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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.