Current Seniors – Scholarships and Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Last month we discussed how to handle admissions decisions. As those decisions continue to roll in, we encourage you to share your results and how you are feeling. We are here to help you navigate next steps and talk through the wave of emotions you may be experiencing. One thought that may come up during this time is, how will I / my family afford college? 


Let’s say you’ve been accepted to a great college (yay!) only to find out the school isn’t giving you enough money (womp womp). What do you do? We are going to explore two options to take right now:


  1. Scholarships
  2. Writing a Financial Aid appeal letter



Why apply for scholarships? Easy answer – free money! 

No matter your family’s EFC (expected family contribution), anyone can apply and qualify for a scholarship. Scholarship partners want to know what skills/qualities/values/interests you’ve developed that will contribute to a college campus. Sometimes there is a scholarship offered through your desired major and many are offered through outside organizations. This allows all students to apply, so why not try for some!


Where to find them? Some resources we like are:

Going Merry

College Greenlight 

Through a Google search of: “College name scholarships” (i.e. Penn State Scholarships), you can find links to many direct scholarships offered directly from your college of choice. Some you can apply for while you are still waiting for an admissions decision, and some you apply for after being accepted. We are available to help you navigate these steps. 

Final thought –  Get this: Going Merry shared that more than 15% of the scholarships on their site went unclaimed last year. That’s basically free money that just sat there … because no one tried to win it. What’s the lesson? You miss out on 100% of the scholarships you don’t apply for. So get on it!

Financial Aid Appeal Letter

What is an appeal letter? 

If you applied for need-based financial assistance, you will find out how much money, if any, you qualify for with your acceptance letter. Often, you may wonder, Is this ALL the money the school can offer me? Could it be that, if you ask nicely and write a financial aid letter request, then the school just might give you a little more? Possibly and you’ll never know unless you ask.   


When should you write the letter?

As soon as possible. Because once the money is gone, it’s gone. So go fight for your case. 


What to include in the letter: Read this article for more details. In short, you should:

  1. Re-introduce yourself and share how grateful you are for your acceptance and how much you want to attend said school. If it’s truly your 1st choice school, you can say this as well.
  2. Transition with a clear and simple sentence that gets to the heart of the letter: There is one problem however, and it is a financial one. 
  3. Briefly talk about why the school is a great fit for you and why you need more money in a respectful and straightforward way.
  4. Provide concise details regarding your financial situation. Breakdown the numbers in a truthful way and so the school can understand what you see. 
  5. Include any details about yourself that show you are a hardworking student and have succeeded in the past. Especially anything new since you applied (i.e. awards won, voted as valedictorian, improved grades, etc.)
  6. Keep it short and to the point. Once you are done, sign off respectfully.



Current Juniors and New Clients – Creating your Senior Year schedule


At this point in the year, we hope your midterms are over and you can focus on having a wonderful second semester. If you have not done so already, you may also be preparing to meet with your guidance counselor to create your senior year schedule. Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your schedule:

  • Consider Your Major/Career Interests 

If you have an idea of what your major for college may be or a general career interest, take classes that will help you advance in these fields. For example, if you are interested in Nursing or Medicine, make sure to take AP Bio and all the proper math and science courses. The more advanced, the better.

  • Kick Your Courseload Up A Notch 

Due to SAT/ACT testing becoming optional, don’t expect admissions to be any easier. There is a huge temptation to take easy electives, early dismissal, study hall, and other freebie courses that will give you more time to have fun during your senior year. While it is important to have fun and enjoy yourself, you won’t do anything to impress colleges by padding your schedule with easy electives and free blocks of time. Colleges will be looking much more closely at the classes you took, so make sure to have AP/Honors courses to show competitiveness. 

  • Play-up Your Strengths

With that said, we know not everyone is a best fit for advanced courses. Do your best to challenge yourself in other ways. Are you an artist? Make sure to take advantage of higher-level art courses and sign-up for art competitions. Are you an athlete? Try out for leadership/captain positions and highlight areas where you went above and beyond in your sport.

  • Fulfill College Requirements

Just because you’ve fulfilled most of the school requirements for your state and school district doesn’t mean that you’ve fulfilled the expectations of those selective colleges that you hope to apply to. Sometimes, your school or state does not require the same courses as the colleges you want to apply to. For instance, your school district may require you to take two years of a foreign language, but the colleges you’re applying to may want to see at least three years. Do your research ahead of time to see if this is the case with any of the colleges you’re applying to. 


Schedule an appointment with an EPC advisor today to review your scheduling choices and assist with researching colleges. We are here to support you from the very initial stages of the college planning process through making the final decision! 

Starting the School Year off Strong

Starting the School Year off Strong

Whether you are a first-year student or an experienced high school senior, each year of high school is important for your college application. Beginning the year with a clear set of goals to keep you on track and focused will boost your resumé, show your effort on your transcript, and shine through in your letters of recommendation. Some goals to set include: 

  • Getting Involved with School Extracurricular Activities

Colleges love to see long-term commitment to extracurricular activities. This is a true case of valuing quality over quantity. For example, being on one athletic team for all four years of high school and in one school club for all four years of high school, with demonstrated growth and potential for leadership, is more valuable than trying out for a different sport and joining three news clubs but not sticking with them every year. 

As a first-year high school student, it is okay to explore new clubs and interests. However, by 10th grade and above, your resumé should have a focused list of activities and teams you have been involved with for 3 – 4 years. The strongest applicants will also share awards and leadership roles.

  • Leadership

It is wonderful to be involved and passionate; but, your application will stand out even more with proven leadership experience. This does not mean you have to be president and captain of every activity. Any title held and recognition to show your continued devotion to a group and effort to keep improving, is a valuable addition to your resumé. 

Given the opportunity, plan ahead for your college application by setting goals for each year. For example, in 9th grade you will find 2 – 3 activities to commit to. In 10th grade, you will run for a board member position in those clubs or find a job or volunteer experience related to those activities to expand your experiences. By 11th grade, you will have possibly accompanied your club or team to a competition, applied for a summer internship related to your career interests, and demonstrated increased leadership and responsibilities as a now upperclassman in your activity. All of these small steps and goals will lead to creating a very strong and competitive application packet for college. 

  • Volunteer

Involvement with your high school’s organizations (teams, clubs, arts, student government, etc.) is what colleges will look for first and foremost. Colleges want to know you are someone who seeks to be an active member in your school community and will bring those same values to your college campus. However, after looking at extracurricular involvement, colleges will also consider your volunteer experience within your local community, and beyond. 

In the best case scenario, the club or team you are involved with in school, will also partake in volunteering opportunities. However, to further demonstrate other causes you are passionate about supporting, finding ways to help outside of school will stand out to colleges. If you are struggling to find places to volunteer, consider your career interests and where you can gain experience. A hospital, an elementary school or day camp, an animal shelter, a local radio station, etc. 

Many colleges make it clear in their mission statement that they value service to others, so you will especially want to highlight this if you apply to a school that explicitly states they prioritize service. If not, it’s good to know that all colleges look to accept young adults who strive to be positive contributors to the greater society. 

  • Take Challenging Courses 

Lastly, let’s not forget that having a good school year means having a strong academic record as well. At the most simple of formulas, one way to evaluate if your transcript will be competitive is the number of advanced courses you take each year: 

9th grade: 0 – 2 AP or Honors courses

10th grade: 1 – 3 AP or Honors courses

11th grade: 2 – 4 AP or Honors courses

12th grade: 3 – 4 AP or Honors courses

Total: 6 – 13 AP or Honors courses through your time in high school

An AP-packed transcript does not work for every student. The goal to keep in mind here is presenting your best self through consistent growth, improvement in grades, and going above and beyond where you can. Take elective courses in areas that relate to possible careers, such as human anatomy if you might want to be a Physical Therapist or Women’s Writers if you are passionate about female empowerment. Talk with your guidance counselor or another academic advisor you trust early on in your high school experience to plan your schedule accordingly and take advantage of all the classes you may want to explore. 

Overall, colleges want to see well-rounded, dedicated, and passionate students who are eager to make a positive impact on their college campuses. Balance is key in building your resumé. Straight A+ grades and a perfect test score won’t outweigh minimal commitment to extracurricular activities and vice versa. Take some time to determine your strengths, inside and outside the classroom. Work hard to make those strengths shine while dedicating time to areas of improvement. 

If you need support in creating a game-plan for high school (and beyond) or more resumé building strategies, the team at EPC is here to help!

Response to Mission Matters

The Everchanging Admission Landscape

After reading an article written by the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech on admission decisions, our team felt inspired to share our own insights. The author of the article expresses his experience with disappointed, confused, and frustrated parents in the coming days and weeks of decision announcements. Why was my child not chosen? In short, the author emphasizes that a student should determine their vision for college and their values for an education and review the mission statement of every school they are applying to. Then, compare their personal “mission statement” with that of each institution, to determine if there is a true fit. Do the two missions make a match?

Following the end of each admissions cycle, we are tasked at explaining how the college landscape is constantly changing. We seek information from college admissions offices to learn how every school is adjusting for the new needs of their institution and student body, and we do our best to relay this information. 

  • Are test scores required? 
  • Is having an interview important?
  • Did they lose funding for their business department?
  • Are they building a new Freshman dorm?
  • Is there a new college president?
  • Do they value religion and service?
  • Did they re-prioritize financial assistance for in-state students?

The questions and possibilities are endless as to why a student was accepted to one school and not another. This is when we reflect on not simply enrollment rates, but what is XYZ University’s overall mission and vision for advancing their community? 

Let’s look at a couple examples, shall we?

Clemson University – notably a large, mainly Southern school, with a technical focus and a lot of school spirit. Not much has changed here. Except one factor – in the past 10 years, their football team has had a better record, increasing in the school’s popularity and interest. With a strong sports program, comes slightly more funding, and more opportunities for students who may not have considered Clemson. However, as applications increase, the acceptance rate will decrease. A school that once had close to a 51% acceptance rate, now has a 47% acceptance rate. As more students seek out Clemson, many who may not have a STEM focus, the school must re-evaluate who to accept. This is one example, and the landscape will continue to change for Clemson and similar schools. 

Now take COVID as a factor – more students are now interested in campuses where they can spend more time outside. This increases the applications to schools in warmer climates and schools that provide a lot of year-round outdoor activities, such as the University of Colorado – Boulder. For the past 5+ admissions seasons, the acceptance rate has been close to, at times slightly over, 80%. Today, the projected acceptance rate is now closer to 70%. This number can, and will, consistently change as our values and needs in a school change. 

If we look at warm weather schools, such as the Florida state schools, they are continuing to require test scores. As applications rise for Florida schools, the need for increased academic standards will rise too. Keeping test scores a requirement, allows admissions offices to narrow down the pot of overflowing interest.

 This is why we can never for sure answer the question: Why was I not accepted? And why the list of reach, target, and likely schools will change for students year to year. 

Circling back to the original article we read and the author’s intended lesson for all prospective families: individuals and institutions change, grow, and evolve. We can’t control how the admissions landscape will adjust, but we can take a closer look at our own values and missions. Ask yourself: Do my current values align with the current mission statements of the schools I am applying to? Do my hopes for my college education match with the plans of each college I am applying to? With an open-mind and our guidance, you will end up where you were always meant to be! 

Practicing Gratitude

Throughout the college application journey, we research the “best fit” colleges, edit resumés and reflect on character building, write and rewrite numerous essays, and have long discussions about planning for the future. We are grateful to our students who are willing to be vulnerable, open, and reflective throughout this process and we hope our students feel a stronger sense of self as a result. 


As Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaches, we encourage you – whether you are a parent, current student, or prospective student – to practice gratitude towards others. A former student once shared that before they go to bed each night, they think of three people, moments, or experiences from that day for which they are grateful. In this exercise that takes less than one-minute, this student is prioritizing a mindful approach to being more grounded in their everyday life, recognizing and acknowledging special opportunities, and staying connected to others. 

We know the breadth of emotions you each have been feeling this past year-and-a-half, let alone these last few months in the college process. You are not alone in how you feel. Imagine if each of us set aside the little time this exercise requires. Undoubtedly, it would create ripples in the ways in which we relate to those around us, and the sense of support we feel in our communities. Take a minute to send a text to a friend, family member, co-worker, or mentor to let them know you are thinking of them and are thankful for their presence in your life. You’ll be surprised by the impact it makes.

Better yet, pay your gratitude forward. Reach out to mentor a younger sibling or student at your school. Remind them of the supports that are available and encourage them to engage in school, strive to be a leader, and aspire to college. Give them reasons to be grateful.    

Parents – this opportunity to be grateful applies to you as well. Admission to college feels like the final frontier of your fading control over the well-being, and futures, of these beings that you have nurtured for almost two decades. It can be a time that is fraught with anxiety, miscommunication, and tension. It can also be an opportunity to pause and consider just how hopeful you are for your teen(s) and what lies ahead for them. Whether you are celebrating a Thanksgiving free of college talk, or you find yourself during the holidays worrying less about a fully cooked turkey and more about your teen’s future, take time to be grateful for this bonding experience with your child. 

We are grateful to each student and family we have worked with this year and thank you for trusting us to guide you through the college process. Our journey together is far from over, but we hope you know our depth of gratitude and we will continue to be supportive of you.

How to Create College List

How do you choose a college that’s right for you? What a daunting question!

The good news: there are more than 4,500 colleges and universities in the US. Even better news: most schools accept most students, with the national average at 66.7% in 2017 (source). But which of the 4,500 should you apply to?

High school counselors, as well as private counselors such as our team at EPC, can be a wonderful support during the college application process. EPC counselors even have knowledge of specialized programs that can help you in choosing the best college. If you have yet to schedule a meeting with your high school counselor, this blog post will offer a few steps for how to develop a great college list. 

Here are the steps for choosing a college:

  1. Get to know your interests and preferences. At EPC we offer a major/career-interest assessment to help you narrow in on your options. 
  2. Discover what specific qualities you want in a college (i.e. green campus, city, school-spirited, etc.)
  3. Create an initial list of colleges that match this criteria – make this list as big as possible. Don’t limit your options. EPC counselors are here to offer suggestions and make your list manageable. 
  4. Research your chances of getting into each of these colleges and organize your school list by “Reach,” “Target,” and “Likely.”
  5. Narrow down your results into your final list of colleges.
  6. Apply away!


College Match Survey

Handling Admission Decision

You’ve put in hours of research to compile the best fit list of colleges to apply to, spent your summer and late nights writing countless essays, prepped for interviews, rescheduled campus tours, and inquired about scholarships. BUT, here comes the hard part . . . waiting for admissions decisions. The majority of Early Action and ideally all Early Decision announcements have been made. Over the next 8-12 weeks, Regular Decision notifications will be released. SO, how do you handle the various admission decisions?

If you are accepted ED admission — Congratulations! We hope this feels like a dream come true. 99% of the time, this is a binding contract. Meaning, by applying Early Decision, you and your family are prepared to attend said university if admitted. However, there is an important piece of information to know that most admissions officers neglect to share. A recent NYT article shared, “These supposedly binding offers do not, in fact, oblige you to attend. If you can’t afford to go at the price that the college has asked you to pay, you can back out.”

Should this be the case for your family, do not let anyone push you into a direction that is not a fit for you. “You can apply anywhere you want once you break an early decision agreement. You’re supposed to withdraw applications elsewhere and not send out others only if you accept an early decision offer.”

If you are accepted EA or RD admission — Congratulations! Keep in mind financial aid packages and merit-based scholarships may come in a separate letter, a few days, or even a few weeks, after receiving the initial acceptance. Check your email, your student portal, and the actual mail for all communication. If you have earned acceptance into a school that you fully intend to enroll in, please notify your other schools as early as possible so your seat at these other colleges can be offered to another hopeful student, possibly someone without any other offers. You absolutely have until the intended deadline to make a decision; however, if there are even 1 – 2 schools you can notify that you will not be attending, the better your standing.   

If you are deferred admission —  A defer is not a deny. We hope you will not look back over what you could have done differently. Spend time focusing on having a strong second semester, send in a midterm report, and complete any forms or other requirements, like a Letter of Continued Interest, the school requests.

If you are denied admission -– Ok. You did not get in. Remember, this process is like dating, or finding a best friend, or adopting a pet, or trying out for a team, you both must be a good fit for each other. You are talented and capable! Not every school out there, just like every person on the planet, will not be the right match for you. It’s likely you’ve already been admitted to other colleges, or you soon will be. We understand you wish those free throws would have swished cleanly through the net, rather than rattled around the rim and out, but the long game is far from over. Keep your head up! If you do that, you will see plenty of people in the crowd cheering for you— family, friends, teachers, counselors, and others in your community who know you, love you, and believe in you. Focus on their words of affirmation, rather than the ones on a screen, a letter, or in your head right now.

If you are supporting a student receiving difficult news – Parents and other adults around students who are disappointed or hurting think they need to call the admission office (or the president or the governor), appeal the decision, “come down there,” or pull strings.

Ultimately, we think in these moments what kids (all of us, actually) need is very simple—love, concern, empathy, belief, and encouragement. And hey, if the words aren’t coming, a heartfelt hug might be best anyway.