Spring College Choice Tips for Parents of High School Sophomores

College Campus Image 5Last week, I gave Spring College Choice Tips for Parents of High School Juniors.  This week, I am focusing on college choice tips for parents of high school sophomores.

High School Sophomores

If you have a sophomore, now is the time to start the college search process.  I am right there with you.  My second daughter is a sophomore and we are just starting to think about building a college search list.  Here are some great resources to get you started in the right direction.

  • Starting the college search – Read Starting the College Search and Organize Your College Search.  Use my free College Search Spreadsheet to keep track of potential schools.  For my own daughter, I have started a list of schools for her to check out and have added schools she thinks she is interested in.  I have established the rule that we are not going to consider schools that are completely out of her budget.  From my experience with my oldest daughter, I found that it is much easier to cut a school out at the beginning of the process than after your child has visited it and has fallen in love with it!
  • College Visits – To stay ahead of the curve, it’s best to start visits spring of sophomore year or soon after.  Summer visits give you a good look at campuses, but don’t provide the full “feel” of a campus when it is bustling with students.  They still may work for an initial screening though.  Read my posts on College Visits and check out this two-part series on campus visits on the DIY College Rankings website.  My daughter’s high school takes all sophomores on a college visit in April.  They offer three different colleges to visit and the students get to pick the one they want to go to.  It is most helpful for kids who have never been on a campus before.  My daughter tagged along on several of her older sister’s college visits so she has already ruled out a number of schools.  We are planning our first official college visit for her at the end of May.
  • ACT/SAT Test Preparation – I wrote an article for rising high school juniors about preparing for the ACT.  In my area, almost everyone takes the ACT exclusively.  SAT preparation is similar and the test content is currently undergoing a change.  It used to be said that different students would do better on one test or the other, but we will see what the new SAT format brings in 2016.
  • Paying for College - Start getting an idea of what colleges will expect you to pay out of pocket.  The best ways to do this are to run the FAFSA4Caster and look at Net Price Calculators on school websites.  Depending on your ability to pay for college, research schools that provide great merit scholarships and/or research schools that provide great need-based financial aid.  Read Finding the Best Deals on Colleges.

As a parent of a high school sophomore, you have plenty of time to help your student make the best choice for college.  A little preparation now will go a long way towards keeping the process on track and running smoothly junior and senior years.


Spring College Choice Tips for Parents of High School Juniors

Last week I gave college choice tips for parents of high school seniors.  This week, I am focusing on high school juniors and next week I will talk about sophomores.

High School Juniors

Senior year is right around the corner and that means college applications, scholarship applications, recommendation letters and lots of stress!  As a parent, you can arm yourself now with the knowledge and tools to help guide your student through these processes. Here are some resources to help you keep everything under control.

Spring of Junior year is a great time to encourage your child to narrow down his or her college choice list to a manageable number of applications. Eight to ten is typically considered the maximum number for applying.  If he or she is not ready to narrow down the list, now is the time to do what it takes to get there!

College Search, High School Preparation

Spring College Choice Tips for Parents of High School Seniors

Grad CapIn most areas, high schoolers have started their last quarter of the school year.  What does this mean to you as a parent in the college choice process?  Well, it depends on how close to college your student is.  This week, I am focusing on parents of high school seniors.  Next week I will talk about high school juniors.

Your high school senior should have received college acceptances by now, assuming he or she completed applications.  You should have received financial aid package details as well.  Your student typically has until May 1 to make the final decision.

Here are some helpful resources for making the decision and after the decision:

  • The final college choice – Read my posts in the category Making the Final College Choice for tips on how to decide.
  • Comparing financial aid packages – In determining final college choice and what you can afford, read Stuart Nachbar’s guest post, What is ‘Total Cost of Attendance’? to make sure you take into account all of the costs that will come with selecting a particular school.  Make sure you know how to compare financial aid packages.  Some numbers that look impressive really aren’t when you do a full comparison.
  • Negotiating college cost – Yes, you can negotiate your out-of-pocket cost at many schools!  I have provided tips for how to do that.  Your approach is the most important part.
  • Not ready for college yet – What if your student is behind schedule and hasn’t applied to enough schools yet or isn’t sure he or she even wants to go?  Don’t worry, there are still options.  Read Didn’t Make a College Choice Yet?  There are Still Options.  This post has a link to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Space Availability Survey from last year, but they should be putting out one for this year after May 1.
  • After the college choice – Once your student has committed to a school, there are still things to think about and emotions to deal with.  Check out my posts in the category After the College Choice.

Good luck with the final pieces and enjoy the time you have with your high school senior.  College move-in day will be here before you know it!


College Search

Beware of the College Sales Pitch

avoidAs you are visiting colleges and talking to different school representatives, remember to take everything they tell you with a grain of salt.  Representatives are paid to promote their schools.  Even that sweet little sophomore tour guide who couldn’t say enough about how much she loves the school is a paid representative.  They all have jobs focused on selling your student on attending their school.

My daughter is coming to the end of her freshman year of college and I can tell you that we definitely got caught up in the college sales pitch.  The defining factor that made her choose her school over the second choice has become the most disappointing part of her experience so far.  The superior learning opportunity and comprehensive advising that was promised has not yet materialized.  Am I saying that she wouldn’t pick the same school if she had it to do all over?  Not necessarily.  The outcome may have been the same.  I just know that I was holding out for everything my daughter was promised in the college sales pitch and we both ended up disappointed!

Here are my tips to help you get the best “non sales pitch” information about a college:

  1. Talk to students on campus – Look beyond the tour guides and other student employees.  Find ordinary students hanging out around campus and find out if they would be willing to answer a few questions. The student union, dining hall and outdoor spaces are great places to look.  It’s even better if your college-bound student does the talking.
  2. Take a look at student reviews on Niche/College Prowler – These are mostly reliable reviews from current college students.  There are always a few extremes to weed out, so look through several pages and see what common themes emerge for a school.
  3. Have your student do an overnight campus visit – Although your student may still get some element of sales pitch in an overnight visit, there will be many opportunities to talk to current students, experience campus activities and attend a class or two.  These will provide a much more “real life” campus scenario than you can get during a campus tour.  For many students, the overnight visit is the deciding factor in the college search.

There’s really no way to avoid a certain amount of sales pitch in your college search.  Just be sure you are able to balance it with a good dose of fairly unbiased information from people who aren’t trying to sell you on their school.




College Search

Full Scholarship List – Praise from a Parent

I received an awesome email a couple days ago from a parent who downloaded the Full Scholarship List.  Her daughter was a National Merit Semi-Finalist.  She hadn’t found any schools that would offer full-ride scholarships for national merit semi-finalists.  She was so proud of her daughter for achieving such an honor, but wasn’t sure how they were going to pay for college.  Then she did a web search that brought up an article I wrote on full-ride scholarships and referred to the Full Scholarship List.  She took a chance on it.  On the list, she found Florida A&M University (FAMU) and they offered her daughter a full-ride scholarship.

FAMU offers full-ride scholarships for in-state freshmen who have achieved at least a 27 ACT score or 1800 SAT score and have a 3.5 unweighted high school GPA.  FAMU also offers full-rides plus a $500 book stipend for in-state freshmen who are National Merit Finalists, National Achievement Finalists, National Merit Semi-Finalists, or National Achievement Semi-Finalists. Out-of-state students with the same credentials earn full tuition plus fees unless they are National Achievement Semi-Finalists, Finalists or Scholars.  These students will receive a full-ride plus extras.

Receiving the email from this mom validated that the hard work I put into creating the Full Scholarship List was all worth it.  I felt that parents needed a resource to be able to find full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships for top students.  I wasn’t finding any complete list online that included all three types:  national merit scholarship opportunities, automatic merit-based scholarships and competitive merit-based scholarships.  Over a six-month period, I spent nights and weekends working on the list.  My husband and kids thought I was nuts!  I found a few partial lists online to get me started, but I had to look up every school and every scholarship online to make sure they were still valid.  Then I spent time looking for additional schools that offer full-ride and full-tuition scholarships.  I know there are more out there and I plan to keep looking and keep adding to my list.

I knew that charging for my list, even though it is only $2.99, would scare away a lot of interested parties, but I have a larger purpose in mind.  As I explain on the Full Scholarship List page, I wanted a way for the My Kid’s College Choice website to support itself and I wanted to be able to offer a scholarship to students who didn’t have a full-ride opportunity.  In the two months the list has been available, I have earned enough for the yearly maintenance of the site and I am starting to reserve funds for a scholarship.  My plan is to announce the scholarship opportunity around the end of the year.  I am not sure yet how big I will be able to make it, but as a parent, I know that every scholarship helps.  To earn the scholarship, I will be looking for high school seniors to write an article, that I can publish on My Kid’s College Choice, about their college search experience.  I will put more definition around exactly what I am looking for when the time comes.

In the meantime, I know I need to work on getting the Full Scholarship List out to a wider audience.  So far, people have only found it through web searches that brought up my articles on full-ride scholarships and personal referrals.  If you have any great ideas around how I can reach more parents and students, please leave me a comment.

Whether you have purchased the Full Scholarship List or whether you are just interested in my articles, thank you for your support and if I can help you further in your kid’s college choice process, leave me a comment or use the Contact Me form.

Scholarships , ,

What is ‘Total Cost of Attendance’?

This is a second guest post from Stuart Nachbar, President of EducatedQuest.com.  If you haven’t read his first guest post on college housing options, you can find it here: Think For the Future in Your College Housing Decision.

At this time this year good news, sometimes bad news, is landing online or in the mailboxes of college-bound students across the U.S.

The good news? “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted, and we have some financial aid for you.”

The bad news? Well, you’re not so lucky. Maybe you’re in, but you must borrow or pay for college out of your own resources. Or maybe you’re out.

But wait, there’s more. Suppose you get good news from more than one school, not only about admissions, but also financial aid. After all of the good news comes in it’s time to compare the award letters.

1317230_29811116This is where you must know your Total Cost of Attendance.

Total Cost of Attendance, for any college, includes:

  The items on your term bill: Tuition, fees, room and board.

  Expenses essential to academics: Books, a laptop computer, software, pens, paper, etc.

  Expenses essential to living: Clothing, laundry, transportation home, decorating a dorm room, entertainment, health insurance (though the college may try to sell this to you).

Colleges either base financial aid on their charges, the things that they can bill you for, against your Expected Family Contribution and your financial need. Or sometimes they use an “average” or “estimate” for the costs that they do not bill you for, and add it to those that are on the bill.

But you may not want to trust those averages or estimates.

Here is what I suggest you do.

1.    Take the sticker prices of the items that the school will bill you.

2.    Subtract any scholarships that do not need to be repaid. This leaves you with the amount, also known as net costs, that the school will expect you to pay.

3.    You can take a rough amount–I suggest anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000,–and add it to your net costs. This will provide your own Total Cost of Attendance.

So, suppose you’ve been admitted to a $60,000 college that charges $48,000 for tuition and fees and $12,000 for room and board and you were awarded a half-tuition scholarship. Your family also lives on the opposite coast.

1.    Your net costs will be $60,000 – $24,000 = $36,000

2.    Your added costs will be $8,000, making your Total Cost of Attendance $44,000.

It also helps to know if the school has a history of raising its charges for tuition and fees as well as room and board. College Navigator, the college search site operated by the U.S. Department of Education, will give you a four-year tuition and fee history for every college in its database when you click “Estimated Tuition and Fees” for your chosen school. You can use that information to project future cost increases. Just remember to raise your costs, the ones that the college does not bill you, by at least five percent for each year.

College has become the largest investment that most families will make in a lifetime. A four-year degree at a private college, in particular, costs more than homes in many real estate markets. The better you know your Total Cost of Attendance, the easier it will be to plan for those costs.

Stuart Nachbar is President of EducatedQuest.com, a guide to strategic college admissions planning and the best values in higher education.


Paying for College

Comparing Financial Packages in the College Choice Process

MoneyIf your child will soon be making the final college choice, it’s time to prepare to compare financial offers.  That is, of course, unless you don’t need to worry about the price difference between schools.

As you review acceptances, scholarship offers, and financial aid offers, here are some tips:

  1. Make sure you know what you can afford.  How much college savings do you have?  How much can you afford out of cash flow?  Is anyone else, like  a grandparent, providing money for college?  What do you expect your child to pay for?
  2. Determine your stance on student loans.  Are you ok with your child taking out student loans or are you against them?  Do you feel like student loans are a last resort or a necessary part of funding your child’s college education?
  3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with the schools.   Many schools will listen to your reasons for needing more money and will respond with a better package.  Here’s a great story about how one family negotiated for more merit aid:  Asking for Better Merit Aid Scholarships.  Always be humble and polite when asking for a larger package.  Never be demanding.  Let the school lead the conversation.  For example, I mentioned to the financial aid director of one school that another school was at the top of my daughter’s list and offered more merit aid, but I didn’t elaborate until he asked me to.
  4. Involve your child in the evaluation process.  Compare the financial packages with your child involved.  It’s important for kids to understand how much college money you have compared to each school’s cost.  Explain why it would make sense to pay less.  If your child is anything like my oldest daughter, cost will weigh into his or her final decision if the schools seem comparable otherwise.
  5. Plan for future tuition increases.  If it is a tight squeeze to afford the first year of tuition at a school, keep in mind that the average yearly tuition increase is up to 5% and schools do not increase merit aid packages accordingly.  That means you will probably pay more out of pocket each year.
  6. Make sure you understand all components of each financial package.  Each one can be tricky to decipher and it can be very hard to compare them, especially if different types of loans are included.  Finaid.org offers a good Guide to Financial Aid Award Letters.

Good luck!  If you find yourself struggling to decide what is a good offer or what to do to get a better offer, contact me.  I’d be happy to help!

Financial Aid, Loans, Paying for College, Scholarships

Think For the Future In Your College Housing Decision

This is a guest post from Stuart Nachbar, President of EducatedQuest.com.  Check out his website for great in-depth articles that will help you in your college search.

Choosing a college is very difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is where you are likely to live during your freshman year. College Campus Image 4

Some schools group first-year students in freshmen-only halls, while others mix incoming freshmen with returning upperclassmen. Some schools place freshmen into a hall with classmates in a first-semester seminar while others invite new students to become a member of a living-learning community. Some halls are single sex while others are co-ed by alternating floors or rooms. How and where you live during the first two semesters has an impact on the rest of your college experience, especially the friends you’re likely to make.


But what about after the freshman year? What are the options?


At small liberal arts colleges there is usually a commitment to provide students with housing for all four years. Apartment living is even a possible option. These schools depend on maintaining community; they want everyone to live on campus, or very close to campus. Even the fraternity and sorority houses are on campus or very close by.


If you are choosing between two or more liberal arts schools it is important not only to see the first-year housing, but also the options that are available to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Sometimes students may move from traditional “corridor-style” halls–several rooms off a hallway sharing a common lounge and bathroom–to “suite-style” arrangements where small groups of students, hopefully friends, share a common lounge and bath. Sometimes they move to on-campus apartments where each person has their own bedroom. Be careful to check prices for all of these arrangements.

At larger schools, especially big state universities, it’s often a different story. Most do not require students to live on campus after the freshman year, and they do not provide housing for every student. It’s a rare state university that can provide spaces in residence halls and apartments for more than half of its undergraduate student body. At some schools, there is a sizable fraternity or sorority community that welcomes students beginning sophomore year. Choosing a Greek organization is much like choosing a college. You’re looking for friendships and fit.


At other schools students will be forced into the local housing market. Here, especially if your school is in a large city or popular college town, you must grab every apartment rental circular you can find and compare costs of living options near campus as well as those that require access to a car or public transportation. You must compare price and convenience as well as incentives. Landlords who manage apartment complexes in large college towns want to collect leasing commitments as early as possible. They know when students must sign contracts for university-owned housing; they offer students incentives to commit earlier. Another question to investigate: How easy or hard are apartments to sublet? A school that has far fewer students in the summer and welcome students from other colleges for summer classes is a “buyers market” for student housing. Students who come from other schools will try to pay the lowest price they can to find a home for the summer. Students who chose apartments further from campus are often out of look when they try to sublet. They face competition not only from the apartments closer to campus, but also Greek organizations that rent out their rooms when most of the brothers or sisters have gone home.



This does not mean that every big school boots students out of on-campus housing. Some schools such as Indiana, UConn, Purdue and Rutgers-New Brunswick provide numerous options to all students freshmen through seniors. The communities surrounding Indiana and Purdue also have “co-op” housing. Students who want to live in co-op housing “rush” as they would to pledge a fraternity or sorority, though there are no pledge ceremonies. They share the obligations to cook and maintain the house, but do not usually host parties or sponsor community service programs. However, co-ops provide the least expensive living option.


Colleges and universities that operate many residence halls and apartment buildings will post room and meal plan rates for all of their housing options. Sometimes your costs may rise–especially if your school is in a high-cost urban area–and sometimes they go down, if you can manage to eat right after you drop the meal plan. It’s very useful to know what those housing options and costs will be before you commit to a college.


Stuart Nachbar is President of EducatedQuest.com, a guide to strategic college admissions planning and the best values in higher education.

After the College Choice, Going to College

Resume Building in College for Career Success in the Future

For something a little different, here is a guest post from Jessica Socheski offering tips for your student to build a good foundation in college for future career success.

Resume Building in College for Career Success in the FutureOne of the biggest questions at graduation is, “What’s next?” For most college graduates the answer is in filling out endless online applications and sending out numerous copies of their resumes.

During this process, many new grads find themselves at an impasse with their future careers because employers are hesitant to hire inexperienced, fresh-out-of-school candidates. While students might hold a degree signifying their extensive knowledge of an area, if they do not have any relevant experience, employers tend to avoid what they perceive as a risk and look elsewhere.

In order to avoid joining the ranks of unemployed graduates with student debt piling up, it is critical for students who are still in college to begin building their resumes now. Here are some tips for finding real world experience to help set you apart.

College Jobs

Finding a job in college that fits into your academic schedule can take a bit of finagling. But the challenge will prove well worth the effort in the end because students who can secure a position applicable to their intended field will have a great start on their future career. 

Depending upon a student’s major and future goals, there are various areas to look for relevant work experience. On or off campus most colleges provide positions for students or offer information about available jobs in the community. 

For example, prospective medical students should consider finding work in a hospital while still in school. Many volunteer positions make this possible, or students can earn their certification to work an actual hospital job. Most med schools require numerous hospital hours, thus working in a hospital before reaching your program will provide relevant experience as well as compensation. 

As another example, communication majors might find working for a PR firm or finding an on-campus position dealing with admissions will give them a leg up on their resumes.


Internships are another key piece in preparing a job catching resume. And internships can be profitable for both college students and recent graduates waiting for a job to turn up. Most companies love interns and have positions available each semester specially designed for interns. 

Internships can be either paid or unpaid, and many schools have an internship class where the student receives unit credit when a professor sets up an internship for them. 

Usually, if an internship is for credit, it is unpaid. However, the benefit is instead of taking a full course load and trying to squeeze in time for an internship, students have one less physical class to attend allowing that time to be used for the internship. 

Additionally, professors have great resources students can take advantage of. Because of their position in higher education, professors can find their students hard-to-come-by opportunities such as interning for a record company, publishing firm, a movie studio, or other high profile industry professional. Many of these fields are difficult to break into, and the experience working under someone in that field will impact future careers.


Having volunteer experience shows initiative and passion. Though volunteering means work without monetary compensation it does prove rewarding in a number of important ways such as:

•Building meaningful relationships, contacts and references

•Demonstrates your commitment and character to future employers

•Provides useful skills

•Can teach leadership

Volunteer experience on a resume shows that the student is a committed person willing to sacrifice time to make a difference. Employers will appreciate a student’s initiative to volunteer. 

Students who are conscious about building their resumes now will have a tremendous advantage when looking for their first job after college. Utilizing the resources offered in college will help provide experience and create an important network of connections to fall back on later. Though the college years are already full, it is never too early to start preparing for the future.

Image Source: www.growingleaders.com

Jessica Socheski is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about college life and researching schools such as South University Savannah. You can find her on Twitter.

Going to College , ,

Tracking Potential Colleges on a College Search Spreadsheet

Keeping track of potential colleges is one of the most overwhelming things when your high school student is starting to think about college.  Your student mentions schools he or she might be interested in, you think of schools you would like to visit, friends mention schools that sound interesting.  How are you going to remember them all and keep them straight?  Use a College Search Spreadsheet.

When my oldest daughter was a sophomore in high school, I created a simple Excel spreadsheet to track schools we might want to look into further and potentially visit.  I referred back to this spreadsheet often when we talked about college and I added new schools as they came up.  I used it to keep my daughter’s search organized as we went along by listing school visit days and then determining when we were going to visit each school.  I recorded each scheduled visit date so we kept them straight.  After the visit, I would enter feedback from my daughter for each school.  That really helped keep the schools straight when we talked about them later.  If you have a student who takes the initiative to keep the spreadsheet updated herself (or himself), that’s even better!

Currently, my second daughter is a sophomore in high school and I have just started a college spreadsheet for her.  When I think of a school that might be a good one for her to look into further, I add it to the spreadsheet.  That way, when she’s ready to research and start visits, I can tell her to start with those.

You can download my College Search Spreadsheet template for free by clicking on the link and then change it up to meet your needs.

Here are a couple articles that may help you to customize your spreadsheet:

Use a College Search Spreadsheet to Track Your College Search

Creating a College Search Spreadsheet

College Search