Month: January 2011

“College Kick-Off:” Calling ALL High School Juniors!

“College Kick-Off:” Calling ALL High School Juniors!

This past week I, along with five colleagues from colleges and universities across the country, had the pleasure to meet with high school juniors and their parents during an annual “College Kick-Off” program hosted by the high school’s College Counseling Office. Over the course of a day and a half, we discussed topics like “How do I find a match in a college?” or “What do colleges look for in applicants?” As invited guests, we were privy to what is really going on in the mind of an average 16 year old, and we observed just how much pressure students feel during the college selection process. It is eye-opening and very real.

With a group of about 12 students, I dove into the topic of finding a match. How does any high school junior begin to develop a list of what they are looking for in a college? Who influences them along the way? The students’ individual personalities also shined through during the discussion, giving additional insights into their selection process.  Abby wants a highly selective school in the northeast with an ice hockey program. Janine is really into musical theatre. Chris is open to many things but knows math is not where his interests lie. Raymond is engaging and smiles as the discussion gets going. Kirsten will tell you that she is the only one who read the instruction manual to her iPod, so she has a different way of approaching her college search. Morgan is really interested in leading her classmates in the discussion. Jordan does not want to go to the university her father suggests because she visited (twice) and didn’t feel comfortable.

    In the end, perhaps Patrick sums it up best by saying that he wants to select the best college that “sets him up” for all that he wants to achieve.

    Today, much like 20 years ago, high school juniors are influenced by their peers, parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, and college counselors, just to name a few.  Now is the best time to start thinking about the process and get organized.  Students might find the easiest way to begin their search revolves around identifying what they ARE NOT looking for in the experience.  There are many tools that help juniors “find the right match,” but College Board does do a nice job helping to identify the characteristics of a college or university that students may want to consider.  There is also a list of articles focused on finding majors, campus visits, and simply information about where to start.

    If there is interest in a particular university, students should seek out on-campus events targeted toward juniors this coming spring and fall, or simply set up an individual campus visit. At Loyola, we aim to assist students by providing information sessions and a chance to take a student-led campus tour. We’ll also try to meet many students this spring via numerous college fairs and high school visits.

    The final day of the “College Kick-Off” was spent with the students’ parents. Many are going through the college selection process with a child for the first time, and some have students who will be the first in the family to go to college. Asked about my best advice for parents at this stage in the college admission process, I offer the following:

    Encourage your son or daughter to work closely with the College Counseling Office. When in doubt, start with the College Counseling Office. College counselors want to ensure that juniors understand the timeline of events that will occur over the next year. They have important information about when to sit for standardized tests, which tests to take and where they are offered, when and how to write your college essay, suggestions for who might be a good teacher to ask for a recommendation, etc. College counselors are often familiar with the schools your son or daughter may be considering. Chances are they also have relationships with the Admission Office representatives at those colleges.

    Encourage your son or daughter to think openly about the characteristics he or she thinks are important. Public or private? Big or small? Rural or city? Regional or national appeal? Division I athletics? Legacy ties? Close to home or away? In state or out of state? One of the best ways for a student to determine this is by simply visiting one or two different colleges or universities nearby. You don’t have to go far away or invest a lot of time and money for students to figure out that they prefer a smaller school over a large one, or for them to understand what a liberal arts college has to offer. By the time you get back to the parking garage after taking a college tour, students can usually tell you if the school is still a consideration just by its “feel.”

    Try your best not to push your choice(s) on your son or daughter. Let me acknowledge that no one knows your child better than you. Feel free to offer suggestions, but keep in mind that much like Jordan, your son or daughter may not really like the school that you do. Students in general are very open about this fact when talking with college reps, but often it is the most difficult thing for them to share with you as a parent.

    Looking back, I realize that one of the best gifts my parents gave me during my own college search was the support I needed to make the best choice for me, and for us as a family to discuss how that choice could be realized. There are many college choices and many great fits. As one of my colleagues shared this weekend, we hope students spend the time identifying what type of college experience suits them best, and likewise, seek out schools that meet those expectations.

    Why U Should File the FAFSA

    Why U Should File the FAFSA

    It is that time of year when newly admitted students search for more information about scholarships and additional funding that is available to make their college choice a reality for this coming fall.  Understandably, families are faced with the difficult discussions about how to finance a son or daughter’s college education, and in many cases, multiple children.

    Here are the “Quick Five” tips to consider when you hear the acronym “FAFSA” and reasons to submit it.

    Tip #1: For families less familiar with the college admission process, FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the optimum word is FREE.  It costs nothing but your time.  You should never pay anyone to fill this out for you and certainly Financial Aid Offices at any college or university are happy to provide individual guidance.  This is your opportunity to see if a student qualifies for additional scholarships, grants, loans, or a work-study job on campus.

    Tip #2: Keep in mind that the results from the FAFSA are linked to a specific student, and much like a Social Security Number, these results follow the student from school to school, whether in-state or out-of-state, and regardless of whether the institutions are public or private.  Each institution reviews the results to see what that college or university is able to offer.  The results are made available via the Student Aid Report (SAR) and can be sent to any number of institutions a student is considering just by using the school’s code.  At Loyola, the code is 001710.

    Tip #3: Ensure you do your best to meet the priority deadline for filing.  At most institutions like Loyola, you will see that the date is generally around March 1.  Filing by March 1 gives our Office of Student Financial Assistance the chance to ensure you have your results (a financial aid package) for review by the May 1 National Candidate’s Reply Date.

    Tip #4: Don’t assume you won’t be eligible.  Every year I hear from families who assume they won’t qualify or explain that they went through this with an older child and they didn’t qualify before; it is a different year with different circumstances.  The real answer is you don’t know what you might be eligible for until you apply.  Last year, Loyola welcomed 2,063 freshman students with 96% of them receiving some form of financial aid.  We also awarded more than $112 million in scholarships and grants.

    A few things to remember: first, at Loyola we do award merit scholarships to eligible admitted students, but we also have additional scholarships.  Second, many students filing the FAFSA do demonstrate need and that might also serve as a way for a university to award some additional scholarships or grants that have a need component.  Third, if you are reviewing college options and determine that there is still a need for more funding but never filed the FAFSA, this puts you at a disadvantage.  Admission and Financial Aid Offices can’t assist with a “want” but are happy to assist families to discuss options, and there are many more options if the college or university actually has a FAFSA on file for that student.  Sometimes there are even special circumstances which may be reviewed.

    Tip #5: Perhaps the most important reason to file the FAFSA is to trigger a conversation about college financing between parents and the student.  I am amazed at the number of students who go through the college admission process and never have the “talk” with their parents about what the family can contribute, what he or she is expected to contribute, and ultimately that college is an investment.  College-bound seniors often don’t know the truth about the family circumstances when it comes to money, and at times those discussions happen too late.

    The FAFSA provides a mechanism to promote a discussion about finances.  Students often wish they knew more, but out of respect for their parents it is unusual that they will ask or start the discussion.  After all, a student is much more apt to maintain a high level of commitment to his or her degree program when they know what sacrifices are being made.

    In the end, colleges and universities aim to do the best they can as stewards of the limited funding available.  Universities feel the impact of the economy as well. Here at Loyola, we also know that it is important to ensure that the students who enroll will graduate, and we don’t want financial hardship to interfere with that goal.  Likewise, we have the Loyola Guarantee.  Started in Fall 2009 to assist students in the most difficult position due to the economy, the Guarantee also helps students whose needs are less drastic.  In all, Loyola committed $1 million dollars to this fund the in the past two years, and we have helped 642 Loyola students.

    *Bonus Tip*: You thought there were only 5 Tips?  Well, I don’t want to forget to mention that you shouldn’t hesitate to contact the Office of Student Financial Assistance with ANY questions you may have about the financial aid process. They can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 773.508.7704.  Even if you haven’t finalized your school choice yet, they can help!

    Have U Kept Your Resolutions So Far?

    Have U Kept Your Resolutions So Far?

    At last, 2011 is upon us, and it is always fun to see and hear about friends and co-workers who are doing their best to keep their new year’s resolutions.  I know of one person whose goal it is to write more hand-written notes this year, as it seems we have left that notion behind.  I like it.  It seems simple, but I just love the idea that someone takes the time to say “thank you” or “I am thinking of you” and it didn’t come via my inbox.

    Students often send hand-written notes to say “thank you” for being awarded a scholarship or having visited the campus and commenting on how an admission staff member or current student went out of the way to make them feel welcome.  I keep these.  I call it my “Happy File” and I try to share these with the appropriate people when I have a few minutes. They also remind me of why I love what I do.

    At this time of year, admission staff members work long hours reading many applications trying to gain some insight into exactly who are the students interested in attending Loyola for the next fall.  It is the time of year that I personally resolve to find a new hobby, develop a new interest, or explore my creative side because I am amazed by the number of students who truly inspire me to DO MORE and LEARN MORE!  This time I am taking on the art of snowshoeing , a home improvement plan which involves way too much painting and my commitment to staying on the treadmill for my allotted 45 minute minimum with at least a 5.0 incline.  Thank you future Loyola Class of 2015 for the inspiration!

    Please check back each week  as I intend to dive into topics about the start of the college admission process for high school juniors and their parents, as well as things like deadline-sensitive topics for admitted students.  Yes, you might want to know why and when to file the FAFSA or when our deadline is for scholarship consideration.  I will also be sure to update you on ALL THINGS LOYOLA as best I can!