What’s the Deal with Early Action?

Early Action, like Early Decision, is an accelerated college application process in which students typically must complete their applications in November. In most cases, students will then receive a decision from the college before the New Year. Some schools even have a second Early Action deadline that comes after the first but before the regular decision deadline.

If Early Decision is a 10 on the stress-o-meter, Early Action, which doesn’t have the added pressure of the required commitment, is around an 8. With Early Action, you won’t need to withdraw other applications if you get accepted. Also, if accepted, you can wait until May 1st to respond.8-professor-graphics-worm

On the downside of Early Action, you better make sure to familiarize yourself with the term “contingency plan.” Plan A is always nice, but sometimes life hands you a few lemons, and you get stuck with Plan B. Unless you don’t have a Plan B, in which case, you’re probably going to get stuck with Plan Live in Your Parents’ Basement. That should be like Plan W… minimum. You will find out if you got in to your dreamy dream school two weeks before the deadline for most Regular Applications, so we recommend you work on your other applications just in case you don’t get in. What we are saying here is make sure you are still applying to 6-10 schools. And don’t be like Jonny Slackoff (it’s Slavic). Jonny had everything going for him. 3.7 GPA, half-ride to Purdue… but he came down with a bad, bad case of senioritis. Stopped showing up for class, homework was turned in with nothing more than doodles and his girlfriend’s name written in various fonts. Those guys from Purdue caught wind of his declining performance and turned that half-ride into a… no-ride. Oops.

Let’s talk money, shall we? Some colleges are giving preliminary scholarships for Early Action applicants – you may have received emails from colleges telling you to apply now and they’ll waive the fee and you’ll get first dibs on scholarship money. It’s true and we’ve seen clients get anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 per year in scholarships – so pay attention!

In general, early action is a much more attractive option than early decision. Some reasons to consider early action include:

  • At many colleges, the acceptance rates are higher for early action than for regular admission
  • Students who are not accepted early are still considered for admission with the regular admission pool
  • Early action is not binding — students are free to apply to other colleges
  • Students can apply early to other colleges
  • Although students receive early notification of an acceptance, they do not need to make a decision until the usual May 1 deadline. This allows time to figure out financial aid
  • If accepted early at a college, the spring of a student’s senior year will be far less stressful
  • More money!

Content derived from the following articles:

Grove, Allen: What is Early Action? Learn the Benefits of Applying to College Early, About.com, College Admissions 2013 ©

Article: Early Decision vs. Early Action vs. Regular Decsion vs. Rolling Admission, http://www.shmoop.com/college/early-decision-early-action-regular-decision-rolling-admission.html

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

SAT or ACT and the Diagnostic Test

It’s not a secret that the SAT and/or the ACT are important. However, most people don’t understand why it is so important to focus on these tests. Your SAT/ACT score is the only thing that is still completely in your control. By the time you are a junior in high school, raising your GPA significantly is mathematically impossible, and improving class ranking has you relying on other people’s failures. With the right amount of studying though, you can see a tangible increase in your SAT/ACT test score. As a high school student trying to help pay for college the number one way to make money for college is by improving your SAT/ACT scores. This can generate thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in savings.


It all goes back to the rankings, su1-professor-graphics-blocksch as those done by US News and World Report or the Princeton Review. A large part of the rankings is the academic profile of the incoming freshman classes. The logic is simple, if a lot of smart kids are attending a certain school, it must be a good school! And though there are a lot of problems with standardized tests, it is still the one thing that is a level playing field across the nation. A GPA of 4.0 might be the equivalent of a 3.8 at a school across town. Where as a 1400 on the SAT is the same from Hawaii to Maine. As a result colleges are continually trying to get kids with better SAT/ACT scores in order to move up in the rankings.


Increasing your test score does more then increase your chances of getting scholarships at the schools on your list; it increases the number of schools where you would be a good fit. Applying to schools where you are a good fit is absolutely critical. So how do you improve your test score?  


Determine which test is right for you. The two tests require two different test-taking strategies; the way you study for the SATs will not equate to the ACTs. If you end up taking both tests two times you’ll invest a lot of extra studying time. To make the most of your study time and thus improve test scores, take a diagnostic test. We have a diagnostic test at our office and this is how it works: it is a 3 ½ hour test that will determine which test you are stronger at and breaks down each section to show you where you need to improve. You can then focus all of your efforts studying for just that one test – SAT or ACT!  


If you are a junior, now is the perfect time to take the diagnostic test. Then you can schedule your test date and start studying. Once you’ve determined which test is your strength, and you are a junior, we suggest you schedule your SAT/ACT test so that you can take it twice in junior year. That way you have an opportunity to improve your score if you are not happy with the first one. If you are a sophomore, we recommend doing the diagnostic test at the end of your sophomore year. Then once you’ve determined your test strength start studying for that specific test and schedule your testing dates as early as the Fall of your junior year.  When the award letters start rolling in, you’ll be happy you put forth the effort!


If you would like to learn more about how you can have your student take the Diagnostic Test give us a call at (425) 242-5179.

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