Prep Talk Blog > July 2009

Truth: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement that you have qualified for financial aid at the college of your choice. Keep in mind you still have many options to choose from within the letter. It makes sense to take a careful look at exactly what is being offered.  

Take Your Time

While you should keep in mind the acceptance deadline, you need to sit down with your family to ensure you understand exactly what is being offered before you accept the terms. In some cases, you may feel that you haven’t had enough time to review the package before the deadline. Some schools will extend their acceptance deadlines. You will just have to ask for an extension.  

Realize You Have Options

Next, keep in mind that you do have options once you receive notification. You can accept the total amount awarded, you can claim a portion of the financial aid or you can choose not to accept any of the financial aid that’s offered. In fact, your financial aid package may include a variety of different types of financial aid sources.

Your letter may be broken down and awarded in areas like:

Work/Study programs

Here’s an example of what your letter may look like.


FAQs about FAFSA

While looking over your letter, some questions might arise. Use these helpful tools as you begin your review: 

Q. The total amount awarded to me is less than I need. What can I do?

According to an article that was published in The Wall Street Journal:

“If you get less aid than you need, you do have other options. The government sets strict formulas for the distribution of federal student aid, but also allows aid officers latitude in assessing special circumstances.” 

Check out this blog post from My College Options that discusses other ways to get more money for college.

Q. There’s a ton of information within the letter. How do I make sense of it all?

Learn more about what your award letter may include and how to understand the information it provides.

Q. I received multiple letters. Now what do I do?

If you have received multiple financial aid rewards at different colleges, here’s a comparison tool see which makes the most sense from a financial perspective.

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Freaked out by the prospect of your first internship? Don't worry. Impressing employers is nothing compared to impressing admissions officers. (For starters, employers don't make you jump through hoops of fire, a rumored requirement of admission to Yale.) This summer, you can keep your boss happy and get the most out of your internship, by following some of these tips:

Do the job right. The most important rule when completing work-related tasks is also the simplest: follow directions. That might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to get things wrong. To prevent mistakes, make sure you write down all relevant instructions as they're being given to you. If you want to go above and beyond your requested duties, make sure your overachievement is welcome. It's better to give your boss what was asked for than to turn in a massive project no one has time to evaluate.

Introduce yourself. Try to meet everyone in the office and learn their names. Find out what each of their roles and responsibilities are. Not only will this give you insight into the way your company works, you might also pick up a few extra projects along the way. Remember, an internship also offers you the unique opportunity to interact with people from different age groups and backgrounds. Take advantage of your time at work, because it's a rare chance to get perspective of life outside of high school.

Be prepared. Don't get caught empty-handed. CollegeJolt tells interns, "Whenever your boss calls you into their office, go in with a pen and paper. NEVER go in their office without a pen and paper. This shows that you take your job seriously and that you begin each task with a sense of urgency and importance.

Work hard. Sure, you may be relegated to the copy machine most of the summer, but no matter what task you're assigned, it's important to complete it to the best of your ability. Stop thinking of an internship as busy work and start seeing it as a chance to prove yourself. A strong work ethic and positive attitude are integral to making a good impression on your higher-ups. That, in turn, motivates them to expand your responsibilities, thus giving you more career experience.

Seize opportunity. Sometimes, proving yourself means taking matters into your own hands. Lindsey Pollack says, "Asking, “What is a good thing for me to work on when you’re busy and I have nothing specific to do?” shows that you are a go-getter who wants to contribute and learn as much as possible. And, you may get assigned a cool project that no one else was smart enough to ask for—something that you can highlight on your résumé and promote in future job interviews."

Be curious. Express your enthusiasm by asking questions and volunteering for interesting tasks. Y-pulse advises, "Ask around anytime [you] hear about a meeting or event happening that [you] find even remotely interesting."

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Bummed out by your SAT score? Good news, it's not the end of the world. The College Board, a once formidable institution, has begun to shown cracks in recent years. Critics have attacked the SAT's ability to predict future academic success as well as its overemphasis in college admissions. As a result, there's been a growing number of colleges switching to test-optional admissions requirements, which means that there are more opportunities for students who don't perform well on standardized tests. Though most institutions, including the Ivies, continue to require SAT or ACT scores, many highly regarded liberal arts colleges and private schools have joined the test-optional movement.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing has a full list of schools that don't require the SAT or ACT. These are just a few we wanted to highlight:

Smith College- This women's college is one of the most respected liberal arts schools in America -- and one of the toughest to get into. Thankfully, they're no longer factoring the SAT into their admissions decisions, so poor test-takers stand a chance at experiencing world-class academics and one-on-one advising at this Northhampton, Massachusetts school. Known for its driven, passionate students, Smith guarantees each undergraduate at least one college-funded internship during their education. You can get a taste of life as a "Smithie" by reading these student blogs.

Pitzer College- One of the seven schools that make up the consortium known as the Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers small class sizes and individualized attention while the consortium offers students the resources of a large university. An added benefit: students can also take classes or use facilities at the other four undergraduate schools. Known for its interdisciplinary focus and progressive, "alternative" curriculum, Pitzer has strong programs in psychology and media studies.

Wake Forest University- At the most elite of test-optional schools, undergraduates get a free laptop, a free printer, and Division I sports teams. Wake Forest University in North Carolina isn't an Ivy, but it ought to be. Ranked at #28 in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, Wake Forest offers strong undergraduate programs in pre-med and business and also boasts an impressive study abroad program, in which half of undergraduates participate.

University of Iowa- This Big Ten college has more than athletics to boast about. It's home to 21 top-ten graduate programs (according to the most recent U.S. News and World Report) and the renowned Iowa Writers' Workshop, the first creative writing program of its kind.  A nationally ranked university, this public school also offers one of the best bangs you'll get for your buck in the Midwest.

Bowdoin College- Located in Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin is a small but noteworthy institution with a commitment to diversity. Despite a modest endowment, it follows a "need-blind" admissions policy and is one of the few schools (among Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and others) with a "no-loans" policy. In 2008, the college announced that it would be replacing all loans with grants and stated that it would meet its students' full demonstrated need for all four years of their education. It's no surprise that the school is one of the most socioeconomically diverse liberal arts schools -- as well as one of the most prestigious.


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Thought the SAT was tough? Be grateful you're not in China. Forbes recently translated the essay prompts from China's national college entrance exam, a high-stakes test that could offer students a spot at "a prestigious university or a major with good employment prospects -- or relegate them to staying behind in high school to retake the exam next year." The test comes in two versions (sciences or non-sciences) and covers Chinese, math, and foreign languages. Students choose the version they take based on the track they chose in high school.

The following essay prompts are translated from China's 2009 College Entrance Exam Nationwide:

Essay Prompt 1

The rabbit is the reigning champion sprinter of the small animal sports games, but he can’t swim. One time, the rabbit was chased by the wolf to a river and almost got caught. The Animal Management Bureau wants small animals to develop in a well-rounded way, and sent the rabbit to a swim class. In the same class are the dog, the turtle, the squirrel, among others. The dog and the turtle learned how to swim, adding to their skills. They were very happy. The rabbit and the squirrel spent a long time learning but failed, and they were upset. The instructor, the wild duck, said “My two legs can swim, but your four legs can’t? Sweat makes up 90% of success! Go! Quack, quack!”

The analyst, the frog, let out a big sigh: “The rabbit’s forte is sprinting! Why do we only combat weaknesses but not develop strengths?” The intellectual, the crane, said: “Survival requires more skills than one! The rabbit can’t learn to swim, then he can learn to dig holes! The squirrel can’t learn to swim, then he can learn to climb trees!”

Please select a point of view and make clear your position. Choose your essay style and give your own title. Don’t stray from the provided material and its ideas. Don’t plagiarize.

Additional Essay Prompt For Beijing Test-Takers

There's a song that goes: "I have a pair of invisible wings / that let me fly, give me hope. / I have a pair of invisible wings / that let me fly, fly far away." Using "I have a pair of invisible wings" as your topic, write an essay of no less than 800 words. Select your own literary form, excluding poetry. [The lyrics are from the popular 2006 song, "Invisible Wings," by Taiwanese pop star Angela Chang.]

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Hesitant to shell out thousands for a test prep service? Try a free, self-directed program online at The website features over 30 "self-assessment modules" that cover all the areas you'll be tested on in the SAT. From advanced algebra to sentence flow, each module offers students a taste of and feel for the test. Once you're done correcting your own answers, you can note areas that need improvement and proceed to's "self-improvement directory" for basic resources to help you improve your score.

If you want to do some extra vocabulary work, the website has compiled a list of words frequently found on the SAT and GRE. Print out the words and definitions to memorize on your own time. (You can do the same with their handy list of prefixes and suffixes.) 

For more test prep resources, check out the entire Exam Cram archive.

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Don Munce