Applying test-optional at Bryn Mawr

Test-optional institutions allow students to decide whether they want to submit testing as part of their applications. While Bryn Mawr has been test-optional to domestic students for about five years, this year Bryn Mawr will be test-optional for international applicants as well.

While this may be exciting for some, we recognize that others may feel differently. Before COVID-19 most colleges were not test-optional, but much has changed since the beginning of the pandemic and schools across the country have continued to revise policies around testing. We recognize that these changes may feel disheartening. After all, students spend years preparing to take these tests, only to be told that they may matter less than they thought. For some students, the SAT and ACT represent an essential part of their academic identity. It can be unclear what specific elements colleges and universities may be seeking from applicants who submit applications without scores.

But don’t worry — test-optional policies are not new. More than 1,100 colleges and universities implemented these kinds of policies before COVID-19. While each institutional policy may vary, they all minimize the weight of testing in the admissions process. Some schools are even test blind, meaning that even if you submit test scores, they will not review them. So why would a college have a test-optional or test blind policy? There are two main reasons:

  1. Access: Not all students, especially those from low-income, first-generation, or non-U.S. backgrounds, have easy access to standardized testing. Location and testing fees can serve as a barrier to these tests. In turn, by requiring standardized testing, some colleges and universities are not accessible to students who cannot access the tests for various reasons.
  2. Success: Research shows that standardized tests may not be the best indicator of student success in college. While high scores can correlate with strong first-year college grades, they are also highly correlated to socioeconomic status, race, and a family history of attending college. Additionally, given that test-optional admissions practices are not a new phenomenon, there is quite a substantive amount of research that exists and affirms that a test-optional admissions model does not diminish the academic merit of an admitted class.

While testing can be a good measure of academic success for some students, it is not the only or best way to determine a student’s readiness for college. At Bryn Mawr, we employ a holistic application review process, which means we review several application components to determine a student’s fit for Bryn Mawr. Students who submit testing will be reviewed with testing in mind, but the scores will not carry as much weight as a transcript, essays, or recommendations. For students who don’t submit testing, we use all the other components to make a decision.

We believe in the merit of allowing students to discern whether testing is a strength they possess and to reflect on the way to put their best foot forward as an applicant. At its heart, that’s all a test-optional policy is, an opportunity for students to exercise agency in the college search process. Students are not all cut from the same cloth, and we are pleased to provide flexibility to increase access and equity. We look forward, as always, to getting to know students beyond the numbers to determine if they are a good fit for our community.

Tips for Completing Your 2022-2023 Financial Aid Application

FROM SUSAN CHADWICK, DIRECTOR OF FINANCIAL AID

 

With October 1 right around the corner, many students and families have financial aid on their minds, especially as we continue to navigate the challenges of COVID-19. Suddenly there are questions about changes in income, how retirement should be reported on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and what an FSA ID is used for in the process. While financial aid applications can appear daunting at times, there are many tips and tricks that can help you along the way.

Here are my top tips to successfully navigate the FAFSA and CSS Profile, College Board’s application used by many schools, to apply for institutional need based aid.

  1. Know your deadlines! When are all these forms due? For Bryn Mawr, financial aid applications are due the same day as admission applications for prospective students. Sooner is always better than later!
  2. Make a list of what is required. Not sure what we need? Bryn Mawr requirements for a financial aid application consist of four main items:
    – the FAFSA (for US citizens and permanent residents)
    – the CSS Profile (all students)
    – 2020 Federal Tax Return with schedules (for US citizens and permanent residents)
    – 2020 W2s (for US citizens and permanent residents)
    There may be a few additional items we need, and if this applies to you we’ll let you know through your application portal (where you check the status of your admission application).
  3. Create your FSA ID. Before you can complete the FAFSA, you need to create an FSA ID. This is a username and password that will be used to file and sign your FAFSA, as well as complete federal paperwork for student loans. Both the student and at least one parent need to create an individual FSA ID tied to their personal information. Each FSA ID will be linked to your legal name, birth date, and social security number. You will also need a personal email address. DO NOT use an email address linked to your high school! You will use this username and email for the next four years (possibly longer if you attend graduate school), and if you lose access to your high school email address after graduation it is extremely difficult to reset your password should you need to do so.
  4. Use the correct legal name and social security number. This one sounds easy, but it trips up more people than you might think! If your last name is hyphenated or appears a certain way on your social security card, it is important that you use your legal name exactly as it appears. If you do not, it will cause a big problem. If your parent(s) do not have a social security number, use all zeroes. Do not make up a number. If you make a typo on your social security number, you will not be able to correct this information, you will need to fill out an entirely new application.
  5. Have your tax returns ready. Ready to fill out the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile? Having your tax return and W2s next to you while completing the forms is CRITICAL to success! On both forms, when you click on a field to type your answer, a helpful hint will appear on the side of your screen. This helpful hint will tell you the exact line to reference on your tax return! Copy the numbers and you’re well on your way.
  6. Be consistent. Some of the questions on the CSS and FAFSA will ask for the same information. If you report conflicting information, there will be a delay in processing your financial aid application. Be sure that you use the same figure for your assets, particularly the figures for cash/savings and investments. Investments can be a pesky question for families when you are not sure what to include. Use those helpful hints on the application to get clarification. On the FAFSA, you do not report the value of retirement accounts such as a 401k, nor do you report the value of your primary residence. On the CSS Profile, home value and retirement account value will be asked in specific questions. They won’t be included in a large investment figure anywhere on the application.
  7. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. On the FAFSA, there is a handy tool called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, or DRT. This tool will allow you to auto-populate your FAFSA right from the information reported on your tax forms from the IRS! Not only will this make filling out the application much easier for you, but it also helps the financial aid office to guarantee the accuracy of your application. Another perk? One-third of FAFSAs are selected for a process called Federal Verification. This means the school must collect a little more information from your family to verify that every data field on your FAFSA is correct. By using the DRT, you are less likely to be randomly selected for this process.
  8. Don’t leave fields blank. Leaving fields blank may cause an error or a delay in processing your application. If there is no amount to report, add a zero to ensure clarity and accuracy.
  9. Do not use commas or decimal points. Round to the nearest whole number. If you try to use decimal points, both forms are going to add extra zeroes, significantly inflating your income and/or assets!
  10. Use prior prior year income information. You read those instructions right. This allows families to complete the forms earlier and with finalized information, allowing institutions more time to get families accurate financial aid awards in the spring. For example, you will use 2020 tax information when completing financial aid forms for the 2022-2023 academic year. If you feel 2020 is not an accurate reflection of your family’s financial situation (ex. someone lost a job in 2021, your family income was impacted by COVID-19, or there was a one-time bonus or other income inflation in 2020), contact the Financial Aid Office. We will ask for documentation of the change along with your 2021 tax return and W2s (when they are available) and your projected 2022 income to see if we are able to make an adjustment.
  11. Many families impacted by COVID-19 had lower income in 2020. Please remember that while we are basing your financial aid eligibility on 2020 for the 2022-2023 academic year, in future years we will ask families to reapply with the next tax year. As financial aid eligibility is assessed every year if your family income or assets went up in 2021 or 2022 your aid eligibility will go down in future years (if all other factors remain similar). Is this scenario applies to your family, we suggest reaching out the financial aid office to make sure you understand how your aid may change in a future year, so you can ensure you can make the four year commitment to your institution.
  12. Who to list on the FAFSA/CSS Profile. Are your biological parents divorced, and you’re not sure who should be listed on the FAFSA or CSS Profile? There’s a great youtube video provided by the Department of Education onlineto help you figure out who you should include on the FAFSA. If you split time between two separate households, you will only include the parent and siblings who you live with most of the time. For the CSS Profile, you will include information for all parents and stepparents, regardless of who you live with the majority of the time. If you split time between two households, you will fill out the CSS Profile with each parent.

Above all — ask for help! If I have one tip, this is it! We are here to help you and your family and hope if you have questions you will send us an email to finaid@brynmawr.edu. We are here to help you at any point throughout the process. We’ve also compiled a great financial aid resource library for your use.

 

We Want to See You Part II: In-Person Visit Tips

Last month we began our two-part blog series offering all our prospective students the insider tips and tricks of visiting colleges virtually and in person. In our previous post, we tackled virtual visits, and today we plan to explore visiting us in person this Fall.

While we are currently offering tours for small groups of visitors, we are excited to expand our in-person offerings throughout the upcoming year. As we move toward a total return to campus, we are thrilled to offer some helpful guidelines for visiting campus with your friends and family. These tips will not only keep everyone healthy and safe but will help you to maximize your experience.

In-Person Visit Tips!

Listen to Your Tour Guide! Your tour guide is not only an excellent current student, but they are the most up-to-date emissaries from the college to you. They know how to keep you safe and healthy by following all the college’s guidelines for visiting campus. If you come to visit us on campus, keep your ears and eyes peeled on your guide. We ask you to follow their directions as closely as possible. That way, everyone has a positive experience on campus!

Research Before Visiting. Usually, when you come on campus, you would do an information session, followed by a campus tour. We are excited to resume this format by offering in-person information sessions beginning September 6th on campus. We encourage you to maximize your experience by attending the information session and researching our offerings before arriving on campus. That way, you know what you are looking for and ask our student tour guide during your visit!

Take notice of flyers and other promotional materials around the campus to see what happens beyond academics. We have a lot going on around campus, so this is an excellent way to understand what the community values and the social opportunities are here. The campus center is a great space to gather some of this information!

Explore the surrounding city or town.  Bryn Mawr is a small town close to the big city of Philadelphia. We encourage you to take a commute into the city to see how accessible it is for your academic and social purposes. College is not just a campus; it’s the place you’ll call home for the next four years. We want to make sure you are excited about everything Bryn Mawr has to offer.

Get the contact information of the admissions representative for your area. We are here to be your advocate, so the admissions counselor for your site will be your best resource for any questions or concerns you have after you leave campus.

Bring Water and Wear Sunscreen! Even as we move into Fall, we want to advise you that it can get hot and humid here! Take the time to prepare physically before driving onto campus. Always check the weather and dress appropriately for an hour of walking outdoors. 

In conclusion, whether in-person or online, we are so excited for you to visit us and see if Bryn Mawr is right for you. The college admissions process can be a fantastic opportunity for self-discovery as you start to explore what type of community you see yourself in for your college years. We encourage you to keep calm and keep an open mind! If you do that and follow our tips, we have no doubt you’ll find success!

We Want to See You: Virtual Visit Tips and Tricks

This summer has been an exciting time on the Bryn Mawr campus as we welcomed our first visitors back for in-person tours. As we enter the new school year, we hope to see more smiling faces on campus, but we also understand some may not feel comfortable with an in-person college search just yet. We also know just getting to us can be difficult. Here at Bryn Mawr, it remains our goal to make visiting us fun and accessible, regardless of where you call home.

In this two-part blog series, we are excited to share some fun visit tips and tricks with all students out there. This installment will tackle tips for virtual visits but keep an eye out next month for some in-person visit insights. We remain thrilled by the opportunity to share Bryn Mawr with you and hope that you will consider coming to see us this year in whatever form works best for you and your family.

We know Zoom can be exhausting, so we always want to help you find authentic ways to engage with our community. At Bryn Mawr, we try to come up with creative ways to showcase our community through fireside chats, hangouts, and other online events. Below are some of the best practices for engaging with colleges virtually.

Planning is key. Virtual events are great because it gives you access to more colleges than you probably can visit physically. But it is easy to get overwhelmed. Start by making a list of which schools you are interested in and their virtual visit options. Once you have a sense of all your visit options, create a schedule that works for you. A routine can be helpful here. For example, choose one day of the week to schedule your virtual events. Do not feel as though you need to register for every virtual event at every college.

Ask questions! Don’t be shy! We know you have questions, especially in the age of COVID. Use the Q&A feature or unmute yourself to join the conversation if you can. There are no questions too big or too small!

Connect in ways that feel authentic to you. If the virtual event allows, turn on your camera to connect with us. We know it can feel vulnerable, but we love seeing your face, but if you would rather not turn on your camera or microphone, no pressure! Feel free to reach out to the Admissions Officer or tour guide facilitating the conversation privately after the event. There is no right or wrong way to engage with us.

Connect with current students. Our tour guides are happy to chat. Use this link to browse our student profiles. We know there is someone there for you to connect with! Current students are great resources to learn about campus culture and student life, especially when you can’t see those things for yourself.

Look out for recordings. Bryn Mawr records most of our virtual events, so if you miss an information session or Fireside Chat, there is a good chance you can watch it later. Check out our Admissions Office website to stay up to date.

To wrap things up, we want to emphasize that virtual visits are a great way to dip your toes into the search process from the comfort of your home. You don’t need to live far away to take advantage of these opportunities as a means to increase agency and flexibility in the college search. We will be here for you along the way! We hope to see you online soon! Check out our Admissions Office’s events page to stay updated.

Please keep an eye on this space for part two of our tips and tricks series for in-person visits coming soon!

Thinking about taking a gap year? Consider this…

From Micaela Beigel

Why I chose to take a gap year and what you should consider if you’re considering taking one, too.

I knew I wanted to take a gap year long before my senior year of high school. In the Jewish community where I grew up it was a common practice, and I was lucky to see this experience modeled by older peers. It did not escape me then, or now, how privileged I was to have family and friends who supported my decision to take a gap year, when doing so is less common in the United States than in other parts of the world. Continue reading

Exploring Your Paths: How the Liberal Arts Prepares You for Your Future

In our new two-part series, Exploring Your Paths, we sit down with Katie Krimmel to learn how Bryn Mawr sets their students up for career success. Katie Krimmel is the Associate Dean of the Career and Civic Engagement Center where she works closely with students, faculty, staff, and alums to create opportunities for personal and professional development. In Part 1 of Exploring Your Paths, Katie explains how Bryn Mawr’s liberal arts education provides students with versatile skill sets necessary for post-graduation career environments. Continue reading

Spring Thoughts from the Director of Undergraduate Admissions

From Director of Undergraduate Admissions Marissa Turchi

Happy Spring! At this point in the recruitment process, you and your families are most likely celebrating good news, navigating financial aid packages, working through disappointments, or just starting the college search journey. Some thoughts to consider during this time of the academic year:

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Staying Social During the Pandemic

carpbeach-masked

Students on Carpenter Beach

Everyone going into this past semester was confused and unsure of what campus life during a pandemic would look like. Would there be a safe way to socialize and be with friends? Would we still get the Bryn Mawr experience? 

definitely was not prepared for how much I would miss dorm living and the constant energy of campus. It felt strange commuting to Bryn Mawr for some of my classes, but not living and eating my meals on campus. With most of my classes online, I began to realize all the things I took for granted during pre-pandemic semesters.  Continue reading

Being Your Best Self at Your College Interview

From Cindy Chea

For many students, interviews may seem like a daunting part of the college application process that they would rather skip. However, interviews aren’t meant to be scary (especially at Bryn Mawr) and they can be a great way to boost your application. Two senior interviewers, Claire Weeks, and Reyna Gariepy offer helpful tips and tricks on how to calm your nerves and what to expect so you can ace your next college interview.

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