March College Guy Rant for Seniors: Chopped Liver, Acceptance Protocol, Financial Aid and Stalking the Wild Scholarship

Hey Seniors - greetings from the College Guy!

Hope everyone in the Northeast enjoyed all that snow today. Just when we thought March had turned lamb-ish! Despite the renewed presence of the white stuff it’s consoling to pick up the sports section and see that the boys of summer are hard at work in Florida and Arizona, and before we know it the season opener will be here (and if you have to ask "What Season?", well, never mind!). For the rest of us, circle March 29th on your calendars - that’s when my Yankees open against the Blue Jays in Toronto!

Here's a chock-full-'o-info College Guy Rant for March. Some of the stuff contained herein just may be of use to you and your folks, so take some time and read through it carefully...

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First, lemme give you my "Chopped Liver" speech, which is what you're gonna get from me when I find out that you've received decisions from your colleges without letting me know.

Now many of you have been dutiful correspondents and have shared the good (and at times not-so-good) news with me, for which I'm appreciative. This is for the rest of you.

It goes like this: either you call me or I call you, or we run in to one another in the Old Port or at the Westbrook Cinemagic, and I say something pithy like:

"So, what's new?"

And you reply: "Well, I'm trying to decide between the acceptances I’ve gotten from Bard and Bates, but you know I was wait listed at Barnard and rejected at Brown, and also Beloit just offered me $26,000/year to go there, so I just don't know what to do!"

"When did you hear all this?" sez I.

"Oh, I've known for a couple of weeks!" you reply.

...and I say something sparkly like: "Well, uh, duh, that's great, like, were you planning on telling me? WHAT AM I, CHOPPED LIVER????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????!? !!!!!!!!!??????!!!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?"

So moral of the story here is to PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU HEAR FROM YOUR SCHOOLS: good, bad or wait-list. I'd really appreciate it cause it helps me keep the pulse on what schools are up to from year to year, y'know what I mean?

And as an added incentive (not that you should need one), I've got a suggestion for things you can do if you get wait listed. Briefly, it's an attempt to appeal the decision (without begging or getting all undignified), to make sure they didn't mix you up with someone else, to let them know you're still interested and to score some extra points toward them potentially taking you off the wait list and offering you an acceptance down the road. 

Does that happen often? To be honest, no. But over the last few years I’ve seen more than a few qualified applicants successfully come off a wait-list after showing the school in question some love, desire and hustle. If you should get wait listed (or if you were deferred from early decision or early action) give me a holler and ask me about the "waiting list appeal". You may still have some moves to make.

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Now for those of you who haven't yet heard from some of your schools don’t get all nervous. Take a deep breath and....relax. The most selective colleges like to take their sweet time, and they’ve been known to keep you in suspense till the middle or even the end of March to send out their decisions. So take a chill pill and keep the waiting game going...Concentrate on something else, like the upcoming baseball season. Um, or your physics homework.
 
It should go without saying (though I’ll say it here anyway) that if you haven’t heard from a college you’ve applied to and you never received confirmation from them that they received your application, you need to call that school and ask what’s up! Sometime things get lost or mis-handled, and you don’t want to find out in May that your folder got wedged between file drawers or your application got mislabeled and lost in cyberspace. 
 

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THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU'RE ACCEPTED BY A SCHOOL

When you do get a letter of acceptance, you should follow a standard protocol something like the following:

1. Feel good about yourself, say "hip hip hooray"

2. Read the letter carefully, take note of grants and scholarship awards, invitations to attend accepted student programs, and requests for deposits (check out what I have to say about this further on in the rant).

3. Let your guidance counselor and me know.

4. Feel good about yourself again, say "hip hip hooray" again

5. Call me old fashioned, but I think it's a good thing to write a letter (or email) to the person who signed the admissions letter (usually the Dean of Admissions). Be gracious and grateful - ESPECIALLY IF THEY OFFERED YOU MONEY!!! - and let them know how excited you are. Then assure them that although you're still waiting to hear from another school or two, you will be getting back to them very soon to further explore their offer of acceptance.  

(NOTE BENE: all schools MUST give you till April 30th before non-refundable deposits are due and you make your final decisions. No rush here - don’t let yourself feel pressured)

6. If you've been in close contact with coaches, professors, other "pen pal” types at the schools which have accepted you, let them know the good news as well.

7. When you get accepted by your safety schools do the same thing (it's good to be nice, and one never knows) and as you thank them you might delicately ask if they have moolah for you. 
 
(Write or phone me if you want specific suggestions for how to do # 5 and #7 tactfully).

8. Continue to feel good about yourself, lord it over younger siblings, particularly the annoying ones, and remind your parents that they won't have you around much longer so now's the time for them to ply you with movie tickets, nice gifts and later curfews. Try saying "hip hip hooray” within earshot of them - they're bound to be moved!

9. PARENTS TAKE NOTE: Make sure your financial aid applications have been received by each school and you’ve responded to any additional requests for information they may have made. Oftentimes these requests are in your students’ “on line portal” at the college’s web site, so make sure junior is properly registered at each of her schools and is checking there often and carefully. Follow directions and call financial aid offices for help if needed. If you’re confused or in a bind, give me a holler and I’ll try to help out.

Oh, and don't let junior manipulate you in to doing something foolish like increasing his allowance or taking the family van to see Phish in New Jersey...expect her to try though!

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Here’s a few important reminders to parents about paying for college and financial aid (and merit aid):

Within a week or two of getting an acceptance letter you should receive an official financial aid award (that is, if you applied for financial aid by submitting the FAFSA and, when required, the CSS PROFILE). If you haven't received such an award letter, phone the financial aid office (not the admissions office) and ask them when you can expect to receive it.

Some schools will request that you go though a process called “Verification". You may have to send them a copy of your taxes. It’s annoying but not hard, and don’t be bashful about calling the school’s financial aid office and asking for clarification. 

Remember, your son/daughter has until April 30 to make his/her final decision (that's when deposits are due to the school they're going to attend), but most folks can't make that decision until they know what it’s going to cost. So you need to get financial aid information ASAP so you’ll know whether it's going to be necessary to prepare an appeal for more money.

VERY IMPORTANT POINT FOR THOSE WHO QUALIFY FOR FINANCIAL AID: If you're not pleased with the aid you've been given you can appeal for more. However, you've got to be able to make a compelling argument (meaning: you've got to need it, not just want it). 

Get in touch with me if you have questions or want help interpreting an award letter, or composing an appeal strategy (there's a right way and wrong way to ask for additional money. I'll show you the right way). 

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Worth repeating one more time: You have till the end of April before nonrefundable deposits are due. Often when a college accepts you they will request a registration and a housing deposit (usually between $200 - $600, total). Most schools make it clear that said deposit is not due till the end of April, but others (in an understandable attempt to "close the deal” - they're businesses first and foremost, remember?) will ask for the deposit NOW. In such cases the deposits must be fully refundable if you let them know before April 30 that you've chosen another school. 

IMPORTANT: If a school seems to be asking for a nonrefundable deposit before April 30th, that's extremely unkosher. Call me immediately and let me have at 'em on your behalf...


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SCHOLARSHIPS:
 
Whether your family filed for financial aid or not, now is the time to be sending out scholarship applications. There are many sources of funds out there, but (sadly) most won't give money to you. However making a time-efficient and strategic search and scholarship application blitz may not be a bad idea. Start right in your guidance office and ask about local scholarships - now is the time to be applying for them. If you’re not already registered with www.fastweb.com, sign up now.

Want some other suggestions for searching for scholarships without driving yourself too nuts? Give me a call - that's why I'm here!

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A FINAL POINT:

Remember that the purpose of financial aid is to fill the gap between the full cost of the school (tuition/fees plus room/board) and a family's ability to pay and (reasonably) borrow. Asking the college for more money is NOT, in my opinion, an exercise in merely "getting the best deal", and this is an important distinction to make if you're to be successful. If the FAO (financial aid officer) thinks you're merely "shopping", you won't do as well. I tell parents to expect paying for college to hurt a little more than you're hoping it will, but not a great deal more. If your child gets in, and if the college is a respectable one (and most are), you should have success appealing for more money once you explain your need and your true EFC. Late March and April, when you’ve heard from all your schools, is the proper time to do this.

On that somber note, relax and enjoy the ever longer days, the NCAA basketball tournament, the start of the baseball season, and the wonderful and exciting changes which are in store for you in the coming months!

Stay groovy!

Gary

P.S. If you've read this far I suspect you appreciate all this information I'm laying out for you, despite the length. If you know of other students and parents who would benefit from receiving my emails (particularly members of the class of 2019 and 2020 who are just starting this journey) I would be grateful if you would pass my name and contact information along to folks who may want to receive my future rants. These newsletters are also posted on my web page (URL below) so you can refer folks there. I’m currently accepting juniors and sophomores to my caseload, in case you know underclassmen and their families who might want some help. And feel free to forward this rant to class of '18 seniors and their families as well!
 
Thanks.
 
-- 
Gary L. Canter
"The College Guy"