Enticing Application Emails from Colleges: So Tempting!

Three words: Proceed with Caution. Right about now, high school seniors from around the nation are finding in their mailboxes and inboxes invitations for “fast applications.” These are often referred to as Priority Apps, VIP Apps, or Fast Track apps. They sound pretty great and often promise your graduating senior incentives for applying early such as waived essay requirements, no fee applications and quick admission decisions.

Back to the “Three Words” – Proceed with Caution. And here’s why.6-professor-graphics-laptop

The motivation behind VIP applications

Why are schools making it easy for students to apply? It has a lot to do with boosting their college application numbers because they make it so easy for students to complete their application. Colleges will often buy hundreds of thousands of student’s names who have scored within a certain range on the SAT/ACT. Then, they send these students a customized (with student’s name) notice asking if they’d like more information. If the student replies yes, they end up getting a VIP application.

Beware: the college is probably not that into you

Just because a student receives one of these applications certainly doesn’t mean the school is interested in him or her.  In some cases, schools use these applications to increase their applications so they can reject more students.  Selectivity, after all, is something that US News’ college rankings care about.

A smart college that stopped using this approach and why—Ursinus College in Pennsylvania

An exception, Ursinus College, stopped using this fast app approach and returned to its pre-2005 way of attracting the best students—even though it had become a red-hot school with application responses soaring. The downside to their threefold growth in applications? Their “yield” number, the number of students who accepted the college’s offer and enrolled, plunged. You can read more about the Ursinus decision in this New York Times article, A College Opts Out of the Admissions Arms Race.

Bottom line?

Don’t apply to a school just because it appears to like you. Only apply for the right reasons. That way, you won’t get snookered by fast apps.

How To Request Letters of Recommendation

You are going to need letters of recommendation from your instructors at some point – be it for college, graduate school, a scholarship, a research grant, or even a job.

While the essay is the single most important component of any application, strong letters of recommendation can also have a decisive effect on whether or not you receive an offer.

So how do you get the best rec letters?



It’s unfair, but when you are applying for competitive programs and sources of funding, the review committee privileges letters of recommendation from high-ranking faculty members.

What this means is, even if you feel like you have a better rapport with your graduate student instructor (who is still studying for her PhD) or received your best grades from a likable lecturer, the fact remains that there is an academic hierarchy and you need to go to the top of the totem pole.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to seek out three letters of recommendation from the famous but elusive professors with whom you’ve barely spoken.

Instead, be strategic about your letter requests. If you are asked to submit three letters, get one from an instructor who knows you very well, regardless of their professional rank, and two from higher-ranking professors.

Don’t worry – everyone knows the drill. If a professor doesn’t know you that well, it would be better for you to arrange an in-person meeting and request the letter during a real-time discussion, so the letter writer can better understand why you are applying to the program and what you would like for them to touch on in their recommendation.



Be on top of your deadlines. In most cases, give your instructor AT LEAST a month’s notice to write you a letter, if not more. They are busy juggling their own research and teaching; give them decent notice so they can schedule a time to write a strong letter, instead of something hastily scribbled and submitted.



There are two ways you can ask – in person or by email.

I’ve already discussed that an in-person meeting is more appropriate when approaching a professor you do not know very well to write your letter. Sitting down with the prospective letter writer lets him ask you questions about the program or college, why you are applying, how you are prepared to succeed if you are selected, and vocalize anything in particular you want mentioned in the letter.

Email is fine as well, sent a month before a deadline, written in a semi-formal voice. You are, after all, asking someone to do something for you (and yes, it’s their job, but still, you are adding to an instructor’s to-do list).

Send all of the information they need the first time around and in an organized fashion: the names of places or scholarships you are applying for, corresponding deadlines, links to where they can submit their recommendation letters online, and any special instructions.


Please DON’T:

Hey! I don’t know if you remember me, but I was in your European History 432 class last semester and now I’m trying to get into grad school. I have five schools so far and I need a recommendation letter? Would you mind writing it??? It’s due at the end of this week, which I know is soon, but that would be great! Thanks so much for your help 🙂


  • Request an in-person meeting if you were not close with the instructor
  • Which schools? What are the deadlines?
  • How does the instructor submit his/her letters?
  • Don’t assume the answer is yes. Give them a chance to say yes or no.
  • No emoticons, ever (never ever ever) in formal correspondence


Please DO:

Dear Professor So-and-So,

My name is Jessica Roberts and I was in your European History 432 class last semester (I usually sat in the third row, on the left side of the room). I am interested in continuing my studies of History at the graduate level and have five schools I am prepared to apply to. Would it be possible for us to meet this week to discuss the possibility of you writing a letter of recommendation for me?

I can bring a hard copy to the meeting, but in case you are interested, I have attached a list of these schools, along with their respective deadlines and submitting information.

Thank you,




Don’t assume that a professor who said yes, he will write you a rec, last month remembers that the deadline is this Friday at 5:00 pm. Online applications let you see who has submitted and whose letters are still pending. If you’re missing recommendations, there is nothing wrong with shooting your professor a note asking for when you can expect to see their recommendation as “submitted.



Stuff happens, but make sure you are prepared to actually submit an application if you are asking other people to take time out of their schedule to write letters for you.

The importance of following through can’t be stressed enough – if you fail to do what you say you’re going to without good reason, those professors will probably decline to write recommendations for you in the future.

Read the original here and consider Aim High Writing when you need assistance navigating your college, scholarship, and graduate school applications, including essay writing, interview prep, and self-advocacy coaching!

3 Changes to the FAFSA for College Students to Understand

Students will see adjustments to when they can file the federal financial aid form and how their families’ assets are counted.

Some important changes are coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The changes, which will be implemented over the course of 2016, will significantly affect the process of filing for federal financial aid and, for some families, the amount of aid they’ll receive. As Megan McClean, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ managing director of policy and federal relations, puts it: “There are some biggies this year.”
For families of current and prospective college students, here are the changes to be aware of – and how to manage them.

1. Older tax data will be accepted. The current FAFSA filing system requires students and parents to complete the federal form as soon as possible after Jan. 1 – typically before they’ve filed the previous year’s taxes, which aren’t due until April. Families often have to estimate their income and other data and then update their information later. A new policy, announced by President Barack Obama in September, aims to rework that fraught process.
The fresh timeline will take effect beginning with those who apply for financial aid for the 2017-2018 school year. Applicants and their families will be able to start the FAFSA in October 2016, using the same data they reported on their 2015 tax returns. The use of older data means families can start the process earlier and most won’t have to rely on estimates.

The aim is to reduce inaccuracies and the need for verification, give institutions more time to review documents and potentially allow them to mail award letters earlier in the application cycle.

When the new process debuts, students may endure some rough patches as universities work out the details. “I’m afraid it may be a bit bumpy,” says Eileen O’Leary, assistant vice president of student financial assistance at Massachusetts’ Stonehill College, who, despite that concern, is an advocate for the change.

2. Asset protection will plunge. When parents report their financial information on the FAFSA, a portion of their assets – certain savings and investment funds – are not counted by the federal government toward the amount of money they are expected to contribute to their child’s education. That can mean a higher federal financial aid award than their student would otherwise qualify for. However, that protected portion will plummet next year, continuing a downward trend.

The sheltered asset amount varies, depending on the age and marital status of the student’s parents, among other factors. For the married parents of a dependent student, where the eldest parent is 48, that asset protection amount is $30,300 in 2015-2016, says Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors, a higher education resource site. The next academic year will see their allowance nearly halved, to $18,700.

That change could hit families in the pocketbook. Kantrowitz estimates that every $10,000 decrease in asset protection cuts a student’s financial aid eligibility by up to $564. “It’s on the order, for most families, of a few hundred dollars from one year to the next,” he says.

While this is worrying news for middle-income families relying on need-based financial aid, those in the lowest income brackets should be spared. “Most of our neediest families don’t really have sufficient assets to make a difference,” says McClean from NASFAA.
But even those filers affected by the change shouldn’t direct too much angst toward this adjustment, say experts.

3. Schools will lose a data point.

When students file the FAFSA, they can choose up to 10 colleges to get their financial details. In the past, when students sent their FAFSAs to multiple institutions, those schools could see the other colleges on the mailing list. Starting with the 2016-2017 application, universities will lose that insight.

That’s likely good news for students. Some experts worried that universities used the list to make financial aid decisions. For example, a school may have interpreted a student’s decision to list that institution first on the FAFSA as an indication the student would be more likely to attend and less likely to care about the financial aid package. School officials could have then used this as justification in awarding that smitten student fewer institutional dollars.

Now that schools won’t see their competition, this information isn’t going to be used against students. However we caution that the list will still be visible to state agencies, and we suggest that FAFSA filers list a state college first on the form to maximize their chances of being considered for state aid.

*Article source US News and World Report

Heading Off to College, but Battling Depression or Anxiety?

A study released in January of 2014, led by Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, finds that today five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues compared with youth of the same age who were studied in the Great Depression era.

The college experience can be challenging for all young adults as they navigate through making new friends, achieving academic success, establishing their identity, learning to live independently and planning out their futures. And if you add the additional responsibility of managing a mental health condition, it can make these already challenging circumstances even more overwhelming.

Keep in mind that students living with mental health conditions can be and are successful in college with the right supports set up. The following are highlighted excerpts from a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as reported by StrengthOfUs.org – listing key strategies to put into 3-Professor_Disstressedplace to help students succeed in college:

  • Build a Support Network. A large support network during college is crucial to combat feelings of isolation. Fortunately, there are many opportunities in college to connect with others, including joining study groups, befriending individuals with common interests and being matched up with upper-class mentors who can serve as role models and provide guidance. Surround yourself with peers who can “show the way” to succeeding in college.
  • Set Goals.It’s important to focus on one goal at a time and to create a plan that includes clear expectations and a realistic timeline. You may need to work with a life coach to reduce any feelings of being overwhelmed in college and to identify what it will take to achieve a specific goal and how to prepare accordingly. A coach can also help you develop social skills and learn how to handle numerous social interactions that are important to succeeding in college and life afterwards.
  • Create Structure.Establishing a daily schedule of supportive activities, including homework, studying, social outings and a workout routine, can help you reduce stress and accomplish academic and personal goals. Consider opting for early classes, which help create structure and give you a reason to start your day. Volunteering or interning in an area that interests you is also a great way to create structure. These activities provide opportunities for you to make additional connections, build positive experiences and try out careers. It’s great to write all of your daily activities into a daily planner so you can budget your time accordingly.
  • Build Upon Strengths. When opportunities for success are not built into your life, you may start to feel disempowered. To prevent this, you can search online before school starts to identify opportunities to become involved on campus in ways that use your strengths. Having these opportunities in place enables you to feel confident and successful.


Before the school year starts, it’s important to explore various resources to determine what supports are the best match for you; one size does not fit all for students with mental health conditions.

Finally, don’t be overly discouraged with setbacks. We all have them in life. The important thing is when they happen, accept it and then work to get your life back on track. College provides an environment conducive to self-discovery and boundless success; it is critical that you seek the right supports that build on your strengths so you can enjoy the college years and look forward to a successful and productive life.

Criteria for Choosing a College

Selecting the right college is extremely important. Your choice shouldn’t be based on the fact that your friends are going there, what fraternities or sororities are available or because that’s where “so-and-so” went when they were your age. It’s not a coin toss, it’s a process!

First and most important, research yourself! In order to find the right fit, you need to know where you will be the most comfortable. Take an honest look in the mirror. Don’t ask yourself where your parents or friends think you’d be the most comfortable, but where you feel you’d really fit in. Would you be lost on a large campus or would you thrive with the abundance of activities? Does the Greek System appeal to you? What about a designated quiet dorm? How do you best study – curled up on your bed or sitting in the library? Do you want a lot of one-on-one access to your professors or access to study groups? Do you know what you want to study or do you want to explore other majors? Are you more of a math/science person or a creative liberal arts type? Taking an honest look at who you really are (not who your parents expect you to be) will help narrow your search to the right school. Remember, you are the one living your life!

Once you have done some self-research, apply your new found knowledge to your college search.  2-professor-graphics-college


Research between 6-10 colleges.

It is easiest to narrow down your selections if you know what you want to study. If you’ve always wanted to be an engineer, then focusing on schools with strong engineering programs is a likely criteria.


Ignore the labels.

We’ve all heard of the labels associated with certain schools (often these labels are perpetuated by rival school alumni). The trash talking is fun when it’s lighthearted. But when it comes to your future, don’t blindly listen to the labels – do your own research and make your own decision. Who knows, maybe that “party school” is exactly the right fit for you!


Don’t let cost scare you away.

Explore all your options. There are many forms of financial aid that might make college more affordable, such as scholarships, grants and installment plans. Do your research, apply, then make your decision.


Expand your research to include out-of-state colleges.

Colleges want geographic diversity. Having students from all over the US enriches the experience for everyone. When you’re applying to private schools in the Midwest or East Coast you’ll be one of the few from the state of Washington and you’ll have an edge over applicants who live relatively close to the college in question.


Geographic diversity can pay off for you.

Scholarships are partly a function of supply and demand. On the West Coast there are a lot of students competing for a few colleges, and most of the students you’re competing with are also from the West Coast. By heading east you have two things going for you: #1 there are a lot more colleges competing for students, and #2 you’re a minority!  Be true to yourself and consider whether you could live there for four years.


Consider colleges of all sizes.

Consider your own personality. What environment will support your success? Larger schools are great because of all the activities, opportunities and diversity that can be found there. Smaller schools are great because class sizes are typically smaller, and you may have better access to your professors and the resources you may need.


Visit as many college campuses as possible.

This will give you a good feeling about housing, atmosphere, campus activity and curriculum.


Seek Advice

Choosing a college is your choice, but don’t be afraid to counsel with parents, school counselors and other trusted individuals. At Crystal Clear College Planning we are dedicated to helping you and your family successfully prepare for college. We have tools that can assist you in choosing the college or university that is right for you.

Let us help you make the most of your college experience, beginning with your college selection.

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