More than 370 members of our Paying for College 101 Facebook group responded to our recent College Admissions 2019 Survey with College Ave Student Loans. These families had a variety of experiences in being accepted, as well as different experiences when it comes to navigating the financial aid process.
Most of the parents taking this survey (59%) had students graduating from high school in 2019, while 25% of respondents had children that graduated in 2018.
In the end, 54% of respondents reported being “very satisfied” with the outcome of the college admissions process, and 42% reported being “satisfied.” However, even though the vast majority came to a desirable outcome, the process wasn’t easy.
How Much Support Do Families Receive Through the Process?
One of the biggest pieces of advice from survey respondents was to start early. Even though you might get help from free sources as you look for colleges and go through the admissions and financial aid process, you might still need more time. The learning curve is steep, and you might not have time to get through it if you aren’t starting as early as possible.
“Determine if you need help early,” wrote one survey respondent. “Accept that you might have to pay for a service, for example, test prep or college match.”
When it came to feeling adequately supported through the process, 57% of respondents claimed that high school counselors did a good job, while 43% said they weren’t supported adequately by high school counselors.
Of those that actually used a private college counselor to get help, 66% said they felt adequately supported. However, only 26% of the respondents used a private counselor to navigate the process.
Admissions officers at colleges received the highest marks for helpfulness, with 80% of respondents claiming they felt adequately supported.
What Resources are Most Helpful when Going through College Admissions?
Because so many respondents pointed to the importance of starting early and researching options, it’s important to understand which resources are most helpful.
According to the survey, 65% found college websites to be a “very helpful” source of information, while 35% of respondents found them “somewhat helpful.”
We were pleased that quite a few respondents pointed to Road2College as a helpful resource, with one in particular offering this advice: “Utilize the Road2College livestreams — super informative.”
If you’re looking for information about the process, though, it’s important to be careful about which websites you follow.
“It is overwhelming and many sites make it worse,” pointed out one respondent. “It’s not an apples to apples situation and it is easy to get caught up in all the comments on some of the sites.”
In addition to websites being a helpful resource, Facebook groups, like the Paying for College 101 group, seem to be good sources of information for parents looking for information and support. Only 1% of respondents found Facebook groups “not at all” helpful.
“Facebook groups are very helpful as some parents have been through the process before and are very knowledgeable, recommending sites,” wrote one respondent.
Other resources for college didn’t fare as well in terms of helpfulness. Only 33% of those who used test prep services found them “very helpful,” while 50% labeled them “somewhat helpful.” Essay writing/editing services were 43% “very helpful” and 45% “somewhat helpful.” Additionally, 58% of respondents found financial planning services “somewhat helpful” while 25% found them “very helpful.”
When looking for help with financial planning, many respondents pointed to the net price calculators that some college websites have. These calculators are designed to help families figure out the cost of attendance so that they can prepare.
Additionally, many parents suggested talking to children about the realities of their financial situation and what is affordable without taking on a lot of debt.
“Please look into a college that you can afford,” suggested one respondent. “Also, if you know you are going to get financial aid, be sure to know what percentage of needs the school meets.”
Many others suggested learning more about financial aid and financial planning as early as possible so that unrealistic and expensive schools could be taken off the list. Additionally, the admonition to look beyond big names was also a feature of many comments.
“Each college requirement is unique as well as each child’s capability and profile,” wrote one respondent. “Choose what will work for your child and family, not what is ranked higher or a big name.”
In the end, though, it’s up to you to put in the work, along with your child, to look for a situation that will work well.
“Do your own research,” wrote one respondent. “Be your own advocate. Encourage your kids to keep trying.”
Real Life Families Talk About the Support Received During the College Admissions Process
We talked to two moms about the college admissions process and the support they received while working through the system. Here’s what they said about the process.
“When you talk about clueless, you’re talking about me,” says Christina. “I thought financial aid would be free money. I thought, we apply, we get in, we get money.”
Unfortunately, the situation didn’t play out like Christina expected. “She got in almost everywhere and no one was giving her money,” she says. “We were blindsided by the costs of these schools.”
Christina says her main mistake was letting her daughter apply to a lot of big-name (and big-cost) schools. In fact, Christina had no idea about the net price calculators on many college websites, so she didn’t have any way of comparing. On top of that, even though she filled out the FAFSA, she didn’t fully understand EFC. As a result, she wasn’t prepared for the financial burden placed on her family by college.
When her next daughter goes through the process, Christina says she’ll limit where she can apply and approach it in a much more organized manner.
However, approaching things in an organized manner next time wasn’t going to help now. Christina wasn’t sure what to do until she found help from someone in the Paying for College 101 Facebook group.
“It was the end of February and going into March and I was completely freaked out. I didn’t know what to do,” Christina says. “A member of the group, who does college counseling, helped me find schools with rolling admissions. She helped us apply late to schools that offered money.”
In the end, Christina’s daughter is headed to North Carolina. It’s not her first choice school, but it’s one that they can make work. They received enough money to cover about half the cost of attendance, and she’s taking as much as she can in federal loans.
“We’re both working our tails off right now to make money so that we can pay for most of the remainder,” says Christina. “The hope is that she’ll borrow less than $10,000 in private loans in addition to the federal loans.”
Christina’s advice to other parents is to research costs ahead of time and be realistic about what’s feasible in your budget.
“Talk about it ahead of time,” says Christina. “Have a plan, even before you start visiting schools. Talk about expectations early on.”
Maygin is going through the process for the second time this year. She feels much more confident this time around than she did before.
“My oldest is going to be a junior in college in the fall,” says Maygin. “Her school counselors were not very helpful. We were on our own and things were very different when I applied 25 years ago.”
Maygin felt completely unprepared for the process, and frustrated by all the conflicting information about financial aid. She was especially disappointed after realizing the reality of the EFC.
“Because we had a low EFC, we were under the impression that my daughter would get a full ride to almost all schools,” says Maygin. “This was definitely not the truth.”
Like Christina, Maygin hadn’t heard of net price calculators on school websites and had no idea how to estimate the cost of college ahead of time. It was disappointing because this lack of information led her daughter to apply to schools that were financially out of reach.
“There were schools that she fell in love with and were accepted to that we had to decline,” says Maygin. “It was a heartbreaking experience.”
She also points out that not everyone can afford college counseling. Maygin thinks that it might have been helpful to have a guide, but they couldn’t pay for it.
“I felt like the help was not available and we did not know the right places to look or ask,” she says. “I feel like that is a disadvantage to students who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to pay for college counseling.”
However, Maygin is happier and more confident now that she’s been through the process and that she’s found helpful websites like Road2College and Facebook groups that can help provide information and support. Being able to tap into help from parents who have been through it can be a big help.
“The goal is to not have my daughter strapped with loans, but it seems like that is the reality,” Maygin says. “We are trying to get through this with minimal loans so a lot of schools with heavier price tags are removed from the list.”
In the end, Maygin suggests that parents really look into price, and learn about the resources available, like the net price calculators. Be realistic about how financial aid works and talk to your students ahead of time about what they can expect. It’s not fun to weed out colleges, but it might have to be done.
The college admissions process can be difficult to navigate, and information about financial aid can be confusing. Without a supportive group, it can be hard to get good information about how to make the most of financial aid.
However, there are resources available. Consider signing up for our free webinars that can help you learn more about the process and how to navigate it. Additionally, joining the Paying For College 101 Facebook group can give you access to hundreds of families looking for guidance on the process — as well as access to parents who have been there before and can provide help and support.
If you’re looking for ways to close a college funding gap, consider College Ave Student Loans, who sponsored this survey. We’re grateful for their help and resources — like their student loan calculator— which can help you compare your loan options and figure out how to make the best financial choices when paying for school.
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This post is sponsored by College Ave Student Loans.