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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New Financial Aid Rules & SAT date Add STRESS to the Application Season

New Financial Aid Rules & SAT date are Adding Stress to the already Stressful Application Season

The Class of 2017 was the first to experience the new FAFSA schedule, with the federal financial aid application being available for the first time on October 1st rather than on January 1st. This change was touted to be beneficial to both families and the financial aid offices.  Another change was the use of the prior-prior-year’s (PPY) income information.  This alleviated the difficulties which arose when the IRS couldn’t process returns fast enough to get the information to the FAFSA processor and, in turn, to the financial aid offices, to ensure that financial aid awards would not need to be adjusted once the information was available.  By using 2015 tax return information in October, 2016, the IRS had sufficient time to process those returns.

Because of those changes, financial aid awards were expected to be sent out to applicants much earlier, allowing families more time to determine how to take care of their portion of the bill.  Financial aid officers had hoped to have more time to counsel parents and students, helping them find a satisfactory solution.  However, as of mid-February, students are not reporting receiving their awards yet.  Most are still awaiting the news.  Hopefully this is due to the adjustments needed in the financial aid offices and earlier awards will be forthcoming in subsequent years.  After all, many colleges and universities have long set their next school year’s tuition rates in January.  That process will need to shift to September or earlier in order to enable the financial aid office to create award letters as early as November.  Down the hall, admissions offices are already preparing longer marketing campaigns to entice admitted students to commit to their schools.  Families are often surprised to see the admissions letter contain information regarding submitting a deposit to commit to the school since the financial aid award hasn’t yet been received.  But this is standard practice.  Remember, colleges are businesses trying to attract customers/students. 

Now that the FAFSA can be filed any time after October 1, this year’s seniors found themselves extra busy during the early months of the application season.  Since many schools with early action and/or early decision admissions programs required the FAFSA to be filed by November 1, the very same date the admissions applications were due, students found themselves spinning like whirling dervishes trying to get everything submitted on time.  Finishing early applications due October 15th or November 1st along with getting the FAFSA filed and, in some cases, the PROFILE, was very difficult for many students and their families.  Parents were oftentimes caught off guard by the early financial aid application deadlines. 

Since the financial aid applications are not available until October 1, future student applicants will need to focus on completing their applications for admissions earlier… and on getting all the details taken care of.  Many applicants consider writing the application essays to be the most difficult part of the application process.  However, ensuring that transcripts and test scores are sent out, not to mention the recommendation letters, can make students lose their cool.  There are many, many details to keep track of.  Add in the schools which follow up the financial aid forms with additional requirements like sending in tax forms or other documentation and it’s no wonder families are stressed out. 

To top it off, the SAT has added an August sitting.  This has been long requested and is good news.  The Class of 2018 will be able to take the SAT August 26th and/or the ACT on September 9th, both in time for even the earliest of the application deadlines.  But that only packs their schedule even more tightly in the Fall.  Students will need to start the application process even sooner and be very well organized in order to fulfill all the requirements by their various deadlines.  Given how very few have developed those skills at age 17, the need for hiring a college consultant is becoming increasingly apparent.

To discuss your situation and how she can help you, schedule an initial consultation with college admissions and financial aid expert, Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS,  here. Her website is

Monday, February 13, 2017

NEW Common App Prompts for 2017/18!

The Common Application just released the main essay prompts for the 2017/2018 applications.  There are now SEVEN of them!  I've done a thorough review of them and feel strongly that applicants should cross off 3 of these prompts right away...

There were no prompts for the last cycle so the changes are catching many by surprise.  The Coalition App and Universal App both had the "create your own prompt" prompt which the Common App hasn't had since 2013. Now they are bringing it back!

The 2017-2018 Common App Essay Prompts Are:
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]
I've done a thorough review of these and feel strongly that applicants should eliminate 3 of these right away.  Work with me and I'll explain which ones and why.

Are you a junior and ready to start your essays?  We're ready to help! Click here to set up your initial consultation TODAY.