Stressed About College Admissions Tests?

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Learning about the PSAT, SAT, and ACT will help reduce the anxiety you feel.

These exams, including the SAT Subject Tests, are the exams you will encounter as you prepare for your undergraduate adventure in learning.

The PSAT

Typically, high school juniors take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as an SAT practice test.

More than just a “practice test,” the PSAT qualifies some students as National Merit Scholarship finalists, a status highly regarded by many, many schools.

The SAT

One of two major college entrance exams, this test assesses academic skills and current knowledge. With two required sections – Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math – an optional essay may be included and it may be required by some schools.

This required sections must be completed within three hours. The optional essay must be completed within 50 minutes.

The ACT

The other major college entrance exam consists of four sections – math, English, science, and reading. It must be completed within two hours 55 minutes and is designed to identify how well students have mastered a typical college prep curriculum.

It includes an optional writing test that must be completed within 40 minutes. However, this may be required by some schools.

The SAT Subject Tests

Designed to showcase your academic strengths and weaknesses, these 20 tests cover English, history, foreign languages, math, and science.

Some schools, especially some highly selective ones, require these tests be taken and scores submitted for admission purposes. Others recommend submission, while still others will review them if submitted.

How Schools Use Scores

These tests provide a fair measure of your academic skills and readiness for collegiate level coursework.

Strong scores don’t guarantee admission; weak scores won’t necessarily disqualify you. Yet, strong scores bolster your admission application.

And, high scores relative to other applicants keep you in the running.

Prepping for these entrance exams is merely on facet of a well-designed college planning campaign. For assistance with your family’s campaign, please contact our Professional College planners to schedule your no-obligation evaluation.

Avoid These Myths About Saving for College

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Do you understand the true cost of college?

Have you planned for it? Do you know how the puzzle pieces fit together for the benefit of your family?

According to a 2017 Sallie Mae survey, 86% of families expect their children to attend college. Yet, only 39% have any type of plan at all to pay for it.

Parents who don’t save tend to end up amassing quite a bit of student debt, whether through PLUS loans or other private loans as co-signers.

Last minute financial planning – you know, waiting until junior or senior years in high school – adds an incredible amount of stress to an already stressful period.

Taking action, saving money in any amount at all, offers some peace of mind and reduces stress levels.

Here are a few thought processes you probably should avoid…

We’ve got plenty of time to save.

Maybe. Time flies. But, starting early, even in small amounts, adds up. If you don’t do anything, where will you find the money when you need it?

I don’t understand investing.

That’s fine. Investing and saving are two distinctly different animals. When you invest (e.g., 401k plans, 529 plans), you place your money at risk.

There are no guarantees your investment will grow. In fact, there are no guarantees you’ll end up with the amount that you have invested. You could lose some or all of it.

When you save, you are assured your money and any earnings thereon is safe and can’t be lost.

My children will receive financial aid if I don’t save.

Maybe. The FAFSA considers income much more heavily than savings, allocating at least 22% toward the cost-of-attendance.

Further, parent savings are assesses at a much lower rate

What you may not understand is that student loans are considered financial aid. And, your children may not qualify for any aid other than student loans.

That’s why saving for the cost-of-attendance is vitally important.

I don’t make enough money to save anything for my children’s education.

While that may be true, how do you know?

Are you spending more than you need to in any area of your life?

Are you being efficient with the money you do bring home? Is there anything you can do to change your spending habits?

There’s no way to offset future college costs.

While the expected cost-of-attendance may feel overwhelming, even paralyzing, not saving anything won’t help at all.

Ultimately, you may be writing checks when the time comes to cover the cost. Will the checks be huge? Or, might they be smaller?

Find out some of the best places to SAVE your money. Contact our Professional College Planners to schedule your family’s first meeting of its college planning campaign!

College Rankings: What Matters Most?

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How important are college rankings?

Is the “best” school really the best one for your child?

Adding one or more of the higher ranked schools to the list of possible schools may seem an obvious move, but ranking should support determinations, not supplant them.

It takes quite a bit of effort to identify schools that will fit and the annual national school rankings provides an “easy way out.”

But, shouldn’t you wonder what led to the rankings, what qualities are valued and how they are measured?

Doesn’t a ranking assume certain qualities are more important than others (e.g., academic strength, student life)?

Don’t some rankings rely on subjective input (e.g., opinions of students, professors, and/or others) while others rely on objective data (e.g., graduation rates, size of endowments)?

Rankings can be helpful if they address what you look for in a school or if they introduce you to qualities you may not have considered.

So…

What ranking matters most?

The most meaningful ranking is the one based on qualities you deem most important, the qualities that make a school the best fit for you!

For assistance with your family’s college planning campaign, contact our Professional College Planners to schedule one of the most important meetings you may ever have.

Expect a College Education for Your Children; No Idea How to Pay??

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According to the 10th Annual Sallie Mae “How America Pays for College” survey of undergraduate families, the responsibility for covering the cost has shifted.

Parents and their children are now sharing expenses equally.

What’s distressing about the survey is that, while 9 in 10 families knew their children would attend college, only 4 in 10 families actually developed (or attempted to develop) and followed some sort of plan to address the expense.

Families with a plan save more and borrow less. Yet, even those plans may have a detrimental impact on the amount eventually dedicated their portion of the cost-of-attendance.

While families may be more cost-/value-conscious, their focus may be in the wrong direction.

Focusing on cost and/or value does not mean a family will identify the schools offering the greatest amount of financial aid that may be the best fit for their children.

According to the survey, 98% of respondents said they took steps to make college more affordable:

  • 75% eliminated colleges from their prospects list due to cost;
  • 50% said the student decided to attend a nearby college and live at home; and,
  • 25% took accelerated programs to finish college faster.

These families didn’t develop and implement a solution.

Quite probably, they didn’t even identify the best schools for their children.

They most likely merely reacted to the cost and chose the least expensive option they could see.

That option may not have been the best available, nor the least expensive…

For more information about the solutions we offer the families engaging our services, contact our Professional College Planners to schedule an appointment today.

More than 57%of Parents Will Do This…

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Will you?

Based on numerous surveys over the recent years, more than 57% of parents will raid their home equity and/or retirement savings in order to help cover their or children’s undergraduate education.

They will make sacrifices, even if they can’t afford to do so, as they want better lives for their children.

Low interest rates and the tax deductibility of mortgage interest make a home equity line of credit or a refinance highly appealing.

But, what happens if your financial situation changes?

A job loss, a medical crisis – your home’s in jeopardy…

What about your retirement plan? The maximum loan amount is the lesser of 50% of your vested account balance or $50,000.

Depending on the school, that may help cover only one or two years.

Further, you may miss any gains that occur while the loan is in repayment.

And, if you lose your job or get laid off and can’t make loan repayments, the loan becomes a distribution subject to ordinary income taxes and, quite possibly, a penalty.

Better strategies exist, strategies that may see you through the college years while protecting other goals you may have.

Find out what you don’t know. Contact our Professional College Planners to schedule an appointment today.

Comparing Schools: You be the Judge!

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Don’t rely on expert rankings or any other shortcuts.

Take your time, do your research, assess each school on its own merits and your desires and you’ll compile the list of schools right for you.

Before starting your research, brainstorm and list the features you believe are important in any school you’ll consider, such as location and size.

Rank those attributes in order of importance. Also, identify which criteria you might use in the event a tie-breaker is needed.

Research schools of interest, ranking your schools via the criteria you’ve identified. Assign points to each criteria – the more important, the higher the point value. Add up the points for each school, then rank them from most pointes to fewest.

Finally, visit schools. What looks great on paper may seem wrong during the visit.

Trust your gut!

Need help finding the best schools with the most favorable gifting formulas for your student?  Contact our Professional College Planners to schedule your meeting today!

Gain an Edge with Extracurriculars!

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Do extracurriculars boost your admissions application?

Absolutely!

They show commitment, talent, and curiosity. More than just a number or a body, your commitments color who you are, making you a person the school may want to admit.

What’s an “extracurricular?”

It’s an activity in which you regularly participate outside of the classroom. Whether it’s on campus (e.g., high school athletics, music, clubs, government, etc.) or off (e.g., scouts, charities, part-time employment, etc.), your involvement and the role you play is important to the schools in which you are interested.

Choose activities of interest to you; but, don’t pad you resume. Schools easily can identify a “padding” applicant. Committing to a few endeavors is much more impressive than listing a plethora for which you really don’t have time.

Find a balance between your studies and your extracurriculars. A successful combination shows you’re ready for the rigors of college life.

Academic performance remains one of the most important factors when considering your application. Yet, only academics renders you a very boring applicant.

Follow your interests, demonstrate that you know your limits, and manage your time wisely.

That’s impressive!

Contact our Professional College Planners for assistance with your college planning campaign.

Parents: Avoid These School Loan Risks

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For most families, parents taking on school debt in order to cover the cost of their child’s undergraduate education is the norm.

Doing so, however, whether by co-signing or by straight parent loans, can be expensive, hinder the ability to borrow, impact credit, or possibly lead to default.

We’ve listed three common risks parent borrowers face and steps to take to address them…

Over-borrowing.

Unlike undergraduate students, after all financial aid has been applied, parents can borrow the amount needed to cover the remaining annual cost-of-attendance.

The costs (i.e., interest rates) associated with parent loans are significantly higher than those associated with student loans.

Be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), having your child borrow as much of the subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans as possible before you borrow money

Co-signing a private loan before maximizing federal student loans.

Utilize private loans only after all grants, awards, scholarships, family savings, work-study, and all federal student loans have been applied toward the annual cost-of-attendance.

If your child is under 21, a co-signer likely will be needed for a private loan. You’ll be legally responsible for payment if your child can’t repay the loan.

Be sure to deplete all other financial resources before borrowing a private loan. If you do co-sign a loan, discuss the seriousness of the debt with your child.

Choose variable over fixed-rate loans.

The Fed has increased federal funds rates twice this year; one more increase is expected.

If your loans have variable rates, you’ll feel the impact.

Lock in a lower fixed rate before another increase occurs.

For assistance with your college planning campaign, contact our Professional College Planners to schedule your FREE evaluation.

4 Questions for the FAO on Your College Visit

With everything that happens during a high school year, if you can’t plan a college visit at some point during the school year, don’t fret!

School year visits are tough for everyone…

And, Summer seems to be when everyone has time to plan a visit.

While campus visits allow a family to form an initial impression about a school, they also should be used to determine if a school will be affordable.

Driving down into specifics of an award shouldn’t be the focus during a visit. After all, you may not have applied yet for admission. But, it’s a good time to gather information and clarify possibilities.

So…here are four questions you might consider asking a Financial Aid Officer (FAO) while on your visit…

  1. What does a typical freshman financial aid award look like?

Most students qualify for some aid; the type and mix varies depending on the school.

As an award can be a mixture of grants, scholarships, work study, and loans, it’s important to note how much of a family’s need the school will meet and how the school plans to meet it.

Will it be through a greater percentage of “free money” or a greater percentage of loans?

  1. What types of scholarships are available?

Will the school award aid on a basis other than need, through “merit aid” or “scholarship aid?”

Find out if there is money set aside for minorities, women, or military families.

Determine how the scholarships are awarded and if they will be renewable each year. Some schools provide quite a large amount of aid freshman year in an effort to lure students, reducing aid considerably in subsequent years.

  1. How many years will an average student take to earn an undergraduate degree?

The best means of ensuring affordability is by ensuring your student is on a four-year plan. An additional year or two can cost a family tens of thousands of dollars.

What’s the average graduation rate? If it’s a cause for concern, is it due to course availability or lack of student support?

  1. How much indebtedness is experienced by the typical graduate?

The typical debt burden upon graduation ranges from $27,000-$35,000. Where does the particular school fit?

Universities are required to track and report the total amount in federal loans that their graduates borrowed.

If you’re looking for assistance with your college planning campaign, look no further.  Contact our Professional College Planners to schedule your no obligation evaluation.  We look forward to hearing from you!

How You COULD Get a Great Financial Aid Award Package…

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Crossing your fingers? Kneeling in prayer? Buying a lottery ticket?

All interesting strategies, but not likely to improve your chances. There are other means by which you can improve your eligibility for the best kind of aid…

Money you need not repay!

So – – what can you do? Some thoughts…

Perform well in both high school and college.

Look for schools that will consider you an academic rock star!

If your grades and test scores place you in the top 25% of an incoming class, you’re likely to receive a better award than you might otherwise receive.

Chances are those awards require a minimum GPA each year in order to maintain the award. So, keep up the good work!

Find schools with generous aid packages.

All schools have track records.

Find out their history of meeting need and how it’s offered – more free money or more loans.

Check to see if the schools tend to front-load aid for freshman year, meaning less is awarded in future years.

Save smartly for college.

529 Plans are designed for college saving.

However, when savings is defined as protecting your money and any earnings thereon from loss, then 529 plans really aren’t savings; rather, they are investments.

Be concerned about the return of principal (your money), not the return on principal (the amount of earnings).

Apply as soon as possible.

Apply sooner rather than later, as grants and scholarships (free money!) often are allocated well before the financial aid application deadline.

While performing well in high school and college is up to your student, we can help you find schools with generous aid packages and save smartly for college.  Contact a Professional College Planner at College Planning Strategies to schedule the first meeting in developing your family’s college planning campaign!