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HS Counselor Shares His Views on This Year’s Testing Environment



It’s great to see the march toward test-optional admissions continue, particularly with the College Board’s announcement earlier this week that online SATs won’t happen as originally planned. To those colleges still holding onto testing for the class of 2021, I’d like to share the following.

You will see a test score. On your computers, it will say 1410.

What you won’t see is the anguish of some, who didn’t hear their March test center was cancelled, so they drove to the school that morning and were confused and frustrated. Or the compounding frustration of those students when they found out that in other states, kids took the test.

Your reader sheet will show a 670 reading, 740 math. It’ll look normal.

What you won’t see is the hour online trying to switch registration to June, wondering if the test prep class that led up to the March test should be repeated. The time on College Confidential trying to figure out if jettisoning the subject tests you’d planned for June will hurt at the dream school.

Sure, you’re getting fewer AP scores and subject test scores, but you’ll see that 1410.

What you won’t see is the decision to add the June ACT, in hopes of getting a test, any test. You won’t see the kick in the gut when the June SAT is cancelled. “Sure, lots of colleges are going test optional, but not my dream school. I should’ve taken the SAT last November. I blew it.” You won’t see the daily hope of “they haven’t cancelled the June ACT, maybe it’ll be on!” And have that hope gradually transform into “No way they can hold the ACT in June right? But the website says it’s on, so I’ll keep studying I guess.” “The college counselor telling me there’s almost no way the June test will happen, but my parents say it’s not cancelled yet, so I’ll keep studying.”

You’ll be able to sort applicant spreadsheets by the SAT, to run mid-50% reports, and you’ll see your reading process go as normal.

What you won’t see is the student of color in the Bay Area whose world was torn apart in late May/early June. Who protested, organized and fought for social justice. Who finally came up for air three weeks later to realize that there were no seats left in a three-hour radius for August, September or October.

You’ll see that 1410, and you’ll think “Well, we did it, we held our ground and were right in the end. The students could test.”

You won’t see the student scoring 200 points lower than she does on practice tests. Four hours in a mask is throwing her off her game, and the student behind her keeps coughing. She needs to use the restroom but doesn’t want to touch all the doors it would require to get there. It’s all so distracting. And sadly, this was the only test before ED deadlines that she could find.

You won’t see the student behind her who is coughing. He’s had a cough for two days, a mild fever for one. He feels guilty for being at this test, but it’s his one shot, and it’s his dream school. So he takes the test, and hopes it’s just a regular flu.

Turns out it was coronavirus, he gives it to eight other students in the room, who are asymptomatic, so they continue to see their grandparents, continue going to school and restaurants, and it’s only weeks later when contact tracing brings it back to this coughing student that morning. He got that 1410 for you. Are we sure it was worth it?

Apologies if that’s a bit melodramatic, but this spring has been hell for these students, and fall may be worse, when it comes to testing stress. As I write this, I’m seeing Facebook posts that there are big problems with fee waivers working on this first day of full fall registration. In other years, it would work to just give up for now, and try again in a few days. This year, with so few seats, not getting it resolved tonight might mean one less test a student can take. For the fee waiver kids. That’s on the College Board, not colleges, but that fact that students are still desperate to get a seat, anytime, anywhere, is on the colleges.

To test-optional colleges: I applaud you. But know that in many cases, that’s not going to be enough to make this fair. My hope is that you all become experts on which regions filled up, and on how superscoring can move testing up with each test. You simply can’t look at a 1400 and say that student is stronger than one with a 1350 (I mean, you never really could…) without knowing how many times they took the exam, when they took the exam, how many times they would’ve liked to take the exam, what it’s like taking the exam in a pandemic, in a mask, in more stress than any young person should see. In going test optional, you will still use scores for many students, and you need to use them with more care than ever before.

Please talk to students and college counselors who are living this slow-moving testing train wreck every day. It doesn’t have to be this way, but you hold all the cards here.

About the writer: David Rion is the director of college guidance at the Loomis Chaffee School. He joined Loomis Chaffee in 2018 after spending the previous eight years as the director of college counseling at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, Calif. Prior to that, he worked in the admissions offices of Brandeis University, Boston University, Pomona College and Occidental College.


By: David Rion
Title: HS Counselor Shares His Views on This Year’s Testing Environment
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Published Date: Fri, 05 Jun 2020 10:25:01 +0000

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Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid



Many families are facing new financial challenges in light of the coronavirus emergency, and College Confidential has fielded dozens of questions on this topic recently. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 9 entitled “Paying for College Amid Changes Due to the Impact of COVID-19.”

During the event, moderated by Aaron Murphy, manager of learning and development with Inside Track, the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Denise Trusty, director of financial aid with Morehead State University
  • Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz, associate vice president of college partnerships with RaiseMe
  • Amy Nelson, director of sales at International Scholarship and Tuition Services
  • Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank.

Check out the following topics that the panelists discussed, along with their views of how things may unfold amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Family Finances Changed? Contact Your Schools

If you plan to start college in the fall as a freshman — or return to school as an existing student — and your financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, you should contact the colleges on your list immediately. Financial aid departments can consider appeals for more money, but must base these decisions on each individual student’s situation, Trusty said.

“I know with Morehead State, where I work, we will be doing professional judgement calls on all students who say they’ve been affected,” she noted. “We will reach out to those students to see what we can do to help them maybe obtain additional funding, additional grants, scholarships, whatever they would be eligible for. We do professional judgment all the time for our students, because things happen all the time. This year will be an especially large amount of those, I’m sure, but those are up to individual schools to make that call for their students.”

In addition, she added, the Department of Education has set aside over $6 billion for additional grants and scholarships that the universities will be able to use. “Currently, I don’t know how that’s all going to play into this,” Trusty said. “So that will be up to each individual university on how they lay those out. I know it will be beneficial, I just don’t know how available that will be to each student.”

Keep in mind that schools are accustomed to reviewing financial aid appeals, and they all have processes in place for to do so. “It is really, really important to know that schools typically leave a budget from 10 percent to 20 percent or so of their financial aid dollars for what would be called a professional judgment bucket,”Javice said. “Therefore, there is additional money to be had, and it’s up to you to request it. You should approach your school as soon as you know you might need more money, and be prepared to show supporting documentation demonstrating how your finances are different from when you filed your FAFSA initially. This might require proof of a job loss, medical bills, a cut in pay or another such issue, Javice said.

In addition, if another school gave you a better financial offer, you can petition the school that gave you the lower offer for more money, Javice noted. “This typically works better for private institutions versus public state schools, given the fact that they have a little bit more discrepancy and more dollars to put to work in terms of a tuition discount,” she added. “This is solely up to the school on a case by case basis.” In some cases, the money is distributed on a first come, first serve timeline, so don’t wait if you know you need more aid.

Although financial aid can be a stressful topic, try not to be emotional when you request more money, Javice added. You’ll get a lot further by having organized documentation to present than you would by getting angry or upset, she noted.

Consider Outside Scholarships

The coronavirus situation has changed plans not only for incoming freshmen, but also for current college students, Nelson said. “Organizations are stepping up and trying to find ways to provide additional scholarship opportunities this year,” she noted. Students should be proactive in seeking those options.

Raise Me is offering new micro-scholarships for students who are seeking additional funding sources, Kalinkewicz said. In addition, she encourages students to ask colleges for more time to make decisions, even if the school hasn’t extended its deposit process. You can always try and request additional time to get your financial aid package right, she noted.

Finding more money is not relegated to younger students, Javice added. “Adult learners comprise the biggest group of people actually going to college today,” she noted. It’s very common for people to be seeking new types of skills and going back to college to gain additional degrees. Financial aid is available to adult learners, and they may even get aid to pay such costs as rent, she added. In addition, they can seek outside scholarships or employer-matching funds to pay for their educations.

Not Necessarily Too Late to File FAFSA

Students who didn’t file a FAFSA already should do that as soon as possible so you can get access to financial aid funds, Javice said. Federal FAFSA deadlines are usually in June, but states make their own deadlines for state aid. Some states, such as New Jersey, have moved their deadlines back for this year, so check to make sure you stay on top of your deadlines.

And if you file for financial aid and you decide you don’t want it, you can always decline the financial offer or portions of that offer, Nelson said. Your best bet is to apply so you can take what you need and decline any amounts you don’t need. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should apply anyway because you could be surprised at what you’re offered. “You really need to complete that [FAFSA] process every year,” Nelson said. “The process is very easy, and jobs can come and go. It’s your safety net and you want to make sure you’ve completed it. It makes it a whole lot easier when situations like this arise.”

Some colleges also have supplemental applications to fill out for particular types of aid, so always reach out to your financial aid office for information on which documentation you should be completing, Kalinkewicz said.

Could Families — Not Schools — Be in the Driver’s Seat?

Because many merit scholarships are based on test scores and GPAs, some high school juniors are concerned that they won’t have access to those in the coming year. With test dates being canceled and grades moving to pass/fail, they fear they won’t meet the criteria to earn such scholarships.

“It’s clear to me that colleges and universities know the extraordinary circumstances we’re under,” Nelson said. “All schools are leaning forward and considering all options as the situation develops. I would continue to encourage juniors to stay engaged and stay informed.” You should also watch to see what happens with test dates, she said. The ACT and SAT dates could change, and some schools may forego the need for a test score altogether, she added.

In addition, some merit scholarships that have traditionally been based on test scores may become test optional, Kalinkewicz noted.

Keep in mind that in many cases, families are in the driver’s seat rather than having the colleges be in charge, Javice said. Some schools have lost revenue and are very eager for students right now, “so if you are scared because you thought you could never get into a specific school from an admission criteria standpoint, this is your year to stretch, this is your year to think about the schools that are your reach category and go for it, because schools need the money and need the students. So the power that used to be in an admissions office is in you, the student or the family’s hands,” she said.

She also advises juniors to request application waivers from schools to save the $50 to $100 or so per application that they would normally pay. The schools may say no, but it won’t hurt to ask, she advised. “Persistence is key when dealing with schools,” Javice noted.

Federal Student Loans Payment Suspended

As many families are aware, payments on federal student loans are automatically suspended from March 13 through September 30, 2020 thanks to the government’s CARES Act. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly for families that have multiple children in various stages of the college process.

“You will stop paying your loans and you will have zero interest from now until September 30, and that’s important for parents to know,” Nelson said regarding existing federal student loans. “If you had an auto draft, the auto draft has been shut off and will not continue. You can, however, continue to make those payments if you’d like, and any interest you had before March 13, once that interest is paid up, all your payments will go directly toward your principal.” She advises families with federally-backed loans to check with their loan servicing agents, because they have a lot of information for both parent and student borrowers on how the CARES Act will impact payments for the next six months.

Student Job Gone? Colleges Might Help

For students who expect to earn money via part-time or full-time work to pay for college, but can’t do so due to the coronavirus, colleges may have resources to help. “There are many colleges and universities that have put together emergency grants for students to cover expenses that they were maybe not expecting because of COVID-19,” Nelson said. “They are making accommodations to try and make up for that lost income for students.”

Trusty said Morehead State is continuing to pay students who were on federal work-study. “If they had a job, we are still paying them right now as if they were working, although they are not. In the summer, those funds will be flipped over to emergency grant funds. So we will make sure that our students are covered and can live as if they were employed with the work-study position.”

Some colleges have even made remote work available to students, Kalinkewicz added. Therefore, contact your financial aid office to determine if any accommodations are available to make up for lost student income whenever possible.

Consider Other Options to Save

If you are seeking ways to save money on college, you should also consider other resources, whether that means less expensive colleges, in-state options or potentially transferring down the road, Janice said. You can also save money by taking classes at a community college to pay a lower cost for your credits that can be transferred to a four-year college later.

“If you have that target institution in mind — maybe you’ve already been admitted there but your family has determined a year of community college will really help stretch things further — work on articulation agreements or a plan so you are taking the right classes that actually have the ability to transfer toward the degree you want at your target institution, not necessarily just as credit,” Kalinkewicz said.

In addition, many colleges offer merit aid for transfer students, she added. So always look for every potential financial aid and scholarship resource to best maximize your package and allow your dollars to stretch as far as possible.

Resource: To review the entire hour-long webinar, you can watch the replay here.

Share Your Thoughts

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid
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Published Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:22:20 +0000

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