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Ask the college counselor

Q: I applied under “early action” in November to two schools I considered my “safeties.” I wanted to know that I had at least one acceptance before filing my regular applications in January. I was pretty confident I’d get in, but both schools deferred me—so now I am in a panic. Maybe it’s true and college admission IS getting harder! If my “safeties” deferred me, what chance do I have with the others?

A: Actually, college admissions, despite what you might read in the media, is NOT getting harder. It’s ALWAYS been hard to get into an Ivy League school. But don't panic, admissions is reasonable at many other places, especially outside the Northeast.

The problem today is volume. More students are filing more applications, often to the same group of "popular" colleges. So, while College A may have received 20,000 applications five years ago, today they are getting 40,000. Twice as many students are applying, but College A is still the same size it was five years ago. And why are so many students applying? College A has been advertising and recruiting like crazy. Also, the Common Application makes it so easy to file many more applications than back in ancient times when you had to hand-write a separate application to each school. So College A’s application numbers and selectivity go up, and poor you are suffering as a result.

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By now many families of high school seniors have probably seen the scary article in last Sunday's New York Times. You know, the one that details the panicked quest for college acceptances causing many students to feel they need to file 20 or 25 applications just to have a chance.

I have a 3-word response:

Get a grip.

You don't have to file 20 to 30 applications. Usually 8 to 10 will do, and will offer you a choice of acceptances. But you need to be willing to listen to some advice:

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On Monday the Department of Education released new School Quality Reports for every city school, fulfilling its promise to abandon the labeling of each school with a single letter grade. For parents who appreciated this simple shorthand when seeking out the best school for their children, this new system may appear daunting. But for anyone who ever wondered how those grades were calculated or why some fluctuated wildly when all appeared stable on the ground, the new system will be a breath of fresh air.

The new School Quality Reports are comprised of two separate documents, both intended to make the existing school data more transparent to parents and educators alike. The School Quality Snapshot is a short and straightforward tool intended for parents. Much like InsideStats on Insideschools' profile pages, it seeks to present the most relevant information for parents in a way that is easy to read and understand. On this document, you won't see any statistical analyses or weighted comparisons, only the raw test scores, graduation rates and school survey results that matter to parents most.

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014 11:39

College counselor: Deciding on a major

Q: I'm a high school senior looking at what university I might want to attend.  I would like to be able to look into courses for animation/digital arts, critical studies (for cinematic arts), game design, computer science, or computer engineering. I currently have no experience in any of those areas, nor do I know for sure if I want to devote myself to any of them. 

I want a university that will allow me to take courses to help me learn if I would enjoy a career in those areas, while also allowing me to complete entry level prerequisites, so I have the experience and knowledge to go for a major when I am ready. Unfortunately, I do not know what these courses are. I only know the names of the majors, and schools that offer all of those majors seem to be too expensive. How can I learn about prerequisites, and whether I would enjoy a job in that area?

A: You have excellent questions, and obviously you have been thinking seriously about the next step in your education. Many high school seniors are unsure of what they ought to choose as a major, and then they worry that a major might be a wrong choice when it comes time to look for a career.

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It's the thick of college application season, and your child is diligently churning out common application essays while simultaneously studying for four or five advanced placement exams and researching scholarships, right?

Well, maybe not.

In households of high school seniors across New York City right now, (including my own) there's likely a good deal of procrastination—along with frustration and anxiety about the endless array of essays and electronic forms to fill out. Tasks include the dreaded and still over-complicated federal FAFSA, a federal form with 108 questions and 72 pages of instructions that determine financial aid—all guaranteed to take weeks off your life. (Here's a tip, though: For help, check out this how-to guide from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.)

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School starts on Sept. 4 and for high school juniors and seniors, this means it's also time to start thinking about college. Here's my advice on what to focus on as you look ahead to college.

Juniors: The most important thing you can do for yourself this year is to concentrate on your studies. Take the most challenging courses you can, and strive to do well. If you are involved in some extra-curricular activities you enjoy, stick with them. If you have not become involved yet – join something! This does not have to be at your high school; it can also be in your community. You will look (and feel!) more balanced if you do something besides study. But don't obsess about college applications yet – most high schools do not begin college programs until the spring of junior year. One more thing: READ. I cannot stress more emphatically that students who read widely and constantly fare much better, in the college process and overall, than students who read little.

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Summer is a perfect time for rising seniors to visit some colleges. You won't be alone – hosting summer visitors has been the norm at most U.S. colleges and universities for the past 20 years. The number of visitors will usually correlate with the size of the campus – the larger the school, the larger the information sessions and tour groups.

Most colleges will have a "visit us" feature on their website (usually in the Admissions section). If you have to reserve a place on a tour, you can do so online or by calling the Admissions office. If you show up without a reservation, will they let you visit? Of course! The whole point of the college visit – from their perspective -- is to inspire students to become applicants. You are a prospective customer so they will be happy to see you.

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Friday, 17 January 2014 16:12

Figuring out financial aid? New FAFSA guide

Figuring Out Financial Aid? Updated Guide Offers NYC Students Help with the FAFSA and Comparing Financial Aid Packages

The Center for New York City Affairs, home to Insideschools, has published a second edition of its popular guide for high school students who are applying to college and beginning their all-important quest for financial aid: FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students (And the Adults Who Help Them).

We hope this guide will be useful to students, families and the many caring adults in New York City public schools and communities who help families navigate the U.S. Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

This year's guide has been updated with the latest information and a new section on what students need to do after they file the FAFSA. It includes an update on FAFSA verification demands and a new section on how to compare college financial aid offers.

Read more on CenterNYC.org.

Download FAFSA: The How-To Guide here. New this year: a Spanish language version of the guide!

Watch Thursday's policy forum on Financial Aid at The New School

FAFSA: The How-To Guide for High School Students was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Capital One Foundation. This guide is part of the foundation's efforts to empower students and provide them with resources to help plan for their academic futures.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014 16:07

Event: Taking the fear out of financial aid

Taking the Fear Out of Financial Aid: Making Higher Education Easier to Achieve for NYC Students

This event, presented by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, home of Insideschools.org, is still happening tomorrow (Thursday) morning! Flooding at the university has not affected our event space.

Securing college financial aid can be intimidating for NYC students. Aid is crucial for low-income and first generation college students—but they need help, particularly navigating the government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), finding grants and loans and working with college aid offices. Experts say the system is needlessly complicated and should be reformed. Join the Center for New York City Affairs for the release of its latest "FAFSA: How-To Guide for High School Students" and a discussion about what needs to happen nationally and locally to ensure that the next generation of college students can afford to matriculate.

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Q: A lot of my friends spent almost all winter break working on college applications that were due January 1. But I am applying to several schools that have "rolling" decisions, and some of them say they will take applications as late as April. So am I right to take it easy and get my applications in later? What's the big hurry?

A: You may not be in a hurry, but colleges are eager to know if they will enroll a full first-year class. On the one hand, "rolling" policies seem flexible – you apply when you want, as long as it's before the deadline, and you get a response as soon as it's ready. But on the other hand, this also means that a college may fill all its available spots earlier than expected. When that happens, the last students who submit their applications may find themselves on a "wait list." That is not a pleasant situation.

A couple of years ago this happened with a CUNY - LaGuardia Community College.  Students who thought they'd have no trouble being admitted learned that more people than anticipated had applied, filling the class early. Those students had to wait to see if they could get into a different CUNY school instead.

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