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What you need to know about applying to college

As application deadlines loom ahead, students across the country arescrambling to better understand the college admissions process.

As application deadlines loom ahead, students across the country are scrambling to better understand the college admissions process. Steve Cohen is here to help. The co-author of “Getting In: The Zinch Guide to College Admissions and Financial Aid in the Digital Age,” Cohen has studied college admissions extensively over the last decade, and has taught at NYU and Fordham University.

How many schools should a student apply to?

You should think about three different categories: “reach,” “possible” and “safety” schools. The important thing is that you should be happy going to any of them. The number I usually recommend is three in each category.

Should you apply to schools you know you can’t afford?

Here’s the first thing to keep in mind: It costs less — in many cases — to go to an elite institution than to go to a state college. The sticker price may be off the charts, but the actual out-of-pocket that a kid and parent will pay is often significantly less. Wealthier schools have more money to give away in financial aid. And many elite institutions have made a commitment not to saddle the student with debt. They’re more likely to give aid in the form of grants and scholarships. But you don’t get money unless you ask for it. In most cases, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Other paths

What about students who know they need to attend a community college first?

It’s important to remember that you still have options. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your hometown. The tuition is usually state-based. It may be tied directly to a smaller community, but even if you’re paying out-of-state tuition at a community college, it is far, far less expensive than going to a four-year college.

When might it hurt to ask?

“Colleges fall into one of two categories. You can easily find it on their website. ‘Need-blind’ means admissions and financial aid are totally separate. The other is ‘need-aware,’ which means they might make decisions in part based on if you are asking for financial aid.”

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