Key Questions Answered

By College Counseling

Kathleen Brigham Uberuaga, Director of The Learning Consultants Group, Rye, NY, fielded compelling questions this winter from parents of college-bound high school Juniors.  Five questions, their contexts, answers, and explanations are organized below.


  1. Are colleges reviewing the FAFSA documents of students applying Early Decision during the early application cycle or along with all regular applications? Parents are hearing that Early Decision admitted students are not getting financial information until spring. 


The answer to this question is variable.  Some colleges are need blind and some are need aware.  Very few colleges have the endowments to conduct enrollment management without any consideration of the incoming family contributions.  Need aware colleges are not the enemies, they are just trying to meet their fiscal responsibilities.  If a school meets 100% need, then any cost of attendance over your estimated family contribution will be met.  Most schools cannot meet 100% need and this information is public and available through the “common data set”.  Search this term and your college in a search engine to see how much need the school meets.


The first available date to file a FAFSA is October 1 of the year before freshman year of college, and we would recommend that you file ASAP.  This gives the schools a sense of your need and when it comes to administering funds, first come is first served.  For families not in great need and those who make upwards to $200,000 annually, a FAFSA is still recommended to secure loans with better rates.

As for the wisdom of applying Early Decision, it is only under certain circumstances that you should commit to this venture.  Because you are essentially communicating that this school is your first choice, and that you will hold off applying to other schools, (unlike early action that has no limits on the number of schools you can apply to) you are in a binding relationship upon admission.  The only reason allowed to withdraw from your commitment is for financial reasons such as a change in your financial situation.  Otherwise, withdrawing from your binding contract with the school is inconvenient for the student and embarrassing for the high school that endorsed the candidacy.


Early Decision is only recommended for those students who are so intent on a certain school for legitimate reasons and are confident that the school will either meet their financial need, or that they have no pressing need.  There is dependable data that proves that the acceptance rate for the periods of Early Decision are greater, as much as twice as great, than the acceptance during regular decision. Schools give advantages to students who are promising to attend and can help fortify their enrollment management early in the season.


  1. Is the ACT science section giving way to an SAT 2 science credit? 


As of this moment, the ACT science section is still considered an equal alternative to SAT 2 science and the whole ACT is considered to preclude the necessity of taking any SAT subject tests for most schools. There are still some colleges like MIT and other highly selective universities that still require SAT subject tests, usually 2.  Georgetown University, however, requires 3.  We recommend to always make calls to other highly competitive colleges to verify their stance.


  1. In a town with several students applying to the same highly competitive schools, is it harder for a student to be admitted compared to a student with less local competition for those admission spots?



My friend’s son interviewed with the same college alumni interviewer as his four friends, all seeking admission to a very selective and popular university.   Even though admission officers want diversity, they do not review students in such static terms as where they went to high school.  The review is more holistic.  A student from a well-known high school still may bring something unique that measures equally to the uniqueness of a student from a lesser known or distant high school.  The holistic approach unfolds like this:  did the student avail himself of all his opportunities? If he or she is considering a major in Biology, did he or she drive the hour to volunteer at Yale? Colleges exercise qualitative review not quantitative on selection. However, quantitative measurements are highly valued when considering standardized test scores and high school GPA.


  1. What is test flexible?

Text flexible means you can submit other types of test scores instead of the SAT/ACT scores.  Some examples are Advanced Placement exam scores and International Baccalaureate exam scores.  Text flexible is not to be confused with test optional which refers to a population of colleges that will consider reviewing your application without a submitted test score.  Therefore, more emphasis may be placed on transcripts, essays, portfolios and other documentation that promotes the student’s ability to handle collegiate work.  Merit scholarships, however, may be unavailable for students who opt to pursue the test optional path.


  1. What about the cohort of standardized test students in a season, is it better to take a test during a less desirable test date so you are compared to an easier cohort? Does this even matter? 


The cohort of students does not matter. Today’s universe of super scoring, where a student can submit the highest individual scores from all the SAT tests or ACT tests to comprise one cumulative score, renders this consideration moot. For example, if a student takes the SAT twice and gets a higher score in math on the first take, but a higher score in logical reasoning on the second take, he or she can super score and submit the highest score from each test date.  Be aware, however, that some top colleges will see all scores from all test dates, but this scenario represents a small minority of instances.




The above questions reflect a common desire to seek certainty in an uncertain world of college admissions.  Educated answers cannot assert guarantees, but they can help increase understanding and lower stress.