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