What to do this Summer

Another school year is drawing to a close, meaning that free time and mental bandwidth are about to become available for many students. Here are some things high school students may want to spend some time on this summer:

  • Common App essay prompts. These are available now, so any high school student would do well to take a look especially since the prompts don’t change a whole lot from year to year. College application “season” is quite busy between completing applications, getting letters of recommendation, completing the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE, test-taking, and all the other tasks involved, not to mention keeping up on schoolwork. Rising seniors may find it’s easier to focus on these essays during the summer when they don’t have other writing assignments.
  • Test requirements. Rising juniors and seniors should start looking at their desired schools’ test requirements and 75th percentile scores. My daughter thought she was done with tests after taking the ACT and SAT, so she was more than a little disappointed to learn that many of the schools she’s interested in require 2 or 3 subject tests. And if you want merit aid, you should look at your desired schools’ 75th percentile scores for these tests (College Navigator is a good source) and scholarship requirements. If you’re not there, do some test prep over the summer and plan to re-take at least one of the tests.
  • Talk about what your family can afford for college. Affordability results from a combination of savings, cash flow and borrowing. In a time of rising interest rates and lowering protections for student borrowers, families should focus on the first two and limit the last. Far better to understand this now– prior to applying– than trying to find the tooth fairy who will make an unaffordable offer from a dream school a possibility. FAFSA4caster is one tool; better is to use schools’ net price calculators as those will incorporate the school’s own aid policies.
  • Clean up social media accounts. This is especially important for rising seniors. Google yourself and decide whether what you find reflects positively or not. We’ve all seen stories of prospective freshmen done in by social media. Now is a great time to delete posts, close accounts and un-tag yourself.
  • Visit colleges! You won’t get a true sense of the campus environment in the summer, but most schools have a reasonable activity level during summer sessions. Visiting “away” schools when you’re traveling can be particularly beneficial, even if you’re not interested in them. You might find some differences that are appealing, or it might help reinforce that what you’re already interested in is right for you.

As a parent of two juniors, I’m particularly focused on what rising seniors need to be doing. However, any high school student can get ahead of the curve by taking on some or all of these this coming summer.

Finding Scholarships

Did you know you can get a scholarship just for being enthusiastic about the number 5? Or for being tall? Or well-rounded? Or wearing a dress made from Duck Tape to prom? While the vast majority of scholarship dollars on any college campus come from the school’s own funds and donors, there are plenty of other scholarships out there for students willing to track them down and apply. Summer– when school-related writing is on hiatus– is a great time to apply for outside scholarships. Here are some of the best ways to find them: Continue reading Finding Scholarships

Manipulation of Student Loan Default Rates

A recent New York Times article brought attention to a GAO report about schools manipulating their cohort default rate data to avoid federal sanctions that can result from schools having too high a percentage of students default on their loans. Because cohort default rates are a metric I’ve encouraged prospective students to look at, I wanted to provide some additional detail. Continue reading Manipulation of Student Loan Default Rates

Scholarships and Why You Still Need to Save

According to the College Board, about 2/3 of college students receive some form of scholarship or grant. And the NCAA doles out more than $2.9 billion in scholarships annually. Many parents see numbers like those, look at their own children’s awesomeness, and say, “We’ve got this.” But breaking down those numbers shows that you will still pay quite a bit for college and therefore probably need to save. Continue reading Scholarships and Why You Still Need to Save

A little off topic today

Lately it feels like the Interwebs are loaded with stories about “perfect” kids—4.3+ GPAs, 1400+ SATs—not getting into their first choice schools. Kids are being told that getting into a “good college” is the “best path” to a “good life” so they work hard, hit all the marks they’re supposed to, and then get shut down in the college admissions process. (Scare quotes are deliberate there.) Going into a four-day trip chaperoning the high Continue reading A little off topic today

2018 Rhodes Scholars

As May 1 approaches, undecided students or those disappointed not to have received an admissions offer from their top choice should take a look at the 2018 Rhodes Scholar winners. The diversity of educational institutions represented in the list speaks volumes about the range of universities that can prepare students to excel in a variety of areas. While elite schools are of course well-represented, the winners come from a variety of institutions including public, private and military. The accompanying press release highlights four students chosen from colleges who had never before had a Rhodes Scholar: Hunter College, CUNY; Temple University; the University of Alaska Anchorage; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

AAUW’s Student Debt Showdown

AAUW did their own version of March Madness, and the results are pretty interesting. They took the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament brackets and had the teams compete based on median student debt held by women upon leaving the institution. The results are of course quite different than the basketball games’ outcomes, with Duke winning the men’s bracket and Princeton the women’s.

Full details and results are here. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, check it out because it’s probably among the more entertaining ways to view student debt burdens by school.

Potential Changes to Federal Loan Programs

In late 2017 and early 2018 there was a flurry of news about plans to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which governs student loan programs among other things. Both the PROSPER Act which passed through committees in Congress in December and the White House budget proposal earlier this year called for changes to loan programs, especially the PLUS loan program. (PLUS loans are those used by parents and graduate students. Despite their relatively high interest rates– in the 7% range– they are an Continue reading Potential Changes to Federal Loan Programs