Our Blog

Start Planning for College Today

“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,

marc signature

 

 

 

Impact of financial decisions on college funding

  • Our Blog

“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 steps in the College Admissions Decision

  • Our Blog

 

confusion-311388_960_720

“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,

marc signature

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.  
 

Pumpkin-Spiced Lattes & College Admissions

  • Our Blog

 

Nothings says Fall like pumpkin-spiced lattes and college admissions.  Of course, this fall is a bit different.  It seems like we have kids going to school virtually, in person or a hybrid version of both.   Instead of fall open houses, colleges are having webinars and zoom admission events.  We are here to help you figure the admissions process.  Our goal this month is to break down some of the components in the admission process to better help your family. 

Strong GPA and Class Ranking

Overall GPA is important, but some schools will also take note of how your child did in his/her individual classes. Some high schools offer class ranking. If this is the case for your child’s high school, the college will want to take a look at this so see how s/he ranked among his/her peers.

Advanced Placement (AP) and/or Honors Classes

Taking difficult classes such as Advanced Placement or Honors classes can give a very good impression to admissions officers. However, it is actually doing well in these classes that shows the college that your child is serious about his/her academics.

Engaging in Extracurricular Activities

Colleges are looking for students who have passion, interest and drive. Participating in extracurricular activities demonstrates that the students have interests that extend outside the classroom. Developing talents and skills outside of the regular school day is something that helps to develop a well-rounded student. Remember, though, that the better schools want to see a real level of commitment and achievement in these activities – not just something that has been done to “fill in a box.”

Community Service

Taking time outside of high school life to volunteer one’s time is a special thing. If your child has done projects outside of school for any charities or did any sort of volunteer work at all, these things should be noted on the application. These are traits to demonstrate a strong character and these are the types of student’s college admissions officers would like to admit into college. It should be something that resonates with your child, so that it can be presented with honest enthusiasm.

Gathering Work Experience

Does your child have a part-time job during high school? Does s/he work during the summers? These qualities show independence, in some cases, as well as leadership and commitment. List any employment work that is applicable for your child

Standardized Testing (SAT/ACT)

There was a time that schools weighed the SAT and ACT quite heavily, and many still do, but not every school gives them the same weight these days. Regardless, however, it is advisable for your child to work hard and prepare to do as well as possible on these tests. They are still a valuable benchmark for colleges to use, and admissions officers can review these tests and compare with other test results (such as AP tests).

Strong Recommendation Letters

While a good recommendation letter can go a long way, a meaningful recommendation letter can go even further. For this reason, your child should try to secure recommendation letters from people s/he knows quite well

Demonstrate Passion And Drive

Colleges are most interested in seeing drive, interest, and passion for the activities in which an applicant is engaged. They certainly do not prefer seeing a student listing a page full of different activities with no demonstrated meaning, and without time invested to grow in those disciplines.

Growth Potential

The very best colleges and universities often go far beyond SAT scores and essays (which should be a given at the top levels). They want to determine whether your child is the type of person who learns and grows, and truly enjoys the process of learning and growing. They want to see how your child stretches him/herself

We recommend grabbing that pumpkin spiced latte and sitting down to talk with your son/daughter about college admissions.  We’ve got another post devoted to admissions

Pick me! College Admissions Success

                                                                                

“How To Get Colleges To Fight Over YOUR Student

For Their Incoming Freshman Class

Setting up your child for college admissions success starts now.  The Common App opened on August 1, with over 800 colleges participating.  We work with families to determine the schools and application type that will be the best.  While they might or might not be admitted to every single school to which they apply, these students find themselves in the enviable position of having multiple schools from which to choose.  In the best circumstances they may also find the schools sweetening their offers to compete for their attendance! Here are a four specific tips to consider to help your student become a pursued candidate when the time comes for college application.

Strategy 1: Academics Matter 

It should come as no surprise that schools are going to want to see academic performance when it comes time to apply.  Kids who have been working hard on their schoolwork in high school – and have earned the grades to show for it – will often move up significantly in the admissions cycle of colleges and universities.

The bottom line is that students in high school need to take their high school transcript seriously.  If they do, it will serve them well in the future.  If there is anything that we can do to assist in making this foundation of your child’s college application as solid as possible, please let us know.

Strategy 2: Find (AND Develop) Talents

The most important thing is for students to actively seek the things that they can do well, and find their talents.  This can come through school, through extra-curricular activities, through community activities, or even through their own reading and/or research.  Granted, sometimes finding these talents comes quite easily.  Other times it can turn into a bit of a longer search.  Because of this, it is important to start early and identify some of these areas of emphasis as soon as possible.

Strategy 3: Do Your Best To Nail Those Admissions Tests

We understand that the ACT/SAT tests are up in the air this application season.  Please check the admission requirements and if you are proud of your test score, by all means let the school know by sending your scores.  For underclassman, please sign up for the tests multiple times.

Strategy 4: Start Correspondence With Schools… Early

As soon as a high school student has come up with a preliminary list of colleges and universities that interest him/her, it is a good idea to request information from the institutions directly.  It can also be helpful to contact specific departments at these colleges or universities, especially if there are areas of academic interest that the student might wish to pursue after high school.

These early contacts can definitely pay dividends later, especially since a student can become a “known entity” by the time the college application period rolls around. Departments may have scholarship opportunities, and may also have some input that can be of value for admissions committees.

Wonder if you stack up to admissions?  Here’s a link to an article.

Midwest College Planning is here to help with turning these plans into a reality – and when the time comes we are ready and experienced in working with applications, admissions questions, and all elements of financial awareness regarding the college and university years.  We are here to help navigate the college admissions process for your student’s success.

 

 

Financial Decisions that can sink your college funding plans

cost-of-college

“Well-Intentioned (Or Uninformed)
Financial Decisions That Can Sink
Your College Funding Plans”

 

Optimally preparing for the requirements related to future academic endeavors is no easy task… as college funding professionals who have access to the best and most accurate information regarding the admissions process, we have garnered the experience and understanding for these challenges!

However, we also know that parents can make some very damaging decisions if they make their financial decisions on their own, or if they decide to take some poor advice that would make sense under other circumstances… but NOT when considering the college financial situation. We are certain that it is important to make the best decisions with all factors being considered, and there are a number of excellent reasons for making sure that this is so.

Preparing for college funding does not always follow the traditional common sense regarding savings and planning, because simply put, the rules are different (and they tend to change a lot, making an already confusing situation even more puzzling for most people). For this reason, it makes all the sense in the world to make certain that the correct rules are being followed, and that the efforts are not going to actually turn into more of a problem later on. There are a number of things that can interfere with a family’s best efforts.

For this month’s newsletter, we are presenting some common errors made by well-meaning parents and families when managing these details. Should any questions about these college preparation subjects pop up, or other similar issues arise, please be sure to give us a call. We have all of the pertinent details in these areas and provide the beat and most current information when it comes to managing college preparation efforts.

Please make sure that you do not fall victim to these well-intentioned problems!

1. Not Understanding Exactly What The Financial Aid Offer Says

This seems like it would not be a problem, but, sadly, for many families it is. Many families will receive an aid package from a college and not fully understand the nature of the aid stated in the package. Colleges are not always very clear about making the distinctions between loans and grants and that lack of clarity can get incoming students and their parents into trouble.

Many of the packages do not fully disclose interest rates or reveal the average monthly payments, etc. This can make it very difficult for parents to understand exactly what is being offered to their child. Moreover, many parents will look at the loan offer and make the assumption that it will reduce the cost of the tuition. This is, obviously, not the case. Only grants will reduce the cost of tuition and other college fees.

This lack of clarity may or may not be intentional on the part of colleges. In many cases, mathematicians are the only ones who can fully decipher a financial aid offer and calculate the ultimate cost over time. One of the ways to solve this problems is to ask questions.

Parents should ask whether or not loans will be ‘front-loaded’ meaning that the bulk will be offered during the first year but taper off over the following years. Finding out where the loan money is originated is also important to know.

Ultimately, if it is not explicitly shown… then be sure to ask and verify the answers. It is the only safe course of action.

2. Reporting Assets Incorrectly

Many families end up ‘over-reporting.’ This means that parents will include assets on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) that are not actually required on the application. Many parents will state their retirement assets and their home equity on the FAFSA when that is actually not a requirement on the form.

Look very carefully on the form to determine exactly what is and is not required. Or, better yet, ask for your help from your college funding counselor who can guide you in the right direction and help you optimize your situation.

3. Co-Signing for a Student Loan Without Full Understanding

Parents will often gladly co-sign on a loan for their son or daughter thinking that it will release them from any obligation to that loan. That could not be further from the truth. Any person on a loan is equally responsible for the repayment of that loan. If a son or daughter fails to make payments on the loan, then the repayment obligation automatically falls to the co-signer. For parents, that means that they are on the hook as a co-signer.

Many parents think that because they are not the primary person on the loan that it absolves them from making any payments on that loan. It just simply isn’t so.

It is important to understand exactly what is being signed – especially when it comes to student loans. Those obligations can almost never be discharged in bankruptcy, so students (and sometimes parents) will certainly be responsible for them.

4. Opting For a Private Loan Instead of a Federal Loan

Private lenders can be pretty tricky. Many interest rates that are advertised lately are as low as around 3%. Those low rates can look very attractive to prospective students and their parents. When compared to unsubsidized Stafford loans, which might be around 6 %, it  can seem that one is getting a really good deal. That does not tell the full story, however.

The main difference with private loans is that the loans are underwritten. This means that the loan must be scrutinized by an underwriter and will often require a cosigner. The rates are often a ‘come on’ and do not reflect the actual rates that will be received after going through the loan approval process.

Another drawback is that these loans are often variable. That means that after the low introductory rate, the loan will go up in interest even to the double digits. The loans also do not have the same repayment options offered to those who get federally funded loans. The repayment process is often much more strict and that can be a strain on newly graduated students who do not have the income to make the full payments required on the loan.

5. Saving “Too Much”

The old adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” takes on an even stronger meaning when it comes to college funding – and the rules for college funding can even turn this saying right on its ear. Let’s say, for example, that your child has worked hard over many vacations and has $10,000 saved in a savings account under his or her name. That is just terrific, right? Well, maybe… but not so fast.

About 20% of those hard earned savings could well be added to the EFC (or Estimated Family Contribution) when the fed begins calculating eligibility for aid… which can often mean that the overall amount of financial aid eligibility is actually adversely affected by the student’s own hard work and savings!

Now, there are other strategies to help work around this sort of situation legally, including continuing to save for your child’s education – but it may be worth looking into doing so under a parent’s name in another bank account. This is definitely a case where a chat with a professional college funding advisor can make a huge difference.

As you can see, making wise and prudent decisions regarding higher education financial planning – as well as college application strategies – can be an extremely challenging endeavor. It only makes sense to approach this effort teamed up with a college funding professional. Doing so allows families to understand and select the optimal strategies that correspond to their own financial and academic situations, meaning that the chances of success (both financially and academically) will climb.
All of the actions discussed in this month’s newsletter are not rare – they happen each and every year to unsuspecting college-bound kids and their parents – and we view it as part of our professional responsibility to assist families in avoiding these problems, as well and many others like them. We have a number of tools to assist in this effort.
One of our most dynamic and effective options for the education of parents with high school kids who will attend college is through in-person attendance at one of our College Funding Workshops. These presentations are moderated and instructed by some of the finest college funding professionals available. We see these workshops as a dedicated, in-person option for parents who wish to inform themselves with the best informational set about all manner of financial “dos and don’ts,” as well as governmental regulations related to their family and their higher education planning.

Our  workshops have no admission cost, and are being held in larger venues to allow for social distancing.  If you don’t want to venture out quite yet, we have a short virtual talk which runs daily. Despite having no admission fee for attendance, we must make certain that each event has a group size that manages both space limits and our experiences with creating a successful learning environment. Because of this, we insist on advance reservations for the best possible planning and delivery of a quality event. Thank you for understanding.

Until next month

 

Hello Sunshine!

June is Upon Us…Finally we have the warm weather!

It has been a crazy Spring, by now many of you have cleaned out your closets, organized the pantry (twice) and are hoping to get back to get back to some sembelance of normal. We are feeling the same.  Our goal has always been to help families succeed. Like most of you, we are adjusting our daily routines, attempting a work-life balance and pushing through. Life does continue, preparing for college still has to happen. Summer is a time of relaxation and also of preparation for success!

Here are some well thought-out tips on how to proceed with your summer:

Upcoming Freshmen in College: 

Make sure you are communicating with your chosen college – both with the school itself and the students that are coming into the freshman class with you.  The school typically has an orientation that you can sign up for prior to stepping onto campus, and wow are they fun and student-centered!  Make sure you check out the opportunities at your new school now.  Also, jump on chats with other students to talk about your excitement of attending the school.  Plus, it’s always a great idea to reach out to your new roommate and start to divvy up what each of you will bring to your new home.

Parents, make sure you are connecting with your soon-to-be leaving student. Take them out for a one-on-one walk and offer guidance to them and also just listen.  This is a new era in your relationship with your child, make sure you approach it with everything you’ve got and then let them take the reins and run.

Keep track of when tuition, room and board and meal plan payments are due.

Find out when payments are due for the above-mentioned college expenses.  Talk to your College Funding Advisor about developing a plan to pay for all of these costs in the most efficient way possible.

Upcoming Seniors: 

You’ve made it to Senior Year!  Don’t let senioritis set in.  Begin to hone those skills you’ve developed towards identifying what will be a great major and career.

Schedule any SAT or ACT tests early.  That way you can still get them to schools before the Early Admission deadline if you choose to.  Also make sure your high schools know what schools you are applying to.  Check all deadlines on the college’s websites and any scholarship opportunities they may list as well.

Use your summer to gain skills for your activity list.  Take on a summer job or possibly shadow a career interest you may have.  You can list this on your applications in the fall.

Upcoming Juniors:

Take advantage of virutal college tours.  You may not be able to casually visit campuses but use this time to learn about the schools that interest you.  Look at the clubs, sports and even course catalogs.  You can always schedule a formal tour later if you find you really like the school.

Summer is a good time to study for the SAT and ACT tests. Begin taking practice tests and going over missed answers to really get a good idea on how to approach the material.

Get your financial game plan in place.  Make sure you are not at risk of having unnecessary calculations count against you in the financial aid process.  Talk with our funding advisor for ideas on how to develop a financial plan.

Upcoming Sophomores and Freshmen:

Plan to take challenging high school courses

With summer approaching, you’ll want to look forward to the next year in terms of class schedule.  When helping your student to determine his/her class schedule, make sure s/he enrolls in courses that are challenging but not beyond their ability to excel.

Think about reasons for attending college

High school is an opportunity for learning and growth in addition to preparing for college.  It is during this time that your student may discover interests or will continue to develop talents and skills s/he already may possess.

Enjoy the summer!  We hope you find these tips useful.

Until next month…

marc signature

College planning by the Grade

butterfly-1278815__180

It is time to spring into action, regardless of the weather! We are offering you a college planning guide by grade. Are you ready to gain new financial knowledge that will come in handy when you send your child off on his/her upcoming college journey? Some people are intimidated by the whole process of preparing a child to go to college. Don’t be discouraged, we here, at the College Planning Network are available and ready to address and guide you through the process of finding the answers to your concerns. We are experts in the field of college planning and can make the process flow smoothly for you. Because each family is different and you may have several children in different stages in school, we’ve divided the newsletter into sections organized by grade to help you go directly to the year your student is in.

FRESHMAN YEAR
If your student is in the9th grade, you might think it’s too soon to start planning ahead for college. Not so. It’s never too early to start. During this first year of high school, stress the importance of working diligently on academics. This will always pay off throughout his/her educational pursuits. Also, one thing to remember is that this is the year that grades will begin to be recorded on transcripts. Your student can start to stretch his or herself by taking classes that are challenging but still within his/her abilities. This is the best time to lay the foundation for a solid academic future.

Take interest and skills assessments
Your student is a freshman and may not yet know what s/he wants to do as a career. S/he may still not be sure once college starts. One way to find out where your student’s abilities are strongest is to take interest and skills assessments that help to match careers with the abilities that are best presented through the assessments. The Career Cruising Program is a great tool that is never too early to begin using. If you need assistance with how to use the program, please don’t hesitate to give our office a call.

Study! Study!! Study!!!
It never hurts to have those strong study skills honed early. Your student’s academics have an impact on the schools that s/he will want to attend. Doing well in school is important throughout every stage of academic development.

Have parent/student conferences to discuss college plans
College planning does not have to be the sole responsibility of the parent. In fact, having your student involved in all the stages of planning may increase the chances of success when s/he is finally reached college. Brainstorm and discuss ways to save and pay for college together as a family. Make sure you talk to your College Funding Advisor to review different savings strategies and the impact they may have on financial aid.

Expand Your Support Network
The College Planning Network is here to help and support ALL your needs in terms of financial aid and college admission planning. However, you can also find friends, teachers and school counselors who have been through the process themselves and can offer advice and first-hand knowledge of the experience. (Just remember that everyone’s individual situation is quite different.)

It’s never too early to get your financial plan together
Protect the money you’ve saved. If you have money saved outside of your company retirement plans, talk to your College Funding Advisor about possibly repositioning those assets into accounts that are not exposed to the aid formulas.

SOPHOMORE YEAR
If it’s 10th grade for your student, continue on the solid path started in freshman year. Or, if your student encountered setbacks during freshman year or if s/he had a difficult time adjusting in high school, reassure your student that this is a new year. Your student can always move forward regardless of any setbacks. Here are some additional things to consider for your high school sophomore.

Have your student participate in extracurricular activities and resume brainstorming
Getting involved in sports, academic clubs or the arts is a great way for your student to have a well-rounded academic background. Not only is it fun to meet others, it may also develop an interest that is there already. Have them also write down all involvement for a later resume to colleges.

Have your student explore internships and apprenticeships
Internships and apprenticeships are very valuable. It gives your student a first-hand look at possible career options and hands on job experience. It also provides an opportunity for a real connection with a mentor that could later help in the recommendation process with colleges.

Have your student enroll in a summer enrichment program
These programs are developed to give students exposure to a variety of fields. Developed by specialists, children can enroll in several different courses during their session to provide an overview of career and interest areas.

Go over the PLAN results
If your student took the PLAN put out by ACT, in their sophomore year, it is a good idea to go over the results and identify the areas that are in need of improvement. Be sure to incorporate extra help in those areas and plan your student’s next academic year accordingly. This can ultimately help them improve their score on the ACT. Make sure your student uses the College Planning Network SAT/ACT Prep Courses as they’ve proven over and over to get great results!

Protect your money!
You’ve worked hard for your money. Protect that money by working with your College Funding Advisor. They can help you implement strategies so that your savings does not increase your Expected Family Contribution.

JUNIOR YEAR
It’s 11th grade for your student. What a terrific time this is! S/he has already completed 2 years of high school and if there have been weak areas that need to be strengthened; this is the time to have it corrected. You’ll notice the momentum picking up here. Things will get busier so stay on top of all of the activities. Here are some other items to add to your list, as well.

Consider having your student earn college credit
One way to make things easier for your student while in college is to complete some classes while still in high school. These courses can be taken through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Post-Secondary Enrollment Options and College in the Schools programs.

Have your student narrow down possible career options
If your student has shown interest in several areas, have him/her narrow down the fields and investigate the type of education that is needed. Talking to people in the fields your student is interested in is another way to find out how they got to where they are. A good ongoing resource tool is the Career Cruising Program. Your student should definitely review these results and brainstorm ideas with their CPN Student Mentoring session.

Start Researching the Schools Websites
If your student has already narrowed down his/her school list, this is a good time to really dig in and equest admissions forms. You can’t start too early on this paperwork and most people put it off until the very end. Don’t be one of them!

Have your student take the ACT and/or SAT
It’s still not too late to register for the ACT and/or SAT. They are still offering exams until June. Register now, if you want your student to take these exams. And definitely use the College Planning Network SAT/ACT Prep Courses to help increase their scores! It’s a great resource that is available any time right on your family’s College Planning Network webpage.

Get your financial game plan in place!
Guard the money you’ve worked so hard to put away. You want to protect what you’ve saved for your student. Your College Funding Advisor can help you implement strategies so that your savings does not increase your Expected Family Contribution. They can also help you develop a plan on how you are going to pay your out-of-pocket college costs in the most efficient way.

SENIOR YEAR
It’s 12th grade and your student is almost done! S/he has been through the rigors of 3 years of high school and is now near completing the final year. What an accomplishment! This year has probably been very busy thus far. Here are a few things to think of as your student finishes this last year.

Create a resume
Now is the time to fine-tune your resume. This will come in handy now for colleges and later for a job search. Go over work history, activities; in and out of school, leadership, service and any other awards or recognitions they have received. Jot them down in a resume format that looks crisp and clean. We can help you with how to present yourself through your resume!

Have your student look for summer employment
Having your student find work in the summer time is one of many ways for him/her to learn to value of work and earning their own money. These skills will be useful in many areas of his/her life and can be valuable in college, as well. Your student can use the money earned to save for his/her college expenses, too.

Stay focused!
Most students are so ready to just be done with high school at this time. Make sure you check in with your student to ensure they are still doing well in his/her classes.

Keep your money safe from Financial Aid Formulas
Your College Funding Advisor is there to help protect the money you’ve worked so hard to put away for this important occasion. Make sure you talk to them about any potential strategies you can take advantage of.

College planning for your student can be a daunting task. Navigating the many responsibilities required in this process may make you feel like you need your own personal assistant. That’s why we are here. We can be the guide to assist you in creating, developing and implementing your own unique college plan.

Best wishes, and until next month, have a joyous start to spring!

How do you stack up for an admissions officer?

Do you wonder how you stack up for college admission success?

Well rounded and grounded students are what they want, how do you stack up?  A survey conducted by Money.com found the following attributes/traits to be critical for college admissions success.

  1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.
  2. Grades that represent a strong effort and an upward trend. However, slightly lower grades in a rigorous program are preferred to all A’s in less challenging coursework.
  3. Solid scores on standardized tests (ACT, SAT). These should be consistent with high school performance.
  4. A well-written essay that provides insight into the student’s unique personality, values, and goals. The application essay should be thoughtful and highly personal. It should demonstrate careful and well-constructed writing.
  5. Passionate involvement in a few in- or out-of-school activities. Commitment and depth are valued over minimal involvement in a large number of activities.
  6. Demonstrated leadership and initiative in extracurricular activities. Students who arrive on campus prepared to lead clubs and activities are highly desirable.
  7. Personal characteristics that will contribute to a diverse and interesting student body. Many colleges seek to develop a freshman class that is diverse: geographically, culturally, ethnically, economically, and politically.
  8. Letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors that give evidence of integrity, special skills, positive character traits, and an interest in learning.
  9. Special talents that will contribute to the college’s student life program. Colleges like to know what you intend to bring to campus, as well as what you’ll take from your college experience.

It’s not too late to embrace a few changes to ensure college admissions success.