Four stops on the route to higher education
Navigating the road to higher education can be daunting, but Kentucky postsecondary admissions experts have made the path more clear and pothole-free with these tips.
Stop 1: Researching schools of interest
First, lay the groundwork, says Jessica Kern, chief officer of enrollment and student services at Maysville Community and Technical College. “To prepare for college, students should make an informed decision about their program of study and at least be confident in the general pathway,” Kern says.
Students undecided about their major can talk with the counselor or college and career coach at their high school for guidance. The College Board, a higher education nonprofit, provides online career exploration tools and matching services on its website. The site also helps students find schools that offer each major.
Other considerations when choosing a school are location, size and teaching philosophy. “Are you looking for a school that is smaller or larger, that has a lot of internship opportunities, or is close to a certain metropolitan or regional area?” advises Dan Hendrickson, executive director of student success and enrollment management at Eastern Kentucky University. “It is important to understand that a college’s location can open many doors for future success.”
College nights are a good resource for prospective students, says Western Kentucky University’s Scott McDonald, who is assistant vice president for enrollment management. “Take time to visit with the representatives, ask questions and learn about different schools,” he says. “I wish students would take more advantage of that.”
Getting a feel for campus
While students’ top consideration may be the availability of their desired major or program, it’s also important for them to feel at home on campus.
“Our admissions office always tells students to make sure they get their feet on each campus they are even remotely considering,” says Andrea Underwood, Campbellsville University’s director of undergraduate admissions. “They are searching for their future home—it is imperative that they find out whether a campus fits their personality, and also their academic or spiritual needs.”
McDonald suggests students visit at least three schools and no more than five, either before or after they apply. It’s best to schedule a visit and be able to look at the program of interest and talk to professors and current students. Most schools have sign-ups on their websites, with frequent availability.
Some schools, like Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky universities, invite students to open houses. These daylong events usually include tours of the campus and on-campus housing, a sample of food service, presentations by admissions and financial aid staff and academic sessions with faculty.
Stop 3: Understanding financial aid
The third priority in selecting a school is affordability. The world of financial aid encompasses scholarships, grants and loans from a variety of sources.
The crucial first step in accessing almost all of these funds is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines eligibility for grants from the federal government, like the Pell Grant for low-income students, and loans, like Stafford low-interest funds. Admissions staff advise students to apply as soon as possible after the annual October 1 opening to receive sometimes-limited funding.
Kentucky student FAFSAs are automatically submitted to the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHSAA). Those who attend a college or university in Kentucky are eligible for state-level grants and scholarships, which are outlined on the KHEAA website. For example, the College Access Program Grant supports low-income students and the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship pays full tuition in high-demand workforce sectors.
Experts recommend that all students complete the FAFSA, whether or not they think they are eligible for government funds. Most schools use the FAFSA’s Expected Family Contribution determination as a driver for a student’s financial aid package.
Individual schools offer scholarships or grants to students through the general application process, while some larger awards require an additional application. A foundational part of Berea College’s mission is to offer every accepted student a no-tuition promise, while Campbellsville University guarantees all students a merit scholarship upon acceptance.
When comparing financial aid packages, it is important to factor in the total cost of attendance at each school—including tuition, room and board, books and fees. Hendrickson explains: “For example, if school A offers you a financial aid package of $15,000 per year but their cost of attendance is $60,000 per year; and school B offers you $15,000 per year but their cost of attendance is $20,000 per year, the out-of-pocket expense is much smaller at school B.”
Stop 4: The application process
Luke Hodson, associate vice president of admissions at Berea College, recommends students apply to the “magic number” of five schools, which gives options while still being manageable. Experts suggest at least one should be in each of three categories: safety, meet and reach.
The application process varies significantly from school to school. Deadlines range from November to August, and often one school will have multiple dates for admissions and financial aid, which requires close attention.
A couple of examples: The application to Maysville Community and Technical College is free, and students can apply up until the first day of class, which happens at multiple times in a traditional semester. Still, Kern recommends that students apply early to capture scholarships and register for desired classes.
Berea College’s free application requires basic information like a transcript and a teacher recommendation. Additional optional submissions, called Application Boosters, include a resume of volunteer and work experiences, and an artist portfolio. There is not an essay requirement; instead, students can write a personal statement highlighting what makes them stand out.
Prospective students are not alone on this journey—these Kentucky admissions officers are with them. “I see from students high stress and anxiety levels around the whole college process,” Hodson says. “The goal of the admissions office, at its core, is about finding the right fit for the student.”
GLOSSARY OF FINANCIAL AID TERMS
FAFSA: The federal government’s Free Application For Student Aid is the portal to federal, state and most institutional financial aid.
Expected Family Contribution: An index number derived from the FAFSA that determines eligibility for federal aid.
KHEAA: The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority administers the commonwealth’s student financial aid programs.
KEES: The Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship is based on high school grades and is automatically accrued for almost all students in the commonwealth. It can be used at most Kentucky colleges and universities.
Grants: Money for school awarded to students with financial need, usually from the federal government, state government or the higher education institution, that does not need to be repaid.
Scholarships: Gifts for schooling that can be need-based, merit-based or geared toward groups of people.
Subsidized Student Loan: Awarded based on need, the loan interest is paid by the federal government while the student is in school.
Unsubsidized Student Loan: Not based on need, the loan interest accruement begins at time the loan is disbursed.