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ETC College Admissions Probability Program- Program Guide and FAQ

Your College List Builder Foundation


This program serves two crucial functions for college planning:
  1. It consolidates your preliminary assortment of schools into one list in Excel.
  2. Within the Excel list are the admissions probability, estimated EFC (Expected Family Contribution, or tuition and fees) and personalized graduation probability data. All of these data points will enable you to cull your initial list down to a practical, sensible list of colleges where you’ll have a high probability of success.

The ETC College Admissions Probability Program -we replace uncertainty with clarity. Yes, the admissions process is fraught with uncertainty and the unknown. This program will show you the personalized results you can likely expect from any given school. We'll also provide you with insights into how the admissions process works.

Every family with a student aspiring to go to college goes through the process of compiling a list of colleges, and then wonders: "Which of these colleges will accept our child, what will we ultimately have to pay, and can we afford it?"

The ETC College Acceptance Probability Program will show you the probability of your child being accepted to the colleges that you are contemplating, along with your costs (Expected Family Contribution, or EFC). Additionally, the program will show you the probability of your child graduating in 5 years from the selected college(s). With this new information, you can methodically cull your options down to a realistic list of colleges to apply to.

Your new list becomes a foundation for your college planning - as you determine the colleges with the most realistic probability of accepting your child, and where your child has a realistic probability of success. Rather than waste time, effort and application fees; not to mention the uncertainty that has become an unwelcome part of the process, the program enables you to focus on schools which have a statistical history of accepting students with a similar profile. Additionally, the program provides you with a realistic tuition value (Expected Family Contribution/EFC) for you to enter into your college planning budget.


College Admissions Methodology - a look behind the curtain.

Every college has their own confidential set of criteria which they use to determine who they accept and the tuition they expect that family to pay. We have conducted empirical analyses of the various data points of millions of recent entrants at thousands of colleges. From our analysis, we have ascertained what the most meaningful data points are, and the inter-relationships between these values - in order to enable you to determine the likelihood of your child of being accepted at a given college, along with the accompanying EFC. It's a big math model and it provides the most reliable insights available regarding acceptance into specific colleges.

The results of our program replace 'probably, possibly, maybe, and hopefully' with facts and data. The data are provided to you in an Excel worksheet which becomes the basis for the list of schools that you'll apply to. You will have the insights necessary to cull your list down to a selection of schools where you actually have a realistic probability of being accepted into, and succeeding at. You’ll also have the financial values to enable you to negotiate for the best tuition fees.

In addition to the data points that the program provides you, there are specific strategic insights that will enable you to improve your child’s probability of being accepted by colleges where they will succeed academically, while at the same time helping you to reduce your EFC.

Admission and tuition - understanding their relationship is crucial to understanding the probability of admission.

To most families, these next 3 paragraphs are the most insightful and valuable components of this entire guide.

  1. A college is also a business - there may well be an ivory tower on the campus you're planning to visit - but that's not where you're going. You're headed for the Admissions Office, which is typically located in the Business and Operations Building. You’re going to find out what the school will charge you, should they accept your child. Colleges generally don't divulge all the aspects of their admissions methodology. That’s where we come in - providing you with an understanding of their methodology based on our analysis of each college's data points.
  2. Price discrimination - The pricing models utilized by almost all colleges are highly similar to those used in the airline industry - whereby those who can afford to pay the most, generally do pay the most (in this case: tuition). In economic terms, this is referred to as price discrimination, and though it sounds nefarious, in essence it simply means that families who can afford to pay more, do in fact pay more than less affluent families. In practice, what most colleges do is endeavor to fill as many seats as possible at the highest tuition possible, until they have fulfilled their budget requirements for the year. Once the college has covered its budget for the year, it will then shift the admissions focus to filling the remaining seats with an eye on academic excellence, student diversity and other interests of the college, which are secondary to its financial targets.
  3. Depending upon the school you choose - and where your child fits on their academic spectrum, either you need them or they need you. We’ll explain this dynamic by way of example: Big League University has a SAT range of 1200 to 1300. Most students at Big League will have a SAT score between 1200 and 1300. All will have a SAT between 1175 and 1350. Full tuition at Big League is $30,000 annually.

    Each academic year, Big League University has 1,000 open seats for new enrollments. They will receive 5,000 applications, from which they will send out 2,500 acceptance letters. The school is hoping to fill the 1,000 open seats with 800 that have the ability to pay the highest tuition. Of the remaining 200 seats, 100 will go to students with the highest SAT scores, and these students will receive significant institutional grant monies. The other 100 seats will go to students who will help the school meet its diversity requirements, sports program goals, and so forth. These students will also be awarded significant institutional grant monies.

    This means that the lower your child is in the SAT range, the higher your EFC will be. If you are attempting to get your child into schools where he/she is 'reaching' academically speaking, you are negotiating against yourself financially.

Frequently Asked Questions:
How do I determine my Family Income? This is the same formula used when completing the FAFSA, which is income remaining after all applicable tax deductions. Do not calculate deductions for the number of family members and location as our program includes this function.

How do I determine my Net Worth? This is the same formula used when completing the FAFSA, which is the sum of all cash, investments, and real estate, with deductions being: retirement accounts, qualified small businesses, and the equity in your primary residence.

What does the 'grants' information in this program include? It includes: federal, state and institutional grants, some of which may be classed as scholarship monies.

The program results are in Excel – why? This program is to be used as the foundation of your college list. Lists are built in Excel so that the data can be easily manipulated and edited. It also makes it easy to share the list with others who will advise in the application processes, such as college consultants, financial advisor.

Can I adjust my grades and family finances to see their effect on admissions and EFC? Absolutely. The program was designed so that you could run different scenarios and test their effect.

Why does this program include information relating to the probability of graduation? Families mistakenly assume that college failures are a rarity. In reality, the 5-year graduation rate is only slightly above 60%. Furthermore, the students most likely to fail are those who are in over their heads’ academically, i.e.: students who are in a college where they are at the bottom of the SAT/ACT range. Knowing the likelihood of graduation informs your decisions at the outset.

Who has this program been designed for? We developed this program for families who are substantially similar to those who use our other programs. Our typical program users are families with 1 or 2 parents in the household, and list the college-bound student as a ‘dependent’ for tax and college application purposes.

Should I share the results of this program with an admissions representative? Possibly. It may help lead to a discussion where you will learn more about the admissions criteria that your child must meet in order to be accepted at their institution.

Do other factors exist that might influence a student's probability of being accepted by a college? Yes. Through extensive statistical analysis of millions of applicants at almost 1,500 four year colleges, we have empirically identified the most prominent determinants of being admitted to college - being academic competency and family finances. However, other factors do exist and those factors can vary between colleges. For example, colleges with known athletics departments will likely consider applicants' athletic capabilities. Other colleges may favor the arts, social work, or other characteristics. Many colleges also have diversity programs which may consider disabilities, gender and/or ethnicity in their decision making process.
Please note that admissions departments have some discretion regarding the appropriation of grant funds - Professional Judgment and Students with Unusual Circumstances "In some cases where a family is subject to unusual financial circumstances, the EFC formulas may not accurately reflect a family's current ability to contribute to educational expenses. The HEA gives individual schools financial aid administrators (FAAs) limited authority "on the basis of adequate documentation, to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis to the cost of attendance or the values of the data items required to calculate the expected student or parent contribution (or both) to allow for treatment of an individual eligible applicant with special circumstances." Such adjustments are commonly known as professional judgment (PJ). Extracted from the Congressional Research Service, Federal Student Aid: Need Analysis Formulas and Expected Family Contribution.

Why are the results shown in terms of quartiles rather than an exact value? As we stated previously, we know mathematically that the two most significant determinants of college admissions are academic competency and family finances. Our model can reliably estimate that based on grades and finances, a person would fit within a certain quartile. However, a school may weight other characteristics (E.g.: music, athletics, languages, legacy) 5% or so, and our model doesn’t capture those ‘soft’ characteristics.

If my child is in the bottom quartile of being admitted to a college, should we still apply? There are a few factors to consider here: 1- only you can decide what your finances allow, 2- very seriously contemplate the graduation probability value, 3- if you’re considering applying to an elite college, you need close to perfect grades to have any chance of being admitted.

Is there anything that we can do to increase the odds of acceptance at a school that your program shows we would have little success at getting in to? Yes. Hire a college planning consultant.

Are college planning consultants worth the investment, and can they help with the process? Families that use a professional college planning consultant generally have a considerably easier time with FAFSA and related admissions paperwork. A professional consultant may understand the process of applying to specific colleges, more so than an outsider would. Most importantly, families that use professional consultants end up paying lower net tuition, their kids have better graduation rates and better occupational outcomes when they enter the labor market.

What is ETC? Educate To Career (ETC) is a nonprofit dedicated to enabling our young people to secure their best futures via college and career. We do that by providing online outcomes-based data and programs that provide the likely outcomes (think jobs/salary/more) derived from the various college and major tracks that a student may be interested in. We are the leader in educational attainment to career outcomes data and college/career, and related financing planning information. Our data is used by millions of families as well as over 2000 campus career centers in the U.S.

I work in a college admissions department and I’m interested in purchasing an analysis. Can I do so? Yes. A part of our business is providing detailed outcomes data to many colleges throughout the U.S. These reports are typically used for institutional effectiveness and planning. Please see our page which details these data services – reports start at $4,800. We can also provide you with competitive analysis reports for up to 12 colleges – these reports begin at $1,000.


Tuition and grant offsets - in simple accounting form.

At any college, there is a top line tuition figure. Here is a simple example of tuition, grants, and net cost to the family (Expected Family Contribution, or EFC).

Tip - pay attention to the Institutional grants as that is the big variable for you.

Big League University, annual tuition    $30,000
Federal grants$7,000
State grants$3,000
Institutional grants/scholarships$5,000
Net Cost to Family(EFC)$15,000

The Importance of Properly Completing the Necessary Grants Applications.

Tens of billions of dollars are awarded in higher education grants each year. These awards are predominantly distributed to lower income families, as they rightly should be. However, middle and even upper income families commonly receive sizable grants. As there are an incredible number of federal, state and institutional programs awarding grant monies, almost everyone applying to college should consider concurrently applying for grants.

First and foremost, to have any chance at being eligible for grant monies, the paperwork must be done perfectly and it must be submitted on time. Granting agencies won’t even consider forms that aren't filled out correctly. Timeliness is critical as well - as many grant pools are disbursed from finite budgets each year. When the money is gone for that year, it is gone.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Through a series of formulas, the FAFSA determines the amount of federal aid you will be eligible to receive. The paperwork is complicated and you should consider hiring a college planning consultant to assist you, as you could save thousands annually by optimizing your Family Financial Positioning.

Much of the paperwork required for grant applications is very similar to completing tax filings. In fact, recent tax returns and supporting financial statements are mandatory accompaniments to grant applications. Have your tax documents and financial statements handy.

Consider hiring a professional college planning consultant to assist you with the admissions applications and the grant applications. They have the expertise and experience with both of these functions - increasing the probability of your child being accepted by the college of their choice, while reducing the cost of attendance.


Additional Information
  1. About the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Through a series of formulas, the FAFSA determines the amount of federal aid you will be eligible to receive.
  2. Scholarships and other grants are available through a wide range of channels. However, you must begin the research process early (11th grade) to determine if any monies will be applicable to you.
  3. State grants are available in many situations. The process of applying for these grants is similar to applying for federal monies – complete and submit the paperwork and the process is relatively formulaic.
  4. Institutional grants – ascertaining what might be available, why it may be available, and how to access these grants is a case by case basis for each college. The ETC College Admissions Probability Program provides you with estimates of what you can expect. Fundamentally, understand that the higher your household income and the higher your net worth is, the less likely you are to receive significant grant monies unless your child is truly exceptional (Top 0.1% in high school, top 1% in college).

Terminology to Familiarize Yourself With:
Applicant’s Score - all colleges use a scoring system to rank each year’s pool of applicants. Though each school’s methodology will have some unique components, most scoring systems rank applicants by a combination of SAT/ACT score, the amount of tuition dollars the family will pay, and unique or outstanding characteristics of the student. Ask the admissions officer what your child’s score is and how they rank in comparison to the applicant pool.

Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) - your out of pocket net cost for tuition.

Family Financial Positioning - this is a process used by professional college consultants to maximize your opportunity for financial aid and minimize your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Families save thousands annually by implementing plans and strategies to legally reduce their EFC. This can realistically only be done by a competent college planning consultant.

Financial Aid Leveraging - the practice of discounting tuition for specific students for the purpose of optimizing total revenues.

Admitted/Denied - another phase of the negotiation process. You may still be able to negotiate with a college even if your child was denied.

Legacy Points - when a parent is an alumni of a college, the child will likely receive bonus points toward their Applicant Score, or at least receive some preferential consideration.

Freshman Retention Rate - the percentage of freshman who return for their sophomore year. A good question for the admissions officer.

4-Year, 5-Year, 6-Year Graduation Rates - this is exactly as it sounds. See our College Graduation Probability Program for data on these rates. This is a good question for the admissions officer.

Occupational Outcomes - the jobs and salaries that typical graduates attain after graduation (a number of our programs address this topic). A good question for the admissions officer.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is tasked with providing economic and financial analyses of various governmental programs. The CRS recently published a paper, Federal Student Aid: Need Analysis Formulas and Expected Family Contribution. This paper provides extensive detail regarding the methodology for determining a families’ EFC. We used this paper as a reference when establishing the methods for our program.