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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Financial Aid Terms

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What is the PSAT?

There used to be an easier answer. The College Board has changed the PSAT with the redesigned SAT. There are 3 types of PSATs available to students. The scoring is slightly different and if the student chooses they may use their scores to set up a study plan with Khan Academy.

  1. PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is a preliminary test which is given in October of student’s sophomore and junior years. Only juniors are able to earn National Merit Scholarships.
  2. PSAT 10
    This test is designed for 10th graders and will be administered between February 22 and March 4. Students will not be eligible for National Merit scholarships but may be eligible for College Board Scholarships.
  3. PSAT 8/9
    This test is available for 8th and 9th graders. It can be used for practice and establishes a baseline for college and career readiness.

When should my student take the SAT/ACT?

Typically a student would take the tests in the spring of their junior year and possibly retake the tests in fall of their senior year. This is just a guideline. Depending on the classes the student is taking and their scheduled activities it may be best to take the test earlier in the year.

How should my child prepare for the SAT/ACT?

There are several options. There are the big companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review and the smaller companies such as Pacific Learning Academy and the Tutoring Club. There are also programs in many of the local high schools and there are even students and teachers who are available for prep. Check with your school counselor for the options available around your school. The redesigned SAT has partnered with Khan Academy to have free tutoring available for all students. There are other online options, phone apps and books which are low cost ways to study.

Is it better to get an A in a regular class or a B in an AP/IB class?

The canned answer the admissions officers give is it is better to get an A in an AP/IB class. That being said colleges want to see that you have challenged yourself and are taking college level courses in high school. But you need to be thoughtful about how many and what subjects you choose. Remember every advanced class has extra homework.

How many AP/IB classes should my child take?

It depends on the student. If you are a strong student you should be challenging yourself to advanced level classes. It also depends on your college selection. Typically the more selective colleges expect more advanced classes.

How do I find a college that is right for my student?

There are several resources out there. College books like Fiske are fun to flip through. Other resources include college fairs, college school visits, school websites, Facebook and even LinkedIn is becoming a resource. If possible it is great to visit a school. A student often gets a feeling about the school just by observing students and feeling the school vibe.

When is the best time to visit a school?

Ideally it is good to visit colleges your junior year during mid winter and spring break. This gives students a chance to see what the student body is like, if the food looks good and see all of the activities available. Some families cannot visit during their breaks. Visiting in summer is better than not visiting at all. Check out the online visiting resources on my resources page.

Is it important that I visit colleges?

It is always good if it does not tax your family’s time or finances to visit schools. It gives the student an opportunity to feel what it would be like to live on the campus. Also many schools ask why you want to apply to their institution. It is easier to come up with answers if you have visited. Some schools look favorably on your visiting and note it in your admissions file.

How do I apply for financial aid?

FASFA is the way federal and student aid is assessed. The forms are available online and in paper form starting January 1st. It is important to fill the form out as soon as possible. Many dollars are doled out on a first come first serve basis. Some schools also require the family to fill out the CSS Profile. The dues dates will be posted on their website and is often earlier than expected; sometimes as early as November. It is important that you do not miss the deadline.

When should my child start the application process?

I suggest students start working on their essay the summer before their senior year. The Common Application does not open until August 1st and some institutions do not open until even later. You can always get the essay prompts in advance. The essays are the most challenging part of the application and your student will be very happy if they finish the essays before their senior year starts.

What is the difference between Early Decision and Early Action?

Early decision is a binding agreement. You may only apply to one Early decision (ED) school and if you are admitted your are bound to go to that school. You should only apply ED if you know that school is your number 1 school. The only caveat is if the school does not give you the financial aid package you need to attend. Early Action (EA) is a non binding agreement. You may apply to several EA schools. The application deadlines for ED and EA are typically either November 1 or 15th . The school will let you know their decision by the end of December.

Kara was knowledgeable and provided great direction for my daughter. She also helped her design business cards for a conference she was going to be attending for her master’s program. I thought you did a great job of getting to know my daughter and connecting with her on a level that was relatable. - Bruce Pflaumer, parent of Seattle Pacific University student

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