Expert Answers to Your College Application Questions

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Gretta asked: My son is a high school Junior with a 3.64 GPA, and I would like to know when we should begin to apply for scholarships? Can we begin applying during this school year? And where are the best places for us to find scholarship offers? My son is African-American, so I would like to also take advantage of any scholarships that are geared specifically toward minorities. At this point, he is leaning toward pharmacy or pre-law. Also, I am aware that many colleges and universities no longer require SAT scores. When filling out an application for a school that doesn't require SAT scores, how should we respond on the application if it asks if the SAT has been taken. If I respond yes, will they then want those test scores and will they weigh in upon the university's final decision? Thank you for your time.

Norman answered: On both the Common Application and the Universal Application, the test score fields are not required -- so you can submit the application to schools without filling in those fields. You can then make an alternate version of the Common Application or Universal Application and include the scores in that version, and send that version to the schools that require scores for admission.

As for scholarships, the colleges themselves are excellent sources of merit-based aid. College Board (www.collegeboard.com) has a robust scholarship search tool, as does www.meritaid.com. Deadlines will vary from competition to competition, with a small number falling in the spring of junior year (the ones I can think of that run in the spring of junior year are certain competitions sponsored by colleges and often require a nomination from someone at your school) and the majority falling in the fall or winter of senior year. Also look into scholarship competitions sponsored by local organizations and businesses. One important warning: beware of scholarship scams! Do not pay any money in return for scholarship funds or for access to scholarship competitions.

Lissa asked: Our daughter is in ninth grade and is at the top of her class. She is getting her hopes up about small (expensive!) liberal arts colleges already and we have no money saved for college. What is the reality for a top student with parents who are financially strapped? Should we burst her bubble and tell her that this may not happen ... that Brown and Williams are out of her reach? Or is anything possible if you have a strong enough application? Thank you.

Norman answered: Don't count private colleges out just yet. Many of them have generous merit-based aid programs (this has nothing to do with how much you make or what assets you have). In addition, many of the highly selective colleges are in the enviable position of being able to offer generous need-based financial aid (sometimes equaling full tuition and sometimes eliminating loans) for those who qualify. Your daughter's strong academic performance can put her in a good position for scholarships and merit-based awards, so don't discourage her hard work -- but do have an honest conversation with her at some point about finances.

CLICK HERE for more information on financial aid and scholarships.

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