5 Reasons Your Student Should Be Attending a Virtual College Fair

Students are getting their ducks in a row and submitting applications to their top schools of choice.

There are plenty of resources to help with this process, from colorful brochures to web content galore. In fact, all those resources can be overwhelming! This is why students have traditionally flocked to college fairs. However, with the advent of COVID-19, the world has discovered that much of what we did in person can be done just as well—or better—online. Enter: the virtual college fair.

Virtual college fairs are conducted through an online hub, with webinar-style sessions that enable participants (students, parents, and counselors alike) to attend certain tracks depending on their interests and submit their questions via chat. There are opportunities for 1:1 conversations with experts and college representatives around the admissions process, the college life experience, financial aid options, and more. All from the comfort of home.

If your student is not attending a virtual college fair, they should be. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Accessibility
    This one may seem obvious, but virtual college fairs are more accessible than in-person ones. Being remote means that college fairs are cheaper to attend, require no travel time, and can be done from anywhere around the world. This is perfect for busy families and students, as well as those who don’t want to travel for health reasons.

Virtual fairs can also be more easily integrated into a school day, which makes them more accessible. Students don’t even need to leave the premises to attend a virtual fair, and it’s easier to get students excited about attending when all of their friends and classmates—rather than just a select few—are taking the same dedicated time to log on and participate.

  1. More Time for Questions

The webinar format allows students to “chat in” any questions they may have throughout the discussion. This allows college fair presenters and moderators to answer more questions than they would be able to address at an in-person college fair.

The accessibility for questions is especially helpful for international students, notes Kaersten Deeds, school counselor at Dulwich College Seoul in South Korea.

“[Students need] more handholding through the visa process,” says Deeds. “Just really being clear and available to answer any kind of questions surrounding how the student gets there and what happens to the student once they get there.”

  1. Up-to-date Information
    With health policies constantly changing, students want more up-to-date information on how colleges are handling health concerns. Conducting the fair virtually means the right person–not always the sole fair representative!—can be on hand to answer questions like:
  • What COVID-19-related health policies are in place at your university?
  • How is teaching conducted to ensure health safety?
  • What measures are in place to ensure students are being supported academically, socially, and emotionally?
  • How does the school handle someone testing positive for COVID-19?
  1. Variety of Options

Virtual college fairs offer one location for students and families to access a wide variety of options. While in-person events are capped according to physical space and limited in terms of which college’s reps are willing and able to travel, the number and geography of colleges and universities that can participate in virtual fairs are limitless.

Of course, receiving a constant influx of information throughout the year can feel overwhelming. Therefore, setting aside time during a school day to access all of these options via a single, streamlined virtual fair gives students a chance to focus and do the research necessary to make an informed college choice.

  1. Student Voices at the Table
    Virtual college fairs offer opportunities for live presentations from university faculty and admissions staff to chat about the admissions process and the “college life” experience. But who better to hear about the college life experience from that a student?

“Webinars that have included a current student at your institution…have really helped students connect with that imminent question of ‘what is my life going to be like there,’” says Roshan Gujar, school counselor at Cedar International School in the British Virgin Islands.

So now you know why virtual college fairs are getting all the buzz these days. To learn more about registering for a virtual college fair, visit the GoToCollegeFairs Help Center.

Should You Attend a Virtual or an In-Person College Fair?

With college on the brain, you might be trying to decide: Should I attend an in-person college fair or a virtual one?

You can check the fair website for general details such as COVID-19 protocols and driving distance, but at the end of the day, your decision will likely come down to comfort. Here are some attributes to consider.

Pros of virtual college fairs

If health is a concern, a virtual college fair can provide the safety you need. A standard college fair is bustling with students from multiple counties and cities, increasing your risk for COVID-19 exposure. Going virtual means you can continue to control your environment.

Another benefit of virtual fairs is accessibility. If you have a learning disability or a physical disability, you may feel more comfortable attending the fair at home, where you don’t have to think about certain types of access. Virtual fairs also often have captioning and a live chat feed that you can save if you need more time to process the information.

Last but not least, convenience may be the number-one benefit of a virtual fair. All you need is a computer and internet access. You can essentially roll out of bed and be at a virtual fair in five minutes (although you may want to take a bit more time to look presentable—even on screen, you only have one opportunity to make a first impression!). This is an especially great option if you live far from a college fair, lack transportation, or have a lot of extracurriculars that may interfere.

Pros of in-person college fairs

If you get distracted easily or have trouble focusing during virtual meetings, an in-person fair may be the best choice. Studies have shown it can be challenging for people to concentrate for long stretches of time while staring at a screen, which requires deeper concentration and increased stimulation. This may be especially challenging if you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In-person fairs allow for movement and increased body language from speakers, which can be helpful for students with ADHD.

Another benefit of in-person college fairs is the ability to attend with classmates and friends. Attending with peers gives you an opportunity to discuss takeaways and share your experiences, and you may even save on gas if you opt to carpool. The more you discuss your likes and dislikes, the easier it will be to determine what really matters to you in a school.

Finally, an in-person fair can be a great way to forge a more personal connection with colleges. Especially if you enjoy conversing with others, it can be very informative to have casual conversations with admissions counselors or current students at the individual school booths. People tend to be willing to extend conversations in person, whereas video calls and written chats can feel more transactional.

No matter what you decide, know that your choice is a good one. Attending a college fair—whether virtual or in-person—will help you take the next decisive step toward your future.

You can check our calendar of upcoming college fairs by visiting our site. We offer a range of virtual and in-person college fairs around the world.

How to Prepare Your Student for a Virtual College Fair

One of the hardest parts of college fairs is making sure your student is in the driver’s seat. While it may feel “easier” to take control, at the end of the day, they are the ones who will be attending university for the next four or five years. In order to make sure students find the best college experience for themselves, they need to take ownership of the process. And yes, that includes being prepared for college fairs—even virtual ones.

College fairs go by in the blink of an eye, and virtual college fairs can feel even faster – there’s no long drive of anticipation from home to college campus, and with it, no lull time to chat about what your student is looking forward to learning. As such, it’s important to create dedicated time to prepare for virtual college fairs.

Here are five tips to help your student prepare for a virtual college fair.

Set a goal

To make sure your student is getting the most out of the virtual college fair, help them set a goal for the day. This is particularly important for a virtual fair because—as anyone who has been on back-to-back video calls knows—it can be harder to keep focused during virtual meetings than in-person ones. Whether your student wants to know about class sizes or the extracurricular activities that schools offer, having a goal will keep them focused and attentive during the virtual fair.

Brainstorm questions

Take time to sit down with your child and help them brainstorm the types of questions they want to ask. Doing this critical thinking exercise will help your child really think about what matters to them in a future school.

Show up dressed for success

Just because the fair is virtual doesn’t mean your student won’t make an impression. Make sure your student is putting their best foot forward by showing up to the college fair dressed in neat, comfortable attire with their video on, ready to participate.


Find a comfortable space for the call

As we all know from the past year, working from home can be distracting. If your student decides to join the virtual college fair from home, make sure they log on to the computer from a space that’s comfortable and relatively quiet. If home is too distracting, your student can go to a local library or ask their teacher if they can use a room at school for the call.

Bring a notebook

Since your student is there to learn, make sure they have a notebook and a writing utensil on hand to jot down any thoughts or takeaways from the college fair. Maybe your student realizes they want a university experience in a city versus on a traditional college campus or wants to look further into the different tracks of an environmental studies program. Encourage your student to take notes that will help them distinguish between any schools of interest and do any follow-up research as needed.

These are just some initial tips to get your student started on preparing for a virtual college fair. Remember: The more you learn, the more you know. Once your student starts preparing, the college admissions process will feel much more approachable.

Health and Safety Are the Buzzwords: 3 Questions to Ask at College Fairs in 2022

When thinking about college life, many questions may come to mind. Is there a soccer team? Does the campus host events to celebrate Diwali and other holidays? What intramural sports are available? Are fraternities and sororities part of campus life?

Due to the pandemic, many of these common questions are changing. There is a renewed focus on campus health and safety as students want to attend a college that shares their values around COVID-19. While coronavirus cases have been slowing at American colleges as vaccinations increase, colleges continue to postpone football games and move classes online due to COVID outbreaks.

All of this means that health and safety are coming to be more significant factors in making a college decision. When you are gathering data on your prospects, be sure to ask the following three questions—ideally in real-time to a college rep at a virtual or in-person college fair.

  1. What health and safety protocols does your school have? What measures are in place if a student tests positive for COVID-19?

Due to COVID-19, campus health protocols continue to be a concern for both families and universities. According to the CDC, as of March 17, 2021, COVID-19 testing was being provided for 49% of public and private nonprofit four-year U.S. colleges and universities for asymptomatic students. However, only 32% of the colleges providing testing have a protocol mandating testing on a consistent basis.

As a student, your health and safety are top priorities. Being around crowds—whether in a lecture hall, cafeteria, or stadium—increases the likelihood of COVID-19. Therefore, the more preventative measures a university has in place, the less the chance of outbreaks.

Look for schools that have testing protocols and vaccination requirements. Unfortunately, despite the increase in health and safety concerns, many colleges and universities do not mention COVID-19 testing protocols on their websites. (Of the institutions providing testing, only 18% mention COVID testing protocols on their site!) That’s why it’s a good idea to attend an event where you can ask this question to a live representative. Only by getting concrete answers can you ensure you’ll feel comfortable with the health and safety protocols of your preferred college or university.

  1. Is there a requirement for students to live on-campus their freshman year? If so, what health and safety protocols are in place for residence halls?

When thinking about the college experience, one thing to consider is how many students actually live on campus. Due to the pandemic, shifting family obligations and financial issues mean that more students are living off-campus than ever before. In 2020, over 85% of college students reported living off-campus. This can mean anything from living in an off-campus apartment to living at home.

In Spring 2022, the majority of colleges are continuing to accommodate on-campus living with reduced dorm density. While some universities are stretched to have enough housing, other campuses have had to offer incentives and discounts on dorms they are struggling to fill. This is something to consider when you’re looking into where you will live for your first college semester. Living in the dorms your freshman year can be an easy way to meet new people and make friends. If you want to live in the residence halls, find out what the requirements are regarding vaccinations and mask-wearing to determine if it’s a safe option. If you opt to be a remote learner or live off-campus, you will still have plenty of opportunities to meet fellow students, but you can expect that interactions will be different. You’ll need to make more of an effort to connect to classmates when you’re not there in person, and you should capitalize on attending outdoor campus events whenever you can, classrooms and university buildings will likely have social distancing restrictions.

  1. Does the campus offer take-out dining options? What COVID-19 safety measures are in place around dining?

While the college dining experience has historically included lengthy meals with friends in the dining halls, this has changed due to COVID-19. Many campuses are now offering to-go meals at designated times to avoid overcrowding and are drastically limiting the number of seats in dining halls. Some universities have gone further. At Cornell, for instance, new systems have been implemented including mobile ordering through OpenTable, increased sanitation, and contactless payment.

If you intend to live on-campus and to get a campus meal plan, visit the dining hall section of the university website to check what COVID-related measures are in place and if picking up meals to go is an option. If you intend to commute, it may be easier to bring your own meals. (And of course, if you’ll be fully remote, you don’t have to worry about campus dining at all!)

Having a better understanding of campus health and safety protocols will help you narrow down your list of colleges. Write down any deal-breakers, and stick to them.

7 Best Ways to Save Money in College

7 Best Ways to Save Money in College – Want easy ways to save money in college? Discover 6 simple money-saving college student life hacks, including your student ID, college textbooks, and more.

If you’re going to college, you’ll probably hear plenty of exaggerated stories of college life from the adults in your life. Many adults look at their college days as a “rite of passage” to adulthood.

You may hear stories about them eating nothing but Ramen noodles for weeks at a time, digging around in their battered couch for pizza money, or making their friends toss their spare change into their car’s ashtray for gas money.

The lesson? Back in the day, college kids learned to save money. While so much has changed, there are still tons of ways for you to save big bucks while in college. And you won’t have to starve yourself to do it.

  1. Save money when shopping online

Shopping on the web has become the norm for many people. There are too many hidden ways to save to be included in this article.  But one quick and easy way is to install a simple Chrome extension to save money on your online purchases, like Capital One Shopping.

  1. Ways to avoid buying new books

As recently as the 2018-2019 academic year, college students could expect to pay over $1200 a year in books and supplies. The reason? There’s little competition in the college text market.

To combat this problem, many students don’t bother buying textbooks, but that’s a mistake. Those students’ grades suffer because they don’t have the resources they need.

A much better strategy? Buy used books. College students can save hundreds of dollars by getting used copies of their required texts.

Another tactic is to rent books. There are various pricing comparison sites where you can compare buying versus renting and see which makes more sense. One potential problem? If you use a highlighter in rented books, it may trigger a fee.

When buying books, you can also save a great deal of money by buying and selling during “off-peak” times.

Most students buy their books in August and sell them in December when demand is sky-high. A smart idea is to find out ahead of time what books will be required for their classes and buy them early.

How can you find out what books are required if the course hasn’t opened for enrollment? Simply reach out to the professor privately and ask them what books you’ll need.

  1. Avoid credit card debt

Credit card offers seem so promising! Own what you want and pay it off “later.” Rather than racking up credit card debt for things like cable or satellite service, look into ways to watch TV for free.

Want to save yourself a ton of headaches? Avoid using a credit card except for dire emergencies. Using credit for day-to-day expenses like food simply because it’s easier is the fastest way to rack up debt without realizing it.

Be smart by finding credit card offers that have the lowest possible interest rate and no annual fee. And if you do use it, you should only charge what you can afford to pay off in full each month.

  1. Cook at home

Many people love eating out. It’s a social thing, and some days after a grueling day of classes, a nice meal out can seem like the perfect remedy. Instead, college students who stay home to cook save a lot of money. You’ll also develop better eating habits that will serve you well in life.

There are plenty of websites that can help you get your kitchen set up with new cookware, utensils, and recipes that are very affordable. Cooking for yourself also reinforces self-sufficiency, another valuable life skill.

  1. Choose your housing carefully

The appeal of having your own apartment is huge. Maybe you believe partying will be easier away from the rules of college. Or you just like the idea of “having your own place.” The reality? You’ll save a lot of money by sticking with campus housing.

Rent for an average apartment is usually much higher than campus dorms. And that doesn’t count expenses like water, heat, and electricity. All of which are included in your dorm fees. Don’t forget the food: Most dorm fees also include a meal plan.

Living on campus will save you plenty of dough. And you’ll be able to concentrate on the most important thing in college: your education.

  1. Skip owning a car

Owning a car can feel like freedom is at your fingertips. The reality is much harsher. Unless you can afford to buy a brand-new car with a killer warranty, you’re better off living on campus. You can learn to live life without a car.

Used cars always break down at the worst times. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to pay for the repairs and keep the thing running.  And you’ll be bombarded with requests from other students you barely know to drive them everywhere, move furniture, and pick up people from the airport

It just isn’t worth the headache. Besides, you’ll have a thriving social life right in your dorms.

  1. Reduce your stress

When you’re under stress, it’s harder to concentrate. Harder to remember facts, figures, and anything related to your classes. A high stress level results in making poor decisions, which can torpedo your desire to save money.

One way to reduce your stress is with an emotional support animal. Get an evaluation from a licensed therapist in order to get your ESA letter so you can save money on pet fees – oh, and yes, even your feline friend can be an emotional support cat.  And if you’re wondering, “Do I have to tell my landlord I have an emotional support animal?” online resources such as mylawquestions.com can help you.

Summing up

Your college experience can be the best years of your life. With just a few money-saving strategies, you’ll be setting yourself up for a great life when you graduate. You’ll be armed not only with an education but also financial life skills to ensure your success.

By starting these habits now, you’ll be doing them automatically when you reach adulthood. You’ll have developed an ‘eye’ for finding money-saving opportunities online and off.

3 Deadly College Application Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Across the U.S., high school seniors are polishing their personal statements, slogging through supplemental questions, and gathering last-minute recommendations. In December, colleges and universities will release thousands of early decision and early action notices, delivering some students to their holy grail institutions and others into an agonizing, months-long purgatory.

If you’re still working on your college applications, you still have time to make sure your admissions package says everything about you and your background that counselors will want to know.

Here are the boxes to check before you hit send.

Are you paying attention to important details?

What’s number one on U.S. News and World Report’s list for what to do when applying for college? Read the directions. When it comes to applying to college, missing important details is a common reason why applicants quickly move to the “denied” pile.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Don’t rely on spellcheck or a cursory glance across a computer screen. Print out your personal statement and supplemental essays to review grammar, double-checking you haven’t put “Harvard” where you meant “Yale.”
  • The activities list. If you’re using the Common Application, don’t ignore the section where you enter your activities – even if you plan to upload a resume later.
  • Directions, dates, and deadlines. They’re different at every college, so consider making a spreadsheet to help you keep them straight. Set calendar alerts before critical cutoffs and make sure your recommendations are in on time.
  • Some schools require an SAT or ACT plus SAT subject tests. Others may be totally test-optional. If you plan to apply for a scholarship and need a standardized test, find out what the last accepted test date is if you want a chance to improve your score before you apply.

Have you demonstrated interest in the school where you’re applying?

As if filling out forms and writing essays and taking tests isn’t enough, you’ll also want to demonstrate interest. Visiting the campus in person is a time-honored way to prove you may actually attend if admitted, but during covid times, that’s become a lot more difficult.

The good news is that there are several ways you can demonstrate interest.

  • Supplemental essays. Complete the supplemental essays and personalize them for each school. This gives your admissions counselor a better opportunity to understand who you are, where you came from, and if you’re a good academic and cultural fit.
  • Department tours. If you know what you want to study, a department tour is a fantastic way to learn more about available internships, post-grad work opportunities, and the alumni network. A Zoom call with an academic advisor works great if you can’t visit in person.
  • Guidance department information sessions. Your high school’s guidance department loves to help students learn more about college. Many schools host information sessions and you should plan to attend. It’s a great way to meet the person face-to-face who may likely be reviewing your application.

Do you know how much it will cost?

Don’t get your heart set on a school, see the price and decide you’ll figure out how to pay for it later. On the flip side, don’t look at the tuition and assume you won’t be able to afford the cost. Colleges offer estimated family contribution calculators that can give you a ballpark idea of what you’ll need to pay. Best of all, scholarships can defray that cost further.

  • Submit your FAFSA early. Submitting your FAFSA is the first step you need to take when qualifying for financial aid. Submit it as early as you can, even if you haven’t been accepted anywhere yet because money does run out. You’ll need your income tax return (if applicable) and your parent’s return, too.
  • Private scholarships. Apply for as many private scholarships as you can. Some don’t even require an essay, although many do.
  • In-state and regional discounts. Many schools offer reduced tuition to residents of neighboring states. The New England Consortium, for example, allows residents of New England states to pay in-state prices at out-of-state schools if the major they want isn’t in their home state.

Success in college is all about building on the good habits you learned in high school. With acceptance letters in hand and financials in mind, you can get serious about choosing a school and submitting your enrollment deposit. You’ve come this far. Now it’s time to get started on the rest of your life!


Author bio:

Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. In addition to GoToCollegeFairs.com, Lisa has contributed to OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.

3 Key Predictors of College Success

shutterstock_208789324Predicting college success is important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Students, obviously, want to know what they can do to be successful—it’s their future at stake. Parents want to know if their college investment is going to pay off. And last, but certainly not least, schools want to know if they are admitting students who will not only bolster their graduation rate, but who will go on to make a name for themselves . . . and by association, for the school.

Of these three groups, the schools are the ones with the resources to investigate this question—and they have. Colleges and universities conduct regular internal audits to examine which factors can predict students’ success in college. While there are a number of characteristics that can come into play, many of them are exhibited once those students are already attending college, by which time, it can be argued, it’s already too late. The ideal time to examine predictors of success is while students are still in high school. This way, students still have time to develop better habits, parents can guide students toward developing these habits, and schools can refine their admissions processes in order to admit classes of ever-more-successful college freshmen.

With that as an introduction, here is a list

  1. Student behavior during high school

Seems obvious, but certain student behaviors in high school can predict college success—and not the ones you might think. According to a joint 2015 report from the USDE, IES, and NCEE, these two behaviors were predictors of college success:

  • Fewer high school absences
  • Taking the SAT or ACT (regardless of score)

So students, take heed: high school attendance matters, and whether or not your colleges of interest require a standardized test score, you should probably take a shot at it anyway!

  1. High School GPA

This next predictor of college success is probably a given in most people’s minds: high school GPA. According to a 2016 report from NACAC, which surveyed 400 colleges and universities high school GPA was the most important predictor of college performance—that is, high school and college grade point averages were closely correlated. (One school’s report showed correlations of .63 and .71.)

Good students are good students, case closed.

  1. Family Income

The third predictor comes maybe not so much as a surprise, but as a disappointment. Based on a 2015 report from the Pell Institute, household income was the most important indicator of whether or not a student will graduate from college. (More than 75% of students from high-income households graduated in 2013, compared to less than 10% of students from low-income households.)

This is extremely unfortunate, since it is a factor that is entirely outside of the student’s control. However, the (marginally) good news is that this finding ought to lead to more discussions about solving economic equality at large, which will solve more than just the education gap.

Parent Tips: DO’s and DON’Ts of Helping Your Child Apply for College

shutterstock_60192856The college application process can feel daunting to anyone, never mind sixteen- or seventeen-year-olds trying to balance their social lives, romance lives, and . . . oh yeah, high school grades. That’s why it’s important that you, their parent, step in and partner with them through this life-changing process.

Here is a short list of Do’s and Don’ts that you, the parent of a college-bound high school student, can follow to provide the support your student needs while ensuring that they stay in the driver’s seat.

DO set up a separate email account. You will be bombarded with admissions emails.  Do yourself and your student a favor and don’t share your daily email box with this influx of communications.  This can be a stress reducer too, allowing you and your student to compartmentalize the admissions process to a time and place that works.

But DON’T put it in your name.  This is a great time to help your student be more responsible and autonomous.  The email should be set up in his/her name.  This also shows prospective colleges that your student is capable and independent.

DO maintain a timeline. Applications deadlines are numerous and can sneak up without warning if you’re not careful. Plus, if your child wants to engage in activities such as college fairs, campus visits, or admissions interviews, the timing of these needs to be taken into consideration, as well. Therefore, developing a schedule to help your child stay on track can be immensely helpful.

But DON’T nag. If your child procrastinates or misses a deadline, they need to handle the consequences. After all, this is what will happen in real life; they might as well start learning now!

DO your homework. No matter how vividly you may remember your own college admissions process, times have changed. In order to be a useful resource and helping hand to your child, you need to research the latest processes and expectations in college admissions. (Including financial aid!)

But DON’T do everything for your child. This is their future at stake, not yours, so be sure to heed the boundary between helping and “taking over” the college application process.

DO discuss finances. And do this as frankly and early as possible. This way, your child knows what is realistic up front and won’t waste any time or energy researching colleges that, ultimately, they won’t be able to attend.

But DON’T let sticker price intimidate them. Believe it or not, financial aid might actually make a school with a higher sticker price less expensive than a competitor. Be realistic, but don’t discourage your student before you’ve done your own homework and have a sense of what is actually possible.

DO make time for campus visits. Nothing can give a student the feeling of being “at home” (or out of place) like an in-person visit to a school. Plus, these visits present valuable opportunities to learn more about the school beyond a static website or slow email correspondence. Therefore, encourage your child to visit at least a few campuses of schools they are considering, and arrange your schedule so that you can help make the visits happen.

But DON’T force your child to do anything they don’t want to do. If the impetus is not coming from them, they probably won’t get the same level of benefit out of the activity, whether it’s a campus visit, admissions interview, or applying to a school at all. Be supportive, be encouraging, but at the end of the day, let your child steer the process in whatever direction they decide is best.

Finally, DO let your child make their own decisions. Choosing a college is one of the first opportunities your child has to make adult choices, and they must live with the consequences of their choice. Therefore, step back and make sure the choice is theirs.

Educational Data Governance: Tips and Best Practices


We live in a world full of data. Everything from our name and age to our food preferences is stored in a vault or in a cloud, on some sort of server somewhere, waiting to be retrieved and pinged across the world for reasons as simple as signing in to our email account or as complex as targeting us for a vacation advertisement.

Of course, agencies tasked with collecting this data are also expected to correctly store and manage access to it, and the more sensitive the information, the greater our expectations of privacy and security are. Yet the more data there is to handle, the more difficult it can be for agencies to maintain availability, quality, and privacy of our data.

These reasons—along with others—were what motivated the government to found PTAC: The Privacy Technical Assistance Center. This “center,” or online collection of resources, provides educational agencies and institutions with guidelines and training to develop a data governance program that ensures the privacy, confidentiality, and security of students’ data from pre-school through postsecondary education and into the workforce.

But wait a minute, what exactly is a data governance program?

At its essence, a data governance program is a set of rules and procedures that determine how data should be treated from the time it is acquired (when you fill out a form, register for an account, etc.), through its use (you use your email to log on to an online account, one company sells another company their mailing list, etc.), and culminating with its disposal (your record is deleted, your account is deactivated, etc.).

The benefits of developing a strong data governance program are fourfold. The data will be more accurate (meaning that it’s thorough and reflects reality). It will be more usable (better organized, more easily accessed). It will be timelier (available without delay). And finally—arguably most importantly—it will be more secure.

According to PTAC, there are four key steps to creating and maintaining a good data governance program. These “steps” are best framed as questions.

  1. Who will be responsible for the program and for making decisions about its governance?
  2. What are the rules and methods for managing the data?
  3. How will these rules and methods be implemented?
  4. Is the program a) doing what it is meant to do, and b) being followed by all stakeholders?

If you are able to adequately answer each of these questions, then your organization probably has a solid data governance program already in place. If not, PTAC provides a guide to the 10 components that you should follow to develop a comprehensive data governance program. These components are grouped into three overarching “themes”: a) rules of engagement, b) organizational bodies and individuals, and c) data governance processes.

A. Rules of engagement

First and foremost, a data governance program needs to fit with what the organization, as a whole, is trying to achieve. Likewise, it also needs to fall in line with what stakeholders expect from the organization. And finally, it must be reasonable—that is, the organization must have the resources necessary to put such a program in place, and then to sustain it. Therefore, here are PTAC’s six primary “rules of engagement”:

  1. Mission and vision – what is the organization’s overall mission/vision, and how do the expectations of data governance play into that?
  2. Goals, governance metrics, success measures, and funding strategies – what are the goals of the data governance program, how will they be tracked and measured, and how will the program be financially supported?
  3. Data rules and definitions – what data is being collected, and how will different types of data (e.g., personally identifying data vs. anonymous data) be treated differently?
  4. Decision rights – who is permitted to make a decision about what is done with the data?
  5. Responsibilities and enforcement and compliance mechanisms – who is responsible for the implementation and success of the program, and how will its rules be enforced?
  6. Security controls for risk management – what happens in the case of a data breach or data mismanagement?

B. Organizational bodies and individuals

Next, a data governance program must address who is “in charge”—i.e., who is responsible for making sure the program is implemented efficiently and effectively—as well as the rights and responsibilities of other involved parties. These are:

  1. Data stakeholders – these include data owners and users, and their rights and/or responsibilities should be spelled out
  2. A data governance body – this committee should include management and legal representatives, along with data system administrators, data providers, data managers, privacy/security experts, and data users
  3. Data stewards – these are individuals who possess specific roles and responsibilities within the data governance program

C. Data governance processes

The final, tenth piece of the data governance program is a set of procedures for implementing and modifying the program. These procedures should specify a number of “how to’s”: how to implement the program, how to manage data over the long term, how to judge the program’s success, and how to handle cases when data quality or security is jeopardized. These “how to’s” fall into three main categories: proactive (setting standards prior to collecting any data), reactive (correcting any security policies in response to a data breach), and ongoing maintenance (regular operating procedures to keep the program intact and functioning smoothly).

If you work to incorporate these ten components into your data governance program, you will end up with a securer system that presents you with more accurate, timely, usable data. For more details, you can access the full PTAC guide here, along with plenty of other resources from the US Department of Education.

Early Action vs. Early Decision: What’s the difference . . . and should you bother?

Essays, recommendations, SATs, transcripts—getting all of these college application materials together by mid-December is no easy task. So why in the world would you want to aim for extra-early “early action” (EA) or “early decision” (ED) deadlines?

The short answer is that, for the right type of student, there are benefits to applying early. For one thing, you get your acceptance (or rejection) early! This means that you don’t have to spend months and months waiting for (and stressing over) letters of admission. You also may save time and money by submitting fewer applications; however, this only holds true if you are accepted (because otherwise, you’ll still need to send applications elsewhere). Finally, applying early could increase your chances of being accepted . . . but this is not a given.

Applying early (especially early decision) shows admissions officers that you’re serious about attending their college. This can give you a leg up, since schools like to admit applicants who are likely to accept their offer. In fact, according to a U.S. News survey, the average early acceptance rate for fall 2016 freshmen was over 16% higher than the average regular acceptance rate among colleges that reported both their early and regular acceptance rates. However, averages are not the rule, which is why, on its website, the College Board writes the following:

Many students believe applying early means competing with fewer applicants and increasing their chances for acceptance. This is not always true. Colleges vary in the proportion of the class admitted early and in the percentage of early applicants they admit.

So, in summary, there are compelling reasons to apply early. However, even despite these advantages, not every student should submit an early application. If you’re still deciding between a number of different colleges, for example, you should skip early applications and apply with the regular decision cohort. If, on the other hand, your school preference is ironclad, you’ll then need to make sure that the institution actually offers early action and/or early decision plans, because not all schools do. Last but not least, your application needs to be strong, even without your senior fall grades on your transcript.

If you’ve gone through this line of questioning, and (a) you have a strong, singular college preference, (b) that college accepts early action/decision applications, and (c) your application is strong, then applying early is probably for you. But which early application should you use: early action or early decision?

Understanding Early Action and Early Decision

Before you decide between these two tricky options, it’s important to get them straight. So to do that, let’s use a mnemonic device.

 Action = “A” for “Answer.”

In early action, you took the action to apply early, and so, as your “reward,” you will get colleges’ answers (admission decisions) early. All this means is that you will have information about acceptance/rejection earlier than you would if you applied normally; you are under no obligation to attend a school that accepts you.

There is one caveat to this claim, and that is that some schools (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Stanford) use a variation of the early action program called Single-Choice Early Action (SCEA). Also known as “restrictive early action,” this option—like regular early action—is nonbinding. However, with SCEA, you are prohibited from applying early to any other private schools until you receive a decision from the school where you applied SCEA. (You are still allowed to apply early to any public institution you want.)

Decision = “D” for “Definite.”

If you apply to a college early decision, then you’ve decided, with total certainty, that you want to attend that school. If the college admits you, this decision is binding, meaning that you must withdraw all other applications; you are definitely going to this school.

As with early action, there is one nuance to early decision. Most schools offering early decision have one deadline, in early November (typically the 1st or the 15th); however, some schools have two early decision deadlines, one in November (ED I) and one in December (ED II). The purpose of ED II is essentially to give students who want to apply early decision to their top-choice school more time to put together their application. Again, whether you apply ED I or ED II, the decision is binding.

The Early Decision Warning

One important thing to understand is that if you apply early decision, you will not be able to compare financial aid packages from various schools. Upon acceptance, you will receive your financial aid offer from that school, and you are stuck with whatever they give you. If you have no need of financial aid, then this is a non-issue. However, if financial aid is an important factor in your school decision, it is a better idea to apply early action, instead.

Early Action vs. Early Decision—How to Decide

If you’re debating between a few top-choice schools, with no clear front-runner, then early action is your best bet. Also, if financial aid is a key deciding factor, then you again will want to stick to early action. However, if you are dead-set on going to a specific college, the best way to indicate that is by applying early decision. Just remember: applying early isn’t a guarantee of admission, so make sure you have backups ready for the regular December 15th application deadline!