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Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #2 – COA Surprises

cost of attendance
Surprises, they can be good or bad.
Good, such as pulling a forgotten $20 out of a jacket pocket not worn over a long, long winter, an unexpected message or letter from an old friend, a thoughtful gift.
Or not so good, such as opening your tuition bill and realizing it is going to cost thousands of dollars more than you expected. How can this happen? Don’t colleges and universities advertise costs?
Yes and no.
Colleges typically advertise cost in terms of Cost of Attendance (COA). Federal financial aid guidelines define COA as:
    • Tuition & Fees
    • Room & Board
    • Books & Supplies
    • Transportation
    • Personal Expenses
Many (dare I say most) institutions are less than transparent when advertising the “true” cost of an education – typically they only market and advertise these five COA components. 
Now the rest of the story…
Smart higher education consumers need to play detective, sleuthing through brochures, web pages, letters, etc. to unearth hidden costs – to determine your “true” cost of attendance.
What are these shadowy hidden costs? From differential tuition rates – to loan origination fees and everything in between, hidden costs come in all shapes, sizes, and forms – real money out of your pocket. Let’s examine a few:
A common hidden charge is a differential (extra) tuition rate. It is fairly common for students majoring in nursing, engineering, business, computer science (to name a few), to be charged an extra fee on top of regular tuition rates – see examples below:

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Most families do not realize advertised room and board COA charges are the “average” rate a student can pay. The real cost can span thousands of dollars as evidenced by these 2018-2019 rates:

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Look at this statement from a college web site – “All students receive a laptop as part of our laptop program.” Cool! Not so fast. Dig deep enough and you find students are not receiving a laptop, they are paying for the use of one – the real cost:
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per semester.
Let’s talk disingenuous. In reviewing a financial aid award letter for a student this spring (see partial letter below), I noted the school understated their own cost of attendance (as calculated by their own Net Price Calculator) by thousands of dollars.
Note how they seem to have “forgotten” personal expenses or transportation in their “estimated” COA. “Luckily” when this was pointed out to the director of admission, this student’s award was adjusted upwards to include these real costs. 

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How about matriculation (new student) fees, course and lab fees, capital enhancement fees, tuition payment plan fees, credit card fees, excess credit charges beyond a full-time credit load, stadium fees, parking fees, health center fees – I digress… but I could go on and on and on…
Smart consumers need to shield themselves from COA surprises, by determining their “true” cost of attendance before choosing to enroll. Unearthing the “true” cost of attendance in many cases will be the difference between choosing one school over another – saving you thousands of $$ on the overall cost of your education.
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Need help finding good match colleges. Contact me. and I can work with you to shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree.  

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

 

Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #3 – Yield

 

What does “yield” have to do with college cost savings? Savvy consumers who understand how critical this figure is in admissions can often yield (pun intended) significant cost savings.
Yield is the metric most admissions directors obsess, fret, lose sleep over. Simply, yield = the number or percentage of admitted students who actually enroll and attend.
So, exactly why is yield important and why should you pay attention? Every college sets enrollment goals for its incoming class. Very few schools can boast of a yield rate like Stanford University of 82%:
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In reality, many colleges today scratch and claw for every student they enroll. In the 2018 State of College Admissions, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported the average yield rate continues to decline – down to 33.6%.
Couple this with the fact the number of traditional college-aged students enrolling declined for the 7th consecutive year – Current Term Enrollment Fall 2018, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. means colleges (and admissions directors especially) feel the heat when they do not meet enrollment goals.
Multiple years of “low yields” translates to declining enrollments – which means budget shortfalls. On more than one campus I worked this meant delays in campus initiatives, building projects/upgrades or worse yet – program cuts and staff layoffs.
Is it any wonder many campus administrators and admissions directors lose sleep over “yield”?
Don’t feel too bad for them, they understand the ground rules, besides colleges have been less than transparent over the years in the pursuit of enrolling students:
  • Bombarded with brochures – a college reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean they have any intention of admitting you – many entice applications for the sole purpose of lowering admit rates in an attempt to boost rankings. 
  • Bait and switch – awarding more “free money” (grant and scholarship) to incoming freshman, and converting a % of this free money to loans in subsequent years. (always read the fine print on your financial aid award). 
  • Preferential Packaging – The art of offering more grants and scholarships to students it really wants to attract versus offering more loans to those “less desirable”.
  • Hidden costs – differential tuition rates, hidden fees, advertising room & board as “true” cost of attendance when in reality these are the “average” prices students pay,  etc. 
  • Do you really think early decision and early action admissions deadlines are designed to benefit “students”? If you do I have some property I would like to speak with you about.
  • etc., etc., etc. 
I digress…
Most colleges want- in actuality need – to yield as many students as possible from its pool of accepted students. Colleges often do “whatever it takes” to protect their yield. How might one benefit?
Let’s say hypothetically, Luther College is your top choice. Luther at 19% doesn’t have nearly the yield rate as Stanford.

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Furthermore, let’s assume Luther tends to compete with say, Gustavus Adolphus College (18% yield rate by the way), for the same pool of students.
Remember it is best to never eliminate a school until the end of this process – even if you have no intention of enrolling. Thus, hypothetically, I might suggest you show enough demonstrated interest in both schools to receive an offer of admissions.
For argument’s sake, we will say Gustavus Adolphus offered you $2,000 annually more in merit scholarships than Luther. You really prefer Luther, but…
Wink, Wink. Nudge. Nudge. See how “hypothetically” leveraging Luther’s “yield rate” versus Gustavus’s higher offer might potentially work in your favor (theoretically of course)?
Understanding the dynamics of “yield” can and does lead to cost savings – remember the average yield rate is currently about 33%. It will not work at every school, every situation is unique, and results can vary from year to year, but families can and do successfully mediate better financial packages.
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Need help finding good match colleges. Contact me. and I can work with you to shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree.  

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

 

Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #6 – Dual Enrollment

 

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A typical four-year state institution will cost you approximately $26,000 to attend for one academic year (see chart below). 
A dual enrollment strategy (taking AP, PSEO, IB, CIS or PLTW coursework in high school) is one of my favorite strategies to save families money on the cost of college.
Shaving one semester or even one year off a college degree is easier than you think – if you know what you are doing. 

 

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After a workshop recently, a family came up and asked, “Can you help us get our son more credits for his PSEO classes”. As a former registrar, I knew the answer would be no. 
As a cost-saving strategy, their son enrolled in a Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program at a local community college. The hope – he would graduate in 2 to 2 1/2 years with his four-year degree.
The reality – his first choice school was only awarding him nine credits towards his degree requirements for the two years worth of PSEO classes he completed. Sadly, he had taken the wrong courses. Many mistakenly believe all college credit is created and awarded equally. 
There is a BIG BIG BIG difference between a course being accepted in transfer and how it will be used to satisfy a degree requirement. Did I mention BIG?
Many colleges will “transfer” in all your courses with a grade of “C” or better, but the critical question you need to ask yourself  – which courses will count toward my degree program? 
How colleges accept dual enrollment credit (or any transfer credit for that matter) is highly variable from school to school and even program to program within individual schools. 
Let’s assume you took AP Chemistry in high school with the goal of satisfying a lab science requirement in college. Let’s further assume you scored a 4 on the exam. If you enroll at Hamline University your AP Chemistry course will only count as an elective.  

 

At the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire the same result means you will be awarded 5 credits for their CHEM 105/106 course (satisfying a general education lab science requirement). Whallah – you are five credits closer toward your degree!

 

 

Why the difference? The reasons are nuanced and too numerous to discuss on this post, but the basic reality is the same – there is no universal standard for how an institution will accept college-level credits in transfer into their degree programs. Each school independently determines how a course will transfer. 
What are the keys to employing a successful Dual Enrollment Cost Saving Strategy?
  • sdrowkcaB gnikroW – research and understand Degree Requirements
  • Understand this will not work at highly selective schools (schools which enroll < 25-30% of students who apply). 
You need to be strategic and work backward. Start by determining which courses are required to graduate from a specific degree program

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then research which dual enrollment courses you can take to pluck off degree requirements. In this University of North Dakota (UND) example, taking AP Calculus AB (and scoring 3 or greater on the exam) is equivalent to UND’s MATH 165 Calc I course. One course down.
Taking POLS 1031 as a Century College PSEO student and getting a grade of “C” or higher is equivalent to taking UND’s POLS 115 course thus satisfying their Essential Studies Social Science requirementTwo courses down.
And so on!
Will this strategy work for everyone? No – you need to successfully complete college-level coursework. But plenty of students can and do.
Does it take time and effort to research? Yes. Is the research easy? No – you must meticulously determine how each course will transfer to multiple good match schools.
Simple strategy? I think so. 
Knocking off time and credits to complete your college degree by taking the “right” dual enrollment courses is an extremely effective way to save time and money.

 

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*Approximate Fall 2018 COA

Enrolling in and completing dual enrollment coursework is one of my favorite college cost-saving strategies.  
Seem like a great idea, but too much for you to handle. Contact me… I have helped numerous families shave thousand’s of $$ off a college degree, by counseling them on the “right” dual enrollment classes to take.
You have plenty of good fit options!

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

College Admissions – Is a Deadline Really a Deadline?

I got a panicky call from a family yesterday. The college bound daughter became interested in applying to a certain public university but missed the last admissions deadline – published on the school’s admission page as December 1, 2016.  “Do we have options?”

Having worked in this environment for many years, I understood that often a published “Deadline” isn’t exactly a hard and true “deadline”. Why? One word. Yield.

I contacted said admissions office, and received this quick reply, “Although our deadline was December 1, our application is currently still available on our website. I would encourage your student to apply as soon as possible, as the application may close at any time. I hope this information is helpful. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions”

This response didn’t surprised me. Why? One word. Yield.

What is yield? #1 – Yield is the magic metric that keeps college admissions officers up at night. #2 – Yield in college admissions is simply the % of students who enroll after having been offered admission.

What did this response show me? The school hadn’t reached the magic number of applications it believes it needs to hit targeted yield numbers for the upcoming academic year. They were still open for business. The published deadline wasn’t really the DEADLINE.

I am in no way implying you should roll the dice in the college application deadline game. I would never counsel families I work with to do so. Missing published deadlines for certain institutions (highly selective) or admission statuses (early decision, early actions) means you are SOL.

Predicting yield at the majority of colleges or universities from year to year is a fools errand at best. Missing deadlines has real consequences – you end up at the back of the line for aid distribution (merit and need), housing, registration priority, etc. But…

Your college bound son or daughter is really really really interested but they “”ran out of gas, had a flat tire. didn’t have enough money for cab fare, an old friend came in from out-of-town, someone stole their car, there was an earthquake, terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T their FAULT, they SWEAR TO GOD!” and missed the published application deadline.

Or in the case of the family who called me, the daughter simply became infatuated with a school late and was willing to accept the low priority consequences, then…

There is no harm in asking.

The answer you receive from many institutions will be predicated more by reaching the requisite number of applications to yield the number of incoming students the institution has budgeted for than by any calendar declaration as published on the web site.

The answer will be a polite “NO” or more often than you think, “Yes, you still have time to apply”.

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