On Wednesday, September 15 Guidance Office representatives Sarah Wills-Viega and Jose Cordero spoke to a full house of LA seniors and their parents about the process of applying to college during Senior Family Night, an annual September tradition at LA. They laid out a step-by-step process, which is also elucidated in the LA Senior Handbook.
The application process includes: finalizing a college list (using Naviance, college visits, and other available tools), completing standardized testing (the SAT is offered October 1 at LA. Other tests needed for college, depending on the applicant and colleges, include SAT Subject Tests, ACT and TOEFL), and filling out applications for admission and financial aid.
Wills-Viega recommended attending the more than 40 sessions held on the LA Campus featuring representatives of colleges (these are listed on the LA Naviance site) and also getting out and visiting colleges. “There is no substitute for walking on the campus of a school you are interested in,” she said.
Factors to consider when choosing a college include location, setting (rural vs. urban), type of school (four year vs. two year), programs of study, and availability of programs including athletics and study abroad programs. It is also essential to consider two factors that impact every college applicant, in Wills-Viega’s words: “the ability to get in, and the ability to pay.”
The Guidance Counselors recommended having a range of schools that include reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. This can be estimated by looking at college websites to note average accepted students’ GPA and test scores, and seeing where the applicant falls within those ranges.
In terms of being able to pay, Wills-Viega stressed that colleges give lots of financial aid. Most schools have a net price calculator on their website that helps families calculate their real costs based on income, assets, and how many children are in college at the same time. Many schools offer their own scholarships, and according to Wills-Viega, “families might be surprised that some private colleges can be less expensive than UMaine, once financial aid is factored in.”
The application packet itself is comprised of a number of pieces of information, including: the application form (which includes the college essay and other student-provided information), teacher recommendations and the secondary School Report (which includes the counselor report from the Guidance Office), the official transcript, standardized test scores (these will be included with transcript unless you request otherwise in the Guidance Office), and Lincoln Academy’s High School Profile.
In giving advice about the college essay, Wills-Viega stressed that students should “pick a topic that reveals important information about you as an individual, and something you are excited to write about. Colleges can tell if you are inspired by your subject. It is better to be personal than to be grand.” She also reminded students that college admissions personnel look to the essay for indicators of students’ ability to write at a college level.
The Lincoln Academy process for seniors includes a senior survey, a parent survey (both of which give information much needed in the official school recommendation, and can be picked up at the Guidance Office), the senior meeting (for guidance counselor to learn more about students), and support filling out the Common Application, which is accepted by 80% or more of colleges to which Lincoln Academy students apply.
In terms of completing financial aid forms, Wills-Viega pointed out that new this year, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Aid) can be submitted beginning October 1 using 2015 tax return numbers. “This is a good development, said Wills-Viega, “It will help families have more time and more concrete information when filling out the forms. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA, whether you think you will qualify for Federal aid or not. Many scholarships, including merit-based scholarships, draw information from this form.” Parents can apply online for their username and password, now known as the FSA ID.
Jose Cordero, new to LA this year, encouraged families to contact college admissions offices during the process. “I have recently come from the world of admissions,” he said, “and I can tell you from experience that admissions counselors are happy to help you through this process.”
“There are lots of resources out there,” said Wills-Viega. “FAME Maine will be here later this fall to help with financial aid questions, the Common Application website has many tutorials, and Naviance is full of good information about college visits, searches, scholarships and other great stuff. You can always contact us in the LA Guidance Office. This is a complicated process, but we are here to help,”