March College Guy Rant for Seniors: Chopped Liver, Acceptance Protocol, Financial Aid and Stalking the Wild Scholarship

Hey Seniors - greetings from the College Guy!
Hope everyone is enjoying winter's last gasp - we may get a bit more snow but we can take heart that the boys of summer are hard at work down South and out West, and before we know it the season opener will be here (and if you have to ask "What Season?", well, never mind!) For the rest of us, circle April 10th on your calendars - the Sox play my reconstituted Yankees in the Big Apple! Go Masahiro Tanaka!
Here's a chock-full-'o-info College Guy Rant for March. Some of the stuff contained herein just may be of use to you and your folks, so take some time and read through it...
First, lemme give you my "Chopped Liver" speech, which is what you're gonna get from me when I find out that you've received decisions from your colleges without letting me know.
Now many of you have been dutiful correspondents and have shared the good (and at times not-so-good) news with me, for which I'm appreciative. This is for the rest of you.
It goes like this: either you call me or I call you, or we run in to one another in the Old Port or at the Westbrook Cinemagic, and I say something clever like:
"So, what's new?"
And you reply: "Well, I'm trying to decide between the acceptances I've gotten from Bard and Bates, but you know I was wait listed at Barnard and rejected at Brown, and also Beloit just offered me $17,000/year to go there, so I just don't know what to do!"
"When did you hear all this?" sez I.
"Oh, I've known for a couple of weeks!" you reply.
...and I say something sparkly like: "Well, uh, duh, that's great, like, were you planning on telling me? WHAT AM I, CHOPPED LIVER???? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????!?!!!!!!!!!??? !?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!???!!??!!??!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
So moral of the story here is to PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU HEAR FROM YOUR SCHOOLS: good, bad or wait-list. I'd really appreciate it cause it helps me keep the pulse on what schools are up to from year to year. Unlike your guidance counselor I don't have 250 students I can readily see the results for - I need to hear from you directly - helps me do my job and all that.  
Y'know what I mean?
As an added incentive (not that you should need one), I've got a suggestion for things you can do if you get wait listed. Briefly, it's an attempt to appeal the decision (without begging or getting all undignified), to make sure they didn't mix you up with someone else, to let them know you're still interested and to score some extra points toward them potentially taking you off the wait list and offering you an acceptance down the road. 
Does that happen often? To be honest, no. But over the last few years I've seen more than a few qualified applicants wait-listed because the school in question apparently didn't believe the student really was planning to matriculate to them. Remember it's all about 'showing the love' and having points of contact. It's not to late to make that point to a school that's wait listed you.
Have I seen it happen? Yes, more than a few times.
So if you get wait listed from a school you really wanted (and far as I know you didn't apply to any schools you DIDN'T really want, right?), send me the news and ask me about the "waiting list appeal". You may still have some moves to make.
For those of you who haven't yet heard from some/many of your schools don't get all nervous. Take a deep breath and....relax. Most of the selective colleges will wait till the very end of March to send out their decisions. So take a chill pill and keep the waiting game going...Concentrate on something else, like the upcoming baseball season. Um, or your physics homework.
And read both these articles from the Huffington Post (one from 2012, one from 2013) for good measure:
When you do get a letter of acceptance, you should follow a standard protocol something like the following:
1. Feel good about yourself, say "hip hip hooray"
2. Read the letter carefully, take note of grants and scholarship awards, invitations to attend accepted student programs, and requests for deposits (check out what I have to say about this further on in the rant).
3. Let your guidance counselor and me know.
4. Feel good about yourself again, say "hip hip hooray" again
5. Call me old fashioned, but I think it's a good thing to write a letter (or email) to the person who signed the admissions letter  (usually the Dean of Admissions) . Be gracious and grateful - ESPECIALLY IF THEY OFFERED YOU MONEY!!! - and let them know how excited you are. Then assure them that although you're still waiting to hear from another school or two, you will be getting back to them very soon to further explore their offer of acceptance.  
(NOTA BENE: all schools MUST give you till April 30th before non-refundable deposits are due and you make your final decisions. No rush here)
6. If you've been in close contact with coaches, professors, other "pen pal" types, let them know the good news as well.
7. When you get accepted by your safety schools do the same thing (it's good to be nice, and one never knows) and as you thank them you might delicately ask if they have moolah for you.
(Write or call me if you want specific suggestions for how to do # 5 and #7 tactfully).
8. Continue to feel good about yourself, lord it over younger siblings, particularly the annoying ones, and remind your parents that they won't have you around much longer so now's the time for them to ply you with allowance increases, nice gifts and later curfews. Try saying "hip hip hooray" within earshot of them - they're bound to be moved!
9. PARENTS TAKE NOTE: Make sure your financial aid applications are updated as soon as you complete your taxes, and properly delivered to each school (via mail, IDOC, or the IRS Data Retrieval Process). Read what I have to say below about updating your FAFSA and CSS PROFILE and requesting your aid award from each college once an acceptance has been received.
Oh, and don't let junior manipulate you in to doing something foolish like increasing his/her allowance or taking the family van to see the Foo Fighters in New Jersey...expect him/her to try though!
Now, concerning need-based financial aid and merit grants and scholarships:
(This gets a little detailed and dependent students may wish to skip it. To the parents, I guarantee you that no one will break it down better for you than I do here so take some time with this and phone me if you have questions.)
Parents who applied for financial aid should have their taxes done by now (or be damned close to having them done - what's taking you?) . Once your taxes are done there's a FAFSA feature designed to verify your income and complete the aid application process called the IRS Data Retrieval Plan. This enables you to link your FAFSA to your official IRS tax information you've just filed. If you can get past the "Big Brother" insinuation, it's actually kinda cool and very easy. Wait a week or two from when you've filed your taxes to do it, and it should work fine. You access it from your FAFSA by going to the "make corrections" option.
Some colleges may still request you to mail hard copies of your (and your student's) taxes and W-2 forms, while others (those that required the CSS PROFILE) are going to ask you to complete something called the IDOC process.
Although the above sounds confusing, here's how you simplify it.
Read emails and "to do" messages from each of your student's colleges, and follow their directions.
Trust me, it's not so hard. If you're stumped, confused or mesmerized (in a bad way) phone or email me and I'll hold your hand and tell you what to do. But really, you can do this.
Everybody with me to this point?
Now, within a week or two of getting an acceptance letter you should receive an actual (if you've sent your taxes in) or estimated (if you haven't) financial aid award. If you don't receive such an award letter, PHONE THE FINANCIAL AID OFFICE (not the admissions office) and ask them when you can expect to receive it.
Most schools will request that you send them a form called the VERIFICATION WORKSHEET along with your taxes. They'll provide you with this form or instruct you to download it from their web site. It's a simple two page form that you fill out and send along with your taxes. Don't forget to make and keep a copy for yourself.
Remember, your son/daughter has until April 30 to make his/her final decision (that's when deposits are due to the school they're going to attend), and you're not expected to make that decision until all colleges let you know what it's going to cost. So you need to get financial aid 
information ASAP so you'll know whether it's going to be necessary to prepare an appeal for more money.
VERY IMPORTANT POINT FOR THOSE WHO QUALIFY FOR FINANCIAL AID: If you're not pleased with the aid you've been given you can appeal for more. You've got to be able to make a compelling argument (meaning: you've got to need it, not just want it).
Get in touch with me if you have questions or want help updating your FAFSA, completing the IDOC (for the CSS PROFILE schools which require it), interpreting an award letter, or composing an appeal strategy (there's a right way and wrong way to ask for additional money. I'll tell you the right way). 
Here's a link to several good New York Times articles/discussions on financial aid, in case you're not entirely gorged on the topic:
Worth repeating one more time: You have till the end of April before nonrefundable deposits are due. Often when a college accepts you they will request a deposit for reserving your place (registration deposit) and/or for housing. Most schools make it clear that said deposit is not due till the end of April, but others (in an understandable attempt to "close the deal" - they're businesses first and foremost, remember?) will ask for the deposit 
NOW. In such cases the deposits MUST BE fully refundable if you let them know before April 30 that you've chosen another school. By the way, these deposits generally range between $200 to $600.
IMPORTANT: If a school seems to be asking for a nonrefundable deposit before April 30th, it's illegal (or at least extremely unkosher). Call me immediately and allow me to 'have at 'em' on your behalf...
Whether your family filed for financial aid or not, it's not too late to send out scholarship applications. There are many, many sources of funds out there, but (sadly) most won't give money to you. However making a time-efficient and strategic search and scholarship application blitz may not be a bad idea. Start right in your guidance office and ask about local scholarships - now is the time to be applying for them.
Want some other suggestions for searching for scholarships without driving yourself too nuts? Give me a call - that's why I'm here!
Remember that the purpose of financial aid is to fill the gap between the full cost of the school (tuition/fees plus room/board) and YOUR ABILITY TO PAY AND (reasonably) BORROW. Asking the college for more money is NOT, in my opinion, an exercise in merely "getting the best deal", and this is an important distinction to make if you're to be successful. If the FAO (financial aid officer) thinks you're merely "shopping", you won't do as well.
I tell parents to expect paying for college to "hurt" a little more than you're hoping it will, but not a great deal more. If your child gets in, and if the college is a respectable one (and most are), you should have success appealing for more money once you explain your need and your true EFC. Late March and April is the time to do this.
On that somber note, relax and enjoy the ever longer days, the NCAA tournament, the prelude to the start of the baseball season, and all the wonderful and exciting changes which are in store for graduating seniors and their parents alike in the coming months!
Stay groovy!
P.S. If you've read this far I suspect you appreciate all this information I'm laying out for you, despite the length. If you know of other students and parents who would benefit from receiving my emails (particularly members of the class of 2016 and beyond who are just starting this journey) I would be grateful for names and emails of folks who may want to receive my future rants. I'm currently accepting juniors and sophomores to my caseload, in case you know underclassmen and their families who could use the help. And feel free to forward this rant to class of '15 families as well. It's never to late to get a beneficial dose of the College Guy!
Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711
College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.



from the author

You should read this in it's entirety. It's good stuff!