Learn how to play, and when to start, the college admission game


"If you start the process of getting into college as a senior you are starting too late."

This was said by a mother who has a son going through the process of applying to different colleges and trying to receive financial assistance. She also said she had no idea how to find the information she needs to help her son make himself competitive not only to get into the colleges that he hopes to attend, but also receive the necessary funding that it takes these days... That was until she attended one of our workshops. So I thought this would be a good conversation piece for this article.

How does the college admittance and funding process really work?

The college admissions process is highly competitive and becoming more so each year. To improve your odds of getting in and receiving the necessary funding to attend, you must know the workings of the admission process, and how it goes hand in hand with the institution's financial aid strategies.

Colleges are in the business of providing higher education to our students. The key word here is business. Institutions have a very definitive business approach when it comes to offering admission and funding to a prospective student. Some even participate in financial aid leveraging which is a process used by colleges and universities to determine how little aid needs to be awarded to a particular student to still get the student to enroll.

For example, a college or university will typically offer admission to three (3) times as many students as they need. Why? They know that only one-third of those offered admission will attend. Colleges want their seats full, and will typically over-book the 'flight' to make sure they are. It's not good or bad - it's simply business. Also, like booking a ticket to fly, how many of those passengers paid the exact same amount for their fare? Frequent fliers tend to know the best time to purchase their flight in order to minimize what they have to pay. Learn to play the game, and you too can minimize your out-of-pocket expenses for college. Don't let the retail price of a college scare you. We have many different strategies in our tool box to help make college an affordable reality.

Now back to the admissions process. There are essentially three potential stacks at every college that your student may end up in; 1. the 'I love you' stack, 2. the 'I like you' stack and 3. the 'I need bodies' stack. The good news is that, again, you can turn the process in your favor by learning how to play the game. The proper student positioning including, but not limited to; test prep, matching a student to schools that will provide the most funding and a 4+4 Roadmap for Success will help pave the way for the best results.

Just how important are the SAT and ACT test scores?

There is a lot of misconception surrounding these tests and nearly every college or university requires perspective students to submit scores from one (or both) of the most widely recognized standard tests - the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the ACT (American College Test). Standardized test scores help institutions better understand how a student compares with the other applicants.

And make no mistake; these tests play an important role in not only the admissions process but also the amount of free merit-based scholarships that may be offered a student. The higher the test score, the more attractive the student is to a school for admissions and funding. If you are not preparing as early as freshman and sophomore years for these tests, you are already behind your competition because they are. Again, taking advantage of student positioning strategies and a test prep plan can pay off in the long run.

When should I start?

The short answer to your question is NOW! Ideally, I joke, that your financial planning probably should have started when the stick turned blue and you had some idea that your child may go to college. With that aside, we are in the business of late stage planning and your base year for the financial aid process actually starts in your child's sophomore year of high school. Starting the financial planning stage in the freshman and sophomore years will give your family the most potential to take advantage of all the strategies available to maximize your eligibility for financial aid in the form of need-based grants and merit-based scholarships.

Don't despair if you are already past the sophomore year - even seniors in their first semester can effectively choose a college and develop a financial plan to pay but it will take a great deal of time and dedication in a relatively short period of time to do so. Your best plan is to start early.

Who really receives the most money for college and why you ask. Although college financial aid was originally intended to go to those students who needed it the most, it many cases, it may actually go to those who know the most about the process. Colleges now use financial aid as a marketing tool to attract the student they would most like to enroll. The more you know about the financial aid strategies, and the more you are able to implement those strategies into a workable plan, the more likely you are to receive the best education at the best price.

The bottom line is this...

When you begin to apply for the colleges of your choice, where do you stand against your competition? Have you done everything possible to have the funding readily available before you start? Most families have a plan. The plan may have some holes in it, but they do have a plan. Our job is to help with that plan while ensuring that you don't overpay for college.

Do you want an evaluation of your plan? We offer a free College Funding Analysis which can be conducted in our office or via a virtual appointment. Go to our Contact page, provide us your contact information and put Free College Funding Analysis in the Subject line and include your phone number in the message section. We will give you a call to schedule your complimentary review.

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