress at Ensphere that finding a student’s “right-fit” college is the process of matching the right student to the right school based on multiple factors. Are you eligible for financial aid? Do your income and assets make you unqualified at most colleges? These are questions that need to be asked when applying to colleges, and it certainly helps to know ahead of time which schools give the best merit aid for certain situations. Most colleges list their scholarships online, but to how many students do they actually give these scholarships? Over 10 years of seeing all kinds of scholarship offers from different schools for all kinds of students gives us the edge in knowing which schools give the best aid, and to which students. Need to fine-tune your family’s college funding plan? Click here to get on our calendar.

Your best bet has been, and will continue to be, to match the student to the right school to get the most scholarship money. The right colleges will give a good offer to the student that matches the profile they want.

Do Good Grades = Good SAT/ACT Scores?

“As long as you have good grades in school, you don’t need to study in order to do well on the SAT/ACT.”

We’ve heard the above misconception many, many times. And we wish it were the case!

Unfortunately, the SAT and ACT do not match the content of high school courses as closely as you might think. A perfect 4.0 GPA does not guarantee that you’ll achieve high standardized test scores.

I’ve encountered many straight-A students who really struggle with the format and style of questions on the SAT and ACT.

Learning what the SAT considers to be the “right” interpretation of a passage, getting used to the pacing of the ACT, and practicing other test-specific strategies will often feel very different from most students’ academic experiences in high school.

The good news is, practice really does make perfect!

The SAT and ACT are tests that you can study for. Familiarizing yourself with the test structure and most common question types is half the battle. Students need to get comfortable with the kinds of questions they’ll see over and over again and get used to how quickly they need to work through each section of the test.

Over 50% of students end up taking the SAT/ACT more than once.

The students who spend time studying are the ones who see sizable increases in their scores.

Early preparation is key. This is one of the reasons why we encourage students to take both the SAT and ACT in the fall/winter of their junior year. Doing so will leave you enough time to study and retake the test(s) before the end of junior year.

Remember, our free Method Test Prep courses can be accessed through your Career Cruising profile!

8 Steps to Acing the College Admissions Interview

The personal interview is an often misunderstood part of the college admissions process. A good interview, however, can make the difference between getting accepted or rejected by your top school. Typically, interviews take place during the student’s senior year. As with every other piece of the college planning process, it’s important to be prepared!

Does every school require interviews? No. Many of the more competitive private schools will require (or “strongly recommend”) that students participate in admissions interviews, either on campus or with local alumni if you live out of state. This means, if you skip the interview, you most likely will not be accepted. At some schools, the interview is optional—which means you should still elect to participate for the best chance of admission. Other schools do not offer interviews at all. Every school will be slightly different. It’s important to research the schools you’re interested in ahead of time so you understand their policies and requirements.

Read on for some steps you can take for a successful interviewing experience.

1. Do Your Research.

Visit the college’s website before your interview. Make sure to read about the program of study that you’re interested in. Think about what makes this school special. You should be prepared to tell your interviewer why this school is the right fit for you, beyond rankings or the college’s name recognition.

2. Schedule In Advance.

For some schools, you will need to submit an interview request before a certain deadline. Other schools will contact you by phone or email—after you have completed your application—to invite you to interview. Either way, it is a good idea to schedule your interview for the earliest date possible. The sooner you interview, the greater the chance that your interview will be given careful consideration in the decision-making process. Remember, after the interview, your interviewer needs time to write a formal summary and submit it to the school. If you put off the meeting, you run the risk of interviewing too late in the game to really influence the admissions decision.

What if you’re invited to interview on a day that’s not ideal for your schedule? Make it work! Declining an invitation to interview, canceling at the last minute, or even asking to reschedule can signal to the school that you’re not really interested. There’s a good chance your “yes” will turn into a “no.”

3. Dress Neatly.

While you need not show up in formal attire, it is a good idea to wear clothing that is neat and clean. Many schools recommend “business casual” attire for interviews.

4. Practice.

Sit down with a family member or friend, and practice! For many high school students, the college admissions interview is one of their first experiences with this type of conversation. Don’t memorize a script, but practice answering some of the basic questions you can expect to encounter. Be prepared to talk about why you’re interested in attending this particular college, why you’ve chosen your desired major and career path, and how you spend your time outside of school. Practicing ahead of time will help you to calm your nerves and come across more naturally in your interview.

5. Prepare Questions.

Don’t be taken by surprise when your interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” The worst thing you can do is to have zero questions for the interviewer. In fact, it’s a great idea to prepare school-specific questions in advance. You should be ready with questions that are specific to the school you’re interviewing for, whether those questions relate to academics or campus life. This is another reason why it’s important to do your research beforehand. Asking the right questions shows that you’ve put some thought into this particular college.

6. Be Positive.

Try to phrase your responses as positively as possible. Interviewers are looking for enthusiasm and personality. Avoid taking a negative, bitter, or bored tone during the interview. Positivity includes body language! Sit up straight, make eye contact, and smile.

7. Relax.

Take a deep breath, and be yourself! The interviewer is not expecting you to use big vocabulary words or have the “perfect” answer to every question. It’s okay to take your time when answering questions. Interviewers are looking for thoughtful responses that reflect who you are outside of grades and test scores. The best interviews are conversational and authentic.

8. Say Thank You.

After your interview, it’s a great idea to send a handwritten thank you card to your interviewer. Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you, and reference something that you talked about in your conversation to show that you were paying attention. These days, it’s becoming less common for students to send thank you cards after their interviews, so you will impress your interviewer by going the extra distance.

College Rankings: What Do They Mean?

college rankings

Students and parents are often bombarded with information about the colleges and universities that they are looking into. Recruiting offices send out hundreds if not thousands of marketing materials that are packed full of small factoids and tidbits of information about the school’s past performance, scholastic achievements, recent happenings, and campus environment. In this mess of information, how do you decide what is important and what is not? Let’s take a look at a recent publication from a school our students regularly attend: Duquesne University.

The Duquesne Duke recently released an article, Duquesne named to list of ‘best value’ universities. In it, Alison Caracciolo explains how Duquesne’s unique culture and environment of “being more than a number” gave her and many others the foundation they needed to thrive.

The pinnacle of the article highlights that Duquesne University was recently ranked 124 among 1,374 colleges and universities in the “Best National Universities” list in the U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking, with a six-spot increase from number 43 to number 37 in the “Best Value School” ranking.

The sheer number of colleges and universities to select from can be daunting to soon-to-be college students. For students relying on rankings for guidance, it is critical to unravel the question: what does this ranking mean and why do I care?

Although rankings are a good way to combine and summarize the information available about a college or university, rankings can fail to show the specific factors that make up the ranking and their importance.

Things like class sizes, graduation rates, retention and placement rates can go without notice because most parents and students don’t know where to look for this information or even what to look for.

All that being said, what should you look for when researching colleges?

  • If you’re in search of a school’s academic performance, you might want to look into the graduation rates along a 4-, 5- and 6-year breakdown to see the percentage of students graduating on time.

  • Placement rates are a good indicator of how deeply the school is invested in helping outgoing seniors find jobs.

  • Class ratio is a good indicator of the personal relationships you will be able to develop with professors. If you are someone who prefers one-on-one opportunities with instructors, you will want to look for class sizes of 25-40 people rather than some universities that primarily offer 100+-sized lectures for certain programs.

  • To determine whether a school is a safe option, solid match, or reach for you, it can help to look into the acceptance rate for a basic idea of its admission difficulty.

  • Another critical piece of information is the college’s financial need met, which illustrates the historical average percentage of families’ financial need that is met.

Whichever piece of information about a school is most important to you, knowing what you are looking for and what those numbers mean will make a world of difference.