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Monthly College Search Update

Welcome to our monthly update on the college search and application process. Each month, we'll be updating this page and including it in our newsletter, so that all of our subscribers can have access to summaries of what they should be thinking about at this point in the college search process.


These updates will mostly focus on the junior and senior classes. Freshmen and sophomores should focus on maintaining good grades, academically pushing themselves, getting involved in extracurriculars, and making sure their summers incorporate meaningful experiences for growth. 

February 2024

Class of 2025

Important Tasks

Define Your "Fit Formula"

Begin Formulation a College List

Stay Engaged in Extracurriculars

Senior Year Class Selection

Create a College Appropriate Email

Start Thinking about Standardized Tests

  • Define Your "Fit Formula": We've provided currently enrolled juniors with two worksheets to help them begin to process and define what College Fit means for them. This includes considering finances for college, size of a school, academic culture, majors/minors, location, and campus culture (amongst other, more detailed items students can explore as they start generating their college list).

  • Begin Formulating a College List: The College List is the list of schools to which a student plans to apply. We anticipate students having a fairly finalized college list by June, when we begin the essay writing process, so there is no need to rush. As a reminder, there are over 4,000 colleges in the USA alone, and most students will apply to somewhere between 8 and 12 of them. Students who work with Virtual College Counselors are expected to build a balanced college list, including likely, target, and reach schools. Regardless of which category each school falls into, every school on a student's list should be one they would be excited to attend.

  • Stay Engaged in Extracurriculars:  Extracurricular engagement is the easiest way to stand out in a sea of qualified college applicants at any institution. We never want students to participate in activities because they think it "looks good for college." Rather, we would like to see students engaging in meaningful activities that provide opportunities for growth. In college interviews, and in some supplemental essays, students are often asked to describe one or two of their activities and why they were important to the student. As juniors continue participating and exploring activities, we encourage them to consider why they find the activity meaningful or enjoyable.

  • Senior Year Class Selction: Most high schools have students sign up for their senior year courses sometime in February or March. We will discuss with each individual student the options they have for senior year, but in general, colleges want to see students continuing with their rigorous course loads as a senior. Remember, we only want you to take the most rigorous courses that you can do well in!

  • Create a College-Appropriate Email:  If you haven't created a professional-looking email address yet, now is the time to do that. We strongly recommend that students create/use a gmail address for all things college-related, including applications, scholarships, and correspondence with schools. Many students gravitate toward utilizing their high school email addresses because it is the one they check most often, but those addresses cease to exist the second you graduate, and we want to be sure that colleges are able to reach you when needed. We recommend an address that includes some semblance of your name (specifically last, if not first and last) and some arrangement of meaningful numbers. Oftentimes, your contact information can be the first impression you leave on an admissions representative, so isn't the most appropriate email to use. And it should go without saying, but please start checking this new email address daily and update any accounts that may be using a less appropriate or school email address.

  • Start Thinking about Standardized Tests: We are excited to be navigating a continued test-optional college landscape, but we still recommend that juniors take the ACT and/or SAT at least once in order to keep all admission and scholarship doors open. It's wise to sign up for the official exam as soon as possible because seats fill up and it can be stressful trying to balance these exams in the fall of senior year while also navigating school and applications. You can schedule the SAT HERE and the ACT HERE.

Class of 2024

Important Tasks

Keep Us Updated

Schedule a Financial Aid Meeting

Start Planning to Visit Top Choice Colleges

  • Keep Us Updated: It likely goes without saying, but we want to keep hearing from you about all decisions. We are here to celebrate the offers of admission, and to navigate deferrals and waitlists. We are also here to support you if you hear less favorable news from your schools. In any case, we are so proud of the work seniors have put into this process, and we know you all will have many incredible options on the table by the time you're tasked with making a final decision in April.

  • Apply for Financial Aid & Review Negotiation Strategies: Once you've heard from all of your schools, and received all financial aid award letters, please schedule your spring meeting with us! We anticipate these meetings to be 30 minutes, and we are here to help answer questions you have, weigh your options, understand your financial aid award letters, etc. Students working independently with us can schedule that meeting HERE. Please keep in mind that the Department of Education has delayed FAFSA even further, and the forms will not be processed until mid-March, which likely means official financial aid award letters won't be available until the end of March or early April at the earliest. This is uncharted territory and we will continue to keep you updated as things develop.

    • Instead of reinventing the wheel and writing our own version of these important documents, we are directing you to some of the most helpful links and best financial aid resources available:

      • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

      • College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile)

      • Big J Educational Consulting's blog page (this is a helpful resource to have all of your questions answered about the changes to FAFSA for this year, and what to expect in subsequent years.

      • A helpful infographic from​

      • How to determine if the parent is a contributor on the FAFSA

      • Information about Taxable Scholarship Reporting

      • Once you have your official financial aid award letter that lays out the total cost of attendance and the aid being offered, you may have an opportunity to negotiate for more. Unless a school explicitly states that the aid award is finalized and non-negotiable, it typically never hurts to inquire about more funding opportunities. Students can reach out to their admissions representative to inquire about increasing merit scholarships or other potential funding opportunities (like departmental scholarships) once admitted. **Please note that students should also explore the scholarship pages on each college’s website to see if there are additional scholarships that they may be eligible to apply for through the institution.** And parents can reach out to the office of financial aid if there has been a change in finances that might warrant more financial support from the school. In that scenario, the parent will be requesting a professional judgment and likely completing a form for a change in financial circumstance.

      • Before you choose to pursue additional financial support in the form of non-institutional scholarships, it’s important to find out from the school if they allow scholarship stacking or practice scholarship displacement. Scholarship stacking will allow the student to take money earned through other scholarship avenues and add it onto their aid offer, minimizing loans or a gap in aid. If they practice scholarship displacement, that means that money earned outside of the institution will take the place of what was offered from the school. In these cases, the student only receives a lower cost of tuition if the scholarship(s) they earn outside of the institution exceed the scholarship offered by the institution. Free aid that does not need to be paid back (scholarships and grants) are typically the first to be reduced at schools that practice scholarship displacement, so there’s sometimes no actual benefit to earning other scholarships. Another thing to note is that most non-institutional scholarships are non-renewable, meaning they’re only available for the student’s first year of college. If the school displaces other merit scholarship from the institution as a result of earning an outside scholarship, there’s a chance that will result in paying significantly more over the four years at that school!

      • Relevant Blogs: How to Understand Your Financial Aid Letter. -- Applying for Financial Aid: A Step-by-Step Guide. -- What is a Financial Aid Appeal? -- Understanding the Financial Aid Process 2021 -- Can You Stack Scholarships?

  • Start Planning to Visit Top Choice Colleges: Lastly, once you've narrowed down your top few choices, if you haven't had a chance to yet, it's time to plan a visit to the campuses. Getting a chance to explore the campus, try their food, and ask questions in person can help students determine which school may be the best fit for them. Often, these final college visits help make the decision process easier.

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