Monday, March 31, 2014

Top 3 Questions - Planning for Graduate School

To more effectively understand and narrow your choices, use these questions:

#1 - How many years does it take to complete the desired program? There are a variety of options to choose from these days. Many schools are offering programs (MBA and otherwise) that include course work taken during the summer. Other options include fast-tracked, condensed programs where semesters are shaved off of the typical completion timeline so students can get out and begin to earn a living. If a J.D or MBA is being considered, look into the 42 schools that offer joint degree programs that are billed as rigorous but are geared toward the student who wants a quicker launch into the workforce.

#2 - What will the cost be for each program being considered? As undergraduate students select prospective colleges and plan for the 4-year cost, it is wise to consider any post graduate cost at the same time. In a recent Wall Street journal article it was reported that the typical debt of an MBA graduate is $42,000 versus $161,772 for medical school and $140,616 for law school. The article goes on to say that graduates of other masters programs generally incur more debt than MBAs. When doing research on prospective programs, the Dept. of Education posts average debt dollars for graduate school programs, but understand that these numbers include students who earn degrees while they work and therefore do not borrow as much money.  The average debt estimates also include a wide range of schools not in the highly selective category which affects the initial overall total cost. That having been said, the total dollars for all of the years of education, and any estimated debt incurred over those years, needs to be determined well in advance of making commitments to attend a school.

#3 - How important is the graduate school name or program notoriety to me?  Elite schools have highly recognizable names but they often come with a hefty price tag. A recent Gallup poll revealed that the majority of U.S. business leaders say the amount of knowledge a candidate has in a field, as well as applied skills, are more important factors to making a hire than where the candidate attended school or what their college major was.  Choose the grad school that enables you to take the next steps in broadening you education and skills so that you can pursue your passions.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Affording College - Is A Work College For You?

Work colleges offer the unique combination of higher education, work experience, and service to others. Earn while you learn is not a new concept but it is a seldom mentioned option for students considering prospective colleges. Work colleges are smaller, liberal arts colleges and not for everyone but if a student is looking for transferrable post-grad skills along with a reduced tuition academic experience, it might be worth researching. There are seven federally recognized work colleges in the United States. Read more here … Work Colleges Consortium

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rigor Matters

Eighth graders and high schoolers all across the country are planning and selecting their courses for next school year. As choices are considered, and if college is their post-high school desire, it is important for students to pursue as rigorous a curriculum as they can handle while maintaining a reasonable balance. The message to prospective colleges is that the student has a willingness to take on academic challenges while proactively preparing a foundation where they can compete and excel in the college environment.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Summer - Go Fly A Kite!

There is no time like the present as it relates to planning summer activities for your high school students. While you are busily reviewing websites for the most competitive and unique activities, it is worth considering building in down-time for your students over the summer.

The Boston Globe recently wrote an article specifically about a variety of summer resume-building options available with some thoughts on the pros and cons from a college perspective.

Read the article here

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seven Tips - College Award Letters

High school seniors will soon begin to receive their college financial aid award letters if they haven't already started to trickle in. One college to the next, the letters have no consistent format and can be difficult to understand. Things to keep in mind when reviewing award letters:

1. I strongly suggest my clients create a chart, including each school's name, so they can compare and contrast each line item on the award letters. This simplified view makes college financial decisions much more organized when the inevitable discussions arise. If any award letter is lacking information, call the college financial aid office and request the information you need to make an informed decision.

2. Award letters are generally laid out with scholarships, federal/state/institutional aid, and loans delineated on a per semester basis. If FAFSA has been submitted, the Stafford loan should be included on the letter (typically referred to as "Federal Direct Subsidized Loan" or "Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan").

3. An often misinterpreted line item is one that reads "PLUS". This stands for Parent Loan for Undergrad Students. This is a loan offered to the parent(s) to make up the difference between the financial award package and the cost of attending the college. Be sure not to misinterpret this as "gift" money (a common mistake).

4. The student has the option to decline any one or more line items on the letter. Whether you make changes to the award letter or accept it "as is", the student must sign and date the letter and return it to the college's financial aid office. (Some colleges have you do this online.)

5. If there are any glaring errors on the letter, contact the financial aid office immediately. (For instance, are the credit hours correctly noted on a per semester basis for the student's intended full time or part-time status?)

6. If the award letter is evaluated and felt to be unfair, students and/or parents are advised to contact the financial aid office to inquire about the appeal process. If there has been a change in financial circumstances since the FAFSA or other financial aid paperwork was filed, contact the financial aid office to inquire about their preferred process and timeline in submitting this new information for consideration.

7. When speaking with financial aid officers remember that their job is to help families. Starting any discussion with an expression of thankfulness for their taking time to consider the student for aid will go a long way in setting a positive tone.

Friday, March 14, 2014

College Campus Visits for High School Juniors and Seniors

It is the season for planning college campus visits all across the country. High school seniors are visiting colleges they have been accepted to but haven't seen yet or are re-visiting colleges with "eyes afresh" to make their final choice. Decision time is coming and seniors now need to narrow down the field.

High school juniors are visiting campuses to get a feel for whether they are interested enough to apply. The additional benefit of registering interest in a college by showing up for campus tours and attending information sessions can help in admissions decisions too.

No matter what the reason for a campus visit, I would strongly suggest students (and parents) take detailed notes of what they observe, experience, hear, etc. Additionally, most people have cell phones with cameras these days so taking pictures is easy and highly advisable. As you are touring the campus, take pictures of things you find interesting. The little details of your visit will fade or be forgotten as multiple school experiences with begin to blend together. It is important to keep the details of each school separate and able to be referenced as even the tiniest details can help in narrowing down pros and cons of schools in the final analysis phase.

Start a folder on each college you are considering and keep all of the information you gather on a campus tour in it. These folders should also include any business cards of faculty or admissions people you meet with.

Lastly, have fun and enjoy the campus tour process but remember you are ultimately on a fact-finding mission. This is serious business and being organized and keeping track of what valuable information you gather will pay dividends down the road.