This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC101) Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow.
In case anyone has a student trying to get into an engineering school, I thought I would share where we are and how we got here.
Our oldest is looking for electrical engineering schools with a side of computer science or statistics at the lowest cost and within a day’s drive. He has taken high rigor classes, has a 34 ACT score, and is a National Merit Scholar (NMS) Finalist with a GPA of 2.8 unweighted and 3.8 weighted. He has an average number of extracurricular activities. Luckily, most schools either use the weighted GPA or recalculate it for a core GPA, so that ended up being less of a concern than we’d thought.
Here are the steps we took to help secure his acceptance at an engineering school from the start of his senior year until now, when we’re poised to make a decision.
Determine Where to Apply
My son created a dedicated college info Gmail account to use for this process and an academic resume. We also:
- Asked anyone and everyone for suggestions and recommendations. Whenever someone talked about engineering schools, we made notes.
- Researched engineering schools that give merit to National Merit Scholars Finalists.
- Checked to make sure the schools were certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and eliminated any that weren’t.
- Filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and began filling out the Common App essay.
Start Eliminating Engineering Schools
We ran the Net Price Calculator for each school that he seemed interested in, both public and private, in state and out. Then we checked the fine print and scholarship and merit pages to see if there was any chance for additional aid. We eliminated a lot of schools this way.
We checked the admissions percentage rate for each school.
At this point we made a chart showing the schools and their locations, size, approximate Cost of Attendance (COA), and admissions rate.
If his stats were aligned, and he wasn’t applying for an in-demand major, we looked at where he fit in statistically compared to last year’s class, such as whether he was in the 50 or 75 percent range.
This gave us a better sense of his safety and target schools, but this became tricky. We decided to go with the general admittance rate and add anything we could about special circumstances, such as if the school only admitted 20 percent from out of state or if a school accepted a small percentage of engineers. This information helped us apply to a wider range of schools.
Next, we reorganized the chart by state and admissions percentages.
Then, we went back and crossed off another round of schools based first on COA and then on admissions rates. We ended up with a reasonable list weighted towards schools with a 70 percent or higher acceptance rate, a smaller group in the 30 to 60 percent range, and a couple of dream schools that accept 20 percent of applicants or fewer. The list included about 23 schools.
Apply and Navigate Acceptance
My son chose to apply Early Action (EA) everywhere that offered it but not Early Decision (ED).
He added columns in the spreadsheet for early admissions dates, regular admissions dates, whether they use the Common App, whether the school required additional essays when admissions decisions are released, whether they want the FAFSA or the CSS, and links to the portal information. He also used the same email and password for each portal to avoid confusion.
The spreadsheet made it easy to color code or hide information that we didn’t need anymore and to add columns as needed, such as for missing items, scholarship or honors college due dates, and application results.
By the time the holiday break rolled around, he had heard from 18 schools, but there were a few applications that weren’t due until after the new year and one school that wanted to see his midyear grades before making a decision.
Over the break, he took the information from each acceptance and registered a student account because that’s where they send scholarship and financial aid information. This is the part I found frustrating because I don’t see why they can’t just continue to use the portal.
As acceptances came in, we dove further into those schools and asked deeper questions, such as:
- What’s the housing situation like for four years?
- What does the honors college entail?
- Is it a weed-out school that leads students to withdraw?
- Are there co-op programs?
- Can you change majors?
With all of this information, we were finally able to rank the schools.
Editor’s Note: We suggest adding one more column in a tracking spreadsheet for appealing. Whatever your student is offered at their top choice, ask for more, and share their acceptances as they come in on Compare College Offers. You’ll be able to see what other students at the same schools were offered and then use that information to appeal.
Make the Final Decision
Once he hears back from every school and we have the costs, we’ll try to visit the top contenders so he can make the final choice.
My only worries are that he’ll miss out on housing because we have to wait to be sure about financial aid or that there’s some perfect school out there that we missed in this process. This is why I keep having to check the original list of schools when I read other families’ stories. I need the reminder that “nope, we cannot afford some schools no matter how amazing they sound.”
So, there you go — it’s a long process with a lot of researching and list-making, but the end is in sight! I hope this helps other students find the engineering school that’s best for them, too.
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