College Advising Blog

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  • Communication

This week we are excited to have Mr. Wade Rhoades, Admissions Counselor at Ohio Northern University, guest author this week's blog post.  Wade provides some helpful tips for students as they communicate with the Office of Admission at various institutions.

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Communication is the quintessential skill in every facet of our lives.  We need to be able to communicate, both verbally and in written form, articulately and concisely.  We also need to have the ability to craft our communication to match our intended audience.  With that the following tips will help you communicate with college admissions officials, as you begin/continue your college application process.

·         Professional Email:  A large portion of the college application process is promoting your own personal brand and showcasing your professionalism.  Nothing is worse from our side of the desk than when Joe Smith presents an impeccable application but lists his email address as “”.  I would encourage all of you to create (if you haven’t done so already) a professional email account that you use exclusively for college communications. 

·         Write to your Audience: A letter that you write to your best friend across the country should read and present vastly different than an email being sent to a college admission official.  If you are writing to a potential college and you’re using slang terms and your sentences are not coherent, that official has formed an impression of you that could follow you throughout your application process, so it would best suit you to proofread all communications. 

·         Don’t Be Shy:  I think that there is a misconception that by sending emails to admissions officials, students will feel that are bothering us or that they will seem “pushy” or “needy”.  I believe that to not be the case.  Students that reach out to me are students that I take note of and remember, in part because that communication expresses your interest in my institution, and our relationship will be much stronger than if I have no idea that you’re interested.  I personally love when students ask me the random questions as I believe that those questions can lead to the best conversations.  I tell students and parents to not hesitate to reach out if they have questions.  I would rather you have all of your questions answered, than wondering “what if?”. 


  • Admission Process

This week we are excited to have Ms. Danielle Nespor, Assistant Director of Admissions at Allegheny College guest author this week's blog post.  Danielle shares insight on why it is beneficial for students to get to know their admissions representatives at the institutions they are considering during their college search.

Hello! My name is Danielle Nespor and I’m an Assistant Director of Admissions at Allegheny College. Allegheny is a liberal arts & sciences college with a national reputation for academic rigor and preparing successful graduates. We are also nationally known as a place where students create unusual combinations of interests and talents. These unusual combinations aren’t just exclusive to our students; even our staff have their own unusual combinations. My unusual combinations are animal lover, bookworm, and artist.

I bring up my interests because there is a lot more to your admissions counselor than might meet the eye. Believe it or not, counselors are just regular people who have a passion for higher education. We love getting to talk with students! I specifically love when I can find a common interest with a student and truly get to know them as a person. Even better is when that student applies and I can put a face with the application.

Counselors are a valuable resource during the college search. We are the ones who answer questions regarding our school and our specific admissions process. You should never be afraid to ask questions, no matter how silly they may seem. Whether it’s a concern about admissions requirements or wanting more specific information about a school, counselors are always happy to help. Choosing a college is a big decision, and we want to make sure you feel confident making that choice!

Let’s face it; the college application process can be intimidating, but by getting to know an admissions counselor at the school(s) you are applying to, you can make the process a bit more personal. So, if you are on campus or a counselor is visiting your high school, don’t be afraid to say hello. If you are unable to meet a counselor in person; an email or a phone call also works!

Danielle Nespor, Allegheny College

  • Admission Process


This week we welcome guest blog contributor Mr. Robert Olivieri.

Robert serves in the role of Midwest Regional Coordinator in the Office of Admissions at the University of Maryland.

Robert shares insight regarding the holistic review process.


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Currently, admissions officers across the US are reading thousands and thousands of high school senior applications. What many people may not realize is the time, consideration, and "puzzle piecing" that each of us go through behind the scenes. 

Within the holistic review process, we believe that every piece of an application matters and each application "paints a picture" of the student and how they would fit into our universities' larger mosaic masterpiece. Each application we review does not have one portion, strength, or attribute that would make you automatically admissible. Specifically at the University of Maryland, we have 26 different factors ( that we review on; most institutions will be similar in their review factors and thought process on this

Selectivity at every university looks a little different. Even though each cycle we get applications with perfect standardized test scores, and not a single B on their transcript, that is not enough. We look for students who are special, unique, and diversity. We look for a student that will bring something to our university. We see so many students that are phenomenal and would be successful at our institutions, however we can not offer them all admissions. Sometimes students see a denial as "I am not good enough", but really they should think of it as "I can offer a different school more". All of us admissions officers want you to have the richest college experience and be at an institution that you will be successful, learn from, and teach others. Ultimately, that is what we are looking for in each of our thousands and thousands of applications. 


Robert M. Olivieri

Midwest Regional Coordinator

Office of Undergraduate Admissions

Enrollment Management

University of Maryland - College Park

Cell: 240.484.0386

Skype: rmolive.umd

Twitter @TerpsMidwest

Insta @TerpsMidwest


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“New” is a word that gets used often during the month of January.  January marks many “news”: new year, new month, new quarter, new semester, new teachers, new classes, and many other chances for a fresh new start.  Now is the time to start thinking about the future.  Here are a few tips to get your New Year off to a productive start.

Check your email often:  Many important messages will be delivered via email.  Checking your email on a consistent basis helps you stay up-to-date on announcements and requests from your College Advisor and colleges/universities.

Set academic goals for the semester:  Spend time to reflect on what academic goals you want to set for yourself.  Once you have the goal set, start to develop an action plan to identify the steps that are needed to achieve your goals.  Meet with your School Counselor, College Advisor, and your academic teachers to discuss your goals.

Develop habits that focus on your health:  Make sure to take time to focus on your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  Be intentional with your time and devote time for activities that allow you to relax and focus on you.

Now is a great time to reflect on your time and habits.  Make changes where needed and don’t be afraid to seek assistance.  2019 will be a great year! 

  • Paying for College

Sharing from the Department of Education's blog.

The 2019–20 FAFSA® became available October 1! If you plan to attend college between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, you should fill out your FAFSA form as soon as possible!

Just make sure you don’t make one of these common mistakes:

1. Not Completing the FAFSA Form

We hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA form is too hard.” “It takes too long to complete.” “I’ll never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. For one, contrary to popular belief, there is no income “cut-off” when it comes to federal student aid. Also, the FAFSA form is not just the application for “free money” such as the Federal Pell Grant, it’s also the application for Federal Work-Study funds, federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by your state, school, or private organization. If you don’t complete the FAFSA form, you could lose out on thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. It doesn’t take too much time to complete, and there is help text provided for every question.

2. Not Filling Out the FAFSA Form as Soon as It’s Available

If you want to get the most financial aid possible, fill out the FAFSA form ASAP. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and some states and colleges run out of money early.  Even if it seems like your school’s deadline is far off in the future, get your FAFSA form done ASAP. The 2019–20 FAFSA form requires 2017 tax information, which you should already have—so there’s no excuse to wait!

3. Not Filing the FAFSA Form by the Deadline

You should fill out the FAFSA form as soon as possible, but you should DEFINITELY fill it out before your earliest FAFSA deadline. Each state and school sets its own deadline, and some deadlines are very early. To be sure you are being considered for the maximum amount of financial aid, fill out your FAFSA form—and any other financial aid applications required by your state or school—before the earliest deadline.

4. Not Getting an FSA ID Before Filling Out the FAFSA Form

It’s important to get an FSA ID before filling out the FAFSA form. Why? Well, because when you register for an FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA form electronically. An FSA ID is a username and password that you use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education websites, including You AND your parent (if you’re considered a dependent student) will each need your own, separate FSA IDs if you both want to sign your FAFSA form online. DO NOT share your FSA IDs with each other! Doing so could cause problems or delays with your financial aid. Don’t wait! Create an FSA ID now:

5. Not Using Your FSA ID to Start the FAFSA Form

When you begin your FAFSA form, you will be asked to identify yourself as one of these:

1.) I am the student
2.) I am a parent, preparer, or student from a Freely Associated State

If you’re the student, you should choose the first option. Why? When you do, some of your personal information (name, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) will be automatically loaded into your application.  This will prevent you from running into a common error that occurs when your verified FSA ID information doesn’t match the information on your FAFSA form. Also, you won’t have to enter your FSA ID again to transfer your information from the IRS or to sign your FAFSA form electronically.

6. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT)

For many applicants, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA form is entering the financial information. But thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer their necessary 2017 tax information into the 2019–20 FAFSA form using the IRS DRT. It’s the fastest, most accurate way to enter your tax return information into the FAFSA form, so if you’re given the option to “LINK TO IRS” button, take advantage of it!


7. Not Reading Definitions Carefully

When it comes to completing the FAFSA form, you’ll want to read each definition and each question carefully; sometimes the FAFSA form is looking for very specific information that may not be obvious.

Here are some items that have very specific (but not necessarily intuitive) definitions according to the FAFSA:

  • Legal guardianship
    To determine your dependency status, the FAFSA form asks, “Does someone other than your parent or stepparent have legal guardianship of you, as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents—even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardians. Also, you cannot be your own legal guardian.

  • Number of family members (household size)
    The FAFSA form has a specific definition of how your household size or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number, especially when the student doesn’t physically live with the parent.
  • Number of family members in college
    Enter the number of people in your (or your parents’) household who will attend college at the same time as you. Don’t forget to include yourself, but don’t include your parents in this number, even if they’re in college. This number should never be greater than your number of family members.
  • Taxable college grants and scholarships
    For this question, you report only college grant and scholarship amounts that were reported to the IRS as income. That means you should not use the amount listed on your 1098-T; you should report the amount listed on your tax return. Do not use the number in the adjusted gross income (AGI) field. Here are the tax line numbers you should reference when asked this question. If you didn’t file taxes, you should enter zero.

* If you’re a dependent student, the value of any college savings accounts should be reported as a parent asset, not a student asset.


8. Inputting Incorrect Information

Here are some examples of common errors we see when people complete the FAFSA form:

  • Confusing parent information with student information
    We know there are many parents out there who fill out the FAFSA form for their children, but remember, it is the student’s application. When the FAFSA form says “you” or “your,” it’s referring to the student, so make sure to enter your (the student’s) information. If the form is asking for your parent’s information, it will specify that in the question.
  • Entering information that doesn’t match your FSA ID information
    After you create an FSA ID, your information (name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth) is sent to the Social Security Administration to be verified. If you then enter a different name, SSN, and/or date of birth on the FAFSA form, you’ll receive an error message. This is often the result of a typo or mixing up student information and parent information. To avoid delays, triple-check that you have entered your information correctly. If you encounter an error about information not matching, here’s how you can resolve it.

9. Not Reporting Required Information

  • Additional financial information
    If you follow our recommendation and use the IRS DRT, a lot of the financial information required on the FAFSA form will be automatically filled in for you. However, the IRS DRT doesn’t populate everything; some numbers, including many items in the “Additional Financial Information” section, must be manually entered. If you used the IRS DRT, you’ll see that some boxes in that section are pre-checked and the fields prefilled with “Transferred from the IRS.” However, other items, such as “Payments to tax-deferred pension and retirement savings plans” and others, cannot be transferred from the IRS. You must manually review each item in the list, check the box if it applies to you, and enter the appropriate amount by referencing your relevant financial records. In the case of payments to tax-deferred pension and retirement savings plans, you can find that information on your W-2 form.

10. Listing only one college

Unless you are applying to only one college or already know where you’re going to school, you should include more than one. Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add ALL colleges you are considering to your FAFSA form, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted. You can add up to 10 schools at a time. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these steps.

It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools. In fact, you don’t even have to remove schools you later decide not to apply to. If you don’t end up applying or getting accepted to a school, the school can just disregard your FAFSA form. But you can remove schools at any time to make room for new schools.

11. Not Signing the FAFSA Form

So many students answer every single question that is asked but fail to actually sign the FAFSA form with their FSA ID and submit it. This happens for many reasons—maybe you forgot your FSA ID, or your parent isn’t with you to sign with the parent FSA ID—so your application is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you.

  • If you don’t know your FSA ID, select “Forgot username” and/or “Forgot password.”
  • If you don’t have an FSA ID, create one.

If you’re not able to sign with your FSA ID, there’s an option to mail a signature page. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA form has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA form online.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid.