Critical Questions for Funding a College Education

This week we have a Guest Blog written by Mike Dailey, owner of College Authority in Connecticut.  Mike has 25 years of experience working with families and college funding strategies.  He has spoken at many high schools and brings great insight to the college process.  While he is based in Connecticut, the Internet makes business anywhere a reality.  I hope you will enjoy his perspective and expertise!

Financial aid is a critical piece of paying for college for most families, and even if it is not, why are you spending unnecessary dollars?  Unfortunately, paying for college can be an extremely complex and convoluted process with colleges having different financial aid forms and filing deadlines. On top of that, there are formulas used to determine a family’s eligibility for federal aid and a college’s need based financial aid and non-need aid, scholarships and grants.  Colleges typically do not explain how the formulas are derived but they can easily be determined college by college if you know how to look up their aid statistics. Knowing this information puts the family in the driver’s seat to understand their aid eligibility and to appeal their aid package if they feel they have been shorted.

Between now and January, seniors will be submitting applications and financial paperwork will need to be filed with your institutions of choice.  Have you considered these questions:

  • How to make college affordable regardless of our income level
  • How to maximize our family’s eligibility for college financial aid
  • What are the little known funding sources available even if we don’t qualify for need based aid
  • What to do we do if the value of our 529 college savings plan is down by 25-40%
  • How do we pay for college without sacrificing our retirement
  • How do we pay for college even if I lose my job in the next 12 months
  • How do we determine exactly how much money we’ll need to pay for college expenses
  • Are there colleges that offer the best shot of getting a good financial aid package
  • Is it possible to attend an expensive private university for less than the cost of a state college

Feel free to email us for a complimentary phone consultation by visiting our website:

I want to say a special Thanks to Mike for sharing some of his expertise and taking the time to provide some very important questions for consideration.

Halloween and Other Scary Times

How perfect to end the month with Halloween and a topic of Scary Times.  If you are a junior or senior in high school or a senior in college you are facing scary times.  There is enough uncertainty in the world to create plenty of anxiety in those who are in pivotal transition points in their lives.

Actually, anyone who is trying to make decisions about college and career direction is facing scary times.  But you can reduce the stress by arming yourself with tools that enhance your decision-making and place yourself in better positions for opportunities.

In a time when information is a key to success, resources can be your most important tools.  Here are some key resources for you to pay attention to regularly:

1.  Athletes in any sport – – a terrific resource for understanding the college sports recruiting experience and communicating with coaches to secure your opportunity.  Hans writes a great blog with specific information.  Bookmark it!

2.  College bound students and parents – – a must for registering for the SAT, pacing yourself with a prep program, practicing with their Question of the Day, and they are usually the first indicator of college cost increases.   An underused resource.  Bookmark it!

3.  Anyone thinking about career opportunities – – a wonderful resource for looking at trends of jobs, sectors of employment and demographic availability of employment.  Another underused resource.  Bookmark it!

Scary times can be made less frightening when armed with effective tools.  Knowing your options, how to manage them and knowing more about yourself enables you to make more effective decisions and capitalize on opportunities.  Need a great resource to learn more about yourself, choosing a college, college major or your career direction?  Contact me.

Where Are You?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day to day demands that we lose sight of where we are in the big picture.  For high school and college students that location can be critical.  So in an effort to re-focus and clearly identify where you are, let’s look at the resources so that there are no surprises.

As a high school student, you need to assess your grades.  On-line access through district portals makes that possible.  Do you use it?  Are there patterns in your grades like low tests, or quizzes, missing assignments?  This is a good time to evaluate where you are so that there is a good outcome for the semester.  After all, many of you are nearing midterm and you have time to correct problem areas.

College students, you are in a similar position.  You have on-line access to grades, you can see patterns of performance and you have time to address problem areas.  However, for you, there are some resources and practices that are different from high school.  If you need assistance, check your professor’s office hours and make an appointment.  It will help your status in class as they will see you as an individual who is interested and one who cares about their class performance.  You can also check out math or writing labs that provide student-to-student tutorial services free.  There are lots of services available, but you have to take action and take advantage of them.  Contact me if you need help navigating the system.

Know where you are so that there are no surprises.  For high school students, your transcript speaks volumes about your educational ability, your work ethic, and your attitude as a student.  So keep it on track!  College students, your status at a university, current or future scholarships and rank for a potential employer depend on your performance, keep it on track!

Where are you?

3 Considerations When Choosing an SAT or ACT Prep Program

Paying for college really starts in high school.  All those extra coaches, fees for lessons and expenses for tests are just the beginning of what is yet to come.  So how can you manage those expenses so you get the “biggest bang” for your buck?  One way is to choose a test prep program that meets your specific needs and allows your dollars to target that purpose.  After all, depending on where you live, prep programs can range from $30 an hour for standard tutoring all the way to $8400 for an annual package with some big name companies.  Each has their own benefits and drawbacks.

There are basically three different ways to engage in a test prep program.  The first is one-on-one tutoring specific to SAT or ACT, the second is a group delivery model and the third is an on-line tutorial which may be individual or group but involves a live video feed.  In order to choose one, you need to consider these factors:

1 – Timeline for Preparing – In an earlier blog I wrote about creating a timeline for working from the endpoint backwards.  That way you don’t miss deadlines for test registrations or college applications.  But as you select a test prep program, be sure you get the specifics about when classes occur, what happens if you miss a session due to illness or other school related obligations, and how does the instructor address your specific needs.  Will their schedule fit with yours?

2 – Cost vs. Benefit – What is the overall cost for a program and does it include a practice test?  How are practice test results used to structure the prep program or is it a generalized plan?  While there are no guarantees on any plan, you want to invest your time and energy in better understanding your own performance and getting the best possible score as an outcome.

3 – Consider Your Learning Style – Do you learn better through visual, auditory or kinesthetic modes?  How can you capitalize on other learning modes if your number memory is low?  The Highlands Ability Battery helps answer these questions and can assist in making an effective decision for selecting a test prep program, but how do the three delivery models address these modes of learning?

Choosing a test prep program may include conversations with student peers or parent booster groups when attending school functions, but when it comes time to select the one for you, be sure to consider these three factors.  If you need more information on the Highlands Ability Battery, contact me.  If you need more information about the programs in your home area, contact me.  Choose wisely, get the best result possible, and the “biggest bang” for your buck.

If you’ve had a good SAT or ACT prep experience, please comment here to share that with other parents and students.

Preparation as a Determining Factor in the Duration of Your Degree

When we set out to buy a car, we do our homework.  We check websites for best deals and dealers, price special features, and determine in our mind what our budget will be and the kind of vehicle we can afford.  Part of the equation may even be determining how long we intend to keep and use the vehicle, how serviceable it will be, and how much satisfaction we will get out of using it.

Actually, college is a similar investment.  We do our homework, compare schools, tuitions and, unfortunately, while we may think we budget enough for college, changing your mind on a major can completely change the financial picture.  The national average indicates that students in college change majors 3-5 times.  And although a bachelors’ degree typically only requires 4 years of college, the national average for students’ indicates they require 5.8 years.  Changing majors changes the duration of your degree and has huge financial impact.

Preparing ahead of time can make all the difference in the world from your performance in college classes to the amount of money invested in attaining a 4 year degree and even to the level of satisfaction with the chosen field of study and eventual career.  Preparations can begin as early as middle school and most of them take almost no time to invest beyond what you already do.  But you do have to be organized and have a plan.  Obviously the closer you get to junior and senior year in high school the more you need to be doing and the amount of money you invest becomes more demanding.  After all, tests, college visits and many activities include costs.

Good preparation can save time and money both in high school and in college.  So when you think about getting that college degree, have you thought about how much you are willing to invest in upfront costs of time, effort and money to save thousands on the back end?

Working Backwards

In spite of the highly publicized expense of college, the numbers of applicants is growing at an astounding rate.  The need for an education beyond high school is recognized, but the importance of preparing is often overlooked by the demands of a daily grind.  Too many times, students find themselves short of an opportunity because of a lack of planning.  So make a plan to plan backwards!  Start with the end in mind.

Juniors, you know you need to take the SAT, ACT or even PSAT.  You may even need a prep course to fine tune those skills or techniques for taking tests effectively.  Target your date of an exam, work backwards and allow enough time for taking that prep course.  Your plan may even include a follow up test with prep course in between the first “baseline” test.  Either way, the entire plan needs to be driven by the target date of submitting college applications and having test scores available.  It typically takes about 3 weeks to get scores after you sit for the SAT, ACT, or PSAT.

Seniors, you must have your timeline established.  You are in final test opportunity mode with only two fall dates left to register for the SAT and three for the ACT.  You’re also in college visit mode and completing applications.  The Common Application went live on-line the first week of August for those 2013 applicants, so essay questions are posted.  This is the time to begin planning your essay!

Although it is critcal for juniors and seniors to be carefully assessing their timeline, it is not too early for sophomores and freshman to begin their plan.  By building your plan with the end in mind, you can guard against missing deadlines and create great opportunities to build your “value” as a university applicant.  You also begin to establish a plan of behavior that pays big dividends as you navigate time management in college.  Work backwards…it works!

Need help?  Click here to contact me.

Successful Time Management Begins in High School

Last week I posted a blog about one of the big pitfalls for college freshmen, time management.  The ability to manage time wisely doesn’t magically begin when one turns eighteen or goes to college, and for some it never begins.  For some it becomes a life management problem because the skill is never developed.   But it can be developed and the earlier the better.

High school and college students alike should get in the habit of using a planner or agenda.  Depending on preferences, you might be looking at an electronic or paper product.  Either way, it has to be manageable for you, so spend an hour at a local Office Max, Office Depot or comparable supplier to explore the options.  Cell phones also offer planner tools, so check yours out as you weigh the possibilities.

High school students need to consider the need to plan long term as part of their high school career.  Although the big push for college applications begins in the senior year, the bulk of the work is already finished.  You have already established your “application resume’” through your freshman to junior years.  So, the reality is, a few minutes spent planning each year helps to get you strategically positioned for a successful college admissions process.

  • Freshmen, there are things you can do to prepare and manage your time!
  • Sophomores, there are things you can do to prepare and manage your time!
  • Juniors, there are things you can do to prepare and manage your time!
  • Seniors, you must prepare and manage your time!

Creating a pattern of behavior that develops as part of a plan for good time management will be one more strategic tool you will have in your bag when you head off to college.

For more information on a plan specific to you, contact me.

Plan Ahead for All Around Success

When you eval­u­ate the cost or invest­ment in some­thing, some­times we humans can be a bit short sighted.  So when it comes to eval­u­at­ing the cost of a col­lege edu­ca­tion and your invest­ment of time, you want to make sure you invest well and pro­vide good mar­ketabil­ity for your­self.  You also want to reduce the poten­tial of debt after graduation.

There is an excel­lent arti­cle, The Best Val­ues in Pub­lic Col­leges that ranks 20 of the best uni­ver­si­ties and rea­sons for the rank­ings.  I point this out because there is an addi­tional fac­tor to pay atten­tion to in these num­bers and it isn’t printed.  The last col­umn on the chart iden­ti­fies “Aver­age debt at grad­u­a­tion.”  This is important…many states, like Florida, offer aca­d­e­mic schol­ar­ship dol­lars to in-state stu­dents based on GPA.  But even with those dol­lars, the “Aver­age debt at grad­u­a­tion” for stu­dents at Uni­ver­sity of Florida is $16,013.  Maybe your most eco­nom­i­cal and major spe­cific insti­tu­tion isn’t in-state.  Look at all of your options.

By doing some work up front, you can explore careers, majors and schools that are inter­est­ing, make sense and are a nat­ural fit for you.  That’s where I can pro­vide you excel­lent guid­ance and steps to cre­at­ing an effec­tive plan for col­lege and career direc­tion.  Those steps help to lead you to a great col­lege experience, on-time grad­u­a­tion with a mean­ing­ful degree that is mar­ketable in a career path geared to your sat­is­fac­tion and reward.

Get­ting the biggest return on an edu­ca­tional invest­ment means:

  • Grad­u­at­ing on Time
  • Reduced or No Stu­dent Loan Debt
  • Mar­ketable Degree
  • High Degree of Sat­is­fac­tion in Career Path

Click here for more infor­ma­tion on cre­at­ing a suc­cess­ful high school and col­lege to work­place plan.

Click here for the full arti­cle and table – The Best Val­ues in Pub­lic Colleges.

Click here for evidence that Loan Debt isn’t just for the younger student.


Your Elevator Speech

If you walked into an elevator, the door closed and you found yourself next to a college recruiter, coach or potential employer and had 30 seconds to promote yourself, what would you say?  When the door opens and they walk away, what would you have said that makes you memorable enough that they want to know more?

The old “Elevator Speech” is a business technique that has been used for decades, but it is still effective.  In fact, for young people who have less experience promoting themselves to future employers or college admissions offices, it is a great way to collect your thoughts ahead of time so that when opportunity strikes, you’re prepared.  I find that when young people are asked to, “Tell me a little about your self,” they get caught like deer in headlights or ramble with no impressive points.

So prepare ahead.  I can help you do that so that the initial meeting or unexpected opportunity can be managed with a prepared and relaxed “30 second Elevator Speech.”  Promote yourself by being prepared.  What will you say in 30 seconds that will leave them wanting more?  Contact me.

3 Keys to a Great Interview

This month has been about planning and presenting your self.  I addressed the importance of creating a Plan and then following up with Updating Your Resume’.  Now it’s time to talk about Presenting Your Self…the Interview.

Key #1 – Presentation – Presentation is all about your image.  From your first impression to walking out the door you will be evaluated.  Dress appropriately, make eye contact, provide a firm handshake, and smile!  When you sit, sit square in the chair, not slouched or leaning on one elbow.

Key #2 – Target Responses – Be specific in your responses to questions and speak with confidence.  Even “I don’t know” can be spoken with confidence and followed up with “But I will find out.” They will be listening and watching for how you react in situations and how you solve problems.

Key #3 – Questions – Have your own list of questions.  The interview should go both ways.  Be sure that you are not asking for information that is already available on their website or in literature about the school, organization or firm.  Your questions have to demonstrate interest on your part and that you have done your homework.

Creating a great interview for a job or college admissions begins long before you walk through the door.  Be prepared to Present Your Self effectively, answer questions with Targeted Responses, and take your list of prepared Questions.