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Adding to holiday stress is the fact that many high school seniors throughout the country face a big deadline: completing their applications to private universities and colleges before the end of the year. Avoiding mistakes under such pressure will be key to their college admissions success, says Chelsea Watkins, founder and chief executive officer of College Application Training.
If students and their families avoid three big mistakes before the December 31, 2014 deadline for applications to many private universities and colleges, they’ll save money and improve their chances for success, says Chelsea Watkins, an authority on college admissions.
Founder and chief executive officer of College Application Training LLC, Watkins is an expert in understanding the academic, social, and financial needs of students and families she advises – and matching those needs to select colleges and universities.
“There’re three huge mistakes students and their families must avoid: procrastinating; unrealistic financial planning; and, forgetting to do a final review of the application. Taking great care throughout the application process will have a positive impact on a student’s future for years to come,” Watkins notes. “And, it’s predicted that competition for admissions and financial aid will be fiercer than eve, so every little detail counts.”
She estimates that thousands of college-bound high school seniors have not yet completed their personal statements and applications to private colleges and universities.
For students and families, she offers three additional tips for making the best of their applications and meeting the deadline with a minimum of last-minute chaos:
1. Create Authentic, Unique and Compelling Personal Statements: Most institutional merit scholarships are awarded based on the strength of a Common Application. There is no separate scholarship application for most private universities and colleges. The personal statement, as part of the Common Application, is the only way students can showcase their unique personalities and set themselves apart from all other applicants. The stronger the writing, the stronger the application, the more merit aid a student could potentially receive. Also, it is essential that students have met with their high school counselor before the winter break to complete the “Recommenders” section of the Common Application. High school teachers and counselors are usually not available over school vacations, and if there is a problem with that section (which only the counselor can fix), students will not be able to submit their application online.
2. Discover Each School’s Percentage of Need Met: Not all schools are created equal when it comes to awarding need-based financial aid. The higher the percentage of need met, the more need-based financial aid a school will award. Some students do not even apply to certain private universities or colleges because they think it will be too expensive. What they do not realize is that oftentimes, a more expensive school also has a higher percentage of need met, which means it will be less expensive than the cheaper school, which has a lower percentage of need met. For many families, it means that Northwestern University (meets 100% of need) could potentially be less expensive than University of Illinois (meets 66% of need).
3. Calculate Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), Analyze Current Positioning and Re-position to Lower EFC: The EFC is the amount the federal government decides a family should be able to pay for college. It is an algorithm that takes into account several variables, mainly income and assets and assesses them at specific percentages. Many parents unknowingly have positioned themselves so that they will overpay for college. For example, money in a student’s savings account can be assessed up to 20%. Money in a parent’s savings account is assessed at 5.6%. Another example, credit card debt is not counted on the forms, even though it is a significant burden on cash flow. Many families have credit card debt, and they also have money in unprotected assets. If they use some of the assets to pay down the debts, they increase their cash flow and lower their potential college costs.
Watkins adds that students and parents should finish their college applications before Tuesday, December 30, 2014. “In that way, they have time to review, review, and review……and, believe me, during that window of time, they will find ways to strengthen their personal statements and to identity opportunities to save college costs,” she says. “If they take to heart these three tips, along with doing everything else on time, I’m confident there’ll be less anxiety and more hope.”
Watkins, a certified advisor for the National Association of College Funding Advisors (NACFA) and the College Planning Network (CPN), the largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid servicing center has helped nearly 1,000 students prepare their college applications.
“The world of college admissions is so complicated for students and their families. It is anxiety-ridden and increasingly expensive, given all the tutors, test-prep companies, and psychologists competing for their time and money,” says Watkins. “Being practical, strategic, and wise is the only true solution during this major life-changing milestone in their lives.”