Category Archives: Paying for College

How to graduate on time.

Play “Graduate On Time”. It’s like a giant board game. Losing is costly, very costly.

Here’s how to catapult your high school senior into the future when he can barely think about next week: Talk about the “Graduate On Time” game and it’s rules. It’ll be particularly riveting when you show him how much money an extra year in college will cost your family. Then there’s the potential 5 figure salary that he, personally, might lose each year. Whoa!

Watch my latest video about graduating on time. Don’t worry, there are only 6 rules!

In the video, the part about making a chart is very important. Several of the top-rated private non-profit universities have installed charts in their advising system websites. Students can use these charts to design their paths to graduation with the help of their advisors.

The chart used by the majority of MIT students caught my eye. It’s called Courseroad and it was designed by current senior (’15) Danny Ben-David

MIT's Courseroad Designer
Danny Ben-David, designer of MIT’s Courseroad App.

when he was a freshman. Danny saw a flyer for a contest and designed the Courseroad app as his entry. When he won the icampus prize, MIT’s administration gave him some monetary incentive to finish the app over the summer. Danny’s Courseroad app has become quite popular on campus even with no advertising other than word-of -mouth. Danny says he may open-source Courseroad in the near future to encourage developers at other universities to design their own. One big advantage for Danny in developing Courseroad was MIT’s unique course numbering system. For instance, math is Course 18, not math. All math courses start with 18 followed by a decimal point and one, two, or three places. Differential Equations is 18.03 for example.
Danny included a Courseroad example, shown here,

Danny Ben-David's Courseroad example
Danny used one of his own Courseroad scenarios as an example.

based on his own academic path in a guest blog-post he wrote for the MIT admissions blog. Here a link Danny’s post.

Getting a major is the other big deal. Without a major, a student can’t even start to fill out a chart or Courseroad or Flightpath or any of the other apps designed to organize one’s academic career.

Complete College America, a well-funded organization that advocates for students to graduate on time, recommends that colleges require incoming freshmen to make a choice. The students would choose one of 7 “Meta-Majors” including STEM, Health Services, Business, Social Sciences, Humanities, Education and Arts.

Meta-majors
Meta-majors is a concept advocated by Complete College America.

The idea is that as the student progresses along a well-defined path, he or she would be able (with the help of advisors) to narrow the scope of the meta-major. For example, a meta-major of education might be narrowed to a major in elementary education. Course choices would become ever more limited as graduation time nears, and staying on track would be facilitated by a process called “Intrusive Advising”.

We shall watch and report.

How to graduate on time.
Help your child graduate on time.

Should Community College Be Free?

The President thinks tuition at community colleges should be free for all eligible students. His plan is expensive and controversial, but it shines a much needed spotlight on community colleges.

Here is  my video explaining why community colleges are so valuable to folks who think they can’t afford the high price of going to college. Please watch and then read more about the President’s plan.

The President’s plan aims to help make public community colleges more affordable to high school graduates so that they can ultimately get better paying jobs. Some students may start work after getting their AA degree, some may move on to 4-year colleges, and some may earn occupational certificates for specific lines of work.

Most education writers opine that this proposal has little chance of passing in the current political climate. But most everyone sees the need to raise the overall education level of the U.S. workforce.

So whether it’s this idea or another, we need to get cracking!

Here’s how the President’s plan lays out:

First and foremost, the feds will contribute three-forths of a student’s tuition. The State will contribute the other one-forth. States can decide whether to opt in or out of the plan.

The federal money would comprise what is known as the “first dollars” of the tuition contribution. This is important because other scholarships and grants can then be used for non-tuition educational expenses.

States that agree to opt in must bring their community colleges up to four-year college standards. Credits earned in a state’s two-year college should be seamlessly transferable to that state’s four-year universities.

Community colleges that have occupational certificate programs must offer courses for in-demand jobs and show good graduation rates.

Students must maintain a C+ average and attend at least half time. They need to show steady progress toward a degree or certificate.

I personally like the plan’s aim to expand community college capacity nationwide. With that goal accomplished, the for-profit colleges that so ill-serve American students will be banished to the dustbin of higher education history.

So, keep your eye on this proposal and others that will be sparked by the controversy surrounding it. College students and their families need a break!

President proposes free community colleges.
Maybe someday we will have free tuition for all students at community colleges.

The Federal Work-Study Program Gets Studied!

Brush up on the topic of Federal Work-Study programs by watching my video. Then please read my blog entry to get the latest info!

 

The Federal Work-Study program has been a feature at a large number of colleges for many years. But lately a report done by the student advocacy group called “Young Invincibles” and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has called for reforming the system.

The report is titled “A Federal Work-Study Reform Agenda to Better Serve Low-Income Students”. Here is the link to the PDF:  http://younginvincibles.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Federal-Work-Study-Reform-Agenda-Sept-181.pdf

The report says that too much of the federal work-study money goes to large private colleges that have been in the system the longest. For-profit colleges get a hefty amount based on their numerous Pell Grant students. Newer community colleges get the least money, even though they also enroll low-income students.

The report studied how this large pot of Federal money (more than $1 billion) could be better used.
It recommended that the Federal Work Study program should reward schools that enroll low-income students, graduate them at high rates, and make sure they have the skills to get good jobs.

Read between the lines and you’ll find that the notorious for-profit colleges get righteously excluded from work-study funds, even though they “serve” more needy students than anyone else!

The Young Invincibles report also emphasizes the need for work-study jobs to better relate to a student’s field of study. If these reform recommendations were implemented, many of the jobs traditionally grabbed by students who want to work AND study at the exact same time, would disappear. No more manning desks in dorm lobbies or library entrances. Instead, work-study jobs might look more like paid internships where students get real-life career experience.

I can’t see a downside to this. Let me know what you think.

Work, Study and Earn!
Federal Work-Study Programs Are Financial Aid You Earn!
FAFSA Time Again!

FAFSA – Get In Line Early For College Financial Aid!

Please watch this video and see how nerdwallet.com offers a FAFSA tutorial in it’s education section that is the most complete I’ve seen. There are other good tutorials out there and I’ll link you to one that I think is very user friendly further down in this week’s blog.

As I write this entry, it is just a few days before Christmas 2014. Doesn’t it feel like you haven’t gotten everything done yet? But if you are on the hunt for college financial aid, then you’ll need to keep your mind on just one more thing: January 1st at the stroke of 12:01am you can start filling out the 2015 FAFSA form! WooHoo! Just what you wanted to do on New Year’s Eve, right?

Okay, last FAFSA season I wanted our family to be at the head of the line for financial aid, so I actually started my FAFSA in the early morning of January 1st.  I ran into a whole lot of website trouble, which compared eerily to the healthcare.gov launch. Nothing was working correctly and my progress would simply disappear for no apparent reason. I slogged on for hours, saving after each tiny entry. Eventually, I wrestled the FAFSA to the ground and made it submit, literally! Not very fun.

So, my advice is to wait for January 2nd, which is not a holiday. Government offices will be open and the website elves will have the gears oiled up and running smoothly.

Take a moment in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to study the nerdwallet.com video, and another great tutorial produced by the University of California system. Here’s that link: http://www.finaid.ucsb.edu/fafsasimplification/ and here’s a screenshot of it:

UC FAFSA Tutorial
Very Helpful FAFSA Tutorial!

College student voices guide you through a series of mini-tutorials on each major section of the FAFSA form. You’ll need to launch each part by clicking the tabs at the top of the page. Notice how well my dog can draw a big red arrow pointing to the tabs!

Yes, I know you don’t have your 2014 taxes done yet. Never mind that little concern. Just go right ahead and use your 2013 tax return. If it’s likely to be nearly the same as this years’ return then you will be just fine. It’s important to get in line for college financial aid early. The FAFSA helps you qualify for more than just federal aid. State aid is linked to this form as well, and funds can run out the longer you wait. Not only that, but colleges that also use the CSS Profile form to hand out their institutional funds, will want to see the results of your FAFSA to help guide their decisions. So don’t wait!

When you are eventually able to file your taxes, you can log back into your FAFSA and use the IRS Retrieval Tool. With slightly disturbing ease,  the Retrieval Tool connects the FAFSA directly to the IRS (!), which will kindly merge your new tax return information into the FAFSA form.

Filing out the FAFSA early assures your place in line. Using the IRS Retrieval Tool almost always keeps you out of the verification process. Do this and the schools that you named to receive the results of your FAFSA will not require you to send them your actual tax returns! One less step for beleaguered parents and students.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

FAFSA Time Again!
FAFSA tutorials are featured in this blog entry.

 

 

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!

Preferential Packaging! Financial Aid!

 

Preferential Packaging Matches Financial Aid to Your Child’s Achievements!

It’s simple. Just research which schools would want to snap up your student and offer big bucks for those high or comparatively high ACT/SAT test scores. That’s preferential packaging and your student might as well get some of that financial aid dough for their efforts. My fellow blogger and data wizard Michelle Kretzschmar – DIYCollegeRanking.com – helps us understand the practice of preferential packaging and suggests parents use it to good advantage. After getting all the dreamy, idealistic pamphlets from colleges that proclaim their undying love and dedication to selfless goals of academic achievement, it’s hard to square that with the harsh reality: colleges need to climb the rankings ladders. U.S. News, Princeton Review and Forbes are part of a system that is rigged in many ways. Preferential packaging is just part of the effort by colleges to game the system. The trick for parents is to find out which schools value their child’s achievements and steer away from schools that don’t.

Your Student Loan Servicer

Meet your new BFF…forever and ever and ever….

Seems like the payments on your college loans will never end, right? Well they will someday, due in no small part to your diligent efforts to stay in touch with your federal student loan servicer. At least that’s what I hope you do, or what I hope you would tell your college-bound child to do! Check out my latest rant (I mean video) on this issue !

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.