building an affordable college list

Labor Day has come and gone, and that means two things: summer is (sadly) over and it is officially college application season! Beth Heaton returned to host last week’s episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, covering a range of topics. In the first segment, first generation college-bound students were given advice, recommendations, and things to consider as they begin their college career. Many families need help building a college list that is affordable, and the second segment on the show offered tools for researching colleges from a financial perspective. And the show wrapped with an Office Hours discussion focused on the “Why this College?” essay that many colleges ask applicants to write.

Challenges Faced by First Generation College Students

Lisa Albro, former admissions officer and high school guidance counselor, joined Beth for a follow-up discussion of their previous conversation on first generation college-bound students applying to college. But now Lisa and Beth wanted to discuss challenges these students face as they arrive on campus and navigate their first year in an unknown environment. As Lisa points out, “You don’t always know what you don’t know, “ and that’s particularly true for students who are the first in their family to go to college. But as first gen students make up around 20% of students at 4-year colleges, there may be more help and support than you imagine. Tune in to the full segment to hear Lisa’s advice on what to expect, how to handle uncertainties, programming to look for, and other great insight.

Building an Affordable College List

The second segment of Getting In brought college finance expert, Tara Piantanida-Kelly, to discuss affordability when building a college list. Many families do not ask the important questions until after submitting applications, which could really be too late if finances are a major consideration for where your student will attend. Are merit scholarships important? Do you need a college that meets 100% of demonstrated financial need? How can you know what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be at particular college? What is the average net price vs. the listed sticker price? Tara walked through helpful tools to answer these questions, highlighting what you can find on a college’s own website, what the CollegeBoard website offers, and why the US Department of Education’s College Navigator site is her absolute favorite resource!

How to Write the “Why This College?” Essay

Finally, the “Office Hours” segment last week covered “Why this College?” essays with College Coach colleague, Mary Sue Youn. Many colleges ask applicants to write this particular essay as part of their supplemental essay requirements, and, as former admissions officers, we have seen too many students fall into traps when answering it. Mary Sue and Beth help students avoid the obvious response and point listeners to resources that can be used to help write this essay. And if you have already written one of these essays for a particular college, you might be wondering if you can recycle it for another school—you should definitely listen to what Mary Sue and Beth have to say before hitting copy and paste!

On our next episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, Ian Fisher will dispel many “I heard that….” myths, discuss supporting documents for applications, and offer an inside peak at the Boston University Financial Aid Office.


Written by Lauren Randle
Lauren Randle is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Lauren worked as a senior admissions officer at Georgetown University and previously held positions in college counseling at Malvern Preparatory School and the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. Visit our website to learn more about Lauren Randle.