5 reasons why your 2nd choice college may be the BEST choice

Cliché: Second to none. 
POCS Reality: After careful consideration, students may find their 2nd or 3rd choice college is really the best fit.

If you didn’t get into your first choice college or you got in but can’t afford to pay the bill, it may be the best thing that could have happened to you. Your 2nd or 3rd choice college may be the right fit after all.

Don’t do this: Students and parents sometimes measure self-worth by college acceptance or rejection. Don’t fall into that trap. Schools seeking diversity cannot accept all qualified applicants from the same school, geographic area or ethnicity. Rejection is not personal.

Or this: Attending a college you can’t afford is a terrible financial start for a new career. It will bring huge debt that can prevent an enjoyable lifestyle.

Do this: Whether you received a college rejection or can’t afford to attend, give yourself a brief period to grieve your disappointment and then stop stressing about what might have been and start smiling about what will be.

And this: Here are 5 reasons why your 2nd or 3rd choice college might be your BEST choice:

  1. Make more informed decisions. Many times 1st college choices are based on emotional responses. Now you can research your other options calmly and rationally, focusing on how they can help you achieve your educational goals. You can concentrate on details like what classes constitute a major, internship possibilities and activity/club popularity while keeping an eye on the big picture via college retention and graduation stats.
  2. Go where you are wanted. It’s always nice to be wanted and that’s what you’ll be when you attend a college that sends you an acceptance letter. In addition, the school may show its appreciation by offering generous financial aid awards like free money institutional grants you do not have to pay back, an honors program with perks like first chance for course registration or another special program that features trips and activities.
  3. Luxury of second thoughts. Between the fall and the spring, many students change their minds about what they want from a college education. After a semester of new high school courses and constant college discussions with parents, teachers and peers, your original college requirements (type, size, location), academic choices (area of study, majors, minors, internships) and cultural opportunities (activities, clubs, events) may no longer be the right fit. Take advantage of the opportunity to re-evaluate what you want and how you will achieve it.
  4. Save money. Attending a 2nd or 3rd choice school that is substantially less costly can save students thousands. Apply your savings to your out-of-school future knowing you don’t have huge loans to pay back. The extra funds can also go towards grad school, a new apartment or help you relocate after job searching.
  5. Get a second chance. Most students fall in love with the school they attend. That could be based on the professors, the students, the programs, the activities or the location. On the off chance things don’t work out despite doing well academically, you can reapply to your 1st choice college, highlighting your new accomplishments. It’s an effective strategy to gain academic strength you originally lacked to bolster your future admission chances to your 1st choice school. Transferring can be your back-up plan.

Visit my colleague Suzanne Shaffer (Parents Countdown to College Coach) for 5 reasons to take another look at your 2nd choice colleges. Suzanne is a college prep expert and online college-bound “coach” helping parents navigate the college maze with the proper tools/resources including a FREE parent tips newsletter.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Blessings in disguise come when you least expect it. The key to success is how you deal with disappointments and handle a challenge. As far as college choice is concerned, there are over 4,000 colleges and more than one can help you achieve your college and beyond dreams. Don’t be surprised if your 2nd choice college turns out to be your BEST choice.

Colleges sponsor free and low cost fun

Cliché: Have fun.
POCS Reality: Students and the public can take a break and enjoy the fun activities and events your local college sponsors.

Adelphi University Outdoor Sculpture Biennial 2010 - 2012


Looking for some free or low cost fun? Go to the calendar page of a local college. Schools sponsor events and activities for students and many are open to the public.

If you’ve finished filing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to help pay for college, you may be ready to relax and reward yourself. Would you like to take in a show, enjoy a concert, learn something at a lecture, view an art exhibit or cheer on a sports team?

Don’t forget to check out campus architecture and landscaping. There may be opportunities to stroll or hike through gardens, arboretums or bird sanctuaries. See if you can spot treasures like outdoor sculptures or specimen trees.

From opera to ballet, from theatre to recitals, from athletics to workshops, colleges can sponsor a wealth of entertainment choices.

Read more:

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Colleges are more than a place that educates students. They are a vibrant cultural marketplace offering free and low cost events for its students and the public. Go ahead and find some fun!

FAFSA help on Twitter

Cliché: Inside information.
POCS Reality: FAFSA help was available on a Department of Education twitter chat.

Financial aid met social media yesterday as applicants entered their tweet questions in 140 characters or less using #AskFAFSA.

Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education, hosted an hour-long twitter chat about the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and tweeted the answers.

Here are some of her tweet highlights:

  • There’s NO income cut-off for federal student aid. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA.
  • You can submit a FAFSA before you file your taxes. Select “will file” then use income estimates & correct your FAFSA later.
  • To access your SAR (Student Aid Report) after submitting your FAFSA, login, click View Processed Information & enter your PIN. More details.
  • For information about your state’s financial aid program, check your state’s website
  • In order to receive federal student aid you must be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen. But you should check with your school’s #financialaid office. They can help you explore your options. But you should check with your school’s #financialaid office. They can help you explore your options.
  • If the student answers no to all questions here she’s a dependent student & must provide parent info.
  • Students should file FAFSA every year they want aid because you never know how your circumstances might change or what new financial aid might become available.
  • Federal Pell Grant eligibility is based on many things: income, cost of attendance @ your school & more.
  • The FAFSA is available in Spanish.
  • Grandparents are not considered parents on the FAFSA unless they have legally adopted you.
  • The IRS data retrieval will be available Feb. 1. Change “will file” to “already completed” in your FAFSA.
  • Your answer to the marital status question should reflect your marital status at the time you sign the FAFSA.
  • Federal student aid can be used to cover summer tuition if you have remaining eligibility for the academic year.
  • If you have questions along the way, the FAFSA’s Help section has a lot of great info.

The twitter chat also gave Under Sec. of Ed. Kanter ideas for future consideration such as creating a FAFSA video tutorial in Spanish and adding a FAQ section for the IRS Data Retireval tool.

It also provided an opportunity to give info about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Read more:

When should students file FAFSA? File FAFSA ASAP

Why students should file FAFSA? 15 FAFSA FACTS

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Who said social media is impersonal? What a wonderful opportunity to get info directly from Under Sec. of Ed. Kanter. Too bad not all questions were answered but  lucky tweeps got their FAFSA help on Twitter.

What’s in your college autobiography?

Cliché: Actions speak louder than words.     
POCS Reality College-bound, in college or out of college, your choices lay the foundation for your future success.


If you were reading your autobiography, would you, the main character, be a coaster or a catalyst in your life story? Whether you are out of college, in college or college-bound, your answer describes your life’s path.

Life is not all about smooth sailing. There are rough seas, too. Does adversity stop you in your tracks or spur you on to success? Will you take full advantage of the opportunities ahead or sit back and enjoy the ride?

Last night, 18-year-old Samantha Garvey, a Long Island semifinalist in the Intel science competition, attended President Barak Obama’s State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C. She’s a homeless teen who continued her studies despite her family’s financial troubles stemming from a car accident that injured both of her parents. Garvey accepted the invitation to attend extended by her congressman, Rep. Steve Israel. She also met with top administration science advisors and other officials.

Garvey’s story is a lesson on self-motivation.

Read more:

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Whether you are choosing a college, choosing college courses, or choosing a career path, will you react or act? The choice is yours.

Outside scholarship search: 4 unexpected rewards

Cliché: It’s a win-win situation.     
POCS Reality: Students can gain more than $$$ when they apply for college scholarships.


To pay the skyrocketing college bill, students can apply for financial aid. However, the exercise of applying for outside scholarships can bring unexpected rewards besides the chance to win money.

Private outside scholarships are sponsored by businesses, fraternal organizations, employers, high schools, groups and individuals.

Here are 4 ways, besides winning the $$$, applying for scholarships can help students:

  1. Vested interest When students win a scholarship, their work contributes to paying for college. Students who are committed to their education are motivated to achieve-especially if they have a financial stake in the process.
  2. Hone skills Research, following directions, time management and writing are valuable skills college students need to succeed. To be eligible to win scholarships, students have to find them, fill out applications correctly, fulfill scholarship requirements and meet deadlines.
  3. Competitive spirit Scholarships are usually contests. Students have an opportunity to showcase their accomplishments and sportsmanship.
  4. Network Contacts are important. Keeping a list of connections can come in handy.

Read more: Scholarships and Grants, POCSmom’s College Prep Insights Newsletter

Read for inspiration: Homeless LI Intel semifinalist wins another scholarship

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Students should explore all avenues to help pay for college and include applying for financial aid and searching for outside scholarships. Parents can help students organize and track their applications. There are scholarships for prospective and current college students. Parents and schools can plant the seed of college attainment from an early age so students can nurture the dream and be ready to apply for scholarships.

How college libraries help students graduate

Cliché: Help out.     
POCS Reality: College libraries can help students graduate.


You filed your FAFSA, applied for scholarships, and are planning how to pay for college but once you’re in, will you leave with a diploma?

Besides money to pay for college, what major factor helps students graduate? It’s bigger than a breadbox, often taken for granted, and is the campus knowledge keeper. If you answered the college library, you are right and here are 7 reasons why:

1. Free academic resources College libraries store or can obtain information upon request for any topic students are researching. Classics, recently released studies and rare book collections can be viewed for the asking to help students ace their papers and exams. Can’t find want you want? Ask a librarian for help.

2. Study compatible Students seeking a quiet refuge or study group meeting space can often find a comfortable spot in a study carol, comfortable chair or private room. Explore your library for the best spots and policies for reserving rooms.

3. Special events/exhibitions Check your college library’s calendar for art, music, photography and literary collections that are ongoing or upcoming. Speakers, readings, panel discussions, seminars, workshops, performances and special gatherings may be hosted.

4. Bargains Before you shell out big bucks for a book you want to purchase for your home library, browse a book sale.

5. $ search Information about finding and applying for scholarships, internships, jobs and starting your own business can supplement the college Financial Aid or Job Placement Offices’ assistance.

6. Eye candy Inside and outside, libraries can be beautiful structures. Check out the architecture and decor of these 25 most beautiful college libraries and spend some time with yours.

7. Fun Sometimes you just want a break from studying and want to read a good book for fun. Borrow your choice and relax.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: It is up to students to take full advantage of college libraries to help them focus on their studies and graduate on time. College libraries are a must see on a collegecation (college visit + family vacay) and ask about the exhibitions/events open to the public.

EFC- What is it, why it’s important, and the catch

Cliché: As I expected.   
POCS Reality: The federal government calculates the student’s expected  family contribution to college costs.


Do you know what your EFC is? Without it, colleges can’t determine eligibility for many financial aid programs.

What is EFC

EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution. That’s the number the federal government calculates by applying a formula to the data submitted by a student on his FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

A student’s EFC is a measure of his family’s financial strength. The higher the number, the more the family can afford to contribute to college costs.

Why EFC is important

Colleges use the EFC to determine financial aid awards based on financial need. EFC is subtracted from the college’s cost of attendance (COA). The resulting number is the student’s financial need. As college costs rise, COA and EFC concern families at all income levels.

The catch

Many colleges do not meet 100% of student need. Colleges may include all forms of financial aid as meeting need. That means student loans that must be paid back or a job from the Federal Work-Study program may be awarded along with free money grants that do not have to be paid back. Out-of-pocket costs are increased when 100% of need is not met or is met by aid that must be paid back or earned. The more free money students receive, the better the financial aid award.

Beyond EFC

Some colleges use other formulas based on other financial aid forms to determine eligibility for institutional aid. States also have different formulas for their state financial aid programs. To maximize eligibility, file all forms the college requires and answer any requests for additional info as early as possible and before deadlines.

Read more: File FAFSA ASAPWhat you need to file a FAFSA

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Find out your college’s financial aid polices for meeting student need. When admitted, compare financial aid awards carefully to calculate your out-of-pocket costs. Use POCSmom’s charts that also include costs of borrowing. Students can appeal financial aid awards and demonstrate why they are inadequate, given their special financial circumstances that may not be reflected by their EFC.

What you need to file a FAFSA

Cliché: Pave the way.    
POCS Reality: The college-bound can prepare for financial success.


If you are college-bound, you are going to want to file a FAFSA. After you get your financial aid award, you may even do a happy dance. That’s because filing a FAFSA provides eligible students with grants, loans and a job from the Federal Work-Study program. FAFSA is a pre-requisite for state financial aid programs, many colleges require it for institutional awards and some private outside scholarships want it to verify need.

There are 3 major reasons why families dread filing FAFSA:

  1. It’s complicated Recent changes make filling the FAFSA much easier. If you file online like most do, there are helpful tips and pop-up explanations. There’s a plethora of free info in libraries and online but consider the source before relying on any advice.
  2. It’s time consuming Many of the questions are biographical and should be a snap to answer. For the financial questions, having your documents at your finger tips can provide quick access to answers.
  3. Doubt eligibility Skyrocketing college costs concern families at all income levels and even the affluent can receive financial aid. Some financial aid is based on financial need and some is based on merit (student’s talent- academic, artistic, musical, athletic, leadership abilities). Colleges can give institutional awards to discount their tuition and encourage students they want to attend. However, they may want to see the FAFSA, first.

Now, don’t you want to file your 2012-13 FAFSA? Before you put on your dancing shoes, here’s what you need to get started:


  • Social Security number
  • driver’s license number (if any)
  • 2011 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • 2011 federal income tax returns (or estimates based on last year’s)
  • 2011 untaxed income records
  • Business and investment records except for small businesses 
  • Current bank statements and investment records
  • alien registration number (if you are not a U.S.citizen)
  • For online filers (see below filing help) a Federal Student Aid PIN
  • Dependent students need their parents’ info, too

Filing help

  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243 hearing-impaired TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.
  • Email the Federal Student Aid Information Center  FederalStudentAidCustomerService@ed.gov.
  • Online filers can get a PIN before or during FAFSA filing to sign and make corrections electronically.
  • Use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your eligibility for federal student aid.
  • For online filers, there’s a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to preview questions.
  • The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is available beginning February 1, 2012 to online filers who have completed their 2011 IRS tax return. They will be able to use FAFSA on the Web to electronically view their tax information and transfer it into the FAFSA.

Read more: File FAFSA ASAP, 10 Reasons not to file a FAFSA, 15 FAFSA FACTS

Get more: Sign up for POCSmom’s free, new for 2012, monthly College Prep Insights newsletter. January issue is all about getting $$$ for college.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: The best FAFSA prep is previewing the questions before filing your FAFSA.

5 financial resolutions the college-bound should make

Cliché: Pave the way.    
POCS Reality: The college-bound can prepare for financial success.


Attention college-bound: Are your finances prepared for what could be the single most expensive purchase you’ll ever make? A college education can cost more than a car, an around-the-world cruise or a house. What’s your higher education financial plan?

An article from Fox Business came up with a plan for college students called Five Financial Resolutions Every College Student Should Make.

Here’s my 5 financial resolutions every college-bound student should make:

  1. Become financially literate Take a look at your finances. Review your assets, income and expenses. How much have you saved? Will your family be helping you financially? What are your projected earnings while attending college? Will you work during college breaks? What bills do you have now and during college? Estimate projected college costs including tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies, transportation and personal expenses.
  2. Apply for financial aid If you need help to pay for college, ask for it. The federal government offers eligible students free money grants, student loans and a job through the Federal Work-Study program. To apply, file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Then check out your state’s financial aid programs. Ask the colleges on your list if there are college grants or scholarships that require any other application forms. Finish up with a search for outside private scholarships from businesses, employers, fraternal organizations, high schools, groups and individuals.
  3. Create a budget Based on your finances and college costs, determine how much you can afford to save and borrow. If you plan on grad school, add in those costs, too. Project future income, lifestyle sought and time to get a job. Then live within your means.
  4. Invest in yourself Think of your position as “student” as a job and earn your education. Go to all classes, do all assignments, keep your grades up and avoid senioritis. If you need extra help, ask your teachers or go for peer tutoring.
  5. Get your money’s worth Choose your college wisely. Compare financial aid awards carefully, review retention and graduation stats and evaluate programs, activities and college location. If you can, take a collegecation (college visit + family vacay) to learn more about the school, internships and other curricular and extracurricular opportunities. Speak with current students, professors and administrators and check out the local community. Where you attend and what you achieve will position you for life after college.

Read more: 10 Reasons not to file a FAFSA.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: When it comes to finances, being prepared is key to financial success.

The truth behind college ranking lists

Cliché: Pull rank.    
POCS Reality: Pick a criteria, there’s probably a college ranking for that.


Ranking colleges has become a cottage industry with a proliferation of different criteria yielding different college ranking lists. There are plenty of proponents and critics but ultimately the college-bound, stranded in a sea of mixed reviews, must fend for themselves.

You can find college ranking lists based on the academic to the absurd. From the best in the world universities to the most clean-shaven campuses.

How do counseling professionals and colleges feel about all this?

Counseling professionals disagree with the ranking systems according to a recent survey.

Colleges are split on the issue wanting positive publicity and bragging rights unless the ranking generates a negative buzz. According to a Washington Post Local article,

One of the best-known lists is the U.S. News and World Report ranking of top schools, which has a a complex methodology that takes 2,250 words to explain. Many university presidents slam U.S. News for measuring the wrong things — while quietly taking steps to help their schools climb higher.

Some colleges took an additional step, according to another Washington Post Local article, and took this pledge:

Not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.’

Read more about making your own College Rankings.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: When reading college ranking lists, consider the source and method used, and separate fact from opinion. Then write your own successful college ranking list based on the programs, activities and location you want.