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Early Decision vs. Early Action - Which is Right for You?

by Alexis Mattera

So you’ve wanted to attend University X for as long as you can remember. You made sure your academic and extracurricular accomplishments exceeded its admissions criteria, took multiple campus tours and even made its .edu your homepage but the time has finally come to submit your application packet. Doing so early seems like a no-brainer...but is it really?

Applying to college ahead of traditional deadlines has become quite popular in recent years; with that increased interest, however, comes some confusion. Should you apply early decision or early action? Can you apply early to multiple schools? Can you apply early to one college and regular decision to another? Here’s some much-needed clarification from Examiner.com.

Early Decision: Generally, ED programs are binding and require applicants to relinquish all rights to consider offers from other colleges. If you are surer than sure of your college choice and would go to this school beyond a shadow of a doubt if you were accepted, this is a great route to take. If you’re concerned you will not get in, you should consider another application method that allows you more options.

Early Action: EA, on the other hand, is non-binding in that it allows applicants to choose from other colleges they’ve been admitted to instead of being locked into one. While most early action programs say it’s ok to apply early action and regular decision to other institutions, some can be restrictive (check out Yale’s policy compared to Harvard’s) so be sure to check the requirements before sending in your materials.

College students, did you apply early? If so, what did you think of the process? High school seniors, do you plan to apply early – either ED or EA – and did these explanations help you?


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A New Approach to Learning

October 18, 2011

A New Approach to Learning

by Alexis Mattera

Did you know that approximately nine out of 10 of the nation's two- and four-year colleges enroll students with disabilities and 86 percent of those schools enroll students with learning disabilities? Promising statistics...but only at first glance: The Department of Education reports just 24 percent of these schools say they can help disabled students "to a major extent." Fortunately, Landmark College exists.

The transition from a specially designed high school program to a mainstream college campus environment can be a bumpy one but Vermont-based Landmark has developed a number of programs and strategies to help these students stay focused, remain on top of assignments and understand their rights as college students with documented learning disabilities like dyslexia or attention-deficit disorder. Offerings include boot camp-style seminars, internship programs and scholarships paired with one-on-one coaching – assistance bureaucracy-mired traditional colleges often cannot provide – and with the number of disabled college students steadily increasing (they comprised 11 percent of the college student population in 2008, up from 9 percent in 2000), these programs are helping to take away the social stigma associated with these disorders and empowering students to speak up, seek assistance and ultimately succeed.

You can learn more about Landmark’s goals and additional information about learning disabled students here but we think student Morgan Behr sums up what Landmark is addressing perfectly in 10 words: "We're not that weird. We're normal. We just learn differently." What do you think about Landmark’s approach to learning?


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The Impact of Merit Aid

October 19, 2011

The Impact of Merit Aid

by Alexis Mattera

Wherever you are in the financial aid process, you’ve probably heard the term merit aidfinancial aid based on students' academic and other merit rather than financial need – and its increasing popularity over the last decade or so. What you may not know, however, is the impact this trend has had on students seeking need-based aid.

According to a new report by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, state and institutional financial aid for low-income students has dropped significantly as merit aid has increased. From 1995-96 to 2007-8, the proportion of merit aid recipients in the highest quartile of family income rose from 23 percent to 28 percent, while the proportion of merit aid beneficiaries from the lowest economic quartile fell to 20 percent from 23 percent. (See more statistics here.) The report also suggests that many institutions have embraced merit aid because they believe this type of award will entice middle- or high-income applicants to attend their school over others (and pay more money to the school as a whole during the time they are enrolled) instead of offering financial assistance to low-income students who truly need the funds to attend college.

What’s your stance on merit aid? Does it help more than it harms in higher education or vice versa?


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Fairness in College Admissions

by Alexis Mattera

Accepted, rejected, deferred and waitlisted are all responses students can receive when tearing open a decision envelope or clicking on an admissions-related email. Some are obviously more favorable than others but are the practices that lead to these decisions as fair as they can be?

In its latest State of College Admission report, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) highlights the impact of wait lists in the college admissions process. Data reveal 48 percent of institutions surveyed used wait lists in fall 2010 – up from 39 percent the previous year – but of the students who elected to remain on the lists, colleges admitted just 28 percent of wait-listed students, a figure six percentage points lower than 2009. “Colleges are leaning more heavily, and perhaps more ‘craftily,’ on the wait lists, which may be tipping the balance in ways that students and counselors are finding objectionable,” said NACAC’s public policy and research director David A. Hawkins.

There are multiple culprits contributing to admissions committees’ rationales – application inflation and yield predictability complications are both cited – but in terms of fairness, not all schools are leaving would-be students in admissions limbo as, on average, four-year institutions accept 65.5 percent of all applicants. It’s the report’s predictions that are most concerning: Prolonged economic decline and uncertainty could make it more difficult for all parties “to adhere to fair practices” in the admissions process.


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Scholarship of the Week Alert: FIRE’s Freedom in Academia Essay Contest

by Alexis Mattera

There are lots of different ways to find money for college these days but none are as tried and true as the essay scholarship. Are you ready to write your way to $5,000, $2,500 or $1,000 for college? Well fire up that computer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Freedom in Academia Essay Contest.

The Freedom in Academia Essay Contest invites high school seniors to watch two videos on FIRE’s website and write an 800- to 1,000-word essay using examples from both videos. This year's prompt is "Why is free speech important at our nation's colleges and universities?" FIRE will award one first-place winner a $5,000 scholarship, one second-place winner a $2,500 scholarship, and five runners-up $1,000 scholarships.

The deadline is coming up fast – it’s November 5th – so visit FIRE’s website today for more information. To learn more about this award and others, conduct a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com.


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UC System Changes Admissions Requirements, Confuses Applicants

by Alexis Mattera

Thinking about applying to one of the University of California’s 10 campuses as a freshman for the 2012-2013 school year? If so, read the admissions requirements carefully, lest a change intended to ease your college-related stress levels send them sky high instead.

As standardized tests go, all UC campuses call for freshman applicants to submit scores from the SAT and ACT but have eliminated supplemental SAT subject exams from the list of admissions requirements. Though many students are breathing sighs of relief that they do not have to prepare for, take and afford another exam, others are still signing up for the subject tests in droves because they think it will boost their chances for admission. UC officials say students who do not take the tests will not be penalized but those who do and score well will be viewed in the same positive light as someone, say, with a leadership role in a school club would be. This explanation – plus the fact that specific programs like engineering and science do recommend subject tests – has left students and counselors understandably confused.

You can read more reactions from both sides here but as the November 30th application deadline draws closer, we have to wonder where our readers stand. If your dream school did not require you to take supplemental exams, would you follow the rules or still take the exams and hope doing so would give you a leg up on your competition and why?


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Tuition at Cooper Union?

November 1, 2011

Tuition at Cooper Union?

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a prospective college student considering a career in engineering, architecture or art, Cooper Union is probably on your radar. Not only is the school among the most selective in the nation but the tuition – zero – has been the best deal in higher ed for more than a century...or it was.

Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha recently announced that the weak economy has prompted the school to reevaluate its scholarship policy and possibly begin charging tuition for the first time since 1902. Bharucha stressed that lower-income students and many middle-income ones would continue to attend for free and that none of the 900 current undergraduates would be charged but the mere mention of tuition for degree-seeking students marks a serious cultural shift for the institution: Though a final decision has yet to be made, alumni are furious – “It’s a contradiction to everything we’ve learned about Cooper. It’s the last opportunity for free education on that level in the entire country,” said graphic designer, New York magazine co-founder and Cooper Union graduate Milton Glaser – and students are planning to walk out of classes in protest tomorrow.

Bharucha did say that implementing tuition would be a last resort but what do you think of his announcement and its corresponding reaction? What avenues should be explored to preserve free tuition and are there any ways students and alumni can support or contribute to the cause? Lastly, does a potential tuition bill have you reconsidering applying to Cooper Union?


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Early Decision and Early Action Deadlines Extended

by Alexis Mattera

So you took the standardized tests, filled out the application, wrote the essay and secured the appropriate transcripts and letters of recommendation well in advance in order to apply to your first-choice school early. Nice work – it’s just too bad Mother Nature had other plans.

The late October storm that hit the Northeast knocked out electricity, Internet access and, for some students, hopes of getting their early decision and early action applications submitted on time. Thankfully, many institutions have extended these deadlines beyond the traditional November 1st cutoff and NACAC has posted those schools, administrative contacts and new early application dates on its website. Though most are in the Northeast, schools located as far west as California, Oregon and Arizona and as far south as Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky have joined the cause to ensure all interested students have time to apply.

NACAC does note that the list may not be comprehensive and is inviting colleges and universities to update their application dates if they have changed. Conversely, students should contact the schools they are interested in applying to for any admissions updates. Good luck, everyone!


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University of Charleston Slashes Tuition

by Alexis Mattera

Between announcements of Cooper Union possibly charging tuition and the average student debt topping $25,000, news about the cost of college haven’t been too positive as of late. But lo, the University of Charleston has broken the bad news cycle: The West Virginia school has announced it will reduce tuition by 22 percent for all new students and provide additional aid for continuing students.

UC has guaranteed that no undergraduate student will pay more than $19,500 for tuition in the fall of 2012. This will be the base price for freshmen and transfer students while the figure returning students will see is $25,500 with a promise of at least $6,000 in university aid. The tuition reduction is part of a broad system redesign which the University of Charleston hopes will allow greater innovation and cost-effectiveness without compromising the quality of its education. According to a release on UC's website, these changes include “a five-year plan that emphasizes fast-track learning, achieving athletic prominence, championing innovation and expanding access.”

In a time where every dollar makes a difference, did the University of Charleston just move up on your college wish list?


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A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

November 29, 2011

A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

by Alexis Mattera

In recent years, college students have become more cautious about taking out loans to pay for school. There are multiple reasons for this – horror stories from friends or siblings, limited job prospects after graduation and high interest rates have all been cited – and while it’s an admirable goal to graduatefrom college debt-free, educators think this approach could actually hinder students from getting degrees.

According to a recent Associated Press article, students are attempting to limit borrowing by working longer hours, taking fewer credits (and often not enrolling full-time), living at home and attending less selective institutions. While educators are impressed with this level of fiscal responsibility, they are quick to point out that each action above is a risk factor that makes college students less likely to graduate. Borrowing could prevent this, said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president of Excelencia in Education. "If you can take out a little bit of loan you're more likely to complete. If you can go to a more selective institution that gives you more resources and support, you're more likely to complete." How much more likely? Federal data analyzed by Excelencia and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in 2008 shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time compared to 70 percent of students who don't borrow and roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor's degree within eight years compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

What can be done to facilitate this message? Educators believe students need to better understand financial aid, the difference between types of loans, debt management and the returns on various degrees and majors. In addition to searching for scholarships and grants, is borrowing part of your financial aid plan and does this information make you more or less likely to take out a loan?


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