Category Archives: College money

College Applications are Outta Control!

Kids binging on filling out college applications is not a pretty sight. Five new completely different essays each night after school, and when that gets old, then out comes the old “cut and paste” routine. Pretty soon a high school senior starts to think his own personal story is a work of fiction.

Exactly why this is happening has an easy answer…because they can!…thanks to the Common Application which is making it possible to crank out college applications in unprecedented numbers.

Now the hard-to-swallow answer: Nobody is helping these high school seniors, as bright as they may be, to sort through their college application lists. So with no help, seniors are not taking any chances of getting shut out of college.

As long as Mom and Dad will allow their credit cards to get filled up with application charges (at $40-90 a pop!), then students will keep applying. With no counselor to help kids understand which schools they are most likely to be accepted by, and most importantly, to help families understand which schools they might be able to afford, the binge fest will continue.

In this video, I use about one minute more than my normal three, to go down those two critical roads: acceptance probability and family affordability. Please watch to see if I nail it. Please give me comments here or email me at TheCollegeMoneyMom@gmail.com.

College Applications Runneth Over!
College Applications need to be pared down. Watch my video!

Become a For-Profit College Detective!

If you wanna go, you gotta know! Don’t get ripped off in the pursuit of a degree.

Thank goodness for IPEDS, the data bank of collegiate information that was created by congress some years ago. All schools have to report certain categories of information every year to this slow-moving federal behemoth (it’s about 3 years behind, but who’s counting!) Without IPEDS and a Department of Education website called College Navigator this information would not be very accessible for the public. In my video this week, I show how to use this information to detect whether an online for-profit college is doing a good job or not before a potential student makes the decision to attend it. We are in a major shake-up of the for-profit college industry (and believe me it IS an industry) and with some luck only the righteous will survive. Some of the biggest BIGS are going down in flames even as I write. Ha HA! We shall see. Meanwhile, let the buyer beware!

Work-Study is Valuable!

Don’t miss out on this financial opportunity!

Work-study means money in a college student’s pocket for doing campus jobs (or even off-campus jobs) that are not too demanding and possibly interesting! Students must visit their school’s financial aid department to view a list of available jobs. Then, just like with any other job, the student must apply and be interviewed. Once hired, the student will spend 10-12 hours a week earning money that has been set aside for him or her by the federal government. The college will administer the program for the government and will usually send
the student’s paycheck directly to his or her bank account.
Most students report that the work-study experience is pleasant, but if not, the student can change to another job. Some jobs allow students to study while manning an information kiosk or reception desk.
So, students should not let this valuable opportunity pass them by. I mean, where else can you get a job which must adjust itself to your schedule rather than the other way around!
Please watch my video to hear more about work-study!

The CSS Profile Lives…Again!

Born just last week, the ever-charming CSS Profile for 2015-16 is online now!

Most colleges are satisfied with the financial information they get from the FAFSA form, which is not available until January 1st of each year. But over 250 colleges and universities, the ones with big endowments, are looking for the best students they can get and they will use their funds to make it possible (or desirable) for those students to attend their institutions. The College Board administrates the CSS Profile financial aid questionaire on behalf of these schools and has a list of them at their website, https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile . So whether you are applying for the first time to one of the colleges that require this form, or whether you are applying for the next school year of college financial aid, this is the time to start getting familiar with this complex form. Current high school seniors will need to start now to fill out the CSS Profile if they are going for any kind of Early Decision or Early Action. Others may have until April 15th of next year.
It’s important to understand that while the FAFSA form asks the same questions of every applicant, the CSS Profile is customizable by each participating college. Each is able to ask different specific questions to elicit the kind of detail their financial aid administrators need to dispense aid in the best way for their institution’s enrollment goals. The College Board charges a fee for each CSS Profile application, while the Federal government’s FAFSA form is free. Watch my video about the CSS Profile to get in the right mindset for this invasive, yet potentially valuable financial exercise.

Net Price Calculators Require Patience

Just when you thought getting college financial aid information was going to be a snap, it isn’t.

Getting that piece of information about grants in order to use my “Bucket Method” of comparing college affordability is, admittedly, a bit of a challenge. The unlovely Net Price Calculators now installed by law on the websites of most every college in the U.S. are, in some cases, a display of resistance and neglect by the host entities. On one hand, I am somewhat heartened by the efforts of the College Board to standardize the format of data entry and display of this online college financial aid tool. On the other hand, I am saddened by the efforts by other third party NPC providers to use clever marketing to hoodwink prospective students into making poor choices and falling headlong into giant craters of debt. Watch this video and become your own financial aid “detective”.

The College Financial Aid Explained Using Buckets!

Nobody told me not to try this at home…

I challenged myself to do a video in which I attempt to explain the basic concept of the college financial aid system, such as it is, in under three minutes. I had to reduce it to a visualization of someone filling buckets with liquid numerical information. Please watch my video and decide whether I was successful. If, after watching, you feel more competent to meet the challenge of the college decision process, I will count that in the win column. If you feel like herding a bunch of tech-types into a windowless room equipped with computers, snacks and caffeinated beverages and telling them not to leave until they have come up with a better system for pre-determining the ultimate cost of a college for any given family, then I will want a cut of the resulting deluge of cash from crazed parental units across these fruited plains!
That is all…please watch and report.

New Student ID cards – Chips Ahoy!

If your student is just entering his or her freshman year of college, there is a lot of new information to absorb. It’s enough to give you a headache that even Aleve will not help! One of the first pictures your student will post on Facebook is a shot of his or her brand new Student ID card. If your student is attending one of the 40% of colleges now participating in the “One Card” program, this will not look at all like your old student ID card that now lives in a scrapbook under your staircase. This new-fangled card has a hologram headshot of your student, some barcode, a subway logo (not the sandwich shop), a clever logo intertwined with a dollar bill sign, an Obamacare logo, the school’s logo and name, the fuzzy yet buff mascot, AND LO AND BEHOLD – a tiny MASTERCARD Debit Card chip!
What is up with this? (Watch my video!) But suffice it to say that the banks have gotten in bed with the colleges and universities. And it’s a mighty comfy bed indeed. It’s even okay for your student to participate in fluffing up the pillows, if, IF, he or she knows the rules.
Knowing the rules gets your student a completely free bank account for the duration of college. This includes a free debit card and free checking account. What’s not to like? However, there are some complaints which I talk about in my video, so please watch it.

The CSS Profile – It’s important, but Yikes!!

The CSS Profile. Hard to live with, and harder still to live without.

Having just dropped off our daughter at her wonderful out-of-state college reminds me that soon it will be time again to fill out the dreaded CSS Profile form brought to us by the College Board folks. Without this form, about 250 mostly private colleges and universities would have a much harder time deciding how to use their endowments to attract the best students. And without this form, many of those students wouldn’t have a chance in the world of affording a school outside their own state’s public universities. For this we are grateful. But it doesn’t make the process any less difficult. The College Board does sincerely try to make understanding their CSS Profile possible, as my video will show. But some things still elude the comprehension of reasonably well-educated people. Even our accountant was confused by the meaning of some of the questions. So I can’t help but think that this should spawn an industry specializing in filling out the CSS Profile form. As far as I can tell, this hasn’t happened. At least not to any great extent. And, those who do offer the service are pretty expensive for those of us who actually need the financial aid. So, I (and others in the same boat) will slug it out with the CSS Profile for yet another year.

FAFSA News Sparks Snark

In a google search for FAFSA news, one of the recently published search items is a story from a New Jersey newspaper’s website titled “FAFSA confusion: College students lose financial aid due to decimal point error on application”.

Apparently, at least 165,000 college students stumbled over a quirk in the on-line FAFSA application which caused them to declare that their family’s income was WAY bigger than it actually was.

The little “.00” outside the blanks where a student fills in the family’s income is a hint that you need to round off the income total to the nearest dollar, rather than enter the small change in the blank space allowed. For example, a student declaring a family income of $22,852.19 would actually be telling the government that the family raked in $2,285,219 that year! OOPS!

That student would find herself excluded from most, if not all, federal financial aid. This would include federal grants like the Pell Grant, federal student loans with favorable rates and terms, and federal work-study funds set aside for students with lower family incomes.

According to this article, Federal officials say they will correct the aid awards if/when the errors are found. So nice, so civilized.

It’s when the reader scrolls down to the comments that the fun begins.

The vitriol rolls out thusly:

“If they can’t follow simple instructions, maybe they aren’t college material.”

“Apparently millions of college students can read…and apparently 165,000 others cannot.”

“I would think due to the importance of this form, one would check it over before actually filing it.”

“Hope the applicants were not math, science or engineering majors!”

And it goes downhill, rapidly, from there.

I love the comment sections of news stories. Without them there would be a whole lot more pent-up anger in America than there already is!

To read this for yourself (or even to add your own snark ration) click this link:

http://www.nj.com/education/2014/07/fafsa_confusion_college_students_lose_financial_aid_due_to_decimal_point_error_on_application.html

To get ready for the FAFSA rush starting January 1st of each year, watch my video on the subject:

 

Understanding 529 Plans

529 Plan…will undoubtably be my new grand-baby’s first words.

My new two week old granddaughter has a Dad with 529 Plans on his mind. Never mind the frilly dresses, let her Mom take care of those. It’s time to talk college, or more specifically, paying for college. No time like the present to start a savings plan. Good thing we have the awesomely tax advantaged college savings vehicle that is the 529 College Savings Plan available to us right here in the good ol’ USA. And it’s not just one plan but a host of plans across all the states of the Union, and now in multiples to serve every need. Some of these 529 plans are better than others, so parents will have the fun task of finding websites that have already done the heavy lifting. Allow me to recommend one that is ultra-dedicated to the task at hand: http://www.savingforcollege.com . I must meet the guy who started this effort about 10 years ago. I sense a story. Something about the nexus of shitake mushrooms and 529 Plans grabs my attention.