Thursday, September 29, 2016


Last September, President Obama announced his plan for earlier college financial aid. This means that families can now begin the FAFSA on October 1st. What is the FAFSA? It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a government form that determines a family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and is used by colleges as a gateway to financial aid. 


Beginning this year, families will be entering 'Prior-Prior Year,' or PPY, tax information. This means if you will be attending college in the Fall of 2017, you will enter the tax information from two years previous, or 2015. This will eliminate the need to estimate your income and re-enter the information when your taxes are complete. 

Families will first need to create a FSA ID to access accounts such as the FAFSA and Federal student loans. This site will also serve as a student and parent's online signature (each have to create one).

Once this is complete, on October 1, families can begin using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to upload tax information to complete a significant portion of the form. Additional information required include: balance of cash (savings/checking account), trust funds, 529 accounts, stocks, bonds, certificate of deposits, and other forms of 'liquid' cash, along with the number of children that will be attending college concurrently.


Financial aid award letters should be sent out earlier. Student's should to learn of their acceptance and financial aid award information at the same time, allowing families to make better financial decisions for college

With the use of prior-prior year tax information, the need to ask for a financial review to financial aid office should rise. This should not be taken as a negative. Circumstances will change over a year's time, allowing families to easily document changes in their financial situation to college. 

You can submit your FAFSA as your student applies to college. Most schools will accept the FAFSA as early as the first filing date, but most colleges have their financial deadline being the same time the student applies to the school.


Make sure not to rush
Since 2013 when the DRT was created, the average time to complete this form is 20 minutes, but slow down. On average there are an estimated 10 errors per form, which can cost you money.

You Can Submit the FAFSA to College You Have an interest in attending, by have not yet applied
You can submit  up to 10 colleges to have the FAFSA sent too. 

File as early as possible
Applying to a college by the priority deadline helps colleges develop a financial picture, thus allowing them to allocate the approximate amount of money necessary to secure a class
Funds are set aside for late applying students, but filing early is always better. 

'You' on the FAFSA refers to the student
Since the student is gaining the aid, the form is assuming they are completing the form.

No matter the amount of money a family earns, complete the FAFSA
There is no income ceiling to prevent a family from qualifying for federal student aid. 
Several factors that go into the financial aid report besides income.
Not all financial aid is need based (grants), it can be merit aid. (Link to other blog)

If you have any questions on competing the FAFSA, financial aid or anything college, Contact Us

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A College, a Roman Catholic Saint and the Indy 500

This Memorial Day weekend will mark the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. In honor of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," I felt it was only appropriate to write about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, located just outside Terre Haute, Indiana.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

How many colleges can boast they have a saint on their campus? SMWC has a shrine, which includes the remains of Mother Theodore Guerin, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Saint Mother Guerin emigrated from France in 1839 at the request of the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. Along with 5 other French nuns, she set roots outside Terre Haute, Indiana to minister. Her accomplishments include founding a new religious order (Sisters of Providence) and numerous schools in the Indiana/Illinois area, including the eventual Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She has been attributed to two miracles, one taking place in the church itself, allowing her to be canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 2006.

The Mission of the Sister's of Providence

St. Mary-of-the-Woods College is Indiana's oldest Catholic college. It was founded in 1840 by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, founder of the Sisters of Providence. The school is still run by the congregation with nearly 300 sisters residing on campus grounds. In 1984, the campus began offering co-educational graduate school programs and in 2015 began offering men the opportunity to enroll in their campus based programs. The campus also has a vibrant online education program.

College Ring

The SMWC ring is the most recognizable image of the college. The tradition began as a way to honor the academic success and sacrifice of the students, while showing their pride and loyalty to SMWC. There are two ceremonies connected with the rings. Ring Day occurs during junior year where the students are bestowed their rings. The other is the Oakleaf Ceremony where students are inducted into the alumnae association by turning their rings around, such as an acorn turns into an oak tree.

School of Equine Studies

By now, you have been reading this post and still wondering, where is the Indianapolis 500 connection? The School of Equine Studies is named after current Chairwoman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mari Hulman George. Ms. George, along with her mother, Mary Fendrich Hulman, are alumnae of SMWC.

At SMWC, women can pursue two paths in Equine Science: General Studies or Equine Training & Instruction. The General Studies program allows students to explore different areas of equine study through a variety of courses.

The Equine Training & Instruction major is for students to become either a trainer or instructor of horses. Throughout the coursework, students are exposed to different philosophies, techniques and approaches to training and instructing. These courses can be designed specifically for either training or instructing, or a combination of both.

When you are watching the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and hear Mari Hulman George command, "Ladies and Gentlemen...Start Your Engines!" make sure to think of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

If you would like to know more about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, or other colleges or equine programs, contact us.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What is Demonstrated Interest?

Showing a college you are smitten with them. Having no contact with a college until you apply for admission. That is the difference between Demonstrated Interest and a Stealth Applicant. What does it mean to demonstrate interest to ensure one is not a stealth applicant?

Campus Visit

The best way to demonstrate interest in a college is to visit campus. This will be two hours at minimum. Often times, your visit is extended to lunch in the cafeteria, meeting with an admissions representative, talking with a professor in an academic discipline of interest, and/or sitting in on a class. Make sure to register so the school is aware of your visit. This is especially important if the campus is accessible by car. Colleges want to know you took time to learn more about their campus.

Open Emails

Now that you provided your email address to colleges, your inbox will be cluttered.. Do not just hit delete, open them! Why? Blast email technology allows schools to track if emails have been opened or links clicked. This shows extra demonstrated interest because colleges can now determine levels of interest. This only takes a minute, so click on the email to help your chances of admission.

Get to Know Your Admissions Representative

This might be the hardest of all the ways to show demonstrated interest, but admissions representatives want to get to know their potential students. This is easier at a smaller college because of the fewer amount of applicants. At a large school, make yourself stand out. Be polite and reintroduce yourself to admissions representatives when you see them at college fairs or in your school. Send thank you emails and most importantly, make sure to accept as many invitations as possible. Many times colleges will have local events and invite prospective students. Attend and reintroduce yourself.

Why Do I Need to Show Demonstrated Interest?

Demonstrated interest can be summed up best from a Sewanee, University of the South's e-newsletter:

Finally, fit is about showing mutual interest and respect. We work hard to get to know prospective students, and we ask that they work hard to get to know us, too. Students who have engaged with us on campus, at college fairs, and via email can more confidently say that they fit at Sewanee—and we can more confidently agree with them.

What does this mean? Increased chances of acceptance for borderline students and potentially more in financial aid. Colleges want to admit students who will accept offers of admission. Developing a rapport will allow admissions representatives to state your case to the admissions committee and financial aid office.

If you interested in learning more ideas on how to show 'demonstrated interest,' contact us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Decision - How to Select the Proper College

Can you see yourself here?
May 1st is around the corner and that means high school seniors must send their housing deposit to the college of their choice. If a student fails to inform a school by this date, colleges will no longer guarantee their admission. Here are a few tips for a high school senior to make a proper decision on which college to attend.

Social Fit

As an 18 year old high school senior, it is hard to imagine making a decision that will impact the next four years of their life. The first step to make sure the school is the proper social fit. Having hopefully already visited campus, this on-campus experience should have provided the student enough knowledge to make an informed decision. But can the family envision the student on campus, participating in the activities in the quad, eating in the dining halls or sleeping in the dorms rooms? If they can, this is a good sign. If they cannot, perhaps a last minute follow-up visit to the campus might be in order.

Financial Fit

By now, the soon to be college freshman has received a plethora of acceptance letters and financial aid awards. Reexamine each of the acceptance letters and financial aid awards and ask yourself, “Can I afford to send my son/daughter to this school?” If the answer is a clear cut yes, then compare each of the school’s finances together. Think about the programs they offer and your likes/dislikes about each school to make a proper decision. Select the school that you feel is the best fit for your family.

If there is some hesitation in affordability, here are some things to consider regarding the college:

  • How many loans will the student have to take out?
  • What will the final amount of loans be when the student graduates in four years?
  • Can my son/daughter receive the same quality education at a school that is not their first choice, but offering more in terms of financial aid?
  • Is the scholarship they are receiving a one year scholarship or renewable for four years?
  • What are the qualifications to be renewed?

These are important questions to discuss as a family this weekend, remember May 1st is next week!

Eliminate Friends From Decision
You can meet new friends at school, 
such as the Colgate Raider!
Many high school seniors are afraid to leave their comfort zone. Many adults are like this too; it is only natural. Making their college decision based upon where their friends will be attending is not a recommended way to make a decision. With Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Skype/Facetime and email (snail mail to teenagers) students will easily be able to keep in touch. This is a great time for students to learn to think for themselves, be an individual and make an adult decision. They should choose the college that best fits themselves academically, socially and financially; not those of their friends. Young adults are resilient, they will be able to find their routine by keeping in touch with their high school friends while also making a campus full of new ones.

Post a comment regarding your college acceptance experience! If you have questions regarding the college process, contact us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

4 Tips to Maximize Your College Visit

Spring break and summer travel plans are on the minds of many families. Why not add a college visit into your itinerary? College visits are an integral part of the college process. They allow families to learn more about a particular college while also showing 'demonstrated interest.' 

Contact the Admissions Office

Contact the admissions office a few weeks prior to your arrival. This will not only confirm the office is open that day, but it provides campus visit options to maximize your experience. Various options might include an interview with an admissions representative, sitting in on a class, talking to a specific academic department/program or having a personalized tour based upon your interests. Some schools will even provide a complimentary meal in the cafeteria and/or help to defray some of the travel expenses if they know you are coming.

Every attempt should be made to visit a school if they are within a few hours of your home. Schools expect you take that extra effort to visit their campus.

See The Negatives

This may be the most difficult aspect of the college search, especially if there is an infatuation with the school. When on campus, it is important to recognize the negatives regarding a potential school. Tour guide will always highlight the positive aspects of their campuses, but will they show you the negatives? It is better to recognize the things you may not enjoy about the campus while on a tour, rather than once your student is enrolled.

Ask Questions

Make sure to ask thought provoking questions that will elicit an honest response. Most people will speak freely about the school, campus and students. Admission's representatives understand that not everyone is the proper fit for their campus. The tour guide is a great source of knowledge. They can discuss why they choose that particular college, the type of students on campus, programs, extracurricular activities and even the things they would like to change about the school.

Write Down Information

Bring a notebook to write down information regarding your visit. After touring multiple schools, inevitably each campus will blend together. Your notes will help differentiate campuses when it comes time to apply or accept an offer of admission.  

Before going on any visit, generate a list of needs/wants in a school. Then compare this list with the information you had written down regarding what you learned. Make a list and keep a log of those aspects at each campus. Do not forget to snap photos on your cell phone or tablet!

Lastly, do not forget to have your student write 'thank you' notes to all the people they met.  

Tom Jaworski has toured nearly 150 college campuses. To learn if he has visited your school of interest, or anything else college, contact him

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Making the Most of Your College Fair Visit

The first step of the college search is to navigate rows upon rows of colleges at a large fair.  Here, admissions representatives from across the country gather in one place to promote their schools. Time your time, speak to as many schools as possible and collect brochures.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

If you can receive an advanced list of attending colleges, game planning will be easier. Highlight the schools of interest, then conduct some research. Arrive early and be prepared to 'attack' these schools. The lines will progressively get longer as the night wears on, so speaking to the representatives in the beginning will maximize your time. 'Practice' with a non-target school to learn what admissions representatives are discussing, promoting and asking. This will provide an idea of the 'lingo,' ultimately preparing you for your target colleges.

Ask Questions

As suggested, conduct some research. Hopefully you have written down notes and highlighted areas to further discuss, such as "tell me more about your Co-Op Engineering program" or "what kind of research opportunities are there for freshmen?" Do not ask basic questions that can be found in brochures or online. You may only have a minute to talk because of the crowd, so make it worthwhile. Ask specific questions about programs, opportunities or curriculum and put these answers next to your researched notes. Do not be shy, this is your opportunity to find out if you are a fit for this college.

Demonstrated Interest

Most colleges log the amount of contact you will have with them. This exchange can be a request for information, college fair visit or a campus visits. Thus provide your information to colleges if they ask. Yes, you will receive stacks upon stacks of brochures and your email inbox will be cluttered. In the end, it may be worthwhile because colleges want to ensure they accept students who are generally interested in attending their school and not applying for the sake of applying. Colleges may not divulge this, but scholarships opportunities may be increased if the schools have known of your previous interest. Schools might boost your financial aid package to ensure you will accept their offer of admission. If colleges send an email, make sure to open it and occasionally click on a link, they are monitoring!

Follow Up

Going along with demonstrated interest, make sure to ask the admissions representative for a business card. In the next few days, send them an email thanking them for their time answering your questions, what you thought was interesting about their school and to keep you informed to upcoming campus or local events. Make  it short and sweet, but long and intelligent enough to make an impression.

One last bit of advice. If you cannot attend your local college fair, do not fret. You will most likely be welcome at other school's college fair.

If you would like to know more about visiting a college fair, contact us.

For a list of Chicagoland college fairs, click here.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Decoding the Financial Aid Award Letter

As the deadline to submit the FAFSA to financial aid offices approaches, we wanted to discuss the financial aid you may receive. Listed below are four types of 'awards' typically found on a financial aid letter.


A scholarship is an award based upon student merit, meaning, students have accomplished something. This may include their high school academics, standardized test score (ACT/SAT) , or unique talent (athletic performance, performing or visual arts). Scholarships are awarded for various lengths, make sure to investigate their stipulations. Regardless the length, scholarships do not need to be repaid to the school.


These are similar to scholarships as they do not need to be repaid, but they are based upon 'financial need,' and the biggest reason to complete the FAFSA. These awards can be from the institution, federal or state government. There are 2 common federal grants:

  • Pell Grant: Up to $5,775 (for 2015-16 school year) to students who demonstrate financial need. 
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: In addition to the Pell Grant, this award is up to $4,000 for families that demonstrate exceptional financial need. 

Federal Work-Study

This program is designed for students to earn the awarded amount in an on-campus job. There are ample opportunities reserved for federal work-study students. Students cannot earn in excess of the amount offered on the award letter. Most common positions are working in the admissions office, school cafeteria or recreation center.


Many time, in the financial award letter, colleges will package in loans to help defray the remaining cost of attendance. The three types of main loans are:

  • Direct Subsidized Loan: These are student loans awarded based upon financial need. They are given for a 10 year repayment period and accruing interest is paid by the Department of Education until 6 months after a student leaves school. The loan limit is $3,500 to $5,500, depending upon the year in school.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan: These student loans are not based upon financial need. The borrower is responsible for all interest, which begins accruing immediately. The 10 year repayment period on this loan (including accrued interest) does not begin until a student leaves school. The amount awarded is up to $2000 a school year.  
  • Direct PLUS Loan: This loan is for a student's parents or guardians. It is not based upon need and the borrower assumes all interest. The interest rate is slightly higher, but generally it will be lower than a private loan. The maximum amount borrowed is the cost of attendance, minus any financial aid received. 

Remember, when comparing financial aid award letters, do not compare the amount the school is awarding the student. Compare the financial commitment of the family between schools and the amount of loans the family will have to repay.

If you have questions regarding your family's financial aid award letter or how to prepare for the rising cost of college, contact us