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Know the 5 Basics of Financial Aid Resources to Pay for College

You’ve gotten to the point of your college search where you’re waiting for those acceptance letters. A time of anticipation and tentative excitement. You may also start to feel a sense of being overwhelmed as your brain starts the natural shift to thinking about “how the heck do people pay for all this?”.  We have you covered! There are strategies and tools we can help you take advantage of to continue confidently along your college planning path.

For a start, it’s important to know the five basic categories of financial aid sources.

National Merit Scholarships

Scholarships granted to those students who score in the highest percentiles on the PSAT test in October of the Junior year. Those students who receive these high scores then submit an essay, resume, and other scholastic data to the National Merit Scholarship Organization. This source is supported by many nationally ranked businesses who fund this program. The committees involved then select the student recipients, and the donations are then made directly to the school of the student’s choice.

Grant Programs of the Federal Government

Students who are eligible are those whose family’s adjusted annual gross income is less than $50,000 as determined by the combined filing of IRS forms. Students who have trust funds, or other assets, normally do not qualify for grant aid. Financial aid amounts can be determined when the student files the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, available online at  In fact, most colleges that grant any other type of financial aid (nonfederal) usually require that this form be submitted.

College Discretionary Scholarship Promise

These scholarships are given to students with outstanding SAT/ACT scores, high grade point averages or athletic skills. The private schools develop their own requirements regarding the granting of scholarships and will use this money to attract top students, students from special populations or students with special talents, i.e. football.  Some of the private schools with high tuition costs are also now offering financial aid support to those students from middle income families who might not be able to afford the high cost of private school tuition.

Student Loans and Work Study Programs

These are Federal sponsored loans that require FAFSA also be filed. The difference is that in order to receive these loans the student must promise to repay these loans at a future date. There are also non-federal, low interest, long term loans available for college bound students. Some of these loans are need-based, and some of them are options for credit-worthy parents to borrow funds for their child’s education. In addition, there are twelve federally funded curriculum areas that offer work opportunities for students through work study programs. Some college campuses also offer similar opportunities.

Private Scholarship Foundations

These scholarships are awarded by associations, businesses, private individuals, and charitable organizations for a variety of reasons from ethnicity to talent, to academic interest, to parent occupation, etc. They range in amounts from $50 to $5000. They usually have at least four requirements and can be researched at any public library that carries a database or reference volumes or online through various scholarship search engines.  For the database, students enter their personal data and the computer program will college all scholarship opportunities that fit the profile of the student.  Thousands of these scholarships remain unclaimed annually. Students pay only paper costs for these services.

Take it One Step at a Time

Don’t feel that you need to tackle all five right away. Take them one step at a time!

In College Pathfinder, the LaunchPad newsletter, we share opportunities for scholarships along with tips for completing financial aid applications. One of the best first steps is to make sure you are subscribed to College Pathfinder here!

Then work on completing your FAFSA and making a super-complete list of all the activities and sports you’ve been involved with as well as a list of your interests and hobbies.

Want some help taking those steps? Reach out to Beth today!

Test-Optional – What to Do?

The pandemic made last year and like no other for college admissions. The most significant change is that many schools have decided to go test-optional. Test-optional means you do not have to submit your ACT or SAT scores if you don’t want to and you won’t be penalized for it during the admission review.  

During the admissions cycle for the class of 2021, regardless of the school’s elite status, more than 1,000 campuses have dropped SAT/ACT as an admission requirement and admission officers have reviewed a record number of applications due to the number of students taking advantage of this option.

… test scores are important but not nearly as significant as students and parents think.

– Jeff Selingo

What to Do

In his book, Who Gets in and Why, A Year Inside College Admissions, released just before the pandemic, Jeff Selingo says, “..test scores are important but not nearly as significant as students and parents think.” Admissions officers use scores mainly to check against the transcript, asking questions such as do the grades and transcripts line up?  

It has been discussed among many college advisors that if you have a score lower than 1300, it is advisable not to submit your score. Anything below that, you may want to choose to go test-optional. 

What Happens Then

So, what factors does an admission counselor look at when reviewing an application without test scores? Many put the most weight on GPA as well as the rigor of the curriculum. They will also look at essays, teacher and counselor recommendations, and extracurricular activities. 

Don’t despair if your GPA is lower! There are many schools out there that provide excellent education and accept students with lower GPAs. Your selection of a major may be a deciding factor. 

Try to find opportunities while in high school to show your interest in this field and list them in your extracurricular activities list. Showing an increase in grades, an internship, a volunteer opportunity, or a unique project may be just the advantage you need to overcome a lower GPA. 

Looking for some help with discovering your strengths or figuring out how to showcase your accomplishments for your college applications? We can help! Contact us today. 

Early Action? Early Decision? Regular Admission? Oh My!

There is a little vocabulary to go with filling out your college applications: Early Action, Early Decision, Regular Admissions, and Rolling Admissions. These are like “time zones” of when you should apply to certain colleges. Each “zone” means something a little different. Beth has broken it down a little for you! 

Early Action

Early Action (EA) means the college will review and decide to accept you early (before their Regular Admissions). 

The EA deadline for most colleges is typically before November 15. Check the official date for your specific college on the college website.If accepted, you will receive a letter of acceptance, denial or they may choose to put you in a pile for regular decision. This letter typically arrives in December. 

Applying through EA does not mean you are required to commit to that college when you receive the acceptance.  Being accepted EA does mean you can rest assured that you have at least one (or more) colleges to choose from for your final decision (which is usually May 1).. 

Early Decision

Early Decision (ED) means you want to make an early decision (before May) and does require you to make a decision and commit to that college. If you decide to accept a school ED, you should withdraw your applications from the other colleges on your list.  

The ED deadline for most colleges is also before November 15. Again, check the date for your specific college on the college website. 

You apply through ED to the school that is top on your list and that you want to go to if you are accepted. Again, the school can choose to accept your application as ED or move you to the regular admission pile. 

Jeffrey Selingo, in his book, “Who Gets In And Why, A Year Inside College Admissions,” states that the rising popularity of early decisions is the most significant contributing factor to the admissions calendar. It can be very appealing to some students to secure their spot by December of their senior year, knowing where they will be going in the Fall.  However, Selingo says, “although this might be appealing, it can speed up the decision-making for some students who are not ready to make that decision.”  So be sure about your decision if applying this way!

Regular Admission

If you didn’t apply for EA or ED, don’t despair! Regular Admission is just that – the regular time colleges review applications and make decisions. Colleges leave many of their spots open for Regular Admission, which is the largest candidate pool for admissions counselors.  

The Regular Admission deadline is typically before January 15. Again, check the date for your specific college on the college website. Acceptances from Regular Admission usually go out as early as March, but others may wait until the last minute in April.  

If you haven’t heard from a school you want to attend, you should reach out to your admission counselor to ask about the status. Just be sure not to go overboard in your communication!

Rolling Admissions

While many colleges have admissions deadlines, others have Rolling Admissions, which means you can apply any time during the school year. 

The admission counselors will review your application and get back to you with a decision. Many times they accept applications even into June or July before the Fall semester. 

Keep in mind – there are only a defined number of spaces at each college. So if it is a college you genuinely want to attend, you should apply as early as possible! 

Final Thoughts

As you make your decision between applying EA, ED, Regular Admissions, or choosing a college with Rolling Admissions, think about your goals and personality.  

Are you someone who makes quick decisions, are you someone who wants to see all your options?  

Or are you someone that wants to wait until you narrow your list down before you start applying? 

While these are personal decisions, there is some strategy involved when applying to select schools.  If you need help trying to decide which route to take in the application process, please reach out to Beth or your school counselor to discuss the options and the right strategy!