Tag GuidedPath Edge

Graduation 2020

Graduation is a rite of passage that you have no doubt been looking forward to for some time.   And while Spring 2020 has brought a season of disappointments, canceling graduations seems particularly egregious.  This is the culminating celebration for years of hard work.  It should be a day that is celebrated with teachers, family and friends, and hugs, handshakes and high-fives.  Unfortunately, for most students that’s not possible right now.   

Perhaps it is precisely because we know nothing can replace standing next to your friends and throwing your cap in the air, communities around the country have come together to devise creative ways to mark the importance of this occasion.  There have been graduation car parades, ceremonies held at drive-in theaters, individual graduations hosted in living rooms, and virtual ceremonies featuring special guests.   

Speaking of special guests – celebrities, CEOs, pro athletes, and entertainers are all getting in on the act.  In response to a viral tweet by Eagle Rock High School senior, Lincoln Debenham, Barack and Michelle Obama announced last week that they would participate in multiple commencement ceremonies.  The first is this Saturday, May 16.  Called #GraduateTogether, it features the Obamas along with Lebron James, Pharrell Williams, the Jonas Brothers, Megan Rapinoe and others.  The event will be broadcast by ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC beginning at 8pm ET/PT, 7pm CT/MT.  This Forbes article details a number of other celebrity ceremonies including a May 15 Facebook event headlined by Oprah and a May 16 iHeart Media podcast of celebrity commencement addresses.   

We love you Class of 2020!  Our hearts break for the disappointments you have been handed this spring and yet we celebrate you all the same.  You deserve to be recognized and we will do that in whatever way possible.  We are so proud of your accomplishments and especially proud of the grace you have shown in adapting to these final weeks of your senior year.   

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Acing AP tests or final exams

Worried about your upcoming AP tests or final exams?  In a normal year these exams can be anxiety producing, but this year that may be particularly true.  AP exams will now be offered in an online, open-note/open book format.  And as schools continue to cancel in person classes for the rest of the year, you may find yourself taking more online or modified final exams.    

With all the information available to you, an online, open book exam should be easy right?  Surprisingly, that may not be the case.  Open book/open note exams usual push students to synthesize responses that demonstrate comprehension rather than just regurgitating facts.  You should expect questions which may ask you to apply concepts in new ways.  The CollegeBoard has put together a list of tips for preparing for online exams.  Ultimately, knowing the material and having organized notes/resources will be your best strategy.  This means you should continue to devote study time to your AP exams just as you would if you were taking them in person.      

Thinking about scrapping the AP exams all together?  You are not required by the CollegeBoard to take the AP exam (although your high school may have different policies around this).  The main incentive for taking the exam is the possibility of college credit.  While many colleges are adopting test optional policies for admission, most have said that they will still award AP credit the same way they have in the past.  CollegeBoard has said that the AP exams will test content covered through early March.  You’ve already done the work for the exam; you just need to refine your skills.        

Take Action 

Find more tips and resources for preparing for AP exams on the CollegeBoard website.  You can apply these study tips to high school finals as well as future college exams.      

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Decision Time – or is it?

May 1 is traditionally National College Decision Day.  Typically, schools require that students choose where they will enroll by submitting an enrollment deposit on or before May 1.  That makes April – decision time.  Of course, this year things are feeling very different.  A large number of colleges have already extended their enrollment deadlines to June 1.  Making a college choice right now may feel difficult (or easy depending on where you were in the process).  Regardless, you might be asking yourself some of the questions below.     

Can I ask for an extension?  

Of course!  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  Although the college may still have a May 1 deadline, many have said they will make extensions on a case by case basis.  You could be waiting on a financial aid appeal, or for more information from one college that would affect your decision at another.  Make your case requesting an enrollment deadline extension in writing to the admissions office.   

What if I’m on the waitlist?  

Unfortunately for many students, it seems like colleges are sending lots of waitlist offers this year.  Forgive the sports metaphor – colleges want a deep bench in case their freshman enrollment numbers don’t play out the way they typically do.  Waitlist updates could continue throughout the summer.  As with every year, it’s best to send an enrollment deposit to a second-choice college that has admitted you even if you are on the waitlist at your first-choice.  There is no way to know if you will get accepted from the waitlist.   

Maybe I should do a gap year?  

It’s possible – if you truly feel that’s in your best interest and you have a plan.  However, this may not be the best choice if you weren’t already considering this before the pandemic.  Most colleges defer enrollment for only a small number of students and they usually consider those requests on a case by case basis.  You should have solid answers for these three questions:  1) why do you want to take a gap year; 2) how will you spend your time; and 3) what will you learn from your experience?   

My school is not open, I haven’t talked to my counselor, what about my final transcript? 

Colleges understand that these are exceptional circumstances.  No one in education has ever experienced a disruption of quite this level.  Although colleges require your final high school transcript as a proof of graduation (and most also review your final high school grades), allowances will surely be made to get those transcripts submitted.   

We are doing online learning – they say our grades will be pass/fail.   

Again, colleges are going to be making way for a lot of exceptions.  Don’t panic about final grades not looking like they normally would.  High schools across the country are doing their best in this unprecedented situation.  Colleges understand that.  Whether it’s sending unofficial documents via email, or extending the deadline, or waiving final grade requirements – submitting final enrollment paperwork may look differently this year.  The same will likely be true for orientation, housing contracts, and registration.    

Take Action 

The best advice for now is to stay informed.  Visit the admitted student websites (often) for the colleges you are considering, attend any online enrollment events, and read all of the email communication you receive from colleges!  Be in touch with your advisor (and your high school counselor) as they may have updates about changes to deadlines or policies.  And finally, NACAC is providing this online resource to students and families as a centralized place where you can check for updates on all your schools.   

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Financial Aid in the time of COVID-19

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some schools to push back their enrollment deadlines, some colleges are still asking students to deposit by May 1.  Financial aid awards likely play a big part in your final decision.  But interpreting those awards might seem a bit like reading a foreign language.  Below are six common terms that you will see on a financial aid award and some ideas on how to assess your offers.   

In addition, it’s possible that your family’s financial circumstances have changed since you applied.  Whether that is related to the current coronavirus pandemic or other reasons, colleges have a process for reconsidering your financial aid award. This process is often called Professional Judgement.  We’ve included information at the end of this post on how to appeal your financial aid award.   

  1. Cost of Attendance – The Cost of Attendance is more than just tuition; it is an estimate of the total expense for one year of attendance.  It should include – 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus).  If the financial aid award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college.

  2. Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – The amount your family is expected to pay toward college (your EFC) is calculated by the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid).  You can find your EFC on the confirmation page you received when you submitted your FAFSA form.  This number should be listed on all your awards.  If it’s not there, ask the college why.

    Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Need

  3. Student Financial Need – Use the financial aid equation above to determine your “financial need” for each school.  Then check the college’s award letter.  If the school’s total financial aid award is less than your financial need, you have a “financial aid gap.”  You must pay this gap (in addition to paying your EFC amount) with other sources of funding not provided by the school.  Scholarships from community groups or other sources, personal savings, or private loans are examples of how students pay their EFC plus any financial gap.  
  4. Grants and Scholarships – Grants and scholarships are awards that do not need to be repaid.  Are these grants or scholarships renewable (will you received them for just freshman year or every year)?  What are the eligibility requirements that you must meet to receive the scholarship for additional years (a minimum GPA, a certain number of course credits, etc.)? 
  5. Loans – Has the college included student or parent loans in your award?  This money must be repaid by you or your parents.  A financial aid offer with only loans may not be the best choice for you.  
  6. Work-study – A work-study award is potential income that you may earn by working part-time in a work-study position.  Most work-study jobs are on-campus which can make them convenient, but a work-study award does not guarantee you a work-study job.  You must apply for work-study positions like any other part-time job.  And just like other part-time jobs, you will receive a paycheck for your work-study earnings.  It is not automatically applied toward your cost of attendance.  Contact the university financial aid office to learn about the availability and application process for work-study positions.     

Are you being offered a mix of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study?  The more money you don’t have to pay back, or earn by working, (ideally – more scholarships and grants, less loans and work-study) the better.     

Take Action 

Enter all your admission decisions and financial aid awards into GuidedPath.  This gives you a list of all the awards colleges are offering you. 

To enter college awards: 

  1. Log into your GuidedPath account. 
  2. From your dashboard, click on the blue Decisions box. 
  3. Click on each college Decision Details. 
  4. Click on Responses: Admitted? Waitlisted? Not Admitted? 
  5. Click on Awards. Add each award from your award letters in this section. 

Enter Award type | Name of the award | Annual Amount | Total Amount (4 year amount) | Additional Information (if any) 

Repeat this process for EVERY college. Get all your numbers entered to prepare for the next step: Comparing Financial Aid Awards 

Appealing for Additional Financial Aid 

Especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many families find themselves facing a very different financial reality than a few months ago.  If a parent has lost their job, has become ill which has caused them to stop work, has lost wages due to a quarantine or “stay at home” order, or even lost a substantial amount of savings/assets due to stock market changes, you may have good cause to appeal your financial aid award.  This Tip Sheet by Mark Krankowitz, author of How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid is a simple guide on how to start the process.     

In addition, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author and higher ed/financial journalist, has tips on her blog The College Solution.   

You’ll need to contact the admissions or financial aid office at the college directly, but these two lists can help you get the process started.  

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What if I’m waitlisted?…

By now, application decisions should be rolling in to your inbox/mailbox.  If you haven’t already heard back from all your schools, the wait is almost over.  Most colleges aim to have final decisions to everyone who applied before April 1.  But what if your “final” decision isn’t so final?…  What does it mean to be on the waitlist? 

Why do colleges have waitlists?  Can’t they just say yes or no?  
With students applying to more and more schools, it’s become more difficult for colleges to predict how many of their admitted students will actually enroll.  Students are being accepted to many colleges – but you can only enroll at one.  That means many students who have been admitted to the college are not going to attend.   

Enrollment targets are a serious issue for colleges – too many students result in overcrowded dorms and classroom, but not enough can mean funding shortages.  If a college realizes they may fall short of their enrollment target, they can accept students from their waitlist to fill the gap.   

So – I’m on the waitlist.  What should I do? 
Essentially, you can reply to the waitlist offer one of two ways: 

  1. “No, thanks!”  Although the college offered you a spot on their waitlist, you are not obligated to accept that offer.  Maybe the school that waitlisted you is not your first choice – if so, no big deal.  You can let the college know that you do not plan to remain on their waitlist.   
  2. “Yes, I’m willing to wait.”  If you think this school might really be the one, let them know that you are interested in waiting.  Follow the reply directions in your decision to confirm you intend to remain on the waitlist.  It’s also a great idea to follow up with a personal email to tell the school – if they accept you from the waitlist you intend to enroll (only do this if it’s true).  You can also reiterate why you think this college is such a good fit and ask if any additional information like new SAT/ACT scores, senior year final grades, etc. could help to improve your chances of admission from the waitlist.       

You should seriously consider all of the admission offers you receive.  Schedule visits, compare financial aid packages, talk with your parents and your counselor, make a pro/con list, etc.  You have to confirm your enrollment with a college by May 1 (that’s the National Candidates Reply Date).  Most schools won’t make decisions about their waitlist until after May 1.   

In addition, there are typically only a small number of students admitted from the waitlist (sometimes not any).  You should confirm your enrollment with one of the colleges that has admitted you (even if you stay on the waitlist at another college).  It’s hard to hear that you are on the waitlist (especially if it was your first choice), but maybe it’s an opportunity to get excited about a school that really wants you (and hopefully they offered you great financial aid to prove it).  Many colleges can be a good fit if you have the right mindset.   

Take Action
Record your decisions and financial aid awards in GuidedPath so that you can make comparison before deciding where to enroll.  


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Comparing Financial Aid Awards


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You got into the top schools on your list.  Each has sent you a financial aid award.  One offer looks better than the other, but is it really?  It’s important to compare apples to apples when looking at financial aid offers.  Here are 6 questions to ask: 

  1. What is the Student Budget?  Does the college list all the costs for going to college: 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus).  If the award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college. 
  2. What is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) on your Student Aid Report?  The amount your family is expected to pay toward college is on the student aid report generated when you filed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  This number is needed for comparing financial aid awards.  If your family contribution is close to or more than the student budget, then your awards from the college are going to be based on merit, and not on the financial need you have.
  3. Is there a gap?  You should know your EFC from filing your FAFSA.  To calculate how much financial aid you should be receiving, subtract your expected family contribution from the total student budget (all five items from question 1).  The remainder is your estimated financial need at the college.  Is the college meeting your full need, or only a portion of it?

    Total Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Need 

  4. How much of your award is grants or scholarships?  Grants and scholarships are money that you will not have to repay later.  You want to maximize the amount of grants and scholarships you receive and minimize the amount of loan money you must take out.  Are the grants or scholarships renewable for four years?  What conditions exist for the renewable awards (a minimum GPA, number of credits completed, etc.)? 

  5. How much is in student or parent loans?  How much of the offer is a parent loan?  A financial aid award of $20,000 parent loan – but no grants or scholarships – is not a good offer.  Parent loans (when necessary) should ideally be used to help pay for the expected family contribution not meet your financial need.

  6. Is there a good mix?  Is there something missing?  Are you being offered grants, scholarships, loans and work?  Look for a good mix.  If you are not offered “work study” ask about it.  It is especially helpful If you are looking for a campus job to earn money for your personal expenses while in college.   

Take Action 

Use the EFC Calculator GuidedPath to determine your Expected Family Contribution.  Add in all financial aid awards into Decisions in GuidedPath.  Use the Cost Comparisons Tool to view and compare all your financial aid awards. 

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