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How hard is it really to get into and pay for a selective college?


whitestavern
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Sorry, this may be long as I want to give some background information.

 

I'm looking for wisdom from all the experienced college moms. I have a junior that has started the process of looking at colleges. She has a long list of schools she wants to visit because right now she would like to major in bio, on the premed track, and possibly minor in English. And there are tons of schools that fit that bill. So now she is trying to cull the list down so we don't have to visit 58 schools :)

She has narrowed the geographic region to the northeast. We live in CT and she doesn't want to be too long a drive and definitely not a plane ride away. She is also starting to think she does not want a very large school. She looked at our state university as well as BU and thought they were just too big. She likes the idea of a "traditional" campus. Her list has some selective schools but also some right in her wheelhouse as well as some safeties.

 

I have been spending some time on College Confidential. The chance me posts are scaring the carp out of me! It looks like most of these kids not only have near perfect grades and test scores, but their list of extracurriculars and accomplishments is mind blowing. And even with those great stats, none of them seem to be a shoe-in for some of the colleges on dd's list. While she has a couple of ivies on there, I'm almost certain that's not going to happen. But there are many that are selective and I'm trying to find out if it's even worth visiting if there's no chance in heck she will get accepted. These are schools like the  NESCACs and that level, Colgate, URochester, RPI and the like. I'm also thinking if she doesn't have a stellar resume there will little chance for merit aid. Though realistically we can't afford the sticker price of these schools, our income is at a level where we may not get any financial aid.

 

So, here are her stats so far. Her GPA is about 3.75. She takes the most challenging classes at her high school, a fairly competitive Catholic school, which means all honor level or APs. She's taking 3 APs this year and plans on 2-3 next year. She is struggling with one AP class this year and got a C the first semester, keeping her off the honor roll for the first time ever. She is doing everything she can to pull that up this semester. She got 1240 on her PSATs with no prep. That was a 690 in English and a 550 in Math. She will be doing intense work to hopefully pull that math way up for when she takes her SATs. She is on 3 Varsity sports, has been since a freshman, but isn't good enough for any kind of sports scholarship. She is in a couple of clubs, an officer of her class, and takes part in mock trial. She does a ton of volunteer work through school and her church.

 

Does she have any chances of getting into a selective college or should we just scratch those off her list? I know you all aren't admissions counselors but I thought maybe your experience could help give us an idea of whether she should even visit those colleges.

 

Also, is it better to go to a school where your stats are high in hopes of getting merit aid? Meaning is one more likely to get merit aid from a safety school than a reach?

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If you are talking highly selective colleges that reject over 90% of the applicants: getting in is tough.  Nobody can tell you how likely it is that your kid gets in. There are no guarantees and the admissions process is no very transparent. Be prepared to apply to a large number of schools, ranging from very selective over realistic match down to a couple of safeties.

 

But money wise, it can be less expensive to attend a highly selective private than a public out of state U, because many of the top schools are very generous with need based aid. My DD attends the no. 3 ranked college in the country with an acceptance rate of 8%; it is less expensive that than we would have had to pay to send her to public U of Colorado OOS despite merit aid.

 

The cheapest option for a 4 y U will be your in-state public U with high stats so you get in state tuition + merit scholarship.

Edited by regentrude
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Agreeing with Regentrude. Much depends on your definition of selective and your income level. I don't know that NESCAC schools give out a lot or any merit money, lots of them give just give financial need money.

There are many, many schools in the NE; you should expand your search to look at schools where she can get in and get merit money. That will give you more information about possibilities.

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A good first piece of information is your EFC from the FAFSA.  Ours was much higher than we expected, so not having "need" meant searching for merit aid only.  Use several of the estimator calculators to get a rough idea of the number:

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/paying-your-share/expected-family-contribution-calculator

https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/f4cForm?execution=e1s1

 

Colleges will expect you to pay at least that number before providing any aid that has a need component. 

 

If the number seems completely manageable, look at schools that "meet need" or come close.  (Do be aware that some of that need is often met with loans!) If the EFC estimate is way more than you could ever afford, look at colleges that offer high merit aid.  This is where being in the top 25% of the students really helps.  Some colleges offer both, but some will be knocked off your list with this information

 

Regentrude is right about the very competitive schools (often called "lottery" schools).  They get two or three times more qualified applicants than they have space for, so even if your dd is qualified, there is no way to tell if she will get in.  Be sure to have safeties that she can get into and that you can afford as back-up.

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You've gotten great advice so far.

 

I would add that yes, merit aid will come from safety schools, not reaches.

 

The best merit aid tends to be found in the Midwest and the South, just because of supply and demand factors on the coasts.

 

I recommend this video to get started thinking about admissions and financial aid:

 

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If you're hoping for merit aid, your DD will need to try to get her test scores up. Those PSAT scores aren't in merit aid range, sorry. The verbal is close but the math is way too low. She should be aiming for a 1350 at minimum, and preferably >1400 for merit scholarships. At least one score of 700+.

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In my limited experience, many of the kids who are accepted to the highly selective schools have extremely high test scores, a rigorous transcript with a high gpa, and a significant extracurricular activity that has been nationally recognized. 

 

The schools that my senior looked at in the NESCAC do not give athletic scholarships or merit aid.  My guess would be that this policy is league-wide, but I am not 100% sure.

 

You can google "Common Data Set with the school name", to get an idea of the test score range and average financial aid award that is given out.  Some schools meet need with loans (gee thanks a lot), while other schools meet full-need with grants.  You will be able to get this info from the Common Data Set as well.

 

Good luck! 

 

ETA:  Take what you read on CC with a grain of salt, especially the results threads. 

Edited by snowbeltmom
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Another Google trick:

 

Prepscholar schoolname - takes you to a "chance calculator"

Take it with a big grain of salt, but useful when you need a neutral third party to tell your teen or pushy grandparent that a school is not very realistic.

 

In addition to looking at average financial aid in the common data set, the Department of Education's College Scorecard can be useful to see average net price by income band, with two caveats:

 

1. Public universities generally have very different prices for in-state versus out-of-state. Since in-state is usually the majority of the students being averaged, assume that your number will be very different if you are out-of-state.

 

2. In the "above 110,000" income bracket: There are a lot of families in this bracket who do not apply for aid at all, so they are not averaged in. Kids who do not take a Federal grant or loan are not part of this average, so be careful if you are in this income bracket not to get your hopes up for lots of aid without running the school's own Net Price Calculator.

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If you are talking highly selective colleges that reject over 90% of the applicants: getting in is tough.  Nobody can tell you how likely it is that your kid gets in. There are no guarantees and the admissions process is no very transparent. Be prepared to apply to a large number of schools, ranging from very selective over realistic match down to a couple of safeties.

 

But money wise, it can be less expensive to attend a highly selective private than a public out of state U, because many of the top schools are very generous with need based aid. My DD attends the no. 3 ranked college in the country with an acceptance rate of 8%; it is less expensive that than we would have had to pay to send her to public U of Colorado OOS despite merit aid.

 

The cheapest option for a 4 y U will be your in-state public U with high stats so you get in state tuition + merit scholarship.

 

Thanks for this information. Our state uni is very competitive, so while she would pay in-state tuition, I'm not sure if she'd get any merit. And she really does NOT want to go there. She has put a few SUNY schools on the list. They're not as cheap as instate, but they're less than the rest of the schools on her list.

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A good first piece of information is your EFC from the FAFSA.  Ours was much higher than we expected, so not having "need" meant searching for merit aid only.  Use several of the estimator calculators to get a rough idea of the number:

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/paying-your-share/expected-family-contribution-calculator

https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/f4cForm?execution=e1s1

 

Colleges will expect you to pay at least that number before providing any aid that has a need component. 

 

If the number seems completely manageable, look at schools that "meet need" or come close.  (Do be aware that some of that need is often met with loans!) If the EFC estimate is way more than you could ever afford, look at colleges that offer high merit aid.  This is where being in the top 25% of the students really helps.  Some colleges offer both, but some will be knocked off your list with this information

 

Regentrude is right about the very competitive schools (often called "lottery" schools).  They get two or three times more qualified applicants than they have space for, so even if your dd is qualified, there is no way to tell if she will get in.  Be sure to have safeties that she can get into and that you can afford as back-up.

 

I'm pretty sure I did the EFC for her #1 school, and it showed them giving us zero. But the tuition was half our salary, so I don't know how the heck they figure out the EFC. I don't remember putting in any expenses, just the info from our tax return.

 

And how do you determine which schools give high merit aid, and if you're eligible for that at the different schools? Is that something that's on their websites? Her school doesn't rank, so how would I determine if she is in the top 25% of students?

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If you're hoping for merit aid, your DD will need to try to get her test scores up. Those PSAT scores aren't in merit aid range, sorry. The verbal is close but the math is way too low. She should be aiming for a 1350 at minimum, and preferably >1400 for merit scholarships. At least one score of 700+.

 

Yeah, she is aware of this. Any and all advice on the best way to improve that math score is more than welcome. She's pretty confident that with prep she can get over 700 on the English but really needs to work on math :(

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If you are looking at super selective, then I'd focus on getting the test scores up. As far as extracurriculars, kids should be who they are. It is certainly good to show that you are passionate about something.

 

I look at the list of some kids extracurriculars and accomplishments and some look like they are "trying" too hard to stand out for colleges. I'm not sure what colleges actually thing of this, but I know what "I" think of it.

 

I would read blogs of admission officers about what they are looking for. Be yourself and let a piece of you shine through in your application. I would go ahead an apply to a couple of selective schools knowing that it is a long-shot if you are interested in the schools. Definitely run the numbers and be realistic about finances as well. It does no good to get admitted only to find out you can't afford it.

 

My son just got admitted to a very selective university. He has good academics, but doesn't stand out as incredible in the extracurriculars. He is an Eagle Scout (always a plus), plays competitive ultimate frisbee and shows a passion for math (coaches Mathcounts, competes in ARML). He does not have any other clubs or leadership positions to list. He wrote a passionate personal essay which gave a huge glimpse into who he is a person and I think this went a long ways toward getting him admitted.

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Right there with you, reading reading reading over at CC.

 

And how do you determine which schools give high merit aid, and if you're eligible for that at the different schools? Is that something that's on their websites?

 

There are some lists of schools that give automatic merit for certain levels of test scores.  There are links over at CC.  Beyond the automatic merit, you would want your dd's stats, particularly test scores, to fall within a high percentile of the common data set for that school (certainly >75th).

 

We are clearly full pay so I'm not even looking at NPCs, but if you are closer to the edge, that is where I would look for *each school* regarding the possibility of financial aid (also poke around at CC to see how accurate the NPC's estimate tends to be for *that particular school*). 

 

Don't forget to look at Naviance, though I am skeptical of the data that's more than a year or two old, both due to the redesign of the SAT and due to increasing competition/decreasing admit rates.

 

ETA, on the math, I've seen recommendations for Pwn the SAT for going from good math scores to great ones.

Edited by wapiti
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And how do you determine which schools give high merit aid, and if you're eligible for that at the different schools? Is that something that's on their websites? Her school doesn't rank, so how would I determine if she is in the top 25% of students?

 

This is where looking through College Confidential, compiled lists of schools with both guaranteed and competitive merit awards, and common data sets for the schools in which your dd is interested will come into play.  There are no guarantees with merit aid (unless you are applying to one of the schools that give automatic merit awards for certain stats).  You will have to make educated guesses about the amount of merit your dd might get based on past awards given out.

 

You can determine if your dd is in the top 25% of the students accepted to a particular college by looking at the stats in the common data set.  They will give you a range of gpas and SAT/ACT scores for the middle 25%-75% of students accepted.  Generally speaking, your dd will want to aim for having scores greater than the 75th percentile of those students to have a chance at merit awards.  HTH.

Edited by amsunshinetemp
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When it comes to top schools admissions, test scores matter more than you think and less than you think. If they are low, they will negatively impact admissions decisions. If the are high, it means you have passed a threshold for consideration, but scores are just just the first step. For some schools, GPA/list of courses is the only other major filter. For others, it is who they are by what they do that tips the scales.

 

I like this PP presentation. It is missing its commentary, but it is pretty easy to determine what was being said.

http://www.manhassetsca.org/HighSchool/articles2010-11/DonBettertonpresentation2011.05.17.pdf

 

I agree that a long list of ECs is unnecessary. I think that activities that represent them and a commitment to something matters, but the what's are wide open.

 

We cannot even come close to affording our expect parental contribution. We are reliant on merit aid. A non-exact generalization is that most big dollar merit scholarships at lower ranked schools have a 32/33 or 1450-1490 threshold. For that scenario, there are lots of schools willing to give large scholarships if they are willing to go down in rank and/or be flexible about location.

Edited by 8FillTheHeart
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The cheapest option for a 4 y U will be your in-state public U with high stats so you get in state tuition + merit scholarship.

 

Not necessarily.  My dd applied to our instate school in case something happened and she got extremely ill again, but it is definitely not the cheapest.  Nor is it even a school she has any desire to attend.  Our cheapest options are definitely all out of state.  She has been invited to an interview weekend for a full-ride+ scholarship.  It by far will be our cheapest option if she is awarded the scholarship.

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Don't forget to check whether the schools you are considering use the CSS Profile https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile inaddition to the FAFSA to determine EFC, since many selective schools do, especially those that say they will meet full need (defined as the amount between your EFC and cost of attendance). It is more in-depth, and sometimes families come out looking "needier" on the CSS since they consider additional factors.

 

https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/prf/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet.srv list of schools

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FWIW, my kids' cheapest option was NOT the in-state 4-year college. Even living at home, the Public Ivy down the street from us was not my kids' cheapest option.

 

Merit aid from private colleges rained down on my kids, and by far and away their cheapest option was 4-year private colleges -- even a top-20 LAC rained money down on them.

 

My advice would be to apply to a WIDE variety of colleges -- public OOS, tippy-top private, less prestigious private, etc. You never know what peculiar interest of your dd's might appeal to a particular admissions counselor and result in crazy amounts of merit aid.

 

Do remember that not all colleges give merit aid! Among the colleges that give generous merit aid, some give it widely (some aid to many students) and some give it deeply (super-generous amounts of aid to a few students). Only a handful of colleges give merit aid both widely and deeply. Do your homework and figure out if the wide but not deep allotment will do for you. If it won't give you enough aid, then you need to focus on schools that give DEEPLY. See College Confidential for lists of colleges that give full-rides.

 

Cast your net wide!

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Or less needy since the CSS adds back in retirement contributions, some consider home equity, etc.

 

Hence the "sometimes." ;)

 

Regardless, many of the more selective schools will require it, so it helps to know how it might change the picture.

 

There are some selective schools who will guarantee to meet 100% of need (again, the difference between your EFC and full cost of attendance) without loans, some include loans in the mix. I know Davidson does without loans but I don't know anything about schools in the NE.

 

We can't afford our EFC and I think will be just over the line into no federal aid since we only have one child, so we are focusing on schools that give deep merit aid (full-tuition at minimum as top award) and where my daughter is in the top 5-10% for test scores and top 25% GPA, plus looking at schools that will accept her CLEP tests and dual enrollment (in our state, tuition for DE is free and there's an articulation agreement so that the credits will be accepted as fulfilling general ed requirements). Unfortunately her PSAT didn't quite make it for the expected NMSF range in our state, so that's out of the mix, but she's got a very good ACT and GPA. So, for us, that matrix takes many of the highly selective colleges out of the mix, but she'd also rather be a bit bigger fish in a smaller pond. Don't forget to look at the honors programs for the somewhat lower ranked schools, as those can come with impressive scholarship opportunities and special benefits.

 

BTW, she worked with the PWN the SAT Math book this year along with finishing Saxon algebra 2 and it did help a bit. She raised her math from 580 to 610, but math has always been her weaker area. Others might see more of an improvement. We'll see how her ACT is in February, but we'll likely not be bothering with the SAT going forward as she does well on the ACT and it meets our state yearly testing requirements, so I'd have your student try both tests to see if one score is better than the other. You can also link PSAT results to Khan Academy for individualized practice.

 

Don't forget to consider housing, books, fees, any travel to and from, and then throw in some for miscellaneous expenses into the total in addition to tuition.

Edited by KarenNC
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Whitestavern, remember to look at departments or schools within the university.

 

My ds's university is ranked somewhere in the 70s for US national universities.  The admit rate for fall of 2016 was 25.7%, which is somewhat selective, but nowhere near the level of the school regentrude's dd is attending.  Ds's stata are somewhat similar to your dd's.  I think he finished with a 3.8 GPA unweighted, an ACT of 31, a bunch of AP classes, and his ECs included varsity swimming, sailing, and coaching sailing.  That's solid, but not ultra competitive.

 

For most of the schools he was accepted to, he was in the top 25% and merit ranged up to $30,000 per year. All 8 schools offered merit.  Our EFC is a bit more than a third of our take home income.

 

Our son of course, chose the school with the least merit, but there is an additional grant offered as well.  One deciding factor among many is that while the university's overall ranking isn't that high, the particular school that he attends within the university is ranked in the top ten in the country.  Distinguishing between the university's ranking and a particular school within that university may open up more opportunities as do honor colleges.

 

Our state university that was the safety runs about $28,000 in state. Merit would have been impossible given ds's stats.  One LAC in Illinois that accepted him and had a price tag of double the state school, offered merit and grant money that made our final price tag somewhere around $18,000 a year.  It had his major, sailing, and short access to a major city.  You'll probably need to figure out how "selective" your dd needs to go and what is reasonable.

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You know what's depressing? We could've sent our kids to the tiny high school in town that offers no AP classes and only a few honors level classes, and they would've had a much higher GPA, and we'd have $100,000 more to spend on college. And we and they would be much less stressed. Sigh. #wishI'dknownthenwhatIknownow

 

swimmerdude, when I look at her chances of getting in to schools with a 25% admittance rate, using her current stats, her chance is about 5%. I need to have a coming to Jesus meeting with her, and I'm not looking forward to that. She's such a good kid and she tries so hard but it just isn't enough. Her chances of getting into our state uni (UConn) is less than 50% :(

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I agree that the state U very well might not be the cheapest option. For us state U cost about twice as much as super selective school (with great financial aid). My son could have gotten a full-ride elsewhere based on merit, but we thought it was worthwhile to pay something for him to go to his first choice for multiple reasons.

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Personally, knowing my own child, I don't put much stock in a cold PSAT number, i.e. it isn't a real, college application score.  I suggest having her do some serious prep for both SAT and ACT and see what she can come up with for real scores before making too many generalizations about where she might apply and where there might be scholarship possibilities.  The come-to-Jesus meeting I'd have with her would be about test prep and what she can do this semester to nudge up the GPA.  Maybe she can, maybe she can't, but perhaps with your new info she will find the motivation to try.

Edited by wapiti
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IHer school doesn't rank, so how would I determine if she is in the top 25% of students?

While being in the top 25% of her high school is great, what we're actually referring to here is being in the top 25% of a college's applicant pool.

 

This can be determined by looking up a college on the Big Future website. Once you get to the college page, click on Applying, then look under the tabs labeled "Academics and GPA" and "Test scores."

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Whitestavern, I just reread your OP. How serious is your dd about being premed? You really would want to save all you can on undergraduate if medicine school is in her future.

 

She "thinks" that's what she wants. If I were 100% sure she would stay on the premed track, I honestly wouldn't care where she went for undergrad. She's 16 though. I don't think she knows what that really entails, nor do I really :) For that reason I did encourage her to put schools on the list that had a lot of bio/science options in case she changes her mind.

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You know what's depressing? We could've sent our kids to the tiny high school in town that offers no AP classes and only a few honors level classes, and they would've had a much higher GPA, and we'd have $100,000 more to spend on college. And we and they would be much less stressed. Sigh. #wishI'dknownthenwhatIknownow

 

swimmerdude, when I look at her chances of getting in to schools with a 25% admittance rate, using her current stats, her chance is about 5%. I need to have a coming to Jesus meeting with her, and I'm not looking forward to that. She's such a good kid and she tries so hard but it just isn't enough. Her chances of getting into our state uni (UConn) is less than 50% :(

Paying for college is hard, for everybody (well, except maybe millionaires). Everybody thinks somebody "less deserving" is getting more money than them, but it is generally not true. For example, kids from lousy high schools generally can't get their test scores high enough to match their GPAs, which hurts them for scholarship purposes.

 

One of the hardest parts of college admissions is learning the cold hard truth that "your kid is no one special." There are thousands of nice, hard-working kids in this country just as good if not better than yours. But, your kid will still go to college, and will have multiple choices even.

 

Dealing with the reality is painful. Even the second time around, I'm sad for all the colleges that we can't afford that would probably be awesome for my (current junior) DD, assuming she could even get in.

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Paying for college is hard, for everybody (well, except maybe millionaires). Everybody thinks somebody "less deserving" is getting more money than them, but it is generally not true. For example, kids from lousy high schools generally can't get their test scores high enough to match their GPAs, which hurts them for scholarship purposes.

 

One of the hardest parts of college admissions is learning the cold hard truth that "your kid is no one special." There are thousands of nice, hard-working kids in this country just as good if not better than yours. But, your kid will still go to college, and will have multiple choices even.

 

Dealing with the reality is painful. Even the second time around, I'm sad for all the colleges that we can't afford that would probably be awesome for my (current junior) DD, assuming she could even get in.

 

I know, I know, I'm having a total pity party here :)  I'll get over it; she'll get over it. She will go somewhere, and she'll be happy there. As you said, dealing with the reality is just painful. And seeing what the schools expect you to be able pay is just laughable.

 

Our high school is actually rated really well, but with class sizes around 45 they just don't have the offerings that a larger school does.

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I think most students/parents are in need of a "come to Jesus meeting" early on in the process in regards to admissions possibilities and finances.  Sometimes the numbers are so low (admissions percentages) and so high (cost!) that the numbers almost seem imaginary.  It is important to have realistic conversations about these things pretty early in the process.

 

The good news is there are some good schools out there for students like your daughter!  

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She got 1240 on her PSATs with no prep. That was a 690 in English and a 550 in Math.

 

I agree with Wapiti, do not freak out just yet.

 

Trinqueta took the SAT last year to qualify for Duke TIP. The first practice test we did, she scored a 350 on math and cried so much about the CR that we just stopped. I was about ready to ditch the whole thing but I didn't want her to take the hit to her self-esteem. So, we prepped with The New Math SAT Game Plan. Our goal was 500 to qualify for the easier to get into camp. We did about 7 or 8 practice math tests, and lo and behold, she got a 520 on game day. Trinqueta's good at math, but she'd only gotten 3/4 of the way through a rigorous Alg 1 class. There were lots of problems that she had no idea about. Practice and test strategy helped calm her nerves and boost her score. She even managed to get a 440 on CR with absolutely no practice except the tearfest we had the first day. Color me shocked.

 

You can learn to test better, a whole lot better. Even if all you can do is read a couple of test taking tip books and practice everyday, it makes a huge difference. Don't calculate your dd's chances until you've done some serious test prep on both the ACT and the SAT and have those scores in hand. You can take full practice tests at Huntingdon Tutoring (it's twice as expensive as the real test, but it will give you useful data without being a real reportable score).

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If I were 100% sure she would stay on the premed track, I honestly wouldn't care where she went for undergrad.

I know, I know, I'm having a total pity party here :) I'll get over it; she'll get over it. She will go somewhere, and she'll be happy there. As you said, dealing with the reality is just painful.

There are over 3000 4 yr colleges in the US. Online the chatter focuses on the top schools in the country, but the reality is that they comprise less than 1-2% of all the universities in the entire country. If you are willing to think in terms of schools ranked around 100 as still in the top 3% of schools in the country, there are a lot of great schools that are very generous with scholarships. Some of the specialty honors programs out there offer students a lot of attention--mentoring, research, internships, career training, etc.

 

Fwiw, going to lower ranked schools has not negatively impacted my older kids at all. My current college jr attends Alabama on full scholarship. They are extremely generous with scholarship $$ and he has 4 stacking scholarships from them. He has had excellent research opportunities as an UG. He is pursuing his master's while an UG (they accepted all his DE credits and his scholarships cover grad courses). He loves it there and has zero regrets. My 12th grader will be following in the same footsteps as her older siblings: affordability via scholarships.

Edited by 8FillTheHeart
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I agree with Wapiti, do not freak out just yet.

 

Trinqueta took the SAT last year to qualify for Duke TIP. The first practice test we did, she scored a 350 on math and cried so much about the CR that we just stopped. I was about ready to ditch the whole thing but I didn't want her to take the hit to her self-esteem. So, we prepped with The New Math SAT Game Plan. Our goal was 500 to qualify for the easier to get into camp. We did about 7 or 8 practice math tests, and lo and behold, she got a 520 on game day. Trinqueta's good at math, but she'd only gotten 3/4 of the way through a rigorous Alg 1 class. There were lots of problems that she had no idea about. Practice and test strategy helped calm her nerves and boost her score. She even managed to get a 440 on CR with absolutely no practice except the tearfest we had the first day. Color me shocked.

 

You can learn to test better, a whole lot better. Even if all you can do is read a couple of test taking tip books and practice everyday, it makes a huge difference. Don't calculate your dd's chances until you've done some serious test prep on both the ACT and the SAT and have those scores in hand. You can take full practice tests at Huntingdon Tutoring (it's twice as expensive as the real test, but it will give you useful data without being a real reportable score).

 

Sailor Dude took his composite ACT score from 26 to 31 in 6 months through "drill and kill."  It stinks to have to spend so much time on test prep, but it also is a bummer to have them be ready for tougher academic work but miss out due to a test score.  The disappointing part for him was that his math score was identical on both tests, but his university placement exam supported the score. It was solid, but definitely not on the same level as his other areas, so there is always hope.

 

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I'm pretty sure I did the EFC for her #1 school, and it showed them giving us zero. But the tuition was half our salary, so I don't know how the heck they figure out the EFC. I don't remember putting in any expenses, just the info from our tax return.

 

 

EFC = estimated family contribution: what the financial aid formulas think you can pay

 

NPC = net price calculator: what a specific college wants you to pay. This is what you ran at her #1 school.

 

The NPC often returns a higher number than the EFC, because most colleges do not meet full need. If you are running the NPC at a public out of state college, there may be more aid reserved for the in-state kids and that's why you got nothing.

 

Knowing your EFC (as calculated in post #4) means you can tell how much a college is being generous (a price close to your EFC) or stingy (a price much higher than your EFC). However, just because one college returned an NPC number much higher than your EFC does not mean they all will. All colleges do financial aid their own way.

 

Some NPC's will ask for your GPA, test scores, number of AP credits, etc. and estimate your merit aid. These might return numbers below your EFC.

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Stay away from the Chance Me threads on CC! It's primarily high school kids "chancing" each other. :-) Useful forums on CC are the Parents of 20XX threads, the Financial Aid Forum, College Search and Selection, and College Admissions. Look for the thread in the financial aid forum that lists schools with automatic merit aid for certain parameters.

 

Prep can definitely make a difference inn those test scores. I'd try to get going on that now, so that she could get a test in during the spring of junior year. That way she has plenty of time for a retake, if necessary.

 

Well written essays can sometimes help bump up an application. Plan for her to put time into her essays.

 

It's time to think about who could give her some quality, sincere letters of recommendation. Maybe she could get involved in an interesting summer activity that would provide a mentor of sorts who could offer such a recommendation.

 

In the end, she may find that the right school for her is not what she thought she wanted. My oldest was really geared toward attending a small women's college, and in the end she chose a large state university. Now in her senior year, she knows she definitely made the right decision, though it was different than what she thought she wanted early on. The college the family can afford is generally the best choice.

 

I've got a kiddo at a school that's #1 on the commonly cited ranking list, and another that's at a school that is much further down. Both are getting fine educations. Don't stress too much about this. :-)

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My ds ended up at one of the lowest ranked schools on his list. There were a few factors but the fact that it was the least expensive was a big one. I will say that we have not regretted that decision one bit. He is having a good experience but the fact that we feel like we are getting a good value and are not continually stressed about the next tuition payment enhances the experience all around. I think if he had chosen another school the financial pressure would have put a real damper on the whole thing.

 

It depends of course on your situation and how you feel about money in general. We have shifted our perspective from "dream schools" to getting the best value /experience for our money. I have no regrets.

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Unfortunately, you won't know until you try. Be prepared with a variety of options.

 

DS got into both selective schools that we considered, but the financial aid didn't put them into the range we wanted. He wasn't sure about his major either and wanted to go closer to home. And it's working out perfectly fine. Really! DD plans to go the same local school in the fall.

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OP, I almost could have written your post. We are in the same boat, with DD's who have very similar scores after going into the PSAT with zero prep. My DD has even more of a split, with very high CR and average math. She is now diligently prepping for the math.

 

Our in-state public options are pricey as well as competitive. So we are also looking for less competitive private colleges with big merit awards or low cost out-of-state public schools in places like South Dakota and Alabama.

 

I originally started out with a list like yours of prestigious liberal arts colleges. Now I'm trying to remember I had a rather good UG experience at a large, middle ranking state flagship where I got a lot of personalized attention because I was a bright, hardworker, and sought out professors for help and ideas. It did its job because I got into a "public ivy" for grad school on a fellowship.

 

Have you thought about public unis in Maine? The university of Maine has flagship price match program for stronger students that includes CT. There are also others with lower out of state tuition and scholarships.

 

Wishing the OP's DD the best. I'm going to be following here to get ideas....

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While you are working on the money aspect, your daughter needs to protect her GPA. More schools are going test-optional, so they will really look at the grades as a way to evaluate how successful she will be. I would not worry about how many AP classes are at your school: on the Common App, she will be asked how many APs her school offers, so she will be evaluated based on what was available. Schools will want to see that she is taking the most rigorous program offered-- not the most rigorous program in the universe. Also, if and when my kids start struggling in a class, I made sure I lined up a tutor for them, to help them protect the GPA.

Test prep helped my oldest son a lot -- he was gunning for a Little Ivy he really really really wanted to get into. (and did). He took the ACT once in the spring of junior year, then really pushed to take it again in October of his senior year so he could boost the composite more.  Some schools will super-score: they will take the highest score of different sections from tests taken on different dates, so he took advantage of that and really focused on math and science for the last test.

Visiting the colleges will help narrow things down. My second son really thought he wanted to attend a very small school in the Five Colleges in Amherst, but a visit there convinced us both that it was not the right place for him.

Is it harder to get into a selective college? I sat in a college info session at Yale in the fall of 2014, and the admissions guy said they want 'lopsided" kids-- kids who showed that they were really passionate about something, and that they spent a lot of their time on that passion. These kids are spending their summers, school breaks, weekends working on something they love, whether it is something in the sciences or filmmaking or video game designing or manga. Of course, these kids have to maintain good grades and test scores. The kids who get into these schools are working very, very hard.

I think high school is really the last, best time for them to pursue something they really love, and if they are able to do that -- and have good grades and scores-- they will be demonstrating an immense intellectual curiosity and academic passion. Colleges will love them and some will even throw money at them. A really good book that addresses this is Cal Newport's How To Be a High School Superstar which I found very interesting because there were several examples of kids who really didn't find their 'deep interest' until later in their junior year. And, instead of taking gobs of APs these kids instead focused on a project that they found really interesting. Another interesting book was Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw which has an essay that addresses whether Ivy League schools are better, particularly for women and minorities. It's the big-fish-in-a-small-pond vs. small-fish-in-a-big-pond. Being a big fish -- top student -- at in a small pond -- less selective school -- can be better for women, especially in the sciences, because they get more support and it is easier to stand out at when you are a top student. It is harder to stand out at a Harvard or Yale when all the other students are The Top Students in the Country.

You are doing the right thing, and it sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders. She is just starting the process. There are tons of great schools out there, and lots of places where she will thrive. It will end up just fine.

Good luck!

Maria

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks all, you've made us feel much better about all this, and given a lot of great information. (I always wondered what super scores were!) While she does have a few of the "known" LACs on her list, there are a lot of less competitive ones as well. But when I put her current scores in prepscholar, even the lesser schools seem to be a reach. She has a great group of friends at school that are very academically inclined (though they have a lot of fun too) and she wants to go somewhere where there are other like minded kids. She finds being in a group like that keeps her on her toes, so to speak. I told her she will find those people at any school :)  Anyway, one day at a time. For today she's getting through midterms and then studying for the SATs in order to get her score up.

 

BTW, I came across this site today--some of you may be familiar with it--it tells you what merit aid is offered by school. Pretty interesting. You have to scroll down a little bit to get to it.

 

https://www.cappex.com/scholarships/

 

 

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