What Colleges Actually Mean By “Holistic Review”

Let’s talk about holistic review.

My guess is that you’ve already seen these words on a few college applications or websites. And while you might get the gist of what it means, you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering what “holistic review” is and how it relates to your student.Basically, holistic review is when a school makes a decision about a student based on their application as a whole, rather than solely on their academic background.

While grades and test scores still matter (a lot), the applicant pool is increasingly competitive each year. Because of this competition, it’s no longer enough for colleges to base their admissions process solely on a student’s academic achievements.

Although this might seem overwhelming at first, this is really great news for students! In addition to their grades, students can really focus on highlighting their interests/extracurriculars/volunteer work/jobs/special circumstances/etc and it will all factor into the admissions decision!Translation: You can stand out to admissions offices by telling them what makes you, you!

Sounds way easier than stressing about whether your academic background will be enough to get you through, right?

So what’s considered in this holistic review process? Here’s a general list of things that can be considered, but really just about anything can factor in!

  • Class Rank
  • Academic Background/GPA
  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT)
  • Achievements, Awards, Honors Orgs
  • Special Accomplishments, Work, and Service (Both in and outside of your high school!)
  • Essays (This is where you can REALLY show them your personality. Letting them get to know you and hear your voice in your essays is huge!)
  • Special Circumstances (This is really helpful if you’ve experienced anything that might have affected your academic performance, including socioeconomic status, a single parent home, family responsibilities, overcoming adversity, cultural background, race and ethnicity, language spoken in the your home, health-related issues for you or your family, learning differences, and the list goes on!)
  • Recommendations (These typically aren’t required, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few from your teachers, organization leaders, or other reputable leaders who can vouch for you as a person/student/worker/etc.)
  • Competitiveness of Your Major (Don’t forget to take into account the popularity of your major at each school you’re applying for as this can seriously impact the competition between applicants.)

That’s A LOT of information that goes into an admissions decision.

I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or even discouraged by everything on this list, but it’s important to remember that holistic review can only benefit your student!

The purpose is to cover as much ground as possible within a short application – kind of like a first date.

And, very much like a first date, it’s just as important to relax and be yourself as it is to put your best foot forward.

Let’s continue the discussion! What are your thoughts on holistic review? Please leave a comment below!

What You Need to Know about the FAFSA

I remember being shocked at the price of diapers when my kids were little. But when it came time to figure out college tuition…

Criminy. Kids are crazy-expensive!

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the sticker price on a college education. Federal financial aid is one of the methods we have to help afford the mind-boggling costs we’re up against, and the infamous FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the key to unlocking that.

I’ll explain what the FAFSA is, what it provides and why it’s so important. AND…why you should always, definitely complete and submit the FAFSA form (even if you think you make too much money to qualify).

What is the FAFSA?

The sole purpose of the FAFSA is to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount the government believes your family can chip in for college that year. The EFC qualifies students for federal financial aid, including:

  • grants and scholarships (which you don’t have to pay back)
  • work-study jobs (part time work your teen does, typically on campus)
  • loans (paid back after graduation)

The EFC is also one of the main factors used by colleges to determine how much your family can pay relative to the cost of the school and what that college will contribute to your family’s financial aid package.

In fact, you can figure out a good estimate of what your EFC will be by using one of the many calculators available online. Try out the College Board’s EFC Calculator if you’re curious.

Where can I find it?

Thankfully, the form is online now – I remember the green FAFSA forms I used to have to hunt down from the financial aid office every year back in the day.

Go to www.fafsa.gov to complete the FAFSA. To make things even easier, you’re able to import your tax information directly from the IRS website. Oh, how I love that it’s 2020.

Submit the form. No matter what.

Many families think that their household income is too high, so they won’t qualify for financial aid. Not true. There’s no income cut-off that disqualifies a family from aid, so not completing the form essentially means you’re likely leaving money on the table.

Other factors, such as the number of students in your household who are attending college at the same time, will affect your eligibility for aid. And even if you don’t qualify for federal grants, the unsubsidized Stafford loan and the PLUS loan are available without financial need. You can be rolling in the dough and still qualify for these loans.

Seriously, moms and dads. Complete the form.

Complete the FAFSA early.

For the 2020-21 school year, the FAFSA was released on January 1, 2020, and should be completed asap; the start of the financial aid season is when there’s generally more money available to give away.

The ultimate deadline for submitting the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 award year is June 30, 2021. But I absolutely, 100% recommend you complete that much earlier – many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for their state and college financial aid.

Check out each state’s deadlines and contact each college directly to find out when their deadlines are.

Know how to list colleges on the FAFSA in the right order.

FAFSA results will be forwarded to your state for financial aid consideration. Some states require that your teen list an in-state public college first on the FAFSA’s college list in order to qualify for state financial aid.

Again, repeating for emphasis – make sure that state college is listed first!

Check out the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ State Financial Aid Programs page for more information about what grants and/or scholarships your state offers and how to apply for them.

What happens after it’s submitted?

You’ll receive a link to a document called the Student Aid Report (SAR) via email within 3 to 5 days after submitting it online, which will show your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The schools that you listed on the FAFSA will have access to this information within one day after it’s processed.

You won’t actually see how much financial aid you’ll receive on the SAR; that information will come from the colleges that you listed on your FAFSA. They’ll calculate your aid and send you an award letter to let you know how much aid you’re eligible to receive from their particular school, as this varies between institutions.

Appeal financial aid packages if necessary.

The FAFSA doesn’t cover every detail about your income and expenses, so make sure you connect with the financial aid office if there are other circumstances to consider. This could include things like a parent losing a job, a divorce or separation, medical expenses or a disabled sibling or parent. Think about hardships that may interfere with how much you can reasonably pay.

Additionally, if other colleges have offered your teen better financial aid packages, you could potentially use that information as leverage to negotiate for higher scholarships or merit aid at another college. Just don’t use the word “negotiate” – it’s distasteful and no one likes a pushy parent. Simply ask if anything else can be done to further compensate based on merit. See the financial aid folks as partners, not adversaries.

Now don’t forget – the FAFSA is only one piece of the financial aid puzzle. Make sure your teen is applying for scholarships, as well. And check out my article on 4 easy ways to find scholarships – they’re out there for everyone!

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

What Is Summer Melt?

It’s summer!!

It’s finally heating up in most places and you might feel like you’re figuratively melting. But did you know that ”summer melt” means something very different for colleges?Each year, colleges require students to submit an enrollment deposit to enroll as freshmen in the fall (usually by May 1, but this year June 1 for some colleges). After that deposit deadline passes, colleges count up the number of deposits they have and decide whether they need more students to fill their freshman class. If so, this may lead them to admit students who are on their waitlist!

Although those newly admitted students probably have already sent deposits to other colleges, they’ll now tell the other colleges that they’re no longer going to attend. Which leaves that college with an empty seat, and so on and so forth. That’s summer melt for colleges – students, who had originally sent their deposit, deciding later to withdraw their enrollment and causing the college to fall short of their freshman class goals.This is especially important to keep in mind right now as the pandemic has created anxiety of all kinds, including for enrollment managers. Predictions of students deferring college enrollment or staying closer to home has admission directors eyeing their waitlists. Counselors are anticipating students may hear from more colleges about waitlists and other offers even late into the summer. 

What does summer melt mean for you?

Well, it means that if you were on the waitlist at a school, you might get admitted. And although unlikely, it’s possible that you could get a revised financial aid package from a school that admitted you.

This may prompt you to rethink your enrollment choice. However, unless it’s an admission offer from your dream college or a truly unbeatable scholarship award, you are probably better off sticking with your original deposit. Remember that you spent a lot of time weighing your options when you made that initial decision.Don’t second guess yourself unless there is a very compelling reason! Stick with what your gut tells you and look forward to freshman year with excitement.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!