High School GPA may be the Greatest Predictor of Collegiate Success


According to a recent study published in the Educational Researcher, high school GPAs are five times stronger than ACT scores at predicting collegiate success.  Further, the study revealed that the predictive power remains consistent across high schools.  Moreover, while the relationship between ACT scores and collegiate success depends on the high school attended, at times the relationship was negative among students with the highest scores.

Across all high schools in the study, each incremental increase in GPA is associated with an increase in the odds of graduating college.  The chance of graduating ranged from 20 percent for students with high school GPAs under 1.5 to about 80 percent for those with GPAs of 3.75 or higher, after controlling for student backgrounds and college characteristics.

According to the authors, “While people often think the value of GPAs is inconsistent across high schools, and that standardized test scores, like the ACT, are neutral indicators of college readiness because they are taken by everyone under the same conditions, our findings indicate otherwise.” Further, “The bottom line is that high school grades are powerful tools for gauging students’ readiness for college, regardless of which high school a student attends, while ACT scores are not.”

High school GPAs might be strong indicators of success because they are based on many factors, including effort over an entire measuring period in many different types of classes, demonstration of academic skills through multiple formats, and different teacher expectations.  Accordingly, “GPAs measure a very wide variety of skills and behaviors that are needed for success in college, where students will encounter widely varying content and expectations.  In contrast, standardized tests measure only a small set of the skills that students need to succeed in college, and students can prepare for these tests in narrow ways that may not translate into better preparation to succeed in college.”

While the study is an eye-opener, schools still use the ACT and SAT for an apples-to-apples comparison, placing higher importance in those results than in the high school GPA.  For now, focus should be on maintaining the highest GPA possible while striving to achieve the highest ACT or SAT score possible.

Early Decision and Financial Aid


While the odds of acceptance greatly improve, the price may be reduced financial aid.

According to a National Association for College Admission Counseling report (2017), schools that offered Early Decision (ED) accepted nearly 60% of 2016 ED applicants. Many of those schools are private colleges.

Under ED, a student commits to their first choice school and agree to enroll if admitted. Once accepted under ED, students must withdraw all other applications.

If admitted ED, you must accept that school’s financial aid award, even if another school made a better offer. And, if you fail to withdraw the other apps, the ED school may withdraw the offer of admission.

So, what do you need to know?

Generally, the ED is binding, unless the aid offered is not enough to make the cost affordable. This is uncommon.

Highly selective school tend to meet 100% of need, though that may include quite a bit in loans. But, if you’re from high-cost areas, based on your Expected Family Contribution, you may not be able to afford a specific school, even with a generous aid package.

ED will negate your ability to compare packages and leverage awards across multiple schools. Furthermore, ED may limit the amount of merit aid available to your student. As most schools utilize merit aid to attract ideal students, if you’ve applied ED, there may be no reason to offer such aid.

Please contact us for assistance with your family’s college planning campaign. We can help your family maximize financial aid eligibility.


Things to Know About the ACT


While it’s just a single factor in determining chances of admission, ACT scores help admissions counselors identify how well you’ve mastered high school content compared to other high school students.

What’s Covered?

The exam includes four multiple-choice tests – English, Reading, Math, and Science. Spanning almost three hours, unless the optional 40 minute writing portion is needed for admission, the ACT measures academic knowledge and skills that should have been acquired through the high school curriculum.

English: This section measures mastery of effective writing. It requires evaluation of several essays and responses to multiple questions about each one. Focus will be on conventions of standard English (punctuation, usage, sentence structure), production of writing (organization, cohesion), and knowledge of language (word choice, style, tone).

Reading: After reading several prose passages that represent the level and kind of reading required in first-year courses, questions will test your understanding of information both stated and implied. It requires evaluation of the author’s reasoning, central ideas/themes, and supplied evidence.

Math: This sections measures skills typically acquired by the beginning of 12th grade. You’ll solve a wide-range of problems covering functions, geometry, statistics and probability, algebra, and modeling. Problems may require more than one math skill, such as averages, medians, and percentages.

Science: This section gauges interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Following review of several sets of scientific information, you’ll analyze experimental designs and scientific results, compare alternative viewpoints and hypotheses, and interpret data.

Writing: This section measures writing skill emphasized in entry-level composition courses. Following your reading three points of view on an issue, you’ll evaluate each perspective, present your position on the issue, and explain how it relates to/differs from the other positions presented.


The score is based on the number of questions answered correctly; no deductions occur for incorrect responses or questions left blank. The composite score is the average of the four sections, rounded to the nearest whole number.

If the writing portion is taken, that score will be included in a separate English Language Arts score, which is the average of the scores on the essay and the required English and Reading tests.

When Should the ACT be Taken?

The ACT (and SAT, in order to see which exam better suits the student) should be taken no later than Spring of junior year in high school. This will leave time for 1-2 more exams following a study course. Once the stronger exam has been identified, focus on the study course and upcoming exam dates for that exam. Be sure to identify the last possible date a score will be accepted by each of your schools of interest.

Sending Scores to Schools

Upon registration, you can choose up to four schools at no cost to receive your scores, adding additional schools for a fee per school. There is an additional fee per school for any scores sent after testing occurs. If taking the test more than once, which should be part of your college planning campaign, you can choose the test date the schools will see (unfortunately, you can’t choose scores from different dates). Fee waivers based on income are available.

Visit a School without Actually Visiting


Visiting a school before applying is ALWAYS a good idea!

But, what if you lack the time and/or the money to visit?

What are your options?

Visit School Websites

From school-sponsored links, to YouTube videos, to specific campus photos, to cafeteria menus, the Internet provides a volume of information bringing schools to life.

Virtual Tours

Many schools offer virtual campus tours via their website or via specific smartphone apps. These provide a campus guide, great visuals, and perhaps valuable admissions information.

Student Newspapers

Many schools have one or more newspapers written by students, editions of which often can be found on the school’s website. They spotlight areas of importance to the student population, how they have fun, and a plethora of informal activities.

Speak with a School Representative

Contact admissions reps of the schools in which you have interest. They can answer your questions and help determine fit with their school.

Attend College Fairs

Schools send reps to college fairs to meet students and parents and introduce their schools. With a prepared list of questions, much can be discovered in a short period of time.

College Mailings

Sign up for a school’s mailing list via the admissions section of its website. Welcome the advertising you receive, as each item may contain a nugget of information you‘ll find valuable as you continue to identify schools of interest.

Arrange for Local Interviews

Contact the school’s admission office to determine if a local alumnus, current student home on break, or even a local representative of the school may be available for an interview.

Don’t Place Undue Importance on Classmate Comments

Friends have no idea what will make a school the right fit for you. And, most likely, they have not experienced what it’s like to attend any school. The right fit is for you to discover. Do your research.

Contact our Professional College Planners for assistance with your family’s college planning campaign.


Tips for Successful College Interviews


According to CollegeData, while an interview likely won’t get you admitted, it certainly can reinforce why you should or shouldn’t be…

As your scheduled interview nears, prepare by reviewing the following:

  1. Research the School. Be ready to explain why you are applying and what you like about the school.
  2. Prepare Ahead of Time. Print out directions to the interview site, review your application for admittance, write down all questions you may have, don’t have anyone tagalong, and don’t arrive hungry.
  3. Present Yourself Well. Wear neat, conservative attire. Arrive early, smile, be polite. Shake hands and speak naturally, without slang or cuss words.
  4. Bring a Resume or List of Activities. This may spark some questions, allowing you to showcase talents and achievements.
  5. Demonstrate Enthusiasm and Energy. The interview is designed for you to show why you want to attend the specific school. Be sure to respond with enthusiasm.
  6. Anticipate Common Questions. You may be asked to describe yourself and explain what you will be able to contribute to the school. Be specific, using vivid examples to showcase your unique talents.
  7. Speak for a Minute or Two Following Each Question. If an answer doesn’t come easily, request for an explanation of the question. Answer decisively and positively.
  8. Be Sure to Ask Your Own Questions. Interviewers expect questions, as it demonstrates your interest in the school. Ask questions that demonstrate you’ve researched the school (e.g., ask about the academic program that interests you).
  9. Don’t Mention Test Scores or GPA. That information they already know. They want to know the person behind the stats.
  10. Follow Up. Obtain the name and contact info of the interviewer. Send a short thank you note, preferably by mail.

Interviewers often are surprised by how ill-prepared many students are for the interview.

Don’t be one of them…

Should You Engage the Services of a Professional College Planner?

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Students and their families have a huge decision to make when it comes to their college planning campaign.

Most college-bound students, while highly qualified, aren’t number one in their class, aren’t top athletes, and aren’t considered financially needy. In short, they’re from the average family.

The average family faces an increasingly complex undergraduate admissions process, often increasingly confusing technological issues, and swiftly rising costs-of-attendance. Moreover, they have less and less time to devote to their college planning campaign.

According to Mary Chao in her December 29, 2017 article, professional college planners “… help streamline the process of college admissions, acting as a coach through the process while helping with interviews, essays and seeking out colleges with the right fit that will offer financial incentives, or aiding a student in getting into a highly selective college.”

More and more families find engaging the services of a professional college planner a worthwhile investment of both time and resources, helping families save money in the long run while directing students toward “right fit” schools.

Without doubt, investment in a college education is one of the largest expenses a family will face. If there are two or more children, the investment likely will exceed the expense of a mortgage.

Professional college planners offer impartial advice regarding the admissions process, while helping find the right schools for the student. However, they will not offer written or verbal guarantees of admission, financial aid, or scholarships.

Nevertheless, engaging the services of a professional college planner may be the best decision a family can make regarding their college planning campaign.

Capturing Brilliance…with Your Application Essay

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What is your essay about?

It’s not about grades, scores, achievements…it’s about


Schools search for curious, articulate people who can think and write both coherently and intelligently.

More than 60% of schools don’t require an essay; at others, a well-written essay is a must!

Regardless of the essay topic, the real topic is you.

Your readers want a glimpse into your life, your personality, your thought process, your humor. They want to know if you can learn from your experiences.

So, here are a few basic guidelines to follow in developing a strong essay…

Analyze the essay question, carefully noting any and all requirements, especially word counts. Follow instructions verbatim.

Don’t delay; procrastination usually worsens the experience. Talk through your topic, recording your thoughts.

Demonstrate thoughtfulness. You might consider writing about not-so-successful situations where you learned about yourself.

Treat your essay like you were writing a story. Develop a strong story line through outlining your essay.

Bring to life the person revealed by your grades, scores, recommendations, and extracurriculars.

Ask trusted people to review your essay; but, don’t let them change your style or what you’re conveying. Be sure it’s coherent and grammatically correct.

Many Schools; One Application


A single application accepted by any schools…

Sounds easy, right?

Alas, there is much more to it than plowing through a form online and clicking the “submit” button…

So…here are some tips for using well-known application services…

The Common Application. Accepted by over 600 schools, it is the oldest and most well-know of the application providers.

The Universal College Application. Accepted by nearly 30 schools, it is similar to the Common Application.

Common Black College Application. Accepted by any of the 50 historically black schools, students can apply to as many as desired for a single $35 fee.

The Coalition for Access and Affordability. While it is the newest service, its more than 90 member institutions must: meet affordable tuition requirements; post a 6-year graduation rate of at least 70%; and, provide need-based financial aid.

The tips…

Now that it’s easy to apply to scores a schools, resist the temptation. Avoid fees by sticking to the schools that truly interest you.

Learn the platform and its tools before starting. Doing so may prevent unnecessary irritations later on.

Determine if any of the schools to which you’re applying require essays, recommendations, and/or additional information about you.

Don’t send the same template to every school. Use supplemental essays to highlight why you wish to attend the school, what makes it special to you, and what you think you may be able to contribute.

Don’t automatically submit the application when you’ve completed it. Print it out, review it with others, and be sure there are no omissions or mistakes. Plus, a backup hard copy never hurts.

Don’t panic over technical issues. Schools realize problems occur and typically extend deadlines if they do.

To Which School Should You Apply?

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You’ve done your research…

You’ve gathered all the information you believe you’ll need…

You’re ready, willing, and able to make an informed, reasonable, and heartfelt decision, picking the right school for you…

Hold your horses, youngster!

Are you truly ready? Have you reviewed the list of potential schools from the following angles?

Will it be an informed decision?

Do you have ALL of the facts? Are you missing any information? Fill in your gaps, finding the needed information online, from publications, or from a phone conversation with a representative of the school.

Will it be a reasonable decision?

Have you actually considered your chances of acceptance at the schools in which you are most interested? While you may be confident about being admitted, do you know if you meet the admission criteria? More importantly, do you know if you’ll be able to afford those schools?

Will it be a heartfelt decision?

Are you basing your choice strictly on measurable data? Or, are you following your intuition and instincts, as well? Follow your gut! Be sure you feel good about the campus and the people there. Be sure the school is challenging and fits your personality.

Will it be the right decision?

Are you sure you’ll be happy attending any school that made your final cut? Be sure to pick 2-3 “dream” schools, provided you have a real chance of being admitted. Pick 2-3 schools that aren’t as selective as the “dream” schools, but meet much of your selection criteria. And, pick 2-3 “safe” schools, schools you know you’ll like and that will admit you.

If you carefully consider each school that made your list of final possibilities, be assured that, regardless how things transpire, you will be attending the right school for you.

Qualifying for Merit Aid

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Other than need-based aid for which many do not qualify, the next best source for covering the cost-of-attendance is merit aid. Merit aid can reduce the cost-of-attendance by a significant amount.

So, how do you qualify for merit aid?

Merit aid is “free” money (e.g., grants, scholarship, tuition discounts) awarded by the school to certain applicants based on the value they’ll bring the school. As the money comes from the schools, they can set any criteria they choose.

Merit aid typically is awarded for a variety of non-need reasons, such as academic achievement, athletic talent, or musical/artistic ability. Furthermore, the school simply may be looking to attract students in order to meet enrollment goals.

What’s the secret?

Applying to schools that want you and that have the money to give. Be sure to look for schools that:

  • Offer merit aid (not all do);
  • Have a history of awarding generous grants and scholarships;
  • Will consider you a top student (you’d be in the top 25% of the recently admitted class);
  • Will consider you valuable based on major, gender, home state, musical talent, athletic ability, background, or ethnicity; and/or,
  • Will award you for your exceptionally strong desire to attend that institution.

While applying for admission may qualify you for merit aid, there actually may be a separate application process (at least for certain awards). And, there may be additional requirements.

Be sure to confirm the process with the school’s admissions department.

Be careful…

At most schools, merit aid counts toward meeting your financial need. And, these awards usually come with requirements, such as maintaining a certain GPA. Finally, some may be for freshmen only, designed to entice an applicant to enroll at that school.

If you need help finding the schools that award the most free money for your particular student, contact our Professional College Planners for assistance with your family’s college planning campaign.