Dreams are bright. Plans are new. This year is going to be better than the last. August means a fresh start on grades and new relationships with teachers and friends. It also means you’re moving one step closer to high school graduation. If you are a senior, ideally, you have created a plan for each college you are interested in. Your plans include submitting admissions applications to each school, applying for scholarships you hope to win, obtaining financial aid deadlines and applications to fill out, and all of these are marked on your calendar. If this doesn’t describe you, you’re not alone.

McKinney Education Foundation (MEF) offers a unique program at the three McKinney ISD high schools. An MEF advisor is placed full-time on each high school campus to assist and guide students in finding a path to college and the funding to afford it. Each year students learn about new colleges they may not have considered and scholarships they couldn’t locate or understand.

McKinney Students: Are You Prepared for College?

Regardless of your grade in school, you should always be looking forward. If you haven’t reached your senior year, you have plenty of time to research options. If you are starting your senior year, it is recommended you begin your college plan immediately. Find a calendar and mark deadlines.

Start by getting online and finding the websites for the colleges in which you are interested. Begin with the admission section where you will learn about the application process, competitiveness of the school, academic majors and more. You may be surprised at the schools that don’t have as many requirements as you thought. Then, there are those demanding applications you spend days completing.

“Students should be thorough and paint a complete picture of their high school academics and activities,” said Kasandra Phillips, Center Director for Texas A&M University DFW Regional Prospective Center. Texas A&M, as well as many other Texas and out of- state universities, have college admission offices in DFW specifically for our students.A few of them frequently hold application workshops or information nights.

Most public universities usually have admission requirements listed on their website including class rank, grade point average and entrance exam results. Most students are encouraged to take the SAT or ACT by the end of their junior year. Only a few schools across the nation do not accept the SAT, while the ACT is accepted by all four-year institutions.

According to the University of North Texas’ admission requirements posted on their website, the top 10 percent students are automatically admitted with any SAT or ACT score, 11-25 percent are admitted with a minimum 950 SAT (Critical Reading, Math) or a 20 ACT.

 

All top 10 percent graduating seniors in the State of Texas are automatically accepted to a Texas public college or university with the exception of one, the University of Texas at Austin. In 2009 the Texas Congress modified the Texas Automatic Admission Law allowing UT Austin to change their admission process. In September each year, UT Austin announces to the current junior class the required class rank for automatic admission.According to BeALonghorn.utexas. edu, if you are in the Class of 2014, you are required to be in the top seven percent for automatic admission.

Private colleges and universities do not usually show admission requirements on their website because they typically use a holistic approach when reviewing applications.This means the admission staff will review each individual application entirely before making a decision.

What the admission page usually does not share is the cost of attendance. The financial aid section will explain cost information as well as scholarship and financial aid deadlines.

“The one-on-one opportunities for our students to work with a college advisor is something you don’t find in many high schools,” said McKinney North Principal Jimmy Spann.

When reviewing the institution’s cost, know the difference between direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include the amount you pay to the institution. This usually covers tuition, fees, room, meals and possibly books. Indirect costs are expenses the institution will include in their estimates, but you won’t pay these directly to the institution. These include personal expenses, transportation costs and any book expenses not covered by financial aid.

Now that you have fallen in love with a few schools, and you are stressing about the cost of attendance, it’s time for the next step in your research: What does the government believe your family can afford for higher education? Here is where it gets tricky.

The Department of Education develops and processes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula is used to determine an index number to show a college’s financial aid office how much aid a family is eligible to receive. The EFC formula considers a family’s income, assets and benefits.

Each institution determines its own Cost of Attendance (COA) including all direct and indirect costs the college believes it requires for one full school year, usually not including summer.

 

The financial aid office will compare your family’s EFC to the school’s COA to determine the family’s “need”. The financial aid staff will attempt to meet a student’s need with grants, loans and sometimes workstudy monies. Not all institutions will meet 100 percent of need.

Families often comment that their EFC makes little sense. This number will most likely be higher than you think, making it essential to understand costs and ask questions early.

While you are unable to complete a FAFSA before January of your senior year, you can use tools to determine an early estimate.College Board offers an excellent EFC Calculator on their website under “College Planning.” You’ll answer several questions about your current income and assets. College Board uses the federal methodology to determine an estimated EFC for your family.

Each year students learn about new colleges they may not have considered and scholarships they couldn’t locate or understand.

Higher education websites are required to have a Net Price Calculator since the Higher Education Act of 1965 was amended in October 2011. These are just as helpful as the College Board’s tool, but can provide more information directly related to the costs associated with a particular institution.

With admission information, COA and an estimated EFC, you have tools for productive conversations with college representatives to help you determine whether or not a college might be a good match. Instead of asking “what majors does your college offer,” ask about the percentage of need the financial aid office can cover. One question is easy to find on the institution’s website while the other is not. Use your time with the college representatives wisely. If your student attends an MISD high school, seek out your MEF advisor. He or she will be able to guide you through the college or financial aid questions regardless of where you are in the process.

“The one-on-one opportunities for our students to work with a college advisor is something you don’t find in many high schools,” Jimmy Spann, McKinney North Principal, said. “Our students are given far greater opportunities to learn about colleges, scholarships and financial aid than most students are afforded.”

Check your high school’s calendar for upcoming parent information nights covering college admission, testing, financial aid and more. Presentations are available for grades 9-12. FAFSA workshops are available in February.