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.
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.
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 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?
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 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.
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.
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.