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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

FAFSA & the New Student Aid Index (SAI): How they affect College Financial Aid


Photo by John Schnobrich

Article by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Photo by John Schnobrich

In 2021, Congress passed a law calling for simplification and reform of the federal financial aid access process. The FAFSA Simplification Act has been being incrementally implemented; full implementation must be done by 12/31/23. The most significant change is the shift from the EFC to the SAI as metric by which a student's financial aid eligibility is determined.

Because of the complexity of the changes, the Department of Education is completely rewriting the underlying processor. Therefore, the 2024/2025 FAFSA will not be available until 12/31/23 and the data will not begin to be released to the colleges until the end of January, 2024. While this is a delay, it was the norm until just a few years ago to open the FAFSA on 1/1. Financial aid offices should manage to produce aid packages in a timely manner this year, just as they did in the past.

For those with students in college already, please remember that the FAFSA MUST BE FILED EVERY YEAR. Financial aid awards are only for one year. 

What is the SAI?

The SAI or Student Aid Index more accurately describes what the figure calculated by the FAFSA formula is for. The EFC (Expected Family Contribution) was misnamed; families paid more than the EFC. The SAI is the number colleges and governments will use to determine how much and what types of aid a student is eligible to receive.

The information the student and parent(s) enter into the FAFSA are used to calculate the SAI. The index, like the EFC, is based on the parents' available income, the student's income, and assets. Colleges determine each student's financial need by subtracting the SAI from their official COA (Cost of Attendance - the total cost to attend for one year). A student with a lower SAI, then, will be eligible for more federal financial aid, including grants (like the Pell), student loans, and federal work-study. States and colleges determine eligibility for their own grant and aid programs, too.

Plan to spend an hour or so in early January, 2024 to complete the FAFSA online at The student and one parent will need an FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID in order to electronically sign the FAFSA as well as any subsequent federal loan papers. Create an FSA ID here: 

What's the Difference between EFC and SAI?

The formula to calculate the SAI is different from the one used to calculate the EFC. Here are the most significant changes:

Number of Students in College

While this question remains on the FAFSA, the number of students in a family is not part of the SAI calculation. The number of college students in a family no longer impacts the FAFSA output (at least at the federal level). While approximately one-third of families have more than one student in college, this reality is no longer part of the calculations. DO report the number of college students your family has, however, since states and colleges can use this information for their own aid allocations. Financial aid officers do have the ability to reduce the SAI because of the number of students in college.Financial aid officers do have the ability to reduce the SAI because of the number of students in college; this change, when effected, would increase a student's eligibility for federal aid programs. The removal of the consideration of the number of collegians is offset by the increased income protection allowance. I am aware of some testing of this and the offset has been found to work well. 

Income Protection Allowance

Embedded in the FAFSA formula are various tables, including the Parent Income Protection Allowance (IPA). The IPA is significantly higher in the SAI formula than it was in the EFC formula. The IPA amounts depend on the number of people in the household. In general, the IPA is about 20% higher now than it was in the EFC formula.

The SAI can have a Negative Value

The lowest EFC was zero; the SAI can go as low as -$1500. This change allows the neediest students to be identified and more effectively helped. Some hope that financial assistance beyond the COA will be offered in order to help these students cover other college related expenses.

Pell Grant Eligibility

Eligibility for Pell grants is tied to the SAI, along with adjusted gross income and has been increased. Some students who would not have qualified for a Pell based solely on AGI may now qualify with their SAI.

Income Inclusions are Changing

401k contributions (which do not appear on the 1040), clergy and veterans benefits will no longer be included in income. Child support will be counted as an asset. Child support paid will factor in, as will combat pay, co-operative education earnings, state tax allowances, and SEP, SIMPLE, and Keough contributions (because they appear on the 1040).

For divorced families, the parent who provided the most financial support in the prior prior year (NOT the twelve months prior to filing) will be the parent to report information on the FAFSA. For the 2024/2025 school year, 2022 is the base year, the prior prior year.

A Note about 529 Accounts

With the changed formula, only parent owned 529 accounts with the student as beneficiary will be considered as assets. The EFC formula considered ALL 529 assets, no matter the beneficiary, since beneficiaries can easily be changed.

DRT is being replaced by the DDX

The Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), used to transfer income tax data from the IRS database to the FAFSA is being replaced by the Direct Data Exchange (DDX).

Differences at a Glance

How will People be Affected by SAI Changes?

Generally, the SAI formula is expected to result in increased aid eligibility for most students. Of course, the impact of the changes will differ from student to student.

Students from middle- and high-income households with multiple children in college may see a net loss in the total aid they receive. (However, when testing for this, my colleagues only saw such an increase for high-income families.) Additionally, people living in high income states may well see some negative impacts (be eligible for less aid) since state and local taxes are no longer considered in the calculations. Again, higher income families will be more adversely impacted by this change than other families.

Low-income students, particularly those with the greatest need, may well see the most benefit from the changes. Having an SAI which is negative will, hopefully, result in an increased amount of financial aid for these students. The hope is that this will happen, thus making college affordable for them.

Help with your Future Planning

Determining how the SAI will impact your cash flow during your child(ren)'s college years is a complex calculation and may well influence both your financial planning and college planning. Contact me today to schedule a consultation for guidance on cutting college costs and financing higher education. Email Katherine:

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Turning Test Scores into Scholarships, Lower Costs, & More


by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

As PSAT scores are released, another world of opportunities is opened to teens and their parents. Unfortunately, most are blind to the possibilities.

Test Scores Direct the College Search

Selecting a college is a task with many steps. Finding the right environment to develop in as a person is a daunting task. There are numerous factors to consider. Most students don't consider schools very far from home. Whether the propensity to choose a college close to home is due to a lack of confidence, the enticement of in state tuition (at public universities), the familiarity of schools nearby, or some other reason, it's important to make the decision carefully.

In addition to social factors and educational opportunities in line with each student's inclinations and goals, academic fit is a very significant factor. Several years ago, Purdue did a study evaluating the happiness of alumni and its relationship with which college they attended. Fundamentally, they explored whether which college one attends impacts one's happiness in life. Their findings surprised them. Where one attends college does not make the most importance with regard to future happiness. What was more important is what one does while at college - having a mentor, people who care about our personal and scholarly growth, participating in long term projects and internships - these factors make the most impact on students' lives. Another study showed that those who finish in the bottom half of the class, even at prestigious schools like Harvard, did not fare as well in life as those who finished in the top portion of their class. 

Test scores are indicators of where one's academic skills fall in the spectrum of students across the country, from public schools to home schools to elite boarding schools. Using scores to determine academic fit is a powerful indicator of a key factor when choosing colleges to visit, apply to, and, ultimately, attend. Many believe that, if their score is within the range listed for a school, that school is a good fit. In a sense, that is true, in another sense it is not. As a college consultant, I direct my students to use those scores to identify schools where they will thrive.

Test Scores Lead to Scholarships

90% of scholarship dollars comes from the colleges themselves. Some of these are tied to financial need while others are tied both to academic qualifications as well as financial need. Some scholarships are won solely by academic factors. Many of those schools list their scholarships in the financial aid section of their websites. With more colleges adopting test optional admissions policies, finding this information has become more difficult. Diligent research is necessary.

Test Scores Lead to Lower College Costs

For more than a decade, the average time to graduate with a bachelor's degree in the US has been SIX years. The dramatic rise in student debt is a side effect of this since most aid ends after four years. Students who use their scores to research colleges thoroughly also tend to take the time during high school to seriously explore possible careers and the related academic majors. These tasks are key to graduating college in four years. Changing majors and/or transferring colleges almost always leads to graduating with credits that don't count toward graduation requirements. Those credits cost time and money to earn nonetheless.

Using scores to identify special learning opportunities such as honors programs and honors colleges also helps students graduate in four years. Honors students typically live together as a community and enjoy privileges like registering for classes before the other students on campus, thus guaranteeing that they will not have problems accessing required courses because they are full.

Lastly, situating oneself among other highly motivated students on one's college campus provides peer pressure to study well, complete one's work well, and take sufficient course loads each term to graduate on time.

Navigating the complexities of college selection, exploring possible majors, programs, campuses, and careers, as well as developing leadership skills are all difficult for teens to do on their own. College consultants like myself work hard to lead teens through these challenges. 

To schedule a consultation with Katherine, email her at

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

EA, ED, RD, Rolling - Breaking Open the Admissions Options

 by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS

Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Applying to college seems pretty straightforward, at least from the outside. However, with various application options, testing options, recommendation options, and admissions options, there is a lot to sort out before you even begin.

N.B. Before I begin to describe these admissions options, please take note that some colleges have scholarship consideration or priority deadlines. 

Admissions Options - EA

Early Action is offered by hundreds of colleges. This application option has an early deadline so requires planning ahead. Testing needs to be done early, recommendations need to be gathered, and essays polished well in advance of the November 1 deadline (Check your prospective colleges to verify their deadline(s)!) Some schools even offer EA1 and EA2 - two rounds of early action.

Why apply EA? To show your serious interest in a college, to show your ability to be organized and get work done well in a timely fashion. Because you want to know that you are accepted before Christmas. To get the whole college application process over and done with. In order to take advantage of higher acceptance rates.

Why not apply EA? Because you've had some academic struggles during high school and want to show your wonderful fall senior grades to prospective colleges. Because you want to get your test scores higher to improve your chances at acceptance. Because your summer was full of incredible activities and preparing strong applications and essays just wasn't possible. Because you got started on the whole deciding you want to go to college, then making a college list, figuring out possible majors, and applying in August and need more time. Because you are involved in time intensive activities fall semester and didn't get your essays written over the summer so you can't create great applications in this time frame.

Admissions Options - ED

Early Decision is similar to early action. Some colleges offer this application option. Like EA, ED deadlines early and some colleges offer two rounds of it. ED differs in a very significant way, however. First, a student can only apply to one college using ED.  In that application, applicants and their parents agree to pull all other applications and attend this college if they are accepted.  Colleges love this application option because they know that the students they accept will be attending their college. In fact, the colleges with ED programs tend to fill 1/3 to 1/2 (or more!) of their incoming class from the ED pool.

Why apply ED? The acceptance rate is MUCH higher than the subsequent RD round. Apply ED if you are a legacy student, recruited athlete (or debater, musician, etc.), etc. For non-recruited or special category applicants, the acceptance rate is hard to determine. Because some portion of this applicant pool is accepted at a very high rate, the rate of acceptance for other students is impossible to determine. Apply ED if you are COMPLETELY sure that this one college is THE college for you AND you have the grades, scores, accomplishments, recommendations, and top quality essays ready in time.

Why not apply ED? Because this application is binding, do NOT apply ED if you are not 100% sure you will thrive at the selected college. There is fine print which will allow a student to get out of an ED commitment for financial reasons, but this path is rarely taken. Do NOT apply ED if you cannot afford to attend the college. Most colleges with ED options will require the CSS PROFILE form to also be submitted by the ED deadline. The PROFILE form is what these colleges have chosen to use to determine how they will allocate their institutional aid funds. ED colleges typically provide a preliminary financial aid package to accepted students. Additionally, if you need more time to re-take the SAT or ACT or want your fall semester grades to be considered, ED is not your best option. If you are applying without the help of a college consultant like myself, know that nearly all ED applicants are working with someone so you are at a disadvantage. They typically use tutors for test prep, too.

Admissions Options - RD

RD stands for regular decision. Most applicants choose RD. RD deadlines range from 12/1 to 6/1. While there is additional time to apply, deadlines must still be met and applications must be complete.

Why apply RD? Apply RD in order to include senior fall grades and test scores, to have more time to gather recommendations and to write and polish application essay(s). 

Why not apply RD? If you want to take advantage of higher acceptance rates and get the application process finished so you can enjoy the rest of your senior year, don't wait for RD deadlines. Please note that students can apply RD even before the EA or ED deadlines. RD applicants won't receive their decisions as quickly, but they will still receive them. (Every school has its own policy on when and how admissions decisions are made and communicated.)

Admissions Options - Rolling

Rolling Decision deadlines tend to be very late, often 7/1 or 8/1 or even the day before Fall semester classes begin. Don't be fooled, waiting that long will make getting in more difficult; as the admissions season progresses, fewer and fewer seats in the freshman class are available.

Why apply Rolling? If all else falls through, or "life happens" and you are only able to get your applications pulled together in late Spring of Senior year, then rolling decision schools will be a good choice for you.

Why not apply Rolling? Because you want to show colleges that you are prepared well ahead of time, are a strong prospective student for them, that you are serious about going to college, etc. (Not that students who apply late are not those things...)

Having options is a good thing. Understanding them and making well informed decisions and plans to use the options before you advantageously is very helpful as one seeks to accomplish one's goals in life. The prudent use of coaches, mentors, guides, etc. to help you select the majors, programs, and schools that are best suited to your learning style and personal and professional goals, as well to help you craft the best possible application possible is key. Email me at to request an initial consultation if you are an 8th - 11th grade student (or the parent of one) and you'd like to discuss your situation and the options for assistance as you move forward.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Eight Key Factors: Raising Teens to Adulthood

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS

There are eight components of youth ministry.  These key areas have been identified by experts as essential for helping teens become successful adults. I adapted them to college prep (and parenting in general).

1. Advocacy. We adults (parents, coaches, teachers, ministers, college consultants, etc.) advocate for youth, that they be respected and their needs met. We also teach them how to advocate for themselves. Identifying situations wherein young people can step up and speak for themselves, ask for what they need, guide others, etc. are skills that we can teach teens. As a college consultant, I regularly do this, then help them identify the action steps, plan how to take those steps, and accompany them as they take those steps. I also hold them accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. 

2. Catechesis. In the Church, we teach young people what we believe and the ethical and moral implications of those beliefs. This is true in all areas of life, whether we (and/or our youth) are people of faith or not. Young people need to learn what is right (customary and lawful) and wrong. They need to learn what is expected of them as students, scholars, and citizens.

3. Community Life. Connecting teens with one another is essential. During the pandemic lockdowns, interpersonal connections (and the ability to form and maintain them) were fractured. The climate, full of indirect, electronic means of communication, has also hampered the development of interpersonal skills. This area is critically important to maturation and the development of rich lifelong relationships, personal and professional. Let's all do everything we can to mentor the young people we know and teach them how to have good interpersonal interactions, friendships, and collaborations. Opportunities to demonstrate and teach conflict resolution, foster group activities (from playing board and outdoor games to building and creating), and the like need to be identified, encouraged, and our youth supported. Whether they can articulate it or not, they are keenly aware of their weakness in these skill areas.

4. Evangelization. As a Christian, introducing others to Christ is central to my life. As a college consultant, encouraging young people to value education, set goals, believe in themselves are key endeavors. Instilling the joy and enthusiasm about things that makes a person want to tell everyone about it, this is an important task. Finding a field of study or endeavor that makes our heart sing is an example of this in the college prep part of life.

5. Justice and Service. Justice is moral rightness, it is the just treatment of all members of society. In this aspect, young people must be treated justly, being afforded opportunities to grow and contribute to the work of society and the welfare of their communities, at school, home, and in their churches and neighborhoods. Service is part of how we love one another. Service teaches the one who serves how to use one's strengths to help another. It can also afford a person the opportunity to develop new skills, be they skills like kindness patience or technical skills, etc. Service, then, positively impacts both the person who serves as well as the person who is served.

6. Leadership development. First one needs to learn how to lead oneself. Getting to bed at a reasonable time, awaken oneself and prepare for the day in a timely fashion, care for one's clothing, room, and belongings, these are leadership skills our teens need to start with. Once basic self-leadership is mastered, then leadership of others can happen. Some teens, of course, develop both sets of leadership skills simultaneously. Fostering opportunities to lead is an important part of working with teens. Helping them create visions, plan events, run meetings, resolve conflicts, troubleshoot problems, learn to communicate effectively, all of these are key endeavors to undertake with teens.

7. Pastoral Care. This is another area which is very much needed. Another name for it is accompaniment. People need to be cared for, to have people walk through life with them, to celebrate joyful moments and encourage them through the rough times. Everyone needs someone to listen to them from time to time. Even introverts benefit from companionship (even if it is silent). Let's take time to be present with our teens, in person whenever possible.

8. Prayer and Worship. We are not the creators of everything. We are not the be all and end all of the universe. Fundamentally, instilling a regular practice of gratitude is helpful. Fostering the sense of awe is also helpful. It can be easy to take things for granted. Taking time to notice the beauty of a sunset or flower or garment, etc. helps us retain a sense of awe. It's important that we retain our human sense of wonder; life is much richer when we notice the incredible gifts bestowed upon us, from our very lives, to ladybugs, to wondrous music, and beyond.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Summer: Time to Shine or Time to Recline?


Summertime and the living is easy! Or is it?

Those song lyrics reflect well the casual attitude most teens take to summer break. That's understandable. However, summer time is prime time for teens to shine, to prepare to take their game to the next level. Here are a few ideas:

1. Leading a club? Prepare to have the Best Year in Club History

Take time over the summer to create a vision for your group. How many members do you want to add to your group? What are some ways to attract new members? Brainstorm a few activities and events you can do to help students learn about your group, what you do, and how they can benefit from joining. Once new students join your group, what sorts of training, encouragement, and activities do you need to have in order to retain them? As you consider that, think about how you can develop new leaders, both to help you this year but also to take over once you graduate. What sorts of leadership skills do you need to develop? What resources are available at your school and in your community to develop those skills? Leverage businesses in your area for internships, to invite guest speakers, and host off campus events to deepen your members' knowledge base and to add a bit of pizzazz. 

2. Prepare to start a Club 

What are you interested in doing or knowing more about? If there isn't a club or group at your school or in your community that is doing that, start one. Starting a group takes planning, persistence, courage, and perseverance. Research similar groups and borrow ideas from them. Create a timeline. See what is involved to start a group. Schools typically have protocols and procedures which must be followed. You will need to recruit adults, find a meeting place, create a vision or mission statement, and schedule events. Your vision should include your group's purpose, how many students you hope to attract the first year, the officers/roles of responsibility you will have and the tasks each will perform for the group, your budget and fund raising plan, as well as activities and events for the first year. Your school's academic calendar will show when the terms end and what days school will be in session and which days will be holidays. If you homeschool, putting together a school calendar can help the family's school year run more smoothly. 

3. Prepare to Ace your Classes

In AP classes, as in college, students are expected to read the chapter(s) and assignments before the lectures. This rhythm, when followed, enables students to learn the material more deeply. Students arrive to class with some understanding of the material, perhaps even with questions about confusing information or ideas about how this material correlates with information learned previously. Students are then prepared to deeply receive the lecture, engage in interesting and meaningful discussion of the material, and ask pertinent questions, having identified material they found confusing. Take time over the summer to use  online and library materials to prepare for your most challenging classes. Even if the best you can gain is an overview understanding, you will be prepared to master the material more effectively and efficiently during the school year. In order to be successful, create a schedule for yourself. Otherwise, you are unlikely to get very far with the good intention of reading and learning ahead of the first day of school.

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder Celtic College Consultants
For information about our holistic college preparation services or to schedule an initial family consultation with Katherine, please visit our website:

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Being Successful Includes Finishing Strong


by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder Celtic College Consultants

Follow Through

Among other things, it's a key element of one's golf swing and bowling technique, not to mention personal relationships, academic work, business projects, parenting, and more!

Follow through means doing ALL of the parts of a task well, even those "little bits" at the end of the task for project. These seemingly trivial tasks often mean the difference between good, better, and BEST.

How does a person learn to follow through?

First, one must become aware of these tasks, so often overlooked and ignored. At the end of a long effort, it is all too easy to get the main portion of it finished, look a the unfinished tasks, and, in fatigue, decide they aren't important enough to do. Once in a while we are right and nothing notable happens when we skip them. Many times, however, we only learn to notice these tasks after repeated failures. The consequences of skipping them might be lost time, money, or damage to our reputation. Unfortunately, many of us will suffer these consequences several, even many, times before we start to realize that our lack of follow through has not served us well.

Do you want your teen to fail over and over again because of a lack of follow through?

I don't, and I suspect you don't either. That's why I hold my clients accountable. Each of them schedules his or her own meetings, and deals with the consequences of missed meetings, last minute rescheduling, not being prepared for our planned discussion, and other mishaps. One of my many assets in your teen's life is that I am not the parent. I am an outside, trusted professional. I can, and do, say things to teens that parents can't say, or say a "million times" but are not heard. My best client families communicate with me well, which enables me to convey the parents' sentiments to their child, who either hears the message for the "first" time or, because I am also saying it, finally receives the message they have heard from their parents. 

There are countless more ways I hold teens accountable and teach them to follow through, complete their tasks well, fulfill their responsibilities, and begin to reap the rewards of a job well done rather than sort out the mess that happens when they fail to follow through and finish well.

I look forward to speaking with your teen when he or she is in 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grade. Summers are KEY times to do college prep work; don't lose out on those many rich opportunities!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Financial Aid, Another shake up is on the horizon


by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, founder of Celtic College Consultants

With some colleges costing more than $90,000 per year, more families need financial help than ever before. A few years ago, Congress passed a law which has been incrementally been implemented. The final major shift is due to be incorporated into the FAFSA for the 2024/2025 school year. Major changes are coming.

24/25 FAFSA will not be available until December 2023

Because the Department of Education had to completely re-write the processor, the FAFSA will NOT be available October 1, as in recent years. This is how it used to be. Until recent changes, professionals like myself used to work every New Year's Day filing FAFSA forms. This year we will likely see a reprise of that activity.

As of yet, schools with ED (Early Decision) application programs have not stated how they plan to handle this situation. ED applicants must sign a contract as part of their application. If they are accepted by their ED school, they agree to withdraw all other applications and attend their ED school. These schools typically require the CSS PROFILE form so can use that information to create an initial offer of financial aid for these students. Should your teen decide to apply ED, be sure to read all the fine print.

The EFC is being replaced by the SAI

The EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is the number calculated by the former FAFSA formula. Colleges could not award aid exceeding the difference between the COA (Cost of Attendance) and the EFC. The FAFSA formula has been significantly modified and, in some ways, simplified. The SAI (Student Aid Index) will replace the EFC. The SAI can be negative; the minimum EFC was $0. The lowest SAI is -$1,500.

Major changes have been made to the FAFSA Formula

1. The value of businesses and farms are now included. Previously, businesses with fewer than 100 employees were not included as an asset on the FAFSA. Moving forward, ALL businesses and farms will be included. Details about how to value a business have not yet been provided.

2. Non-taxed income will no longer be considered. This is a MAJOR change. Gifts from grandparents and others, child support payments will NOT be reported as income. Income is assessed between 25% and 47%. Child support payments received will now be considered as an asset and assessed at 5.65%.

3. There will be no asset questions for students eligible for free or reduced price lunch programs, whose parents' AGI is less than $60,000 AND their return includes no lettered schedules, and for students whose parents' AGI is less than $60,000 and their only lettered schedule is schedule C and it shows a gain or loss of less than $10,000.

4. Family size will depend on income tax dependents. If your situation is different, or not accurately reflected by the number of dependents on your return, you will need to notify the financial aid office(s) and ask them to take it into consideration.

5. The number of students in college is no longer considered by the formula. However, several other changes to the formula have been made. Experts in this area have been running test cases and have determined that the SAI is not much different for families with two in college. There are, however, significant differences for those families with three or more college students. If this is your situation, do notify the financial aid offices for all of your student children and ask them to consider that fact in your situation. THIS CAN BE CONFUSING; the question about the number of students in college remains on the form, despite it no longer being part of the formula. Please note that the inclusion of this information on the FAFSA form enables colleges to use this information in their process of allocating their institutional funds. The FAFSA formula/SAI is only required for the distribution of federal funds (Pell, SEOG grants, federal loans, etc.)

6. The housing choice question has been removed from the FAFSA. This is odd; colleges do need this information. Expect to see it on the application for admission and/or other forms required by the colleges.

7. The new FAFSA includes optional questions on race and sex. These are for statistical purposes only and will NOT be sent to the colleges. This information will only go to the Department of Education.

8. For students whose parents are divorced, the determination of who their parent is, for inclusion on the FAFSA, has changed slightly. Previously it was the parent with whom the child resided most of the time. It is now the parent who provides the most financial support for the student. If that parent is married, both the parent and his or her spouse's income will be considered, while the other parent (and his or her spouse, if applicable) income will not be reported nor considered. Be aware that most of the colleges using the CSS PROFILE form do require the "non-custodial" parent to also provide income and asset information. 

Keep in mind that the PROFILE form is a completely separate form and process. The PROFILE information is used by colleges to allocate their own institutional aid.

9. Verification will not be randomly selected. Over subsequent years, as the Department of Education (DOE) accumulates data, it is likely that those with certain situations will be more likely to be verified (audited). As more data is gathered, the DOE identifies the situations most likely to be erroneously reported on the form.

10. Pell grant qualification is going to change. Many families currently receiving Pell grants, including some receiving full Pell grants, will no longer be eligible. This is particularly true for farmers and business owners. At the same time, it is expected that many more families (about 2/3 of FAFSA filers) will be eligible for Pell grants. There is significant discussion between financial aid officers regarding how to make up the shortfall in funding dollars for these newly qualifying students. It is considered likely that a number of colleges will not be able to bridge this gap, making college unaffordable for even more students.

There are more changes. These are the most significant of them, and the ones that will impact more families.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Hearing from Colleges (aka Marketing!)


By Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Every year, inboxes, mailboxes, and now, phones are barraged by messages from colleges seeking to introduce themselves and interest teens in themselves. For years, the College Board (the PSAT and SAT company), through its Student Search Service, has licensed student names and contact information to colleges. Recently, has used different strategies to make the same sorts of connections between prospective students and colleges.

With the advent of online testing, which will fully roll out during the next school year for the PSAT and SAT tests, the College Board's data will now be subject to new privacy laws which regulate the use of online data. According to Eric Hoover's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (12 May 2023), the number of student names colleges can license from the College Board is expected to drop by 40%. Students who only take in-school exams (those given by their schools/school district), don't take any exams on national testing dates and who don't opt in to the Search Service will not be accessible to the colleges. Consequently, colleges will have to completely rethink and overhaul their student recruitment strategies.

Perhaps the idea of student recruitment sounds a little foreign to you ears. That's understandable. With the focus on being admitted, many students and their families fail to realize that most colleges are actively recruiting applicants. Most have no idea that the marketing materials they receive are tied to the tests that the student has taken. In fact, colleges have been able to license student information, and to set the criteria for the data they desire. For example, a college can contract for all male students in a given state (or zip code) with a score in a particular range, and an indication of certain majors. Because of this, there is often some correlation with the student's interests which makes students feel recruited, feel wanted, and get the idea that the college wants them and will accept them if they apply. Such efforts have included pre-completed applications, application fee waivers, and other strategies. 

Colleges are businesses. As such, each needs to enroll a certain number of students and collect a certain amount of revenue from them in order to continue to operate. Additionally, with the rise of the ranking services, which consider low selectivity (percentage of applicants who are accepted) as a factor, increasing the size of the applicant pool is in the college's best interests. At times, some colleges have solicited applicants from students they know they are very likely to reject, solely to increase their rankings and, in turn, attract more affluent applicants, which will increase the college's bottom line.

The College Board is creating a new recruitment tool called Connections. Starting in Fall of 2023, students taking school-day exams will be asked to share their cell phone numbers with the College Board. They will then be sent a link to download an app onto their phones. The up side for students is that they will be able to use that app to get their test scores as well as some general advice about applying to college. They can also opt in to Connections, to see profiles of colleges. Students can further choose to share their personal information with a particular college or university. This is a huge shift and is likely to net significantly fewer potential students than the current system.

Projections show that a 38% drop in the number of available student names will happen over the next four years.

Despite test optional policies, affluent families still tend to have their students take the ACT and SAT. Top scores on these tests tend to correlate to families with the wherewithal to hire tutors and/or take test prep courses. Students from affluent families tend to pay more for college than those with financial need. Therefore, those students tend to be highly desired by colleges, especially schools more dependent upon tuition revenues. is a new online tool which is a bit like LinkedIn. Students make profiles then are able to accept connections from colleges interested in them. It offers students yet another way to connect with prospective colleges. It also makes it possible for students to connect with college consultants. It, however, does not provide a comprehensive, student focused, college prep, selection, and application mentorship service like I do and my fellow professional college consultants do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Why Go to College?

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

Colleges offer an amazing array of opportunities from design your own courses to design your  major, to interdisciplinary approaches to a topic to double majors to various experiential learning offerings, and on and on and on. With such a dizzying array of choices, it is all too easy to get lost in the maze from the first day to the graduation stage. In fact, many students do just that, as they mosey from one semester to the next without any clear, well considered goal in mind.

According to the great philosopher, Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. Therefore, let us take a few moments while we are in high school to examine our lives in order to begin to formulate a goal. Once a goal exists, the possibility of creating a plan to achieve becomes a reality.

How does a teen profitably examine him- or her-self?

The teen years are fraught with difficulties. Bodies and brains are developing, maturation is beginning to manifest, one's horizon decidedly expands beyond the family; it's a time of massive transition. With all of those changes, many fall prey to anxiety, insecurity creeps in as they seem to not be as wonderful as other kids, and paralysis regarding the future can set in.

It is precisely into this quandary that I intrepidly enter. As a trusted mentor who is a parent but not their parent, is a counselor yet independent of the school, I am able to enter with a gravitas which is real but not stifling. 

I help teens come to know their core personalities. I affirm their core strengths, academic, leadership, social, etc. I identify possibilities for them. I guide them through exploration and evaluation of possible careers and majors and programs. I help them see for themselves, recognize what resonates within their hearts, and let go of what doesn't. I add the practical (what needs to happen to get from HS to that career, can you earn a living doing that?, is the field viable/will anyone be hiring in that field?, etc.) as well.

Working with a professional like myself, teens grow in confidence, clarity, and conviction about who they are and why they want to go to college. That completely shifts the criteria for college selection from random guesswork to focused benchmarks.

Let's collaborate. The national average time to earn a bachelor's degree does not need to continue to be 6+ years. With clear goals, some won't go to college, because it's not the right path for them. Those who do go, will go to schools that have the programs they need to both thrive as individuals as well as become equipped to succeed in their chosen fields.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Summer time travels - College Prep on the go!

 by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

Summer trips are wonderful opportunities to deepen and refine your students' interests. Experiential learning has been shown to significantly improve college outcomes. Your student(s) will also be able to refine his/her/their ideas about what they want to study at university. This clarity gets them on track to complete their degree in four years, rather than six (the US average!) and to be more articulate during campus visits and "Why do you want to study your major?" admissions application essay questions. For all these reasons, and more!, incorporating your teens' interests into your travel plans is beneficial! Don't forget to plan some fun family activities (crafts, games, sports, etc.) into your trip to make it memorable and enjoyable for everyone!

Here are a few ideas to get you started...

Do you have a budding history buff? Visit battlegrounds, monuments, museums, and other places of historical interests. Attend (participate, if you can!) re-enactments and other events. Need some sun? Visit the place of the first Catholic Mass in North America. The first Mass for which a record exists took place during the second voyage of Christopher Columbus, on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1494, at the temporary shelter that would serve as a church at La Isabela, 30 miles west of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. If you'd rather stay in the US, the Mass offered by Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales on September 8, 1565 was the first Mass in what would become the United State. It was conducted when Spanish Admiral Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore to establish the city of St. Augustine in what is now Florida. Or, visit the Alamo, the California Missions, the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montréal, Canada, or.... (you get the idea)

Is someone in your home interested in space, astrophysics, planetary geology, astronomy, or a related field? Houston might right for your trip. Visit NASA's Johnson Space Center's Visitor Center and the George Observatory (be sure to purchase your tickets online ahead of time!) The Houston Museum of Natural Science also awaits your exploration. Of course, Cape Canaveral and environs in Florida is another good place to explore. Did you know that the Northern Lights were recently seen in Wisconsin? Have your teen do some research into his or her interests and help you plan a trip that will be interesting for your whole family.

Language immersion is integral to developing proficiency. French speaking opportunities abound in Montréal. Spanish speaking opportunities exist in many places. Conradh na Gaeilge groups exist in many places in the US and around the world, for those interested in learning the Irish language. If German is your passion, take a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan, about 90 miles north of Detroit. Mandarin and Cantonese have communities in New York City and San Francisco. If Arabic is your language, find a Maronite community and reach out to the priest. There is a Maronite rite Catholic parish in San Diego (a great place to visit for many reasons!) as well as a number of parishes in New York (city and state) and in the Detroit area.

By now, I think you've gotten the idea. Take trips. Explore interests. Visit campuses. And make memories! The journey to college can include fun and adventure!

College Visits Worth Making

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS
Founder, Celtic College Consultants

Choosing a college is a complex tasks. Many people focus on external factors like reputation or rankings but fail to do the in-depth student focused analysis required in order to identify colleges where your teen can not merely get a degree but can also thrive during his or her college years. Students who thrive graduate with more confidence and are better prepared to deal with life after college with all its opportunities and challenges.

Students need to be engaged, connected, challenged, and cared about. On campus, these needs can be met in various ways. Ideally, they are met in through a variety of experiences. Every student is different so the optimal cluster of opportunities will vary significantly from student to student. Nonetheless, there are several modalities common between them.

Academic connections can be built with other students, professors, graduate students, tutors, as well as through clubs, internships, research and exploratory opportunities, and short and long term off campus trips of various kinds. Rich, lively discussion groups (both academically focused and interdisciplinary) are actively fostered in and out of the classroom on some campuses. These can be manifested through honors colleges, living/learning communities, and other campus groups. Explore those in his or her field of interest. Find some that appeal to your teen. Even introverts need to have some connections!

Becoming connected, challenged, and cared for can also happen through the faith community on campus. Working together to serve the poor, to pray, to deepen one's faith, to prepare for worship services, to go on retreats and mission trips and the like are all examples of ways nurturing relationships can be built on campus. Don't forget to visit the Newman center or campus ministry office when you visit campus. Does it feel like a "home away from home" for your student?

Intramural sports, clubs of various kinds, and other ad hoc groups on campus can also be a rich source of affirmation and belonging for students. These are often completely unrelated to academics, which can provide a healthy balance. After all, even the most dedicated students are not studying machine, but are human beings! Whether it's quidditch, golf, swing dancing, chess, kite flying, or something else, encourage your teen to find his or her niche on campus.

Lastly, immersive educations which include high impact practices often make a decided difference between attending college and thriving on campus. Unfortunately, many, many collegians never have even one of these experiences. Look for them as you explore perspective colleges: internships, service learning, hands on learning, project based learning, study abroad, and other experiential learning opportunities. These have been shown to have a positive and often profound impact on students' lives. Finding good mentors (academic, personal, spiritual, etc.), being involved in long term projects and activities, forming connections in multiple campus communities also have a significant impact on students' well-being and college outcomes.