Tag Archives: college admissions

Three Ways to Cut The Cost of College

With the cost of college reaching $60,000/year at some schools next year, finances are on every parent’s mind.  To reduce what you pay for college, here are three factors to consider:

1. Scholarships for B students: Even if your child is not an A student, he or she can get scholarships. The trick is to figure out which colleges want your child. Maybe they want or need athletes (even Division 3).  Perhaps they’re looking for musicians, or a pep band participant. With a sport such as cross country, go to the athletics page on the school’s website and compare your child’s performance to posted statistics. It gets more difficult with a sport like baseball, but that’s where a coach can help you understand which schools might need you. Know who wants your child in terms of academics by looking at the college’s average grades and understanding where your child fits in. Some schools offer tuition discounting to try to entice certain students to enroll.

2. Understand early whether you’ll qualify for need-based financial aid, and get a sense for how much. By early, I mean when your child is a high school sophomore. As long as you understand affordability early in the process, you will know what the bill will be and can possibly restrict the list of schools to a certain segment. Go to collegeboard.com to find a calculator. Search under “college planning” and then “pay for college.”  Keep in mind that different schools calculate your ability to pay differently.  For example, some colleges assess your net home equity in their formula, and others do not.  Some schools provide a larger allowance for certain assets, and others do not.  If you take time to examine this issue early enough, you can implement strategies to qualify for more financial aid. 

3. There are hidden gems. Kiplinger, a publisher of business forecasts and personal finance advice, compiles a list of best college values. One is SUNY Geneseo, another is Binghamton.  Siena can be a great value for the right student.  And Hartwick College offers a three-year degree program, which can cut the cost of college by 25 percent.  But there are hundreds of other gems out there that you probably have never heard of.  Don’t presume that a public college will be your least expensive option.  This is often not the case.  Consider consulting with a college advisor to help you identify which schools will be a good fit for your child.

College Decisions: The Right College At The Right Price

It’s that time of year again.  By Tuesday, May 1st, all college bound high school seniors must submit their deposit to the college of their choice.  For some it’s a difficult time; for others, it’s a time of joy, but for all it’s the beginning of a new chapter.

For the parents of this year’s high school sophomores and juniors, it’s instructive to learn from others’ mistakes.  To illustrate this point, consider a family we advised this year.  Let’s call them the Joneses.  They let their child, Jenny, handle most of the college search.  They chose only to work with a college advisor at the end of the process – for help on the applications and essays.  They figured their daughter could select the best school for her.  Jenny was a bright student who had a 94 average and a 2010 combined SAT score (1280 – Reading and Math).  She applied to only 5 colleges, four of which were stretch schools.  The other was a safe, Providence College.  She was accepted in January to Providence.  This proved to be very trying for her, because she wasn’t thrilled with the choice, but at least she knew she was admitted to one college.  On the plus side, she did receive a scholarship of $8,000/year.  She didn’t hear from any of her stretch schools until April 1st.  That was 3 months of waiting and hoping,  When she did finally get her letters, she was admitted to only one, Wake Forest University, and was not admitted to Boston College, New York University, and Colgate.

This scenario posed a dilemma for Jenny Jones.  She had visited Wake Forest once last April.  At the time, she loved it.  But a year in the life of a teenager is a long time, and by the following April she realized that North Carolina was a little far for her and her parents.  As for Providence, it was really just a placeholder in her mind.  Everyone told her she needed a safe school, so she found one and didn’t think much of it.  She had visited Providence the summer of her junior year, and while she liked it, the major she ultimately decided on – 8 months later – was not offered there.

The second problem was even bigger:  cost.  This family, like most of the clients we work with, did not qualify for need based financial aid, yet they could not really afford the $58,260/year, or more than $230,000 over four years at Wake Forest.   Providence proved to be not much less expensive at $55,600, minus the $8,000/year scholarship.  This would total $47,600/year or just under $200,000 over 4 years.  These numbers are not typos.  College really is that expensive.

In the end, Jenny chose Providence due to proximity to home and price.  This was not a choice, however, she was pleased about.  Nor were her parents.  They had saved less than $50,000, so they were faced with taking out more than $150,000 in loans.  This is a situation I would advise against.

So, the bottom line for Jenny was:  She didn’t have enough viable options because her college search was not systematic, strategic, and well informed.  A professional, ethical college advisor would have helped the family understand fit, expand the student’s options, and would have prepared Jenny more for admission to her stretch schools.  They would have also advised the family about safe and probable schools, so that they had options at the end of the process.  Some advisors, like The College Advisor of New York, also help students maximize scholarship and financial aid opportunities as well, thus lowering the net cost.

Some families can navigate the college admissions process on their own, others choose to hire an advisor.  Chances are, a college counselor can help save you time, angst, and money, while guiding your child to a college that’s a great fit for them, socially, academically, and financially.   I urge you to consider hiring a college counselor for your child’s college search.

Selective College Admissions And Who We’ve Become

“A 35 on the ACT Math Test is no good.”  So said my student, Jenny, from Shanghai via our effective, but somewhat blurry Skype connection last November.

Trying to boost her confidence, and add some degree of accuracy to her statement, I said, “I’m not sure you understand.  A 35 is at the 99th percentile.  You scored better than all but one percent of U.S. test takers,” to which Jenny replied:  “In China a 36 (a perfect score) is the only good score on the ACT Math and Science tests.”

And then it hit me.  The ACT, SAT and many tests like them are normed largely on American students.  In comparison with U.S. kids, Jenny’s 35 was extremely strong, but give that test to a million Chinese students, and her score may have fallen in the 65th percentile.   Chinese students and others across the world score, literally, off the charts, or at least off our charts.

That same week, my first grader’s class planned, organized, and executed a “Pow Wow” to help them learn about Native Americans, the pilgrims, and early American History.  I couldn’t help but think that while he was dancing and socializing with his friends, a class of first grade students somewhere in the Pacific Rim was getting drilled on Trigonometric functions.  And we wonder why our kids rank 32nd among industrialized nations in math proficieny and 17th in reading.

But the issue goes further than underperforming teachers and schools.  It goes to what we’ve become as an American culture.  The New York Post reported yesterday that officials at several elite Manhattan high schools have banned seniors from wearing the sweatshirts of selective colleges to which they’ve gained acceptance.  Nor were they allowed to post their admissions decisions on Facebook or MySpace.  I wonder what George Orwell would think!  The rationale behind the policy is that doing so will hurt the feelings of others who were not so successful in their college admissions quest.  Yours truly was interviewed for this story, and I expressed my disapproval of such a policy.

So I began to think:  Are we punishing students for their achievement?  Are we so cautious about not hurting the feelings of others that we fail to celebrate our own accomplishments?   Why do we give trophies to every child who took part in a sport?   Webster’s Dictionary defines a trophy as “anything serving as a token or evidence of victory, valor or skill.”  Clearly, every child on every team in my son’s Little League does not finish the season victorious – and many have no skill at all!  But this does not mean they will be scarred for life.  Quite the contrary.  It means that given the opportunity, and the right kind of encouragement, they will feel compelled to find a new activity in which they can excel.  An activity they enjoy.  For true self esteem is the product of hard work and achievement.

In short, I believe we’re coddling our kids into mediocrity.  This must stop or our Asian friends will continue to surpass us, and this could mean even darker days for our education system, our economy and the very Country we value so much.

The Financial Crisis And Paying For College

With family investments and home values battered by the recent financial crisis, colleges and universities around the nation are seeing an increase in students seeking financial aid and are bracing for even more.

A panoramic picture of the Angell Center court...

A panoramic picture of the Angell Center courtyard at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the same time, higher education’s ability to meet that extra need is in question because the value of most college endowments has dropped as well.  Nationwide, applications for financial aid jumped 16% last fall compared to the previous year.  Some colleges may need to cut back on other spending to fund extra scholarships.  Others are increasing grants and boosting staffing to help students find loans if their families’ college savings accounts have been hit by Wall Street losses or if they can no longer borrow against their homes.

Before taking steps to reduce financial aid, schools will probably first postpone new construction and stop hiring new faculty. BostonUniversity, for example, announced a construction and hiring freeze, and other schools may follow suit if the situation does not improve.

In recent years, universities with significant endowments have faced pressure from Congress to spend more of the investment returns on scholarships or risk jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

Another concern is that some financially stressed families may push current high school seniors to apply only to public institutions, like the SUNY (State University of New York) system.  I have seen this occur with some of our affluent clients.  Despite being able to afford it, they simply cannot justify spending almost three times the money for a selective private college.  This has resulted in the SUNY schools, and many out of state publics, becoming highly selective.  So parents hoping to send their children to what used to be a “safe” SUNY school, in terms of selectivity, may not have that option.  They will still have to pay the going rate for a private college, which can run close to $60,000/year.

The result:  More loans, at a time when concerns persist about loan availability if the banking system remains unstable.  In addition, many experts are now warning that the student loan bubble will be the next debt crisis in the United States.  Average student loan debt has increased to close to $30,000 and many students graduate with more than $50,000 which makes it much harder to start out in their 20s.

At Northeastern University in Boston, about 10% more students than last year have asked for additional midyear aid.  Many parents are asking “what if” questions about whether reduced investment values could make them eligible for more aid.  So far, Northeastern has been able to meet all legitimate needs.

So what’s the best course of action for prudent parents and students?  First, continue to save early, and save often.  Second, make sure you begin the college search in 10th grade, or 11th grade at the latest.  There are many strategies available to reduce a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), but this must be done before the middle of a student’s junior year.  Third, in most cases, saving should be done in the parents’ name.  Fourth, depending on the college that students select, home equity or business assets may be included in the financial aid formula.  Make sure you understand how the equity in your home or business will affect the college’s estimate of your ability to pay.  Finally, consider contacting the College Advisor of New York where we specialize in finding best fit colleges socially, academically, and financially for families of all incomes.

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