(WATERBURY, Conn., November 1st 2009) It’s the time of year that fills high school seniors with dread and excitement, and leaves parents feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of helping their children find the right college at a price their family can afford. November is traditionally the month high school seniors get their college applications in order. Admissions expert Jay Murray offers some advice for reducing stress and maximizing results.
Jay Murray, Director of Admissions at Post University, spent 10 years in a similar position at Marist College, and oversaw admissions at five campuses connected to Mercy College. He has seen literally thousands of applications come across his desk.
“When you are deciding to admit students to a small, selective school, you quickly see which applications reflect some thought and preparation,” Murray said. He says there are certain strategies that almost guarantee your application will be put closer to the “accepted” pile. “It’s about much more than grades, test scores and extracurricular activities. It’s about knowing which schools are right for you,” he adds. “Think hard about what you’ll need to be happy and successful. For some, that’s a small school that can offer lots of one-on-one attention and academic support, and for others it’s a large university located in the heart of a major city. The key is to know what you want and then apply to those schools where you believe you will be a good fit.”
Once students have decided where they want to apply, which should include at least 1-2 “safety” schools and 2-4 “probables”, they need to begin assembling everything they need to complete each college’s application.
“Many students find it helpful to create a folder for each college application, and use a checklist to make sure they haven’t forgotten any key steps,” said Murray. “An incomplete application may be viewed as a lack of organization and attention to detail, and that can be a strike against you. Post University offers a free checklist on our website that students can use even if they’re not applying here.”
Another area students need to tackle is financial aid.
“In this economy, financial aid is being sought by most students entering college, regardless of their family’s situation,” said Murray. “And now, more than ever, the early bird gets the worm. No matter how big a university’s endowment or scholarship fund, it pays to submit your information sooner rather than later. Even if your financial information is incomplete, you can complete the FAFSA with estimated income until you have exact numbers,” Murray said.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application is available every year beginning January 1 at www.fafsa.ed.gov, and students should never have to pay a fee for help completing this form.
“Most universities will help students complete this form at no charge,” said Murray. “Simply call the financial aid office of the school of your choice and ask for help.”
Students also should apply for scholarships available from local and national civic, religious, and community organizations, and in some cases their parents’ place of business. “Leave no stone unturned when it comes to financing your college education,” said Murray. “And make sure you consider how much that education will be worth to you once you graduate.”
Whenever possible, students also should visit the schools on their list, adds Murray.
“A personal interview with an admissions counselor puts you on their radar screen,” he said. “Do your research; knowing something about the school reflects another level of enthusiasm for a particular college, even if it’s not your first or even second choice. And that’s one of the things admissions counselors are looking for.”
Finally, Murray recommends that students take advantage of college websites and social networking sites to get a real feel for a school.
“Today, high school seniors have access to all kinds of information on a college, including first-hand accounts from current students on what it’s like to go there,” said Murray. “All they need to do is get to a computer and start searching.”