Monday, April 28, 2014

Valuing a College Education

The value of a college education is generally a subjective matter but there is statistical data that sheds light on important contributing factors. The 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report reveals that a college does not have to be an Ivy in order to rank highly in converting an excellent education into compelling, post-grad starting and mid-career earnings. See the full list of schools and their respective data here. 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report

Monday, April 21, 2014

College Financial Aid Basics

Typically, high school freshmen and sophomores are not yet fully engaged in the college search process. However, it is critical that parents of these students commit early in the process to learning and preparing for the impact of their personal finances on college.

For financial aid consideration, each student and their parent(s) must submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form and possibly other financial aid forms (the requirement to submit additional forms is determined by each college). The Department of Education, via a FAFSA submission, takes into consideration one year's previous financial profile (this year is one prior to the student's first year of college). After reviewing the financial profile, the college gets an idea of the financial situation for the family which defines aid packages for the first and subsequent years for that student. This initial aid award year is called the "base year". The base year financial aid "impressions" are often hard to change, so plan accordingly. Talking to a financial advisor who understands the college aid process helps in setting realistic expectations early on for "fit" colleges. Any strategies for receiving more financial aid should be thoroughly discussed and considered well before the base year.

Friday, April 18, 2014

PSAE - Illinois Test Dates are April 23-24, 2014

The Prairie State Achievement Test is a two-day standardized test taken by all high school Juniors in Illinois. The ACT portion is administered on the first day. The second day of testing includes a skills assessment (called "WorkKeys") and an Illinois Board of Education-developed science exam. This 2-day examination, which students take while school is in session, has been a state mandated requirement since 2001.

To learn more about the test and how to best prepare for it you can view the 2013-2014 PSAE Overview and Preparation Guide here PSAE Overview and Prep Guide.

Monday, April 14, 2014

High School Seniors - Huddle Up!

A friendly reminder and note of encouragement for those high school seniors that are beginning to feel the full effects of "senioritis". The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reports that colleges say final grades are the reason for revoking admission 68.7 percent of the time. After working hard your entire high school career, keep up the effort so you are not counted in this unfortunate group.

College admission is conditional and based on the successful completion of the final year of high school. Colleges expect students to maintain or improve on the academic performance criteria that got them admitted. A negative change in one's academic record might force a college to reconsider and possibly rescind their offer of admission.

Do well on your final exams, as many high school transcripts include these grades. Stay the course! Work hard until the end! Show the colleges that they made a wise decision to admit you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

May 1st - National College Decision Day!

The light at the end of the tunnel is fast approaching! Students all across the U.S. will decide where they will commit to attend college in the Fall.

If you are still deciding on where you would like to attend college, consider revisiting the campus, speaking with current students attending that college, or talking to an alumnus of the school. Insight shared by those who have first-hand knowledge can be most helpful during a difficult decision time. If, for whatever reason, you feel you need an extension on the May 1st commitment date, contact the school's undergraduate admissions office for details.

For those students who have decided where they will attend, you must send in the initial deposit to secure a place. There is, however, one often overlooked task in this process. After having sent in the deposit and committing to the college of choice, it is advisable to tell any other schools that extended an offer of admission so they can release a place for another candidate. It is not a requirement to notify other schools of the decision to not attend but it is the considerate thing to do.
College - 3 Handy Tools When Preparing and Cost Planning

There are many tools that are available for college-bound students but all too often good ones are missed or go unused. Here are the 3 important items a prospective college student should become familiar with:

1. The high school profile. This sheet contains public information and typically accompanies high school-related supporting documentation that is submitted on behalf of the student when applying to college. This profile is used by college admission officers in order to understand what is offered at the specific high school and how each student has maximized their curriculum. The profile contains things like the school's demographics, any ranking policy, grading methods, how grades are weighted or not weighted, and average standardized test scores. Students can use this tool to evaluate how they compare to their peers.

2. A copy of an unofficial transcript. Students should meet with their guidance advisors and review their academic transcript. Be sure there are no errors. Become familiar with exactly what information the colleges will receive related to your academic performance. Reviewing this updated document each year can have the added advantage of revealing negative trends in performance thus acting as an incentive to work harder.

3. A list of scholarship donors. High school guidance offices have a list of local community organizations and businesses that offer scholarship dollars for graduating high school seniors. (If a student has access to a Naviance portal, the information may be found there as well.) It is suggested that students do research and determine what scholarships they are in line for well before any deadlines. As the cost of college is looming in every student and parent's mind, knowing early on what options are available for off-setting cost goes a long way to help build a well executed plan for college. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

College Shopping Sheet

There is a collective 'scratching of heads' sound resonating from households all across the country. These households are filled with excited college bound students and anxious parents that are comparing and trying to make sense of the financial aid award letters that are arriving in the mail.

Award letters can be very difficult to decipher and there is no mandated format for colleges to present their packages to prospective students. That's why the Department of Education created the College Shopping Sheet. This sheet's format has been adopted by over 2,000 schools across the country. It is a generally accepted format for breaking down important cost components including the estimated cost of attendance, grants, scholarships, loans, and work study with a brief overview of other information including each school's graduation rate and the nationally averaged loan default rate.

Consider using the Shopping Sheet template for gathering financial information required for comparing the cost of schools and to ultimately assist in the final decision of where to attend.