College costs are skyrocketing. Whether you’re a student or the parent of a student, there’s no doubt you are well aware of the increasing costs of a college education.
Some students are unable to pursue their educational dreams because of these costs. Others are able to earn a degree, but graduate with so much debt that they aren’t able to save money for a car, home, or other important purchases. And still other families are able to pay for college without drowning in debt—but are focused to sacrifice many of their dreams, like vacations, a bigger home, or even retirement.
Clearly the rising costs of college are a major problem for students and families of all income levels. At US College Planning, our goal is to help each student get a great education—without sacrificing their financial future. Below are five steps that will help you or your student pay less for college… contact us today to learn more!
1) Structure your finances to receive maximum financial aid. Many families don’t realize that the way they structure their finances can make a dramatic difference in the financial aid award that their child receives. Proper planning can mean the difference between tens of thousands of dollars in financial aid—or no aid whatsoever.
2) Don’t apply for Early Decision. If you apply for Early Decision to a school and are accepted, you are “locked in” to attending. At this point, you have lost all leverage when it comes to negotiating your aid package. The school knows you’ll be attending, and has no motivation to give you a great package.
3) Apply to at least 5 schools. Even though many students have their heart set on a specific college, it’s important to apply to several. For one thing, you need to have a backup plan in case you are not admitted to the college of your choice. But more importantly for our purposes in this article, being accepted to multiple colleges gives you the ability to hold out for the best possible aid package from each.
4) Search high and low for scholarship opportunities. Aside from the aid offered by each school, there is a tremendous amount of funding available for college students. Contact us today if you’d like to learn how to access a wide variety of scholarship opportunities that you may not know about.
5) Know your deadlines. Whether it is the FAFSA or the financial aid deadlines at a specific school, it is essential that you know and meet all deadlines. Simply forgetting to file a form can cost you thousands of dollars each year—don’t make this mistake! We recommend creating a single calendar in which you list all dates and deadlines that relate to the admissions and financial aid process.
Attending college in 2012 is an expensive proposition. But with the right strategies, college can be affordable. These five tips will help you—but please contact us today if you’d like to learn more about paying for college without sacrificing your financial future!
Your letters of recommendation are a very important element of your college applications. Unfortunately, many high school students don’t give them the attention they deserve—and often, securing a letter of recommendation is a task that falls to the very last minute.
A well-crafted letter of recommendation written by the right person can provide a major boost for your chances of admission—so take this process seriously. Below are five tips to keep in mind:
1) Seek teachers, bosses, and others that have seen you at your best. Many students ask for letters of recommendation from their favorite teachers, or those that have impressed them the most. But the best letters will come from those that have seen you at your best—solving problems, overcoming challenges, and leading others.
2) Make the job as easy as possible. Provide your teacher with a stamped, addressed envelope when you request your letter of recommendation. Let him or her know your deadline as well as any other information they will need. They are doing you a big favor—don’t make them work any harder than they must.
3) Don’t wait until the last minute to ask a teacher for a recommendation. Writing a good letter takes time—and if you wait to request it, your teacher may not have the time to do a good job. In addition, some teachers will be highly sought-after for recommendation letters, and if you wait, they may not be able to write one for you at all.
4) Let your teacher or instructor know what you are trying to accomplish with this letter. We have talked in the past about the importance of creating a “theme” in your application. What is the picture you are trying to paint for your admissions counselor? Some students emphasize their leadership skills, others highlight their involvement in sports and extra-curricular activities, while still others focus on their academic record. Share your “story” with the teacher when you ask for a recommendation so that they will be able to strengthen it.
5) Don’t look for the most impressive name you can find—request letters of recommendation from those that know you well. Similar to what we discussed in point 1 above, it is far more important to seek a recommendation from a teacher or instructor who knows you well than it is to find an impressive individual who barely knows your name. A good letter of recommendation includes a thorough evaluation of your personality, your gifts, and your ability—and if the writer doesn’t know you well, there’s very little he or she can say.
Letters of recommendation are a vital part of your college applications. Good ones can play a significant role in persuading an admissions department that you are worthy of application. Take this process seriously! The tips we have shared here will help, but feel free to get in touch today if you’d like to learn more!
You have been working hard all year, and many of you have completed and submitted your college applications—so now what? No, it’s not time to start partying each night (although taking time to celebrate and responsibly reward yourself for the hard work you’ve put in is certainly reasonable!) The truth is that there are plenty of steps you can take right now to make things easier in the coming months. For instance:
1) Ensure that your financial aid paperwork has been completed and submitted. Many schools don’t require financial information to be submitted at the same time as your application, but the sooner you get it in the better off you will be. If you haven’t finished the paperwork, make it your top priority. Make sure to consult with an expert during this process—as the decisions you make here can save you (or cost you) tens of thousands of dollars.
2) Be realistic about the months to come. Of course, every student hopes to be admitted to their dream school. But it is important that you are realistic about your expectations—don’t set your hopes so high that you will be crushed by bad news. You’ve already done everything in your power to put yourself in the best possible position—now is the time to stay realistic and manage your expectations.
3) Make the most of your time with friends and family. If you’re going away to school, make an effort to enjoy the remaining months you still have at home. I know, I know: right now you are ready to move on to the next phase in your life—but make a point to enjoy your friends and family as much as you possibly can.
4) Research scholarships. As we have written before, there are a huge amount of scholarships available to college students—but you won’t know about the vast majority of them if you don’t look. Ask your guidance counselor for help identified, or search the internet. To ensure that no stone goes unturned, give us a call today—our specialists will make sure that you leverage every possible opportunity.
5) Create your “game plan” for the rest of the school year and the summer. From determining your financial aid package to visiting and ultimately selecting a school to attend, there are plenty of details which you must attend to before beginning college in the fall. Take advantage of this time to create a plan and a tentative timeline.
We have just covered five important things you can do while you wait to hear back from colleges—and now we are going to briefly discuss something you shouldn’t do: namely, repeatedly contact admissions departments in search of an update on your status. Bothering your counselors won’t help your cause or even speed the process up—but it might irritate them and end up harming your chances of admission. Rest assured, you will be contacted as soon as possible. Relax and focus on making the most of this time!
We talk regularly in this space about college admissions strategy. Today, we are going to change it up a bit as I share seven common admissions mistakes. Make sure you aren’t guilty of any of these!
1) Missing deadlines. As a high school senior, you’ve got plenty on your plate. And considering there are so many deadlines to keep track of as you apply to colleges and universities, it isn’t surprising that students often miss them. But a missed deadline can ruin your chances of getting in to your dream school, so it is essential that you keep organized and don’t overlook anything. I recommend creating a spreadsheet in which you can keep track of your deadlines for all of the different applications you are completing.
2) Failure to respond properly to essay prompts and other questions. Take the time to re-read questions and essay prompts before responding. Your admissions counselor is attempting to determine whether you have what it takes to thrive in their academic environment—and misreading the application will make him or her think twice. It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly if you’re working on a number of applications at the same time… but it’s a mistake you can’t afford to commit!
3) Typos and other grammatical mistakes. This should go without saying, but in today’s age of spell-checkers and auto-correct, many students no longer feel the need to go back and proofread everything they have written. Not only should you do so, but you should also have two friends or family members proofread your application for you as well. In some cases, a single typo may result in failing to gain admission… so don’t let it happen!
4) Using an inappropriate email address. An email address like “email@example.com” isn’t going to cut it. If your email address isn’t professional, create a new one specifically for use during the application process. It should include your first and last name, if possible.
5) Failing to secure letters of recommendation. Remember, writing a letter of recommendation requires time on the part of the teacher or administrator who is doing so. If you wait until the last minute to ask, they are either not going to do it—or they will be so rushed that they can’t do as good of a job as they’d like. Secure these letters as soon as you possibly can.
6) Not proofreading and polishing your application. As discussed above, typos and grammatical mistakes are unacceptable. But it’s also important to ensure that your application is as polished as possible. Don’t use abbreviations. Use complete sentences whenever possible. Avoid colloquial words and phrases.
7) Lack of a central “theme” to your application. From a big picture standpoint, it’s important to think about how you want to present yourself to colleges. Virtually every application will have weaknesses—maybe your grades aren’t as high as they could have been, your SAT score was lower than you’d hoped for, or you don’t have an impressive list of extra-curricular activities to display. Therefore, it’s important to highlight your strong points and you abilities while minimizing any shortcomings. This strategy should be reflected in your essays, your response to questions, your admissions interviews, and every other interaction you have with a school. Contact us today for more information on this subject!
As you are completing your applications, make sure that you don’t commit any of these common mistakes! Feel free to get in touch today to learn more.
UCLA recently released a survey of 203,967 first-year students at 270 U.S. four-year colleges and universities discussing their reasons for choosing a college. Below are the results:
It is not surprising that the most important factors in making this decision related to academics and financial aid. These are important factors each and every year.
And while there is nothing wrong with the top selections on this list, I’d like to add a bit of information to each of them.
1. “College has very good academic reputation.” A strong reputation is great—but don’t depend solely on it. Speak to current students and recent graduates and ask them about their experience. Did the academic environment live up to their expectations?
2. “This college’s graduates get good jobs.” This is an incredibly important factor in your decision—but make sure that the college in question has a track record of placing graduates in your specific field in these jobs. Depending on the major you intend to pursue, a college’s track record for job placement may be substantially better or worse than their overall average.
3. “I was offered financial assistance.” Virtually every school offers some form of financial aid—the real question is, have they offered enough? Contact us today and learn to maximize your aid award!
4. “A visit to the campus.” I highly recommend visiting a school before committing to it—but simply touring the campus isn’t enough. Talk to current students and ask them about their experience, both academically and extra-curricular.
5. “The cost of attending this college.” Cost is always a factor—but don’t focus on the “sticker price.” It is only after you have maximized your aid award from a number of different schools that you can truly determine which will cost you the least. Contact us today to learn more!
Choosing a college is an important decision. If you’d like to speak to an expert who can help you identify the best fit for you, give us a call today!
The college admissions process is complicated and overwhelming for many high school students and their parents—and the financial aid element of the equation is often too much to comprehend for many families. As a result, they end up taking whatever the financial aid department at their college tells them at face value. And the result of that decision, unfortunately, is often that the family pays far more than they should have for college.
It’s not that the family wants to overpay, and it’s not that they lack the ability to choose the right approach. It’s simply a matter of being overwhelmed with hundreds of the details, and not having the time or the energy to get to the bottom of the complicated financial aid process.
At US College Planning, one of our primary goals is to de-mystify the world of financial aid, and to help parents and students stop overpaying for college.
Today, we’re going to take a look at two of the basic types of financial aid that are available to students: need-based scholarships, and merit-based scholarships. We will start with a brief overview and then cover how you or your student can maximize their financial aid award. To learn more about this process, please contact us today!
Need-Based Scholarships and Grants
A need-based grants or scholarship is simply a sum of money awarded to a student based on the demonstrated financial need of the student and his or her family. This money does not have to be repaid as it is not a loan. Such aid is offered by a number of organizations, including the university or college your student is attending, the federal government, and private benefactors. The standards for determining financial needs may vary, but all need-based scholarships and grants are awarded based on demonstrated financial needs.
In order to qualify for need-based financial aid, it is important to correctly fill out and submit required documentation such as the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and other documentation provided from your school.
However, maximizing the aid you receive requires more extensive planning. At US College Planning, our experts work with families on a case-by-case basis to help them structure their finances in the most beneficial manner possible. Asset allocation is particularly important in determining the amount of need-based aid your student will qualify for. Contact us today to learn more!
Merit-Based Scholarships and Grants
A merit-based scholarship or grant is also a sum of money awarded to a student which will not have to be repaid. The difference is that a merit-based award is based upon achievement, not on financial needs. Common examples include awards based on academic performance or athletic ability.
Obviously, the amount of merit-based aid awarded depends on the accomplishments of the student—so study hard and pursue your extracurricular passions! However, it’s also important that these achievements are properly highlighted during the application process. We can help you with this—contact us today to learn more!
Need and merit-based scholarships are two of the most common forms of aid available to students. Of course, they are the most appealing as well—as they do not have to be repaid. Check back in the upcoming months to learn more about the financial aid process… and, as always, get in touch if you have any questions!
As the college admissions process rolls along this winter, many students and families begin earnestly considering their financial options. As the cost of a college degree continues to rise, families wisely begin to look for options to help them cover the cost. These options include financial aid offers from the schools themselves, work-study programs, grants, and scholarships.
As you know if you’ve been reading our blog entries and articles, there are a huge number of scholarships available to students who qualify.
Unfortunately, scammers and disreputable companies have spotted an opportunity to take advantage of honest families who are simply trying to investigate every source of possible funding. If you haven’t encountered such a scam yet, chances are you will in the near future. Here are four warning signs to help you distinguish the scams from legitimate scholarships:
1) If a scholarship fund contacts you, it’s a scam. With virtually no exceptions, if you are contacted by a scholarship fund, it is fraudulent. There are many variations out there presently—some scammers will tell you that you have been “selected” for a “prestigious” scholarship, and that all you must do is send a check to cover your application fee. Others will tell you that you have already been “approved”, and that you simply need to pay a processing fee in order to secure your funds. Bottom line: if a scholarship fund contacts you, proceed with extreme caution, because it’s almost certainly a scam.
2) If a scholarship fund requires you to provide a credit card for verification, it’s a scam. Depending on the nature of a scholarship, there can be a wide range of required information—for instance, many scholarships are based on ethnicity and thus need a birth certificate or similar form of identification. However, a scholarship that requires a credit card number is a scam—so don’t fall for it!
3) If a scholarship fund offers an extremely low interest loan, but requires a processing fee up front, it’s a scam. This type of scam has grown in popularity as more and more students resort to borrowing money to pay for their education. Scammers offer loans at extremely low rates to “qualified” students, but require a fee up front. Of course, once you pay the fee, the scammer vanishes and your loan never shows up. Beware loans from questionable institutions—particularly if they require a fee up front!
4) If a scholarship requires payment from you, it’s a scam. No legitimate scholarship charges an application fee, or any other type of fee for that matter. Whether the fee is for a few dollars or a few hundred dollars, don’t pay it. The promised scholarship will never materialize, and you’ll never see that fee again!
Unfortunately, even the process of paying for college isn’t free of criminals and scammers. As a student or a parent, you’re understandably willing to investigate every possible option to pay for school—but don’t fall victim to any of these common scams. If you have a question about a possible scam, or if you’d like to learn more about paying for college without mortgaging your future, contact us today!
As the fall continues to roll along, many high school students are preparing to visit colleges and universities that they are interested in. Campus visits offer a great opportunity for both students and parents to experience the “feel” of a school. And while that reason alone is more than enough reason to justify a road trip, this campus visits can be leveraged to provide an advantage during the application process.
For a student seeking admission to a particularly selective school, seizing every opportunity to impact the process for the better is a wise. Below are three tips to help students make the most of their campus visit—and to boost their chances of admission:
1) Fit as much into your itinerary as possible. Depending on the school and the date that you schedule your trip, you should be able to experience more than simply a tour of the campus. In many cases, students can arrange an interview with an admissions counselor, and families can typically meet with financial aid counselors. Students can often visit the dorms, and in some cases may even be permitted to spend the night. You’re taking the time to visit the school—so while you are there, make sure you get the most out of it!
2) Thoroughly prepare for your interview with an admissions counselor. If you are able to schedule an interview, be sure to take it seriously. Too many students elect to “wing it”—and as a result, don’t present themselves in the best possible light. Prepare answers for questions about your academic record, extracurricular activities, and your skills and passions. Be ready to articulate your desires when it comes to your plans for college and beyond. And remember, as you are planning your trip, to dress appropriately for the interview. In many cases it will immediately precede or follow the campus tour, so make sure that whatever you wear for the tour is appropriate for the interview!
3) Research the school ahead of time and be prepared with any questions you may have. There is no better time to learn about a college or university than while you are there. Spend a couple of hours researching the school before your trip, and create a list of questions and concerns that you would like addressed. Whether it is the student leader of your campus tour, an administrator, or an admissions counselor—you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get the answers to important questions. Think about things like dorm and meal options, transportation issues, academic questions, and whatever else may be helpful as you make your final decision.
Your campus visits are a great opportunity to learn more about colleges and universities that you may be interested in attending. But they are also an opportunity to improve your chances of admission. If the school in question is highly competitive, it’s critical that you take advantage of every opportunity that you get to make a great impression. For further information, please get in touch with me today!
As the school year kicks off, many high school students (and their parents) are pondering the same question: how do we find the perfect college? Each family is different, and thus approaches the question from different perspectives. Some families are looking exclusively for rigorous academic programs. Some are looking for prestigious schools with name recognition. Others are looking for affordable options, or to carry on a family legacy by attending the same school as their parents or other family members. But I am here to tell you that there is one factor which cannot be overlooked—the importance of finding the right personal fit.
To explain this point, consider this fact: every college, every year, has students that love it—and students that hate it. Over the years I have spent counseling college students, I have seen firsthand that this is true. I’ve had back to back meetings with families whose students attended the same college, and while family ‘A’ had nothing but good things to say, family ‘B’ made attending the school sound less desirable than spending a year in a maximum-security prison.
So what gives? Here’s the truth: There is no perfect college. There is only the perfect college for you. (Or for your student.) Parents, you may have loved the school that you attended. But your kids may hate it. University X may have a great academic program—but that doesn’t mean you won’t be miserable if you choose to attend. So how do you find the right fit? Start by answering these questions:
Do you have a career in mind? If so, while you are certainly not locked in to this career choice, it makes sense to attend a university or college that will prepare you for this career. If you want to be a doctor, you’ll want to attend a school with a solid pre-med program. If you want to be an engineer, attending a school with a well-regarded engineering program is wise.
Do you want to get away from home? Some students can’t wait to experience life hundreds of miles away from home—others dread the idea of leaving. Neither one is the “right choice.” Which do you prefer?
Is name recognition important? Is it important to attend a nationally known school? If not, it is often possible to get a top-caliber education at a lesser known school, while saving a considerable amount of money.
Do you want to live on campus? Does the classic dorm-life experience appeal to you? If so, you’ll want to choose a school with a vibrant on-campus community.
Are you facing financial limitations? Obviously, finances are a limiting factor for many families. However, don’t assume that you can’t afford the college of your dreams. I have helped countless students secure incredible financial aid packages at some of the most prestigious schools in the country. Contact me for more information!
There are a number of additional important questions to consider—and we’ll take a look at many of them at a later date. For now, stop seeking the “perfect” college and start looking for the perfect fit for you!
One of the most important factors during the college admissions process is the SAT score. For many students, their SAT score is determining factor in whether or not they are admitted to their dream school. In addition, even once a student is accepted, their SAT score will play a large role in determining the amount of financial aid that they receive. Therefore, it goes without saying that achieving the highest possible SAT score needs to be a top priority for every student. Below we are going to cover four steps which can dramatically increase your score on the SAT:
1) Avoid mistakes on the math section by writing out ALL your work. Too often, students make simple mistakes on the math section because they try to do the problem in their head instead of working it out on paper. Get in the habit of always showing and checking every calculation, no matter how easy it may seem. Saving a couple of seconds is not worth running the risk of getting a question wrong that you should have had right!
2) Don’t overlook the essay. The essay section was added to the SAT in 2005 and counts for approximately 10% of your overall score. However, the fact that it accounts for a relatively small portion of your score doesn’t mean that it should be overlooked. Pay close attention to the recommended format and structure of the essay, and write as many practice essays as you can.
3) Plan to take the SAT several times. Sign up for the SAT as early as you can, and plan to take it more than once. There is no downside to multiple takes—and by taking it early, if your first score isn’t what you were hoping for, you will have plenty of time to assess your weaknesses and prepare to take it again. On the other hand, if you wait until the last moment to take it for your first time, you may find yourself stuck with a bad score. In addition, taking the SAT early allows you to relax and concentrate on your classes once you have received a score that you are happy with.
4) Practice, practice, practice! When it comes to the SAT, practice really does make perfect. Take as many practice tests as you can, and do your best to recreate the environment in which you will be taking the real SAT. Olympic athletes spend more than three years practicing and perfecting their routines in preparation for their chance to shine on the world stage… why? Because the more you practice something, the better you become at it—and the better you perform under pressure. Take practice tests until you are completely comfortable and confident.
Scoring well on the SAT is essential for gaining admission into top universities and colleges, and will also increase the amount of financial aid you qualify for. Make scoring well a priority—and follow these four tips as you prepare. For further information, including more detailed SAT prep tips, please contact me today!