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Your Home and College Financial Aid.

Your home is your castle. So it should come as no surprise that when I inform families that their hard-earned home equity can drastically impact their financial aid, I get a lot of very strong responses. “How could they?” “That’s not right!” These are all common responses. Yes, colleges can look at your home equity and decide to lower your financial aid. Yes, they really can do this.

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What Matthew Teaches Us About Social Media and College Admissions.

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What Matthew Teaches Us About Social Media and College Admissions.

The use of social media in the world of college admissions has finally found its voice and that voice belongs to Matthew Martratt. 

Back in 2015, I found Alan Katzman and his organization, Social Assurity, through Twitter. As I recalled in an earlier blog, I developed a sense that the current state of social media training with our college-bound students was severely lacking. When I came upon Alan and his organization, I knew that I found exactly what I was looking for.

When I contacted Alan, we really hit things off and I immediately incorporated Social Assurity’s training platform as an integral part of my college planning practice at Game Theory College Planners. (A growing association of college planners across the country that I work with have also done the same). All of my students get access to Social Assurity’s complete training library. Many college planners have a tendency to look at college from three viewpoints: academic, financial, and social. I think social media should fall under the “social” category. However, this is frequently not the case.

The typical field of college experts tend to share the same message of avoidance when it comes to social media. “Don’t do that!” and “Don’t get caught!” are common themes.  The fact is that many of these experts are just scared or don’t understand the complete scope of social media and that it is here to stay. Ignoring social media doesn't make it go away or make it any less relevant for students as they apply to college. We are glad to present a solution but we continue to see our industry peers miss the mark on social media training.

Let's back to Matthew. Matthew was one of my first students that went though a pilot training program with Game Theory College Planners and Social Assurity. Matt took to the training like a champ. He had his laptop and actually built his LinkedIn profile in real time as the course progressed. You can listen to this session that I recorded in a previous podcast.  His efforts have paid-off and recently caught the attention of Natasha Singer of the New York Times. Matthew was featured recently in this New York Times article.

I think this article really validates Matthew and our efforts. This article also spotlights the clear benefits of utilizing social media and, more specifically, LinkedIn as a tool for the college admissions process. As expected, social media will always have its detractors and this article was no exception. Here is an example…

“Kids from privileged families tend to do more of those things both offline and online — joining school clubs, writing for their school newspaper, getting tutoring so their grades go up, doing SAT preparation,” says Vicky Rideout, a researcher who studies how teenagers use technology.

Matthew and I were immediately upset from that particular quote because it implies that social media and LinkedIn creates a division among different socioeconomic classes. Vicky could not be further from the truth. In my experience (and Matthew’s) many students, regardless of socioeconomic status, accomplish many great things. Internet access and social media are items that many families make room for regardless of household income. I myself came from a family that was on the low side of the socioeconomic ladder and I managed to pursue various extra curricular activities. I was even Junior Class President. Not bad for number 4 out of 6 kids from a household of 8 pulling in about 60K a year. I am also counseling a high school valedictorian and 2017 graduate that comes from a family making less than 40K a year.

Upon personal reflection, Matthew does not identify his own situation as “privileged” either. Matthew is simply a very hard working and dedicated student. In a recent interview, Matthew stated that LinkedIn does not create a disparity among students. Instead, he felt that “LinkedIn levels the playing field.” Matthew and I share the belief that social media and LinkedIn will make colleges even more accessible, not less. Social media and LinkedIn can only increase opportunities for high school students. All that is required is willingness to work and learn, not a large account balance. 

Let's stop finding excuses to exclude social media from the college planning process. Let's accept it. Let's learn from it and turn it to our collective advantage. Stay tuned for more from Matthew. Just the other day, we recorded a news segment that will soon air nationwide. We can’t wait to see it. We can't wait to spread the word.

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How Leo taught me that really neat things can happen in the college planning space and why I placed my reputation on the line.

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How Leo taught me that really neat things can happen in the college planning space and why I placed my reputation on the line.

Over a year ago, I met Leo through a non-profit outreach program, Free College Planning, Inc. I give regular no-cost college planning classes throughout Georgia. With these classes, families come away better educated and informed. I also manage to pick-up several clients along the way when families choose to hire me on an ongoing basis and want more help beyond what the no-cost sessions provide.

As you can imagine, I meet a lot of different students and their families. During a particular college planning class in February 2015, I met Leo. What stood out about Leo was that he clearly did not want to be there. I saw it in his body language and his attitude. It’s never a good sign when the parents show more of an interest in college planning than the student. I engaged Leo in casual conversation before the class. He relayed to me his displeasure in having to attend my class against his own will. I thought I made a mistake in talking to him. I remember just thinking that maybe he should leave. I’m glad he didn’t.

I thought I made a mistake in talking to him. I remember just thinking that maybe he should leave. I’m glad he didn’t.

During my class, I could see that Leo was becoming more engaged and that I really had a shot at getting through to him. (Leo would go on to tell me that it was a few well-times jokes and my willingness to engage him during my class that encouraged him to listen) I think Leo was in a situation where I find a lot of students. He was just misinformed. He was under the impression that with his average grades, that no college would want him. After he attended my class, I completely changed his mind when he learned that there is probably a college for every student (even students with average GPAs) that is willing to work hard. 

I think Leo was in a situation where I find a lot of students. He was just misinformed. He was under the impression that with his average grades, that no college would want him

Leo’s parents made the decision to engage me in a free consultation and that is where I learned that Leo had an uphill battle facing him. Let’s dispel a couple of misconceptions right now. College planners provide a needed service for everyone, not just families of substantial wealth and for students with amazing grades and test scores. Leo and his family brought neither wealth nor exceptional grades or test scores to the table. I don’t want to go into too many details but we were dealing with a family with a challenging income base and a parent with a disability. We made arrangements to let the family pay our fee over time and at their pace with no interest.

Leo took our guidance seriously. The following semester, he gave us straight A’s and committed to our test prep program. Seeing this commitment, we decided to document his experience by recording a few podcasts together. We wanted to tell his story so that other students in his type of situation could learn from this experience. He was putting it all on the line, so I decided to do the same thing: I committed to Leo that we would find a great college at a great price that the family could manage. That would mean finding a great college below an in-state college cost. Did I over commit? Did I create an unrealistic expectation? What would happen if we shared this experience as it unfolded only to end in disappointment? What would that do to my reputation as a college planner?

Did I over commit? Did I create an unrealistic expectation? What would happen if we shared this experience as it unfolded only to end in disappointment? What would that do to my reputation as a college planner?

So far things were looking pretty good. Out of the 7 colleges Leo applied to, he was accepted to all of them. Leo and his father visited a few of these colleges to get a better idea if these college were a good fit. He did finally zero-in on a favorite, Susquehanna University. I was concerned about placing all of our eggs in this one basket if the financial aid offer did not come through like we wanted. I encouraged Leo to keep his options open. As you can see below, the offers were great but not quite where we needed them to be. We were shooting for something closer to 10K a year for our full cost of attendance.

Just the other day, I got a text from Leo and it looks like Susquehanna came through as a result of our appeal strategy. Susquehanna offered an additional 5K grant which brought the total cost of attendance down to $11,075 per year. Keep in mind that this is a private college with a sticker price of $55,340 per year. That comes to a discount of $44,265 a year or $177,060 over 4 years. We were well below the in-state price of about 15K a year for a low EFC family. This process worked for Leo because he was willing to put in the work and keep an open mind. This is the type of experience that gets me out of bed every morning. Thank you Leo for reminding me why I love my job so much. I look forward to seeing the amazing work that you will do in college and beyond.

This process worked for Leo because he was willing to put in the work and keep an open mind. This is the type of experience that gets me out of bed every morning.

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Do colleges really look at social media? We find out at the NACAC College Fair.

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Do colleges really look at social media? We find out at the NACAC College Fair.

I always like to attend the NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) College Fair every year here in Atlanta. It’s really convenient to evaluate and engage with multiple colleges all under the same roof. On previous years, I have attended these fairs to get additional insights as to how some of these colleges just do so many things better than other colleges. How do they manage to graduate larger percentages of students on time, send more students to graduate school, and maintain high employment rates after graduation?

This year, however, I wanted to find out something different: Do these colleges look at an applicant’s social media? I am a real fan of what I call the “hidden gems” (colleges that produce amazing results but may not be well-known) and I decided to take an opportunity and interview a few of these “hidden gems” and some other colleges that are very well-known. I conducted an informal poll of 20 colleges. Unless noted otherwise,  I asked the same three questions to each college:

1.     What is your name and what do you do at the college?

2.     Tell me in three words what sets your college apart from the rest?

3.     Do you look at a student’s social media when they apply?

The first 2 questions are ice breakers and it was interesting to see these college representatives distill their message in only three words. I think you can learn a lot about a college when you put them on the spot like this. The next question about social media got some very interesting responses. Here are the results below…

Arcadia University

Danielle Luszczyk – Enrollment Management Counselor

Inclusive. Diverse. Welcoming

We do not look at social media. Once they are admitted we do look at it to get a sense if they are enrolling.

Goucher College

Brandi Ferrebee - Admissions Counselor

Worldly. Kind. Thoughtful

It's not generally something we look at. We might “Google” them if they have something unique. If they reach out. We will engage them.

Birmingham Southern College

Elizabeth Zucchero - Asst. Director of Admissions

Community. Engagement. Experience. 

We don't look at it at all. But will engage if they engage back.

Simmons College

Madeline Brodeur - Admissions Counselor

Location. Opportunity. Innovation. 

No. But if they engage us. We will engage them. If they just say Simmons College or tag us in a post, we’ll know about it. 

Rhodes College

Ben Wescott - Sr. Asst Director of Admissions. 

Urban. Service-Learning. Sciency (Biology is their most popular major despite being a “liberal arts” college).

We do not look at social media unless you give me something to look at. We manage our enrollment yield with Facebook to get a sense if they are coming or if they need a call from us.

Emory University

Will Canon. Enrollment Services

Community . Leadership . Academic Opportunity. 

It's not something we don't look at. But it's not an active part of our interview process. 

Stetson University

Tobin Birney - Asst Director of Admissions. 

Significance. Engagement. Community or Rigor. 

No. Not at all. But if  they engage us, we will engage them. 

Millsaps College - (one my unabashed favorites!)

Suzanne Glemot - Admissions Counselor. 

Engagement. Achievement. Community

Not part of admissions decision. We do have social media channels if students want to reach-out.

University of Georgia

Cindy Boyles. Asst Dir admissions.  (only asked her the social media question since they were busy)

Not really. But exceptions are made if character or other concerns about an applicant are brought to our attention.

Agnes Scott College

Emily Davis Hamre - Office of admissions. 

Global leadership. Community. Intellectual Community. 

If they engage us we will engage them. But we don't go through personal social media accounts. 

Sewanee University of the South

Curtis Johnson - Admissions Counselor

Tradition. Opportunity. Domain. 

Not initially. We do encourage engagement with our unique hashtags. 

Wofford

Michelle Stinson - Office of Admissions Representative

Family. Growth. Happiness. 

We ask to engage them on Twitter for part of the application process. We still look at “old fashioned” channels. We might look if they mention us or tag us in a post.

Clemson University

Anonymous Admissions Representative  (only asked her the social media question since they were busy)

Not. At all. Not one of our strengths

High Point University

Shannon Williams - Admissions Counselors

Extraordinary. Caring. Inspiring. 

We don't actively look. If we engage we’ll engage back. 

Syracuse University

Anonymous Admissions Representative (University policy requires prior approval before submitting a quote. We also just asked the social media question since they were very busy).

Depends on what they are applying for. We monitor what people say about us. If they engage us we will engage them. 

Furman University

Eric Ahlstrand - Asst Director of Admissions 

Access . Authenticity . Curiosity. 

Not actively. On Twitter, if they engage us, we will engage back. 

Samford University

Rebecca Cottingham - Regional Recruiter.

Community. Academic Excellence. Fun. 

We don't go actively looking for students on social media. But engage us, we’ll engage back. 

Sweet Briar College

Nicole File – Alumni Volunteer and Representative

Leadership. Thinking. Creativity. 

Nicole did not really know. However, Sweet Briar credits social media as helping rally the support they needed to keep their college open. I am willing to bet that this college has a deeper understanding of social media than most.

I want to make a note of some patterns that I saw. 

1. Social media is private, or is it? Most colleges were adamant that they did not just randomly look at an applicants social media. They regard these posts as private and did not want to send the message that they were just looking at anything they wanted. However, many of these same colleges could not speak for everybody in the admissions department. I had a sense that the actual practice of social media review may differ from one representative to another within the same admissions office. Many of these colleges also conceded that they would look at a student's social media posts if such action was warranted. Basically, is there a bold claim or accomplishment on the application that warranted further social media review? Was there an anonymous tip to the applicant's character.

2. Most colleges are reactive. Almost every college stated that they will engage an applicant on social media if the applicant engages first. Every college I spoke to has an active presence on Twitter and Facebook. I think this is a great trend as social media becomes another outlet for two-way communication.

3. When you are accepted by a college, your social media is now fair game. Almost every college I surveyed undergoes a "gear change" where their social media interaction ramps-up when a student gets accepted. Some of the admissions directors I spoke to openly admitted to monitoring Facebook and Twitter posts as a way of managing enrollment yield. Basically, is the student going to show up? Some colleges will look at social media to see if accepted students are talking about their college or wearing their t-shirt. If not, maybe they'll get another call from the college.

4. Almost every college runs a keyword search of themselves on social media. This is where colleges are proactive. Colleges are obviously notified if they are mentioned or tagged in a social media post. Almost every college goes a step further and monitors key words so if they are mentioned by name, they will know about it. They want to know if someone is talking about them and if further notation or action is necessary.

5. There is an opportunity. I get the sense that social media is still a relatively new concept for the colleges. However, these new channels of social communication present a unique opportunity for students looking to get noticed by these schools. These colleges are definitely paying attention. I believe it's a direct channel of communication that should be used by students to engage colleges they want to learn more about. It's a great way to make a first impression. Most importantly, you can show the colleges that you are more than an application and a test score.

 

 

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College Planners, You Need to See What We Are Doing with Social Media in 2016.

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College Planners, You Need to See What We Are Doing with Social Media in 2016.

2016 marks the start of something new in the college planning space. Game Theory College Planners will provide our students and families with specialized social media training as an integral part of their college planning. Why now? Incorporating social media into our college planning process could not come at a better time. Kaplan just released the results of their latest survey: 40% of colleges admissions officers surveyed stated that they view an applicant’s social media.

The problem is that the current state of college planning and social media gets summed up in one sentence: Don’t do anything stupid! After surveying numerous students and parents, I have confirmed that this is a message that the high schools are also sharing with their students. Unfortunately, this advice simply creates a culture of avoidance. When colleges can’t find you on social media, it can be a red flag. I think it’s clear that social media is something that is here to stay.

I think it’s clear that social media is something that is here to stay.

I will be in Las Vegas this week with an opportunity to present social media training to some of the top college planners in our industry. It is my hope that we will all collectively transform the state of the art of college planning. I simply cannot understand how a college planner can properly help a family unless they have the tools needed to navigate the growing use of social media in the admissions process. I encourage you to either reach out to me or find someone like me that can help you with this.

If you help students with college planning, I have five pieces of advice for you…

1.         Don’t bury your head in the sand. Social media isn’t a trend and the writing is on the wall. Colleges are looking and if you cannot explain what a hashtag is and how it works on Twitter, you are in trouble. Your students are engaging in social media and what they post (or don’t post) can have a tremendous impact on their college admissions.

2.         Know which social media outlets you need to have and use. Not all social media networks are created equally and they all work differently. Each social media platform also caters to a specific audience. Can you name a college that is not on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter? Do you have a presence on these networks? If not, then why?

3.         Find someone to train you on social media. You are an expert on college planning, but chances are that you just do not have the level of training and experience to properly manage your own social media. Your students are tweeting and posting. When students and parents come to you with social media questions, don’t let your blank stare kill your credibility.

...chances are that you just do not have the level of training and experience to properly manage your own social media.

4.         If you are a guidance counselor or high school administrator, you need to build a formal and comprehensive policy on social media. I cannot begin to even count the numerous schools that I come across that simply do not have this. Do you have a LinkedIn presence? Can you post an online recommendation for a student? How do you overcome age restrictions on certain social media outlets? What are the disciplinary guidelines for posting while on or off campus? Where can faculty leverage social media to increase classroom participation and how do they draw the line outside of the classroom? What is the policy on privacy and your students?

5.         Get to know Social Assurity. During my extensive training and reworking of my social media strategy last year, I came across Alan Katzman, Social Assurity’s leader and founder. Do yourself a favor and take a look at what they have built. This organization is the only one that I can find that shows students how to manage and leverage their social media instead of running away from it. Other organizations simply monitor social media or specialize in “damage control.” Alan’s expertise and training platform is now integrated my college planning practice. I simply cannot imagine being an effective college planner without their help. This is not an endorsement, but simply a statement of fact. There is no one else that is doing what they are doing.

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How to read a college award letter (and ignore the loans).

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How to read a college award letter (and ignore the loans).

It's that time of year. Some of my students are already getting their final award letters in the mail. College award letters are not very easy to decipher and can be quite misleading. I received a few frantic calls today from parents and students looking for help, as if these letters were written in a foreign language. In a way, they are. 

Let's look at a few letters to see if I can lend some insight. Before we dive-in, here are a few basic things you need to know.

1. Cost of attendance (COA) - Believe it or not, some colleges do not include this number in the award letter. Can you imagine shopping in a car dealership advertising discounts and rebates, but no sticker prices on the cars? A $20K discount sounds great but is that $20K off the COA of a $40K college or a $60K college? Attached below is an award letter from Santa Clara University that fails to disclose the cost of attendance. When you find out the COA is close to $64,000 per year, this discount seems less appealing.

Also note the Stafford Loans that are included as part of the "award." Pay no attention to the loans when calculating costs since these loans need to be paid back.

So this family is basically getting a $24K discount from a $64K college. In the end, this college comes to a true cost of about $40K per year. That's more than double in-state cost (with the HOPE Scholarship here in Georgia).

2. Grants - Whether merit-based or need-based, this is the number where families really need to pay attention. This is a simple discount taken off of the COA. Attached below is an award letter from Furman University emailed to the same family.

The "Bell Tower Scholarship" and "Furman Grant" are of special note. These are the discounts. Together this brings a total discount of about $36K per year. Fortunately, Furman discloses the COA in this award letter of $59,600 per year. Let's round that up to about $60K per year. With the $36K discount, this brings the true cost of Furman down to about $24K per year for this family. That amount brings the cost very close to in-state pricing. This is a great offer.

3. Loans - In these award letters you will find abbreviations for the Federal Stafford Loan broken down as subsidized or unsubsidized. These are federal loans from the government that are in the student's name. With subsidized loans, the accrued interest is paid for by the government while the student is in college. Why are these loans part of the "award?" We may never know, but be sure to account for these loans since they need to be paid back. These loans do not represent discounts or true awards.

4. True Cost - This is the true bottom-line cost of the college. I wish colleges could just present the award letter this way so families don't have to decipher so much jargon. This is how I prefer to present college costs to a family. Attached below is an award letter from The University of Georgia. Can you calculate the true cost?

So Santa Clara comes to $40K per year, Furman at $24K and UGA at about $17K per year. So where should we go? Wouldn't that be an easier way of looking at these costs?

Please note that these award letters have been modified for brevity and to remove any identifying and personal information.

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