GOAL

The 2016 Olympics have been such a source of American effort and pride.  While watching a soccer match over the past few days,  I was reminded of the importance of each and every G..O..A..L!  Yes, I am referring to that announcer who goes crazy and extends that long pronouncement that a particular team has just scored.  Well, that G..O..A..L, is the result of many small milestones that were set and rehearsed over the course of many, many years.  That got me thinking about another kind of goal…the kind of goal that each and every student should be setting at the beginning of each and every year that will help them prepare for the college years and beyond.

High School Freshman…GOAL

Yes, planning for the college years starts here.  Actually, it should start much earlier, but for most people, the freshman year marks the beginning of their college preparation.  Why?  Because every academic grade you make from here on out has a direct impact on your college future.  So here is the GOAL…Develop good study habits!  Parents, help your student stay on top of their studies.  Help them develop proper academic planning techniques (Buy a planner).  Learning the skill of asking good questions both in and out of class will be essential.  Keep on top of you grades.  Remember, this year’s grades will be on your transcript, and college will see these grades.  Therefore it is essential to develop good study skills early.

High School Sophomore…GOAL

Here is a quick GOAL…Start saving for college.  Getting into college is a family affair and the saving doesn’t have to fall entirely on the parents’ shoulders.  Having your student share some of the responsibility can help build character and will teach him/her life skills that will be beneficial throughout his/her life.  Teach him/her to save some money, as well.

You’ve worked hard for your money.  Protect that money by talking to our College Funding Advisor about keeping those dollars out-of-sight from the financial aid formulas.

High School Junior…GOAL

You are half way through your high school years and college is right around the corner.  Good study habits should be in place, and there is a small savings account in place.  So what now?  Here is a GOAL for your Junior year…make a list of potential colleges.  Make a list, check it twice, and then collect as much information as you can.  We have actually already spoken about this in one of our previous posts.  So check that out here.  The college list is important, because you begin to see a clearer picture of the finances needed for the college years.

As you can see, there are important goals in the student’s life on their way toward college.  Next week we will look at a few more goals that will help prepare for the college years and beyond.

Financial Game Plan for College

Do you have a financial game plan for college?  This is a question we ask frequently when we sit down to talk with families about their college needs.  Many will tell us that they have some money set aside in savings, but they admit that is is not enough to cover all the cost associated with a 4 year college experience.  It does not seem to matter if one is of average income or above average income, most do not have a financial plan in place.  So, if you are like most, and have not started the process, here are a few thoughts to consider as you begin to develop your financial game plan for college.

Consider your options!

Let’s start here at the most basic thought for developing your financial game plan for college.  What kind of college experience will work best for your unique circumstance?  Are you looking for a 4 year on campus college experience?  Or are you thinking about going to a community college for the first two year, then transferring?  Are you willing to commute to the college of your choice?  As you can see, you can not even start planning without having at least a conversation about what college options most interest the individual student.  It is usual that some of the preliminary plans may change over the course of time, but it is better to start the preparation, than to wait until the finalize plans visualize.

Once you have laid out a few options, put some numbers to your dreams.  List the options and begin to calculate the costs.  You will need to find as much information as you can about that option.  Don’t forget about travel expense if the college is not close.  Once you know the cost for the options you have chosen, you are ready to move to the next step, funding.

Save for College!

529 College Savings Plans are not the only option when it comes to making a college funding game plan.  However, there is a tremendous amount of money spent in advertising this product.  In fact,  we have attended many “college planning nights” where the only option mentioned was a 529 College Savings Account.  Don’t misunderstand, saving accounts are great venues to raising funds for college.  In fact, that’s where everyone starts.  They are just not the only vehicle one can use to create a good financial game plan for college.

Restructure for Success!

There are many restructuring options to help one achieve the goals of their financial game plan for college.  However, it is not a good idea to begin restructuring without the proper guidance of a college financial planner.  This planner need to look at your finances holistically, keeping in mind not just your college goals, but also your long term goals, including retirement.

Get help making your financial game plan for college!

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.

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.

 

Start Right

The first days of college life are just around the corner.  This brings a great amount of excitement, but also carries a small amount of anxiety.  Will I be able to handle my class load?  Will I be able to make friends quickly?  Will I be able to manage my athletic schedule or academic schedule? Where is the next party?  Each student must give great attention to starting each new school year right.  However, for the freshman class, starting right is so much more important.  So here is some advice to help you Start Right your first weeks of college.

Start Right by Establishing your Boundaries

A common struggle among first year college students is establishing good boundaries.  A boundary is simply a limit.  In high school, our limits were predefined by teacher, school administrators and parents.  But in college many of these predefined limits are removed.  It would be easy to allow your time to be given to extremes.  However, you can start right by establishing limits that govern your college life.

Many colleges have seen the need for additional training in this area, so they offer freshman orientation classes.  These classes will help the first year student adjust to college life.  They cover issues like academic planning, time management, pitfalls of college life and many other topics.  In essence they are designed to help the incoming student body establish boundaries.

Start Right by Establishing an Academic Routine

College classes are not like high school classes!  They are more difficult and require much more out of classroom work.  In fact, the average college class uses a 1:3 ratio of class work.  This means that for every 1 hour of classroom work, there is an additional 3 hours of outside classroom work.  You will need to establish a good academic routine.

Here are a few tips to help you establish a good academic routine.  Take time to read through each class’ requirements and mark the major happening of that class on an academic calendar.  If you have any questions about the class or its requirements, meet with the professor to clarify.  In fact, don’t be afraid to meet with the professor throughout the semester to help clarify instructions.  Find a great place to have uninterrupted study time.  Okay, this may be simplistic, but actually attend classes.  In other words, take the first weeks to get really organized.  This small amount of time on the front end will pay great dividends throughout the semester.

Start Right by Establishing a Financial Plan

If you’ve never had to create a budget, now is the time to do so.  Wise students find ways to stretch their money, and live more frugally while in school.  In our article First Year College Expenses we talk briefly about how much money the average college student needs each month.  Most college students need about $100.00 per month for incidental expenses.  Another article from US News and World Report shares a discussion about  college budgeting.  Toward the bottom of the report, “Lindsey” talks about the additional cost of college not found on any financial assessments from the college.  These additional costs must be considered in the financial plan.

Things to include when establishing a financial plan: coffee, snacks, coffee, eating outside the cafeteria, coffee, off campus events (like movies, bowling, pizza run, etc) oh and did I mention coffee.  These little expenses add up.  So make a plan.  You need to write down the details of your plan.  Then once a month evaluate if the plan is being followed.  You can also make some adjustments once you have evaluated the plan.  Not only will you be making sound financial judgments for the college years, but you will be establishing a habit that will help you the rest of your life.

While the first few weeks of your freshman college year may be a bit daunting, with a little planning to start right, they can also be the most productive.

College Conversations

There are many different times to have a college conversation with your student.  And as you can probably guess there are many different topics to discuss in these college conversations.  We want to help you facilitate the college conversations.  So we will start with one of the most difficult college conversations.

College Conversations: “Show me the money!”

This is one of the most important college conversations.  Although, we think financial training for each student should start as soon as the students start handling money, there is definitely a need to talk about money in preparation for the college years.  Here are a few talking points for your college conversations about money.

How much money comes from the family

Every parent must sit down with their student and talk about how much money the family will contribute toward college.  This number is different for every family.  This includes money that the parents have saved for their student’s college, money set aside as gifts from birth or through the child’s life, funds that the parents may be able to pay during the college years, even money from extended family members.  This information is invaluable, because it forms the foundation of financial planning for the college years.

How much money comes from the student

Once the conversation about family contribution has been started, the next step is to talk about how the student will be involved in college funding.  Student’s involvement includes many facets.  For instance, if a student excels in academics or athletics, they may be able to secure scholarships which will handle some of the financial load.  The student can also save as they work during the summer months leading up to their freshman year of college.  Some additional questions to help this conversation:  Is the student willing to apply for outside scholarships and grants?  Will the student have a job while attending college?   Will the student have a job during the summer months during the college years?

How will you handle college debt

Unfortunately for many, the college financial conversation now must include a conversation about debt.  In our last post we focused on the rising debt among college graduates.  The average debt for a 2016 college graduate is now $37,000.00.  Is the student willing to incur this debt?  For most students, this debt load will not be carried alone.  Are the parents willing and able to incur this amount of debt?

It may be helpful to use a debt repayment calculator such as the one provided by finaid.org.  Type in the amount the student plans to borrow and the expected interest rate and let the calculator do its work.  It will show you what the payments will be, how much interest will be incurred and how long it will take to pay the debt off.

This information becomes invaluable as you have your college conversation about money.  It may even become the most important piece of information regarding our final talking point.

Choosing a school with finances in mind

Choosing a college is one of the most important financial decisions a student will make.  That is why it is important to have a college conversation about money.  Finances may or may not be the most important issue when choosing a college, but it can play a role in the decision making process.  A private college will be more expensive than a public college.  Living on campus or commuting is another decision that may be discussed in one’s financial college conversations.

Using the talking points mentioned above you can choose a college with confidence.  Although conversation about money can be difficult, these conversations are essential to your financial planning for the college years.

College Debt Statistics (2016)

College Debt is on the Rise

Around this time of year, our offices look to see the new college debt statistics.  These statistics reflect the amount of indebtedness associated with the most recent graduating class.  These numbers are always on the rise.  For instance, in just four years the amount of indebtedness has risen 37% (27,000.00 in 2012 to 37,000.00 in 2016 as reported by Mark Kantrowitz, of Cappex.com).  In 25 years the amount of indebtedness has risen almost 200% (12,000 in 1990).

The untold story is that while college indebtedness has continued to rise, wage growth has remained relatively steady.  Huffingtonpost reports that “Median wages have increased 1.6% over the last 25 years while median debt has risen 163.8%.”  They project that “student debt at graduation for the typical bachelor’s degree recipient could exceed annual wages by 2023.”

To further complicate the problem, grants and scholarships for college have not risen to meet the heavy financial demand.  There is a widening gap between the cost of college and the award packages offered by many colleges.  This leads many people to leverage their future with a heavy load of debt.

College Financial Planning is essential

This is why financial planning for the college years is essential.  There are many options for each individual to prepare for the college years.  These options range from savings accounts, to investment options, to college decision counseling.  While not every option applies to every family, many of the options available could save thousands of dollars over the course of one’s college experience.

Our best advice is to seek out a financial planner who specializes in financial planning with the college years in mind.  This is an area of special focus for our offices.  We have a varied approach that includes: college mentoring, SAT/ACT preparation, financial planning, and much more.  Each plan takes into account the individual goals of each client to minimize the debt load of the student.

 

College Road Trip

A college road trip can be one of the most fun and informative steps in your college planning endeavors. Disney captured this special trip in 2008 when they released College Roadtrip. (See the official trailer here.)  Some time in between the end of one’s junior year and first part of one’s senior year of high school is the best time to take a college road trip.  So pick out a few of your top school selections, navigate the best route and head out onto the open road.  But before you go, here are a few suggestions that will make your college road trip more beneficial.

College Road TripExperience campus life

When you visit your college campus you want to experience as much campus life as is possible.  While this may be a bit more difficult in the summer, you can still tour the campus.  Call ahead and arrange a campus tour.  You will want to see the dormitories, a classroom, the library, the cafeteria, and the grounds.  If you are playing sports, you will want to see the area where your sport will take place.  Even a summer visit will yield great information about your campus life.  If at all possible, see if you could speak with a current student.  One may be available even in the summer months.

Meet your Admission Counselor

Make sure you meet with your admission counselor.  Chances are, you have already exchanged emails a few times.  But an email is not the same as a face to face meeting.  Let them get to know you, but also have a list of questions ready to ask them.  Ask about the admission process, roommate selections, student to faculty ratio, career services, and much more.  Also ask if there is anything outstanding for you to provide for the admission process.

Meet the Department Representative

If you have already declared a major, the college road trip is a great time to meet with your department representatives.  Again, questions are the best way to find out the information you want to know.  Most colleges already know what they want to tell you, but that may or may not be the information you want.  Make a list of questions you want answered.  Ask about course requirements, typical class size, office hours for professors, etc.  A little early planning will make your college road trip more beneficial.

Meet the Financial Office

Do not leave the campus without taking the opportunity to talk with the financial aid department.  You can ask about additional scholarships, payment options, financial aid deadlines, online work options, etc.  This meeting can help you better prepare your financial picture for the college years.

There are many great benefits to taking a college road trip.  But as you can see, a small amount of planning before the trip can pay great dividends during your trip.  Our staff at College4Less are ready to help you prepare for your college road trip and your college financial needs.  Contact our offices for additional information.

First Year College Expenses

The first year of college offers a variety of challenges.  From a financial perspective, many of the challenges can be averted with proper planning.  So let’s look for just a moment at the first year college expenses and offer some planning thoughts that may alleviate some stress from college’s first year.

The first expense that must be mentioned is the overall cost of college paid to the institution.  When you received your college award letter you may have had to sit down.  But by now the sticker shock has probably worn off.  The school typically has an orientation that you can sign up for prior to stepping onto campus.  These orientations are a great way to ask any last minute financial questions.  You can even set up an appointment with the financial aid office to review the award letter, and ask if there are any additional first year college expenses that you may have not considered.

The second expense concerns the change in location.  Moving into a college dorm or apartment is an exciting time, but it can also be expensive.  Most colleges offer some advise on what a typical student may need for on-campus living.  A quick search on the internet can yield a plethora of additional lists, ideas, expenses, etc.  You can start addressing this expense now.  Go ahead and find a list, and start making small purchases each week.  This may save you some time and money.  You may even be able to eliminate some of the items that were once thought needed.

Other first year college expenses are academic is nature.  I am referring to text books and academic supplies.  Again, many of these supplies can be gathered in small increments over the summer months, but others, like college textbooks and a computer, many need greater planning.  Do some research on what may be the best computer for the student’s major.  What equipment do you need to protect that investment? (Example: backpack, back-up drive, covers, etc.)  Your class text books may be a bit more tricky, because you may not know what tests are needed until later when you have a class schedule.  But as soon as you know what books you need, check out multiple stores/sites to compare prices.  Don’t forget to check the schools classified listings for used books.

Finally, let’s talk briefly about how much spending cash one needs for the first year of college.  There are so many variables to this area such as: location of the college, social involvement, major, etc.  However, most people can live on about $100.00 per month.  There may be occasions where more is needed.  However, most students know that the occasional “shot in the arm” is just a phone call away.

These are the most common first year college expenses.  You have a few more months to plan.  So use your time wisely to reduce the stress of the first year of college.

 

 

 

College Tips for High School Sophomores

Congratulations!  The first year of high school is in the books.  Another three years until your next freshman year.  Of course, I am referring to the freshman year of college.  While it may seem like you have plenty of time to prepare for college, there is no time like the present to start your preparation.  With that in mind, here are a few college tips for high school sophomores.

Check Your Gradesis

The first college tip for high school sophomores is to check your grades.  Your first year is an important year academically.  Your grades show how well you adjusted to the high school learning environment.  So lets take a look!  We are looking for those area where one may need a little push…or perhaps better said, a little help.  The summer time is a great time to get that extra help in an area where you may be struggling.  You can find a lot of help in the library, online, or even in the services of a good tutor.

SAT/ACT Prep Work

The second college tip for high school sophomores is to begin preparing for your SAT/ACT.  The summer leading into your Sophomore year is a great time to get a jump start on your SAT/ACT preparation.  Our company has a great program to help student prepare for the ACT and SAT tests.  Or you may want to check your local library for any resources that may be available.    You can also check out the ACT PLAN, which sates that it is designed to help “students and teachers identify strengths and areas for improvement in preparation for taking the ACT® test.”

Financial Planning

The third college tip for high school sophomores is to get your financial game plan in place.  The student is now a sophomore and it won’t be too much longer before they are applying to college.  If you haven’t already assessed where you are financially in order to contribute to your student’s education, now’s the time to do it.

These are a few college tips for high school sophomores.  If you have any questions or would like to learn more about preparing for the college years, please contact our office at our earliest convenience.

 

College Tips for the High School Freshman

You may think that you have plenty of time to plan for college when your child is a high school freshman.  But that is just not the case.  The high school years have a tendency to fly by.  So we wanted to share some college tips when your child is a high school freshman.
helpful tips
College Tip #1: Our first college tip for the high school freshman is to start a dialogue with your child about college.  No, it’s not too early.  In fact, we think that conversation should have already started.  So if you have not opened the dialogue, now is the time begin.  Start the conversation off slow.  Maybe say, “I know you are just starting high school this upcoming year, but have you thought about college?”  They may think it is too early to talk about college plans, but assure them it’s not.  And it’s okay, if they do not have any specific plans.  But it’s not okay to simply dismiss the conversation because you and they think it’s too early.

College Tip #2:   Our second college tip for the high school freshman is to build a “Life Resume”.  This is different than a job resume where we are recording work history, this is more like a journal of interests and activities.  These life events will help your student see what they really enjoy and areas where they really excel.  You can record sport activities, academic achievements, significant life achievements, community service, and much more.  Make notes about specific classes that captured your student’s passion and even notes about classes that were a struggle.  This “Life Resume” will help guide your student in choosing majors, colleges, and even life direction.

College Tip #3: Our third college tip for the high school freshman is more a tip for the parent.  You need to assess where you stand financially.  It’s never too early to start to think about the financial aspects of the college years.  We believe that even the middle school years are not too early to start financially planning for the college years.  Savings is where most people start, and sadly where most people end.  But to prepare for the full weight of the college years, you may want to consider putting together a more holistic financial plan for college.  We would recommend that you set down with your financial planner to put together a college funding plan that takes into account your entire investment portfolio.  If you do not have a financial planner to assist you with such a plan, call our offices and you can come in for a free college planning consultation.