Juniors - Getting into Your Dream School Could be a Nightmare!

What does your Dream College look like?

It could be a beautiful campus with a manicured lawn, historic architecture and a rich tradition of academic honors. It could be where Mom and Dad attended which is where their parents attended. It could be where sports are king, or theater is respected. Everyone has their own definition of a dream school. Maybe you choice is based on someone else’s definition, like US News and World Report’s ranking. All may lead you to the college that fulfills your own goals and dreams BUT because it's someone else's criteria, it may not. 

While students and families have good intentions, many times the dream college is based on priorities that aren't aligned with the student and family priorities. I've seen many a family select colleges that don't follow their own ranking. The most ignored ranking is cost. While it may be near the top of a family ranking, I've seen it take a back seat to things like athletics (watching), campus architecture, beautifully manicured lawns and dorms that mirror high end apartments with restaurant quality food. All great things if they fit into the ranking hierarchy. (Although your student may be in for a surprise when their $30,000/year job will not allow them to live as they've been accustomed to while at college.)

I read an article a while ago that discussed why students chose to NOT attend their dream school. Cost was #1 but other reasons puzzled me because I feel they should have researched BEFORE becoming their dream school. Almost 10% didn't like the location, 8% didn't like the academic reputation, and an amazing 6.6% said the college didn't offer their major. 

So, before you dub a college your Dream School, please make sure it fits into YOUR definition of a Dream School!

How to "Work" a College Fair

College fairs are the equivalent of Speed Dating. A student/family have about 5 minutes to discuss what a college experience could be for themselves with an admissions rep. It can be a very awkward 5-minute meeting as the student stands back and listens to a conversation between the rep and your mom and/or dad. You pick up a flyer that tells you what they want to tell you. MAYBE you fill in the form for more information. Then you move on to the college that you’ve heard of and repeat.

I attended one last night and learned many valuable lessons.

1.    Wear comfortable shoes Mom and Dad. It’s about two hours of standing.

2.    Bring a bag for the booklets and SWAG each school offers.

3.    Bring a pen and notebook.

4.    Get an advanced list of the colleges attending and make a plan. The one I attended had 91 colleges, so I had to be selective because I only had two hours. Research as many of the colleges as possible BEFORE you go and develop a list of questions you will ask each college. Put them in your notebook.

5.    Arrive on time if possible and hit the most popular schools first before the crowd gets big.

6.    Shake their hand as you approach them. Tell them you have researched their school and ask them your questions. Write down the answers (or have Mom or Dad do that…). Each rep has their story to tell about their school so listen to what they have to say and note what they DON’T talk about. (A good one is 4-year graduation rates or Freshmen retention.)

7.    Fill in the request more info card or delegate to Mom or Dad. It shows interest!

8.    Say thank you and move on to the next college. If there is a big crowd, come back because time is ticking. (I’ve found the big crowds are around the popular state schools like UGA, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Auburn. Sneak in and fill in the info card and move on just in case you don’t get back.

I can’t stress the importance of researching colleges ahead of time. Know that the college has the basic values you are looking for in your college experience. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and maybe missing out on a college that could fulfill your goals.

As I went around to the 15 or so colleges I could fit into the time line, I asked each of them 2 questions.

1.    What questions are students asking you the most?

2.    What question do you wish they would ask you about?

The top two questions asked were: “What are the minimum requirements to get in?” and “What’s the weather/food like?” Good questions but probably ones you could easily find out on their website.

The top questions they believe should be asked were: “What scholarship money is available for me?” and “How can your school help me be successful and get my first job?”

Some schools do list their merit scholarship requirements, not all do, and some are removing the information from their website. (LSU) Need based aid is another matter and one that requires a private phone call or visit. The admissions rep should be able to give you more detail on their scholarships and it’s probably listed in their booklet they have on the table. The second question is my favorite. Understanding the support services to help you graduate AND be ready for your first job are key components to selecting a college.

To find fairs near you, check out gaprobe.org or search for “Atlanta college fairs” and see what’s out there.


Are You Ready for FAFSA (and Maybe the CSS Profile)?

October 1st is here and the FAFSA form for the 2018-2019 school year is available. They’ve made the process so much better now that you can use a year earlier return and now that they fixed to IRS Data Retrieval tool that was hacked last year, all is good. I just need to collect my current account values and fill in the form.

This will probably guarantee that you will LOOK as rich as possible and receive the least amount of need based aid possible.

What families don’t realize about Federal Aid is that there are three financial windows that need to be managed to get the most need based aid. They are:

1.    Your income windows for FAFSA.

2.    Your asset windows.

3.    Your income windows for tax credits.

Each is important to manage at different times. The FAFSA income window starts halfway through the student’s sophomore year in high school through the mid-point of their third to last year in college. (Many students take more than 4 years to graduate.) The asset window is a very short one. It is the one day each year that you submit your FAFSA form. The last window, the tax credit window, occurs each year your student is in college.

Managing these 3 windows in unison is important so changes for one don’t ruin the others. Before making any changes, please consult your financial professional (financial planner and accountant). Proper handling of these windows could save your family thousands, even tens of thousands over the college years.

Maybe you are reading this and you are about to fill in the FAFSA. You realize your income window for this year is set so what can still be done?

LOTS. But an evaluation of your situation by someone focused on financial aid is needed to determine the next steps BEFORE you submit your FAFSA. Asset positioning can be changed before submitting the FAFSA but care is needed to make sure the other windows aren’t “shattered”. Some questions I ask involve recent family situation changes like job loss, divorce and even death of a parent. A family going through tough loss could be in a position for more aid. Where are assets/who owns the assets and what is the unrecognized tax liability in each investment? Changes could be made to prepare for the years 3 through graduation could save large sums. All is difficult to assess without a review.

Do you think that’s all? Let’s throw in the CSS Profile financial aid form that about 300 colleges and universities use to determine their own need based money. This form uses most of the same information as FAFSA plus more. Most times, home equity is counted. 529 plans created from a minor’s account remains a minor’s asset so it doesn’t help reduce your asset “value”. Divorced? They probably will want your ex’s financial information…

Contact Making College Worth It for a free checkup.

Reducing Debt: Is That Really the Government’s Objective?

Reducing Debt: Is That Really the Government’s Objective?

The Federal government has acknowledged and put into place initiatives to help students/graduates with college debt. They have done this by reducing interest rates, allowing loan consolidation, extending repayment timelines, deferment and, recently, allowing repayment plans to be income based, all the way down to 10% of discretionary income. All of these moves have made it easier to make an acceptable payment. But is it doing anything to reduce the actual amount of debt? I say no.

Read More

A Day in the University of Dayton Bookstore…

Last month, my wife and I brought our youngest to college to start her second year at the University of Dayton. A trip I have made many times since my oldest also attended and graduated from Dayton. We moved her in two days early to avoid the long lines of cars at the dorm and the bookstore.

Once we moved the carload of my daughter’s valued possessions into her room and set up some of the stuff, we took a break and walked to the bookstore to get the textbooks for the semester. Dayton has a unique scholarship for books… Tour the college before the spring of senior year and you get a $4,000 scholarship for books, spread out over 4 years ($500/semester), when you attend. Great deal when the sticker price that colleges state for books is $1,000 -$1,200 per year. Depending on your major, there could be years when the cost approached $2,000!

My daughter got her list of books from one of the students working in the textbook section and we started the search. First up, Biology. The new book price was $257! Thankfully, the used one was only $207.75. The lab book was only $23.25 and the lab manual was $74. Both have to be new since most students write in them. So after one class, we are over $300. Only $200 to go before it’s my tab…

Second course, Organic Chemistry. Textbook = $336.00 new with a student solutions manual an additional $188.70. The running total is now $829.70. Now let’s add the other two Organic Chemistry books at $136.70 and 17.30.

$983.70 for 2 classes with labs.

The third class, Physics. Did I tell you my daughter is an Environmental Biology major? That means lots of science books and lab books. The physics book is fortunately used so the cost is ONLY $200.50. The lab book is $20.45. New, of course. The total now is…

$1204.65! (with tax $1,276.93)

The fourth and last class is a Social Science course and luckily, without any required books.

Now I could have said “Thank you” and purchased them all and paid $776.93. I didn’t though. As we searched for the books, my daughter mentioned one of her roommates was Pre-Med and had biology last year. She called and asked about the textbook. She still had it and would share it. $207.75 saved…  Also, I have a favorite website that I use to search for textbooks so I researched the Organic Chemistry books for a lower price. I found the first 2 that added up to $524.70 for only $313! Savings: $211.70. The remainder of the books came to $506 so they stayed in the scholarship amount of $500. My total out of pocket amount was $320, rather than $776.93. Still a lot, but I hope I’ll be able to sell them on Amazon at the end of the semester/year and recoup much of the $320 or more.

There are many ways to cut the cost of college once a student has selected the school and received the aid package. Call me to find out more.