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Back to School: What Seniors Should Do Now, the IB Program, and Financial Aid for Divorced Parents

back to school
Julia Jones

Written by Julia Joneson September 7th, 2016

I have been working in education with students for more than 20 years. I spent many years working in the admissions office at Brandeis University, where I was involved in virtually all aspects of the admissions process. As a senior member of the admissions committee, I was a key decision maker on applications, and I met and recruited students around the country and from major cities including Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Nashville. I also served as director of a one-thousand member national network of alumni recruiters and interviewers. Prior to joining College Coach, I continued my work with high school students and their families as director of admissions at a private day and boarding school in Massachusetts.
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The latest episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation kicked off the month of September with great advice for high school seniors on what they can do now to impact their college applications, an insightful discussion on the International Baccalaureate program, and guidance on how to navigate the financial aid process for students with divorced parents. School’s Out In! Application Workshop Believe it or not, it’s September, and while that means many things—the end of summer, cooler temperatures, and the return of all things pumpkin (including my favorite, Pumpkin Spice Lattes!)—who can forget that September also means back to school for most students. To that end, while our School’s Out! Application Workshop wrapped up last week, we’ve launched the sequel, appropriately titled School’s In! Host Sally Ganga welcomed back Karen Spencer, former Georgetown admissions officer, and College Coach finance expert Beth Feinberg Keenan, to help high school seniors with the crucial question: What can they do right now to improve and impact their applications? Karen offered two important pieces of advice. First: Have a plan. As life gets busy for students in the fall, it’s crucial to get organized by creating a flowchart or spreadsheet (or any tool that can help organize deadline dates and essay and application requirements). And second:  Be clear about what is, and is not, still in your control at this point. Things like a bad grade or a dropped course can’t be changed, but there are several things that students CAN still control in their applications: getting organized, interviewing, retaking standardized testing, visiting colleges, and doing well in fall coursework.  On the financial side of the process, Beth advised that students research merit scholarships and utilize the net price calculator on colleges’ websites to determine what need-based aid they may qualify for. And of course, homework! Wrapping up this segment, Sally’s assignment is for students to go to The Common Application website (, set up an account, add colleges to the account, and fill out as much of the application as possible.  Karen added to this task, asking students to fill out any non-Common applications as well. Beth’s homework was to download the PDF of last year’s FAFSA form on, to get familiar with the questions in preparation for this year’s form. She also advised students to be on the lookout for an upcoming blog post (Sept 6th) and radio show segment (Sept 29th), all about the FAFSA. Mark those calendars! International Baccalaureate Program For the second segment, Sally welcomed another former Georgetown admissions officer Lauren Randle, who provided great insight into the International Baccalaureate diploma (or “IB,” as it is most commonly called). The IB diploma is a rigorous high school program, offering college level coursework and the opportunity for students to earn college credit. It was developed to be an internationally recognized high school diploma for students around the world. While not as common in US high schools as Advanced Placement (AP) programs, it’s growing in popularity ---over 900 U.S. high schools currently offer the IB curriculum. Lauren described the structure of the program, and the course requirements for the full IB curriculum.  She also talked about how it compares to the AP curriculum, and covered both the advantages and disadvantages to following an IB program. The good news: college admissions committees recognize IB as an incredibly rigorous program and know that students who are successfully pursuing an IB diploma are definitely “college material.” And the benefits go far beyond just the admissions process; the program emphasizes writing and developing critical thinking skills.  Sally and Lauren finished the segment by offering advice to students on how to choose between the IB or AP programs, and discussed the question of college credit---how schools vary in terms of the credit they will grant for each program. Paying for College with Divorced Parents For students with divorced parents, understanding how divorce impacts the financial process can be stressful. Luckily, College Coach finance expert Shannon Vasconcelos returned to the show to shed some light on this topic . Shannon started by answering the main question: Of the two parents, whose information is the financial aid decision based on? For the vast majority of colleges, financial aid is based on the finances of the custodial parent (which is defined as who the student lives the majority of the time).  Shannon also covered more details of the process, including how stepparents are also considered and the impact on financial aid if the non-custodial parent contributes financially to college. Shannon then explained about exceptions to this rule----while the FAFSA (which is the primary application for the majority of colleges) only asks for custodial parent financial information, there are some private colleges that also require the CSS Profile form, which does ask for non-custodial parent financial information. While a relatively small number of schools do this, they tend to be the very popular, highly selective private schools that a lot of students want to apply to. A lot of great information in this episode, especially for students heading back to school and gearing up for the application process!  And just a reminder---there’s still time to participate in our “Back to School Contest.” Just head on over to our Facebook page and post a question about either college admissions or finance. We will not only answer your question in a future episode, but you’ll be eligible for prizes, including an Amazon gift card and a free college counseling session.  See you there! Getting-In-CTA


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