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Financial Realities of College-how much do you share?

     

 “The Financial Realities Of College:

How Much Should YOUR Child Know Before Starting?

As summer is in full swing it may become more and more challenging for families to think about preparing for college.  We mentioned last month, planning for college is about having conversations.  Be sure to include the reality of college expense.   Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, these financial details are often ignored… and both parents and students can be guilty in this regard.  This can definitely have a detrimental  effect on their levels of financial, academic, and personal stress during the college experience.

We understand fully that preparing for college or university studies can be stressful, in many ways.  Perhaps because of this reality, there can be a tendency for people to want to ignore some of the more challenging topics related to the transition to the next level of education.  However, ignoring these topics does not make them disappear.  By the same token, if only the parents (or, more rarely, only the students) are involved in these preparations, then it is not a team effort and there can be miscommunications and problems further down the road.  Our experience has been that it is absolutely vital for parents and students to have a mutual understanding of how things are proceeding for college preparation.

For this month’s newsletter, then, we want to explain a few of the most important elements that new college students (and high school students) should understand when it comes to starting their experience in higher education.  Yes, there will be a lot of students in their peer group – far too many, in our experience – who have no idea about these things.  However, rest assured that this lack of knowledge will more than likely become something that will come back to haunt them in the end.

As college funding professionals – and people who deal with these things on a daily basis – we want to help you and your family to experience a smooth transition into and through college or university studies.  We have a special skill set and will be happy to assist in any way possible with your family’s plans in this regard.

 Be Clear From the Beginning
Culturally, we tend to have many “taboo” subjects in the US. Depending on the individual, they may range from religion to sex to money. The subject of money, in particular when it comes to higher education, can get families into deep water if not dealt with from the very beginning with honesty and clarity.
How to pay for college should be a family discussion. This is a subject that should take center stage when getting ready to choose a school. It will have a lot to do with the choices your child will be able to make about where to go. It can also have a big impact on the family for the future.
If your child has his or her heart set on a ‘dream’ school then it is important to have the discussion and have the plans in place to cover the costs of such a school. This can all be done strategically and carefully, as well, with a thorough college funding expert. No parent wants to be saddled with massive amounts of debt when looking to cover costs at a prestigious school, nor do children want to feel that they have become a burden that the family has to bear in order for them to attend school.
Communication and (early!) preparation are really the keys, here. Will the parents be covering the entire costs of college? Will it be a combination of loans for the child plus what the family is able to contribute, or can this be avoided with proper planning?  (Note: it often can.) Having clear goals from the beginning and discussing those goals openly as a family will only bode well for the future college student. Tackling those goals with an expert will make it possible to move forward with those plans smoothly and successfully.

Focusing on the “Why” of College
Unfortunately, we see that students may not fully grasp the concept of ‘why.’ In fact, many visit colleges and make decisions on whether to attend or not based on a ‘vibe’ they get at the school, or where all of their friends are planning to go. It is important to make the most informed decision possible when going to college. This starts with the ‘why’ of going to college and then extends all the way through to the ‘where’ of going to college!
Some of the things that should be discussed and explored before beginning a college search include finding out what your child’s academic motivations are. Once these are laid out, it can be easier to look at options at that point. Clarifying interests and academic goals and motivations will make choosing the right college easier and it will mostly likely be a much better return on the investment. Not every child is clear on his or her ambitions in the teen years, however. This does not mean that all is lost. If they are not sure exactly where their academic focus is you are still able to make informed decisions. If they are able to narrow their interests down to a few different areas then you can search for colleges that have strong programs in the areas where their interests lie.  All of these discussions, when completed early on, can go a long way toward making the transition to college more manageable.

How (Or How Much) To Contribute
Many parents feel guilty if they determine that their ability to completely pay for their child’s education is not possible. It is easy to find parents who have gone into massive debt in order to make their child’s dreams of a college education possible even when it puts their own financial stability in jeopardy. This is one instance where having a solid college planning expert will help to ensure that these types of dire situations can be avoided.
Parents taking stock of what is realistic and what their child’s goals are will be very important in the part of the planning process. Do the parents want their child to attend a specific school?  Even more importantly, is that school a good fit for the student?  If so, is it currently possible to send them there, considering academic and financial realities?  What other options are available?  Once these questions are asked then the parents can move forward and see what will be required in terms of their contribution.
It is also important for parents to understand that where their child goes to college is not a reflection of their parenting skills or who they are as people. Keeping their child financially secure is a major requirement for parents and placing them in a school that they cannot afford and/or will place an undue burden on their child by way of student loans is not a great way for a child to be starting out in life. Planning ahead and making prudent choices based upon real financial circumstances and careful planning with an advisor will ensure the best choice possible is made that will benefit all parties over the long run.

Managing Parental Contribution/Retirement
There is no question that paying for a child’s college education can be a big sacrifice for parents. Parents who have an average annual income of $100,000, for example, can find that college expenses for just one child run $100,000 (and that is being moderate)… which can mean that they should expect to work an extra 10+ years in order to recoup those costs. That could mean delaying retirement in most cases – or, as mentioned above, saddling kids with significant student debt.
Because of these realities, this is another area where careful and early planning can make all the difference. The right adjustments and placing money in the proper strategic places may help to prevent some of the drastic measures to which many people succumb. These are definitely things that can and should be discussed with the college planning advisor – and the earlier that happens, the better! 

Probably the most important element of this part of college preparation can be boiled down to “communication!”  When people do not know exactly what is expected of them (financially, or in any other facet of life) then they are much more likely to make significant mistakes.  This is even more apparent when it comes to young people who are just starting out on their own – at college, or anywhere else… the more things can be clarified and communicated, the more likely they are to be able to manage these expectations successfully.

Until next month,

Conversations on College

Conversations on College

Conversations on College

Are you ready to have a conversation about college?  Talking about college with other parents or friends is simple, it is talking to your kids or spouse that may be tough.  This month, we want to break down those conversations on college into more manageable bits.  Students and parents (and hopefully, advisors) participate in the conversations. Let’s divide the conversations by audience.

Adults

For parents, the conversation started when that little bundle of joy arrived.  We all had the smartest baby, the one destined for greatness.  We dreamt of seeing that little one graduate from medical school, hit a home run in the World Series, and win a Nobel Peace Prize.  However after a few rounds of colic and teething, our goal became simple,  we wanted a healthy child and perhaps a good night’s sleep once in awhile.  Now that little one is in high school, it is time to start having realistic conversations on college.  

  1. How much have you saved?
  2. How much is college?
  3. Where do we even start?

At Midwest College Planning, we love having these conversations.  From the workshops to the free consultations, we talk college.  We work with parents on budgets.   We address your savings and if you need to up those savings, we have suggestions.  When it comes to the price of school, be prepared for sticker shock.  Annual pricing for public schools are coming in at around 25K while an Ivy League is over 75K.   Now, multiply those numbers by the number of children in your family.   Do you need oxygen? That’s where we come in to help.

Students

For students, the idea of college may have started back in first grade when they dreamt of becoming a teacher or perhaps it came along gradually based on course selection or interest.  Our goal is to work with kids to help them navigate the process.  Ideally we begin working with students early in high school, but we do work with rising seniors and in some cases those seniors who procrastinated and are panicked in September.  With students we stress the importance of grades, test scores and research.  Our conversations on college start with the basics:

  1. What are your grades?  
  2. What are your thoughts on location of college?  Distance and Environment
  3. What do you want to do?  
  4. What do you do for fun?

 Midwest College Planning has been helping families for over ten years. there’s not much we haven’t heard.  We find ourselves playing mediator between the students and parents.  Whether it is reminding a student to send in an application or reminding parents of their budget.    

Everyone

The news is full of stories about scholarships and ‘free rides’.  There are many schools that offer great scholarships to the top students.  The scholarships are often awarded to kids with what we call a ‘wild card.’

  1. Academics
  2. Athleticism
  3. Creative Talent
  4. Leadership
  5. Community Service

We will be honest with you, those free rides are few and far between.  Competition is tough at top schools, admission rates may be in the single digits.   Our goal is to have your family succeed.  We work with students on applying to schools that fit them academically, environmentally and socially.  We evaluate the financial aid packages and help students and parents find the school that works financially. 

This month, we are asking you to have those conversations and to remind you we do offer a free workshop where you can learn more about how we help families.  

We’re Moving!

Moving

Midwest College Planning is excited to move to our own offices! We are trading our shared space for a sweet suite of our own. We started out in 2009 in a shared office space and while it has been fun, we are looking forward to a larger space, bigger offices and dare we say windows. We are located in a small business park backing up to a metro park. Here’s our top 10 list of things to look forward to:

  1. Trees, we are tucked away in a lovely area
  2. No more elevators–we were on the second floor but due to security we couldn’t walk up stairs.
  3. Birds, you might hear if you catch us sitting outside enjoying the fresh air.
  4. Control of the thermostat, some say that thermostat control tops remote control anytime.
  5. Windows, we can see the outside world and open for fresh air.
  6. Less traffic, no longer surrounded by multi-floor office buildings   
  7. Peace and Quiet, the serene space will be quite nice
  8. New City–we are moving to Westerville, OH
  9. Easier commute, less congested area of town
  10. Skylights!

We have been fully vaccinated for a few months, if you are as well, we would love to see you at our new location.  
Please give us a little time since we need to buy chairs, desks, tables, and everything else….we have never moved so it’s an adventure.  

Our new address:  5022-A Pine Creek Dr
                                 Westerville, OH 43081

Our new phone number:  614.230.1208

Use High School to Prepare for College

It can be a tough job for both parents and college-bound high school students when it comes to preparing optimally for future academic endeavors. As college funding professionals with detailed knowledge into the admissions process, we recognize that all elements of the subject can be stressful and challenging from beginning to end!  However, the challenges related to college preparation can be effectively managed with some planning and insights in advance – and there is not doubt that it increases if college details are ignored throughout the high school years.  This is why we are here to help!

We find that one of the best things that parents and high school students can do to make their eventual transition into the college years as smooth as possible is to manage their high school experience in a specific way.  Students who try to view the high school years as an actual “college-prep” period will find that there are a lot of helpful parts to their high school experience, if they are willing to take advantage of them.  By the same token, parents will also find that the high school years are their own absolute best opportunity to prepare for college financial and asset management.  Working together, the high school experience can be more than just a chance for the student to get a diploma – it can be a perfect opportunity for the entire family to be optimally prepared for the college years.

The good news is that it generally does not require a lot of extra effort to turn the normal high school experience into a terrific college preparation period.  It does require some planning, and students cannot necessarily run on auto-pilot as much… and parents need to be actively engaged in the process to make the financial end work properly.  But the challenge is definitely doable, and we are the experts in helping families to make this kind of an invaluable high school experience a reality.

For this month’s newsletter, we are dedicating these pages to help you understand why these preparations are important, and how to make them happen.  Remember, if you have any questions about these important college preparation subjects, we urge you to give us a call.  College funding and application professionals are experienced and knowledgeable in these areas and can offer tailor-made explanations, planning, and information when it comes to these important college preparation efforts.

  1. Investigate Early College Credit Options

One great way for students to get a head start on their college experience is to look for opportunities to earn college credits while still attending high school.  There can be a variety of options, and they are all worth looking into.  Some schools will offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses than can actually count for future credit at many colleges and universities.  Of course, these courses presuppose that the student has demonstrated some strong aptitude in the subject matter, and are not available to every single student who expresses interest – but if the chance is there, and the student has the interest and the academic chops to handle it, then it can be a terrific alternative to the rank and file coursework.

Another possibility for some students, depending on locality and arrangements, is the completion of individual college courses during high school.  This is sometimes on a special agreement with a local community college or public university, but it can be a great way for students to get their feet wet early on, and even get a jump on completing some of their core curriculum classes at the next level before they have ever officially matriculated as a college freshman!

These options can make sense academically, putting the student ahead of the curve and building confidence early on… but it can also make a lot of sense financially.  You see, courses that a student completes before setting foot on campus are courses that will not show up on the college tuition bill later, and on that front every little bit helps!  If a student can shave off as much as a term or semester from the eventual course of their undergraduate degree, then the amount of tuition saved can be pretty darned significant.

     2. Seek Out Academic and Extracurricular Experiences

            High school is a great time in a young person’s life, but there are many instances where students will feel pressure (whether external or internal) to follow the proverbial “path of least resistance.”  Advance Placement courses are not the only way for students to excel, and can sometimes be the wrong choice for a student due to academic interest, motivation, or other considerations.

            It is vital for students to seek out opportunities to truly discover what their interests are, what experiences inspire them the most, and to begin to develop an understanding of what they want out of life.  Of course, those answers will often not come completely during the high school years, while there will be other students who may have known since they were five years old that they wanted to become a pilot, or an architect, or a doctor. 

            The point of high school is not to pigeonhole a student into a specific academic track prematurely, but rather to offer a chance for learning and growth, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate abilities, talents, and interests.  This can only really happen if the high school experience is treated appropriately, and not viewed as sheer drudgery to be endured only until graduation springs a student onward to the thrills of university life. 

Yes, we all know that high school can be rough at times, and we all have memories of certain classes that were… well, yes, probably sheer drudgery… but we are convinced that it is important to seek out whatever intriguing and inspiring options can be found in the high school experience.  Some semesters this may be more challenging than others, due to different teachers or social pressures or family challenges, whatever the case my be, but it is well worth the effort to seek out the best things that a high school has to offer.  This includes academic offerings, clubs, sports, theater, community involvement – really, anything that interests and inspires your child to a higher level.

     3. Communicate With Counselors Regularly

            There can certainly be a benefit derived from keeping the lines of communication open with high school and college counselors.  While the individual value can depend a lot on the counselor himself or herself, there are basic college preparatory courses and requirements with which most counselors are quite well-versed.  It is important for college-bound kids to be familiar with these tidbits, even if some guidance counselors do not have a lot to offer beyond that (which is sadly sometimes the case).  Maintaining a respectful and cordial relationship with these counselors can only help later when it comes time for letters of recommendation or paperwork for college application, regardless of how much or how little a specific counselor has to offer.

            With this in mind, as College Funding and Admissions Professionals, we also view ourselves as counselors in this arena, and we know that we bring the most up-to-date and actionable information for both college-bound students and their parents.  We have access to the information about the schools that interest your child, no matter where in the country they might be located.  We are the most reliable experts in managing the college funding challenges.  We really are here to help with all aspects of the college preparation experience.

            As you know, higher education financial planning and college application services stand at the very foundation of our work as college funding professionals.  This leads us to an ultimate goal of assisting parents in seeking the very best strategies for the management of their financial circumstances, as well as the proper utilization of assets to create the best situation possible with regard to the college options for the academic future.  This entire process works best, very simply put, if the parents are well-prepared ahead of time, with a clear set of guidelines to help along the way to preparation for their student’s future college and university years… as well as the attending college and university expenses!

 

 

 

Creating that perfect match between student & school

        

We know that the parents of a college-bound student can sometimes worry a little bit about the college selection process, and as time goes on it can also become a little bit (or more than a little bit!) stressful for high school students, themselves.  How can one be sure that he or she is applying to the “right” schools, let alone choosing one once the acceptances have rolled in?!  Is it really all about the rankings in some news magazine, or how can a family feel comfortable with the choices made about college or university education?

One thing that we want to mention right from the get-go, however, is that “national rankings” are utterly arbitrary and should play a very tiny role in the decision-making process (if any at all, actually).  The simple fact is that a “number one” ranked school in some magazine could actually be the worst possible location for a student to end up, even if he or she is fully academically qualified for admission there!  On the other hand, it could also work out great, which is why it is vitally important to match up students with the schools that will work best for them.

This is not to disparage the colleges and universities that are traditional academic powerhouses, of course.  Everyone knows about the Ivy League schools, for instance, and the Stanfords, Cal Techs, University of Chicagos are not hurting for applicants because they are world-class institutions.  They have a lot to offer the right students.  Other schools (also excellent in their own rights) may be better, or worse fits, depending on the individual.  As professionals in this field, we are happy to provide some tips on how to decide what constitutes a good fit.

 

How Does Your Child Learn Best?

Learning style is really important when determining what kind of college or university a student should attend. It is important from the outset to understand that everyone learns differently. Some people may prefer to learn by reading. Others like to learn aurally. Some students thrive in a large classroom setting, while the thought of a packed auditorium class could make others cringe. It is a very personal thing.

One learning style is not necessarily better than another. They are simply different, and generally people learn in various ways.  Granted, the more flexible your child can be in adapting to learning environments, the easier the transition will be at the next level.  However, understanding how teaching is conducted within the universities and colleges you and your child are researching is an important piece of information when determining whether or not that school will be a good match over the long term.

It is a good idea to have your child determine his or her learning style early on, so that the retention of information while in high school, and later in college, will be at an optimal level. You may discover that your child learns well with a mixture of styles, while some students may have one style dominating the others.

Having this vital information will help your child when choosing a college or university and also when tailoring his or her class schedule. Certain departments or teachers may teach in a particular way that may be just right for the way your child learns.

Location, Location, Location!

In the real estate business, they often say that “location is everything.” Well, the fact of the matter is that it means a lot when choosing a college, as well. The location of the college can be just as important as which college it is. For example, if your child was born and raised in southern Florida but has his sights on a college in Michigan, he may be in for a big surprise once the weather turns in December and January.  That is not to say that it cannot be overcome.  Students are, of course, often quite adaptable, but if this shock in temperature and culture may be too much for your son to handle then it’s best to look for a college in a different location.

The type of campus is also something very important to consider. For instance, would your child prefer a rural, urban or suburban campus. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on what your child is looking for and in which environment would s/he be the most comfortable.

Rural campuses are located in a country setting. They are peaceful and have a lot of experiences to offer being surrounded by natural beauty. Most rural campuses are self-contained and this means that most students live on campus. This can create a sense of belonging and community for your child if that is important to him or her. Many rural campuses have ready access to the outdoors and this may be of particular importance if your child has an interest in agriculture or the environmental sciences.

Urban campuses are also very appealing for the right kind of student. They are located in cities and have all the social and cultural advantages that cities have to offer. This can mean ready access to cultural sites, museums, and of course businesses. Urban campuses can often tend to be spread throughout a city and may not be completely self-contained like rural campuses. Students often live either in dorms or in apartments near campus. Students also usually need to use public transportation.

Suburban campuses are usually located in smaller cities or larger towns that are close to bigger cities. The nice thing about suburban campuses is that they offer a mixture of both urban and rural features. They have more access to the outdoors than would be found in an urban setting. They are often self-contained so students can have a real sense of that campus community. And, depending on how large the city or town is, it may have a good public transportation system.  The real question is… which type of institution is going to be the best fit for your child’s interests?

What to Study?

What your child wants to study has a lot to do with where they will want to go to school. A liberal arts college is a great choice, but if they don’t have a strong program in the area in which your child has an interest – or if your child is interested in a very specific type of program that is only offered in a few locations – then a liberal arts school may not be the right fit.

If your child has an interest in engineering then choosing a school with a stellar fine arts program but less than stellar engineering program wouldn’t make sense. Finding out where a student’s interests lie can take a little time, and there is no guarantee that a young person will know what he or she wants to study before matriculating, so sometimes it is important to view this decision a bit more flexibly.

Taking some steps to find out what stimulates and excites them will make it easier to find a school and program that is a great fit.  A few of the general questions to be answered might be along these lines:

  • What does your child love to do?
  • What is your child especially good at?
  • Which areas or fields are they interested in?

Some tips could be that your child shadows a person who has a job that he or she is interested in.  Or, a young person can sometimes complete an internship at a several places to get a closer idea regarding a field that may be of interest. Narrowing interests will make it a lot easier when choosing a college.

In the end, however, it’s not a deal breaker. If your child is not sure before attending college, things can still turn out just fine. Finding an excellent liberal arts college or university with good overall programs will serve them well as they decide along their college journey.  Remember also that for many professional programs (law, medicine, etc.), the specialized training takes place in the years after undergraduate training – the main point for kids interested in these fields is to be performing at a high academic level so that he or she can gain admission, if that turns out to be the direction for a future career!

Until next month,

~Marc Ziegler

When it comes to college who will help?

  • Our Blog

February, 2021

“The Six Opinions That Actually MATTER While Your Child

Prepares For The College Years”

Preparing for college or university studies is a competitive process, in many ways. The simple fact is that the admissions process for better institutions and programs is a competitive one, because there are almost always more applicants than available positions for desirable schools. Because of this, we find that the preparation and application process can often take on a sometimes-unpleasant “edge” that really need not be there. Of course, the simple fact that we don’t like the tone of the process does not mean that it will go away, but it also means that there is no shortage of opinions, judgments, and comments surrounding the lengthy and involved process of preparing for and applying to colleges and universities.

Because there is no shortage of opinions and input, one of the most important things that parents and college-bound students can do is to determine exactly whose opinions and input matter the most… and focus their attention and efforts exclusively on those. If a family can hone in on the voices that will truly help them to find and access the best higher education options for their situation, and essentially ignore the cacophony.

For this month’s newsletter, we are focusing these pages on the “short list” of people and groups whose thoughts on the college application process actually matter, to some degree or other. Yes, and individual student might have an additional couple of people whose opinions matter to them, and that is as it should be, but let us assure you – there is no need to take advice from the peanut gallery. As always (and as will be discussed below), if you are interested in some more personalized suggestions, please do feel free to give us a call. Because we are college funding professionals – and quite literally college application experts – we are uniquely qualified to assist with planning, and can provide the most pertinent information for your family’s college preparation efforts.

Probably the most important advice for parents from the outset is first of all, to use common sense, and secondly, to ignore the aforementioned “peanut gallery.” While the outcomes may be rather public, the college application process is a personal one, and it is important to realize that the opinions of other parents or students will be of negligible value in the long run. Always remember to focus on that long run, and not on trying to impress the people whose opinions ultimately do not matter! Some of the people whose opinions will matter, to some degree or other, include:

1) The Teachers

This can be, of course, a double-edged sword, depending on the teacher. High school teachers are in charge of the grades that determine grade point average, of course, so their opinions need to be taken into consideration. College application recommendations also tend, at least in part, to come from high school teachers. Excellent teachers, providing excellent and purposeful letters of recommendation, are an absolute godsend to any college-bound student’s applications. On the other hand, unprofessional teachers can tend to make the process significantly more challenging than it needs to be.

Regardless, the best advice for students who are preparing for higher education is to seek out the best teachers during their high school years… and to maintain cordial, appropriate relationships in all of their classes, no matter who the teacher might be. Students who can manage this will generally be able to tell which teachers have their best interests at heart, and seek out appropriate advice from them.

2) The Advisors

You will find a number of different people during the high school years that function as advisors in some capacity. There are guidance counselors and academic advisors on the classroom side of things, and then club advisors, sports coaches, artistic directors, and others involved with extracurricular activities. And of course, that partial list ignores a host of other potential advisors through such organizations as service clubs, scouting troops, church groups, and other activities that are based outside of the high school umbrella.

It is usually best to select just a couple of particular advisors to assist with the actual college admissions process itself – many schools will have the guidance counselor automatically involved in the process, but a few advisors from extracurricular activities can be helpful in offering input and support along the pathway to the college years.

3) The Student 

The interests, goals, and overall desires of the student him/herself are sometimes, sadly, completely overlooked in parental enthusiasm for the college application process. It is important to remember that a student will have the best opportunities to succeed if s/he is in a situation where s/he is excited and motivated to study.

While input from the parents is key, and certainly important, the opinions of the student need to be respected. The application process is usually a team effort, to be sure, but over the long-term the student will be the one studying and working towards his/her long-term goals. We urge parents to always keep this fact in mind.

4) The Mentor(s)

It sometimes does not seem very easy for students to find mentors in the field(s) that are of major interest – especially if they are in an area that might not dovetail with the professional work of a parent or relative. However, it is our experience that students who are willing to put their best foot forward, and perhaps even do some volunteer or internship work in some capacity, will often be able to find supportive mentors for their academic and career goals.

These opportunities might be listed online, in newspapers, or through school offices and clubs… but sometimes it is as simple as calling or emailing a business, hospital, or other institutions and asking. Many young people have been able to meet and work with influential mentors in all sorts of fields by having the gumption to ask.

5) The Admissions Officials

When it comes right down to it, the people who have the most pull in the college and university admissions process are the admissions officials at each school. They are the ones whose opinions of an application will matter the most. Take their published and posted information (areas of emphasis, deadlines, rules) seriously. Understand that different colleges have different admissions officials with different requirements or areas of focus. And certainly, should you ever interact with them, treat them with friendliness and respect – which is pretty good advice for most personal interactions, actually!

6) The College Funding/Admissions Advisors

Naturally, we cannot allow a list like this one to head off to the parents of college-bound high school students without reminding you about what we do, and how we can help in this process. The families and students we work with in the college funding and admissions processes certainly find themselves in a very enviable situation, because we are wholly invested in their success. We are professionals and we have nothing else in mind aside from helping students gain admission to the best college or university for their future interests, and helping parents to manage the financial aspects of making that a reality.

Notice how we steered clear of what we call the ‘peanut  gallery’?  That’s because, you can probably name a few right off the bat from the neighbor who means well to the know-it-all at the gym.  As you move through the college planning process, you’ll soon develop an ear for the experts and the rest.

Until next month,

 

                                                                          

Start Planning for College Today

  • Our Blog

“Turning The High School Years Into

Effective College Preparation Time

Dear Parent,

It can be a tough job for both parents and college-bound high school students when it comes to preparing optimally for future academic endeavors… as college funding professionals with detailed knowledge into the admissions process, we recognize that all elements of the subject can be stressful and challenging from beginning to end!  However, the challenges related to college preparation can be effectively managed with some planning and insights in advance – and there is not doubt that it increases if college details are ignored throughout the high school years.

This is why we are here to help!

For this month’s newsletter, we are dedicating these pages to help you understand why the preparations are important, and how to make them happen.  Remember, if you have any questions about these important college preparation subjects, we urge you to give us a call.  College funding and application professionals are experienced and knowledgeable in these areas and can offer tailor-made explanations, planning, and information when it comes to these important college preparation efforts.

Investigate Early College Credit Options

One great way for students to get a head start on their college experience is to look for opportunities to earn college credits while still attending high school.  There can be a variety of options, and they are all worth looking into.  Some schools will offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses than can actually count for future credit at many colleges and universities.  Of course, these courses presuppose that the student has demonstrated some strong aptitude in the subject matter, and are not available to every single student who expresses interest – but if the chance is there, and the student has the interest and the academic chops to handle it, then it can be a terrific alternative to the rank and file coursework.

Another possibility for some students, depending on locality and arrangements, is the completion of individual college courses during high school.  This is sometimes on a special agreement with a local community college or public university, but it can be a great way for students to get their feet wet early on, and even get a jump on completing some of their core curriculum classes at the next level before they have ever officially matriculated as a college freshman!

These options can make sense academically, putting the student ahead of the curve and building confidence early on… but it can also make a lot of sense financially.  You see, courses that a student completes before setting foot on campus are courses that will not show up on the college tuition bill later, and on that front every little bit helps!  If a student can shave off as much as a term or semester from the eventual course of their undergraduate degree, then the amount of tuition saved can be pretty darned significant.

Seek Out Academic and Extracurricular Experiences

High school is a great time in a young person’s life, but there are many instances where students will feel pressure (whether external or internal) to follow the proverbial “path of least resistance.”  Advance Placement courses are not the only way for students to excel, and can sometimes be the wrong choice for a student due to academic interest, motivation, or other considerations.

It is vital for students to seek out opportunities to truly discover what their interests are, what experiences inspire them the most, and to begin to develop an understanding of what they want out of life.  Of course, those answers will often not come completely during the high school years, while there will be other students who may have known since they were five years old that they wanted to become a pilot, or an architect, or a doctor.

The point of high school is not to pigeonhole a student into a specific academic track prematurely, but rather to offer a chance for learning and growth, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate abilities, talents, and interests.  This can only really happen if the high school experience is treated appropriately, and not viewed as sheer drudgery to be endured only until graduation springs a student onward to the thrills of university life.

Yes, we all know that high school can be rough at times, and we all have memories of certain classes that were… well, yes, probably sheer drudgery… but we are convinced that it is important to seek out whatever intriguing and inspiring options can be found in the high school experience.  Some semesters this may be more challenging than others, due to different teachers or social pressures or family challenges, whatever the case my be, but it is well worth the effort to seek out the best things that a high school has to offer.  This includes academic offerings, clubs, sports, theater, community involvement – really, anything that interests and inspires your child to a higher level.

Doing so will help the high school experience to serve as a springboard to bigger and better things at the college or university level, and hopefully help to convey and nurture a love of learning and growth that will last a lifetime, as well as providing a financially viable and fulfilling professional future.

Communicate With Counselors Regularly

There can certainly be a benefit derived from keeping the lines of communication open with high school and college counselors.  While the individual value can depend a lot on the counselor himself or herself, there are basic college preparatory courses and requirements with which most counselors are quite well-versed.  It is important for college-bound kids to be familiar with these tidbits, even if some guidance counselors do not have a lot to offer beyond that (which is sadly sometimes the case).  Maintaining a respectful and cordial relationship with these counselors can only help later when it comes time for letters of recommendation or paperwork for college application, regardless of how much or how little a specific counselor has to offer.

We also recommend good communication with the colleges and universities that are of the highest interest to your student, as well as obtaining a firm understanding of the requirements for specific programs to which they wish to apply.  Remember, especially for private schools or institutions in other parts of the nation, local high schools simply may not have access to the information about the programs that your child desires!  Even within the same major or area of academic emphasis, there can be differences between the requirements of different colleges and universities, so these things need to be carefully investigated beforehand.

With this in mind, as College Funding and Admissions Professionals, we also view ourselves as counselors in this arena, and we know that we bring the most up-to-date and actionable information for both college-bound students and their parents.  We have access to the information about the schools that interest your child, no matter where in the country they might be located.  We are the most reliable experts in managing the college funding challenges.  We really are here to help with all aspects of the college preparation experience.

As you know, higher education financial planning and college application services stand at the very foundation of our work as college funding professionals.  This leads us to an ultimate goal of assisting parents in seeking the very best strategies for the management of their financial circumstances, as well as the proper utilization of assets to create the best situation possible with regard to the college options for the academic future.  This entire process works best, very simply put, if the parents are well-prepared ahead of time, with a clear set of guidelines to help along the way to preparation for their student’s future college and university years… as well as the attending college and university expenses!

Until next month,

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Impact of financial decisions on college funding

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“Top Financial Decisions That Should NOT Be Made Without Reviewing Effects On College Funding

It is hard to believe that another year is coming to an end, and the first segment of the school year is simultaneously winding down as well.  As one calendar year ends and a new one begins, it is natural to spend some time both thinking back on the past twelve months, and looking forward to what can be expected.  We do this as well, both personally and in our professional capacity as college funding professionals, and it is especially important for us because there are usually some changes in store that we will need to keep in mind in order to advise the parents of future college students optimally.

These alterations to the college funding world can involve elements of appropriate decisions regarding financial planning – based on new laws or rules about financial aid, for example – as well as maintaining a proper understanding of the dynamic college funding process.  We find that many of these skills are important for parents and students to understand as quickly as possible, so that we can help them to best manage the application process to college and make the financial side of things more manageable – and this is the case regardless of where a high school graduate ends up studying at the next level.

One of the biggest challenges to making that undergraduate degree a reality actually starts long before a young person ever sets foot on campus for his or her freshman year at college or university… yes, gaining admission to a dream school is a huge challenge, without any question, but the hurdle that precedes even starting college studies is the inherent financial challenges of meeting the growing costs of higher education.  The foundation for this task is laid in the years leading up to college, not right beforehand.  For this reason, it is vital that parents make wise, informed, and strategic financial decisions during the high school years.  All of these decisions will come to bear when it is time for the college years to begin, and the better a family plans these things the better they will find their overall financial circumstances on that happy day of university matriculation.

Because college funding advisors operate professionally with these kinds of facts on our minds almost constantly, it can be something that we almost take for granted.  The fact is, however, that most families do not know precisely what financial choices will affect their future college student, or how they can make decisions that will have a positive effect on things later down the road.

As college funding experts with valuable experience observing college students and their families preparing for the college years, we have decided to focus this month’s newsletter on some of the most important financial decisions that can affect your child’s college experience.  Bear in mind that each family has an individual circumstance that is unique to their situation, so the best course of action in planning and managing family financial decision during the high school years is to simply ask questions of the experts.

PART-TIME EMPLOYMENT

Many students are excited to be able to start working part-time during their high school years, or even during the summers to make extra money (often saving money for college, but of course also for other recreational reasons).  This is a two-edged sword when it comes to financial ramifications.  While it will, indeed, increase the income and savings of the student and allow more freedom and flexibility in many cases – not to mention demonstrating a strong work ethic to admissions boards – the simple fact is that making too much money on his or her own can adversely affect the availability of college funding for a student later on.

Now, don’t get us wrong… there is nothing wrong with working part-time as a student, assuming that it is possible for him or her to manage the academic schedule properly and still keep up with class work and activity responsibilities.  However, it behooves any high school student to make doubly certain that he or she is not undermining his or her future college funding opportunities by doing so.

One of the best ways to make sure that work and earnings will not be a problem later is simply to ask a qualified college funding advisor in advance.  These are not the types of decisions that should be made lightly, and there is no question that they can lead to financial ramifications later!

 REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS

While sometimes a move and change of homes is unavoidable for work or family reasons, it is important to realize that purchasing a new house during the latter portion of high school could potentially wreak havoc on a student’s future college funding options.  Real estate is, of course, one of the largest financial transactions that most families will ever make, and these purchases are frequently made without much thought about whether or not getting a new home could have an effect on something like the kids’ college!

Well, it absolutely can have an effect – and we are not talking only about monthly budgeting and a mortgage payment.  In fact, it is of extreme importance that any real estate purchases (whether for the family residence, for investment purposes, or for a vacation home, etc.) be made strategically when it comes to their timing and a child’s start of college or university.  This can actually be one of the most important decisions that a family makes with regard to their financial preparation for the college years.

A college funding advisor can assist in providing an overview of the best possible timeline for real estate activity, as well as what sorts of purchases can have an affect college funding.  The details change from time to time, and the circumstances are different for each family, but there is no question that this is an important element that must not be ignored when it comes to optimizing college financial flexibility!

FAMILY CIRCUMSTANCES

It is a delicate subject, to be sure, but families with pending separations or divorce proceedings must also be aware that there are financial implications for these types of changes, as well.  Students entering college will often be considered as having access to financial support from both parents, regardless of whether or not this is actually the case.

Because of this reality, it can be of utmost importance that colleges and universities understand precisely where things stand for a student applicant on the financial front – especially when it comes time for them to make a financial aid offer.

Note that this is NOT always a straightforward nor an easy process – we have seen some that have been almost ridiculously complicated on the side of the institution not grasping vital information.  Therefore, the assistance of a college funding advisor can be most helpful in dealing with college financial aid offices, admissions offices, and other institutional representatives.  Having someone who knows the ins and outs of the process AND understands the general realities of a familial situation can be one of the most valuable supports available for a student and his or her family.

LUXURY PURCHASES

Not every family lives in such favorable financial circumstances that big purchases are “the norm,” but we have seen that a fair number of families may find themselves able to afford something nice as the kids get a little older.  This is an exciting development and it is often the result of many, many years of hard work and sacrifice.  As the children get ready for graduation from high school and the beginning of college, though, we hasten to urge insight and caution before doing so!

The years right before college are generally considered the wrong time to make large purchases, such as new cars or luxury items like boats (and many other similar things).  Your college funding advisor can assist you in determining when the best time could be for making these kinds of larger purchases to enjoy… it would be a shame to procure a dream item and then find that the purchase adversely affected a student’s college funding, and this is all too frequently a problem that families discover after the fact.

It is far better to discuss these moves with a college funding advisor in advance, so as to avoid any potential problems later!

This final newsletter this year has offered some important information to consider regarding each family’s financial background and future plans.  Should any questions arise in these years of preparation for college, please remember that we are ready to with all elements of the college application, admission, and financial preparation processes.  As expert educators ourselves in these specific areas, we tackle these jobs – especially the college funding parts – in a couple of different ways.to your busy schedule.

 

Happy Holidays,

 

 

 

 

first step

First steps in the College Admissions Decision

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“The Most Important Criteria for
Selecting a College or University”

There are a number of factors to take into consideration when making a college admission decision, and we will discuss them in more detail in this month’s newsletter. We are convinced that it is important to dedicate this blog to this topic because it is one of the most important decisions that a young person can make – and also one of the most personalized decisions. Choosing a school because one’s friends want to go there, or because the college (or its football team) are considered “cool” this year, or because of a famous name or general academic reputation, is simply not good enough to allow for a proper match.

This month, please have a look at these criteria for making a well thought out college decision. Our experience has shown that these are truly important topics for discussion as your student prepares for college, no matter how far along the process they might be at this point!

There are many questions to be answered in order to come to the right conclusion regarding this question. Here are several questions to get started:

1) Is A Private Or Public College Better?

Private colleges sometimes get a bad rap because everyone thinks that they are too expensive to attend. That is not always the case, however. Funding for private colleges can often exceed what you might get at a public institution. Private colleges also have the reputation of being extremely selective about the incoming students. That is also not the case. Some private colleges are extremely particular, but not all. Public colleges are often (on paper) less expensive than private colleges. They tend to be cheaper to attend than private institutions and that is often the case. It is worth the effort to apply to both private and public colleges, and find the ones that are the best fit, either way.

2) Where Is The School Located?

Much like in real estate, location-location-location is extremely important. It sets the scene for the environment for the following four years (at least). Some students find it’s very important to be close to home. If this is important to your child, then trying to find something within the area in which you currently live is vital.

The downside to this option is that your child might not have access to the best colleges because they are simply out of range of where they’d prefer to be. This is extremely personal, however. Some students want to stay close to home because the impression is that out-of-state schools will be far too expensive. In some cases, out-of-state schools can be extremely affordable.

3) How Is The Learning Environment?

Everyone has a particular style or way of expressing themselves. Colleges are no different. Although it is hard to convince people otherwise, applicants really shouldn’t concern themselves too much about rankings (based on a variety of perhaps irrelevant statistics) or a college’s overall selectivity. The college environment will have a lot to do with how well your child will be able to learn. Is a school that is known for being extremely academically rigorous the right choice for your child? If your child learns best under those circumstances then, absolutely, yes. If your child thrives when s/he feels comfortable academically and able to push him or herself at a pace that is more self-managed then a school with more academic flexibility could be the ideal place for him or her.

4) What’s The Student-to-Faculty Ratio?

Not all students thrive in an environment where they are one of 400 students in a large lecture with little access to the teacher for questions or follow-up. If your child learns better in smaller class settings, then that is something that’s important to consider. Larger schools will often – but not always – mean larger classes. Check each school to find out what the student to faculty ratio is. This will be especially important if your child has already decided on a major. Core classes tend to be larger but classes within a particular major may not be so large.

5) Is This College Affordable?

Affordability is something that is important to nearly every parent of a child ready to enter college. It is a concern for many parents as college tuitions seem to rise at an exponential rate. What happens and often scares off many parents is the ‘sticker price’ of any college. To be fair, these prices are often quite shocking. The good thing to remember, however, is that nearly no one pays the published price.

Many parents are concerned about whether they might be qualified for aid. It is important that every incoming student apply for aid, regardless of financial circumstances. One really never knows how much one is eligible for aid unless s/he applies. Colleges vary widely on their aid packages so it is essential to apply to a variety of schools, both public and private, and then make a decision after receiving the financial aid package.

Students can also be eligible for scholarships. This is highly coveted aid because this is money that does not need to be paid back. This varies depending on the talents and capabilities of the students. It’s a good idea to do research for every school to determine what types of scholarship opportunities are available for incoming students. Regardless, it is an extremely good idea to speak with a college financial advisor with regard to financial aid and financial preparation for college in general.

6) What Are The Job Prospects After Graduation?

Getting into and through college can be difficult enough. Entering the job market after college can seem even more daunting. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. There are some colleges that have excellent career services programs and even internships and job placement programs within excellent industries. Others will have special programs for professional schools like law, medicine, business, or dentistry.

These types of departments can help students make the transition from student to employee (or graduate/professional student) to help ease the burden. It’s a good idea to research which schools offer these types of programs to assist your child in entering the workforce as smoothly as possible.

As you and your student work through these criteria to seek the schools that make the most sense for a bright and rewarding future, we know that it can sometimes be challenging to come up with the right colleges and universities for a personalized fit.For this reason we stand ready to serve with insights and suggestions, if you feel that a bit of expert analysis could be of assistance in this effort. After all, it is what we do best!

Until next month,

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To FAFSA or not to FAFSA?

The FAFSA opened up this morning and we’d like to take this time to go over a few basics of financial aid.   First we will talk background, next process and finally some general guidelines.  

The FAFSA started back in 1965 as part of the higher education act.    It is a standardized approach for institutions to structure need-based aid.  From the FAFSA federal loans and grants are offered.  The loans are broken down by parent and student.  Student loans are further divided in to subsidized and unsubsidized.  If you consider taking the loan, note there is a process to apply as well as have the funds sent to the school.   

The FAFSA process starts with the FSA IDs.  A parent and the student need to create FSA IDs.  This involves entering basic information, setting up security questions and verification.  Take your time, if you don’t completely create a FSA ID, you won’t be able to begin the FAFSA.  One of the most frequent questions is why does  parent need an FSA ID for each child?  The parent creates one FSA ID which can be used for different children who also have their own unique FSA ID.   

The FAFSA is available via an app or on the web.  Before you begin gather the necessary information:

  •  Parent Federal Tax Forms & Supporting Documents
  • Student Federal Tax Forms & Supporting Documents
  • Account balances for liquid assets (checking/saving accounts) , investments and basic property information.

Here are things we have found useful.  Always create a save key, that way you don’t have to finish it all at once.  Read each question carefully.  Be sure to your mobile phone number as a way to access your FSA ID so when you forget that password next year, it will be easier.  And most importantly, fill out the FAFSA even if you don’t qualify for need-based aid because there are some schools who may require it for merit aid.