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Your Kid’s College Choice

GraduationIt’s that time of year again.  If you are the parent of a college-bound high school senior, it is getting to be time for your kid’s final college choice.  Financial aid offers and final college acceptances should be arriving soon.

By now, you are probably already sick of the “Where is [insert student’s name here] going?” questions and you are thinking, “We haven’t even gotten all the information needed to make a decision.”

As your student starts to narrow down to that final decision, I have a few tips to share.

Tips for Making the Final College Choice

  1. Go for the best overall “value.”  Value will mean something a little different for everyone.  For some, it will mean lowest overall out-of-pocket cost.  For others, it will mean the most intellectually stimulating environment for the least out-of pocket cost.  For the lucky students for whom cost will not be an option, it may mean the most prestigious school to offer admission.
  2. Use Admitted Student visit programs to aid in the final decision.  I wrote a post a couple years ago about this – The Admitted Student Visit – A Critical Part of the College Choice.  Especially if your student has only been to a campus once, a second and more in-depth look is always a good idea.
  3. Narrow down to two schools.  If your student is still evaluating more than two schools, have him or her narrow it down to two first.  See my post on Choosing Between Two Colleges for more tips.
  4. Keep in mind that there may be room for negotiation on cost.  So if your first inclination is to tell your student, “This one is out,” when you get the financial package back, don’t entirely dismiss the school yet if it is one of your student’s favorites.  Depending on the school and how much they are interested in your student, you may be able to negotiate a much better deal.

Your kid’s college choice is a big life-changing decision, but once you have discussed the financial side sufficiently, sit back, let your student take the driver’s seat, and let her or him know that you are there for support as needed.

To all of you who are going through the college choice process with your student right now, I say a heartfelt “good luck.”  I was there with my oldest daughter two years ago and it was agonizing.  I will be back there again in another year with my middle daughter and I am hoping it will be easier for both mom and daughter this time around.


Spring of Junior Year – It’s All About the Grades!

A+The single most important thing in the spring of junior year for your college-bound student is getting good grades.  These are the latest grades that will get sent in with most college applications.

College admissions officers consistently cite grades in college-prep classes, more than any other factor, as very important in the college admissions process.  

This would mean that they are looking at grades in science, math, english and social studies classes as an indicator of what a student has achieved and will continue to achieve in college.

Does this mean that your child’s grades need to be perfect?  Not necessarily.  A lot depends on the type of college he or she is intending to attend.

Does Your Student Need Perfect High School Grades? 

If your student is aiming for the Ivy League or other colleges in the “most competitive” category, straight As are usually expected.  These schools have very low acceptance rates and will be looking to weed out students based on many factors, but grades will be an easy one.

Most colleges will be looking for an upwards progression in grades over the high school years.  So maybe your student struggled a little in core classes freshman and sophomore years.  As long as your student shows grade improvement from year to year, there isn’t anything to worry about.

Additionally, special circumstances are not cause for alarm and should be explained in the college application.  Did your child have a particularly bad semester due to illness or personal issues?  Make sure this gets documented on his or her college applications.

Strength of Curriculum Matters

Although a college would rather see an “A” than a “B,” a “B” in an honors or AP course often carries more weight (both literally and figuratively), than an “A” in a non-honors course.

Selective colleges want to see that a student took the most challenging courses offered at his or her school.  The only time it makes sense not to enroll in the most challenging course that he or she is eligible for is if your student knows it will be a struggle and has a history of lower grades in that subject.

Target Colleges That Fit Your Student’s Grade Profile

As harsh as it sounds, Ivy League college admissions are probably not likely for a student with a B average.  If your student has a B or C average does that mean all college admissions will be a failure?  No.  Your student should target colleges that have a history of accepting students with his or her GPA.

How do you find this information?  Two places – college search engines and college websites.  On a college website, you can usually find a page that gives admitted student statistics.  This is often on a Fast Facts page or somewhere in the Admissions area of the website.  Colleges most often list the GPA range for the middle 50% of admitted applicants.  This means that only 25% of students admitted have GPAs below this, but an additional 25% of admitted students have GPAs above this.

If your student falls in the middle 50% or above, it is not a guarantee of admission, but is encouraging enough to continue to investigate the school.  If your student falls below the middle 50%, it is probably a sign to look elsewhere, but if your student really has his or her heart set on the school, you could consider it a “reach” school.  Just be sure your student is prepared for potential rejection.

College search engines like CollegeData are good for finding this GPA information easily for multiple schools.  CollegeData shows both weighted and unweighted GPA for recently admitted students.

So when your student is in the junior year of high school, keep encouraging him or her to focus on the grades above everything else.  It will increase chances for both college admissions and merit scholarships.

 

 


The Updated Full Scholarship List is Out!

1317230_29811116Yesterday, I published an updated Full Scholarship List.  I review the full list twice a year, basically summer and winter, to see what has changed.

The Full Scholarship List focuses on large scholarships offered directly by colleges, mostly full-tuition scholarships and full-ride scholarships.  There are a lot of great opportunities out there for top students!  And I know I haven’t even identified every great scholarship out there.

The Updated Full Scholarship List By the Numbers:

  • 48 full-tuition scholarships that are automatic for National Merit scholars (finalists and/or semi-finalists)
  • 32 full-ride scholarships that are automatic for National Merit scholars
  • 23 competitive scholarships open to National Merit scholars
  • 348 scholarships based on ACT/SAT scores, GPA, and/or other merit/leadership criteria
  • 24 full-tuition and full-ride scholarships that are automatic for students having ACT scores of 30 or lower (minimum score varies by scholarship)
  • 285 competitive scholarship opportunities with awards of at least 75% of the full-tuition cost
  • 179 competitive scholarship opportunities that do not require a specific minimum ACT or SAT score or National Merit status
  • 11 automatic scholarship opportunities that do not require a specific minimum ACT or SAT score or National Merit status (some of these are automatic for all valedictorians/salutatorians)

There are a lot of full-tuition and full-ride merit scholarships available to top students and I would argue that a strong student should never need to pay anywhere near full sticker price if he or she is willing to shop around for opportunities.  Of course the reality is that it is usually the parents doing the shopping around!


Honors College – Yes or No?

ScaleAn email conversation I had with a parent this week got me thinking about making the decision to choose an honors college or not.    The smart kid’s college choice will often involve deciding between a university with an honors college or a college/university that is very competitive overall.  By competitive, I mean tougher admissions standards – students who are accepted are at the top end of the ACT/SAT scale and have top high school GPAs.

My oldest daughter is in an honors college and it has its pros and cons.  Let’s look at some of these.

The Pros of an Honors College or Honors Program

  1. Strong liberal arts base with focus on writing and critical thinking -  I recently read another article affirming that employers are looking for college grads who can communicate orally, work in teams, communicate well in writing, use good judgement, and have critical thinking skills.  I can definitely say that my daughter’s honors college, along with most others I have looked into, will provide this base.
  2. Smaller community of like-minded students – This is especially true at very large public universities.  The honors college offers a feel of small school within a big school and makes it easier for students to fit within a like-minded group.
  3. Smaller classes – Classes inside the honors college tend to be smaller and more intimate than many other college classes.  They are often taught in more of a round-table type discussion style and less of a lecture style.
  4. Great networking opportunities – Honors colleges tend to have very strong and active alumni networks that are committed to helping new graduates find opportunities.  This can also be the case for internship opportunities during college.
  5. Graduate school admissions – Most honors colleges have a large number of graduates going directly to graduate school.  The honors college programs tend to provide a higher degree of support for the student looking to apply to graduate schools and being an honors college graduate can help with competitive graduate school admissions.
  6. Potential lower cost – If you are weighing an honors college at a public university against a private liberal arts college, there is a good chance that you will have substantial savings by going the honors college route.  It offers the opportunity for more of a liberal arts type education at a much lower tuition cost than the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.

The Cons of an Honors College or Honors Program

  1. Classes outside of the honors college – The honors college only covers a portion of the student’s course load.  The student still needs to take classes with the general population.  High performing students can get easily frustrated, especially with more entry-level courses, that are designed for all students.  This is especially true at large public universities.
  2. “Entitled” students – There’s no easy way to say this.  It is not uncommon to find students in the honors college who think they are “extra special” because they are smart and are in the honors college.    Students like this tend to want to carry around an “I’m smart” badge and use that to their advantage, even though they often don’t contribute anything meaningful or profound.  Hopefully these students are the minority of the honors college population and not the majority.  This can make it a tough atmosphere for students who really want to learn and contribute in a more meaningful and mature way.
  3. Workload – Although an intense workload can be a positive, the student who wants to participate in a lot of different things may struggle to fit it all in.  My daughter’s first year in her honors college involved writing weekly papers.  Students need to have good time management skills to balance things like athletics, jobs, and clubs with an honors college workload.
  4. A large school is still a large school – A school with more than 10,000 students will always seem larger than a small school.  While this may not be noticeable within the “walls” of an honors college, it will be noticeable in many other places like dining halls, dorms, athletic events, and more.  Some students just don’t like the large school atmosphere.

I don’t want to paint the picture that honors colleges are only associated with large public universities.  This is not the case.  My daughter’s honors college is within a medium-sized private university.  It is more common for private schools to offer “honors programs” than “honors colleges.”  The distinction is usually whether or not there are buildings solely dedicated to honors courses.  An honors college has its own building or buildings.  An honors program does not.

The decision to go the honors college route or not can have a great impact on your student’s college choice.  My suggestion is to visit both honors colleges and schools that are more competitive overall.  Then have your student make his or her own list of pros and cons.  When it came down to the final college choice, my oldest daughter had narrowed it to one school with an honors college and one small more competitive liberal arts college.  It was the curriculum of the honors college that tipped the scale for her.


Know Your College Search Vocabulary

For parents just starting the college search, there are certain college search vocabulary words you need to understand.  Today I want to lay a few of these out and provide you with resources to check out for more information.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – This is how much a college will expect you to pay for your student’s education.  It varies by college.  There is also a federal formula for assessing the EFC through the FAFSA, the next term explained below.

FAFSA – This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  Most colleges use FAFSA to assess EFC and dole out financial aid.  You must file the FAFSA to be eligible for federal student loans.  You have to re-file every year that your student is in college and the FAFSA application opens on January 1 of each year.  When you want to file, make sure you are on the real government FAFSA site.  There are a lot of services that pretend to be the site and then charge you to submit your application to the government.

FAFSA4caster – A FAFSA estimator provided by the government that you can use when your student is in high school to get an idea of what the FAFSA will calculate as your EFC.

Net Price Calculator – A tool that college websites provide for you to estimate the financial aid they will offer your student.  Sometimes these also calculate merit aid (defined below).  The net price calculator is extremely valuable to help you know how much a college will actually cost.  You can usually find the net price calculator in the Admissions or Financial Aid section of a college website.

529 Plan – Currently, this is one of the best ways to save for college.  Plan earnings grow tax free and many states offer state tax breaks for savers.  The money withdrawn must be used for qualified educational expenses to avoid taxes.  The 529 plan has been in the news a lot recently because President Obama is proposing taxing 529 plan earnings as student income.  This may change the desirability of this college savings medium.

Merit Aid – “Free money” that a college offers your student based on merit and not financial need.  This is usually related to a student’s GPA, ACT/SAT score, and possibly other things like class rank, leadership ability, or community service.

Talent Scholarships – Some schools offer free money for talents such as music, art, theater and dance.  These scholarships usually require an audition or a portfolio submission.  Check the school websites for details.

Athletic Scholarships – Most people know that colleges may offer scholarships to attract athletes, but most people don’t know that the majority of these are not full-ride scholarships and only specific types of colleges can offer athletic scholarships.  The NCSA website is a great place to go for all the details.

College Search Spreadsheet – A way to keep track of all the information on all the schools your student is or may be interested in.  I have a free template for you to download.

There are many more college search vocabulary words you will run into as you start preparing for your kid’s college search.  I encourage you to use all the websites that are available to help you in the college search process to learn more about all of these terms.  My Top 10 College Search Information Websites is a great place to start finding websites that will be invaluable in the college search process.


Find Scholarships for High ACT Scores

1195437419219858921johnny_automatic_bag_of_money.svg.medIf your child took the ACT test and scored well, you may wonder, is that worth any extra money for college?  Yes, it certainly can be!  So how do you find scholarships for high ACT scores?  Well, it can be very time consuming.  I have some tips below on where to look.

What are high ACT scores?  This really varies from college to college.  Some schools will offer merit scholarships for scores in the low to mid-20s.  Others won’t offer merit money until scores reach the high-20s or into the 30s.  Generally speaking, the higher the score, the greater the scholarship.

How to Find Scholarships for High ACT Scores

  1. College WebsitesThe majority of merit scholarships for high ACT scores are offered by the colleges themselves.  Look at the websites for colleges your child is interested in.  Usually the Scholarships or Financial Aid pages/sections of the college website  will provide details on merit scholarships offered and the associated criteria.  If your child hasn’t narrowed down to a list of schools, or if you want to see everything that’s out there, this can be quite time consuming and you may miss out on some great merit scholarships that you didn’t know were out there.
  2. Full Scholarship List – This is my listing of major merit scholarships offered by schools around the country.  By major, I mean these scholarships cover 75% of the price of tuition or greater.  I have spent time compiling this information so that you don’t have to.  There are 170 scholarships on the list based on a minimum ACT score.  These are the “gold standard” for merit scholarships, but there are tons of other smaller scholarships for high ACT scores offered at schools around the country.  They are just going to be a little harder to find.
  3. MeritAid.com – You can use MeritAid.com to search for schools offering scholarships by school name or by state.  Your student can also enter a student profile to be matched with scholarships based on his/her strengths.
  4. College Confidential BoardsCollege Confidential has several message boards that go through automatic and competitive merit scholarships.  Most of these boards focus on full-ride and full-tuition scholarships.  I used the best of these boards when I first put together the Full Scholarship List.  I find the boards hard to use for a comprehensive scholarship search because you have to find the most up-to-date listings and there is no way to do a search or filter for what you want to focus on.  You also have to weed through all the extra posts from people who like to comment on message boards.
  5. Other Websites – If you do a web search for “scholarships for high ACT scores,” you will see a variety of other sites offering some type of listing.  I have checked out most of these.  Some focus on guaranteed scholarships, meaning that if your student meets the specified criteria, he/she will automatically receive the scholarship.  None of these lists are comprehensive of all scholarships out there, but if you look at several, you may be able to develop a list of other schools to check out.  I recommend going directly to the school websites to verify that the scholarships are still offered and to get all the details.

The bottom line is that there are lots of scholarships for high ACT scores out there that will help you save money on college.  You just need to look for them.


My Top 10 College Search Information Websites – Updated for 2015

  1. College Data - This site has become my favorite place for doing college search research.  It has great data to help with your college search. There is a very unique college search tool and College Chances Calculator.  The college search tool allows you to get data on average student debt, percentage of students receiving merit awards, freshman satisfaction rate, and more.  The College Chances Calculator will compare class rank, GPA, test scores (ACT/SAT), number of honors courses, community service hours and more against the data pool of accepted applicants to gauge your chance of being admitted.  There are many other helpful features to make College Data a “one stop shop” to guide you and your college-bound student through the college search and college admission processes.
  2. Niche (formerly College Prowler) – This site has a criteria-based college search feature, college “grades” by current students and actual current student reviews.  There is also scholarship information and a college chances calculator basing your grades and test scores against what the site has compiled for comparison data (supposedly from actual admitted students).  What I really like about this site is the open and honest feedback provided by current students.  It gives you a whole different perspective of the school than you get from a brochure, website or campus visit.  When you register for this site, you will receive emails when information you are interested in is updated.
  3. Cappex – This is a great multi-purpose site.  You create a student profile and then you can search for schools, save schools to your list, search for scholarships, plan campus visits, read student reviews and gauge your chances at getting into a school.  The scholarship search has a nice feature that tells you how much competition you will have if you apply for the scholarship.
  4. Fastweb - This site makes it easy to find and track outside scholarships.  You can mark the ones you do and don’t want to apply to and track the due dates.  When you register for this site, you will receive emails when new scholarships are available.  The site has also expanded to include a college search function, financial aid advice and career advice.
  5. College Board – Big Future – Site developed by The College Board to provide lots of information for students and parents on the college choice process.  Has a college search feature to narrow down potential colleges to consider based on several criteria like location, size, selectivity, etc.
  6. College Navigator  – This is a federal government site through the National Center for Education Statistics.  It houses the College Navigator search tool.  This tool allows you to search for colleges meeting a good variety of search criteria.  You can also get to the Net Price Calculator Center that allows you to link to the net price calculator for almost any college in the country.
  7. National Association for College Admission Counseling – Students and Parents - This is the site of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  It has a special section for Students and Parents with a search tool and a lot of good advice on things like paying for college, applying to college, college preparation and succeeding in college.  You can find some really good information about college ranking methodologies used by the various groups that rank colleges.
  8. The College Solution - This is a terrific blog site from a highly respected college information commentator and author named Lynn O’Shaughnessy.  She has a ton of valuable content on her site.  It isn’t a college search site, but it is a site to go to if you want in-depth information about a particular college search topic.  You can go to the Blog tab and drill down to topics and sub-topics.  Lynn gives you the “scoop” on topics and backs up her information with real examples and authorities.
  9. DIY College Rankings – This site offers great college search tools and helpful blog posts.  Michelle Kretzschmar, the site’s author, is very data focused and offers an Excel spreadsheet tool to narrow down college options and create your own custom college search spreadsheets.  Michelle’s tool is based on the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System which is the basis for the College Navigator website.  She also offers an online class on how to use her spreadsheet tool most effectively.  I love Michelle’s 50-50 College Listing system of narrowing down colleges to consider.
  10. US News – Best Colleges – US News is the “old standby” of college rankings.  I know their ranking methodology is somewhat controversial, but I like to use their lists anyway.  You get a broad snapshot of information for each school.  You need to take the rankings with a grain of salt because there are plenty of good colleges that aren’t in the top 100 on the national lists.  It is a great site to use in the early stages of the college search when you want to develop a college search spreadsheet.  You will find most, if not all, of the data you want to track about a school right on the US News site.  You can get even more information about each school, save a list and do comparisons if you sign up for the US News College Compass.  The price is $24.95 for a year of access.  The new rankings come out around the second week in September every year.

Honorable Mention College Search Information Websites

These are sites that don’t currently make my top 10 college search information websites, but do have some useful features and are worth checking out if you have additional time to go exploring.

  • College Confidential – College Confidential has lots of helpful features.  There is a college search feature that has the widest variety of search criteria that I have seen.  Each college has a discussion forum and a place where people can rate the school based on a college visit.  This can be helpful information in either making your decision to visit or not visit a school or to validate that others thought the same as you did about a school. There are articles related to college admissions, paying for college, and other college related topics.  A word of caution – the most popular feature on College Confidential is the discussion boards.  You have to take all the information out there with a “grain of salt.”  It is full of people with strong personal opinions.  As with other discussion boards out on the web, there are lots of people with way to much free time on their hands that insist on picking on and insulting each other back and forth on these discussion boards.  This clouds the ability to find helpful information.  The boards do have pretty strong moderation, but in my opinion, they let people get too off track of the intent of the original discussion.
  • ApplyMap – This is a fairly new, but promising, college search site.  They claim to have better college data and more precise predictions for their college chances calculator.  The site is very user-friendly.  I like their search, but I find it a bit limiting in choosing what is important to you in a school.  There is no ability to narrow down schools by majors/programs offered.  It is definitely worth checking out.

January College Search Tips

happy-new-year-mdHappy New Year!  Here at My Kid’s College Choice, I am committed to starting the new year off with a bang!  I changed up the website design on January 1 and I am using my spare time this month to update the Full Scholarship List.

Today, I have some tips for where you should be in the college search in January, depending on where your child is in high school:

January College Search Tips for High School Seniors

  1. File the FAFSA – There are many reasons to file, even if you don’t think you will receive any financial aid.  I have posts that will help you determine if you will be eligible for financial aid and explain some reasons to file the FAFSA.  I recommend estimating your 2014 federal income tax liability and filing early.
  2. Finish College Applications – Many students will have all their applications in before the new year and will be able to sit back and wait for acceptance letters.  For those who are not finished, I recommend getting their remaining applications in ASAP.
  3. Final College Visits – Especially for students who already have multiple acceptance letters in hand, start planning college visits to help make the final college choice.
  4. Admission Interviews – If your student has applied to any schools that offer or require admission interviews, get those scheduled now.  Even if the interview is optional, it will show a greater level of “demonstrated interest.”
  5. Think Scholarships – Once the college application process is complete, it’s time for students to turn their attention to scholarship applications.  Local scholarships and major merit scholarships offered directly through the colleges are your best bet.  Check with the high school counseling office for local scholarships available in your area.  Check the college websites for any merit scholarships that require students to fill out a separate application (some of these scholarships use the admissions application).

January College Search Tips for High School Juniors

  1. Think ACT/SAT – Many Juniors will have taken at least one ACT or SAT test already.  Now is the time to work on improving scores.  Check out the available test prep options and help your student plan when to take the test again.
  2. College Visits – Spring semester of Junior year should be the big push for college visits.  January is a great time to get these scheduled.  Spring Break can be a great time to get a couple visits in as many colleges will be in session during your high school student’s break.  Many colleges offer special visit programs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day.
  3. Research Affordability – As a parent, now is a great time to research college affordability if you haven’t done that already.  Check out the posts in my Paying for College category for tips.  Get an idea of what you will have to pay for college using the FAFSA forecaster.

January College Search Tips for High School Sophomores

What?  You want us to think about the college search already?  Yes, Sophomore year is a good year to get started!  The focus Sophomore year should be on PREPARATION.

  1. Academic Preparation – Focus on top grades for second semester and signing up for the right classes for Junior year.
  2. Activity Preparation – Focus on what will look good for college admissions:  Not too many activities, in-depth participation, working towards leadership positions, help your child figure out and demonstrate his/her passions.
  3. Test Preparation – Start preparing for PSAT (taken October of Junior year) and ACT/SAT.
  4. College Visits – Spring of Sophomore year is a good time to do a first college visit to get your student thinking about what college is like.

Help your college-bound student start the new year off right with strong preparation for college.


Help, We Don’t Have Enough Money for College!

MoneyHow many of us parents get a rude awakening about college costs when our oldest child is already in high school?  I had no idea how much the price of tuition had increased in the last 30 years!  So we ring our hands and pour over our budgets wondering how we are going to save up for four years of college in the two or three years we have left before that first tuition payment is due.  We look at the college brochures and see the variation in sticker prices between in-state public schools, out-of-state public schools and private colleges and wonder if we are going to have to say, “Sorry, we can only afford to send you to a state school.”  If we are lucky, our state has some great in-state public options and our children are happy to look at those!  drastically limit the college search to schools with the most affordable sticker prices.

Hopefully, we read or hear the statement that goes something like this – The college sticker price is rarely what you will actually pay out of pocket!

Hearing that statement should provide some relief and ease the worry that you don’t have enough money for college, but don’t stop there.  It’s time to dig into all the options that decrease the college sticker price and figure out what the most likely option will be for your family situation.

Ways to Decrease the College Sticker Price:

  1. Full Ride Merit Scholarships – If our child is in the top 10-20% of his/her high school class, we’d all like to think that he or she will get full ride merit scholarships.  To be realistic, the likelihood of that is very low and these scholarships are very competitive.  However, they are worth looking into.  Check out my Full Scholarship List for details on over 400 different full ride merit scholarships and full tuition merit scholarships.  These are primarily based on ACT/SAT score and GPA or National Merit status.
  2. Smaller Merit Scholarships – Smaller merit scholarships will be easier to come by for top students than full ride merit scholarships.  Some diligent online research should yield you a wide variety of public and private schools that offer merit scholarships of up to 1/2 off tuition.  I have found that students with ACT scores in the high 20s and up and GPAs over 3.5 tend to get the best of these smaller merit scholarships.
  3. Need-Based Aid – There is plenty of need-based aid out there for families who are determined to “need it” by the federal government and the colleges themselves.  The best kind of need-based aid is the “free” aid, in the form of scholarships and grants, that you do not have to pay back.  Of course, the determination of “need” can seem to be pretty limited.  You may know you need help paying for college, but the FAFSA calculation may not agree!
  4. Athletic Scholarships – Keep in mind that these are very limited and only available at specific types of schools.  See 7 Things You Need to Know About Sports Scholarships for a dose of reality.
  5. Talent Scholarships – Does your child have exceptional ability in music, art or theater?  This may be a great opportunity for a scholarship.  Most schools offering talent scholarships require the student to major in that area.  Again, extensive online research may be needed to find matching schools.
  6. Outside Scholarships – These are the ones offered through local organizations and at the national level through websites like fastweb and cappex.  Keep in mind that local scholarships are much easier to win.  Check with your school’s counseling office to see if they maintain a list of local scholarships.

If you find yourself at the point of panic over not having enough money to pay for college, merit scholarships and/or need-based aid are your best bets.  Check out Net Price Calculators on the college websites to estimate how much you can cut the sticker price.

 


Can Your Child Graduate College in 4 Years?

College GraduationThis week, one of my favorite college-subject authors, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, wrote an article on Why Your Child Won’t Graduate From College on Time.  This got me thinking about the factors that increase your child’s chances of being able to graduate college in 4 years.

How To Increase the Odds that Your Child Will Graduate College in 4 Years:

  1. Start with College Credits – AP classes and dual-credit classes taken in high school will help your child walk into college with a nice base of college credits.  Of course with AP classes, your child has to meet his/her chosen college’s threshold for granting credit.  This varies from school to school so make sure you research this ahead of time.  I wrote more about this in my post, Earning College Credits in High School.
  2. Have a Solid Plan – This can be tricky if your child isn’t sure what he or she wants to major in.  For these students, make sure that Freshman year is spent getting general requirements out of the way, but also encourage them to dip their toes into any subject areas that might be candidates for majors.  These two things can usually be accomplished at the same time by carefully selecting courses that meet general requirements.  Most schools don’t require students to select a major until the end of sophomore year, but if no classes that are required for that major are taken until Junior year, it may be a struggle to get all classes needed within 4 semesters of college.  At that point, summer classes and a possible extra semester of college may be needed.
  3. Effective Advising – This one is also tricky because students don’t have much control over who is assigned as their advisor.  My oldest daughter started out in the “exploratory” program for students who haven’t selected a major.  Her advisor was terrible and provided no guidance to help her figure out her major.  My advice to her was to go ahead and select a major, even if she was only 50% sure that was what she wanted to study.  At least it got her in a better position for guidance.  Poor advising was one of the top factors cited in Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s article for students not being able to graduate college in 4 years.  If you suspect this is a problem for your student, there are two things I recommend.  First, encourage him or her to take the lead in the process, be more assertive and ask a lot of questions.  Students need to own the process and not just sit back and expect the advisor to tell them what to do.  Second, sit down with your student with the course catalog and help them map out what should be taken each semester in order to graduate college in 4 years.  You won’t know when classes will be offered, but you can map out the basics.
  4. Choose a Major and Stick With It – For some students, this is going to be the hardest thing.  You don’t want your student to stick with a major that he or she has lost interest in, but changing a major after sophomore year can derail the plan to graduate college in 4 years.
  5. Strong Course Load – Some students might love the idea of only taking 12 credits per semester, which typically equates to four classes.  Encourage your child to take at least five classes every semester.  This should equate to 15 credits or more.  Most students can handle this load even with a part-time job and extracurricular activities.

Of course there isn’t really a guarantee your child will graduate college in 4 years, although some colleges do advertise a four-year graduation guarantee.  If your student is looking at one of these schools, be sure to read the requirements of how the school promises to accomplish this.  There may not be much flexibility.  In general, the more you can do up front to prepare a four-year plan, the better the chances that you will not be paying for an unexpected extra year of college.