College

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“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 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.  
 

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

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“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

 

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.

Transitioning to College: 3 Differences Your Child Will Experience

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Dear Parent,

We are now fill swing back into the school year after the end-of-year break, and most students are not experiencing very many surprises at this point.  The school year often can tend to assume a feeling of sameness and even drudgery for students during the long stretch run after the holidays – other students can take the same situation and find a level of comfort in the continuity of how things run at school through this period.  It rather all depends on how the student views the high school experience, in many ways.

However, one thing to keep in mind – especially as high school continues into the junior and senior years – is that this sameness and continuity WILL NOT persist once a college-bound student reaches his goal and begins attending college or university.  College is a whole new ball game, as they say, and students need to be prepared for the changes or they could end up on the wrong side of them.

Keeping that important reality in mind, this month’s newsletter focuses on some of the biggest changes that face tomorrow’s college freshmen as they make the transition into the world of higher education.  When a student and his or her parents have taken the time to become aware of what to expect at the next level, and especially when they have actually put some time and effort into preparing to manage these important new realities that are inherent to college or university studies, the chances of a successful start – not to mention a successful finish – for this crucial educational experience increase dramatically.

Sadly, our experience shows that students who ignore these significant lifestyle and organizational changes until they are actually happening are often among those who end up struggling academically (and even socially at times).  Without wanting to seem too dramatic, we also see that these students are frequently those that find themselves in danger of failing or dropping out of college entirely.  So really, there can be no question about whether or not this stuff ultimately matters!

Without any further delay, then, here are some of the biggest changes that today’s students face when making the big leap from high school to college studies… many of them may sound familiar to those that faced earlier generations, but there are others that have come along fairly recently.  Things change in some regards, and things remain similar in other regards, and finding the balance between them is important when dealing with these kinds of coming-of-age generational gaps.

We urge you to prepare as much as possible for each eventuality, and if you need any clues or tips on how to manage them, remember that your College Funding Advisor is just a phone call or email away.  Remember that we deal with these elements each and every year and will be happy to provide insights, advice, or strategize with families who have students approaching the college years.  Here are some of the most important things that students these days will notice as they make the jump to college or university life.

Time Management

In high school, students are expected – nay, required – to go to every class, every single day. When a class is missed, there must be an excused absence. Classes that are missed or skipped by students can result in serious repercussions. Detention is the usual consequence for skipping class in high school, although there can be other forms of punishment, as well. Having had high school detention may not go on the high school transcript, but it does go on the full student record. Interestingly, this record can be requested by the college… it does not happen very often, but it is possible.

It does not necessarily reflect favorably on the student if there are “red flags” in that regard, so it is better to be on the safe side of things.  Regardless, this set of rules clearly demonstrates that the student is required to attend class or be faced with the disciplinary consequences for not doing so.

Conversely, in college, no one will be checking (or, frankly, care) whether or not your child attends class. Attending class at the next level is exclusively the responsibility of the student.  Attendance may or may not be taken, depending on the class, but the consequences are delayed and generally come strictly in the gradebook.  Attending lectures and assimilating the information and knowledge is wholly dependent on the student’s initiative to go and participate. This is, of course, a major shift in personal responsibility. While some students thrive under those circumstances, many others can tend to falter when suddenly given the duty of managing their own time and schedule – especially if this development occurs unexpectedly.

When students are fully aware of and prepared for this drastic change in personal responsibility, they can more fully take advantage of the education they are receiving. Young people who are unprepared often waste time and money because they do not completely comprehend that their lack of responsibility for their own learning is only hurting them and the ramifications have further reaching effects than simply in-school detention.

Changes in Class Size and Organization

High school classes can usually reach a maximum of approximately 35 students. Compare that to college, where some lecture halls can seat literally hundreds of students at a time. This difference can be a shock to high school students who are used to and expecting more individualized attention. In classes where there are hundreds of students, it is simply impossible for a professor to accommodate and give personalized attention to that many students.

There are often graduate students who serve as teaching assistants, but these can vary in quality (many are excellent, but some are pretty darned awful) and it can really place the onus on the new college student to navigate his or her way into the best learning options both in lecture and in office hours, etc.  Incoming college students will also need to prepare for the need to take excellent notes and listen attentively, because not doing so could result in the loss of important information.  This is also good information to know for students who prefer a smaller class experience. Private schools often tend to be smaller and therefore can provide the more intimate and individualized experience some students desire.

This is something to consider before applying to any set of colleges and universities. In general, the bigger the college, the bigger the class size!  That may or may not be something that affects your child one way or the other, but it is important to remember when planning.

Learning to Take Initiative

College is not the place for students who need or what their hand held. Higher education requires that students begin to grow up and take responsibility for themselves, and this can sometimes be a significant challenge for those who are not adequately prepared. One of the ways that students will need to do this is by taking initiative for themselves.

While in high school, a student who may be struggling in a subject or class would likely be approached by the teacher to establish some kind of protocol for assisting the student to better learn the material. This might be letting the parents know about the difficulty the student is having, or working personally with the child to help him or her better grasp the material.

This approach generally does not happen in college. If the student in a college class is having difficulty in the class, the student is responsible for seeking out and choosing appropriate measures to better master the material. This could entail approaching the teacher and letting him or her know that there is a lag in assimilating the subject matter. The teacher and student could then strategize together about what measures could be taken going forward that could help the student better learn the subject material. Once again, however, the onus for this process remains with the student. If the student does not take the initiative to better grasp the material or make it known to the professor that he or she is having difficulty then the risk increases of failing the class.

As we mentioned above, students who are preparing for their college years will do well to consider these altered circumstances well before the time comes for them to head off to their freshman year experience.  Yes, many high schools will take a strong role in helping college-bound kids to understand, develop, and implement strategies in this regard – but others may not.  For this reason, we are pleased to work with parents and students on any of the details surrounding the college preparation and application processes.  We have years of experience and knowledge in this regard, as well as helping parents to prepare financially for their significant part of the overall college burden.

This breadth of knowledge allows us to be uniquely qualified for helping families with their college preparation, and if we may be so bold as to say so, helps to make us one of the most valuable resources available for parents and students during the pre-college years.  We have a wide variety of programs and educational plans in place to help parents with the financial part of the college question.

Among our more successful educational options for providing this crucial information directly to the parents of high school kids is via our popular College Funding Workshops.  These workshop presentations are delivered live by experienced College Funding Professionals, and they target the families of today’s college-bound students with the most current information available.  Based on responses from our past attendees, these workshops do an excellent job of providing the most pertinent information that parents definitely need throughout this crucial time of college preparation.

The workshops are always organized purposefully for locations and times (with evening and weekend times available) that tend to work well for parents. There are never any admission fees charged for the workshops, but we do require a reservation in order to optimize the learning environment and maintain safety standards.  To reserve a place in one of the upcoming workshops, or if you have any questions about the workshops themselves, please simply place a call to our office staff.  Our phone number is (614) 934-1515 and our staff will be happy to help you further.

Our workshops are certainly a wonderful option for gaining information, but we also recognize that some parents will wish to read up on the foundational aspects of college funding preparation for themselves.  With this fact in mind, we have prepared a wonderful written report that provides a strong, basic overview of this crucial information.  Our report deals with the most important points regarding financial requirements and planning for parents of college-bound students, and we are justifiably proud of the way that it covers the process in an understandable manner.

Our report is titled “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College,” and we are happy to offer it as a free resource to learn the basics regarding the financial requirements for a college or university education.  To receive your own no-obligation copy of this valuable “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College” report in the mail, you can simply request one from our staff at (614)934-1515. We appreciate your interest and it will be our pleasure to send out a copy to you right away.

Until next month,

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College Planning 101: the ‘B’ word(Budget)

     

“Cost-Saving Strategies For College

That You Can Begin To Implement NOW

We do not rest, however, and if you have followed our blogs in the past for even just a short time, you probably are aware that we believe there is no wrong time for us to introduce and discuss some of the most important cost-saving elements for tomorrow’s college students.

Some of these things involve proper financial planning and a good understanding of the college funding process – but others are skills that can – and should – be mastered by parents and students as early as possible, to make the costs of college more manageable no matter where a child ends up going to school.

Getting through the undergraduate degree is a big undertaking, there is no question about it, and it is also a significant financial challenge with the current cost of higher education.  However, we have become experts in recognizing ways that these costs can be best managed and even minimized in many cases, and we are eager to share these tips with families of future college students.

Strategy 1: Tallying Pooled Resources

If your child will be receiving funds from grandparents, aunts and uncles, employment, or other sources while in college, it is important to create a budget including all of these amounts.  When this is done then everyone is made aware and everyone is on the same page. Include all sources of income from grandma’s birthday money to income from a summer job. These sources should all be included in the budget to get a clearer picture of what there is to work with. Here’s a comprehensive to further assist with what should be included as part of the budget:

  • All income received: This income should include the money that your child will have once at school, any relief given from the financial aid package and any money that comes in regularly to your child.
  • Monthly income: If there are funds that are coming in from a part-time job or other sources on a monthly basis, include these funds.

Strategy 2: Creating a Budget

Yes, we are not afraid to mention the dreaded “B-word” in our newsletters.  Managing college finances can ONLY be effectively done when a budget is created and followed – trust us, we have seen this simple fact played out both ways (for better and for worse) many, many times.  When creating the budget, it’s important to include the following items:

  • Overall Income: All income listed above which includes all income received and any monthly or income that comes in on a regular basis.
  • Discretionary Income: This is ‘fun’ money. It’s important to have fun while in college. The point is often that too many college students have TOO much fun and blow the money they receive while in college, and end up in bad financial circumstances. Students should learn to set some aside just for having fun, manage it well, and be sure to not go beyond it.
  • Necessities: Items that are absolutes while in college. These include books, computer, etc.
  • Wants: There are always nice things that can make college life a bit easier. These items can go in the ‘wants’ category.
  • Fixed Expenses: Include all expenses that occur on a monthly basis.
  • Variable Expenses: Include all expenses that occur but vary from month to month.
  • Savings: Even in college, there should be money set aside that is an emergency fund or simply savings for a rainy day. Include this amount that is done in the beginning or on a regular basis.
 

Strategy 3: Saving Money in Unexpected Ways

There are numerous ways to cut costs while in college. Here are some ways to painlessly cut costs without sacrificing fun or depriving oneself.

  • Purchase used textbooks or, better yet, rent them if possible. This option is available at many universities and can save considerably on costs. College textbook prices have simply gone through the roof in most cases!
  • Set a designated amount aside for fast food or restaurant meals per week, if needed, and cook the rest at home. Alternatively, utilize a dining plan which can also save time and money.
  • Set money aside for needed purchases and/or fun purchases.
  • Avoid late fees on credit cards or other bills by always paying on time.
  • Don’t purchase cable television. Instead watch shows on a computer.
  • Use eBay, craigslist, or other online resources to sell unwanted or unused items.
  • Look for campus activities to socialize, etc. There are often movie nights, campus museums, etc. that can be utilized instead of spending a lot of money going out.
  • Skip Starbucks and make coffee/tea/hot chocolate at home. There will be significant savings!
  • If a loan is necessary, make sure that it’s only related to college expenses.
  • Bike around campus! At most colleges and universities, there is really no need for a car.

 

Strategy 4: Re-think The “Four Year Experience”

I hope there’s no misunderstanding from this heading. This is not to mean AT ALL that one should miss out on college, or not complete a bachelor’s degree. Quite the opposite, in fact. We fully support and base our efforts around students completing a four-year degree in the most successful and expedited manner possible.

 

While the average time spent in college is creeping ever higher (to our chagrin), there are still some motivated and organized students who complete a 4-year degree in as little as three years – and looking at the annual costs of college, that saves families and students a significant amount of money!  It also allows graduates to enter into the workforce earlier, or move on to graduate or professional training earlier, which means that the overall financial benefit from early graduation is magnified even further.

If cutting costs are a priority for your college student then one very effective way to do this is to complete advanced placement credit in high school, complete junior college credits during high school (if that option is offered where you live), take summer classes between academic years, or in some cases even head first to another less expensive institution, and then apply to transfer to the desired four-year university afterwards.

There will always be general classes that are a requirement for most universities. These classes can be taken at a community or junior college for significantly less money, as long as the acceptability of the credits is cleared in advance, of course! It can sometimes be a wise choice, financially, to use community college – or even an associate’s degree, in some cases – as part of the foundation for undergraduate education.  After all, the bachelor’s degree only has the name of one school on it!

Paying for college starts by understanding your budget and planning for the future.  

Let’s talk College Admissions & Funding Myths

 

“Understanding and Overcoming These MYTHS About College Funding And Admissions”

Dear Parent,

Here’s wishing you a happy holiday season with memorable times with your family and friends.  At this time of the year we find that it is a fine time for reflection on the wonderful experiences and accomplishments both this year and in years past.  For many families this includes wonderful college and university experiences that have added richness, enjoyment, and success to their family lives.  Higher education is certainly a sacrifice and a lot of effort, but there is no question that the value of it echoes over time.

With that in mind, this month’s newsletter emphasizes some of the elements of “commonly held wisdom” about college that turn out not to be true at all!  These myths about college funding and admissions seem to persist for a variety of reasons.  Some of them might have been true (or partially true) many years ago, but times have changed.  Others might have affected one person (or a very few people), but unfounded rumors about their prevalence seem to persist.  Still others have no real basis in fact whatsoever, but get passed around by people who do not know the details themselves.  However they get started however, we view it as our responsibility to make sure the truth is available!  After all, college admissions and funding issues affect EVERY college bound student to some degree or other…

We hope that as these myths and rumors are put to rest, you will feel free to pass good information on to other parents… and should other questions or suspicious bits of information arise in the future, please feel free to use us (your College Funding Professional) as a sounding board for the most up to date information – as well as how this information might directly affect your student and your family.

Without further ado, then, allow us to tackle a few of the most common myths and rumors that seem to persist from year to year to year – obviously, if we find ourselves running into them each and every college cycle, then we are pretty sure that many of you parents (and students) will see them, as well.  With this information, and any other questions we might be able to answer for you in an individual setting, you will be well on your way to managing the college admissions and funding process with a healthy set of facts and knowledge…

And knowledge, in this case as well as many others, is definitely powerful! 

MYTH 1. “Everyone Graduates With Student Debt”

Absolutely NOT!  The simple truth is that not everyone graduates with student debt. It is quite common, to be sure, especially in the current financial circumstances… but there are plenty of possibilities for a student to leave college without the burden of student debt. There are always some fortunate (intelligent, well-organized) students and parents who manage to finish the college years without it. It is not necessarily easy, but with the proper advice and planning it is absolutely possible.

If your child is an excellent student, there will always be additional options available. Your child can apply for scholarships for part of the cost. High GPAs and standardized test scores may also make your child eligible for some scholarships and grants directly from the school to which s/he is applying. Applying to the right schools and having strong academic scores will certainly help to make your child a very attractive applicant. Schools will then often be willing to do what they can to attract your child and that can translate, in some cases, to a full-ride – although these scholarships are rare.

In some cases, your child may go to a school that is not his or her first choice in favor of a package that provides more aid. If leaving school without a mountain of debt is a high priority for you and your child then this may be a suitable choice.  However, your College Funding Advisor can often help to mitigate these types of circumstances if families start the process early enough!

MYTH 2. “Going To College Is Just About Gaining Book-Smarts”

This may have been true at one time, when education was for education’s sake (for better and for worse) but the reality is these days that higher education is also a business. Colleges want to ensure their investment in any student is a solid one. They also want to make sure they are solvent. This can mean higher and higher tuition costs and fees. While this can seem disheartening at first glance, it can also be empowering for prospective students.

Just like any business, consumers have leverage over businesses. If they do not like something, they can always take their business elsewhere. This is a tack that can be used when applying to colleges. If your child is an excellent student and/or an intriguing applicant, it is completely acceptable to pit one school against the other in order to amass the most amount of aid. It is good business for colleges to find the brightest students, so they will do what is necessary to make it worth your child’s while to attend their college.  Your College Funding Advisor is well versed in the best strategies for making this work to your student’s advantage.

MYTH 3. “College Is Always Really Expensive”

Well, we will be the first to admit that higher education CAN be really expensive… but it doesn’t have to be, and it does not have to lead to debt, as indicated above. If one is willing to get creative and ‘think outside the box’ then getting a college education without breaking the bank is not only possible, it’s probable.

For example, if your child is taking AP classes in high school more often than not, these classes will count as college classes and your child can actually earn some college credit while in high school. Each college and university is different so it would be worth your while to do the research as to what classes will be accepted as credit and so forth.  We will be pleased to assist in that if necessary.

For students, applying to a diverse group of schools is a smart choice. It will broaden the options for your child and the types of award packages they will receive. This means more choices and more freedom for your child to choose the one that is the best fit.  The better the offer from the financial aid office at each school, the smaller the bill becomes!

MYTH 4. “Private Schools Are Expensive – My Child Can’t Attend One”

Private schools usually ARE expensive – at least, the sticker shock is high – but, as we’ve previously elaborated, it doesn’t have to be. The list price for private schools can be shocking to most, but it is rarely what students end up actually having to pay. Private schools often cost more off the top, sure, but private schools also almost always have more money to give to their incoming students. In fact, depending on your child’s academic and extracurricular credentials, s/he could pay less at a fancy private institution than an in-state school.

Aid packages from private schools often tend to be heftier than those from public schools. Making it known to the admissions officers that your child is seriously comparing other colleges may prompt them to increase an aid package. It’s not a guarantee, but as we indicated above, it is a tactic that you can use. An aid package received is not written in stone. You can always respectfully have the financial aid office review a package in light of new information, or when comparing it to another aid package that is similar but slightly more competitive. It never hurts to ask, and you never know what will happen. Your child may just get into a great private school at a super price!

MYTH 5. “If You Make Enough Money, Don’t File Financial Aid Forms”

Regardless of your financial circumstances, it is always a good idea to fill out financial aid forms. There are several reasons for this. For example, if you do not apply, you will not receive any aid. Now that seems quite simplistic, however, if circumstances change while your child is in school and a need were to suddenly arise, s/he would not be eligible for any aid because there would be no forms on file.  It is better to be safe than sorry!

Also, even if your child is able to attend school without any need-based aid, is s/he has qualified for scholarships, those funds will not be released unless there are financial aid forms on file. So, while it may seem unnecessary if you are in the fortunate circumstance of being able to send your child to school without the need of extra aid, you never know what can happen in the future. It is better to take the time to file those financial aid forms, and we are happy to assist.

 

Parents and college-bound students will run into more incorrect details than just these, of course, but it is for precisely that reason that we are pleased to make ourselves available for consultations and individual questions.  Feel free to ask us about any details surrounding your child’s college application process, as well as how parents can best tackle the financial questions surrounding this enormous step.

Parents often find that their jobs in the overall higher education process are every bit as challenging as the students applying for and attending their dream schools!  We make it our business to apply our knowledge and educational skills to help simplify both the parental tasks and the student efforts.

One of our most successful teaching options for the delivery of this vital information to parents is through our excellent College Funding Workshops.  These are live workshops delivered by certified College Funding Professionals specifically for the parents of today’s college-bound students.  According to feedback from our attendees, these presentations really deliver the informational goods when it comes to providing an introduction to the college funding information parents need.

We always schedule our workshops at locations and times (including evening and weekend options) that will mesh with parents and their busy schedules. While we refuse to charge any admission costs for workshop attendance, an advance reservation is required for safety and planning purposes.  If you have questions or would like more information, or to reserve a seat for one of upcoming dates, please just call our office.

While the workshops are a great option, we also know that some parents are more likely to want to digest the basics for college funding preparation on their own.  Because of this fact, and because there are always some parents who simply cannot attend a workshop, we publish a written report which also introduces this information.  The publication covers the financial education needs of today’s parents of college bound kids, and it really does introduce the college funding process in an excellent and easily understandable way.

The report is called “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College,” and each year parents report that it is an outstanding resource for learning the basics for funding a future college or university education.  To receive a free copy of the “Nine New Ways To Beat The High Cost of College” report, which is also free of charge or obligation, give our team a ring at 614.934.1515. We will be very pleased to put a copy of it into the mail for you immediately.

Happy Holidays!

Until next month,

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