Many questions but few answers

<p>First let me say, that if I am posting this in the wrong place I’m sorry. I just found this site and it’s awesome!</p>

<p>I am so glad I stumbled across this board. My son is a junior this year and we have just really gotten started with the whole process. He wants to major in Math or Engineering. He exels at Math. My DS is a very dedicated and motivated student. He has taken the SAT once, did not like his score and will retake it this coming Saturday. He has taken the ACT twice and last score was 29. He will also retake this in the near future. His goal is to make at least a 32 or 33 on the ACT and he would like at least 1600 on the SAT. He makes all A’s and has since sophomore year and is in every AP class he can take. His grade point average will only be around 3.7 at end of junior year. He did not get serious in his freshman year due to family issues and therefore one or two of his grades suffered. He probably made C’s instead of A’s in a class or two. </p>

<p>My DS as mentioned is very motivated and wants to go to either Harvard, Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt or Stanford as his first choice schools. He has listed one safety school which is our flagship university school.</p>

<p>My questions are as follows: </p>

<li><p>I am a single parent and work two jobs just to make ends meet. DS will be the first one in our family to go to college. My annual income is around $31,000. I do not have the money to help him pay for college and therefore he will be dependent on merit aid, scholarships and financial aide such as loans. A few of the big schools recently have statements on their financial aide page that say if your income is less than
$40,000 - $50,000/year then the student will graduate debt free. I am assuming they mean tuition and fees only? Can you really graduate from these top schools and not owe $100,000? I have expalined to my son that I do not want him to graduate from college and be thousands of dollars in debt. His reply is that if he gets to go to Harvard or Duke that the expense will be worth due to the excellent quality of the education he would receive. </p></li>
<li><p>We have only visited one school so far and that was the Univ of Alabama in Birmingham. We have a visit planned to Vanderbilt for June of this year. We live so far away from some of the schools he wants to visit that it will be impossible to see them due to the cost of the trip. Have others here had sons or daughters who picked a school without actually visiting them?</p></li>
<li><p>DS is the quite, very polite type. He belongs to the Chess club and Japenese club and is a Junior ambadosor for the local chamber of commerce (it’s a year long program where they participate in local events community and government). He has had one part time job last summer. He quit when school started this year due to AP course load. He wants to apply and try to go to the summer program at Harvard or somewhere similar this coming summer.</p></li>

<p>I’m afraid this will not be enough on the college applications for the schools he wants. I don’t want him to be disappointed what kind he do at this late date to improve his chances?</p>

<p>Sorry for the long post, any suggestions would be appreciated.</p>

<p>If your son is admitted in any one of the schools you have listed, the schools will help pay for his fees (almost 100% of $).</p>

<p>You may want to visit the boards of those schools on April 1 and see the stats of kids who are getting acceptances/rejection. If you are brave, you can dig through old posts and get an idea.</p>

<p>One thing you can do is to be supportive as well as keep telling that admissions to those schools are a crap shoot and don't let his hopes run high.</p>

<p>If he's already taken the ACT twice and his highest score is a 29, I think it may be unreasonable to bet on an increase to 32 or 33. I'm not very familiar with the ACT, but that's a big increase your son is looking for. He shouldn't depend on that happening. I'm a little confused by what you said about the SATs. The SATs used to be out of a 1600 scale, meaning that 1600 was the highest possible score. The SATs are now out of a 2400 scale, and a 1600 would be just above average for the Nation. I don't think a perfect score on the SATs is a good goal for him: a perfect score is unnecessary, even for the very top schools, and it probably isn't a reasonable goal. He will almost certainly get higher than 1600/2400, but given his pretty high ACT score I doubt that was what you meant. His current ACT, a 29, translates to about a 1300 SAT score on the "old" 1600 system. His "goal" ACT score or 32 or 33 translates to about a 1450 SAT on the 1600 system. (Those numbers are from the collegeboard website.)</p>

<p>I think your son may be aiming too high for colleges. His current ACT score and GPA do not put him in a position for the very top colleges that you've mentioned. I don't know what state you live in, but your state flagship may be a good option for him--but not necessarily as a safety (again, depending on your state and your son's particulars). He really needs to invest in a book of colleges or search online and try to find schools within his reach. If you tell us the types of things he's looking for in a college (programs, location, atmosphere, size, urban or rural, etc.), some posters can probably give you schools to start looking at. What appeals to him about Harvard, Duke, or Stanford? I don't have all the information, and it's of course possible that the "best" schools are within your son's range. A 3.7 GPA is quite low for the top schools, though, as is a 29 ACT. If he does in fact get a 33 ACT (or comparable SAT), has straight As the past couple of years in the hardest courses, has gotten top scores on AP tests, has excellent essays and recommendations, these schools may be within reach. As it looks now, though, none of them are very likely. </p>

<p>With your family income, you should be in great financial shape at any one of those very top schools; however, as I've said, these schools may not be within your son's reach. Look into what tuition at your state school is and how good their financial aid is. That should be a good option. Schools that say they cover 100% of need are good. He may have some loans, but they should be manageable. The good thing about such a low income is that colleges know that your son needs heavy assistance to attend; the problem middle class families face is that they can't afford college without major sacrifices but colleges often can't or don't provide enough aid. Colleges do try their best to help low-income students, though. Some colleges don't have a lot of money lying around, and they take whether the student is applying for financial aid into account when making admissions decisions. That means students applying for aid face a bit more competition. Each school will make their policy clear on their website. Usually students get large amounts of merit aid at schools at or below their "safety school" level. Those schools are trying to attract candidates to their school through merit scholarships, so they're given to try to lure students who would otherwise go to a higher ranked or more well-known school. If you're a minority, some schools may want to lure him with merit scholarships to add diversity to the campus. Your son also needs to look into outside scholarships. If he devotes himself to finding outside merit scholarships, he can probably get significant help. Being very low-income helps in this, and there are many scholarships reserved for very low-income students. If your son is a minority, there are other scholarship programs for him to look into. I don't know any of them off the top of my head, but I'm sure other posters do. You can also search online for information, but be wary of scams.</p>

<p>You can definitely choose a college without visiting. Once he's been accepted places, he can re-evaluate. Some colleges will help pay for trips for low-income students who they especially want to attend. Once accepted, he can call some colleges and inquire as to whether there's assistance for funding a visit. If he goes by himself, the cost should just be transportation to the college (plan and taxi or bus) because he should be able to stay overnight in the dorm with a student and get meals paid for at the dining hall. Colleges may be able to offer financial assistance. Anyway, even if he can't visit, that's OK. He should spend a lot of time on the website and try to talk to current students. He can call Admissions and explain that he can't visit and ask to be put in touch with a student. You should remember, though, that if a school is too far away to visit, it's also too far away for him to easily come home for holidays, and it will likely be a hardship every time he needs to travel to and from school. </p>

<p>Those summer programs are extraordinarily expensive, though many of them offer financial aid. I think he's likely better off working during the summer. If he works all summer at $10/hour, he can make $4,000. He should try to save most of it, but he can also think about putting it toward college expenses, personal expenses while in college, or spend some of it on a plane ticket to visit his first choice school after he's accepted. Many of my friends who are very low-income do not take good care of their money; some of my friends in similar situations spend money unnecessarily on large items (an expensive jacket or a trip across the country) and then use credit irresponsibly and need to severely cut back (on necessary items, even food) later on. This could just be my friends, but try to instill in your son the value of saving money and spending responsibly. Those are some of the longest-lasting lessons you can teach. </p>

<p>He's not late in this process, so don't worry about that. He has time to research colleges and scholarships, though he should certainly start doing so. If he applies to schools carefully, he should end up with wonderful, affordable options.</p>

<p>Given the stats you stated, your son needs to add some more safeties and matches to his list. Some of the colleges post the stats (SAT/ACT) of the average admitted student and it can be useful to check this to get an idea of 'chances' of admission. Most admits to schools like Harvard, Stanford, etc. have very high stats.</p>

<p>Also check some privates that are more of a match for your son's stats. Some of these colleges will provide 'need-based' aid and might end up to be less expensive than the state school (although I'm not familiar with state schools in your state).</p>

<p>Agreed with all above. What is it about Duke, Stanford, etc. that appeals to your son? He should start by using the collegeboard college finder on their website. Identify what size school, what geographic location, what major, etc. and find some other schools that are slight reach, safety and match. It seems right now he has a safety in the state school and a lot of big reaches.<br>
Are you in Alabama? If so, there may be private schools which will give merit money to your child. Those privates that ucsd dad mentions above may give more need based aid and may also add in some merit aid so that there is less student loan debt.</p>

<p>You say that you're a single parent. That's fine for federal money; the Free Application for Federal Student Aid ("FAFSA") only requires income and asset information from the custodial parent and spouse. You can find it here: FAFSA</a> - Free Application for Federal Student Aid.</p>

<p>However, the schools you listed also require the CSS Profile, which required income and asset information from the non-custodial parent as well, even if the non-custodial parent refuses to contribute to the student's education. This may make a big difference in what these schools would calculate as your "financial need" (unless, of course, the non-custodial parent is deceased).</p>

<p>Chedva, good catch! I missed that completely. Very important point. The CSS will require information from the non custodial parent and that parent's unwillingness to pay will not matter.</p>



<p>Harvard and Stanford are reaches for EVERYONE who applies...there are no guarantees at those schools. Students with perfect stats and unbelievable accomplishments are denied admission every year. They only accept about 10% of those who apply.</p>

<p>Duke, Vanderbilt, and Rice are also highly competitive...though not as much so as Harvard and Stanford.</p>

<p>From what you posted all four of these schools would be reaches for this student, in my opinion. I would be looking for the qualities your son likes about these schools and I would look for reasonable matches based on what he will be bringing to the application process. </p>

<p>Re: finances...agreed with the above posters. At the private schools you list, the CSS Profile will be required and therefore so will non-custodial parents' income and asset reporting. At most schools that meet full need, the challenge is getting accepted in the first place...the need is then there.</p>

<p>You should actually post your question in the financial aid or parents forum (not the cafe). There is one poster there who did an exhaustive plan for schools that would meet her child's academic needs AND provide maximum financial aid (and she was successful...sorry, can't remember her name). You will get better responses there than here.</p>

<p>Thanks for such detailed replies to my questions. I want to clarify the SAT infomation that I did not explain well. I am very new to this as you can probably tell. I shared some of your observations with my son. If you use all three scores from the SAT he scored a 1740. He scored a 1240 for reading and math only. He took the SAT with no preparation for it, no review or anything. He expectes the score to rise a good bit because he is prepared this time, had taken extensive practice tests and now has a semester of AP english behind him. He finished AP english with an A. The first attempt at the ACT was a 24 again with no preparation. The second try resulted in the 29 for overall score but he did score a 30 in either one or 2 areas. His weakest subject was the science because he had not taked all of the material covered.</p>

<p>DS knows that Harvard, Stanford, and Duke are long shots. They appeal to him because of their sterling reputations, quality of the education and character of the schools. I believe that he would be just as happy at Vanderbilt, Rice University or Tulane. He is planning to apply at these schools as well. If his ACT score does go above 30 and the SAT goes up what do you think his chances will be at Vanderbilt or Rice? These are both excellent schools. The Princeton Review college match listed these schools as a possible match although it could have been a reach (I can't remember which).</p>

<p>Will the fact that his extracuricular activites are short hurt him? He participates in three clubs. Chess, Math and Japenese> He has been most committed to Chess because it started in his sophomore year. He is now vice president of the Chess club. Since he picked a harder language to learn will this help him in the long run? The Chamber of Commerce leadership program he is in lasts for the whole year. Will this help make up for shortfalls elsewhere? He does have past work experience as mentiond earlier and plans to work some this summer or between now and then. He wants to join the
National Honor Society this year.</p>

<p>We do live in Alabama and he has met UAB's academic scholarship criteria. The university has quite a bit of money available for merit scholarships. With an ACT of 29 he will get a good offer. It it increases to 30 he will be offered full tuition and fees plus $3000 or so towards housing with a $1,000 book allowance. If I understood the admissions counselor correctly these are guaranteed merit scholarships as long as you meet the application deadline. They are no interviews or anything. They are also renewable each year.</p>

<p>If it were my decision only, I would go to the University with no looking back. He would be almostdebt free at graduation. He looks at this school as his number 1 safety school. I think he feel like he is cheating himself if he goes there because their admission STATS are so low. He says they will allow anyone to go there and I don't think he believes that he can get the same quality of education there. I don't understand his thinking on this because UAB has some of the best professors in the country.</p>

<p>srobin, I really do suggest that you move this question to the Parents Forum...repost it there. The Cafe does attract many of the same posters, but you will get more current information about these schools possibly from either students/parents currently in the process or folks who applied last year. </p>

<p>I personally think Duke and Rice would be reaches. I don't really know much about Vandy's admissions (don't know anyone who has applied there). The students in this area who have been accepted to Duke and Rice have been top scholars in our schools with top grades, and very high (above 1400/1600...old SAT) SAT scores...think about 700 on each section. But that could just be from this area.</p>

<p>Does your high school guidance office have Naviance? If so, you should have your student look at the scattergrams for the schools to which he wants to apply. These will let him know about acceptances and denials...and the SAT/GPA comparisons. In other words, he'll be able to see if students with comparible SAT/GPA scores from your high school have been accepted at these schools. I don't know what kind of access the Guidance counselor has, but at our school, the GC also had access to all of the Naviance scattergrams from neighboring schools and could compare those as well. </p>

<p>The reality is that your guy has some great qualities, and there are a lot of schools that would be thrilled to have him as a student. He needs to find a couple of those where HE will be happy as well...and his flagship U isn't a bad choice for a safety (plus it sounds like the finances would work out).</p>

<p>BUMP...I'm bumping this to the top so that perhaps others can read and respond to the poster.</p>

<p>Welcome, srobin. You have absolutely come to the right place. There are so many experienced and knowledgeable parent posters here and they are at their absolute best when they can help a parent new to the process who is trying to assist her child navigating today's college admissions world.</p>

<p>I agree with all who have said that your son's list is a bit heavy in reaches. Most of the students who make it into Harvard and Stanford have SAT scores in the 1400+/2100+ range. Many of them have "knock your socks off" EC's - top national honors, etc. So he should not necessarily give up the idea of such schools, but should go in to applications to them with his eyes wide open.</p>

<p>Now, as to some good news. His being first-generation college will be a plus factor. If he is admitted to schools like Harvard, Stanford and likely Vanderbilt, Rice and Duke, he can expect substantial need-based aid (if, as others have pointed out, the finances of the non-custodial parent do not change the picture substantially). </p>

<p>He does not need "more" ECs for his application. He will want to showcase the activities he does pursue to their best advantage: a well-done response to essay prompts asking about his most important EC, for example. </p>

<p>Tulane seems like a good addition to his list. He might (not sure, but might) earn merit aid there.</p>

<p>The one element that worries me is his own thoughts re UAB.
I think he feel like he is cheating himself if he goes there because their admission STATS are so low. He says they will allow anyone to go there and I don't think he believes that he can get the same quality of education there. I don't understand his thinking on this because UAB has some of the best professors in the country.

Given those thoughts, my opinion is that he needs two additional safeties. Schools he won't feel so "let down" about if he ends up attending. He might change his views of UAB over the months, but what you don't want is for next April to bring him (say) 4 rejections, 3 wait lists and 1 acceptance - to UAB only which, right or wrong, he will see as a failure.</p>

<p>His current SAT scores and GPA can earn him admission to schools which are more like his top choices but somewhat less selective in admissions. That is the key thing you can do to help him at this point - help him find schools which excite him and which give him 50-75% chance of a fat envelope. Preferably, make at least one of those schools an Early Admission (non-binding) or Rolling Admission (also non-binding) school. That way, he gets the Fat Envelope in mid-December if not sooner. He knows he is headed to college. He knows it is a school he will enjoy. Then, he can wait and see if the reachier schools come through.</p>

<p>P.S. It would be good to know what his GPA is without freshman year (I think that was the year he had lesser performance due to family issues?) Some, not all, schools do not look at or discount the freshman year grades. Also, does his school calculate both weighted and non-weighted GPAs? Do they rank? Do you know any of these figures?</p>

<p>I know I have posted this elsewhere, so sorry for the repeat, but I think this may help the OP's son.
srobin- you mentioned that your son's weakest section was the Science on the ACT because he had not taken all of the material covered. The trick to the Science section is that you don't have to know the material. Almost every question on the ACT has some sort of chart or graph and then gives long explanations of different experiements or different theories, etc. You don't even need the words- just look at the charts. You just need to be able to read the graphs, not understand them. The book that helped me was the Princeton Review's "Crash Course to the ACT" because it is short and direct (I really do recommend it), but I am sure other review books could give you tips for the Science section, too. Good luck to him!</p>

<p>srobin--is son possibly a National Merit Candidate--it may be too early. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa offers a great program for National Merit Finalists-all tuition, room, board, fees, a laptop and summer stipend were available a couple of years ago for National Merit Finalists. Several of son's friends took advantage of this program so that they would have no undergrad debt and be able to possibly attend med school. Check with your son's college counselor at his HS--it is not too early to make contact with this person and formulate some sort of plan.</p>

<p>Congratulations on your sons' being so obviously college-bound even though you've raised him as a single parent and haven't had the opportunity to go to college yourself. His excellent grades and plans for college are a wonderful reflection of your thoughtful and involved parenting.</p>

<p>"He wants to apply and try to go to the summer program at Harvard or somewhere similar this coming summer."</p>

<p>I don't suggest bothering because those kind of programs at top colleges are basically money-makers for the colleges. The admission is not selective, does not help students get into the college, and the price also is extremely expensive. It can be a nice experience for kids who can afford it, but such summer programs aren't worth it if it will bust the bank or if one is hoping the program will open doors to top colleges. </p>

<p>He'd do more to boost his college chances by working a fulltime job -- any job -- since you're relatively low income, and also colleges look favorably on students working over the summers particularly since so many students (particularly applicants to elite colleges) are handed expensive summer trips camps, etc. by well off parents. Consequently, a kid who is willing to spend their summers working a job -- particularly a noncushy job --stands out.</p>

<p>I agree with others who have pointed out that all of the schools currently on your son's lists are reaches for everyone. While he certainly should apply if they interest him, he should not count on getting in, and should apply to some schools where he definitely knows he can be accepted and can afford. You are right that your S's ECs will not stand out for the top colleges, and since he's a junior, there really isn't time for him to do anything to make his ECs outstanding in the pool of places like (which is expected to accept only 7% of its applicants this year) and other top 10 colleges. To see what the competition is like, check CC's boards for places like Harvard and Stanford, and you can read info about what kinds of students were accepted and rejected for the current freshmen class.</p>

<p>I am wondering why your S is so against U Alabama. Typically state flagships have honors programs for students with high scores and grades, and those programs are well regarded and provide smaller classes and opportunities (scholarships, trips, research opportunities, special dorms) that are sometimes on par with what top universities offer.</p>

<p>I notice that Auburn seems to have scholarships that your S will qualify for (I'm assuming he's in-state). </p>

<p>Yes, it is possible to pick a college without visiting it. There's plenty of information on the Internet that one can get that will help one know what to expect. Years before the Internet, I went to a grad school that I had never seen in person. I know people who have come to the U.S. from other countries to go to college, and have never been here before.</p>

<p>One thing I'm concerned about when I look at where your S is considering is that he doesn't seem to be thinking about distance or what it would be like to move to a different state or region. Going far away from home -- such as going from Ala. to Calif. would probably mean that he would only be able to come home at the end of the school year and in Dec. (That's what typically is covered by scholarships at the most generous schools). You also probably wouldn't be able to afford to visit him for Parents' Weekend or to drive him to school and pick him up at the beginning and end of the year. He also may need to get clothing to fit a new climate.</p>

<p>Anyway, in addition to looking at Auburn, I also suggest that your S look at Birmingham Southern, which is well regarded. These may be match schools. He also could look at Tulane and Rhodes College in Memphis, and Emory as another reach school.</p>

<p>It's worth it to pay $15 to access the U.S. News Premium College Guide until next Aug. You can get detailed info about admission (SAT, GPA breakdown) as well as detailed info about financial aid, as well as other important info that is hard to find otherwise.</p>

<p>srobin - Who is helping you and your son assemble his list of reaches, matches, safeties, and financial safeties? If your S's high school sends students to top colleges (Like Harvard, Duke and Stanford) each year then your S's guidance counselor may be that person. Do any of your friends or neighbors have students at top colleges? The parents at CC will help all we can, but we really need LOTs more information. Good luck to your S!</p>

<p>He's not totally against UAB. For months all he talked about was the Honors Program and Fast Track program at UAB for math majors. You can get both BS and Master's in either 5 or 6 years. He wants to go all the way and obtain his Ph.D. He did better on his ACT the second time around and then started referring to UAB as the safety school. I have tried to point out countless times how far away these other schools are and the cost of coming home. He either does not want to listen or plans on trying to work and same some money. He said he would only be coming home for major holidays and summer. I will try to get him interested in Auburn or Sanford Univesity in B'ham. Sanford is a private christian college.</p>

<p>I don't seem to be having any luck getting him to look into other places. I don't want him to get 3 rejects or wait listed either. He's the typical teenager and I feel like I am talking to the wall sometimes. How do you get them to pick more than one safety or interested in a good match school if there heart is not in it? Is the college match at Princeton Review a good tool to use to find matches? Is there another one that's better that someone would recommend? Am I putting too much pressure on him? He seems to want to get through this next round of SAT and ACT before doing anything. He will take the SAT subject tests in May. He may get to be part of the Washington Youth Tour this summer. If that happens hopefully it will help his
EC sheet.</p>

<p>New Hope: We don't have anyone helping us come up with a list. So far it's been just him and me. The guidance counselor is not that available. His school has 1500 students. I don't know if GPA is weighted or not, I will try to find out. He will not qualify as National Meriot semi finalist. He scored a 188 and was in the 92% percentile. I'm not sure he will even get commended. He may get to select 2 schools to send his scores to.</p>

<p>srobin... don't worry that he's not focused on a balanced list RIGHT NOW. My son (and many boys) are not as engaged in the process as we parents might be. I think it is fine to let him get through the next round of tests before thinking any more about "The List." See how his scores come back.</p>

<p>Then, report back to us and we and you can see how he stacks up with his scores against the score profile of his ideal schools. He can look at that and see whether he is in the top 25%, middle 50% or bottom 25% for those schools. He can then see where he fits wrt UAB (where he'll undoubtedly be very high). Then he'll see, just by looking at the spreadsheet, that he needs some schools in each category, THAT HE LIKES.</p>

<p>He may not be responding to the schools you're suggesting because they are not enough like his chosen schools. We can help you find "clones" of his dream schools that offer a range of selectivity. Similar to the idea that Tulane is like Vanderbilt and/or Rice but a tad less selective.</p>

<p>He's a smart and motivated kid and will come around, most likely. But don't worry that it has to be right now. He believes he's going to end up with really high SAT/ACT scores. And he might. So let's give him that time. And address what to do if he comes up a bit short later.</p>

<p>srobin, there are two things that I don't think anyone has mentioned: Questbridge, and SAT-optional schools.</p>

<p>Questbridge is a program that matches high-achieving kids from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds to good colleges. Your son, as the 1st generation to attend college, plus your modest income and single parenthood, is the kind of kid they are looking for. Definitely, definitely google Questbridge and look into it <strong>immediately</strong>. They have summer programs, too, and I don't know when the deadline for applying for those summer programs is. </p>

<p>The second thing is the SAT-optional school. In my state, for example, there are two elite liberal arts colleges, Bowdoin and Bates, that are SAT-optional. They would like your son's good grades in AP courses, they would like his work ethic, and they would find a student from Alabama to be geographically desirable. Moreover, these schools are excellent when it comes to financial aid. Bowdoin has just announced that they are eliminating loans and going to full grants. I strongly suggest that you look into schools of this type.</p>