Financial Aid Season – Just Do it!

You may recall from my previous blog posts that I am a crier.

I am also a world-class worrier.

It should come as no surprise that, almost immediately after my son started getting into colleges, I shifted my worry gears into how we would pay for him to go to college. Like many families, my husband and I had given this some attention (along with some thought and, yes, worry) since the day our son was born. But now it was REAL.

Before I go on, there are some personal factors I should share so that I might adequately set the stage for my level of angst:

Education is highly valued in my family – always has been, always will be. Somehow, my parents (both educated, but living a very middle income life) successfully sent 6 kids off to liberal arts colleges. I don’t remember a single conversation that started with “we can’t afford this school.” (So this was new territory for us.) Both my husband and I work in the field of education (a noble profession, I like to think, but not one that lends itself to large bank accounts). The schools to which my son was admitted cost—on average—more for one year than the nicest car I would have ever dreamed of owning. The cost for 4 years would be… well, let’s not go there. My son was heading off to college at the height of this country’s recent recession. To make myself feel better, I tried very hard to listen to the advice I had been giving families over my 30 financial aid seasons:

You’ll never know the true cost of a college until you submit all appropriate paperwork to your schools. Every school handles scholarship and financial aid dollars differently. The same student may look very different in different colleges’ applicant pools. Scholarship decisions are not equivalent to the worth of a child in their mother’s eyes (if only!!!!) Financial aid officers are human beings. Many are parents themselves. Most tend to have a pretty high level of compassion to go along with their expertise. They know that families are anxious about this process AND they know that each family’s financial situation is unique. They will answer your questions. They are (along with admissions officers) your best source of information. This means that the well-meaning, “been there, done that” parent in the line at the grocery checkout is probably not your best source of information about this.

When late February rolled around, we arrived at the moment where we had to stop worrying and get to work. It started by NOT waiting until April 15 to file our tax return. We got that thing done earlier than we ever had done it. (I wish I could tell you that the process and paperwork was pleasurable, but it wasn’t so awful that we didn’t get it done – we did. We even got it done on time.)

If you have been avoiding the heavy lifting involved in this part of your child’s college search process, I would encourage you to follow a certain athletic company’s advice and “Just Do It.” Only when you do will you learn the real numbers and real costs at individual schools.

Here are some important resources to help get you through this:

– The official FAFSA website is: (Not fafsa. com… run away from that one.)
– The official CSS profile website is:
– provides information about federal student aid programs, eligibility, how to fill out the FAFSA, and what to expect after submitting the FAFSA, as well as guidance on repaying student loans.
– gets into the real nitty-gritty about the FAFSA: find details about dependency status, who counts as a parent, how to figure out when the IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available for an individual applicant, or how to report same-sex marriages on the FAFSA.

I’ll say it again (recognizing my own professional bias): admissions and financial aid officers on college campuses everywhere are terrific sources of information, expertise, and worry abatement.

And really… worrying is overrated.

Take it from a world-class worrier.

Carin Smith, Lawrence University Regional Admissions Director

Breathing, doing the laundry, and other things you hope your Lawrentian will remember to do

I am a recent LU grad (June 2013, which was like yesterday, right?) AND a first year Admissions Counselor. So, in many ways, I was right there with many of you trying to figure out the completely daunting world of college admissions for the first time.

One of the true joys of the job thus far is connecting one on one with families and helping unpack this process. I talked through stats, available majors/minors, extra-curricular opportunities and the omnipresent Return on Investment question. But in all these conversations it became very clear what the true question behind all these inquiries was: “Will they be happy here?”

This realization brought some clarity to my understanding of our work in college admissions: our purpose is to make answering that one question as easy and transparent as possible. We like to think we do a pretty good job, but let’s face it – we’re biased. So we decided to ask the real experts—the parents of the Class of 2018. Here are some highlights from the survey we sent out earlier this summer to all the class of 2018 parents (speaking of Class of 2018 Parents, be sure to check out their Facebook page if you haven’t already):

What did you enjoy about the college search process?

  • Getting to know our kid better. Seriously. He was much more thoughtful than I had originally given him credit for. AND much more of a procrastinator than I had ever thought!
  • Thinking about all the possibilities. Road trips.
  • Observing my daughter’s confidence and excitement build as she learned about all the opportunities for learning and new experiences she will have available to her in college.
  • Enjoy?
  • [Many of you mentioned liking our e-mails; that should make our Benevolent Communications Overlord/Dean very happy.]

We all hope for the best… about what are you most hopeful for your student at Lawrence?

  • I hope that she will find her place, find a circle of friends, find what she loves, find where she fits.
  • That she’ll find community with faculty and students who lead passionate, inspired lives that she will learn to think radically and critically, and that she will grow as an individual and make connections she has yet to consider.
  • That when she looks back 10 years from now, she’ll feel Lawrence truly helped her grow as a citizen of this world and prepare for a successful and happy life.
  • Frankly, I hope that he remembers to do laundry.

What are you nervous about?

  • Nothing.
  • The unknown.
  • I am extremely nervous that we are spending thousands of dollars for his education and he will not be able to find a job in the field he is looking for. [You may feel better knowing that students will meet early and often with our advisors in Career Services, just upstairs from us in Hurvis Center.]
  • The distance from home and all the “ifs” that parents can imagine when the kids go away. Too many to list and not necessarily relevant, but nevertheless natural.
  • That she will forget to breathe and remember that everything will be okay and that she can handle anything.
  • He will be fine… I’m nervous about me : )

What is your favorite thing about Lawrence?

  • All the small liberal arts colleges that our son applied to (he got accepted at all 8) shared similar academic rigor and extracurricular opportunity but only Lawrence had a “think different” sort of culture. One that seems dynamic and fluid and especially conducive to intellectual thought and growth. And come on, who else wanted a 47 word essay?! ; ) That was genius!!
  • The warm, inviting atmosphere you experience when you are on campus.  You feel it from students, faculty, and administration – everywhere you go.  It feels like one big family.  You can’t fake that.
  • This question is impossible for me to answer. At every stage of the process, from inception to date, I’ve had an ADDITIONAL favorite thing about Lawrence. However, if I had to sum up, then I would answer that Lawrence in every respect has given me the most valuable reassurance, even peace, as a parent that I’m sending my only child to the best place for the next critical phase of her life.
  • Perhaps its quirkiness – that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Our daughter is like that.
  • Zeek!
  • The food!

I suppose it should come as no surprise that our LU parents are as thoughtful and perceptive as their students (and no, we didn’t offer scholarships for best flattery—IHRTLUHC). We truly appreciate you sharing your stories, and we look forward to having the class of 2018—and their awesome parents—on campus this September!

Keep doing well and being well, as we know you always do.

Patrick Marschke (’13), Conservatory Admissions Counselor

A Southerner’s First Wisconsin Winter: Or How I Learned To Love (or Tolerate) the Polar Vortex

On January 6 at 5:01pm, in the midst of the worst polar vortex in recent US history, a terrible thing happened: My nose-hairs froze.

If you’re reading this and originally hail from the North, this probably isn’t a foreign concept to you (albeit a little graphic, and for that, I apologize). But if you’re from where I am – a magical land of year-round beach going and endless supplies of fresh oranges – you probably think I’m nuts. And let me tell you, cotillion certainly did not provide me with a more lady-like way to express what happened to me above. (Sorry, Mom.)

When I told my parents I would be moving away from the South for the first time in my life in favor of a job in Northeast Wisconsin, they took the news with all the excitement of a root canal. (And like a bad root canal, this one seemed to come to them without enough Novocain.) Though I know they tried to be as supportive as possible, there was obvious doubt I could survive what from that day forward will forever be known to my family as The Great Frozen Tundra.

Lawrence in the snow

Perhaps naively, I didn’t think it would be that hard. After all, I’m a millennial… I can do anything! (Insert generational commentary here,) I’d buy a coat, start my new career, and get on with it.

I made the brilliant (read: lucky) decision to move in August – you know, sweater weather time. I loved Lawrence instantly and proudly volunteered for Welcome Week, where I courteously provided directions (likely wrong) to other newcomers like myself.

But as time tolled on, I realized there were quite a few differences I may not have been prepared for. So, with all the wisdom that comes with exactly 5 months and 5 days of living in Wisconsin, here is a brief list of things you may be comforted to know in advance: 

  1. The Weather. It’s cold here. Don’t buy your coat in the South, because it doesn’t count. Don’t buy your jeans there either. Your nose hairs will freeze and you’ll have to carry mittens everywhere and your poor 6 pound Yorkie will fall straight through the soft snow. That all being said…
  2. No seriously, the weather! Snow is kind of a blast! People don’t actually just stop going outside here when it’s cold. (I’m looking at you, Texas.) There’s sledding and snow shoeing and snowman building – there’s even igloo building for the advanced, future civil engineer snow-architects.
  3. It’s easy to make friends. Southern hospitality is simply called “Midwestern Nice” here. Try going to a grocery store here and NOT being smiled at or greeted by 100 strangers. I dare you.
  4. How about them apples? Did you know ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ aren’t the only types of apple? And they have different flavors? This is a weird one you’ll grow to appreciate, and you’ll establish alliances based on your preferences. (Because there is a limit to how many people will edit this post, I’d like to take this opportunity to announce Honeycrisp as the Lawrence Admissions Office’s apple of choice.) Plus apples go well with…
  5. SAY CHEESE! It really is everywhere. Just accept it. Fried cheese curds may be the best thing to ever happen to you.
  6. Watch your language. If you tell someone “bless your heart,” they will think you’re being nice and not realize there’s at least a 50% chance it’s an insult. On a similar train of thought, all phrases referencing ticks, armadillos, wet towels, wet mules, and/or hot tin roofs will not be understood. Understand y’all?
  7. Predator-free aquatic recreation. Wisconsinites spend a lot of time taking advantage of our 15,000 lakes without ever worrying about a shark, crocodile, or alligator! (Ahem, I was born in Florida.) Also, Wisconsin has more lakes than Minnesota. Did I wish I knew that last tidbit ahead of time? Probably not. Is it fun to taunt Minnesotans and their 10,000 lakes about now? You betchya.

So maybe I do still wear a puffy coat when it’s a balmy 27 degrees and sometimes mistake the names of fancy apple breeds for 90s pop stars… I still maintain that when all is said and done, Lawrence makes it all worth it. And if I – and my 6 pound puppy – can do it, so can you.


Gaelyn Rose is a recent addition to the Lawrence Admissions staff. Arriving in Appleton by way of Houston, Texas, she shares her experiences dealing with the regional changes of all things weather, language, and critters. 

Highlighting one of our 450 new students

The Appleton Post Crescent ran a story in today’s paper featuring one of our new students who officially start classes today. Emmet Yepa, one of our 10 students from New Mexico, has, as the article says in its opening paragraph, “already accomplished something many students at Lawrence dream of — he’s been a member of a band nominated for Grammy awards.”

While we don’t usually reveal the identities of the students featured in our address at Welcome Week convocation, which I highlighted in last week’s post, it doesn’t take any serious sleuthing to connect the dots, so I’ll save you the trouble here. Emmet is the one featured in the following “One of you” references:

One of you, a composer and singer, has been nominated twice for a Grammy in the Best Native American Music Album category. Along the way, you have also received special recognition from President Obama for your work heading a first-of-its kind recycling program in your community.

Emmet is one of many great new students who have joined an already great community of current students to form the student population that we here in the admissions office love to talk about… to whomever is listening, or, in this case, reading.

They’re here! (Highlights from Welcome Week at Lawrence.)

On Tuesday, we welcomed our new students to Lawrence, who spend the week participating in activities to get themselves oriented to life at Lawrence before classes start in earnest on Monday, September 10.

Of the many traditions at Lawrence University, one of the favorites among the members of the Lawrence admissions team is the Welcome Convocation. It’s the one moment where we get to see all of our new students and their families—people we have been working with for months, sometimes years—together under the beautiful roof of the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.

It looks like this:

(Yes, I snapped that shot from the podium, where a cavalcade of speakers addressed the assembled students, including the president of the sophomore honor society, the president of the alumni board, the provost, the dean of admissions & financial aid, and the president of Lawrence University.)

The admissions guy’s job for the evening, as the set-up man for the president, is to introduce the class to itself and then present them to the president. Below are some of the highlights of the class that I shared with them.

OK, now I’ll turn my attention on our reason for being here… YOU. Let me tell you a little bit about yourselves:

The 417 of you who are freshmen represent the second largest freshman class in Lawrence University history. You have come to us from 324 high schools. For those of you keeping score at home, the two schools that sent the largest number of graduates to Lawrence this year are Whitefish Bay High School and Warren Township, each with 7. Five members of the freshman class were homeschooled. However, a really interesting number to note is that 257 of you are the only ones from your high school, which makes you the majority. So get out and start meeting each other.

34 of you are transfer students who have come to us from colleges as near as the University of Wisconsin right here in the Fox Valley and as far away as Hanoi, Vietnam.

In addition to the 451 degree-seeking freshmen and transfers who become Lawrentians today, four of you are international students who do not plan to seek degrees from Lawrence, but are here just for this year, visiting from Germany, Brazil, Bulgaria, and the Russian Federation. 18 of you are from Tokyo, here as part of our special year-long exchange program with Waseda University. We are happy that you are all here.

You hail from 38 states, the District of Columbia, and 24 countries.

Our largest contingent—about 30% of you—come from the cities, towns, and rural areas of our home state, Wisconsin. The next largest groups come from Illinois, Minnesota, New York, California, Colorado, and New Mexico.

About 12% of you have a parent, sibling, or some other relative who attended (or is currently attending) Lawrence. Some of you have several generations of Lawrentians in your family! That’s pretty exciting.

But here’s another exciting thing: 20 of you are the first ones in your family to go to college. [Note: This one got wild applause.]

A handful of you are so-called “non-traditional students,” in that you are either married or have children or graduated from high school a number of years ago.

All of you are welcome here.

You new Lawrentians have had an impressive array of experiences. Those of us who graduated from school a number of years ago—the folks who read your admission applications—might also describe that array of experiences as “humbling.” In addition to your studies, most of you have made significant contributions to your schools, churches, communities, and a multitude of volunteer organizations.

As a group, you are citizens of the world. In addition to our international students, a large number of you have spent time abroad—and much of it not just being tourists.

You have given your time in service to others in faraway lands. And right in your own backyards.

One of you is a hand model.

One of you is a highly decorated figure skater, having won golds for the United States Junior Synchronized Skating National Championship and representing the US twice in overseas competition.

One of you has performed in circuses as a high flyer and contortionist.

One of you told us, quite excitedly, that you received a didgeridoo for Christmas. Dean Pertl—it appears you can add yet another member to your didgerigroupies.

One of you has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.

One of you is a raptor handler. (I presume we’re talking about birds of prey, and not the hopefully extinct breed of nasty dinosaurs.)

One of you—not recognizing the phone number on your caller ID when one of our admissions counselors called to tell you your application was complete and ready for committee—pretended that the counselor had reached Toys R Us until he proved that he really was, in fact, an admissions counselor from Lawrence. In so doing, you have provided us an opportunity to—um—take a closer look at our calling procedures in the admissions office.

Many of you are triple-threat all-stars—excelling in academics, the arts, and athletics. One of you in particular, was on the all-state choir for two years, a top student in your school, AND the MVP of the basketball team that brought home the state championship.

One of you comes to Lawrence after having served four years in the US Army as a senior line medic and team leader—including deployments to Iraq. [Particularly gratifying note: this received the longest and most enthusiastic applause of the night, which prompted me to say something like, “I was going to say ‘Thank you, soldier,’ but this group already took care of that for me.”]

One of you woke up on February 15 to a day named in your honor by the mayor of your hometown. It seems they—like we—were very impressed with your outstanding contributions to your community.

One of you dedicated hundreds of hours over the summer last year as part of Minneapolis’s “We Want You Back” campaign, knocking on doors of your fellow students who had unenrolled from school to encourage them to complete their high school credits and graduate.

One of you has—for each year since you were 5—traveled with your family to another country to perform music with them and raise funds for local nonprofit organizations.

One of you, a composer and singer, has been nominated twice for a Grammy in the Best Native American Music Album category. Along the way, you have also received special recognition from President Obama for your work heading a first-of-its kind recycling program in your community.

[Note: A mother of one of our students shared with me a couple days after the welcome that there is one more stat I should have shared, so I’ll share it with you now. (It’s a good one.): “Two of you haven’t seen each other since kindergarten – 14 years ago – but will soon discover that you are both here at Lawrence as freshmen AND you live in the same residence hall!”]

It has become clear that many of you don’t sleep much. Which, it turns out, will have been good practice for your college careers.

I should mention that the most common first names among women in this class are Katherine, Hannah, Emily, Sarah and Anne. Most common names for the fellas are Michael, Zachary, Jacob, Charles, and Matthew. So if you don’t remember somebody’s name in the next few days, try one of those, and you’ll probably come close enough.

It turns out the plurality of you—52 of you to be exact—were born in March. Two of you had the good taste to have chosen my birthday, May 28, as the date to make your grand entrance to the world. (Nice work, Daniel and Brandon.) One of you is celebrating your birthday today. Cooper, we won’t put you on the spot and sing to you—though with the musical talent in this room, you can trust it would sound magnificent.

It went on for quite a bit longer, but I trust you get a feel for it. This is a great group of students joining a great group of students at Lawrence. We’re thrilled they’re here.

But we don’t get to sit around reveling in the wonders of this class for too long. The class of 2017 (and 2018 and 2019) awaits.