This year’s senior class (the class of 2016) may be thinking that it’s time to get serious about college applications, and it is. Since many college-bound families started their search in junior year, the biggest question they have right now is, “What’s changed in college admissions over the summer?”
The answer is, plenty.
FAFSA filing is now much easier. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required for most need-based scholarship programs. If you really want to know about getting help paying for college, spend thirty minutes reading everything you can at student aid.ed.gov — and never, ever pay for a scholarship search. A good rule of thumb is, if someone asks you for money, you’re getting scammed.
Looking for merit aid? It’s not as hard as it looks. Students looking for scholarships based on their grades and test scores used to be able to go right to Meritaid.com and look up information by college. That link now takes you to what looks like a registration form to log in to Meritaid’s parent company. Just scroll down that page to the section titled Merit Aid Scholarships Offered by Colleges, and access the information without logging in.
Some schools are changing their testing requirements. Since the new SAT isn’t coming out until March of 2016, this year’s seniors don’t have to worry about the updated version. But many colleges change their college admissions testing requirements every time the SAT or ACT changes. George Washington University, Warren Wilson College, and several others no longer require any test scores at all for admission reviews for most students. On top of that, the University of Pennsylvania and others have changed their requirements for SAT Subject Tests.
Bear in mind, many critics say going test-optional is just a ploy to appear more selective by attracting more applicants and pushing up average SAT scores. While the number of applicants has expanded at many schools, score averages don’t always go up. Loyola University Maryland’s numbers, for example, have not changed.
Our advice is to go to the college admissions requirements section of the website of each school you’re applying to, and see if their testing requirements have changed. If you want a starter list of colleges that are test optional, look at Fair Test — but always see the college’s admission page to read the details. Things are changing quickly and Fairtest is not always up to date.
Applying seems to be a little more rushed — but it isn’t. Many more students seem to be applying early….even over the summer before their senior year! But remember, the application guidelines of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (Article I B 12) specify that member colleges have to give equal consideration to all applications received before October 15. This means “special” programs can’t fill up, or colleges can’t use higher standards to judge an October 1st application than they did an August 1st application. Submitting your application by October 15th (complete with official test scores, if required) is a must for rolling admission colleges and special programs other than Early Decision.