Timeline: Key Steps for Completing College Applications Successfully


Rising seniors should map out deadlines early to help them stay on track with their college applications.

Students should prep for college throughout high school, but for rising seniors time is limited. Applying to college can be stressful, but proper planning can help alleviate some of the pressure on students and their families.

Students can use the following timeline to map out their college application process. For a general timeline on when to apply for financial aid, students should refer to our college savings plan for 2014.

12:00 AM
June 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
June 30, 2014

Ask for Recommendation Letters

Students who want recommendation letters from their junior year teachers should reach out to them before the school year ends.

“It’s really ideal if you ask before the start of the summer because if you have a teacher who is on top of things he or she might actually write the letter over the summer, so you’ll have it when you come back to school in September,” says Elizabeth Heaton, senior director of educational consulting at College Coach.

12:00 AM
July 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2014

Start Test Prep

“As you’re putting your list of colleges together, you want to make sure you’re making note of the different testing requirements at each school,” Heaton says. Most schools accept either the ACT or SAT, but some institutions require additional testing or make standardized testing optional.

12:00 AM
August 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2014

Write Your College Essay

Application essays are one of the most daunting parts of the college application process, but students can get that part done during the summer. The Common Application has announced that essay prompts will remain the same for the 2014-2015 school year. The application will be available to students on Aug. 1. For schools that don’t use the Common App, Heaton says students can reach out to those institutions directly to ask about the prompts.

12:00 AM
August 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
October 30, 2014

Go On A College Tour

Summer can be a great opportunity for students to see schools on their application list. Many schools have programs and students on campus during the summer, so prospective students can still get a feel for campus culture and life.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
October 30, 2014

Take the SAT or ACT

Fall is the best time to retake the SAT or ACT because it allows students to get their scores ahead of early decision application deadlines.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
December 31, 2014

Search for Scholarships

It’s never too early to start searching for scholarships. Many national scholarships have fall deadlines, so if you haven’t started your search already, now is a good time to start.

12:00 AM
September 1, 2014 — 12:00 AM
September 30, 2014

Create an Application Timeline

Heaton encourages students to map out their deadlines for the rest of the year. With school in session, managing time becomes more important, she says.

12:00 AM
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
January 31, 2015

Fill Out the FAFSA

Everyone who is planning on attending school should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The application is used to determine what loans students can receive and award applicants with need-based scholarships. Learn more about some of the most common FAFSA mistakes.

U.S. News Education

12:00 AM
January 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
March 3, 2015

Apply for Summer Jobs

A summer job is a great way to build your resume and assist with some of your college expenses. Many summer jobs and internships start accepting applications for summer jobs in the beginning of a new year. Start searching now to hopefully have something secured by graduation.

12:00 AM
April 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
May 1, 2015

Make Your College Decision

By now you’ve likely researched your top choices, gone on tours and analyzed your financial aid packages. The national response deadline for accepting a college is May 1.

12:00 AM
May 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
May 31, 2015

Apply for Late Admissions to Schools if Necessary

Students who haven’t secured a spot at an institution still have hope. Some schools still have places open after the May 1 national response date, but space is limited.

12:00 AM
June 1, 2015 — 12:00 AM
August 31, 2015

Prepare for Freshman Year

From selecting dorms to negotiating financial aid, there’s a lot more to do after you’ve been admitted. Stay up-to-date on all of your paperwork, enjoy the summer and prepare for the new school year.

Images from iStockphoto and Getty
pic3Briana Boyington is an education Web producer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at bboyington@usnews.com.

5 Steps to Choose How Many College Applications to Send


Make sure you’re comfortable with the number of colleges on your list.

The magic number depends on how much you can spend and the selectivity of your intended major.


There are more than 1,000 four-year colleges in America. Most experts agree that it is important to submit college applications to several of them, but how many is “several”?

As with most things in life, the correct answer is individual. “Several” is the number that allows you to confidently enter application season. Here, then, is a five-step guide to choosing your magic number.

Step 1: Determine Your Admissions Budget

Before you begin to apply to colleges, take stock of your admissions-specific financial resources. Entrance exams like the ACT and SAT​ cost money, as do campus visits. Even the applications that you submit carry a fee. While this is a small amount relative to the tens of thousands that you might spend on tuition, it does add up quickly. How many schools can you afford to apply to, given your budget?

 Note that you are eligible for four college application fee waivers if you took the SAT or an SAT Subject Test with a fee waiver​. All Common Application schools accept fee waivers, but other colleges may not. Check a particular school’s policy here.

Step 2: Consider the Rarity of Your Intended Major

If you intend to major in a particularly narrow field, you may find that relatively few colleges offer such a concentration. For example, there are only a handful of schools with an undergraduate degree in astrobiology. If your major is rare, apply to those colleges that offer it – you may ultimately apply to fewer schools than a prospective English major, but that is perfectly acceptable.

A corollary to this step can be summed up in the following question: “How important are specialized university facilities to your career plans?” When I applied to college, I pictured a career spent studying particle physics, and having a functional particle collider on campus was one of my primary college decision criteria.

Almost every college in the U.S. offers a degree in physics, but fewer boast of particle colliders. Even more relevant to my search was the fact that many large state schools required science faculty to include undergraduates in their research activities. Some small schools offered that opportunity too, but their research facilities were sometimes limited.

Step 3: Gauge the Selectivity of Your Intended Major

If your prospective major is highly competitive, consider applying to a greater number of schools. This can help you ensure that you are admitted to at least one college in your program of choice. Many business and engineering concentrations, for instance, require an accessory admissions process that is often more rigorous than the one that the school as a whole uses.

There is no hard and fast rule for determining the number of competitive programs to apply to. The upper limit on applications will be dictated in part by your budget.

You can also speak with admissions officers to gain a sense of how competitive you will be for entry to a particular college or major. If you are set on a specific concentration, but your admissions portfolio is not ideal given the competitiveness of the major, you may want to apply to a larger number of schools – perhaps six to 10.

Step 4: Review Your Other Needs

Colleges vary widely in their culture, location, social environment and a host of other nonacademic features. Depending on your criteria, you may have a very short list of possibilities to work with – the Department of Education’s College Navigator lists exactly two private, nonprofit colleges located in rural settings in Alabama, for example.

Another important need involves finances. If your tuition budget is limited, it may be important to you to attend a public college in your state of residence. In some states, this requirement may present you with just two or three choices, naturally shaping the number of schools you will apply to.

Step 5: Ensure You Are Comfortable With Your Number

I would recommend a minimum of three applications: one target school, one stretch school and one safety school. Even if you are positive that just one college is perfect for you, it is well worth having a backup plan.

The more difficult problem lies in deciding your maximum number – in other words, how many is too many? Again, the goal is to feel as comfortable as possible as you begin to apply to schools. Ideally, you want to have several acceptance letters to choose from.

If your discussions with admissions counselors and your own research suggest that you are borderline for admittance, six or seven applications may be warranted. More are likely unnecessary – if seven of seven colleges turn you down for a competitive program, the eighth almost certainly would have as well.

Remember that there is a cost in time, money and stress when sending out applications. The key to success lies in striking a balance between the factors discussed above.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Varsity Tutors is a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. The company’s end-to-end offerings also include mobile learning apps, online learning environments and other tutoring and test prep-focused technologies. Got a question? Email admissionsplaybook@usnews.com.


3 Ways the Government Overestimates Your Ability to Pay for College

finaidThe government uses an antiquated family budget, and no regional cost of living adjustments.


“Where do they think we’ll get this money from?”

Parents who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, are often shocked by how much the federal government thinks they can afford to pay for college when they receive their official “Expected Family Contribution,” or EFC.

Those who have investigated exactly how the government calculates the EFC say there’s a reason: The formula is so unrealistic and so old—it’s loosely based on a family budget from 1967—that it isn’t surprising that many 21st Century families are flabbergasted.

The Education Department takes the family’s financial information and applies a complicated formula adjusting for the family’s size, expenses, ages, and other factors. The department has published worksheets explaining the details of the formula for the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 academic years.

 Although the number the government computers calculate is called the “Expected Family Contribution,” that turns out not to be the amount most families have to spend on their children’s college. Colleges can and do calculate their own versions of a family’s EFC. But the federal EFC is important because it determines who gets federal financial aid such as Pell Grants and low-interest student loans, as well as many state, community, and private scholarships. And many colleges use it as a starting point before determining each student’s financial aid package, which results in his or her own unique net price of attendance.

[Read about how private colleges are adopting used car lots’ pricing strategies.]

For the 2010-11 academic year, the government will give an EFC of $0 and the maximum Pell Grant of $5,550 to students from families earning less than about $30,000. For every $100 in after-tax income above that $30,000 threshhold, the government will raise the student’s EFC by at least $22. For every $100 of after-tax income above about $60,000, the student’s federal EFC will rise by as much as $47.

That means a middle class family of four with an adjusted gross income of about $75,000 could get an EFC of anywhere from $4,000 to $9,000 a year, depending upon other factors such the parents’ ages, savings, and expenses.

Many financial aid administrators defend the stingy EFC formula, saying neither schools nor governments can afford to give aid to students from families who haven’t saved for college because they’ve chosen to spend on things like bigger-than-necessary houses, new cars, or iPhones.

But independent financial aid analysts say three government EFC policies can penalize even frugal families:

1. Outdated budget estimates. The Education Department bases its estimate of what families can afford today on a government budget for a “family maintaining a lower standard of living” in 1967. That budget has been adjusted for inflation every year. But it has not been adjusted for changes in family spending patterns. During the 1960s, fewer wives worked, for example, so families spent much less on child care. The antiquated budget also can’t account for modern technological expenses such as cell phones, computers, or internet access.

2. No regional adjustments. The government doesn’t account for the different costs of living in different cities. The Council for Community and Economic Research, which produces widely used data for tracking cost of living, estimates that living in New York City, for example, costs more than twice as much than living in, say, Pueblo, Colo. Yet the federal government assumes Brooklyn, N.Y., families paying, say, $2,000 a month for a three-bedroom apartment can afford to spend as much on college as similar families with comparable income paying only $1,000 for a similar home in lower-cost communities.

3. Unrealistic family spending assumptions. The government’s formula doesn’t make any accommodation for parents whose disposable income is reduced because of their own student loan bills, even though a growing number of parents are still paying off their own student loans as their kids enter college.

These policies mean the EFC is “at best, a very harsh assessment of families’ ability to pay,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. At worst, he says, it is “somewhat unrealistic…and archaic.”

Making the EFC even harsher is the grim reality that most colleges, especially public universities, don’t have enough grant money these days to ensure that every student only has to pay the official EFC. Students fill those financial gaps with loans, extra work, or “merit aid,” such as scholarships awarded because of grades or special skills.

Federal officials note they have made some improvements to the EFC in the last couple years by, for example, raising the ceiling for the amount a student or family can earn and still receive an EFC of $0 from about $30,000 in the 2010 academic year to $31,000 in 2011.

In addition, in 2009, the government told colleges to lower the EFCs of students who appealed for extra aid because they had expenses or family problems that weren’t accounted for in the standard form, such as unusually high medical expenses or the loss of a job.

And since colleges are free to calculate their own EFCs for their own aid money, some colleges (generally elite, wealthy universities) give enough scholarships to ensure that some students—especially those with top grades or other special talents—pay less than their federal EFC.

The government has also ordered colleges to post on their websites “net price calculators” so students and parents can estimate how much they are actually likely to pay. Many colleges, including Drexel University, West Virginia University, and Williams College, have already launched calculators ahead of  the official deadline is Oct. 29, 2011.



Financial Aid 101: Fill Out the FAFSA

finaid-101Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to help pay for college.

Wondering how you’ll pay for college? Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you don’t, it could cost you thousands in grants, work-study, low-interest federal loans—and need-based scholarships.

Filling out the FAFSA is the most important thing you can do to get your hands on need-based money to pay for college. The vast majority of students who fill out the FAFSA are eligible for some sort of federal financial aid.

Filling out the FAFSA can be somewhat complicated. But don’t let that deter you from applying. Instead, lower your stress level by taking heed of the following advice.

1. Use one of three means to submit your FAFSA: You can submit online, via a printable PDF, or using a paper FAFSA form. More than 98 percent of FAFSA applications are submitted online. We recommend filling out the online version of the FAFSA for three reasons:

• There’s a built-in guide to help you complete the application.

• “Skip logic” automatically skips questions that aren’t applicable to you.

• The schools that you wish to receive your FAFSA information will get results faster.

If you decide to apply online, make sure you go to the right website: The official FAFSA website is www.FAFSA.gov. Remember, you should never pay to submit your FAFSA.

If you’d rather not submit your FAFSA online, download a PDF copy at www.studentaid.ed.gov/PDFfafsa or call 1-800-4-FED-AID FREE to request that a paper copy be mailed to you.

2. Apply for a Personal Identification Number (PIN): You can use your PIN to electronically sign your FAFSA online. This is the fastest way to submit your form. If you’re a dependent, at least one of your parents will also need to apply for a PIN to sign the FAFSA electronically. To apply for a PIN, visit www.pin.ed.gov.

You can use your PIN immediately to sign your FAFSA. You can also use your PIN to access your Student Aid Report online, make corrections to your FAFSA, or complete a FAFSA renewal next year (you’ll just need to wait up to three days after issuance for verification of your name, date of birth, and Social Security number by the Social Security Administration).

Tip: Hang on to your PIN! You’ll need it in the future.

3. Complete the “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet: For efficiency’s sake, sit down (with your parents, if you’re a dependent) and gather all of the necessary documents before filling out your FAFSA. Use the “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet to help you get organized.

Tip: To determine whether or not you’re a dependent, visit this website: https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1011/help/fftoc01k.htm.

You won’t be submitting this worksheet; it’s simply an organizational tool to make filling out the FAFSA easier. The worksheet will ask you and/or your parents for information like your Social Security number, driver’s license number, federal tax information for the year leading up to your application year, records of untaxed information, and assets like savings, investments, and business assets. After you fill out the worksheet, you’ll be ready to sit down at your computer to insert all the information quickly.

4. Fill out your FAFSA: You’ll be given the opportunity to pre-fill the application with information you’ve entered previously, if you’ve completed a FAFSA in the past. Otherwise, complete sections 1 through 4 using your “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet; this should make filling out the FAFSA fast and easy!

5. Find identification numbers: Where do you plan on applying to college? Make sure you gather all of the identification numbers for those schools (found on the FAFSA website) so your FAFSA results will be automatically sent to those colleges.

6. Calculate total earnings and tax return amounts: If you’re filling out the FAFSA online, the online application will automatically calculate your total applicable earnings and tax return amounts. If you’re using a paper form, you’ll need to calculate this by hand.

7. Follow the directions: See the directions on the website for online submission, or mail in your paper application to the appropriate address listed on your application.

After your application has been processed, your FAFSA results will be submitted to the schools to which you’re applying. Colleges will use your results to determine your remaining financial need and whether you qualify for any need-based scholarships.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Scholarship America® is a national organization that helps students get into and graduate from college through three core programs: Dollars for Scholars®, DreamkeepersSM® and Scholarship Management Services®. More than $2.7 billion in scholarships and education assistance has been awarded to more than 1.8 million students since 1958. Their scholarship administration expertise has helped nearly 1,100 communities and more than 1,100 corporations develop and implement local scholarship programs. Got a question? Email scholarships@usnews.com.


Look to Parents’ Employers for College Scholarships


Make Mom or Dad’s place of employment the first place you search for money for higher education.

It was a great summer, wasn’t it? You laid around the pool all day, hung out in the basement playing video games with friends, and watched marathons of your favorite reality TV shows for hours on end. But now that you’re several weeks into the school year already, it’s time to crack down and get to work, and not just on your math homework.

Yes, we’re talking about college again. It’ll be here before you know it, so don’t wait until it’s time to fill out the FAFSA before you start to seriously think about how you’re going to pay for it. Lucky for you, the Internet has made it much easier to locate and apply for scholarships than ever before. But before you dive into your search, there’s one not-so-obvious place you should look first: your parents’ place of employment.

We’ve put together a list of some great scholarship programs offered by companies to children of employees. Don’t see your mom or dad’s company on the list? No worries. All you need to do is have your parents ask their HR departments if a scholarship program exists where they work.

And here’s a side note to the parents out there who happen to be in between jobs and seeking employment: If you’re concerned about the high cost of your kids’ college education, consider focusing your search on employers that offer scholarships. They’re more common than you think.

If your mom or dad is an employee of Siemens, you’re in luck. Children of employees of Siemens can apply for a merit-based scholarship, awarded during the final semester of their senior year of high school. You do have to take the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior this fall if you want to be eligible for the scholarship in 2013, but it’s worth it for a $1,000 yearly scholarship.

Is one of your parents a federal employee? There are a variety of scholarships offered to employees and children of employees of the federal government, depending on where you live and in what government sector your parent works. The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund is an excellent merit-based scholarship competition that awards more than 400 students from 27 regions with scholarships ranging from $500 to more than $7,000.

Verizon is another company generous enough to offer scholarships to children and legal dependents of employees. Each year, the Verizon Scholarship Program accepts applications from eligible high school seniors planning to enroll in an accredited four-year college or university the following fall. Renewable scholarships are awarded for up to $4,000 per academic year for four years of study. Doesn’t get much better than that!

The Intel Scholarship for Employees’ Children is an excellent scholarship to apply for if one of your parents happens to work for Intel. Every year, Intel awards up to 400 scholarships worldwide. Children of employees can receive a one-time award of up to $4,000 to help achieve the goal of postsecondary education. Scholarship awards vary based on whether you’re going for a two- or four-year degree.

For more than 25 years, Fluor Corporation has awarded more than $11 million in scholarships to 2,600 children of U.S. and international employees. The Fluor Scholarship Program is geared toward supporting the goals and aspirations of students who want to go on to college. Recipients can attend two- or four-year colleges, universities, or vocational-technical schools.

Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Scholarship America® is a national organization that helps students get into and graduate from college through three core programs: Dollars for Scholars®, DreamkeepersSM® and Scholarship Management Services®. More than $2.7 billion in scholarships and education assistance has been awarded to more than 1.8 million students since 1958. Their scholarship administration expertise has helped nearly 1,100 communities and more than 1,100 corporations develop and implement local scholarship programs. Got a question? Email scholarships@usnews.com.


Target These 5 Best Places to Find College Scholarships, Grants


With time at a premium, focus on these reliable scholarship sources.


​It is much faster and easier to search for college scholarships and grants than it was 20 years ago, before the Internet​ changed the process for finding information forever. Now you just need an Internet​ connection and a phone, tablet or computer to find multiple resources for free money for college.

The following five ways to search are all viable and every one of them is a potential gold mine.

1. School: It makes sense, doesn’t it? Since school is the primary place for formal education of teenage students who are about to potentially go on to a postsecondary education, you can expect to find fliers, posters and planned financial aid information nights at your high school or possibly even middle school.

Look in the school’s lobby or rotunda and check your guidance counselor’s bulletin board. Ask your teachers and counselors about any potential financial aid for which you might be eligible. It doesn’t hurt to ask. There is nothing to lose and who knows – you might find a way to pay for a portion of your college costs.

2. Local library: The next most education-centered local source for most students is likely to be the public library. If you have one, even if you have not been a regular visitor, nothing is keeping you from going and asking the librarian or another employee what they know about local scholarship availability. Often you will find it is just a matter of asking the right person the right question when it comes to unlocking a wealth of valuable information.

3. Community organizations: If you or your parents belong to an organization such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, Elks National Foundation or similar community organizations, you should find out if they offer any scholarships or grants. There are so many opportunities for students and parents who belong to these organizations, it is just a matter of performing a little bit of research.

The Scholarships for Scouts website lists many scholarship opportunities for students involved in scouting, so the parameters and deadlines will vary. The Elks National Foundation offers more than one scholarship so parameters and requirements will vary. However, they will require membership, so find out if your parent, uncle, aunt or a grandparent is a member and, if so, look into this great opportunity. Awards from the 4-H club will vary, but if you are a member, you should look up your local chapter and see what they offer. In Illinois, for example, 4-H Club has many youth development programs as well as a variety of scholarships.

4. Your employer: This could be a company for which a parent or possibly other relative has worked for years, or even your part-time employer when you are in high school. Any corporation with which you are connected might be a scholarship resource. Be sure to find out if any of the employers of anyone in your family offers scholarships or grants.

The McDonald’s Educates Scholarship Program offers one $1,000 award each year to a high-achieving student employee from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. One of those winners is eligible for a $5,000 prize. The United Technologies Employee Scholar Program covers tuition, academic fees and book costs for students attending of the company’s approved colleges, and there is no restriction on the type of degree. And the  CVS Health Scholarships are available to students of full-time CVS employees. The application process will reopen in early 2016.

5. Free online scholarship searches: This one, naturally, is my favorite. Ever since the late 1990s, students and parents have been able to easily get information about scholarships online, and even get matched to them by creating a profile. Rather than searching for each type of scholarship for which you feel qualified, specialized websites allow you to  just answer a few questions and find hundreds of potential sources for free college money.

Not only that, but you can save, organize and update your profile and search results, tracking which ones you plan to apply for, those you don’t, those you have applied for, etc.

While I recommend using all of the above mentioned methods, we all know time can be a major factor when pursuing such an endeavor. This is why I am constantly preaching the “early and often” method of researching and applying for scholarships. Start now and don’t stop until there are no reasonable matches left. If you want to win scholarships, you are going to have to find them first.

Kevin Ladd is the vice president of Scholarships.com, one of the most widely used free college scholarship search and financial aid information resources online. The organization also formed RightStudent about five years ago, a company that has built relationships with colleges and universities across the U.S. to provide students with the opportunity to not only interact with prospective colleges, but to also be recruited by them. Follow Scholarships.com on Twitter and Facebook.

Scholarship Search Insider features weekly expert advice and information on how prospective college students can find scholarships and pay for college. Scholarships.com was founded in 1998 and has become one of the most widely used free college scholarship search and financial aid information resources. College Greenlight is a leading college and scholarship platform for first-generation and underrepresented students. Its parent company, Cappex.com, is a free resource that helps students find their best-fit colleges. Got a question? Email scholarshipsearchinsider@usnews.com.


3 Law School Admissions Trends to Expect This Cycle

University student looking up during exam

Competition remains fierce at top-ranked schools, but other programs will likely have more spots and financial aid available to students.

Falling application volume should have applicants rethinking their strategies.

​The relationship between supply and demand is one of the most basic principles of market economics. As the supply of a certain good decreases and demand stays the same, the good becomes more valuable.

This concept of supply and demand can be applied to the law school admissions process. From a law school admissions committee’s perspective, the good it is selling is admission to its incoming class, the supply is the number of applicants and the demand is the number of seats in the incoming class.

The vast majority of schools have a target class size that stays the same from year to year, thus keeping their demand fixed. The supply of law school applicants, however, has been decreasing steadily for several years, with last year having the fewest applicants in many years. This means that schools in general value law school applicants more highly than they have in past years. This week, I’ll discuss three major effects of this recent trend and how to adjust your application strategy accordingly.

1. Gaining admission to many law schools is more attainable. Since law schools are clamoring for qualified applicants, schools across the board have lowered their admissions standards. The LSAT and GPA ranges for accepted students at most schools have dropped, with LSAT scores in particular dropping several points in many cases.

Despite this general trend, competition for admission at the top schools remains fierce. The drop in overall applicants tends to affect lower-ranked schools much more than it does higher-ranked schools, because admission to higher-ranked schools remains coveted by all applicants.

This trend enables applicants to expand their list of reach schools, and to some degree, recalibrate which schools they should consider target and safety schools. In other words, now is a great time to apply.

2. Submitting applications early has become less important. One of the most commonly repeated pieces of advice regarding law school admissions is that the earlier an application is submitted, the more likely one is to gain admission.

Because of the rolling nature of law school admissions, this advice is generally correct, but the importance of applying early is often exaggerated. You should not rush to submit applications simply in order to gain the advantage of applying earlier in the cycle.

The diminishing importance of applying early in the cycle is especially true this year as the number of applicants continues to decrease. This is especially important for applicants who have not yet taken the LSAT or are planning to retake the LSAT.

If you are planning on taking the October LSAT but do not feel adequately prepared, you should likely postpone until December as the disadvantage of postponing the submission of your applications is now significantly outweighed by even a few more points on your LSAT score.

Because of the decreasing number of applicants, schools find themselves with more and more spots to fill later in the admissions cycle, enabling applicants to apply successfully very late in the cycle. In fact, my admissions counselors worked with a client who began working on his applications in late spring this year, past the deadline for many schools.

His dream school was Fordham University, and although the deadline for submitting applications had passed, he contacted the admissions office requesting to submit an application. The admissions office agreed to consider his application and he was admitted with an LSAT and GPA that in previous years would have made Fordham a reach school.

3. Merit-based scholarship money is more readily available. In addition to relaxing admissions standards, law schools attract candidates by offering merit-based scholarship money. As a result of the decrease in applicants, schools have begun to more aggressively offer merit-based scholarship money to admitted applicants.

One significant advantage this creates for applicants is the ability to negotiate for higher merit-based scholarship awards after acceptance.

For example, I worked with a student last year who was admitted to both the University of Southern California and the University of California—Los Angeles and was offered merit-based scholarships from both schools. By tactfully informing each school of the other’s offer, she increased her offer at USC by $30,000, a significant portion of the total cost of attending. We expect that such increases will be easier to negotiate this year.

How are you seeing these trends come to life? Email me or tweet me.

Shawn P. O’Connor, Esq. is the founder and CEO of Stratus Prep, a New York City-based test preparation and admissions counseling firm. For nearly a decade, he has counseled thousands of law school applicants, many of whom have been admitted to the nation’s top law schools including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. O’Connor is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School and is an attorney admitted to the bar in New York and Massachusetts. E-mail him with questions.


Choose a Summer Option to Boost Law School Applications

pic5Working in a firm during college can show schools that you will enter law school with some knowledge of the day-to-day life of a lawyer.

The importance of pursuing internships and volunteer opportunities is often overlooked.

Welcome to the latest installment of law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature of Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who send in questions and admissions profiles.

If you have a question about applying to law school, please email me for a chance to be featured next month.

Dear Shawn:  I am currently a junior in college and I am planning on applying to law school next fall. Right now I’m trying to put together my plans for next summer, and I am looking into two very different options. The first option is to spend the summer interning at a law firm in their paralegal department, and the second option is to work on a volunteer basis at an immigrant rights nonprofit.​ Would one option be better than the other in terms of applying for law school next fall? -Summer Indecision​

Dear Summer Indecision: First, you’re doing the right thing by thinking about how to best position yourself to put together a compelling admissions package. Summer jobs, internships and volunteering are important parts of one’s application that is often overlooked.

In your case, though, both these summer opportunities will strengthen your application. You’re choosing between two excellent options. You should therefore feel free to consider which option works best for you in other ways.

From a purely strategic perspective, the answer to your question depends on other aspects of your profile. If you already have significant volunteering experience or  ​significant experience in the immigrant rights field – either through other work experience, courses or additional volunteering – then you will strengthen your application most by gaining experience in a legal office. This will indicate to schools that you will enter law school with some knowledge of the day-to-day life of a lawyer and with skills that will make you effective.

If, on the other hand, you don’t have much structured experience in immigrant rights but are considering pursuing that area of law in law school and as a lawyer, you would be best served by pursuing the volunteer opportunity. This volunteer opportunity will enable you to present yourself as someone who has a demonstrated interest in immigration rights law, and will likely provide you with experiences that you could discuss in a personal statement or interview.

Dear Shawn: I received my October LSAT score and it was a bit of a disappointment. I am planning on retaking the test. Unfortunately, though, since I am currently in my senior year of college, I don’t think I will be able to devote enough time in November to further prepare for the test. Some of the schools I am planning on applying to have deadlines before the February scores will be released. Will I be able to submit my applications to those schools with my February score or will they only consider my October score? -Test Problems

Dear Test Problems: The situation you describe is not uncommon, and law schools are generally willing to consider a February LSAT score. You should make sure to do two things, though, before you proceed.

First, get in touch with the schools’ admissions offices, either via email or phone, and ask them if they are willing to consider a February LSAT score. Being able to submit an October LSAT score means you will have “completed” application by their deadline. This means you will not need your February score.

The only question is whether they will be willing to postpone fully evaluating your candidacy until your LSAT score is in. Make sure to get clarity on that point.

Second, make sure you know exactly how they would like to be notified that they should expect you to submit a February LSAT score. Some schools will ask you to submit a note or addendum with your application, others will ask you to contact the admissions office directly so that they are made aware of the situation.

Even if the school is comfortable with a note submitted with the application, I strongly encourage you to email the admissions committee directly so that you have a written record of your request and can receive confirmation that they have received the request and will honor it.

How are you dealing with summer or LSAT issues? Email me or tweet me.​

Shawn P. O’Connor, Esq. is the founder and CEO of Stratus Prep, a New York City-based test preparation and admissions counseling firm. For nearly a decade, he has counseled thousands of law school applicants, many of whom have been admitted to the nation’s top law schools including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. O’Connor is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School and is an attorney admitted to the bar in New York and Massachusetts. E-mail him with questions.


Campus Resources for International Students

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Life at a U.S. College


Beginning your college life in the United States can be a big adjustment. But chances are, your school has a variety of resources available to help ease your transition— academically, culturally, and socially. Here are some to check out.

International Student Office

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Your school’s international student office (ISO) should be one of your first stops as you get acclimated to campus. Advisers there will be able to help you with visa and immigration issues, and can connect you with other school resources, too.

Your Professors


In the United States, professors often encourage interaction with their students. Don’t be afraid to participate in class and take advantage of your professors’ office hours. The one-on-one setting will allow you to ask questions or simply get to know your instructors.

Your Academic Adviser

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Many U.S. colleges allow students to register for elective courses to broaden their education, regardless of their majors. Meet with your academic adviser to ensure you stay on track to complete your major while pursuing your other academic interests.

The Counseling Center


It’s normal to experience feelings of stress, culture shock, and isolation as a new college student in the United States. But you don’t have to handle them alone. Take advantage of counseling services, a common resource used by American students.

The Writing Center

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Sure, you took the TOEFL, but writing in English still might seem tricky. Utilize your school’s writing center, where other students can help you perfect your grasp of English grammar, research paper structure, and more.

The Career Services Center


International students don’t typically have the same employment options as their domestic peers, but the career services center at your school should be able to help you determine what jobs or internships you are eligible for.

The Legal Services Center


Whether you run into legal trouble or are simply curious about U.S. laws, stop by your school’s legal services center. Officials there may be able to help you understand anything from immigration issues to underage drinking restrictions in the United States.

The Student Union

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One of the fastest ways to feel at home in a college community is to make new friends. Surround yourself with peers at the student union, a universal gathering spot for college kids. Try to branch out from students from your home country to get a feel for all that your new community has to offer.

Find On-Campus Support for International Students

An ombudsman is just one type of campus support often underutilized by international students.

Most U.S. colleges and universities offer academic and social support services to promote college success among international students.

An appealing and distinctive feature of U.S. higher education is student affairs. While universities abroad might offer housing and some administrative support, many, if not most, U.S. colleges and universities offer a broad range of academic and social support services to promote college success.

International students tend to underutilize such services, even though they don’t typically cost anything, as they are often already included in student tuition and fees. International students may not be aware that such services exist because they are not known or provided at institutions in their home countries.

Check with your university to see which of the following are offered on your campus.

1. Tutoring and writing help: There are a range of academic support services and workshops that students are welcome to attend, often at no cost. These might include individual or group tutoring and writing support.

A common challenge for international students is adapting to new academic expectations and standards, especially for those whose first language is not English.

As a professor, I’ve noticed that while many international students have thoughtful and interesting ideas, what they want to communicate might not translate well in a second language. In other cases, international students who are accustomed to being evaluated on rote memory might struggle with creative writing assignments.

Campus resources to help students might be found within offices called the writing center, student tutoring, academic success or another related term. Your institution may also offer ongoing workshops on time management, note-taking and other study skills and strategies, which also tend to be free unless noted otherwise.

2. Student activities: In addition to academic engagement, social engagement is also critical for college success. There are countless events and activities that provide opportunities to meet and develop relationships with domestic and other international students.

Activities might include cultural events or weeks, performances, sporting events and clubs and organizations that meet regularly. Most are free to join, while sporting events can be attended for low student pricing. Check your university calendar and student affairs websites for upcoming events and more detailed information.

3. Counseling services: Some international students may experience difficulties in their adjustment to a new country and different cultural environment. Others might feel isolated without access to family and friends back home.

Universities offer counseling for all students, including international students, in which challenges can be shared and kept confidential as long as there is no criminal activity involved.

4. Ombudsman: Universities also tend to have an ombudsman, to whom students can go to in order to resolve conflicts and report university incidents while maintaining confidentiality.

If you experience unfair treatment, such as discrimination, sexual harassment or other unfair practices, knowing there are advocates for your rights ensures safety and peace of mind.

5. Faculty members and teaching assistants: The best way to get to know professors is by asking questions in class and attending office hours. International students may feel intimidated or insecure, particularly if English is not their first language, but they play a central role for universities seeking to internationalize.

Most instructors tend to be understanding and sympathetic to the concerns of international students. During office hours, come prepared with specific questions, whether it be about the class material or clarification about the U.S. context. Students may also seek advice on how to succeed in class or college in general.

In my own experience as a professor, I have found that many international students tend to be quite shy and quiet in class but have much to offer in a friendlier environment where they don’t have to compete with other students for attention.

I have truly enjoyed getting to know them during class but especially during my office hours and after class. In many cases, roles reversed whereby my international students were my teachers, enlightening me about their respective cultures and how the class material might relate to their home countries.

The preceding are just a few of the many ways that universities can work for you, the student. Knowing there are abundant resources, staff, programs and activities to promote student engagement will help international students make the most out of the U.S. college experience.

Sometimes the countless options might feel daunting, but noting what you need to feel secure and succeed is the place to start so you can identify where to go for support. It’s out there, and there are people to help.

Jenny J. Lee is an associate professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at University of Arizona. Her research includes international student mobility and experiences.

Leaving home to attend college or graduate school is a big step—and leaving your home country can be even scarier. Want to study in the United States? Find out how to succeed from undergraduate and graduate international students, who offer advice based on their experiences pursuing business, engineering, computer science, math, and other majors at U.S. schools. Admissions officials and experts also weigh in with tips so you don’t get lost in translation. Got a question? E-mail internationalstudent@usnews.com.