All, College Planning, Financial Fit, Testing

Update for January 2021

Excited to ring in 2021 and delighted to celebrate it with virtual confetti for my seniors who have been receiving admissions decisions.


SAT Subject Tests and SAT Essay Section: One of the biggest news items this month was the announcement that College Board is eliminating the essay section on the SAT exam as well as all SAT Subject Tests. This was presented as a simplification for students, but presents complications for two groups of students. Students applying to colleges in other countries often used Subject Tests to provide a recognizable data point to colleges unfamiliar with their national curriculum. Similarly, homeschoolers often took Subject Tests, either because a college required them from homeschoolers or in order to quantify what they had achieved through home-based coursework. College Board seems hopeful that more students will turn to Advanced Placement tests, which are longer, tied to AP course guidelines, and more expensive. They can also be difficult for homeschool students to register for, since registration is administered by individual high schools who may not welcome outside students.

The elimination of the essay tests will be less noticed, since few schools used them in admissions.  University of California had been a notable holdout, and many students took the SAT with Essay only because UCs required it. With UC going test blind for the foreseeable future, College Board probably looked at the Essay section as an unwanted albatross that was costly to administer and score. Additional analysis of the changes from Compass Prep

Federal Legislation Changes FAFSA and Federal Student Aid: It’s been twelve years since the Higher Education Act was reauthorized, and Senator Lamar Alexander was focused on this issue for his last term before retirement. Two major changes are the simplification of the FAFSA questionnaire itself, reducing the number of total questions asked and changing the thresholds for qualifying for Pell Grants so that more students will be eligible. The FAFSA will also change for students with divorced parents, who will now report the income from the parent who provides the most financial support rather than the parent with whom they live the most days in the year.

A change that has gotten a lot of mention in the press is eliminating the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in favor of a Student Aid Index (SAI). On one hand this is a positive change, in that there was frequent misunderstanding around the EFC, which many families were stunned to find did not represent the total amount college might expect them to pay. On the other hand, it’s critical to realize this is mostly a name change, not a revision in the expectation that families provide financial support for college students up to age 24.   Deep Dive Changes to Federal Methodology Other Student Aid Changes From Spending Bill National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA)

Featured Long Article

Shopping for a major? Detailed salary info shows which majors pay off The Hechinger Report

Bonus article if you want to dig deeper into the difficulty in deciphering the financial benefits of specific colleges and majors. It’s a few years old, but the stumbling blocks to assembling useful information remain. Placement rates, other data colleges provide consumers are often alternative facts   

Meanwhile, Back at the Office

January brought some time to review and reflect on what we accomplished in 2020 at Admissions Decrypted. A major milestone was completing the University of California Irvine Certificate in Independent Educational Consulting. This certificate required seven courses and over a year of study.

The pandemic cancelled several planned college tour road trips, but not my continued engagement with colleges or other college admissions professionals.

  • Became an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA)
  • Attended Summer Institutes from both the Potomac and Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling (PCACAC) and Southern Association for College Admissions Counseling (SACAC)
  • Attended the Spring into Summer 2020 IECA Conference
  • Attended the Fall 2020 IECA Conference and was also a panelist and moderator for a session on college admissions for homeschoolers
  • Attended 50+ virtual college tours, info sessions, and meetings with college admissions professionals

This represents over 100 hours of professional development, but more importantly, deeper relationships with other people who spend their days focused on college admissions, fit, and affordability.

The turning of the year coincided with admissions decisions for my students in the class of 2021. I’m proud of each of them for the hard work they put into school, activities, and applications in what was not the senior year they had looked forward to. I’m excited as each admissions result comes in and cannot wait to see what they become in the coming years.