What Happens After Classes?

afterclassesvideo

During a campus visit, it’s very difficult to show you everything that goes on during the course of a school year, so we put together this short video that highlights a few of the things that have occurred on campus from September to April.

Whether it’s music, athletics, Greek life, volunteerism, theater, checking out the local community or simply hanging out with your friends, there’s always something to do when classes are done!

May 1 = 20 days away = plenty of ways left to make the best college choice

That date you’ve circled on your calendar is now on the horizon, just under three weeks away. May 1 is the national reply date, meaning you have until then to make a final college decision. While some of you have already made a decision and feel some weight off your shoulders, there are many others of you who are feeling the pressures that come with having to make an important decision in the near future.

On the college side, we too are feeling the stresses that come with your decision process. We are working hard to confirm our respective incoming classes, and admissions counselors nationwide are busy answering and addressing last-minute questions and concerns from admitted students and their families.

While the option to hide or run away from the madness might seem appealing to college-bound students and admissions counselors alike, here are but a few suggestions that we’d like to offer to ensure that you’re making the best use of your limited time in the 20 days remaining until May 1.

1. Fear not the modes of and opportunities for communication. Please feel free to reach out to your admissions counselors at the schools left on your list with your remaining questions, comments, and concerns. They will be happy to communicate with you in the ways you deem fit: over the phone or email, face to face, with texts, on Facebook, through Twitter, with semaphore flags, etc. Bottom line: We want to help you! (And most of us are nice and friendly.)

2. Better late than never. Be aware of any late visit programs or opportunities to see campus one more time. At Illinois Wesleyan, we are holding our second Scholars Day—a specialized open house for admitted students—on Saturday, April 21. This program, as well as April programs at other colleges, can add clarity to your decision picture. The same goes for any late opportunities to sit in on classes, meet with faculty, try the cafeteria food, speak with coaches, interact with current students, etc. For most of the schools on your list, it’s not too late to request and schedule an individualized itinerary.

3. If you’re unable to schedule a visit . . . Know that your admissions counselor can get you in contact with various members of the campus community: professors, current students, alumni, study-abroad coordinators, career advisors, mascots, and quad squirrels.

4. Financial aid review. By now, you should have received your financial aid from most of the schools you’re considering. If you’re still waiting on some, you’ll want to reach out to those schools to find out where things stand. Once you’ve received your aid, please review it in detail with members of your family—well, probably not with the family dog—and then contact your admissions counselor if there are things on the aid package that need further clarification.

5. Do tell. Once you’ve made your final decision, please reach out to all your schools to let them know of your final decision. Remember, most of us are nice and friendly (see item #1), and so we’re not going to react aversely to the news that you’ve decided to attend another school; however, I can’t promise that we won’t cry.

Don’t know all the details about borrowing money for college? You’re not a-loan.

Though we haven’t had much of a winter here in the Midwest, the subsequent season has nevertheless arrived: financial aid season. As you navigate the financial aid process and perhaps even begin to receive need-based aid packages from your colleges, you might be curious about one of the scarier forms of aid—loans.

The word itself might send a slight shiver down your spine as most of us have heard a horror story or two about students graduating with mountains of debt. It’s important to know that these anecdotes are very much the exception to the rule. With that said, different colleges approach loans in very different ways, and it’s important to analyze each financial aid package closely and communicate with admissions or financial aid representatives to make sure all of your questions get answered.

Here are a few of the most common college loans:

  • Stafford Loan

Any discussion of college-related loans must begin with the Stafford Loan, which is essentially the federal government’s college loan program. Any family that files the FAFSA can obtain a Stafford Loan, and this loan is in the student’s name. Families qualifying for need-based aid can take advantage of the Subsidized version, wherein interest on the loan is deferred to a period after college; the current interest rate is 3.4 percent. Non-qualifying families can still obtain the Unsubsidized version in which interest does accrue during college; the current interest rate is 6.8 percent. Students have a six-month grace period after college before monthly payments begin, and this grace period extends through additional schooling such as medical or graduate school.

While the Stafford Loan is not right for every family, it is a manageable loan (students can borrow up to $3,500 freshman year, $4,500 sophomore year and $5,500 junior and senior years, plus an additional $2,000 of Unsubsidized money) with a modest interest rate and can be very helpful as your family seeks an affordable college payment plan. College, like an automobile or home, is a significant investment, and taking a moderate loan in order to help make that investment doable is, in the estimation of most college professionals, very reasonable and even advisable.

  • Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS)

As the name suggests, this loan is in the parent(s)’ name. Your parent(s) must apply and qualify for a PLUS loan, and there is no standard limit on the amount. The interest rate is currently 7.9 percent fixed. While a PLUS loan can also be very reasonable, some schools will include a large PLUS loan in a financial aid package before a family has even applied and qualified. This is a dangerous practice; before you commit to attending a specific institution, make sure you understand each component of your financial aid package.

I once worked with a student who received a package that included a $20,000 PLUS loan, leaving his family with no “out-of-pocket” cost. For this reason, the “amount due” on his package was listed as $0. Without entirely understanding the situation, the student informed me that he had received a full-ride to this school and was under the impression that he would pay nothing while in college or after graduating. In reality, the college was implicitly encouraging the family to take out $80,000 in loans. IWU does not include PLUS loans in financial aid packages, though we are happy to help you explore this as an option if you feel it might be beneficial.

  • Institutional loans

Some colleges will include their own loans in financial aid packages. The current interest rate on an IWU loan is 8 percent, but you should check with each individual college to see if you have been offered or are eligible for an institution-specific loan.

While college loans may often get a bad name, it is these very loans that could enable your family to breathe easy with each monthly or semesterly payment. Don’t hesitate to contact your colleges to learn more about each specific loan and find out whether it’s right for you. Loans can sometimes seem scary at first, but in the end a loan might be one piece of the financial aid puzzle that helps make college an affordable reality for you and your family.

 

 

What to Expect of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

In the world of financial aid acronyms/initialisms, FAFSA rules the day. Today we talk about its offspring—the EFC. The likelihood that you or someone in your household has heard of it is quite great. The likelihood that someone in your household knows just how that figure is arrived at, and later used by colleges, is not as great. But don’t worry—that’s where we come in.

First, a quick explanation from the ruler’s mouth . . .

Per a FAFSA web site:

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula. Also considered are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college or career school during the year.

The information you report on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or your FAFSA4caster is used to calculate your EFC. Schools use the EFC to determine your federal student aid eligibility and financial aid award.

Note: Your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate the amount of federal student aid you are eligible to receive.

A quick recap: The EFC is an attempt to capture a snapshot of the family’s financial position based on that family’s income, assets, and benefits, within a context that includes family size. Colleges use this information to determine a student’s aid eligibility for federal grants and loans. They also use the information to calculate the levels of institutional (and state) aid for which the student may additionally qualify.

And a bolded note on the FAFSA site’s bolded note from above: Your EFC—note the your (allow me to note the note within the note noting the FAFSA’s note) because it is unique given that your family’s financial situation applies only to your family—can give you an idea of what you and your family might pay for the upcoming year of college, but there are various factors from the college side that may result in a wide range of out-of-pocket costs for your college options.

For instance, there are colleges that are able to meet all of their students’ demonstrated financial need (which is calculated as the difference between the costs to attend and a student’s EFC), but others must be more judicious when distributing their budgeted financial aid funds. Additionally, schools that offer merit aid—awarded typically as scholarships that are independent of a family’s financial position—might exceed your demonstrated financial need through their merit aid program.

In the end, you’ll likely find as much variety in out-of-pocket price tags of the colleges you’re considering as you found in the colleges themselves. Ideally, you and your family find the financial aid award coming from your top-choice school to be feasible given your EFC.

Something to talk about

Your status may vary at different colleges as you read this: perhaps you’ve been admitted to a couple, you’re awaiting  decisions from others, and you’ve submitted the financial aid paperwork to some but not all. You might feel like an entertainer with a few plates spinning, a couple balls in the air and a flaming sword that isn’t going to swallow itself. But much like entertainers often garner the help of assistants to accomplish their many tasks, you have admissions counselors waiting in the wings to help you through the final act of the college search process.

As you begin to pare down your list of colleges and try to navigate the financial aid process, one of the most important things you can do is remain in contact with your designated counselor at each college. S/he can update you on scholarship programs, let you know which financial aid forms have yet to be received, help you schedule the all-important spring visit and provide you with all of the information you and your parents need as you select the college that is the best fit for you.

With this in mind, many admissions staff members will be eager to reach out to you instead of simply waiting by the phone or computer. After all, once the plate falls to the ground—rather, once the financial aid filing deadline passes or all of the visit days are a thing of the past—it’s too late. At Illinois Wesleyan, counselors call the admitted students from their territories every 4-5 weeks to see if they need any assistance and answer any questions they have. However, there is also a “contact card” included in IWU’s acceptance packets that allows students to indicate if they prefer more or less contact, email instead of phone, etc. Feel free to be up front with the admissions counselors at your schools if you prefer a different method or frequency of contact over these next few months. We certainly don’t want to be a bother to you; we simply want to make sure you have everything you need as you make this important decision.

While the financial aid process will be one of the most important aspects of the spring for many students, visiting your top college choices can be extremely helpful as well. The importance of stepping foot on a campus you’ve never seen is relatively obvious, but returning to a campus can be beneficial as well. Sitting in on a class in order to get a feel for the academic environment and staying overnight with a student to experience the social culture can both help immensely as you work toward a confident college decision. Your admissions counselors will be happy to help you set up a visit that includes all of the elements you deem important.

So if the phone rings or your email inbox chimes with a message from one of your colleges these next few months, please know that we’re not trying to pressure you to make a decision prior to May 1 or chatter away annoyingly about our college without your specific needs in mind. We just know that you and your parents might need a little help with all the things you’re juggling!

 

Get Your Finances Financial Aid Forms in Order

The dawn of a new year brings many things: a new list of resolutions we’ll inevitably break by February; cold temperatures (at least for those of us living in the Midwest); a seemingly endless parade of college football bowl games (and parades); and, wait for it … the opportunity to start the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Bust out the noisemakers, party hats and goofy 2012 glasses! Let’s all pretend to know all the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne as we sing along while swaying side to side! Let’s plant a smooch on www.fafsa.ed.gov because January 1 marks the date when we can officially start the process of submitting a FAFSA!

Why all the hoopla for this FAFSA, you ask? Well, the FAFSA is required to apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, loans and work-study. The FAFSA is also used to apply for most state and college aid, in addition to some private financial aid. The bottom line: most institutions use the FAFSA to help determine your bottom line—i.e., that which you and your family are expected to pay for the upcoming year to attend college—to attend their given institution.

At some colleges—Illinois Wesleyan included—an additional form is required to calculate a family’s financial aid. That additional form may be the CSS PROFILE (a financial aid application service of the College Board) or an institution-specific form. At IWU, we accept the CSS PROFILE as the second required form, but we also provide families with the option of completing the free Illinois Wesleyan Financial Aid Application. Deadlines for these forms vary by institution and their admissions-decisions processes (Early Decision candidates are required to submit a completed form earlier than those applying Early Action or Regular Decision). Make sure you check with your respective schools as to their specific deadlines. (FYI: Our recommended filing deadline is March 1.)

Admitted students who file for financial aid typically receive their financial aid proposals from their various schools in early spring. Keep in mind these need-based proposals will include and often build on any merit, talent-based, and other institutional scholarship already earned by the student. Remember that most education, employment and finance experts will tell you that getting the most out of your college investment isn’t about finding the most inexpensive option as much as finding the best value for what you and your family can afford.

Our hope on the college side is that we are able to provide financial assistance to the students who qualify and have a strong desire to be here, so that these students are able to anticipate and celebrate the first of May (or before, of course) like many of us do the first of January.

Wait … Good things come to those who what?

As Chris Kawakita mentioned in the previous post, applicants will receive decisions from colleges at various times—even as late as April. Your mailbox is sure to be exhausted from the workout it will receive over the next few months, and as you may have already learned, the Waiting Game isn’t always as fun as its name would imply.

But the time between submitting applications and discovering those exciting packets in the mail doesn’t have to be all about waiting. There’s plenty you can do to advance your college search process and enhance your chances of admission.

Schedule college visits. Are there any colleges to which you’ve applied that you haven’t had the chance to visit yet? It’s always important to get a firsthand look at the school where you might be spending your next four years. Plus, at some selective schools, a formal visit plays an important role in the admissions process. By visiting now, you can get a better sense of your top college choices as the calendar approaches spring, aka Decision Time.

Inform your college choices about recent achievements. Were you recently elected president of a club at school? Did you increase your ACT score but forget to send it to all of your colleges? Did you set a personal record for brownies eaten in one sitting? (Actually, we don’t need to know about that one.)

You may not be able to update your application on your own, but you are welcome to call or email your designated admissions counselor at each college to which you applied with those updates. By the way, don’t hesitate to make more significant changes as well, such as your desired major—most colleges are more than happy to make updates to your application.

Finish up the semester well. Chris outlined this earlier: You might figure that once you’ve hit “submit” on your application that your ongoing high school courses won’t much matter, but some of your colleges might play a Waiting Game of their own—that is, they may wait to make a final decision until they can see how you performed in your seventh semester of high school. In this case, your seventh semester might even be the most important one of all.

Begin the financial aid process. The main financial aid form—the FAFSA—cannot be filed until after January 1, but you and your parents can begin to get some of the necessary financial documents and information in order. You can also utilize financial aid calculators on various sites or on individual schools’ websites in order to get a sense of how much need-based aid you might receive. Some colleges also accept or require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA, and this can be submitted prior to January 1.

Stay in touch with your admissions counselors. Even if you have already visited a college and don’t have any recent achievements to mention, staying in touch with your designated counselors can indicate a level of interest that admissions offices love to see. It’s always a good idea to confirm that all of your application materials have arrived, and feel free to ask your counselor if there’s anything else you can/should be doing in order to maximize your chances of admission.

Do You Hear What I Hear? What?! You’ve Heard? Why Haven’t I Heard?

‘Tis the season for colleges to make decisions and, for some, to inform students of their application statuses. Those decisions elicit a range of reactions, from joy to the world to bah humbug. And just as the emotional responses vary, so do the times of the year when applicants are reacting—a result of the varied review processes that institutions use to get to the point when decisions are mailed/emailed out to applicants.

A college’s selectivity affects when decisions go out, with the most selective schools informing their applicants of their decisions in early April (the exceptions being those who applied Early Decision or Early Action, resulting in earlier decisions), and the less selective ones releasing decisions as soon as the applications are received and reviewed. In all review processes but Early Decision, applicants are not required to commit to attending a particular college until May 1.

The question remains: When can I expect to hear back from the colleges to which I applied? Recall that, generally speaking, a college’s selectivity correlates with the time you’ll wait to hear back: the schools that aren’t very selective often turn around their decisions right away, and those that are the most selective only give you a month or so to process everything before the May 1 decision deadline. Checking web sites and guidebooks for selectivity—often measured in acceptance rates and translated into descriptions such as “most selective,” “selective,” “less selective,” and the like—is a good place to start. It also helps to know the admissions process under which your application is being reviewed. Rolling admissions? You’ll likely hear soon, if you haven’t already. Early Action or Early Decision? You’ll hear early on, naturally. Regular decision? You’ll hear by April 1, unless the school specifies otherwise. For instance, at Illinois Wesleyan, we review and mail out decisions to our Regular Decision applicants from mid-January through early April.

And in what must by now seem like a variation of a biweekly theme here, please know that you’re welcome to contact admissions offices and counselors directly for further assistance. At IWU, we are happy to explain where your application stands in our process, and we can provide an estimate as to when you can expect to hear sleigh bells your decision! We are certainly happy to hear from you!

Application filled out? Check. Checked and re-checked? Check.

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Wait! Don’t click “Submit” or affix that stamp quite yet!

 

We know you’re pretty much done with that college application, but we recommend a few finishing touches before you fire it along the information (or real) highway. As fellow blogger Chris Kawakita mentioned in our last entry, there are many elements to the college application, and they deserve one final application of polish.

 

Let’s begin with the writing samples. You’ve probably read and re-read your essay (and/or personal statement) by now, but have you had the chance to get a second pair of eyes on it? (No, we mean an actual second set of eyes. Those of you who wear glasses don’t get to skip this step.) We’ve all experienced the failed self-edit, wherein the incorrect use of “you’re” mysteriously goes unnoticed despite several readings. It’s important to have someone else—mom, dad, a teacher, a pet, a friend—read over your essay in order to provide a human spell check and any potential suggestions or revisions.

 

Next up is the list of extracurricular activities. Did you leave anything out? (Remember that club you were in way back in freshman year?) Did you make sure to include any and all leadership roles you’ve held, as well as honors and distinctions earned? Are there too many to list? While very few schools require a résumé, most will allow you to submit one if you’d like. At IWU, we would recommend submitting one only if there are additional activities you were not able to fit in the allotted space on the application. That is: don’t send a résumé just to make your list of activities look prettier, but feel free to send one along if there’s important information you want us to know.

 

These are the relatively obvious facets of the application to review before submission, but less obvious is the fact that the entire application deserves one final examination. The information you’ve provided is important, and a simple mistake could have long-term implications. If your email address is missing a “9” in what’s supposed to be “1993,” you won’t receive a follow-up email or any others that the college or university might try to send you. As you’ve likely discovered by now, there is a plethora of questions on many applications, and it’s worth making sure you didn’t miss any. Did you check “Yes” or “No” to answer whether you’ll be applying for financial aid? Did you include your guidance counselor’s correct email address and phone number? Did you indicate that you’re an IB diploma candidate or a National Merit Semi-Finalist?

 

One final note: If, as you check over your application, you come up with any questions or realize you’re confused about what exactly the college or university is looking for, don’t hesitate to call or email your admissions counselor. (Or add comments on this blog.) Every school has a counselor assigned to your high school, so feel free to ask that person for guidance. And of course your high school guidance counselor is happy to help as well.

 

Whew. Now that feels good. I always love the smell of a freshly polished application. Now you can hit that scary “Submit” button. That’s something to give thanks for—a completed, edited, touched up, finalized college application. Congratulations!