College seminar a success with families | ParkRecord.com

College seminar a success with families

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

The complications of getting into college, specifically in a school your student desires and at a price you can afford, can be a little daunting. To help clear away some of the fog involving admission and financial aid, Don Betterton, former director of undergraduate financial aid for more than 30 years at Princeton University, and Carl Buck, vice president of education finance for JP Morgan Chase, hosted a scholarship seminar at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 4.

This was the first time the two nationally-known authors and speakers had ever presented together. Betterton presented first on "Why Is It So Hard For a Good Student to Get Into a Top College."

He discussed the ins and outs of the admissions process and showed families how they can better judge what colleges their children will be admitted to. For Karen and Brad Scott, Betterton’s academic and personal rating chart was a real eye opener and the other information presented reinforced their own experiences.

"We’ve been through this process before," Karen Scott said. "We have a freshman in college and the stuff that was said was right on."

Betterton uses a rating chart to show how to score your student based on several factors of his or her personal and academic life. "This is an exercise for students to see their chances," he said. "It makes the general explanations more real."

He advised students to "try and present the best version of yourself," and encouraged parents to find out "which category your student fits into, and you’ve got to work with that."

Recommended Stories For You

A student can fall into the "regular" or "special" category. The four most common "special" categories, according to Betterton, are: recruited athlete (more than 30 percent), under-represented minority (more than 28 percent), legacy (alumni) (more than 20 percent) and early applicant (more than 20 percent).

Betterton said he has noticed a shift from a more mechanical application process in public schools to a much more personal look at applicants, very similar to what private schools have always done.

"There’s just not a lot of information out there to help parents and students decide which college is the right fit," he said. "They’re basing it off of where they went to school or other limited information."

What was really key for Marie Tomczyk, mother of a senior at Park City High School, was how important it is to prepare not only for the admission challenges, but the financial challenges as well.

"The financial side absolutely must go hand in hand with the admissions side because what if your child gets into the school of their dreams, but then they can’t go for financial reasons," she said. "Parents need to look at what’s it’s going to cost as well."

Cost is where Betterton passed the buck to, well, Buck, with his presentation of "College Financial Aid and Planning For Any Income Level."

"I can talk to people about how to apply to an aid director because I was one," Buck said. "Whenever I can get in front of families, I really enjoy the experience."

Alison Dorius and her husband, Alison, attended the seminar because, "We’ve got a senior who wants to go out of state," Alison Dorius said. They both found the presentations very informative, and some specific items in Buck’s presentation really resonated with David Dorius.

"It was interesting to hear that all income levels have an opportunity for financial aid," he said, which is one of the myths Buck was trying to rebuff: that people believe if their income is too high, they shouldn’t bother to apply. "Most families self select and make their own decisions as to their eligibility for scholarships."

Another point of interest for David Dorius was the need for face-to-face conversations. "It was also interesting that they really emphasized taking the time to personally get in touch with the admissions and financial aid staff, and not just via e-mail, but to take the time to talk with them."

One tip that Buck shared was to meet with the financial-aid advisors during the campus tour. "The biggest mistake families can make on a college campus visit is to not go into the financial aid office," he said. "Typically about 90 percent of families do not do that." He also said it was also important to write down the questions you might have about finances and ask them at every college visit so that you can compare answers.

In both Buck’s and Betterton’s presentations, they repeatedly stressed the importance of establishing a relationship with the personnel in the financial aid and admissions offices.

"The earlier the better," Buck said. "Expressed interest is an important aspect to admissions. You want to be assertive, but not aggressive."

Starting preparation for college early is something Tomczyk feels is very important. "I think that what they (Buck and Betterton) are presenting needs to get out to families. People need to be here their junior year, if not before," she said.

Mary Ann Robertson, who attended the seminar with her daughter, is a true believer in the early-bird approach. "I’m just doing my homework early," she said. Sarah Robertson is only in eighth-grade.

David and Alison Dorius agreed. "This is our first child going to college, and we never thought about coming to one of these things for the sophomore or junior years of school."

More than 50 people came to hear Buck and Betterton speak. "It was a great turnout," scholarship advisor Dana Ardovino said. "They are just awesome resources." After their presentations, Buck and Betterton stayed to take individual questions from families.