College Guy's December rant - Last chance for SAT/ACT; sending apps and test scores; coloring outside the lines; and preparing for the fin aid process

Hey Seniors, 
 
I know everyone's busy with all sorts of stuff, including getting those college applications worked on, so I'll keep this December rant relatively quick and mellow. Read carefully though cuz there's some important stuff in here.
 
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The Registration Deadline for the Jan. 26th SAT is December 28th. I know for most of you this is the last thing you want to think about, but for some it may make sense to give it the (forgive me) old college try one more time. Scores will be ready by mid February, which is plenty of time to get to colleges where you may be 'on the bubble' in terms of being accepted. So if you think there's a chance to raise your scores somewhat, all you've got to lose by taking it is a Saturday morning and $50 bucks. Remember that all colleges always consider your highest scores, so even if you raise just one or two of your subscores you'll be raising your overall score.
 
You can take either the reasoning test one more time, or you can take one, two or three of the hour long Subject Tests.
 
To register go to www.collegeboard.org. There's also an ACT on February 9th whose scores would get to most colleges on time.
 
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Those of you who have already applied Early Decision and Early Action - nice job!! You should have received an email or snail mail confirmation from your college(s) that your application has been received and is complete. They should also let you know if anything is missing. Wait a week to a week and a half to receive said confirmation - if you don't get it call the admissions office and inquire.
 
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When you apply to colleges you need to make sure that required test scores (from SAT and/or ACT) are sent to the colleges. For most schools it is not sufficient to self-report your scores on the common application or the college's application.
 
Some schools will accept scores which are included on your official transcript (make sure to let your guidance office know you want them to do this). 
 
Other schools will REQUIRE that OFFICIAL SCORES be sent to them directly from the testing agency (Collegeboard's ETS or the ACT folks). If this is the case log in to your account(s) at collegeboard.org or act.org and find the "send scores" request button and do the deed. You're allowed some degree of "score choice" options on which tests you send and which you don't. You also need to pay for this so have a credit card handy.
 
Those of you saying: "wha' he talking about?" might be well advised to see your guidance counselor or call / email me. See below for number.
 
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Let me say a few words about what I call "Coloring Outside the Lines" of your college applications, or sending extra stuff to make yourself stand out and leave a memorable impression:
 
I recommend that you add to every college application the following:
 
One extra essay
One to two extra letters of rec
An annotated activity resume
A "show and tell" piece such as an audio tape, art portfolio, photo essay, etc. 
A cover letter to tie all the above together
 
You may have heard that admissions departments don't like to get extra stuff. That's not true. What they don't like is extra stuff that's lame and banal and poorly conceived. Who does?! But if you have good stuff to send, which will enhance / round out / highlight / further demonstrate who you are and what makes you tick, by all means send it. It's all about distinguishing yourself from other applicants.
 
In October I sent you my  "Cover Letter" rant so you should know what I'm talking about here. Let me know if you want me to resend that email to you.
 
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A few words on the length of your essay: 
 
Understand that the (250 - 500) word parenthetical comment on the common application is meant as a suggested guide, not as a hard and fast word limit. 
 
Certainly your essay should be well written, succinct and carefully edited to avoid extraneous information and redundancy, but for crying out loud if you've got something good and it's over 500 words don't sweat it. I've surveyed admissions directors at dozens of elite schools (including Bates, Bowdoin and Colby) and they ALL have said unequivocally: "We Don't Count Words". 
 
If your essay is good and it's under 650 words you're good to go. If you've got more than 650 you need to be careful - send it to me for ideas on how to shorten it or how to submit it in a different way.
 
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Interviews, Honors Programs and Merit Scholarships
 
One parent recently wrote me:
 
"I recall that the interview deadline for many schools is well in ADVANCE of  the application deadline. Should my son be signing up for other interviews?"
 
My reply:
 
This is true: Bates, Bowdoin and Colby are prime examples which require interviews to be requested by mid to late-November and completed by year's end. 
 
Let me repeat what I've written and told you several times: you need to research the interview policy for each of your schools. You MUST go to each school's web site (this info is not on the common application) and on the admissions page look for their policy on requesting interviews. You can usually find it under "how to apply"; or use their search bar; or go to frequently asked questions.... 
 
Not every school will offer an interview and very few schools require them BUT you SHOULD take interviews whenever you can - face time is good time!
 
Also note that most schools far from home (meaning out of Maine) will offer ALUMNI or PHONE INTERVIEWS - you don't need to shlep to the campus (unless you were planning to anyway) to take an interview.
 
You also should read the fine print at each of your schools to determine whether there are merit scholarships and/or Honors Programs which you might be eligible for which require a special, separate application process. You don't want to learn this after crucial deadlines have passed.
 
If you can't find any mention about interviews, scholarships or honors programs on the college's admission page phone them, or ask me.
 
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Another question I recently received concerned financial aid:
 
" I’m hoping you can answer a quick question for me.  I’m very confused on when we need to apply for CSS financial profile/aid."
 
My reply:
 
Hi all....unless one is applying early decision the deadline for the CSS PROFILE is not until after Jan. 1 - in most cases it's not till February 1. 
 
You can find each school's financial aid policy and deadlines on their admissions page. Find the link to "financial aid" and read either "how to apply for financial aid" or the "frequently asked questions" section. 
 
For example, here's Georgetown's explanation (whose deadline for PROFILE and FAFSA, by the way, is February 1):
 
http://finaid.georgetown.edu/faqs/
 
And here's Bowdoin's "how to" page - note that their deadline is Feb. 15th:
 
http://www.bowdoin.edu/studentaid/index.shtml
 
You also need to find out which of your student's schools require the CSS PROFILE and which ones only require the FAFSA (note that ALL SCHOOLS require the FAFSA, but only some require the CSS PROFILE). You may also encounter some schools which require their own separate "Institutional" financial aid form, which they will clearly indicate and tell you how to access and complete.
 
I know it sounds complicated but it's not. Just follow these steps:
 
Plan to fill out the CSS PROFILE by mid-December. At that time you'll also fill out the FAFSA worksheet (the actual on-line FAFSA can't be filled out till Jan. 1, 2013). If your school is offering a 'financial aid night' you should plan to attend that. Anyone is invited to call or visit with me if you have questions or need some hand holding.
 
Remember it's important for you to have your 2012 taxes COMPLETED by March 1st of 2013. DO NOT WAIT TO FILL OUT THE FINANCIAL AID FORMS TILL YOUR TAXES ARE DONE. Instead make estimates using your 2011 taxes.
 
Make sense? Call me if you still have questions.
 
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Okay - those of you who know me and have been reading my rants over the past year should be quite familiar with what I've discussed here. Those of you who are new to this can get in touch by phoning the number below. 
 
I'm the College Guy, happy to be of service if you could use some help. 
 
Best of luck to you all!
 
Gary
 
P.S. If you find my rants useful and know others who may like to receive them, feel free to forward them on to friends and neighbors, or send me their email addresses and I'll see that they get to them. College Placement Services is currently accepting members of the class of 2014 and 2015 for consultation and other fee-based services. Call for information.
 
-- 
Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711 
www.collegeplacementservices.org
College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.