What We’re Up To

I get a lot of questions about where we are in the application process. Here’s a quick update:

Daughter:

Following our college tour, she started looking at the applications for the various schools she’s interested in. Even with a pretty basic list– our in-state flagship, an out-of-state flagship and a few privates– she’ll need to do the Common App, the Coalition App, and at least one school’s own application. Plus, each of the private schools has supplemental essay questions, the Coalition and Common Apps have different general essay requirements, and some of the scholarships for which she’s eligible have their own application processes including essays. From that she concluded that she needed to trim down her list of schools to no more than 10. She felt that better essays would help the admissions process more than additional applications to schools that are effectively admissions lotteries. Even at that, she’s writing more than 20 essays (ranging from 250 words to 2 pages), plus an activities resume and personal statement for teachers and counselors to write recommendations. Admittedly, some are variations on the same topic but the “same essay” in 500 words and 650 words is not quite the same essay.

Because that’s a lot of work and a lot of deadlines, and she’s a teenager so not a great project manager, we ended up hiring an essay coach. With many of these essays due Jan. 1, I’m referring to the essay coach as “winter break vacation insurance.” The coach has committed to us that all essays will be done by Dec. 1. Best of all, they require no nagging on my part!

How did we narrow down her list of colleges? A lot weeded themselves out through our trip. We discussed under what circumstances she would actually accept an admissions offer to each school. For that activity, we assumed she’ll get accepted at both publics she’s applying to, so all of the others had to be a better all-around choice than either of those. She kept one Boston school on her list even though it wasn’t a top choice because she loves the idea of going to school in Boston and she’s reasonably confident she’ll get accepted to that school with a good merit aid package, whereas her other two Boston choices are highly selective. A few more were eliminated when we did post-trip net price calculators. We had discussed with her what we were willing to spend annually on college, so she could immediately see what she would need to contribute or earn in scholarships. There were plenty of schools where that just didn’t pencil out. Fortunately she’s a pretty reasonable person in that regard. Of course, net price calculators are not guarantees and we haven’t yet faced the very real prospect that she might get admitted with an aid package that looks quite different from what we expect on that basis. Filing that one under “cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Son:

His first choice is our in-state flagship school, where we expect that he will be accepted. For him, the process is quite different: He really wants to go to a big school, so his other choices are WUE schools. I confess there’s so much to like about the University of Oregon admissions process for in-state kids. They really seem to want to make it the first choice for kids in Oregon so the application process is pretty straightforward and low-stress– quite the contrast to his sister’s second job as a college applicant. His English class is working on Common App essays, so he’s got that piece covered at school. No recommendations are required (this is pretty typical for large publics); even the scholarships for which he’s eligible are granted automatically based on grades and test scores. He’s going to do early action (non-binding) just to get an answer and perhaps won’t even apply elsewhere. And they take either the Common App, Coalition App or their own app– no need for additional applications or essays. There’s a part of me that feels a little weird about a college admissions process that’s so low-key, but a big part of me is really happy that there is no circus here.

General preparation:

I imagine that most high schools are like ours: They have very strict deadlines for when items like letters of recommendation need to be requested. Several of my daughter’s teachers let the students know at the end of last year what their own deadlines and requirements were and asked kids to take care of as much as possible over the summer. Every time we feel like everything is under control– we have a big calendar in my daughter’s room with all the due dates and what’s getting done each week– something else comes up. This week it’s the National Merit Scholarship (yes, I’m bragging) which has its own application that’s due next week.

I realize that we’re very fortunate to be able to provide a lot of resources and financial support for our kids in the college process and that’s not the case for everyone. That’s part of why I’m so happy about the UofO admissions process. My daughter quit her after-school job because she had so much college application work, whereas my son has picked up some extra shifts the next few weeks. Between college visits, the essay coach, test prep and 10 applications, we’ll probably end up spending an extra $5,000 on her application process. We didn’t do any of that for him. (Don’t worry, he still knows we love him.) He took a free ACT prep class offered by our school, took the ACT for free at school, is doing his essays at school, and will likely only apply to one school for a grand total of $65. And who knows, despite all the differences in process, there’s a reasonable chance that they’ll both end up at the same school– all of which goes to the point that there are plenty of ways to get through this process with your sanity and wallet intact. (At least partially on the wallet piece– check back with me next year when I’m paying two college tuitions!!)

Finances:

We’ve discussed with both kids what we’re willing to pay for college: not just the overall cost, but our policy is that we’ll pay for A’s and B’s but nothing below that. If they don’t get those grades, they’ll have to pay that portion of tuition. Our son should get a scholarship that covers what we’d expect him to contribute, thanks to doing really well on the ACT. With our daughter, it will depend on where she ends up given the range of choices and potential costs, but financial aid will be a part of her decision-making process.

We’re fortunate that they are twins because with two in college, our net cost is considerably lower. (Families with multiple children who will have overlapping college years should calculate net cost with the different numbers of children in college to get a more accurate picture!)

In preparation for filling out the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE, we’ve had them spend down their bank accounts. I also hire them as office help and the money they make (which they won’t receive until after we’ve filed) will go into their 529s.

What strikes me in all of this is, as I said above, the range of options, effort and expense you can put into the college application process. I feel like we’re on two opposite ends of the spectrum with our two kids, but I also feel like we’re doing what’s right for each of them.

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