Wednesday, January 25, 2012

3 Critical Questions to Research So You Can Get Grants, Scholarships and Other Financial Aid You Deserve

So how do you beat the colleges at their own game? Here are three areas to research.
1. Determine what percentage of financial need each college on your list has met historically. All things being roughly equal, wouldn’t you rather attend a more generous school compared to a stingy one?
2. Determine how that college meets need – i.e. the breakdown between free stuff (grants and scholarships) and self-help (loans/work study.) Two colleges could meet the same overall percentage of need, but your financial aid could be vastly different between the two.
3. Pin down the priority deadlines – some schools require forms as early as November 1! Others may want you to file by February 15th. Make sure you research deadlines for each college on your list, since a lot of financial aid is first come, first served.

Now, a quick word on how to use the information uncovered in #1 and #2, above. The ‘formula’ used by each school to determine your financial aid award is as follows: COA (Cost of Attendance) – EFC (Expected Family Contribution) = Need. Schools award financial aid based on how much need you show. As noted above, once you identify the percentage of need that your college meets, you have a decent handle on what your award will look like. Here is a simplified example:

Assume two colleges with a $50,000 Cost of Attendance and a $25,000 EFC. Your Need is $25,000. If “College A” meets 100% of need, you’ll receive an award of about $25,000 and your cost will be your EFC of $25,000. However, only the most elite, competitive colleges in the country will meet 100% of need. Most do not. If “College B” only meets 80% of need, you may only receive $20,000 in aid, and you’ll have to pay about $30,000 (this is your EFC + the 20% unmet portion). So your total out of pocket for one year at the second school is $5,000 more than the first school, even though their sticker prices may be the same.

How can you obtain these facts? The first place is to look on the websites of each college. Understand that you will have to click around for a while – colleges don’t make this information easy to find. You can also call the financial aid office but you may end up frustrated by the lack of responsiveness, according to most of the parents we work with. Another great resource is College Board - The information on there is trustworthy for the most part, but you have to really dig at it. You’d be well-served to consult a qualified college finance specialist. For example, our firm has all of this information at our fingertips and we get a lot of it directly from the colleges and some from the Department of Education. Our Smart Track™ Toolkit website has the tools (many of them for FREE) to help you project what each college will award within a small margin of error, and suggest legal and ethical ways to qualify for more grants and scholarships than you would on your own. No matter whether you seek out expert help or do it yourself, preparation and research can pay off in a big way. Don’t put it off or you could lose out – on tens of thousands of dollars in financial aid.

MurrayMiller is a financial educator devoted to the college planning space for over a decade.  Murray is the President and CEO of the College Resource Center, LLC.  You may contact him by emailing or by calling 800-863-9440. For more information, including a schedule of free college workshops, visit

About Smart Track™ Toolkit: The toolkit is a web based service that assists families with everything from admissions and test prep, to student athletics and financial aid. Our intuitive software and on-demand workshops are key components to making sure students find their top choice colleges, and families can afford to send them there.

Connect with us

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Academic Perspective

When applying to colleges, we suggest you consider four different perspectives and weigh them each accordingly:

• Academic Perspective (40%)
• Financial Perspective (30%)
• Social Perspective (15%)
• Campus Perspective (15%)

This week we’ll discuss the most important perspective to look at when considering where you are going to apply to college – academics. After all, you are going to college to earn an academic degree in order to acquire the knowledge and skills you need to get a well-paying job in your intended career field after graduation. Let’s not forget that!

Safety, Target, Reach: If you haven’t heard these terms before, you will.
  • Safety schools are schools that you have a really good chance of getting into. Your academic profile (GPA, SAT/ACT scores) is stronger than most of the other applicants. For example, you have a GPA of a 3.7 and the mean GPA for admitted students is a 3.4. We suggest you apply to about 2-4 safety schools so that you have a back up plan in case you don’t get into your top choices. We also suggest you apply to safety schools because most schools that will give you merit-based financial aid awards will be your safety schools. You will be a very strong applicant at these schools and colleges will be very interested in you.
  • Target schools are schools that you have a decent chance of getting into because your academic profile is average for what those colleges typically accept. For example, if you have an SAT score of 1800, the mean SAT for incoming freshman at that school is an 1800. You are right on “target” with the school’s standards. We suggest you apply to about 3-5 target schools. While you have a good chance of being accepted, don’t forget that your academic profile will look almost identical to thousands of other applicants. You will need to do something to set yourself apart in your applications. You will need to work hard on your admissions essay and consider scheduling an admissions interview.
  • Reach schools are colleges where it would be a stretch for you to be admitted. Your academic profile is weaker than most candidates. For example, if you have an ACT score of 21, these colleges may require ACT scores of about 28 or even higher. Now, we would never tell you not to apply to a reach school. Your chances are limited, but you never know. You could write a stellar essay or have an amazing interview. But don’t forget that even if you get in to some of your reach schools, you will want to ultimately pick a school that challenges you but that is not TOO challenging. We want you to be stretched, not stressed. Just because you got in doesn’t mean you can handle the work once you get there. We suggest you apply to 2-4 reach schools.

Depth vs. Breadth of Courses Offered: When making your college list, you will want to consider what you are interested in and potential majors and career fields. If you know exactly what you want to major in, for example engineering, you will want a college with a depth course catalog for engineering (ex. – chemical, mechanical, aeronautical, etc). However, if you are unsure of what you will major in and will go in undecided and declare your major later, you will need to make sure that you have a breadth (wide variety) of courses and majors to pick and choose from so that you’ll have options when you learn what you want to do.

Special Programs: When looking at colleges, you need look into any special programs that you will want your future school to offer. Do you want an honors program? What about a cooperative or internship program? Are you looking to study abroad? Do you want to have distance learning options? If you are interested in a special program such as one of these, you need to make sure that your colleges offer them.

Graduation Rates: According to College Board, the national average for graduating college in 4 years is a staggering 44%. Some colleges do a lot better than others in getting their students to graduation in four years. Some colleges offer great academic counseling and advising and additional support and others don’t. Search for your colleges on and see what the graduation rates are. On your visits and tours, consider asking why the rates are what they are. Taking more than four years to graduate means two things: wasted time and money. Be sure you have the resources you need to get through college in four years.

Alumni Network: Alumni networks can be very helpful at colleges. Some colleges will connect you to alumni in your chosen career field who will be available to answer your questions and even connect you to other professionals. This is a great networking opportunity and they can even help you with your job search during and after college.

Employment Stats of Grads: In this economy, you will want to research the employment statistics of graduates of the colleges you are looking at. Are most of them able to get jobs right after graduation? Is there any kind of program at the college that helps or even guarantees students jobs after graduation? Most of these statistics you can find right on the college’s website. However, if they aren’t exactly up to par, you may have to dig and do additional research to find them. Also be sure to look into the college’s career services. Do they have a career center? What services do they provide? Are they accessible? Go in with the end in mind and make sure that you have the best chances possible to have a great job after you graduate.

Remember, college research takes a lot of time to do well and to truly find the best fit college for you. Start early and take your time. Gather input from people who know you well – parents, teachers, counselor, coach, friends. You’ll need to visit your schools and ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Ultimately, you really want to find a school that will value you for what you do well and somewhere where you will be happy. This is not an overnight decision. Don’t wait until the last minute!

Any additional tips to share? Leave your comments!

About Smart Track™ Toolkit: The toolkit is a web based service that assists families with everything from admissions and test prep, to student athletics and financial aid. Our intuitive software and on-demand workshops are key components to making sure students find their top choice colleges, and families can afford to send them there.

About the author: Laura Guarino is the Student Services Coordinator with the College Resource Center, LLC. Laura has a degree in Human Development from Boston College and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in School Guidance Counseling. She is also enrolled in a certificate program in College Admissions Counseling. Laura is at the forefront of the college admissions process for the families of the College Resource Center and The Smart Track™ Toolkit.

Connect with us

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Infographic: An Inside Look at College Admissions Today

An Inside Look at College Admissions Today

The changing nature of college admissions in the US has been the source of much stress and confusion to college-bound students and their parents. To understand how the process of getting into college has evolved over time, counselors, educators, students, and parents look to various research studies to derive meaning from the numbers.

Curious to know what the college admissions process is like today? Take a look at StudentAdvisor's infographic "An Inside Look at College Admissions Today" containing data from recent research findings from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, College Board, and the US Department of Education:

StudentAdvisor College Admissions Infographic