Choosing the right Career Path

It may surprise you that 80% of college students change their major at least once.  Sometimes these changes are small shifts within a field of study.  However, some changes constitute major shifts that can affect your financial plan for college. One of the ways you can minimize these changes is by exploring a career path before you make your college major decision.  Let’s look at some of the tools available to help students explore a career path.

Exploring a Career Path: Career Fair

One tool to help you explore a particular career path is a career fair.  Sometimes these fairs are held at local schools, sometimes they are held in conjunction with local college fairs.  The benefit of these fairs is that you get to ask any question you may have about a particular job.  It may not offer you the specific information you need, but at least you get to meet someone who actually works in that career.

Exploring a Career Path: Shadowing/Internship

Another valuable tool is shadowing or internships.  Shadowing is simply following a person in a particular career for a short amount of time.  While an internship affords you the opportunity to actually work in a particular career for an extended amount of time.  As you can see, these opportunities allow you to actually see what a particular career would entail.  This is beneficial information to help you make a good decision when choosing a career path.

Exploring a Career Path: Career Roadmap

One tool that may be available to you is a career roadmap.  A career roadmap is an assessment tool you fill out to determine what career path may be of greatest interest to you.  The career roadmap would ask you questions to determine what career may be the best fit for you.  It certainly eliminates any career choices that would not be a good fit and may help you choose that perfect fit major for you.  A good assessment tool will include information like: pay range, average job satisfaction ratings, employment opportunity, and testimonies of people currently employed in that field of employment.

No tool will ever be able to eliminate changes in one’s college major, they will give you better confidence in your decision.  Remember, not all tools are created equally.  So choose well, and use a variety of tools.  We offer one of the best roadmaps on the market, so if you would like more information, please contact our office.

 

 

College Students and Taxes: Student Tax 411

Tax season is upon us.  While most students don’t really pay a lot of taxes, you need to know that tax season is just as important to students as it is to parents.  Let’s examine some important tax preparations that could benefit both students and families, and give you some Student Tax 411.

Student Tax 411: Gather Financial information

The First part of every tax preparation season is gathering your financial information.  There are certain things that both students and families will need before they are ready to prepare their tax returns.  There are the normal forms that disclose your incomes (W2’s, 1099’s, etc.)  But for the college Student, they will also need their 1098-T.  This identifies what you have paid for tuition over the last year.  It also identifies the student as a full time student.  This will be important as there are many tax advantages that are available once a full time student has been identified.  You should have already received this document, but if you have not, you will need to notify your school(s) or log-in to your school financial portal to secure them.

Student Tax 411: File Your Taxes

The big question on students mind is, “Do I need to file a tax return?”  This is a common question, and the simple answer is yes.  There are some benefits to filling you tax return.  One benefit is that you should receive a refund for any taxes you paid from your past years’ work.  A resource worth investigating is the Student Income Tax Return Guide from Efile.com.  They offer some valuable information on why you should file taxes every year.

For parents, filing taxes is a non-negotiable.  It’s the law!  And it is especially important during these college years.  The information needed to file the FAFSA will be readily available on your tax returns.  In fact, the FAFSA has a retrieval tool that will auto-populate much of your information directly from your federally filed tax return.  So file your taxes by April 15th and you will be ready to fill out the FAFSA in October.

Student Tax 411: Understand Tax Advantages

Two of the largest tax advantages for college students and their families are the The American Opportunity Credit (formerly The Hope Credit) and the The Lifetime Learning Credit.  These two tax credits can be very beneficial in your college financial planning.  Not every one will receive the same benefit, but they are worth the time to investigate.

The American Opportunity Credit: 

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit for qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student for the first four years of higher education.” (1)  This tax credit offers a benefit of up to $2500.00.  If you have no tax liability, up to $1000.00 can be refunded to you.  This credit is only available for the first four years of undergraduate college expenses.

The Lifetime Learning Credit:

This tax credit offers a benefit up to $2000.00.  Here is how the IRS website states the possible benefit.  “For the tax year, you may be able to claim a lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses paid for all eligible students.” (2)  The benefit of the Lifetime Learning Credit is that there is “no limit on the number of years the lifetime learning credit can be claimed for each student.” (3)  There are various restrictions pertaining to who can and can not receive this credit, so you may want to speak with your tax professional or find more information online.

Student Tax 411: Update your FAFSA

Tax preparation is so important to updating your FAFSA.  In fact, once your taxes are filed, you can use the “Data Retrieval Tool” to import vital financial information from your filed taxes right into the FAFSA application.  This will save you vital time and correct some of the most common errors on the FAFSA.

While tax season may be a frustrating time, it is also a valuable time for college financial preparation.  A little preparation now, will benefit you greatly later.  So take time to prepare your taxes knowing you have the Student Tax 411 and that there is a benefit to your college planning needs.

 

(1) https://www.irs.gov/individuals/aotc 
(2) https://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch03.html
(3) https://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch03.html

 

College Financial Misconceptions

There is plenty of college financial advice available to the American family.  A quick internet search, and you can find pages of content.  But that does not mean that we are more educated about college financial planning.  As we travel our area presenting our educational college financial workshops, we find that many people are more confused than ever about college finances.  Here are some of the top college financial misconceptions that we come across.

College Financial Misconceptions: College is or will be  Free!

This was one of the rallying points of the recent election cycle.  There are a few colleges out there that offer free tuition, but for the most part college is not free, nor will it be free for the foreseeable future.  Some countries, such as Germany, have tried to make college free for all students.  But it isn’t really a free ride: it’s paid for by taxes.  I think maybe we should just remember, that there is no such thing as a free ride.  Even if it was label as “free”, there is a cost somewhere.

College Financial Misconceptions: There is plenty of time to plan!

Most people we meet have little to no plan to pay for their college needs.  In fact, the words we hear most often are, “I wish I’d heard this sooner!”  With college costs soaring, the average family can expect their college cost for a 4 year college degree to be between $80,000 – $120,000.  In a recent article (October 2016) entitled, “Here’s What the Average American is Saving for College” is was reported “According to Sallie Mae, the Average Family has socked away $16,38o….to meet their [college] goals.”  You can see that there is a great difference between what college actually costs and what the average person has saved for college.   The secret to saving more is to start a good plan early.  The longer you wait to plan, the more difficult it will be to attend your college of choice.

College Financial Misconceptions: My child will get scholarships!

Scholarship and Grants are certainly a part of most college awards letters, but the chance of obtaining a full scholarship is pretty rare.  How rare?  According to Mark Kantrowitz, editor of FinAid.org, only about .3% of full time college students received enough to cover the total cost of college.  This number again highlights the fact that you cannot rely upon scholarships to pay for your college plans.  You need to have a plan, and you need to follow that plan.

College Financial Misconceptions: The EFC is all I will have to pay!

A phrase that is common in college financial planning is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  The EFC is used “to determine an applicant’s eligibility for need-based federal student aid, and in many cases, state and institutional (college) aid.”*  But the term EFC is a bit misleading.  The EFC is not the maximum that you will be expected to cover, but rather the starting point of your responsibility.  For instance, let’s say your EFC is 17,000.00.  The award letter arrives and the total college cost is 32,000.00 you receive 5,500 federal help in the form of an un-subsidized loan and 3,000 in school scholarships and grants.  There is still a difference of 6,500.00 between total award and EFC.  This difference is the family’s responsibility.  You can submit an appeal letter, but ultimately the family is responsible.

Don’t let these college financial misconceptions keep you from developing a financial plan for college.  Don’t be confused by all the information you are presented regarding college finances. Develop a plan today and start to follow that plan toward your college dreams.  If needed, obtain help from a financial planner who specializes in planning for the college years.

 

 

 

Winter Break Planning

The Winter break is soon approaching.  While this is a busy time for most college students and families, with a little planning this time can be the most profitable time of the year.  So here are some ideas to make your Winter break planning more profitable.

Spend Time with Family and Friends!
winter break

Winter break is a time to relax and catch-up.  For many students, the rigors of the school semester keep them from enjoying the more pleasant things in life, such as: sleep, favorite home-cooked foods, childhood friends, family fun, etc.  The Winter break is a great time to catch up on some of these fond events, or to enjoy a new event with family and friends.  Use your Winter break to relax and enjoy.

Evaluate your Financial Plan!

Every family should develop a financial plan for each college year.  The Winter break provides a great time to evaluate your financial plan.  Here are a few areas where you will need to evaluate:

  • The upcoming semester’s bill
  • Books and other school supplies needed for the upcoming semester
  • Spending money
  • College Debt

Once you have identified any area over the past semester where you have spent money or incurred debt, it’s time to evaluate.  Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are there any areas where you are out of balance with your initial plan?
  • Is there any way to reduce expenses?
  • Do you need to adjust your plan for the upcoming semester?

If you need to adjust your plan, the Winter break is a great place to adjust.  Make an amended plan and start to follow that plan.

Build a Resume/Portfolio!

Another great way to enjoy your Winter break is to begin building or continue building your resume/portfolio.  Spend some time recording any new skills that you may have learned over the past year.  Make a written record and even provide some visual examples of this new skill.  Create a detailed description and a brief description as you may need both depending upon the requirement.  You can also create an online location to showcase these new experiences by photo, video or file.

Plan for the upcoming semester!

The Winter break is also a great time to get ready for the upcoming semester.  You can get a head start on setting up your schedule.  Have you already bought your books for the next semester?  Why not do some book shopping to get the best price available.  You can also check up on your school supplies.  Now that you have at least one semester under your belt, you have a better understanding of what you need.

While some much needed rest is in order, if you are not careful you could miss a great opportunity over Winter break to get an early start on your next semester.  So consider some of the planning ideas mentioned above to get the best financial, as well as academic and social, start for the upcoming semester.

 

 

College Planning Consultation

The college planning process can be overwhelming at times.  And there is no shortage of people to offer advice.  You can turn to your guidance department at high school or you can listen to the advice from the college admissions officers.  You can even search the internet.  But one of the best resources available for your college planing needs is a college planning consultation.  The college planning consultation will offer you an opportunity to sit down with a specialized college financial planner to see how well your college dreams match up to your financial planning.

What are your plans?

When meeting with our college financial planner there are two main areas of interest that we will investigate.  First, the planner is going to inquire about what kind of college you want to attend.  What college you attend will impact your financial picture more than any other area.  For instance, if you want to attend an in-state school and live at home (roughly $10,000 per year), then your financial picture will look much different than if you want to attend a private college and live on campus (roughly $30,000 – $60,000 year).  The strategies used for funding each of these options, and all the options in between, will differ greatly.  During your college consultation, the planner will step into your plans and begin to see the picture that you have created for yourself.

Second, the planner will ask about your financial plans.  Here are some of the questions you can expect to be asked:

  • How much can you afford presently to pay toward college expenses?
  • How much do you have saved already for college?
  • Will you receive help from any outside sources such as family or trusts?

In essence, we are asking how well prepared are you to meet the expense of college?  What we have found is that many people have college aspirations that are no where near their level of financial affordability.

This is why meeting with a planner for a college planning consultation is such a great idea. The planner will be able to show you the difference between your college dreams and your current college plan.  If you meet with them early enough you can make some small changes to your plan that could align college dreams with your college financial plans.

What is your “EFC”?

Here is how College Board describes your “EFC”.

“Colleges figure out how much financial aid they will offer you, in part, by calculating your expected family contribution (EFC). Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength. It’s a number that’s calculated using information you give about your family’s circumstances.”

But a better way to look at this number is the minimum your family can expect to pay out of pocket for college expenses.  Notice we did not say the maximum.  You simple cannot expect the college to pay everything above your “EFC”.  So while the “EFC” will identify the minimum, more than likely, you will need to plan for much more.  We have spoken about some of these costs in our post, Unexpected Costs of College.

In fact, one reports says, “More than 97 percent of colleges don’t have enough financial aid money to guarantee that every student will only have to pay their EFC.”  Kim Clark, “5 Big Financial Aid Lies |Paying for College | US News.”  That means the costs of your college dream will not be limited to your “EFC” nor are we talking about a few incidental costs.  These items will be discussed in your college planning consultation.

Who is helping me?

A college planning consultation is really about building a relationship.  It’s really about answering the question who is this that’s helping me.  You can use the internet to answer many of the questions regarding your college plans, but do you know who it is that is actually helping you?  Further more, do you know what their motive is for helping you?  A personal, private college planning consultation will offer you the opportunity to build a relationship with a planner who looks at your needs and builds a plan around your college dreams.

 

 

College Campus Visit Strategy – Who to meet?

VISITING the college campus is the single best thing that you can do to move forward in your college search.  Absolutely nothing takes the place of being physically present on a campus, and picturing yourself as a student on that campus. There is a gut feeling that almost all students express when they visit a campus.  “Do I see myself fitting in here – in this environment and with these students?” That is the most basic thing that you want to accomplish on your campus visit.  So here is a college campus visit strategy that will help you get the most out of your visit…schedule a meeting with the right people.

When you visit the college campus there are certain people with whom you want to speak in person.  These individuals will help you gain a clearer picture of what college life will be if you choose that particular college.  So let’s identify those individuals and some of the questions that may be important for you to ask.

Meet the College Admission Representative

The importance of this meeting can not be understated.  It is here that you will find any college information that you were unable to find while researching the particular college.  You should be able to find ample college data online such as:  student to faculty ratio, Average SAT/ACT Scores, academic programs and specialties, etc.  However, any information you did not find online can be obtained by meeting with the college admission representative.  Here are some additional questions you may need to ask:

  • What does your college offer in terms of career services?
  • What types of academic assistance are available?
  • How are roommates assigned?
  • What can you tell me about job placement data for recent graduates?

This meeting will be a great place to start the financial aid conversation.  You may or may not be able to meet with a financial aid representative.  But you can certainly ask some of your financial aid questions at this meeting.  Ask what kind of scholarship opportunities are available?  What kind of scholarships may be available to your specific circumstances?  This simple question may lead to thousands of unknown scholarship funds.

Meet the Department Representative

Before you scheduled your college campus visit, you ensured that they have a major in your particular area of interest.  On your visit, you want to meet with a department representative.  It is during this meeting that you can ask specific academic questions that you may have regarding your area of interest.  Here are some questions that may be of importance during this meeting:

  • How much flexibility does this major have with upper-level courses?
  • What are the specific course requirements for this major?
  • Are there any specific requirements a student must meet/complete before they can declare this major (i.e., completion of specific courses, a GPA requirement, etc.)?
  • Are there scholarships available specifically for students in this major?
  • What kinds of jobs do students who graduate with this major typically pursue?

This information is invaluable to your college decision process.  Again, a question regarding specific scholarships related to this field of study would be appropriate to ask the department representative.

Meet with a Current Student

The timing of your college campus visit is very important.  You want to meet while classes are in session and while other students are on campus.  One reason for this is so that you get an opportunity to sit down and talk with a student.  You can learn a lot from a student’s view of their college.  Here are a few questions you might want to ask a current student:

  • Why did you select this university?
  • What is your favorite thing about this university?
  • What is a typical day like?
  • Does social life revolve around the campus or do students leave on the weekend?
  • How is the on-campus food?
  • Did you live in the Dorms? Did you enjoy them?
  • Do you feel safe? What is campus security like?

As you can tell, a college campus visit is vital to making the best decision when it comes time to choose a college.  However, to make the best of your visit, you may need to plan your trip.  These meetings that we have mentioned will help you have a great college campus visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

College Fair Strategies

This is the time of year for college fairs.  Perhaps you have already  received an invitation to your local event.  These kind of events offer a great amount of information for college planning.  According to BigFuture by college Board, “A college fair is a gathering of college representatives who are looking for the right students for their institutions. They’re there to spread the word about their college to high school students — and they want to talk to you.”  So attend!  But before you do, you need to have a plan.  So here are some college fair strategies that will help you make the most of your college planning adventure.

Don’t attend without a plan!

Here is the first of our college fair strategies…make a plan.  There will be many colleges at the fair and it may be impossible to see every single one. This is why a plan is so important.  If possible, get a list of the colleges that will be in attendance.  This information should be available at the college fair website.  Also, see if you can find a map of the college fair itself.  You may be able to map out your trip even before the doors open.  (Power Tip: You can eliminate every college that does not have you intended major.)  This will save you lots of time.

Also, make sure you have everything you need for your information finding adventure.  You will need a pen, paper, and clipboard (or something else on which to write).  Bring a small bag/tote, because there will be a lot of informational handouts.  It would be helpful to bring a bottle of water to refresh yourself after talking to the college representatives.  But the most important thing you will need to prepare prior to the event is a list of questions!

Make a list of questions!

Okay, let’s move forward with our college fair strategies.  Strategy #2: ask the right questions.  The entire focus of the college fair is information, but the wrong information will not help you.  So, take some time prior to the college fair and ask yourself what information is most valuable to you.  A quick search of the internet will help you find a lot of good questions to ask at your college fair.  These questions may or may not be the main questions you have, but at least they are a starting place.

In fact, we recommend you find a good college fair worksheet.  You can find many of these resources online.  We suggest that you find the most detailed worksheet you can and then start your research early online.  You can find financial information, demographic information, graduation rate, average debt load of graduates and much, much more.  If you use the college fair to find information that is already available online, you will miss the full potential of the college fair.  College fairs are most valuable when you ask the questions you can’t find elsewhere.

Plan time to Evaluate!

Here is the last of our college fair strategies today.  Take time to evaluate your college fair findings.  You should do this as soon after the fair as possible, while all the information is fresh in your mind.  Yes, you made good notes and asked great questions, but that information is not valuable until you place it in the context of your college plans.  Place your worksheets side by side and start to see what are your “likes” and “dislikes” about the individual colleges.  Then prioritize the list of college from the ones you like the most to the ones you dislike.

Congratulations, you have just made your college list!  And you already have many of your questions answered.  Breathe a sigh of relief and get ready for the next step in your college preparation…the college campus visit.

Unexpected Costs of College

College is one of the greatest investments in a student’s future.  As you plan for your student’s future, don’t forget the unexpected costs associated with college.  Many colleges try to show these expenses in their award letter, but it is hard to calculate these costs precisely simply because there are way to many variables.  Some of the costs are associated with particular majors, while others are related to the location of a particular college.  Let’s examine some of the unexpected costs of college.

The Unexpected Costs of College: Travel

No matter where a student attends college, they will have some kind of travel expense.  If you attend close to home, it may be as simple as a tank of gas and some fast food. However, If you are attending across the country, this cost could include plane tickets, perhaps some shipping expenses, or maybe even addition set-up costs.  In a recent College Parent of America article, “Top 7 – unexpected cost of college”, they listed college travel expense as one of the top 7 unexpected expenses.  You need to consider travel costs in the overall costs of college.

The Unexpected Costs of College: Books

Every student is going to need textbooks each semester, therefore, textbooks are also an unknown expense.  While we know textbooks are needed, the cost of textbooks is greatly dependent upon the chosen major.  Princonomics revealed that the cost of textbook is souring.  The average students spends around $1200.00 a year on textbook alone.  Princonomics breaks the cost of books down to show what majors have the most expensive textbooks.  You need to consider the costs of text books in your college planning.

The Unexpected Costs of College: Set-up

The student and family will also need to plan for “set-up” costs.  This expense includes: technology, learning supplies, dorm room supplies, toiletries, etc.  There is no way to figure out what these needs will cost.  There are just to many variables.  However, it is an expense that is often overlooked and therefore needs to be considered.  The best idea would be to establish a budget.  While textbooks and travel expenses are pretty inflexible, you may be able to make some small adjustments with your set-up costs that can lead to lower expense.  Make a plan, and if you start early enough, you may be able to take advantage of some great deals.

The unexpected costs of college can add up! Proper planning can alleviate some of the pressure of these expenses.  In upcoming posts, we will share some money saving ideas to help alleviate some more of the pressure of these unexpected costs of college.

 

 

 

 

GOAL

Great goals are vital to success in any endeavor, but why are they so important in college planning?  A goal is nothing more than a plan, and a plan is vital to your college experience.  In fact, in our experience every minute of planning can yield financial dividends.  With that in mind, here are some goals that can help you prepare for the college years and beyond.

High School Senior…GOAL!

The final year of high school is finally here, and it is not time to slide through this final year.  In fact, this can be the best year of high school!  Often the student has more control of their class schedule, and some times that schedule is greatly reduced.  By now the student should have some good study habits and some good financial habits as well.  In essence they are learning some great life skills.  The student should have a condensed list of probable schools.  Here is the GOAL for high school seniors…Refine.  Yes, Refine.  Here are some things you should refine.

  • Refine your study habits.  Small changes can often offer large rewards.  So reevaluate your study habits.
  • Refine your college list data.  Make sure your information is up to date.
  • Refine your college financial plan.  Check with your College planning Advisor to make sure your financial plan is adequate.
College Freshman…GOAL!

Success!  The College years has finally arrived.  Now one more GOAL to help you succeed in the college years.  Make fresh GOALS! Here is where the process starts over.

  • Set academic goals.
  • Set academic financial goals.
  • Set social goals.

Make a list, write them down on a piece of paper and make them visible!  Once you have made your goals, start to stretch toward them.  Pretty soon, you too will be celebrating the attainment of your G..O..A..L!

So go ahead, set some goals for your upcoming year.  It will pay off in your college preparations.  Need help? Schedule with one of our college planners today.

College Tips (Junior)

The junior year of high school is one of the most important years to prepare for college.  There are so many ways you can start planning.  So let’s look at a few college tips for high school juniors.

Make a list of collegeshelpful tips

If you haven’t already made a list of prospective colleges, start now!  You want to start listing colleges and checking them out online.  Here are a few items you want to make sure you include in your college list.  Does the college have the specific program of study in which you are interested?  What are the expected costs associated with that particular college?  How much financial aid is available from the college?  What is the graduation rate for this particular college?  A great resource for gathering college related information is collegedata.com.

Once you have created this college list, it’s time for a visit.  Can you say road trip!  Check out our article on college road trips.

Study for the SAT and ACT tests

Summer is a good time to study for the SAT and ACT tests.  Begin taking practice tests and going over missed answers to really get a good idea on how to approach the material.  Soon you will be scheduling your test, and before you know it you will be sitting in the testing center.  The SAT/ACT test scores are directly tied to financial award letters, so being prepared is one of the most important college tips to be heeded.

Start scouting out scholarship opportunities

It’s a good time to start researching scholarship opportunities.  You can start by researching the scholarship opportunities of each school on your list.  You can also take advantage of search engines like fastweb.com and cappex.com.  Make sure to check the specific requirements for each scholarship and due dates.  Many scholarship opportunities are missed simply because the filing deadlines are not followed

Get your financial game plan in place.

Make sure you are not at risk of having unnecessary calculations count against you in the financial aid process.  Talk with our funding advisor for ideas on how to develop a financial plan.

These are just a few college tips to keep in mind during the junior year of high school.  Remember college is just around the corner, so use these tips to help prepare for this exciting time of life.