2018 Hawai‘i College Guide

(Sponsored) Application to Acceptance: How to find the right college, the money to pay for it, and sushi rice on the Mainland. Plus, tips from local students on everything from campus visits to going Greek.
College Guide

A message from American Savings Bank



Rich Wacker

The pursuit of higher education is a long-term investment—one that, with careful planning, can significantly advance one’s path to success. With careful planning comes much research and consideration, from determining which school is the best fit to figuring out how to pay for tuition.


American Savings Bank is pleased to partner with HONOLULU Magazine to provide a valuable resource that will help you with this major decision. It’s never too late or too early to begin planning for college, and we encourage you to visit and revisit this guide each step of the way.


At American Savings Bank, we pride ourselves on our ability to support Hawai‘i’s learners by helping to make the dreams of achieving higher education possible. Whether you are a student approaching high school graduation or an adult considering a return to college, we sincerely hope this guide helps you reach that dream.


Mālama pono,

Rich Wacker

President & Chief Executive Officer ASB logo

FB logo @americansavingsbank  IG logo @asbhawaii


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Find the College Savings Plan That Works for Your Family

American Savings Bank urges customers to go to a branch and make a plan with the advisers there.

By robbie dingeman

  College guide


Some families start saving for college the moment they know their little one is on the way, while others find themselves planning much later. We asked the local financial experts at American Savings Bank to give us the straight scoop on saving for school.


Get Some Help

First thing, talk to someone where you save your money. That’s the word from Cynthia Hermosura, the first vice president regional executive, West O‘ahu Region, for American Savings Bank. She’s had a lot of experience working with people who are saving money in all kinds of circumstances.


Her advice? Start a savings account as soon as you can, even if you’re putting in a modest amount of money. “We always try to encourage savings,” Hermosura says. “We know that it’s hard for students to save in college.”


Doing It Debt Free

How can savings pay off? Well, listen to Hermosura’s story of a pretty typical O‘ahu parent who saved every year and focused on paying off each year’s tuition: first preschool, then private school from kindergarten to grade 12, and then college.


“I have a friend who started saving when her daughter was born,” Hermosura says. “It’s not that she had a six-figure job or anything, but she was disciplined. Through wise investing and being very disciplined, she was able to pay the bill at Punahou, and four years of Johns Hopkins.”


Hermosura acknowledges that her friend’s daughter worked hard, and got grants and scholarships to help: “Her daughter is very bright. She loves academics. Everything really clicked and fell into place.” But it took the teamwork of her mom’s focused savings and the daughter’s determination to make it happen.

  College guide graduation

Photo: Bigstock


Find Out Your Financial Options

Hermosura says the best thing to do is go over your family finances with a financial adviser who can sort through the options. Some accounts offer tax deferrals and state tax breaks to help, “because the cost of college, that can be crazy,” she says.


And if you haven’t been able to save enough to cover tuition, there are other good options, she says. “A lot of our customers tap into the equity of their home—their biggest asset. They’ll take out a line of credit or a loan.”


This is also a good option for families who haven’t been able to save a lot. Interest rates are normally very low. And homeowners may be able to take a tax deduction on the interest they pay.


Loans That Pay Off

Hermosura says one of the best ways for college students to establish credit is through secured credit cards or secured loans. That means, if they want a $500 limit card, they have to put $500 in an account. Pay it responsibly and pay it on time, and then they’ll have an unsecured card.


She advises students to use credit cards wisely: “Pay it in full when you can; never pay just the minimum. And try not to max out the line, that’s also a sign that there’s some trouble there.”


Proving you can use credit responsibly can lead to a high rating, Hermosura says, which “can be better than money in the bank.”


At American Savings, she advises families to go to a bank and talk to a personal banker or manager. “They can help uncover their needs and their dreams and help them with their resources,” Hermosura says. “We know customers are so in the day-to-day-workaday world, they don’t even think they can have dreams.”


Hermosura has worked at the bank for more than 38 years: “I started out as a teller and I just love what we do. We really see that we have an impact on people’s lives and it really feels good.”



Surviving College

You’ve been accepted—now what?

By Ashley Mizuo

  HPU college guide

Photo: Courtesy of Hawai‘i Pacific University


Surviving Dorm Life: Hawai‘i Edition

  • Bring your favorite Hawai‘i snacks—think li hing mui, kaki mochi, hurricane popcorn, furikake—that will be hard, if not impossible, to find on the Mainland.

  • Buy winter clothes on the Mainland. The sweaters and jackets sold here are usually expensive and not thick enough. The best time to buy winter clothes is during the spring—that’s when it all goes on sale—and take advantage of the college-student discounts at stores such as Madewell, J.Crew and Top Shop.

  • Buy your bedding when you arrive at your destination, or use Bed, Bath & Beyond’s Pack and Hold program: You pay for everything at your local store and pick it up at a Bed, Bath & Beyond near your school at no extra cost.

  • Buy your microwave and rent your refrigerator—chances are, after your first or second year, you’ll move off campus and use a regular-size fridge anyway.

  • Skip the large bottle of detergent and buy the bag of pods instead. You’ll thank yourself when you’re carrying your clothes to a laundry room. Also, if you don’t already do your laundry, make sure you learn how a washing machine works before you get to college. No one wants to be that kid in the laundry room.

  • Be sure to check what types of appliances are allowed in the dorms. If you can, bring a rice cooker—Costco on the Mainland still sells medium-grain rice for making musubi.


Going Greek?

The Good:

  • Joining a sorority or a fraternity is a quick way to make friends and find a sense of community at your school. Greek life offers many unique social opportunities, such as mixers and formal dances.

  • Upper classmen will often save their notes from old classes for the underclassmen to use, which means there will almost always be someone to help you study.

  • Networking is a big part of Greek life. It is common for members to recommend their fellow brothers or sisters for internships and jobs.

  • From fundraising to volunteering, there will be many unique opportunities to help in the community through a sorority or a fraternity.


The Bad:

  • Being in a sorority or fraternity carries a pretty big financial burden—especially if it requires you to live in a house. There are semester dues that can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the school.

  • Greek life is a big time commitment. There are weekly chapter meetings that can last hours, and other obligations such as team-building retreats that can last overnight.

  • Being in a sorority or a fraternity carries stigma. If you’re getting hazed, that’s not OK—drop out and report the organization to the school immediately.

  College guide library

Photo: Bigstock


Making Money

  • To secure an on-campus job, most colleges will require you to qualify for federal work-study, so filling out the FAFSA is extremely important.

  • Most schools have an employment portal to find on-campus jobs—use it and apply early. Once school starts, most of the jobs will be taken.

  • Front-desk jobs at the library or dorm halls are helpful because managers will almost always let you study during your shift as long as you don’t let it interfere with your tasks. Study and make money? Score.


Mainland College Resources in Hawai‘i

  • Pacific University in Oregon has a Honolulu office—located at 677 Ala Moana Blvd.—catering specifically to Hawai‘i students and their families.

  • Oregon State University has an admissions adviser living full-time in Hawai‘i. He can be reached by email at matthew.ogawa@oregonstate.edu.

  • Mainland college recruiters will often come to Hawai‘i to talk to some high schools. If you are interested in a college and you’re unsure if representatives will be coming to your school, get in touch with the university over the summer to see when and if someone from the admissions office is coming to Hawai‘i. If they are, reach out and try to schedule a meeting.


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Preparing for College in High School

A student’s involvement sets the foundation for college acceptance—and beyond. Here’s how to build that foundation with strength and purpose.

By Kathryn Drury Wagner

  College guide

Photos: Bigstock


Chess Club. Mock Trial. The school newspaper. Chinese Club. Volleyball. Sign up for it all! Not so fast. It’s not the number of activities students do in high school that counts, experts say. Think quality over quantity. “And whatever you choose, do it consistently,” says Amy Prince, a school counselor at Southampton High School, in Southampton, New York. “It’s what you’re engaged with actively. Somebody might do 40 hours of community service, but was it 40 hours over one week during a church mission, and the other 51 weeks of the year they did nothing?” Compare that to a student who volunteers with, say, Best Buddies, helping people with developmental disabilities, once a week, all year.


“When students can demonstrate they have had consistent involvement and that they are leaders within the organizations, we get excited about their potential to contribute positively on our campus,” says Mark Cortez, associate director, Outreach and Recruitment, Office of Enrollment Services Undergraduate Admissions at Ohio State University. “This doesn’t have to just be school activities; we want students to think broadly about experiences like community opportunities and/or work experiences. They each add something a little different and that is what we consider.”   

  College guide


Connect the Dots

Students should seek out areas where they can take on leadership roles. “That doesn’t always mean being the president of a club or its founder,” says Prince. “What events did you organize? If you’re just listing on your application that you were a member—what does that mean to an admissions officer? Define your role. Now, in ninth or 10th grade, there aren’t a lot of leadership roles but, if you stick with it, you rise up to captain or co-captain in an athletic setting, or treasurer or president in a group; this shows the qualities colleges are seeking within their own school’s population.”


Schools can tell from a mile away when an applicant is trying to build a résumé out of nothing, grabbing onto 15 random activities. If, on the other hand, a student is involved with Model UN and student government and Girls Learn International, the school can see a pattern and a purpose.


According to Prince, students should use ninth and 10th grade for experimentation, to find out what they are most interested in, and then hone in. Remember that “colleges and universities have seniors graduating and need to fill leadership roles or spark something new,” Prince points out. For an athletic program, they may need a new quarterback; for an orchestra, a new cellist. “It’s not like they put an ad out: ‘Hey, we need a cellist,’ but it’s part of the thought process,” she says. “I think one of the reasons I got into the college I did, York College of Pennsylvania, was that I had been a DJ for a high school radio station and they had a radio station that needed a manager.”

  College guide


Choosing Coursework

Even though AP coursework is a great opportunity, again think quality over quantity. Consider your strengths and your goals. For example, someone interested in engineering might not want to take AP literature, but, instead, explore an engineering program, even without an AP label attached to it. “Schools are trying to figure out: What drives the student?” says Prince. “If you want to be pre-med, and haven’t done well in science or math, maybe that’s not a realistic goal. That’s a student who is going to change major.” Think about classes that are genuine passions, things that can extend into interests in college. Otherwise, Prince warns, “students become machines of cranking out grades and don’t find what resonates with them.”


Finishing Strong Senior Year 

Students should avoid giving in to senioritis, or playing what Prince calls, “a game of academic chicken.” That’s when seniors try to find the line of how little effort they can put in. “It’s not a good game to play,” she says. “If you were a 90 student, you should stay a 90 student, even in senior year. Schools are still watching.” There is some wiggle room, of course. For example, if a student is challenging him- or herself with AP physics, he or she might not get a 90, and schools will understand that.


Also, “We encourage students to stay in a foreign language, and recommend electives. It’s free in high school!” says Prince. “Electives cost a lot of money in college. Take advantage. A lot of the AP and honors-level kids haven’t gotten to take a lot of electives,” she says.


Last, remember that being engaged doesn’t stop after college acceptance. “Once they get on campus we expect that students will be actively involved, as doing so contributes to their social and academic success,” says Cortez. “As students work to discover their passions in college, they are doing this with [other] students who are diverse in majors, experiences and backgrounds. This discovery stage leads to rich experiences where students can learn from those around them and, in most cases, benefit.”


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Tips for Nontraditional Students

You’ve got this! Don’t be intimidated. Yet, considerations for nontraditional students are different from those entering colleges or universities right out of high school. Let’s tackle some of the issues.

By Kathryn Drury Wagner

  College guide

Photo: Courtesy of Hawai‘i Medical College


The definition of nontraditional students is broad, and actually varies from school to school. It might indicate ages 25 and up, or ages 30 and up, or have other factors attached, such as marital status, military service or whether someone has previously entered and left undergrad programs. And, anyway, “It’s a bit of misnomer,” says Tom Kaplan, the dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Wittenberg University, in Springfield, Ohio. “It’s at odds with the idea of lifelong learning. We’re looking to ways to open the doorway wider between traditional and nontraditional status.”


Overall, people are taking longer to graduate, and a rise in nontraditional students is part of this trend. After all, life happens. “People might struggle when they are 19 and come back when they are 25,” says Kaplan. Other students are working professionals who also have to juggle family responsibilities, whether elder care or child care.


Finding the Right Fit—and Balance

Some nontraditional students lack confidence, concerned, perhaps, that they struggled earlier in their academic journey. Others worry that technology has changed too much, or that they will be stigmatized due to their age. Remember that you have things to offer, too. “You have greater self-discipline, perspective and drive,” says Kaplan. “Going to school isn’t an idle decision, so know that you can do this.”


However, be realistic. “We talk a lot about tradeoffs,” says Kaplan. “Time, money and stress. Overall fulfillment.” He warns against rushing through school. After all, traditional students can cut down on extracurricular pursuits, but, for adults, life is less malleable. You can stop going to a club, but kids and a job? Not so much. “Think about what constraints you have with money and with time, ensuring that school does not become so heavy a burden that it is no longer sustainable,” he says.


When looking at programs, don’t forget to also assess the tools and resources that will be there to support your academic and career success, whether skills coaching, leadership programs or networking opportunities.


Online Only?

There’s a stereotype that nontraditional students only use online programs, but there are a multitude of options, including in-person and online classes, and expanded programs, including hybrids of on-campus and off-campus classes. Of course, “Fully online education can provide working professionals and nontraditional students with a more flexible schedule by allowing them to drive the times in which they are online,” says Vincent Del Casino Jr., vice president for Academic Initiatives and Student Success at the University of Arizona. “We see it in so many industries, where an on-demand model has taken hold and I think higher ed is certainly trending in that direction,” he says.


Think Outside the Degree

It’s not just about getting a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. “We’ve seen that there’s a need for things like Applied Science degrees and certificate programs,” says Del Casino. “If you’re a working professional and you’re looking to increase your marketability in the workplace, you may not need to get a full MBA,” he says, but could take advantage of other programs. He cites a University of Arizona Coding Bootcamp that teaches the essentials of web development as an example, or Adobe Creative Cloud Fast Track. “There are a lot of options.”


When it comes to the final decision, nontraditional and traditional students are exactly the same: It’s all about finding the best fit for you.

  UH Kapolei



Types of Colleges

There are nearly 5,000 post-secondary schools in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But that doesn’t mean they all fall into the same category. Let’s take a look at what the differences are.

By Kathryn Drury Wagner



Nonprofits can receive funding from multiple sources, such as donors and local government. Nonprofits tend to have a wider variety of programs available.

  Private college


  • Funding comes from student tuition and endowments, as well as some aid from the government in forms of student loans and tax breaks.

  • Leadership of the institution is a board of trustees.

  • Since they are relying on private support, these schools can develop their own institutional plans.

  • They have higher average costs than public nonprofit schools, but also often offer financial aid opportunities.

  Public college


  • The majority of funding comes from state or local taxes. Other funding is made up from tuition and endowments.

  • They have performance standards to meet that are set by the state.

  • They are mostly state-run and have lower tuition for in-state residents. New York, by the way, just became the first state to offer free tuition for residents. Families and people making up to $125,000 per year will qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges, starting in fall 2017. The program will phase in over three years.


For Profit/Trade Schools 

They offer education as a service, often in specific disciplines, and are owned by a private corporation.

  For profit college

  • The bulk of their funding—up to 90 percent—is via federal student aid.

  • They often have flexible programs, designed for people working or taking care of a family, and have programs designed to help students finish their degrees quickly.

  • For-profit schools tend to have very specific programs on offer, so can be a good option if you know what you want to study.


College guideGood News on Tuition Costs

According to Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal, tuition is growing at the slowest pace it has in decades. In an interview with NPR, he noted that, over the past year, it’s been growing at about 1.9 percent, or roughly in line with inflation. Since 1990, the trend had been far more accelerated: a galloping 6 percent on average, per year.


What’s a Land-Grant College?

Created by the Morrill Act of 1862 signed by Abraham Lincoln, land-grant colleges were an important step in the development of America’s public colleges and universities, and gave access to higher education to the middle class. The Morrill Act gave public lands to states and territories that they were to sell in order to fund new schools specializing in “agriculture and the mechanic arts” (A&M schools). A second Morrill Act in 1890 extended appropriations, and added funding for predominantly African American colleges and Native American colleges. Eventually, 106 land-grant schools were established, most of them public. A few notable examples include Cornell, the University of Delaware and MIT. Know any land-grant schools in Hawai‘i? Why, yes, you do: the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.


College guide UH


Is This School Accredited?

Whether or not a school is accredited—that is, meets certain standards—becomes especially important if a student transfers and needs to move credits. There are six accreditation organizations, each of which handles different regions of the country. For example, Hawai‘i and California are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, while a school in Pennsylvania would be accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The U.S. Department of Education provides a database of accredited post-secondary institutions and programs; visit ope.ed.gov/accreditation.

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Ready, Set, College

HONOLULU Magazine's annual guide to navigating the road to college.

  HPU college guide

Photo: Courtesy of Hawai‘i Pacific University


Time flies when you’re parenting, and it seems we go from talking about the Tooth Fairy one minute to having serious conversations about college the next. The opportunities provided by higher education—economic, social and psychological—are enormous, but the task of finding the right school can seem just as huge. Soaring tuition costs have raised the stakes, and there’s a lot more college pressure on young people than there was just a few decades ago. But, with research, patience and organization, you can definitely come up with a strategy that works for your family.


“It’s never too early to start looking, even freshman or sophomore year,” says Mō‘ili‘ili resident Pamela Funai, who just completed the college search process for the second time. “If you go on family vacations or the kid has the opportunity to travel, take half the day to go see a school in that city just to see what it’s like. After a while they all start to look the same, but you’ll get a better sense of where the student wants to be.”


Her son, Thomas Ikeda, is a senior at the University of  British Columbia at Vancouver. “The program they have—a forestry program—is perfect for him,” says Funai. “I mean, they have a farm on campus.”


Funai’s daughter, Madeline Ikeda, is beginning her freshman year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. “She’s going to play softball, so she became interested in seeing the school because they were interested in her,” says Funai. “Having the chance to stay there in the dorm with some of the other students helped her make her decision.”


Funai and her family have learned the importance of being proactive during a college search. Bits of advice from a veteran? Complete essays and scholarship applications the summer before senior year. Visit colleges during vacations or on trips with a team, even if you don’t want to go to school there. Visiting colleges in different areas has given her children the chance to get a feel for what environment they are looking for. “If the kid feels good about being at the school, that makes it a whole lot easier,” says Funai. “They know what to expect, they’re not going someplace completely brand new.”


According to Malia Kau, a college counselor at Radford High School, students are applying to an average of seven schools. “Have two ‘reach’ schools, schools they’ve always dreamt of attending. Have two ‘guaranteed I’m going to get in’ schools, and then three in that middle range,” she says. “We aren’t just talking about the academic range, but also looking at cost.”


The key is to start early with your strategy, around the freshman year of high school. “Encourage your child to do what they love, but to also give back with that talent or gift,” says Donna Finley, who has a private college counseling practice in San Diego. “Maybe your child is great at soccer and she or he can give classes to underprivileged kids. It’s not always about the résumé. It’s about being a good human being. And, hopefully, the side effect is finding a good school and something they want to study.”

  College guide graduation

Photo: Courtesy of UH West O‘ahu


Financial Aid

The parents and education experts we talked to agree on one thing: It’s critical to involve teens in the financial conversation from early on. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and not look at the financial realities. “College is ridiculously expensive, especially for kids coming from Hawai‘i. It’s important to find out what the price tag is and what resources they have to minimize the cost,” says Kellee Hearther, a mother in the midst of a college-search process for the second time. “I’ve spent hours and hours on the internet myself looking for scholarships.”


The biggest provider of student aid in the country is the office of Federal Student Aid, which handles loans, grants and work-study programs to the tune of $150 billion each year. Other sources include state aid, aid from colleges and aid from nonprofits and private organizations, like Rotary or Lions clubs.


All students should start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which takes about half an hour to fill out online once you gather tax returns and other pertinent documents. The application will also be shared with the financial-aid offices of the colleges listed on the application, so the colleges can figure out what aid they want to offer. Colleges look at the cost of attending the school, subtract the expected family contribution, and that indicates the financial need. Applications are available each year in early January at fafsa.gov. Important note: FAFSA applications need to be filled out each year a student is in college.


Anywhere from three days to three weeks after filing, the office of Federal Student Aid sends you a Student Aid Report. Look this over closely to make sure everything is correct. From there, a college can send you an aid offer, either on paper or electronically.


Don’t discount the possibility of independent scholarships. Mid-Pacific Institute graduate Lamar Carter, for example, armed with his FAFSA application, landed one of only 10 scholarships offered annually by the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) that not only pays for his entire undergraduate tuition at UH Mānoa, but also guarantees admission to the School of Medicine when he graduates. Many students would have been happy to call it a day at that point, but Carter had also used his FAFSA results to pursue a wide range of independent scholarships. “There were organizations giving out anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $2,000,” he says. “I wouldn’t get any of the scholarships I didn’t apply to, and there’s no harm in applying, so it just made sense.”


However, it’s important to note that scholarship money is available even if you’re not at the top of your class. “Growing up, you think, oh, scholarships are for the top, smart people and you don’t think you’re worthy of them, but there are so many scholarships, you just have to look,” says Hearther’s daughter, Jamie, a senior at Radford High School.

  College guide UH

Photo: Courtesy of University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa


Nationwide (but not federal)

Nearly 300 colleges, universities and scholarship programs use the College Board Scholarship Service application, called CSS/PROFILE, to determine to whom they’ll grant aid. The application is different from FAFSA and takes between 45 minutes and two hours to complete. There is a fee to file this application, so only do so if the school(s) or scholarship programs of your choice are asking for it. It’s $25 for one college or program; additional reports are $16.


State level

In 2015, the University of Hawai‘i Foundation gave nearly $40 million in student aid to help students attend the UH system. “The bulk of our students are still first-generation kids or of minority/immigrant status, so the need for scholarships is particularly great,” says Donna Vuchinich, the president and CEO of the UH Foundation. She recommends using the organization’s database, found at uhfoundation.org, to “slice and dice it” to see what financial aid might be a good fit. She has two pieces of advice. One, if a student is enrolling in a community college, ensure she or he is taking at least 15 credits. “If kids don’t take that many credits, they don’t tend to do as well.” Second, apply early: “November and December for summer scholarships; February through May for fall. Don’t wait until you graduate to start looking.”


The Hawai‘i Community Foundation administers more than 200 scholarship funds and annually awards $4.5 million in student aid for students bound for college locally or on the Mainland. “We begin the process in November, and encourage families to start early,” says Eric La‘a, the senior development officer at HCF. “The application process is quite extensive.” The good news? The platform is set up so students can be matched with more than one scholarship. But the number of applicants has increased significantly in recent years, so apply as early as you can.


Students who are of Hawaiian ancestry may be eligible for scholarships, ranging from $500 to $4,000, through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). Visit oha.org/scholarships for information on the two OHA programs, and a downloadable guide with information on additional scholarships, financial aid resources and support services for Hawaiian students.

  College guide HPU




When it came time to find a college, Le Jardin Academy parent Jennifer Souza let her daughter, Taylor, a freshman at Linfield College, take the reins. “Let them have ownership of it,” she says. “Don’t try to do it and apply to schools you want them to apply to.”


U.S. News and Forbes are helpful resources for comparing schools. Websites such as cappex.com can help inform you of what your chances are of getting in.


The Souza family incorporated college visits into vacations, and, when Taylor traveled for volleyball, her team would take some time to visit a college in the area.


“I wish that some of my friends took more control of their application process rather than their parents,” says Taylor Souza. “When you ask them, ‘Why are you applying to this school?’ and they say, ‘I don’t know, my parents want me to apply there,’ that won’t work. If you don’t have a reason you want to go there, you’re not going to enjoy it.”


Taylor Souza applied to 13 colleges and was accepted to 12. The only college she was not accepted to was her “reach” school. She advises other students to not be too disappointed if they receive a rejection. “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” she says. “Admissions directors know their schools, and the application process is so complex that, just reading your answers to these questions, they can tell what kind of person you are. So, if they don’t think you’re a good fit, there’s probably a reason for it.”

  College guide nursing students



The Common Application

More than 500 colleges and universities, including some schools abroad, accept the Common Application. That’s a lot of schools, and can save you time on not having to fill out what feels like 413 applications. However, check with every college to which you’re applying to ensure they accept the Common Application. Use the Common Application at commonapp.org.


The Essay

Colleges and universities are most interested in grades and scores, but essays can be a tiebreaker. It’s similar to a job application: The résumé is like the application, and the essay is more like a job interview, a human connection. Here are some helpful tips:


  • Parents should not write their children’s essays for them, but should help proofread.

  • Skip the story about volunteering abroad. It’s become a cliché.

  • Google the school of interest, plus “essays that worked.”

  • The website inlikeme.com, which focuses on college applications, has a lot of resources on essay writing.

  College guide students



Should you hire a college counselor?

Jamie Hearther turned to counselor Kau and Radford’s College and Career Research Center’s staff. “I don’t feel the need to leave that room,” she says. “I could probably do the entire college application process right there in that room with those amazing women.”


Kau meets at least once with every high school senior at Radford, but shares her college expertise with any student. “I wish all of our students and parents knew about it,” she says. “It’s really a service open to everybody no matter what grade they’re in, no matter what they want to do in their future.”


But some counselors are simply overwhelmed. “Nationally the average is 400 students per counselor; that’s why people turn to independent educational consultants,” says Donna Finley, who has a private college counseling practice based in San Diego. She works with students as early as freshman and sophomore year, helping with course selection, extracurricular activities and developing career interests. “Kids used to think they had to be well-rounded. Now, it’s go deeper, instead of wider.” She works with juniors on applications, essays, college selection and financial aid options.


Some consultants charge hourly, others have a package price. Visit the Independent Educational Consultants Association at iecaonline.com to find a consultant.

  College guide chaminade

Photo: Courtesy of Chaminade University


Western Undergraduate Exchange Program

Hey, neighbor! Can I get a kama‘āina discount? Actually, you can. The Western Undergraduate Program allows students from 15 western states, plus the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, to attend colleges and universities at 150 percent of the school’s in-state tuition, rather than at an out-of-state rate. There are more than 150 institutions participating; check the database at wiche.edu/wue/students. But there are loopholes, too. Some colleges require a certain ACT or SAT test score, others limit the number of program participants each year, and still others only feature it for certain majors. There is no separate application process; it’s part of the regular process and you check off the WUE box. Our advice? Apply early and check with the admissions office for the institution you want to attend for more details.


Making the Most of Your College Visits

Since road trips from Hawai‘i can’t happen, it can be challenging for families to tour Mainland colleges. But if you can afford a trip, there are two schools of thought: Go before the application process, to narrow down choices, or go after acceptance, to aid in the final decision-making. The costs of college tours are not tax deductible, but, if parents can piggyback a legitimate work trip onto the college visit, that may be a way to cut down the costs of airfare, hotels and a rental car.


Viewpoint: go before

“If you can physically visit, visit—if you can afford it,” says Hearther. “It can rule out spending money on applications for universities that your kid probably isn’t going to like.” She points out that all college brochures have beautiful pictures of their school, and you don’t realize how physically big or small a school is until
you visit.


“If a family takes a trip to Los Angeles for a family vacation freshman year, I would definitely tell them to take a look at a couple of campuses where they’re at,” says Radford’s Kau. “Even if it’s just to get a feel for what colleges have to offer.” The Hearther family recently came back from visiting family in Montana and decided to take a look at Montana State University. It wasn’t Jamie Hearther’s first choice, but after visiting she was impressed and said it’s going on her college list.


Lamar Carter says doing a site visit really helped clarify the decision he had to make between two schools. He was considering the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, and took a guided tour of the Baltimore, Maryland, campus to get a better sense of the school. “I had a host student and stayed in one of the dorm rooms for two nights,” he says. “There were activities, and all the admitted students got a chance to know each other. I had been feeling a little paranoia about getting into that competitive of a university, especially in such a different environment from Hawai‘i. But, after going there, you see that people are just like you. They’re humans, they bleed blood.”


Carter ended up deciding against Johns Hopkins, in favor of UH Mānoa and the John A. Burns School of Medicine, but says he’s glad he was able to make a choice based on the full set of facts, rather than assumptions about a school he had never seen in person.


“I think it’s always good to visit colleges as early as possible to get a feel for what a college campus is like,” says Kau. If you can’t make it for a tour, take advantage of the opportunities to meet with college representatives when they visit the Islands, and contact the school to see if you can talk with current students, ideally those who came from Hawai‘i.


For visits to local colleges such as UH, Chaminade, HPU and the community colleges, work with the admissions office prior to a visit. Sometimes there are open house days, other times, you can set up a tour of campus and housing. Feel free to ask to meet with someone from the department you’re interested in to get a feel for the program and faculty.

  College guide bees

Photo: Courtesy of University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa


Viewpoint: go after acceptance

“Why would I spend $1,000 going to a school that my kid might not even get into?” says Lillian Klein, a mother of three children who have gotten into college. “This is a strategic mission. You can wait and do your visit when you have choices, once you have acceptance.” In the meantime, she and her daughters researched schools online. “Look at the message boards, communicate with parents whose kids are at the school. You can get a sense of the flavor of the student body.”


Another way to get a feel for a college campus without physically visiting is by taking a virtual tour online. Marissa Lum, a 2015 Castle grad now attending UH Mānoa, was unable to visit the Mainland schools she was considering due to extracurricular activities she was taking part in this past spring. Instead of flying to California, she looked up the schools online. “It didn’t really matter the size of the school. The location mattered somewhat, if there were things to do around campus,” she says. The website campustours.com has stats on nearly 1,300 schools, with links directly to each school’s virtual tours and campus maps.


Lum also says it really helped her get to know some of the schools when she met with representatives here in Hawai‘i, since talking to a real person was more important to her than the scenery. In the end, Lum chose UH for a number of reasons, including saving money in case she wants to attend a Mainland university for grad school. And she’d been to Mānoa on multiple occasions, including field trips and a two-week summer program during which she got to live in a dorm, which inspired her to live on campus. “It’s definitely a good experience,” she says. “You get to know all the people around you.”

  College guide graduation

Photo: Courtesy of Chaminade University


Helpful Websites

  • Come up with a big-picture plan at the nonprofit College Board’s website, bigfuture.collegeboard.org, or knowhow2go.org, which helps middle and high school students prep for the college route.

  • College Navigator is a resource provided by the U.S. Department of Education. It has the scoop on every college in the country, with data on admissions, retention, graduation rates and financial aid. Narrow down choices, build a list of favorites for side-by-side comparisons and create your own interactive maps and spreadsheets. nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator

  • U.S. News & World Report has a College Compass service ($30/year) that has profiles of 1,600 schools, including data on campus life, sports and financial aid. usnews.com/usnews/store/college_compass.htm

  • The forums on College Confidential are renowned for providing information on what’s really happening on U.S. campuses. collegeconfidential.com

  • The National Association for College Admission Counseling has an extensive offering of resources for students and parents, including schedules of college fairs and downloadable guides like “Applying for Financial Aid in 7 Easy Steps.” nacacnet.org

  • If obstacles feel insurmountable, visit youcango.collegeboard.org, with success stories for students who overcame challenges getting into college—and resources to help others to do the same.



Timeline to Success

College guide timeline

Finding and getting accepted to the right college or university is actually a four-year process. That may sound daunting, but take each step one at a time and stay organized, and you’ll be fine. Here’s how to manage the road to college admission:


9th Grade

  • Enroll in challenging classes.

  • Keep grades up.

  • Get involved in extracurricular activities.

  • Explore potential career paths.

  • Set up a college savings plan.

  • Develop good time-management skills.

  College guide

Photo: Thinkstock


10th Grade

  • Try some AP classes.

  • Take a practice Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) in October (this year, it’s Oct. 11, 14 and 25). Juniors qualify to compete for the National Merit Scholarship Program, but younger students can take it for practice. collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt

  • Consider volunteering during the summer.

  • Visit campuses while traveling, just to get a sense of what type of college appeals to you. Small? Big? Public? Private?


Photo: Courtesy of Chaminade University


11th Grade

  • In October or early November, take the PSAT/NMSQT.

  • Sign up to take the ACT or SAT. Colleges usually accept either one, but check with where you’re interested. Many students will take the test once as a junior and again as a senior. Is it worth taking it twice? According to ACT, 57 percent of students increased their Composite score on the retest.

  • Visit campuses if possible.

  • Attend college fairs and network with the college representatives.

  Test sheet

Photo: Bigstock


12th Grade

  •  In the fall, repeat the ACT/SAT tests. Sign up for the SAT Subject Tests, if appropriate. Send in scores.

  • Gather teacher and other personal recommendations. Send thank yous afterward!

  • Narrow down the list, but have at least four to eight schools to apply to.

  • Draft your essay. Leave enough time for at least two people to read it and comment.

  • Check all due dates at the colleges you want to attend; they vary by institution and you don’t want to miss anything.


  • November: Hawai‘i Community Foundation opens its scholarship application process. Check hawaiicommunityfoundation.org for updated deadlines.

  • Early January: FAFSA forms become available. The online FAFSA application must be submitted by June 30, 2018. However, many colleges will require this earlier. Complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to find more scholarship options.

  • February/March: The deadline for financial aid applications at most colleges.

  • March: Many colleges send out acceptance letters during this month.

  • May 1: Many colleges require that you reply with your intent to enroll by this date.


Procrastinators, beware!

If you need to turn something in by midnight of a deadline day, make sure it’s in by midnight of that time zone, not HST.



Standardized Tests


SAT/SAT Subject Tests

The nationally administered SAT tests reading, writing and math and is used to test how ready a student is for college. The SAT Subject Tests are also used by colleges for admission consideration, particularly for certain majors, and to help with course placement. For bilingual students, the Subject Tests are also an excellent opportunity to show off mastery in another language, like Mandarin, Japanese or Korean. For more, go to sat.collegeboard.org/home.


The SAT underwent a revamp in early 2016, notes Denise Yamamoto, the college and career counselor at Mililani High School. “There was a revision in 2005 with the writing component; now they are making the writing component optional again and kind of following what the ACT is doing. The SAT [used to] penalize you for guessing, but with the revision, they aren’t going to penalize you for guessing.” For more on the changes that took place in spring 2016, visit collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/inside-the-test/compare-old-new-specifications.


Registration deadlines are typically a month ahead of the test. Test dates are as follows: Oct. 7, Nov. 4, Dec. 2, March 10, May 5, June 2 collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/dates-deadlines



The ACT is a national college admissions exam that includes English, math, reading and science questions. The ACT Plus Writing includes a 30-minute writing test, which is required by some colleges and not others. In Hawai‘i, the state picks up the cost of taking the ACT test for all juniors, says Yamamoto. To register, visit actstudent.org


Upcoming ACT Test Dates:

Oct. 28 (register by Sept. 22; late registration until Oct. 6)

Dec. 9 (register by Nov. 3)

Feb. 10 (register by Jan. 12)

April 14 (register by March 9)

June 9 (register by May 4)

July 14 (register by June 15)


No cell phonesDO bring a current photo ID issued by a city/state/federal government agency or the high school, as well as printed test ticket and calculator.

DON’T bring a cell phone to an SAT test; they are prohibited. ACT test sites allow cell phones if they are turned off and placed out of reach.



Crunching the Numbers at UH Mānoa

(2016–2017 school year)



In-state tuition (average)



Nonresident tuition (average)



Western Undergraduate Exchange rate



Pacific Island Exemption rate






Room and board (average)



(schoolsoup.com) is an online database with information on 250,000 scholarships. Browse by state to see what is available to Hawai‘i students. Click on “Scholarships by Race/Minority” to see what is available for students who are of Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Asian-American or Vietnamese descent.


AppUse an app, like Scholly Scholarship Search or SAIL, to sniff out opportunities. SAIL is 99 cents, while Scholly requires a $2.99 account.


Additional reporting by Ashley Mizuo


Bright Lights, Big City

Here’s what it was like for a born-and-raised Hawai‘i girl to move to the Mainland for college.

By Ashley Mizuo

  Ashley Mizuo

Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Mizuo


Far away and few Hawai‘i people: That’s what I told my college counselor about what kind of college I was looking for. I thought I would go to college on the Mainland and never look back. I thought Hawai‘i would just become a place I lived, a conversation starter. In August 2014, I left Hawai‘i to attend Loyola University Chicago.


I moved into Mertz Hall, the most infamous dorm on campus. It was 19 floors of college freshmen reeking of excitement, nervousness and newfound freedom. The dorm even had the catch phrase, “Mertz till it hurtz.” I chose to let the university randomly match me with a roommate based on a survey. When my roommate and I met, we both quickly realized we had very little in common. It was as if the university saw our surveys and matched us because we were opposites. She was impeccably neat, quiet, woke up early and slept early. I woke up late. I slept late. I could be pretty loud and I was (am) on the messier side. Let’s just say, we didn’t have a lot to talk about.


When my parents left, I could feel my heart sinking, realizing I got exactly what I wanted: I was alone in a big city. I never felt lonelier standing at the curb, holding a box of leftover deep-dish pizza, watching my family drive away in a black rental car.


When I walked back to my floor, I noticed that a room two doors down from mine was open. I thought, I have no friends anyway. So I walked to the open door and said hi to the two girls who lived there. We decided to join a cluster of people playing Cards Against Humanity in the lobby. The next day, a bunch of us went to the dining hall for dinner together. Of those people, five of them became my best friends in college and probably my best friends for life.


I was busiest my sophomore year of college. At that time, I played for the club Ultimate Frisbee Team, joined a sorority, wrote for my school paper, was the online editor of the school’s social justice magazine, worked at the library 12 hours a week and took 18 credit hours. Working at the library was the best because I could study at the same time. To say I was stressed was an understatement.


I studied abroad in Rome the first semester of junior year. It was a magical time. I had very few responsibilities and the whole world (at least most of Europe) was available to me. I felt happy and free. When I returned to Chicago, I decided to quit playing Frisbee, writing for the paper and working at the library. Instead, I began my first paid internship. Not only did I realize that I completely overextended myself the year before, I realized that it wasn’t about how many things I was involved in. It was about how much effort I put into them.


I’m beginning my senior year of college and I can’t help but feel nostalgic. The past three years have been the best time of my life: the friends, the opportunities, the stress, all of it. Surprise, I miss home every single day. I miss the looming green mountains, the scorching sunlight and the quiet of my small Kāne‘ohe neighborhood. Home is not a place you can leave behind. It’s OK to miss it. Chicago became a second home and my friends became my second family, but there’s no place like Hawai‘i. One of my roommates is from Hawai‘i. We talk about home every day and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I may not come home right after college, but Hawai‘i is not just a place I lived. It is not just a conversation starter. It is my home. It just took me moving 4,000 miles away to realize it.


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