Research Sources for Students

The Dr Tiffany Brown Scholarship Program is an scholarship program available to high-achieving students with financial need who seek to attend and graduate from the nation’s best four-year colleges and universities.

You have lots of choices to make during your college application process, and one of the most important decisions has to do with what kind of colleges to put on your list: state universities, community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, technical universities, less rigorous, more rigorous… Your friends may only apply to the in-state institutions; your family may encourage you to stay close to home. As you sort through the advice of your closest friends and family, you have to figure out what is best for you.

Here are some reasons why it is vital for you to consider applying to rigorous, highly selective schools. There are:

  • Financial Benefits

Counterintuitive to what you might think, applying to and attending an “expensive” college or university can cost less and get you more.

Compared to many colleges and universities, selective institutions:

  • Spend more money on you — selective colleges invest more money per student than nonselective schools — the per-student expenditure at the most selective schools in the United States is $92,000 versus just $12,000 at the least selective schools.  That $92,000 buys you such things as excellent, dedicated faculty; state-of-the art laboratories and libraries; fully staffed centers to help with career planning, tutoring and studying abroad; and a greater diversity of majors, so you can choose what is right for you.
  • Lower the costs for you to attend — the richest colleges and universities (such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) ask many students to pay only 20 percent of the overall cost of attendance. In other words, for a school that says its tuition and other costs are close to $50,000 per year, the student only pays $10,000 of that. For low-income students, that is usually reduced to $0 because financial aid (through grants and loans) covers all costs.
  • Educational Benefits

Not all colleges provide the same educational opportunities; instead the quality of a student’s education can vary based on the resources the school has to offer.

Compared to many colleges and universities, selective institutions:

  • Are designed to help you graduate on time — four-year graduation rates tell a lot about a school; the best schools in the nation graduate 85 to 88 percent of all freshman who enter within the four-year timeline. This increases to 90-98 percent if you extend to six years. This means if you enter one of these schools, you are highly likely (due to your academic talent and the resources offered to you) to graduate in a timely manner and get a job or go on to graduate school. This is important when the majority of college students attend schools that may offer only a 30 to 50 percent chance of graduating; that is a 50 to 70 percent chance of not graduating!
  • Give you the chance to make friends with those who share a passion for learning — attending a selective school means you are likely to be surrounded by other intellectually curious students; what you learn from other smart people enriches your college experiences.
  • Provide you with more — more choices of major, more opportunities outside the classroom (such as study abroad, undergraduate research, and internship opportunities), more access to state-of-the-art facilities such as labs, recreation centers, and libraries, and more exposure to top-notch faculty (because there are more faculty per student than other colleges and there are more chances for you to take small seminar classes where you get to connect more personally with faculty).
  • Income and Career Benefits

For low-income, high-achieving high school students, the rewards of attending a selective college or university can stretch well beyond graduation, affecting such things as exposure to greater postgraduate opportunities and overall earnings.

Compared to many colleges and universities, selective institutions:

  • Expose you to graduate school opportunities — students who attend selective colleges and universities receive greater exposure to resources that can help on the path to graduate school (these include faculty mentors and like-minded peers).
  • Provide you access to important and influential networks — alumni groups can help open doors to new opportunities.
  • Increase your chances of making more money over your lifetime — research has found that students from low-income backgrounds who attend elite schools stand to make greater financial gains over a lifetime than their peers who attend less selective schools.

Admissions offices often track your interactions with them in order to understand how excited (or not) you are to attend their college. While there is such a thing as too much contact, it often helps your chances of being admitted when you strategically interact with each school to show you care. Demonstrating interest is just your way of saying to a college or university, “I really would like to be student at your school.”

Here are a few ways to demonstrate interest to a college during sophomore, junior, or senior year:

  • Join the admissions mailing list – Even if you are already receiving snail mail or emails from schools (likely a result of your participation in the PSAT), take two minutes to go to the school’s admissions website or call the admissions office to add your name to the list.
  • Complete a contact card at a college fair – Many schools, local organizations, and communities host college fairs where they invite dozens-–if not hundreds-–of colleges to set up tables and talk with students and families interested in their institution.  Be sure to complete a contact card at the table so that the school has a record of you stopping by and grab a business card of the representative at the table so you can follow up to thank him/her after the event.
  • Meet with college representatives – Most admissions officers travel in the fall to promote their institutions by hosting information sessions in high schools around the country.  Check with your guidance/college counselor or call the admissions office to see if a representative from your college of interest may be visiting your high school, visiting another school in your area, or hosting an event at a local hotel or community center that you can attend.
  • Correspond with an admissions counselor – Most colleges list on their admissions websites the staff assignments for the geographic territories that they cover, as well as their contact information.  If the information is not readily available on the website, feel free to call the admissions office to find out the name and email address of the person who will be reading your application.  Asking specific questions about things like academic programs, campus life, or the application process help you to collect pertinent information while communicating your interest to the admissions professional.  Be careful not to overuse this option, however-–the quality of your interactions is more important than the quantity!
  • Email a professor – Often overlooked as a way to demonstrate interest in a school, reaching out to academic faculty in your areas of interest is a nice way to learn more about the curricular offerings while also indicating to the college that you are serious about pursuing your academics at their institution.  In fact, asking for the contact information for a specific professor or department chair is a great question to ask an admissions counselor (see section above).  In some cases, faculty members share feedback with the admissions office about students about whom they are particularly excited or might even sit on admissions committees to provide input on decisions.
  • Visit campus – The best way to determine if you see yourself on a campus is to physically experience the campus. Visiting schools helps you to move beyond the glossy admissions brochures and fancy websites to get a real feel for the campus and its student body.  Colleges understand that it is challenging for students to make the financial commitment to travel to campus so you will certainly not be penalized if you can’t make an in-person visit. But you should be proactive about identifying fly-in programs or travel stipends for prospective applicants or admitted students offered by colleges on your list.  In addition to checking in with your school counselor about opportunities that they may hear about, don’t be afraid to call the admissions office and inquire about financial support for visits if you don’t see anything listed on their website.
  • Interview – Although it may officially be deemed “optional,” if a college offers the opportunity for an applicant to interview, you should take it!   Whether it takes place on campus with an admissions representative, in your community with a local alum, or via Skype, interviews are a wonderful way to make a personal connection with someone affiliated with the institution and share information about yourself that may not be captured on the application.  In fact, if an applicant does not take advantage of an opportunity to interview, their sincere interest in the school is likely to be called into question.
  • Participate in online chats hosted by the college – In the digital age, many schools are turning to the internet to help with their recruitment efforts by hosting online chats for prospective students.  Usually these sessions offer students a chance to ask questions directly of admissions officers, current students, and even faculty members.
  • Apply early – Although discussed more in-depth in another section, applying by the early action  deadline helps colleges feel confident that you are genuinely interested in their school. Similarly, if a school offers a priority or rolling application deadline, the sooner you can submit your application, the better.


  • What is Early Decision?


  • is a binding commitment to enroll
  • requires you to withdraw all other applications and enroll at that institution
  • does not allow you to apply to more than one early decision school at the same time

ED applications typically are due in the fall between November 1 and December 15, and students will be notified of the admission decision within six weeks.

  • Why Apply Early Decision?


  • thoroughly researched the programs at the college
  • visited the campus
  • want to communicate to the college that it is undoubtedly your first choice school
  • want to know a decision before January 1
  • Why Not Apply Early Decision?

If you are accepted ED, you:

As always, you should check with the specific college to understand its EA/ED policies.

  • What is Early Action

There are two types of EA programs:

  • Restrictive early action (sometimes called single choice EA)
  • Non-restrictive early action

Restrictive EA limits you to applying to only one early action institution and to no institutions for ED.* Only a small handful of schools subscribe to this admissions policy.  Non-restrictive EA has no such limitations, and you are welcome to apply to multiple schools through EA.

In both cases you apply in November or December but still have until May 1 to decide which college to attend. You are permitted to turn down any offer of admission in either type of EA because both are non-binding.

*Note: There are exceptions to this granted for public universities, special honors and scholarship programs, and foreign universities.

  • Why Apply Early Action?


  • possibly receive an early acceptance, which reduces the anxiety of wondering “will I get in anywhere?”
  • focus your energy on completing applications, essays, and testing requirements earlier in the year
  • have the opportunity to demonstrate to the college your high level of interest
  • get the chance to determine whether you want to submit some of your regular decision applications to other schools

Because the time between when you find out the results of EA and the regular decision deadline (typically January 1) is tight, you should keep working on your remaining applications. You might need to submit them in a hurry if you don’t get an EA acceptance.

  • Why not apply Early Action?

You should not apply EA if your previous grades (particularly those from junior year) were not strong and you are working hard to demonstrate an upward trend senior year.  The timing of grade submission for EA (before the term is over) will not allow you to show your improved senior grades in their best light.

Despite rising college costs, students and families can access multiple forms of financial aid, which can ease the burden of paying for college.  Understanding the various types of aid available can help you to navigate a sometimes overwhelming process. Financial aid includes:

  • Federal and State Aid


  • Grants and Scholarships

  • are funds students do not have to pay back
  • are based on academic merit, financial need, or other criteria (i.e., leadership, service, athletic, musical talent)
  • are given by schools, state and federal government, or private organizations and may or may not involve an application
  • could be renewable or one-time award


  • Loans

  • are funds borrowed to pay for school
  • accrue interest, so you have to pay back after graduation more than you borrowed
  • are offered to parents/guardians and students
  • are offered by government, private banks, or lending organizations with varying eligibility, terms, and interest rates (WARNING: private loan interest rates can be high!)
  • have maximum amounts set for each year


  • Work Study

  • provides part-time work opportunities (10-15 hours per week) offered through the school but funded by both the federal government and the school
  • provides income ($1,800+) per semester in additional funds for school-related expenses
  • is part of an overall financial aid package granted by the college

Over two-thirds of all college-going students receive financial aid each year. Strategies to maximize aid opportunities include: starting the process early, researching on the web, and selectively picking the scholarships that can bring the greatest return on your investment of time and energy.  In other words, don’t pursue all scholarships equally but consider:

  • the criteria of the scholarship and whether you can be competitive
  • the time it takes to complete the application
  • the amount of money of the scholarship, how many years you might get the funding, and how it might compare to the costs of attending the schools you are considering

Keep in mind that once you get your financial aid offers, you can contact the financial aid office to find out whether there are more funds available or whether the college or university can change the aid package to be more accommodating.

To find out more, do not hesitate to contact a financial aid officer of the school or schools you are thinking of attending. In addition, there are multiple resources on the internet, including:

*All information cited from 2019 James Cooke Foundation website