College Application FAQs

The FLO Education and Youth Team compiled Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the college application process for students of Foreign Service families. These FAQs were inspired by the 2015 Foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF) College Workshop.  For more information on accessing this video and joining FSYF, please visit www.fsyf.org or email fsyf@fsyf.org.

Choosing a School:

  1. How do I create a college list?
  2. How do I determine which are my reach, target, and safety schools?
  3. Should I consider working with an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC)?
  4. How do I use the college website to my advantage?
  5. How do I use college tours to my advantage?

* Students will also want to access the Family Liaison Office College and Beyond web page for links to additional websites that provide independent insights into schools.

Pre-Admission Testing:

  1. Do I need to take both the SAT and ACT?
  2. When should students begin test taking?
  3. Do I have to submit my test scores when I apply to a school?

Completing the Application:

  1. What is the most important factor in the college admissions process?
  2. Should I use the Common Application, the Universal application, a college specific application, or the new Coalition Application?
  3. Should I apply early decision to all my colleges?
  4. Should I apply as a student from the U.S. or as an international student?
  5. How can I apply as an in-state resident?
  6. How does the International Baccalaureate( IB ) rank with college admissions officers?
  7. Can I/should I have letters of recommendation from more than one school?
  8. How important is the essay?

Keeping College Affordable:

  1. How do I pay for college?
  2. How do I find out about scholarship opportunities?
  3. Are there special scholarships for children of Foreign Service Officers?
  4. How do I learn about getting an athletic scholarship?
  5. What are the advantages of going to a community college?

 


Choosing a School:

1.  How do I create a college list?

  • Making a college list is a daunting process and requires a lot of individual research. You should list characteristics that you find important in a school (both academically and socially). Do you want to go to a big or small college? Do you know what subject(s) you want to study? Is location important to you? The list of questions you should ask yourself will vary on what matters to you as a student. It is also important to utilize all the resources at your disposal. For instance, meeting with your school guidance counselor could be instrumental in helping you narrow down possibilities, talking to other Foreign Service kids about their university choices could be helpful in terms of gaining perspective on what might work for some Foreign Service families, and reviewing individual university websites is crucial in terms of helping you decide the overall vibe you are looking for. Remember, your ideal college will be the institution that fits your needs best. There are colleges for every type of student, whether they are academically, technically, artistically, or socially driven. US New & World Report’s College Personality Quiz may be a good resource to help determine what college characteristics are the most important to you. Once you’ve narrowed your list you’ll want to make sure that the schools you’ve chosen span the three main categories (described in question 2): safety (one or two schools), target (three to six schools), and reach (one or two schools). For more information, read "The Do’s and Don’ts of the College Application Game".

2.  How do I determine which are my reach, target, safety schools?

  • This is where websites full of college statistics are helpful. Look at the averages for scores for that college’s admitted students including GPA, SAT/ACT scores, class ranking, etc. If your numbers are at or above 75% of these numbers, this is a safety school. If your scores are above 25% of the college’s statistics, this is a potential target school. Experts define a reach school as one that you have a chance of getting into yet your grades, class rank, and test scores are lower than those presented in the school profile. Reach schools are loosely the schools you should consider if your academic achievements fall slightly below the middle 50% range.
  • In addition, many high schools use the tracking program Naviance, which graphs the acceptance history of students in a particular high school to a specific college/university using the GPAs and test scores of students who applied to that university/college in the past. The data shows the results of students within a high school who were accepted, denied, and wait-listed by a specific college. Furthermore, please note that even for straight A students with high standardized test scores, Ivy League universities and other top schools should always be considered reach schools because of the abundance of applications they receive.

3.  Should I consider working with an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC)?

  • You may find that, between your school counselors and family members, you have all the college application/selection support you need. However, many students and families find that they benefit greatly by working with someone who has more time to spend with them one-on-one to discuss their options, help them conceptualize their essay(s), and focus their applications and their lists appropriately, as well as point out financial aspects and related options. If hiring an IEC, be sure to look for that person’s professional qualifications, experience, campus visit record, and membership in organizations such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the International Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC), or the Higher Educational Consultants Association (HECA).

4.  How do I use the college website to my advantage?

  • For many Foreign Service families who are conducting extensive research, college tours are not an option. As a preliminary step, you should avail yourself of all resources college websites offer. Most colleges feature virtual tours (campuses, dorm rooms, departments, etc.) on their web pages and there may be helpful videos to watch and email lists you can join. These tools can give you a sense of whether or not a specific college is the right choice for you.

5.  How do I use college tours to my advantage?

  • If possible, visit colleges that are serious contenders. There are two primary ways in which a physical college tour can benefit the admissions process: 1. you can take guided official and unofficial tours to see if you can picture yourself happy and successful in the setting; and 2. a college tour is also a great way to signal your enthusiasm for the school. Sign up for official mailing lists and also schedule an interview with the admissions office if possible. If a pre-application tour is not feasible for your family, you should seriously consider a college tour after you are admitted.

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Pre-Admission Testing

1.  Do I need to take both the SAT and ACT?

  • Most colleges accept both the SAT and ACT. You will only need to submit one or the other with your application. It is recommended that you take practice tests for both (you may score higher on one version than the other) to give you a feel for which test might naturally suit you as a learner.
     
  • Some key differences between the new SAT and the ACT:
    • The SAT is comprised of four parts: Reading, Writing and Language, Math, and the optional essay. Although the essay is labeled “optional”, most colleges require you to submit a score so it is wise to complete the whole test. The length of the test is three hours and fifty minutes (including the “optional” essay). The SAT no longer penalizes you for wrong answers. 
    • The ACT is comprised of five parts: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional essay. Although the ACT essay is labeled “optional”, most colleges require you to submit a score so plan to complete the whole test. The length of the test is about three hours and thirty minutes (including the “optional essay”). There is no penalty for wrong answers. Compare the SAT and the ACT.

2.  When should students begin test taking?

  • In order to give yourself enough time to familiarize yourself with this type of standardized testing, you should begin by taking the SAT/ACT during the early spring of your junior year of high school. If at this point you decide that you are unhappy with your score you can study (perhaps take a prep course) and plan to re-test long before college applications are due. Don’t take the SAT/ACT until you’re ready as some colleges may require you to submit all test scores accumulated. The College Board recommends that you should take the test no more than three times. Some colleges require and others may recommend that you take SAT Subject Tests. To ensure that the material remains fresh in your mind, SAT subject tests should be taken as soon as possible after you have completed the appropriate course work (e.g., take the U.S. History SAT subject test soon after completing a U.S. History class).

3.  Do I have to submit my test scores when I apply to a school?

  •  There are over 880 four-year college and universities that are “test optional”, meaning they don’t require you to submit standardized test scores as part of their admissions process. You can find a complete list of “test optional” or “test flexible institutions" at FairTest.org. However, if your test scores are average or above average relative to the school’s admissions data you will want to submit those scores.

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Completing the Application

1.  What is the most important factor in the college admissions process?

  • Though there is some variation in the answers of college insiders, most experts agree that the deciding factor is largely the combination of a challenging curriculum combined with the grades achieved in these tougher classes. Additional factors to consider include:
    • Your overall GPA does not matter as much as the demonstration that your grades represent an upward trend, indicating that you are a dedicated and developing student.
    • SAT/ACT scores should confirm your profile, but are generally looked at in context with your grades.
    • Extracurricular activities should reflect your depth of commitment as well as your achievements – quality trumps quantity!

2.  Should I use the Common Application, the Universal Application, a college specific application, or the new Coalition Application?

  • Ultimately, the answer for this question depends on which colleges you choose to apply to. Most (but not all) colleges accept the Common Application, whereas the new Coalition Application is not yet embraced by a majority of schools. The new Coalition Application does, however, encourage you to begin charting your high school achievements early and may give your college applications a more detailed, humanized picture of you as an applicant. As long as they offer those options, colleges do not penalize you for submitting the Common Application or the Coalition Application over their own version. However, be advised that state schools generally have their own application that they will require you to use. Your best bet is to check on a college’s website or to contact the admissions office to find out what each specific college accepts.

3.  Should I apply early decision to all my colleges?

  • A general note about the decision process is that practices and dates vary from school to school. Therefore, we urge you to keep track of specific application requirements. Here is a list of your application options and what they mean:
    • Early Decision: You should only apply early decision to your first choice school (the school you would definitely go to if you got in). If you choose this option you apply early (usually the deadline is in November) and also receive the decision much earlier than other applicants (usually December). Early Decisions can be considered a binding agreement between the student and the college that, if accepted, (and if the financial aid package is adequate) the student will attend. According to the College Board web page, students should not “Try to get out of the early decision contract because the student's mind has changed. The only acceptable circumstance under which to break the contract, according to NACAC, is the following: Should a student who applies for financial aid not be offered an award that makes attendance possible, the student may decline the offer of admission and be released from the Early Decision commitment(from NACAC's Statement of Principles).” You would apply early decision to only one school, and then apply using either the early action or the regular application timeline to other schools.
    • Early Action: These applications are due earlier than regular applications, and you will receive the answer to the applications earlier (usually in January or February). With this option, there is no implicit contract between you and the college and you are under no obligation to attend if you are accepted.
    • Restrictive Early Action: Choosing this option restricts you from applying “early action” to more than one school. One key benefit of applying Restrictive Early Action is that students may receive the admissions decision early, most often before December. There is still no obligation for you to attend if accepted.
    • Rolling Admissions: With this type of admission you are invited to submit your application anytime within a longer period of time. Usually the rolling admissions timeline is about six months long, and some schools do not have a firm end date -- the process ends when all spaces for new students are filled. Customarily, schools using this type of application option will notify you of their decision within a few weeks.

4.  Should I apply as a student from the U.S. or as an International Student?

  • You should apply as a U.S. student as you are a U.S. citizen and applying as an international student may affect the financial aid you may be entitled to receive. Applying as an international student may also require you to submit further testing to prove your competency in English as well as trigger additional documentation required for international students.

5.  How can I apply as an in-state resident?

  • It is important to do your research because requirements differ state by state, colleges may have their own additional requirements, and there may be tax implications. Individual college websites will provide further details. To get you started, some good resources for Foreign Service families include the AFSA website and the FinAid In-State Tuition Guide.

6.  How does the International Baccalaureate (IB) rank with college admissions officers?

  • The IB program is a highly respected academic program, but to impress college admissions officers you must show how you thrived in a rigorous academic program through your grades and IB exam scores. The IB program is especially useful if you are applying to non U.S. colleges overseas as it is an international organization with a reputation for excellence.

7.  Can I/should I have letters of recommendation from more than one school?

  • Students can have letters of recommendation from different schools. It is important that you ask for letters of recommendation from teachers that know you well and who can write convincingly of your achievements. It is fine to ask for teacher recommendations well in advance of your application process, especially if you will no longer attend the school, or if the teacher, who may be as mobile as the students, will be moving to a different school.

8.  How important is the essay?

  • College essays will help distinguish your application from all others. These essays can help colleges decide between like candidates and hopefully, tip the scale in your favor, and will supplement the quantitative information colleges require.

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Keeping College Affordable

1.  How do I pay for college?

  • Encourage your parents to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) even if you believe your family may not qualify for need-based aid. The FAFSA offers many families access to lower interest loans. The FAFSA can also grant you access to Federal Work-Study, which provides part-time jobs for students, allowing you to earn money to help you manage expenses while you are in school.

2.  How do I find out about scholarship opportunities?

  • There are several resources that can help direct you to scholarship opportunities, but it is important that you stay vigilant for potential scams. For information on how you can avoid scams visit the Federal Student Aid webpage. Reputable resources that can help you find legitimate scholarships include the financial aid office of the college you choose to attend, your high school guidance counselor, and the Department of Labor’s free scholarship search webpage. The most lucrative scholarships are awarded by the colleges and universities themselves. That said, we encourage you to investigate how other students at institutions that you are interested in, receive need-based aid and non-need based merit. When accepting a scholarship be sure that you understand the terms of that scholarship; Is the scholarship renewable? Do you need to maintain a certain GPA?, etc.

3. Are there special scholarships for children of Foreign Service Officers?

  • Yes, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the Foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF), and the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) offer scholarships to Foreign Service children.
    • The AFSA Scholarship Program offers over $260,000 annually in college aid to children of current AFSA members whose parents are/were Foreign Service employees. AFSA provides need-based, financial aid scholarships to undergraduates and academic merit awards, art merit awards, and a community service award to graduating high school seniors. For more information visit AFSA’s website.
    • If you are a rising college freshman, FSYF offers two academic merit award scholarships. You must be an FSYF member at the time you submit your application. For more information, visit FYFS’s website.
    • AAFSW awards include the Gap Year Merit Scholarship, the College Merit Scholarship, and the Judy Felt Memorial Volunteerism Scholarship. For these awards, you must have an immediate family member who is a current member of AAFSW at the time of application. For more information visit AAFSW’s website.

4.  How do I learn about getting an athletic scholarship?

  • First, you should visit the NCAA’s website. Then you should check in with both the admissions and athletics offices at the colleges you are interested in to see what you might be eligible for. Be sure to discuss this with your college counselor at school and your school athletic coach.

5.  What are the advantages of going to a community college?

  • Starting in community college or an honors community college is a cost effective way to get through college. As a community college student, you can apply and transfer to other universities as long as you are academically qualified. There are also community colleges that are affiliated with larger universities. In these instances, after you finish the first two years of college while maintaining a certain GPA you may be qualified to finish your degree at a specific four year college via a special transfer arrangement often called an articulation agreement. If you are interested in this option, you must research agreements between individual community colleges and affiliated universities.

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Information provided by the Family Liaison Office 
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