The Common App and Coalition App

The Common App and Coalition App are available now. It’s summer (at least here in Oregon it’s still summer), so why should you care? Looking now can give students a fuller sense of all the pieces they’ll need to assemble for their applications. Based on our experience and recommendations from guidance counselors, I’d suggest starting with the Common App.

Here are a few things to do:

Find the colleges you’re interested in applying to in the Common App’s search feature. Note any that don’t appear so you can find out how to apply to them. If not all of your colleges appear in the Common App, repeat this step with the Coalition App to see if one or the other application lets you apply to all of your schools.

Once you’ve found all of your schools and added them to your application (My Colleges in the Common App), you can click through each one to see its application and essay requirements by clicking on each college in the My Colleges section.

We found it helpful to create a spreadsheet of colleges that included net price, types of financial aid offered, application due dates and costs, application requirements (e.g., some take a general counselor recommendation; others want recommendations from specific types of teachers such as one STEM and one humanities), and essay questions. With respect to essay questions, writing the questions in the spreadsheet can be helpful in identifying common questions such as each school’s variation on, “Why here?” In creating the spreadsheet, make sure that you find the relevant info for any colleges that aren’t on the Common App, whether they require the Coalition App or their own.

Seeing all of this information in one place might help narrow down the list a bit, or you may decide that outside help is needed. My daughter struck several schools from her list upon seeing all the essays she’d need to write, and we ended up hiring an essay coach to manage the writing process. My son realized that he didn’t need counselor recommendations and he could do early action to both of his schools, but he did need to get his online transcript because one of his schools required him to enter courses and grades in the Common App.

Both applications have limited space for activities, so reviewing the format now can help students be more thoughtful about how best to present their extracurriculars. You might see this as either a laundry list or an opportunity to show who you are in a way that supports your personal essay.

And of course, if you haven’t done so already, look at the essay prompts! Both have been out since this spring so students may be familiar with them already– and they don’t change significantly from year to year. Many seniors will write their personal essay in their English class senior year; even so, familiarizing oneself with the prompts over the summer will help get that process started. Common App essay prompts are here; Coalition here.

Students who will need to complete both the Common App and Coalition App might want to review the differences between the two to determine if one or the other might be a better fit, and the answer might differ for different colleges. Many guidance counselors and consultants encourage students to use the Common App wherever possible simply because, based on its longer history and wider acceptance, admissions personnel are more familiar with it and thus more likely to “find” the information you’ve entered.

Loan Payments in Grace Period

Upon graduation, student loan borrowers have a 6 month grace period during which time no loan payments are required to be made. Sounds great, right? For many borrowers with “getting started” expenses like security deposits and moving expenses, the grace period can be a real lifeline. However, any payment you can make during the grace period is highly beneficial because unlike a traditional loan payment that is part principal and part interest, a payment during the grace period results in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the loan balance. Huh? Continue reading Loan Payments in Grace Period

Better EFC Strategies

I get tons of questions about strategies for reducing EFC, especially those related to the Asset Protection Allowance. And there are plenty, but sheltering assets is typically the lowest bang-for-the-buck strategy out there: Every $1,000 you shelter will only reduce your EFC by $54. And that assumes that the school will meet your full need. Here are some better options: Continue reading Better EFC Strategies

Net Price Matters More

What do the numbers $7,000, $42,000, $44,000, $56,000, $58,000, $72,000 and $81,000 have in common? Each is a net price estimate (rounded) that we received from a different college, using the same data inputs. That’s one example of why one might reasonably argue that Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is of marginal significance. Continue reading Net Price Matters More

Does EFC Matter?

When you start looking at specific colleges, net price calculators are the best tool to figure out how much the school will actually cost– especially since they will show the aid package including self-help aid (loans and work study). Anyone who has gone through this process knows that the net price tends to differ quite a bit from EFC. And only the FAFSA provides an EFC, so you’re definitely going to get a different cost from a school that requires the CSS Profile. Which begs the question, does EFC matter? Continue reading Does EFC Matter?

What to Expect in the 2020-2021 FAFSA

Last month– as it does every May– the Department of Education released its Needs Methodology for the coming FAFSA. The Higher Education Act of 1965 requires that the Income Protection Allowance, Adjusted Net Worth of a Business or Farm, the Education Savings and Asset Protection Allowance, and the Assessment Schedules and Rates be updated annually for inflation. Continue reading What to Expect in the 2020-2021 FAFSA

Community College as a Pathway to a Four-Year Degree

Community colleges are often promoted as a great way for students to start on the path to a four-year degree: they’re lower cost than four-year colleges and it’s more likely the student can live at home to save additional money. However, a recent study showed that while 81% of students entering community colleges aspired to a bachelor’s degree, only 14% actually earn one within six years of starting at a community college. In fact, only 1/3 of community college students in the study’s cohort even transferred to a four-year institution. Continue reading Community College as a Pathway to a Four-Year Degree

Late-Stage College Savings Strategies

One of the bigger frustrations about 529 plans that I hear from parents is their reliance on investments to fund college. In the early accumulation years, parents don’t like the seemingly large allocations to fixed income that many plans have. As college nears, parents’ fears tend to group around two risk factors: market risk, whereby you might lose some or all of your savings in a poorly-timed market downturn; and inflation risk, where a conservative investment allocation means your savings are losing purchasing power due to inflation. Continue reading Late-Stage College Savings Strategies

Unemployment Rates

With college tuition increases outpacing inflation by a substantial margin, it’s normal to ask whether a college degree is worth the cost. One metric for determining that is whether a degree results in lower unemployment. A recent New York Fed report shows that college graduates have consistently lower unemployment rates than those without a degree. Not only that, but during recessionary periods (the shaded areas in the chart below) those without degrees suffer far higher unemployment rates. Continue reading Unemployment Rates