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Thoughts, Ideas, and News on Admissions & Financial Aid

The Class of 2017: College Admissions Lab Rats

Members of the high school Class of 2017 are probably beginning to feel a little like lab rats in someone's cruel experiment.

First, the College Board announces a major overhaul in the PSAT and the SAT, with the greatest impact falling squarely on students who are applying for Fall 2017 admission to college. At the same time, the ACT folks are also doing a little tweaking around the edges of that test, albeit with far less fanfare and publicity.

And then, this weekend, the Department of Education has decided to revamp the timing of the FAFSA, the documentation required to qualify for any kind of need-based Federal financial aid. Again, the greatest impact falls on the Class of 2017.

Because the system of higher education in the United States is a patchwork of public, private, for-profit and tax-exempt entities, each located within a separate state with its own rules and jurisdictions, students and families are left with far more questions than answers as a consequence of these changes.

When there are no rules, no real set of comprehensive expectations, what should students do? 

First, don't panic. Recognize that every student who is applying to college for Fall 2017 is in the same boat. Your high school counseling office knows that. Each college admissions staff knows that. They are all busy trying to figure out how to adapt to the changes too. Getting angry or frantic isn't going to help.

Second, educate yourself. Yes, I know that you have one or twelve dozen other things to learn: Calculus, French verb tenses, the Periodic Table. But when it comes to your own college search strategies, ignorance isn't going to get you very far. For example, if you are curious about changes in the SAT, go to the College Board's website and consider accessing the Khan Academy resources that are available for free. Or sign up for an SAT prep course with a company who has done a lot of the research already and can pass it along to you.

Third, don't assume anything. (Which is actually a pretty good rule for life in general). Ask questions in your high school counseling office. Consider working with a private independent admissions consultant who is also following and analyzing these developments.

And finally, remember that none of these changes affect who YOU are as a college-bound student. Finding the right fit college is as much about knowing who you are, what you're good at, and highlighting your strengths as it is jumping through the various hoops out there. You are driving the bus here, not the College Board, not the Department of Education, and not individual colleges. Invest the majority of your energy on pursuing your passions: the classes you love, the activities that give you joy, and the relationships that matter to you. Don't let the confusion distract you from the real task at hand: discovering the path that's best for you moving forward.