Tips for making your final college choice

college choiceSeniors and parents of seniors: you are now officially (less than) one month away from the May 1st national college choice deadline day.  If you are a lucky student who is weighing multiple offers of admission, read on. The tips below will hopefully help as you make that final choice.

Schedule a visit, if you can. Check your admission packet and/or online communications for information on admitted student preview days on the campus(es) of your choice. Some colleges offer all-expenses paid or low-cost visits for students with demonstrated financial need.

If you don’t have the option to visit, many colleges hold receptions in cities across the country where you can chat with admission representatives, financial aid folks, and sometimes even current students and professors. If none of these options are available to you, your region’s admission representative will likely be able to connect you to current students via phone or email. They may even be able to direct you to virtual tours.

Use your connections. So your cousin’s neighbor attends that college? Or you mom’s yoga instructor’s spouse graduated from there ten years ago? Don’t be afraid to reach out!  People love talking about themselves, and they love sharing their personal college experiences. Be sure to have a few well-researched questions ready when you reach out – phone, email, or in-person are best.

Talk with your high school counselor & teachers. Chances are there are other students from your high school who have gone off to the colleges you are considering. Ask if your teachers or counselors might connect you with those former students. This can be particularly helpful as the students can speak to the transition from your specific high school’s academic and social environment to the college they attend.

Compare your financial aid and scholarship offers. This is absolutely crucial. Be sure you completely understand everything broken down in your financial aid and scholarship letter. A good financial aid letter will include the total cost of attendance (room & board, travel, books, student fees, incidentals), and not just tuition. It will also include the total loan amount, if loans are offered (Note: Avoid Parent PLUS loans if you can!). If you are awarded a scholarship, be sure you understand whether it is a one year or four year award, the terms for maintaining the scholarship, and how any additional scholarships you receive in the future would impact your financial aid package. If anything is unclear in your award, ASK!

Use LinkedIn alumni search. This is one of my favorite tools to use when helping families evaluate potential outcomes of attending X college versus Y college. Simply go to LinkedIn.com, enter the college name, and then click “See Alumni”. From there you can filter the alumni network by location, by what they majored in, by profession, and many other filters. This is a great way to see who employs graduates of that college, or what someone who majors in your field does after graduation. I also recommend checking out the college’s career center website for their own reporting on recruiting and alumni information, such as graduate school placement, average starting salaries, etc.

Ultimately, if all of the above factors are equal, go with your gut! Where do you see yourself being the most comfortable? Where are you most excited to grow over the next four years? And remember, wherever you end up, the experience is what you make of it.

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Campus Visit Notes: University of Vermont

 

College: University of Vermont

Location: Burlington, VT

Type of Institution: Public research university

Size: ~10,000 undergraduates

Admissions Advice: UVM, like many public universities, admits students into a specific college when they apply. It is one of the most friendly public universities when it comes to out-of-state admission and scholarships. That said, it is also one of the most expensive public universities in the country (more on that below). Students can get a fairly accurate sense of what they might qualify for using the Net Price Calculator.

Most popular majors: Business, Biology, Environmental Science, Psychology

Words to describe students I met: accepting, laid-back, hipster, liberal, outdoorsy, white (it is Vermont, after all)

Unique academic aspects: Not surprisingly, students at UVM are passionate about the environment. In fact, UVM offers 22 (!) environmental science related majors in some very niche fields such as food systems and plant biology. There are also some interesting minors available including geospatial technologies and wildlife and fisheries biology. I was really impressed with the Aiken Center on campus which houses some of these majors.

Additionally, this university is committed to experiential learning in the outdoors and in the Burlington community, and they also regularly connect students to alumni and employers in larger East Coast cities like Boston & New York City through networking nights and internships.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Though UVM is a state university, it is definitely not a commuter campus. Vermont requires entering freshman to live on campus for the first two years, and allows and encourages students to stay for junior and senior year as well. While UVM does have a Greek system, it only includes about 900 students total, so it isn’t a major factor in the social vibe of the university.

Even though the university is located in northern Vermont, the college social life isn’t limited to the confines of the campus. Burlington is an amazing college town with a great mix of restaurants, shopping, and outdoor recreation opportunities in the mountains and on the lake. And for students 21+ (and visiting parents), Burlington has a pretty serious craft brewery scene, reminding me a lot of other college towns like Fort Collins.

Colleges that seem similar:  University of Colorado – Boulder, Ithaca College, University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Concerns about this college: My biggest concern with UVM is the fact that they are an incredibly expensive option for non-residents at $55,000+ per year. Yes, they are generous with merit scholarships for top students (up to $18,000+ per year), but that still puts the cost significantly higher than a student’s home state university system, and potentially still more expensive than many smaller private colleges out there. For non-resident families requiring a lot of need-based financial aid, or families hoping to keep annual college costs under $30,000, UVM likely won’t be the best match.

Overall impressions: University of Vermont is a really great option for students looking for a medium-sized public university in a fun and manageable small city. Yes, the winters are cold, but there is still so much to do in the Burlington area and on campus. The student body is friendly and laid-back, and an the community includes an interesting mix of jocks, hippies, snowboarder bros, preppy students, and everything in between.

The importance of financial aid calculators for ALL families

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‘Tis the season for college list development with my juniors! Though some prefer to start this process earlier, I find that students are really ready to focus on their college preferences in a more mature way at this point. Often junior year classes become more interesting and students begin to actually engage with the material, sometimes honing in on potential college majors or at least identifying their preferred learning styles. Junior year also means SAT and ACT testing. Though some wonderful colleges don’t require these tests for admission, the majority still do, so official scores are a crucial part of making a well-rounded college list.

But those aren’t the only reasons I prefer starting with students junior year.

On the financial front, families with be applying for financial aid using the income information from the year that just ended (mid-junior year). This “prior-prior” year means families can actually get a fairly accurate picture of what to expect in financial aid (and sometimes scholarships as well), which can further help with developing an appropriate college list.

So if you are the parent of a junior, here are a few very important homework assignments to tackle in the coming months:

  1. Calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This will generate the annual expected cost for your child’s college education. It is a more generic formula that centers on income information and maps the best to colleges which only require the FAFSA application for financial aid consideration.
  2. Complete a Net Price Calculator for your child’s top college(s). If your child has already identified a top college (or two, or three), you can get an even more accurate sense of what you’d be expected to pay at that specific institution. This calculator can be found on each college’s financial aid website. These questions tend to be much more detailed and nosy for a few reasons. First, this calculator will factor in your child’s likelihood of receiving scholarships from that specific college (if offered). And secondly, many of the colleges that do the very best job with financial aid do so because they have gigantic endowments, so they are truly able to support students with demonstrated financial need. Since they are giving away their own institutional funds, they want the most accurate information possible and will dive deep to capture a family’s true financial situation.
  3. Have “the talk” with your child. I’m referring to the paying for college talk, of course. Be sure your family talks openly and honestly about the expectations of paying for college. Will your student be expected to take out loans? Or get a summer job? Do you have an absolute maximum budget for college? How do you plan to use your existing college savings, if you have one, especially if you have multiple children?

Many families assume they won’t qualify for aid, and therefore don’t follow through on completing these important tasks. Or they don’t establish guidelines with their child on the front end, leading to some intense arguments about paying for college once admission decisions come back in the spring. So start planning now!

For more information:

Guide to financial aid, including income brackets, college types, and rough “cut-offs” for aid

Filling out the FAFSA

CSS Profile overview

 

 

 

Campus Visit Notes: Middlebury College

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College: Middlebury College

Location: Middlebury, Vermont

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college

Size: 2,400 students

Admissions Advice: Like many super selective liberal arts colleges, Middlebury admits a large percentage of its incoming freshman class through Early Decision. For students who love Middlebury, this is the best option as the admission rate is more than double the admission rate for regular decision candidates. And because Middlebury is a school which meets 100% of demonstrated financial need, it is a potential Early Decision option for students requiring need-based aid as well.

Most popular majors: Environmental Science, Economics, Political Science, languages, Neuroscience

Words to describe students I met: Outdoorsy, passionate, collaborative, globally-focused, athletic

Unique academic aspects: Middlebury College prides itself on the Commons System, a living-learning community including students of all grade levels. For freshman year, students will select a writing-intensive freshman seminar which then determines their Commons / residential hall placement for the first two years (with some additional options, like the Academic Interest Housing options). There is a big support team of upperclassmen, faculty, and staff located in each Commons, and tons of social and academic programming throughout the year.

Middlebury is also one of a handful of colleges to offer a January term (J-term), a four-week intensive where students can focus on one specific class either on-campus or out in the world. This breaks up the academic year and provides a great opportunity for hands-on learning, internships, or just the chance to spend some time away from Vermont in the dead of winter.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Middlebury loves gap year students. In fact, there is a cohort of partial gap year students who enter Middlebury each year in February, “the Febs“. Nearly 20% of the entering freshman class takes advantage of this each year, giving students 7-8 months of time off between high school graduation and the start of college. My tour guide was a Feb and spoke enthusiastically about his choice to take time off for travel and work before the start of college. He also shared some insights into how Middlebury welcomes these students to campus mid-year and helps them build connections within the Feb starts and the greater Middlebury community. One of the coolest traditions for this group of students is that they ski down a hill on campus (in cap and gown!) for their winter graduation ceremony.

Colleges that seem similar:  Whitman College, Colgate University, Colorado College, Williams College, Hamilton College

Concerns about this college: Middlebury is truly in the middle of nowhere, and the downtown area encompasses little more than one square block. There are enough services on the outskirts of town for students to do the basics (a few stores, restaurants, drug stores), but there isn’t much else. For many, this isolation and immersion in the outdoors is a reason to choose Middlebury. But for city or suburban kids who want the convenience of big box stores and off-campus activities like concerts and restaurants, Middlebury probably isn’t the best match.

Overall impressions:  Middlebury is an amazing liberal arts college option for students interested in outdoor adventures, collaborative intellectual pursuits, and a social life that centers around campus activities. The college environment strikes a great balance between preppy and hippie/granola, academic and social, theory and real-life application. Students I met were all incredibly friendly and outgoing – you have to be in such a small community, and particularly in a community with such cold, long winters.

We’re Moving!

I am excited to announce that Parry College Counseling is moving! Starting in January 2018, I will be meeting with students and families at my new office space in the Madison Valley neighborhood of Seattle: 2910 E Madison St. Suite 109. 

Looking forward to having a quiet place to meet my families (sorry, Starbucks), and the opportunity to grow my business for years to come. While you are waiting for your student (if he/she doesn’t drive yet), there are lots of nice shops and restaurants in this commercial strip of Madison Valley, and the arboretum is right down the street.

Thanks for following, and happy holidays!

-Heather

 

Campus Visit Notes: Scripps College

College: Scripps College

Location: Claremont, California

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college for women

Size: ~950 students total; 7,000+ including neighboring colleges in the Claremont consortium

Admissions Advice: As the Claremont Colleges become more popular, so does Scripps. The majority of successful applicants are at the top of their high school class and have strong test scores as well. (Scripps is one of a handful of women’s colleges that still require SAT or ACT). Because the entering class is very small, each application is read very carefully and holistically. Scripps is also one of the rare colleges that both meets 100% of a family’s financial need and awards some merit scholarships as well, even for students without financial need.

Most popular majors: Media studies, international relations, psychology, biology, English, studio art

Words to describe students I met: Independent, strong-willed, artistic, liberal, open-minded

Unique academic aspects: Scripps prides itself on its interdisciplinary core curriculum, a 3-semester series of classes that each woman must take to continue her education at the college. The focus of these classes center around “communities”, examining past and present problems with a variety of lenses. The Claremont Consortium is another unique aspect of academic life at Scripps. Students have the opportunity to seamlessly register for classes at any of the other nearby colleges and are even able to choose an off-campus major as well.

Unique social/cultural aspects: The social life at Scripps is fairly diverse, and isn’t necessarily in line with the “traditional” college experience. For example, while there are parties (occasionally hosted by Scripps), the majority of students will venture to the other Claremont Colleges for their party fix. Though many Scrippsies participate in DIII athletics on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps teams, there isn’t a ton of school spirit surrounding sports teams.

Instead, Scripps students can be found attending ballroom dance shows, a cappella performances, gallery nights, and open mics. The Motley Coffeehouse regularly hosts student speakers and performers and provides a creative outlet for Scripps women. The coffeehouse is run by students, and there’s even an opportunity for talented bakers and chefs to sell their pastries at the shop. I spent many nights studying, learning, and listening at this coffeehouse during my college years at neighboring Claremont McKenna. Scrippsies can also be found soaking up the sun at the pool year-round, or hanging out with suitemates in the beautiful dorms.

Colleges that seem similar:  Wellesley College, Mt. Holyoke College, Bryn Mawr College, Smith College

Concerns about this college: As the college becomes more competitive, I’ve found it difficult to figure out what Scripps is looking for in applicants each year. The college is trying to become more ethnically, socio-economically, and geographically diverse, which is great. However, as a result, it is very difficult for even the strongest students to gauge whether they will be admitted in a given year. Though the admission rate is currently hovering around 25%, significantly higher than the other neighboring Claremont Colleges, it is still very tough to be admitted. For this reason, Scripps is a “reach” school for anyone in my opinion.

Overall impressions:  The Spanish and Mediterranean architecture, the intimate study spaces, the rose garden, and the shimmering blue pool put this campus on the top of my list of most beautiful campuses in America. I thoroughly enjoyed the many classes I took at Scripps during my time at Claremont McKenna, and really felt a strong sense of community and collaboration. I would highly recommend this college to students looking for the best of both worlds: a small and supportive community of young women, but surrounded by the resources and opportunities of a medium-sized, co-ed university.

 

Application changes for this season

Happy application season to all of the anxious seniors out there! Below I am including some of the big application changes for popular colleges among Seattle high school students, as well as a few notes on this year’s Common App.

University of Washington – UW has moved away from its own in-house application to the Coalition Application. This is intended to be a rival to the Common App, though it hasn’t gotten much traction quite yet. The UW has also changed its application timeline, opening a week ago on September 1st, with a final deadline of November 15th. This isn’t an early action or early decision deadline, but rather the one and only final deadline for freshman applicants. No more scrambling to finish the application over Thanksgiving break!

Whitman College – This popular liberal arts college in Walla Walla has eliminated its supplemental essay requirement for applicants this year, making the application via Common App even more straightforward. Whitman also became a test-optional college last year, making it a great option for strong students whose test scores don’t accurately reflect their academic potential.

Common Application – I’ve noticed more and more colleges across the nation are providing students the option to upload a resume as part of their application. This allows students to elaborate on their involvement beyond the measly 150 character limit in the standard activity section.

Many Common Application colleges now also include a space for students to insert a URL. This could be a link to a student’s artwork, YouTube page, Vimeo, personal blog, or ZeeMee site. Some popular colleges with this option include: Pitzer, Occidental, Colorado College, Pepperdine, and Texas Christian. For students who have talents or interests that are hard to describe in writing, this is a great opportunity. I’d also encourage students to take advantage of this if they are strong communicators and more confident in representing themselves through speaking or visual art as opposed to through the writing section, transcripts, or other more traditional parts of the application.