Changes to the Financial Aid Process

Published: September 9, 2016 

Category: Blog Written by Calli Christenson

This October brings significant changes to the process of applying for financial aid for college.  Beginning October 1st, families applying for need-based aid will complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) using data from their 2015 tax return. According to the federal student aid website (, families are expected to benefit from the earlier filing in a number of ways, including the obvious benefit of knowing your expected family contribution earlier in the process.  In addition:

  • Because the FAFSA will ask for older income and tax information, you will already have done and filed your taxes by the time you fill out your FAFSA, and you won’t need to estimate and then go back into the FAFSA later to update it.
  • Because you’ll have filed taxes by the time you fill out your FAFSA, you may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to automatically import your tax information into your FAFSA. (Learn more about the IRS DRT at
  • Because the FAFSA is available earlier, you will have more time to explore and understand your financial aid options and to apply for aid before your state’s and colleges’ deadlines.

This last point is especially significant.  By learning earlier about the likelihood of qualifying for need-based aid, families can make more educated decisions about college affordability.  Knowing what a particular college will cost your family will enable you to tailor your college list and insure that you are applying to colleges you will actually be able to attend.  And this earlier filing will allow students to get an early assessment from Early Decision and Early Action colleges about total cost of attendance at that institution.


Standardized Test Prep and the Benefits of a Summer Prep Course

Published: May 3, 2016 

Category: Blog Written by Calli

This piece was featured as a Guest Contributor post at on May 1, 2016.

Standardized Test Prep and the Benefit of a Summer Prep Course

In the increasingly competitive higher education admissions climate, standardized test scores provide a straightforward means for schools to evaluate potential applicants.   While class rank, GPA and extracurriculars are important, test scores play a significant role in the admission review process and provide an even “playing field” for colleges to evaluate applicants who come from various types of high schools with varying opportunities and grading systems. A strong test score allows students to stand out and can significantly impact the admission review process.

Furthermore, many colleges offer merit based financial aid that can considerably subsidize the cost of tuition and fees. Standardized test scores are one of the most common metrics used to differentiate between tiers of financial aid. A strong test score will help students to be competitive for scholarships, both from colleges and outside organizations. Junior students who score among the top of their peers on the PSAT have a chance to be designated as National Merit Scholars, which can often result in deep financial aid awards, including full tuition scholarships at many schools.

So, the pressing question is: How does my child achieve a great score? Very few students walk into a PSAT, SAT or ACT and receive a top score without some preparation leading up to the exam. The level of difficulty these exams present result in even the brightest students needing to prepare. We’ve found that the keys to scoring well on standardized exams come down to Knowledge, Strategy and Practice.

Knowledge: Your student’s hard work in school lays the foundation for success on the SAT/ACT, but even students who perform well in the classroom will benefit from subject-matter review and content remediation, if necessary. Filling in the knowledge gaps and reviewing the fundamental concepts is an integral part of maximizing one’s potential on a standardized test. Practicing the large variety of question types for each test is essential, and understanding the content that is present on each exam will give students an upper-hand.

Strategy: Test-taking strategies help students apply their content knowledge to the unique format of the standardized exams. Timed, multiple choice tests pose challenges that students may be unfamiliar with, despite having a lot of success in their high school classes. Test-taking strategies can help students pace themselves appropriately, avoid getting trapped by distractors (wrong answer choices), and make decisions about when and how to guess or skip a question to maximize the probability of choosing a correct answer. Students must be familiar with testing strategies in order to achieve their best score.

Practice: Sound content knowledge and a repertoire of strategies are excellent starting points, but practice is essential in order for students to become familiar with the test questions and format. Familiarity leads to confidence and a reduction in test anxiety, which ultimately leads to better testing performance. Independent practice can be beneficial, especially for highly motivated and disciplined students but, often, guided practice in which students receive review, feedback, and support from an expert tutor is the most beneficial. Practice with an expert tutor will help students overcome the unique challenges the tests pose for different learning styles.

Even with good intentions it can be hard to maintain the discipline to study consistently on your own. There are many great resources for practice available online; however, consistent and focused practice is necessary to take full advantage of those offerings. Tutors who are personally invested in motivating and meeting the unique needs of each student will help produce strong results. A collaborative, interactive classroom is a great environment for filling in knowledge gaps, in comparison to trying to “figure it out” on your own. The summer provides a great opportunity for focused test preparation without the demands of school and homework, and gives students the opportunity to acquire the skills they need to prepare for tests in June or early fall.

More information on our Summer Test Prep Courses can be found by clicking HERE

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