Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Social Perspective

We suggest you weigh this perspective as about 15% of your decision.  While academics clearly reigns first in the overall equation, in college you are only in class for about half the time you were in high school.  While you will have a lot more homework and studying to do, you will also have a lot of free time.  You need to start thinking about what’s really important to you.

Clubs:  Are you involved in any clubs in high school that you want to continue in college?  Or have you always wanted to be a part of a club but never had the time?  Examples include dance, debate, drama, movies/film society, political organizations, student government, music, theater, etc.  Colleges want to see that you will be a valued member of their college community and that you will be involved on campus.  Even if you have no interest in any clubs or organizations right now, we highly encourage that you try to find something you could be involved in once you get there.  Remember, if you don’t see a club offered that you would really love to be a part of, don’t be afraid to try to start your own club or team.  Colleges and future employers love initiative!  If for nothing else, remember there’s often free food at club and organization meetings!

Sports & Athletics:  Are you into sports?  If so, think about if you want to play at the college level.  Many colleges have many different sports to choose from at many different levels.  Usually, college sports will be at the Division I, II, or III level.  If you don’t want to play at the Div I, II, or III level, consider joining the sport at the club or intramural level.  Generally, club sports regularly participate in scheduled practices and employ part-time coaches.  Intramurals are teams of students competing against other students within that college, while club teams compete against other schools across the state and even the nation. Usually, intramurals do not offer coaching or regular organized practices.  Alternatively, are you just into working out and being active? If so, make sure that the athletic and recreational facilities on campus are up to your standards.

Greek Life:  Are you interested in joining a fraternity or sorority?  Sometimes Greek life can get a bad reputation for being nothing but a non-stop party.  However, at many schools, Greek life can offer an opportunity for students to develop socially and intellectually.  You will be able to meet students of various backgrounds and enjoy a close bond of friendship and brotherhood/sisterhood with other students who can become a support network for you.  At some schools, one of the primary purposes of the fraternity/sorority community is to develop high scholastic achievement within.  There may be peer tutoring, upperclassman counseling, and study hours.  In a fraternity or sorority there may be opportunities for leadership and socialization, as well as community service and athletics.  Do some research to see if you may like to pursue these activities.  Many schools will have information or interest sessions where you can learn more and ask questions.  Furthermore, some schools will not allow students to pledge until their second semester freshman year or their first semester sophomore year.

Religious Community:  If being part of a religious community is important to you and your beliefs, make sure that your future colleges offer such.  Consider applying to a religious specific college, or at the very least make sure that there are religious organizations and support systems in place at your schools if that is important to you.  At most schools with religious communities, students can participate in worship services, various faith-centered clubs and organizations including community service and social justice activities. 

Community Service:  Colleges (and future employers) want to see that you are involved on campus and love to see that you’ve been involved in community service endeavors.  See what colleges offer in terms of community service clubs and opportunities.  Many colleges will have rich community service groups that will connect students to service opportunities domestically and internationally. 

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC): ROTC is a college program that prepares young adults to become officers in the U.S. Military.  In exchange for a paid college education and a guaranteed post-college career, cadets commit to serve in the Military after graduation.  Each Service branch (Army, Navy & Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard) has its own take on ROTC.  If you are seriously considering ROTC, make sure your colleges offer ROTC in your specific Service branch and make sure you are well informed.

Overall, you want to go to a school that meets your social needs in addition to your academic ones.  As I mentioned before, although you are going to school primarily for academics, you will obviously have a life outside of class.  Be sure you know what you want and that your colleges offer what you want.

In addition, it’s important to understand that being at the right school that meets most if not all of your needs makes the college experience much more enjoyable.  Don’t just apply to where your friends are applying, where your parents went, where your boyfriend or girlfriend attends, or where you think you can afford – instead of applying to the “right fit” college for you.  You will be limiting yourself unnecessarily and choosing the wrong school will result in lost time and money in the end.  Don’t settle!

Remember, this is your future and this process cannot be completed overnight.  Get thinking! What’s important to you?

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 Smart Track™ Toolkit.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012


By Erika Rae - Grockit

Beating the SAT was (almost) easy when you took full advantage of test prep, practice tests, and free SAT questions.    You wrote terrific application essays, and did so well in your college admissions interviews, you had your pick of schools.  But there are more tests ahead of you as an undergrad – not just French exams and history quizzes, but also physical, mental, and emotional stuff that will challenge you in ways you probably haven't experienced yet.

In Part 1 of this article, we learned to keep busy with campus events to avoid homesickness; be in touch with family and old friends to feel connected and grounded; follow a schedule to stay on track; and get away to a quiet spot to be alone and re-energize.  Here are three more ways to beat stress:

5.  Breathe In...Breathe Out...Breathe In...
Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and focusing on your breath for ten minutes.  You don't need a special outfit and incense and a CD of seagulls – just sit in a quiet place, in a comfortable chair, and think of nothing but your breath going in and out.  You can seriously improve your mood, concentration, and level of stress by thinking: “I'm breathing out the nasty stress...I'm breathing in peace of mind...”.  Start a meditation circle in your dorm.

6.  Dive In, Work Out, Steam Up
Take advantage of your campus sports center – you'll miss it after you graduate!  Working out can be a very effective way to de-stress and re-energize.  Swim a few laps and sit in the jacuzzi.  Walk the track to warm up and then build muscle in the weight room.  Take a yoga or Zumba class.  Or go straight to the sauna and steam away the stress.

7.  Campus & Online Resources Offer Options
Some students will need more options than meditating and swimming laps.  If you experience panic attacks, depression, and other serious issues, then don't hesitate to visit your campus health center.  It's confidential, and the clinic folks can help you decide how to manage these challenges.  There are also online resources, like ULifeline, which has a self-evaluation, facts about anxiety and other disorders, and info about resources on campuses across the country.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Deciphering the Financial Aid Award Letter

The amount of correspondence your student gets from colleges can be staggering. Before they’re even accepted you’ll be getting mountains of brochures, pamphlets, and other marketing materials. Then, once they do get in, even more information gets sent your way: housing forms, deposit slips, acceptance letters, campus information, and more.

There is one piece of mail you’ll be getting that should be studied carefully, since it will have a pretty big impact on your wallet. That is the financial aid award letter [Be aware that some colleges are moving towards electronic award letters. This means that rather than getting an envelope in the mail, you get login instructions in an email for the college’s website. Keep in mind that lots of email is sent to your student, so keep an eye on their account as well.]

Your award letter may look simple enough, but packed into that piece of paper is information on how much money your student is getting from the college, as well as how much your family will be expected to pay. No, it isn’t the same thing as a college bill, but it does serve the same purpose: letting you know how much college is going to cost.

Award letters will typically contain one or more of the following components: Scholarships, Grants, Work-Study, and Student Loans. How much your student receives depends on many things (Merit, your EFC, Demonstrated Need, Cost of Attendance to name a few) but the goal here is to define each and figure out what they mean to your bottom line.

Scholarships and Grants are forms of “free money”. This means that they do not have to be paid back to the college, the government, or whoever it was that gave them out. Every college has their own criteria for awarding this money, but typically we find that scholarships are Merit-Based (meaning they are contingent upon student grades, test scores, etc) and grants are Need-Based (meaning they are contingent on the family’s financial picture). If a scholarship or grant is Merit-Based, it is important to find out what the criteria is to keep that money. Your student may have to maintain a certain GPA in order to continue receiving those funds, something that is good to know in advance.

Work-Study is a form of “self-help”, meaning you aren’t just given the money up front. In this case, you have to work for it. This is usually done by getting a job on campus and working a set amount of hours every week. The student is paid at least minimum wage either weekly or biweekly. It is important to note that Work-Study does not come directly off the bill. Instead, the student works, gets paid, and is then expected to apply those funds to the college bill. Whether the student does this or not is another question entirely, but this is the concept of Work-Study.

Student Loans are also a form of “self-help”, because in this case the money eventually has to be paid back. The most common student loans are Stafford Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized) and Perkins Loans. These loans are good because they are fixed rate, government guaranteed, do not require a co-signer or credit check, and payment is typically deferred until after the student graduates. It should be noted that PLUS loans, which are parent loans, are NOT a form of financial aid. Some colleges put these loans on their award letters, but don’t be fooled. Sure, the PLUS program is a federal program where parents can borrow for their student’s education, but it is NOT considered financial aid.

While every college awards financial aid differently, these are the four main types of aid that your student could receive. Of course we’d like to see more scholarship and grant money than anything else, but that depends on Student Positioning (for Merit money) and Financial Positioning (for Need-Based money). These are also important topics, but for another day and another blog. Until next time…

About the author: Justin Munio is a Business Development Manager and Financial Aid Consultant with the Smart Track™ Toolkit. Over the past 4 years Justin has been at the forefront of the financial aid process for the families of the Smart Track™ Toolkit.

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.