Answer Choices: Friend or Foe? Part II

Real life doesn’t come with answer choices. There’s nuance, grey areas, over time fiction becomes fact and fact, fiction, so what then, should we make of the answer choice, the final step between question and answer on the SAT/ACT?

Last month we covered when answer choices can act as our friends or foes on test day. If you haven’t yet, click here to read  Part I.

In this installment, we’ll look at one foe: writing answer choices; though these answer choices can confuse, confuzzle, fool or obscure, with the right know-how and a little discipline, we can turn these foes into friends.

So, how do we take away the power of verbal trap answers? They’re designed to trick us, so even looking at them unprepared can be dangerous. This situation brings to mind the story of Perseus and Medusa, would could with her gaze turn any onlooker to stone – so too can students become stone-faced, whittling away precious minutes eliminating trap answers.

Just as Perseus bested Medusa using a mirrored shield to fight her reflection, rather than the Gorgon herself, so too will we endeavor to use a tool to target our goal (the correct answer) while avoiding the traps which lay in wait for us.

Writing Answer Choices

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 9.41.52 PM
Remember this question from last month? The fact that the answer choices contain similar elements – and three of the answer choices start with the noun thrill – only makes finding the correct answer more time-consuming. If only there was some way to avoid all this gobbledygook!

Fortunately for us, there is a way. Both the Writing section of the SAT and English section of the ACT test proper grammar, which means that for most questions, our equivalent of Perseus’s mirror’d shield is to discover, before looking at the answer choices, what exactly is wrong about the sentence to begin with?

This is because, if we can identify the issue beforehand, all we need do with the answer choices is find the solution to said issue that introduces no new issues.

Let’s apply this strategy to the above question! Here, the sentence starts with a description: an introductory modifying phrase. Grammatically, these phrases modify the first noun that follows them (noun = person, place or thing). In the original sentence, what follows the comma? The noun thrill (“a” is an article and “great” is an adjective). Now that we’ve parsed this sentence’s grammatical underpinnings, ask yourself: is it logical for the mother to be worried over her “great thrill?”

Probably not.

Looking at the rest of the sentence, what could logically worry mother? Those of you who said “drive” are correct: uncertainty can be stressful, and a road trip requires contingencies. To fix the introductory modyfier error, all we need then do is find the sentence that puts “drive” after the comma, instead of “thrill.” Which answer choice does this without introducing new errors?

That’s right, answer choice (D)!

Nice work. Now, try this for yourself: identify the grammatical error in the following questions prior to gazing at their answer choices, and use this error to swiftly identify the correct answer.

practice q 1

practice q 2

practice q 3

correct answers:
(p) ‘unouoɹd snonbıqɯɐ :11#
(ǝ) ‘qɹǝʌ ǝʇɐɔıpǝɹd buıssıɯ :3#
(p) ‘ɹoɹɹǝ ɹǝıɟıpoɯ ʎɹoʇɔnpoɹʇuı :1#


College Board Announces More Details Regarding the 2016 SAT

Since the College Board released sample questions yesterday for the new SAT set to launch in 2016, the Internet has been abuzz. What do these changes mean for students? And what do students think about the new SAT? Kaplan has the answers for you right here!

Information released about the new SAT indicate that students will need:

1. A stronger knowledge of math fundamentals

2. Greater stamina for reading comprehension passages – there will be a 65-minute reading section

A recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of high school students* shows that while students generally support the SAT changes scheduled to launch in 2016, such as eliminating fill-in-the-blank vocabulary and the wrong answer penalty, a majority (56%) are resistant to the test’s planned move to digital – a surprising finding given how tech-immersed today’s teens are.  In a previous Kaplan survey, students expressed concerns about the strain of looking at a computer screen for four hours and potential technical issues, as well as a preference for the tactile nature of writing, ‘scratch work’, and flipping pages.

As for the other changes coming to the SAT, students are supportive of some, split on others:

  • No More Fill-in-the-Blank Vocabulary: Of the announced changes to the SAT, students most strongly support this one, with 85% in favor of this change. Long the bane of many students’ test-taking experience, fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions will be eliminated with the new SAT.  What does this mean? No more “SAT words.” Instead, the exam will focus on vocabulary-in-context, as well as revising and editing write-in passages.
  • Eliminating the Wrong Answer Penalty: The current ¼ point wrong answer penalty will be a thing of the past once the revised SAT launches in 2016, and 74% of teens surveyed give this change a thumbs-up.  This change mirrors the scoring policy on the ACT – the other major college admissions exam – which does not penalize test takers for wrong answers.
  • Addition of Historical Passage: The new SAT will include a reading passage from “founding documents of America,” such as the Constitution or Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and/or world history – an addition that has the support of 70% of students surveyed. While students who know their American and world history may be at an advantage here, this part of the exam will test students on reading comprehension, not on historical facts.
  • Optional Essay:  Exactly half of those surveyed support the College Board’s move to make the SAT essay optional, rather than required – another move that mirrors an existing ACT policy. Added in 2005, the SAT essay (also known as the Writing section) changed the test’s scoring scale from 1600 to 2400. By making the essay optional, the SAT will return to a 1600 scoring scale; the optional essay will receive its own separate grade.
  • No More Calculators…Sometimes: Currently, test takers can use approved calculators for all math questions, but with the new SAT, test takers will only be able to use calculators for some. Just under half of students surveyed (49.6%) think it’s a good idea to require test takers to solve some math problems without the use of a calculator.

As a reminder – current seniors, juniors, and sophomores will not be affected by these changes. However, current freshmen — the graduating class of 2017 — will take the new version of the SAT as juniors in the spring of 2016.

There will surely be more to come on the new SAT and as more information becomes available, Kaplan will keep you updated. In the meantime, please visit our SAT Test Change information center www.kaptest.com/satchange for more detailed information on the new SAT.


Successfully Navigating all the Scenarios of College Admissions April Angst

AprilAngstThe teenage rite of passage of waiting for incoming college decisions may have changed from looking for the thin or fat envelope to hitting “refresh” on the Web browser — but the anxiety of college decision limbo has not.  While many of this year’s two million-plus college applicants have earned admission into their top choice schools, many more are coping with the blow of rejection or being sent into waitlist mode, wondering what to do next.  Meanwhile, even those fortunate enough to get accepted into their top choice schools are grappling with tough decisions.  During this critical time, what should college applicants do and how can parents support their efforts?  Kaplan Test Prep offers the following advice for students to help navigate the most common college admissions scenarios.

  • I didn’t get accepted to my top choice schools.  Don’t be discouraged.  You’re far from alone. Many of the nation’s most competitive schools announced record low acceptance rates this year (e.g. 5.9% for Harvard University; 6.3% for Yale University; 8.6% for Brown University; 7.3% for Princeton University; 6.9% for Columbia University).  Keep in mind that college admissions have an element of subjectivity; also, rejection can sometimes reflect more on a school’s desire to build a well-rounded and diverse class with limited spots than on your strength as an applicant.  Ideally you’ve applied to multiple places, including “safety” schools, which means you should have options.  Take another look at these schools.  If you applied to them, you must have liked something about them.  And remember that generations of college students before you didn’t get into their top choice schools, but ended up being happy with their college experience.
  • I’ve been waitlisted. Do I wait?  The last thing you should do if you’ve been waitlisted is wait. Your first step: thank the school for keeping your application under continued consideration and send the admissions office new, relevant information that could aid your cause: midterm grades, awards, new leadership roles, etc.  Make the case that you are a “must-have student.”  That said, don’t be under any illusion that getting off the waitlist will be easy; in fact, it’s unlikely.  According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in the most recently surveyed year, colleges accepted an average of 25% of all students who chose to remain on waitlists – down from 31% the previous year.  With that in mind, definitely revisit the schools that did say “We want you now.”
  • I got into my top college choice, but the amount of financial aid they offered me wasn’t enough.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more aid.  Unlike FAFSA offers, which are non-negotiable,  there may be flexibility in financial aid packages awarded directly by colleges. One strategy may be to show them a financial aid offer made by another college that accepted you and see if they’ll match it.  Since they’ve already accepted you, they more than likely will work with you. Explain to them how your family’s financial situation may have changed since first applying or how your activities since applying warrant additional aid; the worst that can happen is that your request is denied.
  • I got into several of my top schools; how do I decide which one to attend?  This is the best situation to be in, but that doesn’t mean the decision will be simple. Refer to the list of factors you considered when you first applied. If paying for college is an important factor, evaluate their financial aid packages. If you can, visit (or revisit) the campuses that are still in the running, talk to current students and/or alumni, consider what’s most important to you in your college experience and which school will be the best “fit” for your priorities.  Then, discuss it with those who know you best and make an informed decision.

One more thing to keep in mind: schools have the right to revoke your acceptance.  While this is an uncommon occurrence, it does happen.  Keep your grades up (according to a study by the NACAC, colleges say final grades are the reason for revoking admission 68.7 percent of the time); don’t get in trouble with the law or with your school; and be on your best behavior on social media.

We’re sending you all positive energy during this important month – good luck, think strategically and choose wisely!


When to Guess on the SAT: A Statistical Look

Taking a Test
“Did you hear about the corduroy pillow? It’s making headlines!”

In all seriousness, headlines recently have included many stories on the new SAT and how it will differ from the current SAT. One of these changes is the removal of the wrong-answer penalty. However, this change will not take place until the Spring 2016 exam, so, for the next two years it is prudent to continue to carefully use the wrong-answer penalty to our advantage as test-takers.

What’s that you say? A penalty can be an advantage? Why, but of course!

Many of you have likely heard advice along the following lines: “On the SAT, only guess when you’re able to eliminate one  or more answer choices.” However, being told a strategy is different from understanding the same strategy. Given this, I’d like to perform the following thought experiment with you:

How many points, on average, would a person received if they eliminated a set number of answer choices and then guessed on the SAT?

*for the following examples, I’ve chosen the number arbitrary number 60 because it has many factors, simplifying our calculations while being large enough to show average results.

Feel free to substitute any number you prefer, e.g. 100 or 170.

Example One: Blindly Guessing on 60 Questions
There are five answer choices on the SAT, one of which is correct, and four of which are incorrect. Were a person to blindly guess, they would then have a 1/5, or 20% chance of guessing the right answer. Let’s use 60 questions (roughly 1/3 of the total questions on the SAT) to illustrate what happens when one ignores the wrong-answer penalty.

Questions Guessed Correctly:
Questions Guessed Incorrectly:
Total Points (+1 for Correct answers, -¼ for Incorrect Answers)

There you have it! The reason for the wrong-answer penalty: on average, blindly guessing takes four quarter points (i.e. a whole point) for each point gained, rendering said approach fruitless.

Example Two: Eliminating One Answer Choice Over 60 Questions
The oft-quoted strategy is to “only guess if you can correctly eliminate one or more answer choices.” Let’s run the numbers, and see what happens when only one answer choice is eliminated. Assuming we correctly eliminate one wrong answer over 60 questions, there would be four answer choices remaining, one of which is correct, and three of which are incorrect. Were a person to then guess, they would then have a 1/4, or 25% chance of guessing the right answer. Let’s run the numbers!

Questions Guessed Correctly:
Questions Guessed Incorrectly:
Total Points (+1 for Correct answers, -¼ for Incorrect Answers)

There you have it! The reason for the “guess if you can eliminate at least one answer choice” strategy is because, on average, a person will gain more (even if only a few points) than they lose, potentially garnering more points than if they simply left challenging questions blank.

Example Three: Eliminating Two Answer Choices Over 60 Questions
Having proved the veracity of “only guess if you can correctly eliminate one or more answer choices,” let’s run the numbers, and see what happens when two answer choices are eliminated. Assuming we correctly eliminate two wrong answers for 60 questions, there would be three answer choices remaining, one of which is correct, and two of which are incorrect. Were a person to then guess, they would then have a 1/3, or 33.3% chance of guessing the right answer. Let’s run the numbers!

Questions Guessed Correctly:
Questions Guessed Incorrectly:
Total Points (+1 for Correct answers, -¼ for Incorrect Answers)

So, by eliminating two answer choices over 60 questions we gained 10 points, 6.75 points more than the “eliminate one” camp. This is a nice reminder to practice elimination strategies, especially for the reading section.

Example Four: Eliminating Three Answer Choices Over 60 Questions
One of the more vexing situations in the Reading section is when one is stuck between two seemingly-correct answer choices. However, mathematically, this situation is much less dire than the preceding scenarios.

To see why, let’s run the numbers. Assuming we correctly eliminate three wrong answer choices for 60 questions, there would be two answer choices remaining, one of which is correct, and one of which is incorrect. Were a person to then guess, they would then have a 1/2, or 50% chance of guessing the right answer. On to the numbers!

Questions Guessed Correctly:
Questions Guessed Incorrectly:
Total Points (+1 for Correct answers, -¼ for Incorrect Answers)

22.5 raw points – not bad! So, next time you’re stuck between two plausible answers, don’t let it get you down. By eliminating, then guessing, you’ll gain far more than you lose over the course of the exam.

Example Five: Eliminating Four Answer Choices
Ultimately, the highest scores are awarded to those students who, rather than guess, arrive at the correct answer with the highest frequency. So, keep studying hard, and when necessary, guess with confidence!


5 Tips to Follow When Making Your College Target List

download (2)Where should you apply to schools this fall? There are so many choices!

As the school year is coming to a close and your senior friends are getting their acceptance letters from colleges, you may be thinking, where should I apply? Here are some tips to help you decide.

1. Location, Location, Location

You will be spending the next 4 years at one of the schools you apply to. It’s important to like where you live! Consider the following when thinking about location:

City? Rural?

Do you want to be living in a big city? A smaller, more quiet campus away from the hustle and bustle of the big city? If you are not sure, it is helpful to visit colleges that fit each category so that you can get a feel for what is right for you!

Do I want to be close to home?

Do you want to live near your hometown? Live in another time zone? Or live away from home, but just close enough to come home every once in a while with your laundry in tow?

2. Size of school

Small or large?

When thinking about school, do you want to be at a smaller school where you may know most people? Or is a large school, with a ton of people one that fits the bill? Some students prefer to be a big fish in a small pond, while others prefer to be at a school where the student population can fill up a stadium on College Football Saturday.

3. The Campus

You will be doing more than just going to class and studying.   Campus feel is an important part in choosing which schools to apply to.  The image of a student sitting with a book under a tree on a beautiful sunny day maybe what is on that college brochure, but there is nothing like visiting a college and talking to students to really get to know a campus. But first, consider the following while narrowing down your list:

Do I want to be around many types of people or people with interests similar to mine?

Do I want to be at a school where sports are a big deal? Or one that’s known for its political activism? Or one where there are many volunteer organizations?

Do I want to be in a college town where everyone lives on campus and everything I need is within walking distance? Or an urban campus with direct access to my intended career?

4. Cost

This is an important factor. Some things you need to consider:

Is it a public or private university? What is the cost of in-state tuition, out-of-state tuition?

What types of scholarships do they offer?

Is financial aid an option?

It’s important to remember to add in costs to the tuition, such as books, room and board, and travel home.

5. Majors

College- you are there to learn and get an education! Consider your areas of interest and what field of study you may want to pursue. What universities have strong academic programs in the area that you may want to major in?

We hope these tips have helped you on your path to college!



Accepted! Now what? 7 Tips for Picking Your College

CapGown_7MBYou’ve been accepted! And not just to one school, but a few. How do you narrow down your choices and pick the one that is right for you? While there is no magic formula in picking a school, we do have some tips for narrowing your choices down so that you can make your college decision.

1. Revisit your list of schools

Think back, why did you pick the ones you did? What was it about those schools that made you want to apply to them?

2. Pros and Cons

That’s right! The good old pros and cons list – it can work! Take a look at your list and write down the pros and cons of each school. This should help you to rank your schools in priority order or at the very least push some to the bottom of the list, or out of contention and catapult a few to the top.

3. College visits

You’ve visited your schools, but go back to the ones on your short list. Be prepared with questions and before you leave the campus, make sure to write down 3 positives and 3 negatives (if you can think of them!) for the school.

4. Your future

It may seem like it’s a long way away, but think about what you want to be doing four years from now.  Do you want to be working in a particular industry? Go to graduate school? With this in mind, think about how the schools on your list can help you get there. Do the schools have programs that will help you reach your goals?

5. Campus Life  

You will be doing more than just going to class and studying! Does the school offer activities and programs that interest you? Are there clubs and organizations you would want to be involved in?

6. Cost

Financing college is expensive! Make sure to compare aid awards to see what has been awarded to you for free (scholarships and grants) and what you have to pay back.

7. Don’t procrastinate!

This is an exciting time- enjoy it! But don’t put off making your decision! You will be spending your next four years at the college you choose. Make sure to spend some time seriously thinking about your options.


College Admissions in the Headlines: The “Shoot for the Stars” Edition

AA040001Here are some of the latest, most interesting headlines about the college admissions process from media outlets across the country. Our lead story will inspire you.

This student from Long Island, New York has lots to celebrate this college admissions season. He got accepted to ALL eight Ivy league colleges and universities! (USA Today)

The grand totals for admission to the nation’s eight Ivy League colleges and universities are in.  There were 253,472 applications to be a part of the Class of 2018, and the top schools gave a green light to 22,624. Rounded off, that comes to an acceptance rate of 8.9% – or 8.925641% if you want to get even more specific. (The Washington Post)

This is a bit troubling. New data finds that colleges and universities with larger endowments and higher returns on investment tend to enroll fewer low-income students. (U.S. News & World Report)

Two Colorado companies promised to help aspiring college students from out-of-state get in-state tuition. Then the University of Colorado cracked down. (Inside Higher Ed)

Tuition, room and board is just the tip of iceberg when it comes to college costs – though granted a very large tip. There’s also textbooks and travel back home. Plan head. Scholarships can help. (U.S. News & World Report)


SAT/ACT Answer Choices: Friend or Foe?

Real life doesn’t come with answer choices. There’s nuance, grey areas, over time fiction becomes fact and fact, fiction, so what then, should we make of the answer choice, the final step between question and answer on the SAT/ACT?

Under ideal conditions, if a student is able to answer a question, the correct answer ought be obvious, conversely, if a student is unable to solve the problem, the incorrect answer choices ought hide the correct one. Conceptually, this was the impetus for the SAT’s -1/4 penalty for blind guessing.

However, as students well-versed in test-taking, you’ve probably noticed this is not always the case. For example, one may properly read a passage, only to be wooed by the siren call of a well-written false answer choice. On the other hand, a student may have no idea how to solve a math problem, but by working backwards from the answer choices, arrive at a satisfactory solution.

Frustrating? Perhaps. But if we dig deeper, there should be a way for us to use the nature of the answer choices to our advantage.

In order to do so, let’s compare the usefulness (or lack thereof) of various answer choices:

1. Writing Answer Choices

In the above SAT writing question, we’re presented with a sentence which may or may not be correct. Answer choice (A) repeats the underlined portion, which is useful if the sentence is fine as is. Answers (B) and (E) echo (A), starting with the noun “thrill” and proceeding with minor variations. Answer (C) starts with “she,” referring to mom, and answer (D) takes the road less travelled, referring to the drive.

Now that we’ve read the answer choices and scanned their construction, are you feeling more confident or less? Were the answers useful? Were the answers there to help us?

2. Reading Answer Choices

Above are two questions and short passage about about internet darling Nicholas Tesla. In the answer choices for question 11, (A), (B) and (C) all offer varying degrees of dismissal. Answer choice (D) claims the passage provides evidence, and (E) is the odd man out, referring obliquely to the various media mentioned in the first sentence.

Reading the passage, it is fairly clear the author does not approve of this stereotype of scientists. Unfortunately, answers (A), (B) and (C) do not make an easy job for us: all three reject the definition presented for various reasons. Do you think answers like these may confuse a test-taker during the real exam?

The answer choices for question 12 are similarly arranged. (A), (C) and (E) discuss the experiment itself, while (B) and (D) discuss the author’s description of the experiment. Once a test-taker has parsed the question and decided whether it asks about the experiment itself or its description, we’re still stuck between either three choices or two. At this point, ask yourself: Are these answers here to help us?

Let’s pause here and take stock of what we’ve seen. For verbal questions, the answers were either similar, or in groups with slight variations therein. After reading them, did you feel more or less confident? How do you suppose the untrained test-taker might feel?

3. Math Answer Choices

Above are two SAT math questions which are demonstrative of how multiple-choice math answers are written. Question 4 contains answers with only numbers, while question 8 includes variables as well. Interestingly, is it even possible to answer either questions 4 or 8 without the answer choices?

4. Conclusions

While some math questions will have answer choices that are the result of common calculation errors, hopefully after viewing the above examples a trend within answer-choice writing has become clear. In verbal questions, the answer choices are nearly always designed to obfuscate, obscure, mystify or muddle, however in math, many questions are built in precisely the opposite way: the answers are intentionally included in the question and are an integral part of how the problem is to be solved.

The savvy test-taker, then, should look to verbal answer choices not for help, but with a fine-tooth comb, carefully sifting through fact and falsehood. This is unlike the math section, where the savvy test-taker knows the answers are often by design to be used in solving the problem.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned next month, where we look at using answer choices in part two of SAT/ACT Answer Choices: Friend or Foe?


Changes Announced to the SAT

Changes Announced to the SAT—New Test Will Impact Class of 2017

In a live webcast on March 5, 2014, the College Board – administrators of the SAT® – shared more detailed information about their plans for the new SAT.  According to the College Board’s website, “The redesigned SAT will ask students to apply a deep understanding of the few skills and content areas most important for college and career readiness.”.

The test change will impact students in the Class of 2017. If you are in the class of 2014, 2015, or 2016, these changes will not impact you.

So, what are some of these changes that you have been hearing about? We will say farewell to sentence completions, and the wrong answer penalty! The essay will be optional and we will go back to the 1600 scale.  For all the details on the announced changes, please see our table below!

Changes to the SAT Current SAT  New SAT 
(Class of 2014-2016) (Class of 2017 and beyond)
Scoring ¼-point penalty for wrong answers No wrong-answer penalty
Score is based out of 2400 — 800 for Math; 800 for Reading Comprehension; and, 800 for Writing Score is based out of 1600 — 800 for Math; 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Optional essay will receive a separate score
Timing 3 hours 45 minutes 3 hours; 3 hours 50 minutes with optional essay
Administration Only available in print Available digitally and in print
Test focused on broad range of non-essential topics and content Fewer questions with a greater focus on in-depth analysis of content
Essay Essay is required Essay is optional
Students have 25 minutes to write a persuasive essay in response to a prompt Students have 50 minutes to analyze document and draft essay
Accuracy of information not tested Requires students to analyze source documents and explain how the author builds an argument
Facts matter
Math Focus on wide array of topics Focus on 3 topics — problem-solving and data analysis, “the heart of algebra,” “passport to advanced math”
More emphasis on computational skills Real-world problem solving including analyzing data, charts, and graphs
Calculators permitted for all sections Calculator not permitted for all math sections
Reading and Writing Writing score combines writing multiple-choice questions and written essay score Reading and Writing combined into “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing”
No Sentence Completions
Focus on real-world vocabulary-in-context as well as revising and editing writing in passages
Focus on analyzing Literature, Social Studies, and Science passages
One passage is a Primary Source from American and/or World History, such as excerpt from The Constitution or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech


Further information on changes to the SAT, including examples of questions and passage types, will be released by The College Board on April 16, 2014. For up to date information on all the changes to the new SAT, please visit SAT resource center at http://bit.ly/OhrXS4.  Here at Kaplan, we are closely monitoring all developments around the upcoming SAT change and are committed to helping students understand what those changes will mean for them.

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us at SATChange@kaplan.com.



Reviewing Financial Aid Offers


This Spring…Coming to a Mailbox Near You…college acceptance letters! And hand-in-hand with these admissions decisions are scholarships for school tuition.

Now here’s a multiple choice question:

When is the best time to review a school’s financial aid offer?

A) Never: the more you pay, the better the classes!
B) After retirement
C) In a blind panic the day before tuition is due
D) Before you accept their offer

Hopefully you chose D), which leads us to the maxim: ‘Those who don’t ask, don’t receive.’ Just imagine, who’s in the stronger position: a potential student the college wants or a matriculated student the college has.

So, before agreeing to a school’s offer, it is an option to request a review of your financial aid package. Let’s talk about how to do so effectively:

*Disclaimer: some schools have a no-review policy. In this case, it still doesn’t hurt to reach out, as they may be able to point you towards grants you have not yet applied for. And note, generally, it is more appropriate for a parent to have this conversation, rather than student.

Consider Your Audience
You will not be the first family your Financial Aid Officer (FAO) has heard from, so put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to help an irate parent? Probably not. FAO’s are people just like you and respond to polite, well-reasoned and respectful requests. It’s entirely fair to ask how the school determined your aid offer and to explain why it may be beyond your family’s means. Notice too that at no point have we used the word “negotiation.”

We All Make Mistakes
Look over your FAFSA and make sure all financial information was properly entered. An inaccuracy in your filings should be brought to the school’s attention.

A Change in Circumstance
If your family’s financial situation has changed since your FAFSA, be it from a medical emergency, unemployed parent or other calamity, your school should know and may be able to take it into consideration.
Similarly, if you’ve shown improvement academically or athletically since applying, or received awards and accolades, this information is worth sharing with your FAO.

Unseized Opportunities
Even if a school is unable to increase your financial aid offer, they can direct you to grants offered by the school. These typically are awarded for talent, academics, diversity, legacies or specific disabilities. For example, here is a page of grants offered to undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education + Human Development. Given the intricacies of a college’s various schools, associations and endowments, your FAO is a great resource for locating less-visible grants you didn’t even know you were eligible for!

Additional Considerations
When evaluating aid offers, calculate the net-cost between schools: tuition, rent, and living expenses. For example: even if you receive a larger scholarship from a school like Columbia (in New York City) as compared to, say, Lawrence University (Appleton, WI) the high cost-of-living in a city like New York ought be considered as part of your financial picture.
Finally, know what you can afford; this helps to best frame the conversation with an FAO in realistic terms.


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