2016: The Year of Change

Change. They say it’s inevitable and when it comes to the college search and application process, boy are they right. Ask any parent of a current high school student about how they applied to college and two things will be included in every re-telling: a pencil and a stamp.

Today’s students will never worry about postmark dates or whether their handwriting is legible. Technology has created a world where, with the click of a button (ok, several clicks), a student can send applications to 20 colleges and universities via the Common Application.

Today’s juniors, the Class of 2017, has quite the year ahead of them as they begin their college search process. While every application year sees some change, this year there are three significant changes on the horizon:

The NEW SAT
It’s common knowledge for most by now but, in case you’ve missed it, the SAT in it’s current form will change as of March 5th. While many students know that the SAT will be different, most aren’t really sure HOW it is changing. Here are some quick updates:

  •  The Essay is now optional and the amount of time to write it has doubled to 50 minutes. A word of caution: while the essay will be optional, students should strongly consider including it in their testing. Why? While certainly not representative of the approximately 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., the 8 members of the Ivy League are actually split on whether they will require the new SAT essay or not. The moral of the story? Write the essay.
  • One of the easiest “strategy” distinctions between the ACT and the current SAT is how to handle guessing. Students taking the ACT are encouraged to answer every question, even if that means choosing “C” for the last 10 you didn’t get to in the Math section. The current SAT has a ¼ point deduction for incorrect answers but the NEW SAT will not. Students short on time completing a section on the NEW SAT should go ahead and guess away!
  • The final big change to the SAT is the scoring scale. For some of us born in the...well, let’s just say not-so-recent decades... the scoring will look familiar. With the Essay now being optional, the test will be scored on a 1600 scale as it once was. Students will receive a separate score for the Essay section, should they decide to take it.

The Common App Timetable
August 1st has traditionally been referred to in the college counseling world as the official start of the college application season as this was when the Common Application went “live” for rising seniors. In October the folks at the Common App announced that they would be introducing “Account Rollover” for students beginning with the Class of 2017. This means students who had traditionally waited until August 1st to begin filling out their applications can now begin this process during junior year, or in the summer months leading into their senior year.

While we think that eliminating the “go live” date for the Common App will reduce some pressure and anxiety, we also worry that this means students (at the urging of the adult figures in their lives, no doubt) will want to begin completing their applications TOO early. Yes, too early. While students can fill out their portion of the application at any point, it’s important that they remember that while the student can BEGIN filling out the application, most colleges will not have their supplemental essay questions available, or begin accepting applications for the Class of 2017, until after this year’s seniors complete their process.

FAFSA Prior-Prior
Another circled calendar date for many families going through the college search process in the past was January 1st - the first day families could file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The White House announced in late 2015 that this date would be changing for 2016 and that families would be able to submit the FAFSA beginning in October of the student’s senior year. This means that the financial data families input into the form would no longer be from the prior year but, instead, the prior-prior year. The Class of 2017, for example, will apply for financial aid using tax information from 2015. Financial Aid Coach Blaine Blontz explained this change very simply:

“Think of it this way. Many students apply to schools in the fall of their senior year, perhaps even earlier for those institutions that carry rolling admissions. Before this change to the FAFSA, these same students had to wait until at least January, with most recommended deadlines falling between February and March, to complete the FAFSA,” Blontz says. “Pushing back the date that families can begin completing the FAFSA should allow for earlier financial aid award offers. This will allow for families to make better decisions earlier, when they still have time to change their mind or look into other options.”

As we begin the new year and consider the many changes forthcoming in the world of college planning, we share with you one of our favorite quotes:

The secret to change is to focus all of your energy , not on fighting the old, but on building the new. -Socrates