Jul 292010

The Republican / Michael S. Gordon

Joseph W. Paige, seated right, a financial aid adviser with the Access Springfield Promise Program, is surrounded by students talking about aid for college costs. Clockwise from the front are Giorver W. Brown, 18, Keishla M. Rosado, 17, and Xiomara L. Perez, 18. They are in Paige’s office at the high School of Commerce in Springfield.

Here is a breakdown of the first-year $474,000 budget for the Springfield Promise program which ends June 30:
$116,750: Total scholarship funds issued for 189 students
$271,810: Financial aid counseling
$55,778: Administrative overhead, not including office space donated by Springfield Technical Community College
$29,662: Administrative start-up expenses
Source: Action Center for Educational Services and Scholarships

SPRINGFIELD – Miguelina Felix, 17, is on her way to becoming the first member of her family to attend college, and she thanks the Springfield Promise program for helping that dream become a reality.

Under the Springfield Promise program, Felix is among hundreds of high school seniors here who have received financial-aid counseling to help pursue college scholarships, grants and loans.

The Finance Control Board created Springfield Promise last July to provide both financial-aid counseling and “last dollar” scholarships of up to $1,000 to city students. The plan was to use interest from an initial $52 million, interest-free state loan to fund the program.

Today, the program’s future is uncertain as state legislators are weighing whether to tap into the $46.8 million left in the loan fund, taking $35.5 million to help balance the state budget. The Republican has also learned that even in this first year of the program, the interest received on the loan monies – now averaging $11,000 per month – will not cover all of the program’s costs.

The loan was granted to the city in 2004 to help the city deal with severe budget deficits, but the control board, which was disbanded last year, authorized the use of just the interest earnings to finance Springfield Promise.

Based on current earnings, the annual interest income will be $131,000, according to Timothy J. Plante, the city’s finance director. The first-year budget for the program is $474,000.

Plante said on Thursday the city “is working toward a more lucrative investment strategy to earn the maximum amount of interest possible.”

Felix, a senior at Central High School, is one example of how the program is marking success. She’ll be attending the Massachusetts College of Art and Design as a fine arts major with hopes of some day opening her own gallery.

“I feel very thankful,” Felix said recently. “It was really valuable. I got into the school I wanted, and I got the financial aid I needed.”

Without the help of financial-aid counselor Nicole Bihler, Felix says she wouldn’t have gotten through the process in time. “It is somewhat stressful. I applied to seven schools, each school mandating different things,” Felix said.

The Action Center for Educational Services and Scholarships – a Boston organization known as ACCESS – is being paid close to $300,000 a year under a five-year contract with the city for the program. to provide one-on-one financial-aid counseling to approximately 700 seniors, like Felix, and more than 600 students have attended financial-aid workshops, according to executive director Bob Giannino-Racine.

“I feel very thankful. It was really valuable. I got into the school I wanted, and I got the financial aid I needed.”

- Central High School senior Miguelina Felix

The program consists of a director and four advisers who assist students in 11 schools including charter schools.

Giannino-Racine cites the fact that applications for Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts Scholarships have climbed from 129 in 2009 to 248 in 2010 as one measure of the success of Springfield Promise.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno is urging the House to agree with a proposal from Gov. Deval L. Patrick, that Springfield would pay back the money immediately except for $11 million which would be forgiven and used for Springfield Promise.

Felix is among many students who hope Springfield Promise will continue.

Scholarship recipients, now in college, include Brendan C. Woodard. Woodard graduated from Sabis International Charter School last year and attends Springfield Technical Community College, aided by a $500 scholarship from Springfield Promise.

“I think they should keep running the program,” Woodard said. “It really helped me out. It gave me money to buy the books I need.”

The purpose of the Springfield Promise program is to fulfill two promises, said James O’S. Morton, chairman of the Springfield Promise Advisory Board and a former member of the Finance Control Board which created it. “One is to repay the state loan, and the other promise was to leave a legacy that supported Springfield youth in their efforts to attend college and hopefully bring back the intellectual capital that comes from going to college into the Springfield community so our community can ultimately benefit from that intellectual capital,” he said.

Thomas R. Durkee, a senior at the High School of Science and Technology, said his counselor, Gia Godette, helped him tackle what initially seemed “like a daunting task.”

“She really helped me out to ease my fears about transitioning to college life, not only financial aid, but also like a life coach,” said Durkee, who will be attending Westfield State College.

The program is very helpful in helping students access college aid that is out there and can be obtained, he said. “It gives us a level playing field,” he said.

Joseph W. Paige, of Springfield, a financial-aid adviser at the High School of Commerce and Renaissance School, said he gets great satisfaction from the job.

“I enjoy the program,” Paige said. “It’s one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had. We help kids realize their dreams of going to college.”

“We work with the kids to research as many grants and scholarships out there that might meet their needs and profile,” Paige said.

Azell M. Cavaan, chief communications officer for the Springfield Public Schools, said Springfield Promise has “helped educate students and families that a college education is a realistic objective that can be obtained when one understands the process, tools and resources available to help them meet the financial requirements.”

Many city students are “first generation college students” who serve as “trail blazers” for others in the family, Cavaan noted.

While the high schools already had counselors to help students with the financial-aid process, the addition of the ACCESS advisors has allowed existing staff to help students in other critical areas such as academic and career planning, personal and social counseling, she said.

Members of the Springfield Promise Advisory Board have praised the program. In a recent letter to the editors of The Republican, advisory board members Victor Woolridge and retired Judge William H. Abrashkin, said Springfield Promise “is a low-cost, high-impact program of vast importance to Springfield and the graduates of its high schools.”

Aug 232009

There are tons of timelines out there. This is a good one from Allen Grove at about.com. He runs a terrific college admissions website.


College Admissions

Month-by-Month Senior Year College Application Timeline

Keep Track of Important Dates and Deadlines in 12th Grade

By Allen Grove, About.com

College Prep: Middle School1 | 9th Grade2 | 10th Grade3 | 11th Grade4 | 12th Grade

Senior year is a busy and extremely important time in the college admissions process. This is your last chance to get the ACT5 and SAT scores you need6, and senior year is when you have to narrow down your college options to the handful of schools to which you’ll apply. You’ll need to get your college essay up to snuff, line up your letters of recommendation, and apply for financial aid. During the application process, you’ll need to keep active in extracurricular activities and maintain high grades.

August before Senior Year

* Register for the September ACT if appropriate (check ACT dates7).

* Come up with a preliminary list of colleges that includes reach8, match9 and safety10 schools.

* Explore the websites of the colleges that interest you to learn about admissions requirements.

* Check your senior year class schedule to make sure you’re taking the English, Math11, Social Science, Science, and Foreign Language12 classes you’ll need for your top-choice colleges.

* Look over the Common Application13 and begin thinking about potential topics for your personal essay14.

* Visit campuses15 and interview16 with college representatives if appropriate.


* Register for October or November SAT I and SAT II exams (check SAT dates17).

* Meet with your guidance counselor to discuss the colleges to which you’re thinking of applying.

* Request letters of recommendation18, especially if you are applying early.

* Continue to visit campuses and interview with college admissions representatives.

* Request applications from all the schools to which you might apply.

* Create a chart of deadlines. Pay particular attention to early decision, early action, and preferred application deadlines.

* If appropriate, register for the October ACT exam.

* Work on your college essays19.

* Try to assume a leadership position in an extracurricular activity.

* Keep your grades up.


* Take the SAT I, SAT II and/or ACT as appropriate.

* Continue to research schools to narrow your list20 to roughly 6 – 8 schools.

* Take advantage of college fairs and virtual tours.

* Complete your applications if you are applying early decision.

* Research financial aid and scholarships. Do your parents’ places of employment offer college scholarships for employee children?

* Get your college essay in shape. Get feedback on your writing from a guidance counselor and a teacher.

* Request your high school transcript and check it for accuracy.

* Keep track of all application components and deadlines: applications, test scores, letters of recommendation, and financial aid materials. An incomplete application will ruin your chances for admission.


* Register for the December SAT or ACT if appropriate.

* Take the November SAT if appropriate.

* Don’t let your grades slide. It’s easy to be distracted from school work when working on applications. Senior slump can be disastrous for your admissions chances.

* Make sure you’ve submitted all components of your applications if you are applying to colleges with November deadlines for early decision or preferred application.

* Put the final touches on your application essays, and get feedback on your essays from counselors and/or teachers.

* Continue to research scholarships.

December – January

* Complete your applications for regular admissions.

* Make sure you’ve had your test scores sent to all colleges that require them.

* Confirm that your letters of recommendation have been sent.

* Submit the FAFSA21 (Free Application for Financial Aid).

* If you are accepted to a school through early decision, be sure to follow directions carefully. Submit required forms, and notify the other schools to which you applied of your decision.

* Continue to focus on your grades and extracurricular involvement.

* Have midyear grades sent to colleges.

* Continue to keep track of all deadlines and application components.

* Continue to research scholarships. Apply for scholarships well in advance of deadlines.

February – March

* If you submitted the FAFSA, you should receive the Student Aid Report22 (SAR). Carefully look it over for accuracy. Errors can cost you thousands of dollars.

* Contact colleges that didn’t send you a confirmation receipt for your application.

* Don’t put off applying to schools with rolling admissions or late deadlines — the available spaces can fill up.

* Talk to your school about registering for AP exams.

* Keep your grades high. Colleges can revoke offers of admission if your grades take a nosedive senior year.

* Some acceptance letters may arrive. Compare financial aid offers and visit campus before making a decision.

* Don’t panic; many, many decisions are not mailed out until April.

* Continue applying for appropriate scholarships.


* Keep track of all acceptances, rejections, and waitlists.

* If waitlisted, learn more about waitlists23 and move ahead with other plans. You can always change your plans if you get off a waitlist.

* Keep your grades up.

* If you have ruled out any colleges that accepted you, notify them. This is a courtesy to other applicants, and it will help the colleges manage their waitlists and extend the correct number of acceptance letters.

* Go to accepted student open houses if offered.

* A couple circumstances may warrant an appeal of a college rejection24

May – June

* Avoid senioritis! An acceptance letter doesn’t mean you can stop working.

* Most schools have a deposit deadline of May 1st. Don’t be late! If needed, you may be able to request an extension.

* Prepare for and take any appropriate AP exams. Most colleges offer course credit for high AP scores; this gives you more academic options when you get to college.

* Have your final transcripts sent to colleges.

* Send thank you letters to everyone who helped you in the application process. Let your mentors and recommenders know the results of your college search.

* Keep on top of procuring student loans. Notify your college if you receive any scholarships.

* Graduate. Congratulations!

July – August after Senior Year

* Read all mailings from your college carefully. Often important registration and housing25 material is sent in the summer.

* Register for your classes as soon as possible. Classes often fill, and registration is usually on a first-come, first-served basis.

* If you get your housing assignment, take advantage of the summer to get to know your roommate (email, facebook, the phone, etc). Figure out who will bring what. You don’t need two TVs and two microwaves in your tiny room.

* Off to college! Visit Kelci Lynn, About.com’s expert on College Life26

This About.com page has been optimized for print. To view this page in its original form, please visit: http://collegeapps.about.com/od/admissionstimeline/tp/12th-grade-timeline.htm

©2009 About.com, Inc., a part of The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

Links in this article:

1. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/admissionstimeline/tp/college-prep-junior-high.htm

2. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/admissionstimeline/tp/ninth-grade-college-prep.htm

3. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/admissionstimeline/tp/10th-Grade-College-Preparation.htm

4. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/admissionstimeline/tp/11th-grade-college-preparation.htm

5. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theact/f/goodactscore.htm

6. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/sat/f/goodsatscore.htm

7. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theact/a/ACT_Dates.htm

8. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/glossaryofkeyterms/g/reach_school.htm

9. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/glossaryofkeyterms/g/match_school.htm

10. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/glossaryofkeyterms/g/safety_school.htm

11. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theartofgettingaccepted/a/HighSchoolMath.htm

12. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theartofgettingaccepted/a/ForeignLanguage.htm

13. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/glossaryofkeyterms/g/CommonApp.htm

14. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/essays/a/EssayPrompts.htm

15. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/choosingacollege/tp/8-Tips-for-a-Campus-Visit.htm

16. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theartofgettingaccepted/tp/college-interview-questions.htm

17. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/standardizedtests/a/SAT_Dates.htm

18. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theartofgettingaccepted/tp/Letters-of-Recommendation.htm

19. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/essays/a/essay_tips.htm

20. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/choosingacollege/f/HowManySchools.htm

21. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/payingforcollege/f/fafsa_info.htm

22. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/glossaryofkeyterms/g/SAR.htm

23. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theartofgettingaccepted/f/waitlist_faq.htm

24. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/theartofgettingaccepted/f/appeal_reject.htm

25. http://collegeapps.about.com/od/collegehousingfaq/College_Housing_FAQ.htm

26. http://collegelife.about.com/

Jul 152009

Marymount Manhattan College is located in the posh Upper East Side of Manhattan. It is a small (2,000), liberal arts college. The student:faculty ratio is 12/1 and classes generally have 16 students in them. The college is housed in two buildings on East 71st Street. Security was tight and I had to provide my license to gain entry. I received a nametag with my photo on it – serious stuff! I was greeted by the admissions office’s administrative assistant, Nicole who was incredibly helpful and knew everyone that entered the office by name. She made sure that I was able to meet with admissions office from our region, David Thomas (see video), after the tour and information session.

The information session highlighted the curriculum, which has a core requirement. Students need 120 credits to graduate. The cool thing is that Manhattan is very much the school’s campus and many students have access to an incredible list of possible internships (only school with an internship at the United Nations), something the college considers a particular strength. Marymount Manhattan has your typical Majors (Accounting, English, Psychology, etc.) and has dual programs that allow students to gain Masters degrees in several areas. Marymount also has pre-professional programs in Dentistry, Law, Medicine and Veterinary Sciences.

The college was in the midst of a 25 million renovation that made the tour a little bit difficult, but our tour guide, Freddie’s enthusiasm made the tour enjoyable. Freddie was a drama major (musical theater) and he said theater, and dance was a strength of Maymount. At one point on the tour we were able to hear a student belt out a show tune and it was pretty impressive!

Housing guaranteed at Marymount and students live in traditional dorm, apartments and suites (one is the tallest dorm in the country). It is truly city living. By the same token, there are no official school sports (although the club soccer team won the trophy this year). Students seem to know each other and Freddie said that professors know their students well. There is a Writing Center to support students, all courses are taught by professors who have office hours, and free tutoring is available as well. Additionally there is a substantial ACCESS program for students with learning disabilities. Another program called Jump Start gets Freshmen on campus during the summer so that they can take a class, and learn “how to do Marymount”.

Admissions is rolling. Tuition is around $35,000. Financial Aid is provided to 85% of students. There are merit (3.0+ GPA and 1150 combined SAT gets students $6,000) and leadership scholarships. Tuition is around $35,000.

David Thomas will be in town for the National Hispanic College Fair at HCC on November 3rd and he’ll visit Renaissance at 2:30pm on that date. Check MMC out.

Jul 012009

Up to no good surfing the web???!!! Here’s a good way to prove to the adults in your life that you are doing more than playing SuperMario, MySpacing, Halo and texting with the technology at your fingertips…Check out these websites and talk to them about what you found out.

Go ahead and open a user account on collegeboard.com – I dare you!!!!

College Search Websites and Worksheet

Not nearly complete list of career and college research websites brought to you by The Springfield Renaissance School’s College Planning Team.

Personal Inventory

The first step in thinking about college is a self-evaluation.  What motivates you?  What kinds of things do you like?  In what kind of environment do you learn best?


Use the O*Net Profiler in MassCIS (MA Career Information System) This is a free website for MA students to help them conduct personal inventories, research careers and occupations and learn about colleges. This is heavily used in the high school EL 101.


This is the website for PICS – a personal inventory of college styles.  It analyzes a student’s personal style based on eight different dimensions and gives the student insight on the types of colleges that may be a good match.  Do not pay for the matching process, we recommend that students take the survey, get their results, and print them out with out going further.  The printout will give them further information when trying to choose among schools.

College Entrance Testing


Sign up for the SAT and Subject tests. Take practice test and get your results analyzed. Within this site are various sections dealing with college choice, financial aid, testing, and much more.  A great resource for more information!


Sign up for the ACT. Find colleges and information about colleges.

Next test date – September 12, 2009            Deadline August 7, 2009            Late Deadline August 8 – 21, 2009

Looking at Schools

The Springfield Renaissance School College Planning Team is encouraging students to have 5-8 schools on your list. The next step is to evaluate the schools by comparing the information from one to another.  If you feel that you need more schools on your list, or that the ones listed don’t meet enough of your criteria, try looking at the overlaps listed in Fiske and Princeton Review for other possibilities.  Remember, no one school may be perfect- you are just trying to narrow down options and decide what you like at this point.

Remember to add any information you think is important to your worksheets from the College Process Team. Things like size, location, faculty/student ratio may be important to you.  Make sure the most important attributes for you are listed on your worksheet. Include information about the schools admission standards.  That information will help you decide if the school is considered a reach, safety or target.


Go to the section for Counselor-O-Matic and complete the questionnaire.  Have Counselor-O-Matic generate a list of schools for you.  Use this list to begin filling in a comparison worksheet of college options.  Pay attention to the attributes of each school that are relevant criteria for you.


To get an idea of what the school looks like try this one. This site will link you to virtual tours of campuses and other information to aid you in narrowing down your list.  While nothing can take the place of actually visiting the school, sometimes having an internet tour can help you identify questions you may have when you make your college visits.

College Visits

Hopefully, once you have visited some schools, you will be able to identify attributes about each school that you like or dislike.  This will aid you in narrowing down the list of schools to which you will apply.  If visiting the schools on your list is not possible, then try to visit school nearby that are similar in size and environment.  That may help you as you try to choose.


This is the Steps to College part of the NACAC website.  Under previous articles, scroll down to the one on college visits.  Here you will find information to help you get the most out of a visit and what parts of campus to see.  The other articles here are also helpful, so read any others that may interest you.

Students with Special Needs

For students with special needs such as learning disabilities or ADD, try finding out about resources on campus to help you succeed.  The following websites offer guidelines in terms of what to look for and how to prepare for college if this is an issue for you:


This is specifically for students with AD/HD and offer good questions to ask while on campus or when searching for information.


The planning and selection part of this site offer additional help for students with learning disabilities.

Financial Aid


FAFSA4caster will help you get an early start on the financial aid process by providing you with an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid.


Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded or federally guaranteed financial assistance for education beyond high school.


College matching service. leading scholarship search provider for every student, whether you’re in high school or a mother of two returning to school. One in eight high school seniors use FastWeb, and the site comes recommended by over 16,000 high schools and 3,600 colleges.

General College Information Websites


Great general information about college for students middle school aged though senior year.


This site is built by the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with students. This site is intended to be the go-to source for information and resources about planning, preparing and paying for postsecondary education (such as 2- or 4-year colleges and universities, as well as vocational or career schools).


Website geared towards first generation college students and their families. Lots of helpful handouts and media.

Jun 252009

I’m psyched about Education Secretary, Arne Duncan’s announcement that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is being simplified. I cannot believe how excited I got listening to NPR and reading the New York Times(which is a tremendous resource – check out my links) article today, “The Obama administration is moving to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, a notoriously complicated form that asks students seeking financial aid for college as many as 153 questions.”

As a student myself, the FAFSA struck fear in my heart and I have always struggled not to intimidate families regarding the financial aid process when I explain. Money is one of the top reason couples get divorced and since you cannot divorce your children all you tend to get is tons of anxiety around the college financial aid process.

We are going to spend a lot of time with students and families with the financial aid process next year and I’m hopeful these changes will help the College Process team bring the information to families in a kinder and gentler fashion.

All families can start to become familiar with the FAFSA with the FAFSA4caster, a preliminary estimate program on the web.  Also, MEFA (Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority) is a resource rich source of financial aid information for MA residents.