Accepted, Denied, or Just Beginning

Accepted, Denied, or Just Beginning

(We’ll help you make sense of the process.)

It’s that time of year – springtime and college admissions notifications. Since our readers are parents of 9th graders through HS seniors, we thought we’d provide a little something for everyone.

Waitlist, Rejected, Accepted College AdmissionsFor parents of seniors, the wait may be over, but the mystery still goes unsolved. Hearing stories of acceptances, rejections, and wait lists, it seems there is no rhyme or reason to the admissions process. Here are links to two eye-opening articles on the topic:

  • “Making the grade: Inside the college admissions process” gives a peak behind the doors of admissions at Lehigh College. It’s fascinating to read how admissions officers evaluate criteria and and candidate’s circumstances.


For those just starting out, it’s smart to begin understanding how to pay for college and the terminology used in the process. Here are just a few terms to get familiar with:

COA (Cost of Attendance) Every college calculates a budget to estimate the average yearly cost to attend their school. The budget includes tuition, fees, books, transportation, room & board, etc. Your actual cost of attendance may differ, but colleges don’t adjust their COA based on personal situations. The COA will be used to determine your financial need.

EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) This is your “college number” or the amount the Department of Education determines your family can afford to pay for college on a yearly basis. This calculation includes many factors, but most importantly it includes your income, taxable investment assets, college savings account, age of parents, and number of kids in college. Unfortunately, it does not consider your household debt. COA – EFC = Financial Need.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) This government form is used to figure out the amount of federal and state aid you are eligible for. The FAFSA is based on your prior year’s taxes. A family must fill out a FAFSA to get any form of financia OR merit aid. To get an early estimate of a student’s federal aid eligibility, the government created FAFSA4caster. It doesn’t matter what grade your child is in, check out the FAFSA4caster and get an early idea of your eligibility.

CSS Profile (College Scholastic Search) The CSS is a more detailed version of the FAFSA and is used by private institutions in gathering additional financial information. Approximately 300 selective schools require the CSS in addition to the FAFSA. These schools use the CSS to calculate a different EFC, with their own formulas, and use this new EFC to determine how much aid they will offer a student from the school’s endowment.

That’s enough to digest for now…can you believe the terms above only cover part of the financial planning process. Don’t wait till your child is a senior to start becoming familiar with these calculations and forms!

By taking the time to understand the process, you’ll know how colleges and the government evaluate your family income and assets to determine financial need. And you’ll be in a better position to make adjustments before filling out these forms when 12th grade comes along.

*Source: Fidelity Investments 2012 College Savings Indicator Study


Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.