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.

 

 

It’s Never Too Early to Start

“It’s never too early to start” is a statement that is often over used but underutilized in the area of financial planning for college.  We meet with hundreds of people each and every year to open a discussion regarding college financial planning.  Many people had great intentions, but few actually put a plan into action.  Which means, that when they walk into our offices with college just a short two to three years away, they have no idea how they are going to afford college.  So here is a great thought…start early!

Start College Planning Early

How early should you start thinking about your college financial plans?  We actually want you to think preschool not high school.  “It’s never too early to start” planning for your student’s college years.  In fact there are many options available that can guarantee a steady return and build a great college fund.

But perhaps your student is a bit older than preschool.  That’s okay, because we still think, “It’s never too early to start!”.  So whether your student is in grade school, middle school, or high school, start to develop and follow a financial plan for the college years.

Protect Your College Money

You’ve worked hard for your money.  Protect that money by talking to your College Funding Advisor.  As mentioned earlier, there are ways to keep your money away from the high risks and guarantee a steady rate of return.  You  may be surprised to hear that many of the college savings options carry a small amount of risk and fees.  You need to consider this when planning to protect your college investments.

Another consideration is the way the federal government and college assess individual need.  These “formulas” are somewhat confusing and they seem to change from location to location.  Here is a recent Forbes’ article that highlights the complexity within the formula.  One way to protect you money is to keep college dollars out-of-sight from the financial aid formulas.  This will take the help of a College Funding Advisor.

It’s Never Too Early to Start

Did we say this already,  it’s never to early to start saving for college…but not all savings plans are created equally.  You need to ensure that you are saving smart, and that your savings are protected.  By developing your plan early you can ensure your student enjoys the college of their dreams.

 

College Campus Trip Strategy – Places to see

The college campus trip is one of the most effective tools in  making your final college decision.  You have done your research and gathered all the information you can find online; now it’s time to see, hear, smell, taste and feel the campus for yourself.  Once you have scheduled the proper meetings for your visit, you need to consider what places you need to see.  So here is a College Campus Trip Strategy regarding the places you will want to see.

Visit the Student Life Facilities!

Here is where your sense of smell comes in…let it guide you to the cafeteria.  It is important to have a meal on campus during your college campus trip.  You can learn a lot about a campus by visiting the cafeteria.  You see how the students interact with each other.  And you can hear the sounds of college campus life.  Not to mention the most important part of visiting the college cafeteria, you can taste the food.  Remember, if you are living on campus, you will be eating here 3 times a day.

Another student life area of interest is the student housing.  You need to visit the dorms and see them first hand.  It’s one thing to see them online or in a flier, but you want to see them when they are full of the campus life.  For what are you looking?  Look at the size, is it crowded or comfy?  Look at convenience, where is the restroom located?  Do you like the layout of a particular dorm style over another?  Make note of what you observe.

Make sure you visit the student center.  All student centers are different, but what you are looking for is a place to relax with friends.  Some student centers include office for people who serve the student body, which could include: health offices, academic services, student life service, etc.

Visit the Academic Life Areas!

Academic life is an important part of your college life.  Here are a few places you will want to visit.  First, make sure you visit a classroom.  If you are able to sit in on a class you will be able to see and experience the classroom at it’s best.

Second, make sure you visit the Library.  US News identified “4 Reasons Why the Library Should Affect Your College Choice”.  No matter how much time you spend in the Library, it is a great stop for you to make during your college campus trip.

Third, make sure you visit the bookstore.  While many books are bought online, there will still be the occasional book that can only be found quickly by a visit to the bookstore.  Anyway, you are going to need a new t-shirt with your college’s mascot as a way to say, “I was there!

Visit the Specialized Facilities!

We are using this term as broadly as possible.  For instance, if you are an athlete, the specialized facilities may be the sports arena/field, the locker rooms and workout facility.  If you are an artist, you will want to check out the art rooms.  If you are a science major you will will want to check out the labs.  A great amount of your college life will be spent in these “specialized areas”.  Make sure you see these areas and ask yourself some simple questions:

  • How do these areas compare with the ones you are already familiar with using?
  • Do you believe these areas will meet the specific needs you will have during your college years?

Your college campus trip is an invaluable tool in choosing which college to attend.  It is worth the investment of time and money to visit each college you are seriously considering.  With the right strategy, you will be able to find the college of your dreams.

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.

Turn Daycare Dollars into a Diploma

Lately we have been focusing on early planning for your college needs.  We believe that the secret to saving for college, or saving for any reason, is to capture funds before they get re-allocated into other ares of spending.  This has been commonly referred to as Parkinson’s law.  This law was first outlined in a 1955 edition of the Economist magazine.  This simple law states that expenses will always rise to the level of income.  This is true: think of your last pay raise.  Where did that raise go? If you did not capture it for a particular purpose, it just got absorbed into you normal spending habits.  Well, here is a plan to help you resist Parkinson’s Law and turn daycare dollars into a diploma.

The Soaring Cost of Daycare

What would you say the average family spends for daycare?  The number may surprise you.  There are many sources to check for the actual numbers in your specific area, but a quick search lead us to 2-1-1 Childcare where we found that the average cost of daycare in our area was around $250.00 per week.  Even that cost varies significantly from area to area.  With a few punches on the calculator keys we found that the annual cost of day care is around $13,000.00 per year.  Over the course of 4 years, that would be roughly $52,000.00.

But what happens at the end of the daycare years?  First, there is usually a large sigh of relief, maybe a night on the town, but then the money usually gets absorbed into the normal spending habits.  If you fight that temptation and make a plan, you can save some substantial money for college.  This will take some discipline, but it will save your student thousands of dollars in debt later.

Turn Daycare Dollars into a Diploma

Let’s do some math.  If you were to capture $1,000.00 of those day care expenses and set it aside in a small savings account.  Let’s say that that savings account was earning 1%.  You would have to search high and low to find such a thing, but let’s just use it as a simple illustration.  We used bankrate.com to run a quick illustration.  At the end of 12 years you would have saved $144,086.83 for your student’s college education.   That is just one expense that can be captured.  Can you find some more?  Probably!

You can resist Parkinson’s law and turn daycare dollars into a diploma!  Want to know more?  Make an appointment with our office today.  We can help you design a plan to capture these expenses and not create a debt crisis for you and your student.

Turning Diapers into a Diploma

Having children in n expensive proposition.  Depending upon whom you speak with, the average family will spend between $252,000 – $412,000 caring for their child over the 21-22 years of their life.  This of course includes everything from diapers to a diploma.  With all these expenses, it’s no wonder why so few people have plans when it comes to paying for college.  We need a plan for turning Diapers into a Diploma.

The Cost of Living is on the Rise

Where you live is a huge factor in determining the costs associated with raising a child.  Where we live, the cost is around $18,700 per year.  (We live in CT)  This includes costs associated with housing, transportation, education, food, health and the all important miscellaneous category.  Check out this calculator to see what your estimated costs will be.  And these are just the costs of living today.  These costs are not going to stay the same, and we are fooling ourselves if we think these costs are going to get less.

Student Debt is Out of Control

This is not a new topic.  We speak often about the rising debt load being placed upon the future of students.  In 2009, a concerning change in the national debt picture happened.  In that year student loan debt surpassed both credit card debt and auto loan debt.  Student loan debt has risen between 400-700% in the last 10 years.  This means that with each passing year, students will graduate with a greater and greater debt load.  We can not say this often enough, financial planning for the college years is essential.

Turning Diapers into a Diploma

So when should a parent start financial planning for their children?  Parents need to think diapers, not high school.  If you start planning for the college years when your child is in diapers, then you will be well prepared for the college years.  In fact, there are many opportunities where parents can set money aside through the years if they are willing to capture those finances before they are reallocated back into the budget.  One such expense is the diaper find.  Diapers cost the average family $1,000.00 per year.  If a family was to capture that $1,000.00 per year for 14 years at 1 % interest, they would have around  $17,000 dollars saved by the time the student was ready for college.  And that is just one expense that could be captured.

By making some simple adjustments, parents can turn those diapers into a diploma.  It is not too early to start preparing for the college years.  Do you have a plan?  If not, start today!  We can help in your planning process, give us a call.

Get Ready for Early FAFSA Filing

The new early FAFSA filing deadline is approaching fast.  This year the deadline to file your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is October 1st.  Do not be surprised by this early date…be prepared.  While the early deadline may catch some by surprise, it was fashioned for the student’s benefit.

The Intent of the Early FAFSA Filing

There are many benefits to the new early FAFSA filing deadline, but the most beneficial intent was to give the student and family more time between receiving their award letters and having to make their college selection.  When the FAFSA deadline was January 1, the student and family would receive award letters around March and then would have only a month or two to decide which college to choose.  Theoretically, with the deadline pushed three months earlier, the student and family should receive that important award letter earlier.

However, this idea may not materialize for many colleges.  The college will need to adjust their internal time lines to match the new early FAFSA deadline.  According to a recent Time Magazine article, colleges may not be ready to give these early award letters.  “So this year, there will be a variety of responses to early FAFSA: Some colleges will move their deadlines up and release their aid offers months earlier. But most will not. And the burden largely falls on students to keep track of where the colleges they’re applying to stand.”

Other Benefits of the Early FAFSA

Our college financial planning advisor sees great benefits even if the colleges are slow to respond.  First, there is the benefit of using “known” numbers.  The old FAFSA deadline had the student and family use projected numbers in its calculations.  The student and family would fill out the FAFSA in January using projected numbers from the previous year’s income.  These numbers would then be verified by the student and family’s tax returns filed after the FAFSA was already filed.  As you can see, this method has a few drawbacks.  Now, the student and family simple use the past two year’s tax return for filling out the FAFSA.  This information is not a projection, but the actual numbers found on the previous two years’ tax returns.

Second, there is the benefit of having a greater time to appeal any specific financial information.  There may be special circumstances regarding a previous year’s income that may not be an accurate reflection of one’s continuing annual income or expenses.  Having known numbers allows the student and family to craft an appropriate appeal letter to make these special circumstances known.

Third, the earlier FAFSA deadline demonstrates the need for early planning.  The greatest deficiency that we see in college financial planning is that people start planning way too late.  The early FAFSA forces the student and family to start thinking about college at least one year earlier.  Even that is not early enough to start thinking about your financial plan for college.  How early should one start financially planning for college?  The earlier you start financially planning for college, the better plan you will have.

If you do not have a plan or are running behind in developing a plan, you can call our office today and schedule a free appointment with our College Financial Planning Advisor.

 

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.