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Free College Advice from a Pro

The college landscape continues to change rapidly. I spoke with Joe Romano, a college counselor, with over 15 years experience on both the college admissions and high school counseling sides of the desk. He gives some helpful tips into navigating this complex and expensive space.

Q: Is it harder to get into college today than it was 10 years ago? If so, why?

JR: Yes it is, for two main reasons. First, the number of applicants continue to grow while the admission rates continue to decrease. This trend is more pronounced when analyzing students gaining admission to their “first choice” institution which is often one of the most selective schools with a single-digit admit rate, but still almost all of the year-over-year communication that we receive from college admissions deans confirm this trend. Second, globalization is a big factor. U.S. colleges are investing big in recruiting students from all over the world, so the pool of applicants has scaled up.

Q. Latinx students are graduating from college at a lower rate. Once they are out, they are struggling to pay back loans. What advice would you give to the Latinx community when planning for college?

JR: There are many factors that contribute, so it’s important to work closely and directly with Latinx families to identify the obstacles and to strategize ways to address them. The best advice I have heard is to try to keep the total amount of loan debt accumulated by graduation no greater than the price of a new Honda. Having debt that high is a burden for many, but if it makes a college degree a real possibility then it’s a worthwhile investment. This guidance works especially well for students who are confident and willing to “bet on themselves.”  It is also important to think about this as a 4-6 year plan. It is telling that the graduation rates are reported with a 6 year window.   

Q: Do extra-curricular activities help make for a more competitive application? Are there activities that colleges value more than others? Football vs. chess club? 

JR: Sure, but it breaks my heart when a student is doing something for the reason of improving their chances of getting into college or are being forced to do so by their parents. Colleges care and do well in sorting out the ways a student uses their time outside of the classroom. Students are going to spend lots of time in classrooms and on academic work outside of them, but for most that pales in comparison to the amount that they will spend doing other things. Colleges value the depth to which students are involved in specific activities and care less about what those are and more about the reasons a student is inspired to participate. Athletics are the most visible of co-curriculars, particularly football and basketball, and those are huge parts of the college experience at many places, but the percentage of high school athletes who are aggressively recruited and that receive athletic scholarships is extremely small. 

Q: What advice do you have for parents going through the college application process?

JR: Be a partner in the process, a good co-pilot. If you liken it to a parent’s role in helping their child prepare for the driver’s test, the parent or someone trusted needs to be in that car when learning, but the student has to push the pedals and steer. 

Q: And lastly, where can the Latinx community begin to look for financial aid and scholarships?  

  1. A “Net Price Calculator” can be found on every college website.
  2. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)  studentaid.ed.gov.
  3. Admission representatives are often great points of contact at colleges and can help facilitate working with that school’s financial aid office.  
  4. Independent organizations and websites like HSF.net or dreamersroadmap.com.

You can find Joe Romano @coachjoeromano on Twitter. 


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