If we only had a crystal ball when deciding what is most important when applying to college, right? Is it crucial to fill out college applications in the most favorable light possible, or is it best to concentrate on completing the FAFSA properly?
High school seniors might believe that the key to their college career lies in divining the correct answers to these questions but the truth, however, really lies somewhere in the middle of these two seemingly-polar opposites. It is important to understand the college you want to attend so you can fine-tune your application efforts. Here is a look at the two sides of the equation:
• Your Background: This approach focuses on the merits and experiences you can bring to a specific college’s freshman class. Look at the college’s website and try to get a sense of their student body. Do they have students from around the world, high achievers, or those who are laser-focused on a particular major? If your background meshes perfectly with their needs, then you want to focus a lot of your efforts on the college application itself. Make sure your true personality stands out, highlight your achievements, demonstrate how you bring that same intense passion to new situations, and explain to those who are writing your letters of recommendation how you think you will fit in with your new college.
• Your Finances: For some families, the cost of attending college really doesn’t matter at all, so students can apply to almost any college of their choosing. But for most families, cost is a crucial factor. This is where it is important to understand whether your proposed colleges are need-blind or need-sensitive. At a need-blind college, your ability to pay is not part of the admissions decision. They are typically more willing to admit students on the basis of their merits, and then provide financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants to those who prove they have a financial need. Keep in mind that need-blind colleges may still not meet your full financial need.
At colleges that make admissions decisions using a need-sensitive or need-aware policy, your ability to pay may indeed factor into your admission probability. Although most of the admission decisions at these schools may be made without regard to financial ability, they may actually reserve some spots for students who do not need grants, scholarships or loans. Students with a higher level of family finances may do better to concentrate on applying to need-sensitive colleges.
You can look at the financial aid section of each school’s website to see what its policies are regarding awarding college money. In either case, though, it is still important to complete the FAFSA in order to receive whatever amount of financial aid may be available.
Look at your background and finances in conjunction with your college list, to make sure you match up properly.