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Searching for the Right College or University?

“How To Find The Right College Or University

For Your Child…And His/Her Interests”

Dear Parent,

We are pleased in this month’s newsletter to focus on something that counts among the most exciting parts of the college preparation process. Yes, it is actually true – not ALL of the preparation for college is stressful! In fact, if you work with a good college funding advisor it can become an exciting and inspiring time, indeed.

With this in mind, we are pleased to provide you this month with some of our most valuable and helpful tips for selecting the optimal college or university for your child’s higher education experience. We have seen, through years of experience in the college application and funding processes, that many families seem to get a bit bogged down in what can become a highly competitive process, in a number ways.

It can be very easy for some students (and their parents) to focus in on such things as college rankings by news magazines, or the most competitive institutions, or even the old (and resoundingly ridiculous) debate regarding the inherent value of public and private schools. We are here to urge parents and high school students to make their college application decisions based on the things that truly matter… and also to be prepared both academically and financially, so that the best options available for a rising college freshman do not exceed the college budget!

There are some things that are undeniably important for the selection of a future alma mater – and then there are some other things that might seem important at the outset, but really matter very little in the long run. In addition, some of the things that might seem to influence a college decision in the early stages can actually turn out to lead a student away from his or her ideal program of study.

With that in mind, please review these important topics both now and as the time comes to decide on a college. They are important, and we see this each and every year in our work as college funding professionals – and remember that the selection of an application list (not to mention where your son or daughter actually attends school) are among the most important part of your family’s college preparation experience.


Selecting The Right Kind of College

Finding the right college can seem overwhelming at first, but breaking down the criteria according to your child’s interests and strengths can make the task completely doable. One of the first criteria to consider is the type of college. Along with thousands of colleges and universities, there are also currently around 1,500 junior/community colleges in the United States, so there is certainly not a lack of options! A lot of the options will be determined, of course, by how well your child performed in high school, on entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, and other variables. Colleges and universities have the cachet and offer excellent training, but there are some instances where a good junior or community college can work out well for a student – while allowing him/her to complete core credits that will transfer to many 4-year institutions later.

At the 4-year school level, there are also decisions between liberal arts schools, specialized institutes, full universities, arts conservatories, and technological institutions. With that in mind, some vital questions to consider will be:

1. Does my child want to go to a four-year or a two-year college?
Now, if your child wants to only go to a 2-year college or community college, or begin there and continue at a 4-year school afterward, then they should understand that they will receive an associate’s (2-year) degree. At a four-year college, they will receive a bachelor’s (4-year) degree. Depending on what their plans are for after college, they should consider what will be most useful and marketable when they plan to enter the workforce. In general, of course, graduates with well-planned out careers will make more with a higher degree.

2. Does my child have special talents or interests influencing his/her college selection?
As seen above in the listing of different types of 4-year schools, there are options for kids who are gifted in a variety of fields, from the sciences to the arts and almost everywhere in between. Because of this, it is important to see where your child sees his/her future career, and to determine the best possible location for him/her to pursue a higher education to achieve these goals.

3. Does my child want to go to a private or a public college?
As we have noted above, this is often a moot point, even though the private college or public college decision is a difficult choice for many. Many parents and students rule private colleges out immediately out of hand because they believe them to be far more expensive than public colleges. However, this is not always the case. Many private colleges actually provide a great deal more aid than public ones due to their private funding and support from generous alumni, etc.

For this reason, it is important to do your homework and not necessarily exclude private colleges simply because of ‘sticker shock.’ Private colleges have the reputation of being more selective, as well. This is also not the case across the board. It really depends on the school and one shouldn’t limit their possibilities based on faulty assumptions. For this reason, it is important to look at the education being offered, and get a full story on the actual cost of attendance for each school – whether public or private. Remember also that your college funding advisor can help you get a complete breakdown of these actual costs.

Do NOT Underestimate The Location!

Location is a major consideration for many incoming students – and for their parents, as well. In fact, many students and their families may find that it is one of their main considerations. If this is the case, it does offer an easy way to narrow down options for colleges.

There are several things to consider when choosing a college location:

1. Does my child like an urban setting?
An urban setting can be a wonderful college experience for many reasons. If your child has an interest in culture, urban colleges offer a variety of cultural opportunities. There are many museums, theatres, orchestras, and galleries that can offer inspiration to any budding artist. Most colleges set in cities are spread out throughout the city so often the city is the campus. This can be exciting to students who like to experience the busy pace and offerings only found in a city environment.

2. Does my child prefer a suburban setting?
A suburban setting can be nearly ideal. It is usually close to a major metropolitan city, but not directly in it. There is access to outdoor activities and also opportunities to get to the city for other events. These colleges are usually self-contained which is nice for students who prefer to have a feeling of community within the college.

3. Does my child like to stay in a rural environment?
Rural colleges can provide a terrific college life for the incoming student. These campuses are often self-contained so one really gets a ‘feel’ of what the community and college feel like. If your child has an interest in agriculture, a rural college may be just the place for him or her. Outdoor activities are plentiful in rural colleges so if your child has a passion for the outdoors then a rural setting may be a good choice.

Choosing What to Study

Choosing a major is very important because it determines what your child’s primary educational focus will be. The nice thing to know is that there is (usually) no immediate rush to choose a major. Many incoming students believe that they need to have their major chosen prior to entering college. It’s simply not true! One can even change his or her major midstream if the need arises, although this can add to the length of study in many cases.

However, if your child needs some guidance to get started on thinking of his or her major, here are some questions to consider:

1. What are your child’s favorite subjects in school?
Does your child have a blast in math class? Does physics come easily to him or her? These are just some questions to mull over while your child is deciding on what major(s) to choose college. The classes where they show the most aptitude may also be ones they might want to pursue in college. If their aptitude and enthusiasm for the subject are aligned then moving in that direction for a major seems absolutely the right choice.

2. Does your child have an interest in different subjects?
The nice thing about college is that one does not have to focus entirely on one area. One can double major or do a major and a minor in two different areas. This is a great option for those students who have strong interests in different fields.

Bearing these topics in mind as the high school years pass, and as your student begins to consider and research different colleges and universities, can help to make the process significantly less stressful. Looking at the things that really matter, and focusing on how to prepare your child to succeed at the next level, will also help to keep a lot of the background noise to a minimum. If you ever find that you are in need of insights or assistance along these lines, please remember that we as college funding and application experts not only will have proper answers, but we are always willing to help!

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Until next month,

Financial Skills to Develop Now

“Financial Skills That Your Future College Student (&parent) Should Be Developing Now”

As college funding professionals it is absolutely imperative that we understand the college preparation experience from two specific perspectives.  The first is the academic admissions process itself, so that we can help students optimize their experience in higher education for the brightest future possible.  The second is the financial side of the process – without which the higher education experience is impossible to begin with!

However, we have seen time and time again that, in order for things to work optimally during the college years, the financial side of things CANNOT be left only to the parents.  It is absolutely crucial that young people gain a respect for and understanding of money, of the costs inherent to college, and of the importance of their personal role in keeping the financial ship afloat during their college years.

It is no secret that college or university in America is an expensive proposition, and it does not appear to be getting cheaper any time soon.  For this reason, the most successful students at the next level are going to be those who are able to excel academically, yes, but also those who are develop and implement good financial skills and decision-making throughout their college experiences.

We are aware that there are adults who have not learned some of these skills for themselves, or some who learned them later than others.  This reality does not change the importance of young people learning these skills and responsibilities as early as possible, so that there are not additional financial hurdles that could cause a student to be unable to finish his or her college degree due to poor money choices.  (Yes, sadly enough this does happen, and in most cases it can be avoided with some preventive work!)

Our main focus is on helping families and student to achieve their goals – this process becomes infinitely easier when the following skill set is understood and implemented early in a young person’s life.  Should there be any additional questions about the points listed in this month’s newsletter, please feel free to contact us directly.  We have many years of experience in helping families to make these processes work for themselves both in the home environment and away at school, and it is our pleasure to assist in making them work for you and for your college bound student!

1) Plan a Monthly Budget

Caring for one’s resources is an extremely vital skill. This skill can actually be learned from an early age and carried on throughout life, but it can also be learned later on if needed.  Regardless, understanding and managing one’s finances is something that will become vitally necessary while in college. The immediate level of management will depend, at least somewhat, on where your child will be living. If your child is on campus and will be participating in a meal plan at the cafeteria then budgeting for food will be less complicated, for example. However, if your child plans to live (or eventually move) off-campus then budgeting will become even more important.

No matter where s/he lives, you and your child can decide together which things s/he will be responsible for purchasing. For example, your child may want to have money set aside for entertainment or travel while you, as the parent, may want to cover all books completely. Communication and planning are the key, here.  Once you’ve decided who is responsible for what then you can move forward.

There are three things that should be considered when setting up a budget:

  1. Big Picture: What are your goals? What do you plan to do with the money you have each term or semester?
  2. The How: What will you use to manage your money? What tools or strategies work for you?
  3. The Gory Details: What are your spending habits? Do you need to adjust some habits to align with personal financial goals?

Answering these questions first will help while setting up a monthly budget.

2) Start A (GOOD!) Credit History

Getting started on a credit card for a newly minted college student can be a precarious venture for many young people.  The fact of the matter is, that a college student WILL be beginning his or her credit history with the first year of higher education… for better or for worse.  However, if the college freshman is responsible it can be an ideal time to start his or her positive credit history.

If your child is ready for a credit card then this might be just the time to get his or her credit history started. Getting this history started now will help your child down the road. When they are ready to rent an apartment or buy a car, a credit history will be generated and the longer it is with a clean record will make it easier for them to negotiate and find the best possible deals. There are many cards that have a very low credit limit, say $500, or so. This way your child can begin to work with the responsibility of paying a bill or two with the credit card and then pay it off each month to build positive credit history.

Guiding them to understand that the card is really a tool and not free money, this is the key! If they understand that it is to be used in a responsible way then this will help them stay on the right path. You can also assist by helping them set up online reminders to pay their bills so they are never late on a payment.

3) Learn to Cook at Home

If your child plans on living off campus then this will give them a taste of ‘real life’ right away. One of the great things about living on your own is the chance to cook for yourself. If your child learned cooking skills at home already then living on his or her own should be a snap. Cooking from home has so many benefits. It is healthier and saves a lot of money. There are many online tools that can help with meal prep, shopping guides, etc. There are also many videos that can give cooking basics if s/he is unsure how to get started.

Meal planning (and sharing with like-minded roommates, if possible) can also make a hectic schedule go a lot more smoothly. Between classes and studying, it can be difficult to set aside a lot of time to cook a fresh meal. If meal plans are done in advance then your child can meal prep and in just a few hours can have meals planned and ready in the fridge for a whole week. A little bit of planning goes a long way!

4) Track Expenses

Tracking expenses can be really tedious, but it’s also important. It gives your child a bird’s eye view of exactly what his or her spending habits are. There are several ways that you can track expenses. The good old-fashioned way is holding onto receipts and sorting through them at the end of the month. This is time consuming but helpful. There are also numerous apps that can link to your checking account that will file the purchases according to the names you’ve given them such as: rent, entertainment, car payment, etc.

Tracking expenses is a great way to see exactly where your child is spending his or her  money. It is difficult to make adjustments and changes if s/he is unsure of where the money is going every month. This way, s/he has a clear idea of which areas are working really well and which areas could use some improvement.

5) “Do I Really Need This?”

This can be difficult for young adults and regular adults alike. Being on your own requires a lot of discipline and that is not always the easiest thing when someone is out of the house for the first time and are no longer under the direct guidance of a parent or guardian. It is important, however, to begin to develop the habits of self-discipline and self control.

There are many things in life that may look like a need (especially if we are to listen to marketers and advertisers!) but in reality they are actually a want. Delaying gratification and living without for a while can develop character in a young person. One question your child can ask whenever s/he is about to make a purchase is, “Is this a need or a want?” If it’s a want then it is important to have the maturity to be able to re-think the purchase again.

6) Keep the Future in View

There are so many changes happening when your child begins college. S/he is likely away from home for the first time. S/he is in a new place. S/he will have to make decisions about her life on her own. These are huge things! That is why it is so important to begin early, ideally before college, to encourage your child to begin with the end in mind.

Encourage them to have their own financial goals. It could be to save for a game or event or something smaller than that, but give them the incentive to see beyond the current moment. If they understand that their choices today impact their tomorrow then they may be more thoughtful and mindful in the decisions that they make.


            Some of these tasks might seem more challenging than others for some people, but we have seen the efficacy of them in making the college experience work financially for young people and their families year after year.  There is no question that they are an important part of the process of becoming an independent young person and setting the foundation for a bright future after the college years have ended.

Until next month,

Financial Realities of College-how much do you share?


 “The Financial Realities Of College:

How Much Should YOUR Child Know Before Starting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next month,

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.


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!


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!


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.


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 your busy schedule.


Happy Holidays,