Applying to college in New England (for lower-income students)
Step 1: Pre Work-- Answering Six Common Questions
We know that you want to succeed and hopefully, you've had the opportunity to give your post-high school plans some thought. To help structure your thinking, these are six common questions that students ask themselves as they think about what to do after college.
The three things to prepare for college are actually quite simple: 1) get good grades, 2) take challenging classes, 3) develop an interest (through your classes or having experiences).
However, by the summer before your senior year, there is only so much you can change about your past grades, but many students face a lot of uncertainty about what they want to do and what they can do. Many students think that college is not for them, simply because nobody in their family has done it before. Others don't think that college will be affordable for them because their parents can't financially support them. Still other students think that they should wait to figure out what they want to do before applying to college.
This first section will attempt to answer some of these questions, and tell you what information you need to know before starting the process!
- Is College for Me?
Knowing the Minimum Requirements (2yr vs. 4year)
yes! need something after high school
right after high school is the best time to get that something
2. Where can I get in?
In order of most to least important:
Class rigor & selection
Not all colleges require recommendations or essay for all students. Also more and more colleges are going test-optional, meaning that students (usually with high enough GPAs) don't have to submit test scores. All of these makes your high school transcript more important so your grades and what classes you take really do matter.
Know this information:
3. What colleges can I afford?
-most important way to afford colleges is to make a good list!
-first step is to know 2 things:
1) how much colleges will expect you to be able to afford
2) how much your family can actually afford
Estimated Family Contribution (EFC)
-Bottom line, not all colleges are affordable for all students, but most students have at least some affordable 4-year college options.
4. What will I study & where will it lead?
5. How far from home do I want to go?
6. Fit: What kind of college will I thrive at?
Pro tip: Visiting colleges throughout high school and especially during your junior spring, summer, and senior fall will help you know what you like and what kind of college fits you best! Read more about college visits here!
Information to have (and to share with you college counselor)
Ability to Pay:
Where you want to study: in-state, in region, national
Any other requirements: athletics, religion, setting, extracurricular activiites
Step 2: Deciding Where to Apply
Deciding where to apply is a crucial step in your journey toward college. Low income students often make two mistakes:
1) Not applying to 4-year colleges because they think they can't afford it, and
2) Applying to 4-year colleges, but not applying to ones that are most likely to be affordable for them.
These two mistakes lead to students either taking out too large loans, or attending community college. There is nothing wrong with attending community college, but don't let affordability stop you from attempting 4-year college. We always tell students that 2-year college will always be an option in the spring if that's what you want to do. But give your four-year college ambitions a realistic shot by applying to the colleges that are most likely to be affordable for you! If it doesn't work out, the community college is a great place to start. But with the right strategy and support, you have a great chance of finding an affordable 4-year college were you can thrive.
2. Public University Affordability in New England
Below is a spreadsheet providing the public universities in each New England state.
You will only qualify for state financial aid from public universities in your state. Also tuition will be higher at public universities in different states, so these are less likely to be affordable for low-income students.
Apply to 1 within commuting distance that you know you will be accepted to-- that's your financial safety college.
Apply to 1-2 other ones based on which has good programs in your major or offer other things that you want.
how to apply
how to apply
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State Grants: none
how to apply
3. New England Private Colleges by Selectivity & Affordability
Difference between public & private costs is that tuition & fees are much higher at private colleges.
However, private colleges also give more of their own (institutional) financial aid to students. So they can actually end up being as affordable or even more affordable than public universities.
The key data point to look for is % of need met.
The table below shows all the private colleges in New England with their percent of need met highlighted.
Low income students should look for colleges with % of need met above 85 or 90%.
Can also apply to basically any other private college within commuting range. Like for public schools, private colleges generally provide enough financial aid to cover tuition & fees. So if you live at home most students can afford to attend a private 4-year college.
4. Public Universities Across State Lines
New England provides a tuition breaks for students from other states in New England. The Tuition Break program .... but still unlikely to affordable for low-income students. Feel free to apply, but make sure that you also have affordable college options!
5. Looking Wider for the highest achieving students
If you have done really well in high school and you are one of the top students at your school, then this opens up a lot of college options. These highly "selective" colleges only accept a small portion of the students who apply.
One great opportunity is that many of these highly selective schools provide very generous financial aid for low-income students who they accept and they can often be your most affordable college option.
6. Resources for DACA & Undocumented Students
DACA/Undocumented students have specific challenges in applying to college.
-remember-- can still go to college
-admission works largely the same way
-the big difference is affordability b/c DACA/undocumented students don't qualify for state & federal financial aid in most states.
-however, they do qualify for in-state tuition & can receive institutional scholarships.
-if parents are undocumented, but you were born in the U.S. or a U.S. citizen, then you can apply to college like a typical student. You will just need to make a small change on the FAFSA. link....
Building A Balanced, Affordable College List
Bad news about applying to college in New England
Public universities are not the most affordable for low-income students. Will generally leave students with a $5K gap on top of $5.5K in loans.
Good news about applying to college in New England
lots of colleges in a small space = a lot of colleges that are within commuting distance
Application strategies specifically for new England:
-apply to in-state public colleges, but make sure have commuting option
-apply to private colleges-- most commutable colleges will be affordable
-look for private colleges that meet a high % of need
-Tuition Break program for out-of state public schools: try it, but don't hang your hat on
Selectivity & Affordability Guides
Step 3: Executing (i.e. don't miss deadlines!)
Once you understand how college affordability works, and have made a balanced and affordable college list, the rest of the process is just about staying organized, following through on doing the applications, writing the essays, asking for recommendations, and keeping up on the deadlines.
Remember, applying to college is really 2 parallel processes: the application process and the financial aid process. You need to work on each of them more or less simultaneously in order to be able to attend an affordable college!
Taking the SAT/ACT
Getting application fee waivers
Asking for recommendation letters
Creating a resume/list of extracurricular activities
Apply using the Common/Coalition Applications
Apply to the rest on the college websites
If the colleges you are interested in don't use the Common or Coalition Application, that's no big deal. Usually the best place to apply is on admission section of their websites.
Create College Accounts
Financial Aid Process
FAFSA- Almost students should complete the FAFSA. This is your main financial aid application.
State Financial Aid Applications- In addition to the FAFSA, some states require separate financial aid applications to qualify for state financial aid.
MA: MassAid Portal
VT: VASC Account
CSS Profile-- you only need to worry about this if you are applying to certain private colleges. No public universities in New England require the CSS Profile.
Scholarships (Merit Aid)
Most of the time, you will be automatically considered for merit scholarships from your state or from the colleges you apply to. However, it's also worth keeping an eye out for additional scholarships that you may need to apply separately for.
FAFSA Verification - You thought you were done with FAFSA forever, but you may be selected for verification. This means that you will need to fill out some extra forms for each college in order to show that what you entered into the FAFSA was correct.
Appeals - If the final financial aid offer doesn't make college affordable, you can try to appeal for more money from the financial aid office of your top choice schools. This is probably more likely to work if the amount of money you need to make it affordable is small and at private colleges.
Step 4: Making the Decision
After hearing back from all the colleges where you applied, it's up to you to decide where you want to attend. At this point it
Making a Decision - There are two crucial steps to make a college decision: 1) figure out how much each college will actually cost and which will be affordable and 2) take a final visit to each college you are considering.
May 1: Decision Day - Traditionally, many 4-year colleges want students to accept (or decline) their spot & pay the deposit by May 1st. However, many colleges are also more flexible.
Enrollment Steps - There are still a bunch of little steps to take care of even after you have decided