You asked and I’m answering your most pressing questions about applying to and paying for college.

Here are the issues stressing you out and my solutions that will hopefully provide you some relief.

College Entrance Exams

Can you send SAT/ACT scores after the application deadline?

Yes. I spoke with an admissions director who says this happens all the time. Colleges won’t review an application until all the components are in, including test scores. That being said, the application and all the other materials should be submitted by the deadline with late scores arriving in a week or two. If you’re very concerned, have your student contact the admissions department and alert them to when those test scores should arrive.

We’re anxious to get some applications in as soon as possible, but how do the schools get score updates if the student is still planning to take another SAT or ACT test?

On the Common App, under “Academics,” there is an area to list exam dates for the ACT and SAT. Note that it indicates “past & future.” Though a student lists their best scores from each test, colleges will wait for the later scores from the test indicated on the application.

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What sort of timeline do you suggest for prepping for SAT and ACT tests?

Starting SAT/ACT prep about three months before the first test date allows time for a student to take at least three or four practice tests and focus on the areas that need improvement. Beginning much earlier can make a student burn out or forget the material they reviewed first. Both exams now test a student’s knowledge of the material they learned in high school, so it’s important for your teen to keep their attention directed on their academic classes. Learn more in my post on SAT/ACT prep.

How many SAT II tests should a student take and do you have any suggestions on how to space them out?

The majority of colleges do not require SAT Subject Tests, also known as the SAT II. Check the websites of the colleges where your student hopes to apply to determine how many, if any, of these tests are needed. My strong suggestion is to take the SAT II test in the same month as the AP/IB test in that subject area, when your student is already studying and most familiar with the material.

The Common App

We have been told by my son’s high school that within the Common App, we must waive the right to view any recommendation letters, otherwise the teachers will NOT write their letters. I saw, under the Colleges tab, if you add colleges, you can waive this right for each school.  My question is, does he have to APPLY to any college he adds to this tab?  He doesn’t have a solid list of schools yet, but we also don’t want to hold up any teacher letters.

No, he does not have to apply to every school he selects. According to the Common App site: “…the Online School Forms system is designed to ‘hold’ all school forms, transcripts and recommendations until a student submits his or her application to a particular college.” This doesn’t create any additional work for teachers or counselors because they only fill out their forms and upload their recommendations once.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

What information is on the CSS and when should parents file with the schools that require it—at the time of the student’s application or in conjunction with FAFSA?

Private colleges, more than public universities, require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, which is administered by the financial aid division of the College Board. Though similar to the FAFSA, the information requested is more comprehensive and the questions are specific to each college. You may be asked to provide the address and income of the non-custodial parent, your mortgage costs, etc. Note that there is a fee to file the CSS/PROFILE, unlike the FAFSA.

Each college has its own deadline for this form. The CSS/PROFILE opens in the fall, so you can fill it out at the same time as you’re completing your FAFSA now that that form is also available in the fall. Both forms require the financial information from your previous year’s income tax return.

Do you increase your chance of a scholarship if you show major interest in a college?

Some colleges do factor in interest when considering acceptance and financial aid, but more popular schools don’t. Applying early to your top choice colleges, well before the deadline, makes a bigger difference because these institutions have only a set amount of money available for merit-based aid. I’ve known students who were notified that they would have received a scholarship if their application had arrived sooner.

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For schools that do not typically offer a great deal of merit-based scholarships, and tend to give more need-based aid, what other opportunities would you recommend for those of us who will probably not qualify for need-based aid, but certainly cannot afford to pay the full amount to send our student to their dream school?

First, check the financial aid section of each college’s website. Here you can learn about what basis they use for merit aid and whether they offer scholarships that students must apply for separately. These can be based on a specific academic interest, where the student lives, heritage, ACT/SAT scores, GPA, etc. Check for scholarships related to your teen’s special skills or interests, like for joining the marching band or participating in a community service program. Also look for information on additional scholarship and grant opportunities available after freshman year, particularly within a student’s program of study or academic department.

Generally, your best sources for scholarships can be found locally. Research through your school, as well as your county and state government. Next check Fastweb, one of the top sites for finding customized scholarship opportunities. Start now, while your student is applying to college.

Factor in all money sources when figuring out how to pay for college. Include whatever your student expects to earn from their part-time and/or summer jobs, the money you will save on car insurance with your teen away from home (yes, there is a discount for that) and savings on groceries, utilities and removing the cable box from their room once they’re on campus.

My advice, as always, is to find the best college you can afford and borrow as little as possible, especially if there’s graduate school in your future.

Gaining a College’s Attention

How important is community service in the college application?

Most colleges look on it favorably, as one more factor that rounds out a student. I know someone who received a significant scholarship based upon her community service work. Colleges also consider the type of service and a student’s opportunity to participate. They understand that not all kids have parents who can afford to pay for a roundtrip airfare to a Third World country to help build a school over Spring Break.

Feel free to ask your question in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer it here or in an upcoming post.

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