Evaluating aid offers

24 Mar

Weighing offers can be confusing!

As your financial aid offers start coming in, you and your parents may be a little confused. The differing formats and terminology may seem like you’re being asked to compare apples with oranges.

Buffy Tanner, a counselor with the BOLD (Bachelor’s through Online and Local Degrees) program at Shasta College, has some helpful advice. (She was formerly part of the College OPTIONS organization, which has a mission to strengthen the college-going culture in the more rural areas of northern California by increasing opportunities for students to pursue and become informed about postsecondary education).

portland-1-jFirst, she says to make sure each college includes all five components of Cost of Attendance (some colleges don’t include all five on their award letters):

  • Tuition/Fees
  • Room/Board
  • Books/Supplies
  • Transportation
  • Personal Expenses

Tanner also says, “Students need to realize that the Cost of Attendance published by each school is an AVERAGE, ESTIMATED cost.  For some students, transportation costs may be more or less, they can save money by tripling up in a dorm, or by living at home, etc.  As much as possible, they should personalize that Cost of Attendance for each college to determine what they will REALLY need.”

The College OPTIONS organization has developed a Financial Aid Offer Comparison Worksheet that can help you evaluate financial aid offers. In this Excel document you can insert the numbers of each type of aid from a college (and then the next college and the next), so as to get an actual “apples to apples” comparison (instead of apples to alligators).  This tool is online:  http://www.collegeoptions.org/#!financial-aid/c8k2. (See the middle column “Tools for Award Letters” — the last bullet. There is also a link for instructions on how to use the tool.)

“There are MANY roads from point A to point B,” Tanner notes. “Some are more scenic than others, others are quicker, still others have hidden gems along the way that they don’t even know about.”

In any case, do not make rash decisions based on a quick glance of the financial aid offers. Weigh your options carefully and make sure any decision is done with the help of your parents.

Finding a community college program

7 Mar
Feather River College in Quincy, California, has an excellent transfer rate, as well as exceptional athletic programs in a beautiful mountain setting.

Feather River College in Quincy, California, has an excellent transfer rate, as well as exceptional athletic programs in a beautiful mountain setting.

If you’re interested in attending a community college but still aren’t sure which one, this California Community Colleges website link is a simple tool to find a college and a particular program: http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/maps/map.asp

Use the search tool for the particular program, such as culinary arts or photography. You will get a list of colleges in California that have that program.

If you are out of state, try a Google search to locate your state’s community college website.

Now is the time to apply to your community college, making sure that you have listed any possible schools on your FAFSA. California students will want to make sure that their California schools are at the top of that FAFSA list if they are Cal Grant eligible, so that they will be offered a Board of Governors (BOG) Waiver–the community college equivalent of a Cal Grant.

Applying now to that community college is especially important if you want to secure on-campus housing, which is limited to a handful of community colleges in California, because campus housing can fill up quickly.

You should also be setting up your placement testing in English and math. The Accuplacer (a College Board test) is one of those forms of measurement that your community college would likely use. Some community colleges might now be administering that test on your high school campus.

Again, it’s important to be proactive now about your college plans, so that you get the classes, housing and financial aid that will help support your success!

Negotiating financial aid

2 Mar
You can always plead your financial aid case with a well-written letter.

        You can always plead your financial aid case with a well-written letter.

Some of you may already be getting financial aid offers from the colleges to which you have applied — especially if you did your FAFSA early.

However, some of you may be disappointed with the offers.

Please know you can still plead your case with the financial aid office at those colleges. Do this with a letter addressed to “Financial Aid Officer” and include information that could improve your offer:

  • Information about a parent losing a job or being cut back to part-time.
  • Loss of a job you have had.
  • Information about high and unexpected expenses for situations such as medical care or a car accident.
  • Death of a supporting parent or other close family member — thus creating loss of income or increased expenses.
  • Separation of your parents — so that you now only need report income for the parent with whom you are living (or who provides the greater amount of support).

It is helpful if the school counselor or administrator can write a letter authenticating your case.

Also, the letter may receive quicker attention if the school faxes your letter to the financial aid department(s).

Please don’t delay on this. Some money pots — such as work study — are limited, and colleges can only offer what’s available.


Help for future teachers

11 Feb
Consider teaching! Education courses in college are fascinating!

              Consider teaching! Education courses in college are fascinating!

Thinking about teaching? GREAT! There will be many teaching jobs available as the baby boomer generation retires in the next handful of years.

Federal TEACH Grants can provide up to $4,000. To qualify you must do the following:

  • Be enrolled in, or plan to complete, coursework to begin a teaching career.
  • Maintain a cumulative 3.25 GPA or better.
  • Sign an agreement to serve as a paid, full-time teach in a high-need field serving low-income students.
  • Agree to teach at least four academic years within eight years of completing your program of study.

One caveat: If you fail to complete your obligation, the grant converts to an unsubsidized Stafford loan that you (the student) must repay with interest.

However, for those determined to go into teaching, the TEACH Grant is a great help.

For more info, you can go to this government website: http://www.studentaid.ed.gov.


College placement tests

5 Feb


Once you begin to receive acceptance notices from college, you will also receive information about placement testing. Colleges need to know if you are ready to work in college-level classes and typically have requirements related to competency in English and mathematics.

The whole topic may seem a little crazy. You may be thinking, If a student has been accepted at a university, shouldn’t he or she be good in math and English?

Well, yes and no. Sometimes students can have really good grades but still struggle in either math or English. This may be particularly true for English language learners.

The California State University system has two placement tests it mandates if students have not otherwise indicated proficiency in English and math: The English Placement Test (EPT) and Entry Level Math (ELM). If you are pretty sure you will be going to a CSU, you need to schedule these tests if you haven’t met one of the exemptions for each, as listed below (as provided by Humboldt State University).

Contact your nearest CSU and do a search under “placement testing” to find out the dates, times and process for signing up. Don’t delay on this, because you cannot enroll in classes without meeting these requirements.

CSU English Placement Test (EPT)

A student is exempt from needing this exam if:

  • SAT Critical Reading (verbal) 500 or greater
  • SAT II English (subject) 680 or greater
  • ACT English 22 or greater
  • AP Lang and Comp or Comp and Lit 3 or greater
  • EAP English of Exempt
  • EAP English of Conditional Score of 3 if taken on or after January 1, 2015. A score of 2 if taken before this date – must pass English AP, Honors, or ERWC senior year
  • ACT Conditional = 19 – 21– must pass English AP, Honors, or ERWC senior year
  • SAT Conditional = 460 – 490– must pass English AP, Honors, or ERWC senior year
  • IB English of 4 or greater

CSU Entry Level Math (ELM)

A student is exempt from needing this exam if:

  • SAT Math 550 or greater
  • SAT II Math (subject) 550 or greater
  • ACT Math 23 or greater
  • AP Calculus AB or BC or Statistics 3 or greater
  • EAP Math of Exempt
  • EAP Math of Conditional Score of 3 if taken on or after January 1, 2015. A score of 2 if taken before this date – must pass a course that has Alg 2 as pre-requisite senior year
  • ACT Conditional = 20 – 22– must pass course beyond Algebra II senior year
  • SAT Conditional = 490 – 540– must pass course beyond Algebra II senior year
  • EAP Math of Conditional – must pass course beyond Algebra II senior year
  • IB Math of 4 or greater
  • Early Start Math – Score of 50 = GE Math eligible. Early Start scores mirror ELM scores in how they are interpreted (<39 = Math 40, 39 – 49 = Math 44 103I/43, etc)

Student loan freakout

29 Jan
Are you freaked out about potential student loan debt?

Are you freaked out about potential student loan debt?

Are you or your parents freaking out about the possibility of student loan debt?

The media have been having a field day the last few years with horror stories of students who are graduating with student loan debt  of $100,000 or more.

The over-sensationalism of this issue has actually had a negative effect on many of my students and parents over the last several years–to the point where they are determining to work first, THEN go to college with the projected savings.

There are several facts that students and parents should face in regard to post-secondary education, its benefits, and this student loan issue:

  1. Most students have some student loan debt leaving college. Nationally that figure is about 70 percent of college graduates. In California, the percentage is 55 percent — and the average loan debt is $21,382 (the average is about $18,000 for the California State University system–a good deal!). The cost of repayment for this amount will be about $200 per month — less than the cost of the average car payment, with that car depreciating by the moment.
  2. It is very difficult for a young person to save enough money to fund the cost of a college education, especially since college costs are increasing on a yearly basis. A minimum-wage job would have gross pay of $13,720 a year. Subtracting money for taxes, transportation, and living expenses, I have computed that it would probably take nine or more years to earn enough to pay for four years of college.
  3. Financial aid in the form of grants could decrease if the student works first. If a student qualifies for federal and state grants but chooses to work, access to those grant funds could completely disappear.
  4. When students work before going to college, they often are detracted from savings by the lure of a nice car or apartment and rack up debt that would make college challenging financially.
  5. A college graduate’s income will be significantly higher than a young person’s income who went directly into the work force.

Completely free rides are about nonexistent these days. Typically, the student is expected to commit to about $5,000 in student loan debt per year. That repayment plan will not be difficult with the post-college salary the graduate will earn.

Be wise about your college decision:

  • Lay out your financial aid offers side by side before deciding on your college.
  • Be diligent to submit every single scholarship application for which you are eligible.
  • Read the fine print on the colleges’ financial aid pages. Some schools will cancel out GRANT money if you get scholarships, while other schools will cancel out loans. This was the main reason my daughter chose UC Berkeley over UC Santa Barbara.
  • DO choose Work Study if you can get it–it won’t count as income against next year’s financial aid package and you won’t have to pay taxes on it. It’s like working for a grant.
  • Be careful not to incur other debt during college (live cheaply and don’t take on a car payment).

And go for the degree: it will pay off in the short and long term.


Waitlist: Woes or wows?

11 Jan
My daughter and son-in-law both graduated from Biola University in LaMirada, California.

My daughter and son-in-law both graduated from Biola University in LaMirada, California.

Students may now start to get admissions acceptances or rejections from their more exclusive schools on their college list. Kudos to you if the first word is “Congratulations!” Sympathies to you if the letter starts out, “There were an exceptional number of qualified applicants this year….”

However, some of you may find that you are waitlisted for a college. That may seem like a rejection, but it’s not. The college has determined that you are qualified, but there were more qualified applicants than it could accept. As students do their Intent to Register by May 1, you could find a slot opens for you.

What you should do in the meantime:

  • Decide your Plan B: Choose another school and do your Intent to Register for that school by May 1. Yes, you can get out of this; you might even get back your deposit. Housing at the waitlisted school could prove to be a challenge if housing is limited–but this usually works out, too.
  • Submit additional support that could sway a decision in your favor:
    • A letter indicating why that waitlisted school is your No. 1 choice–what leadership qualities you will bring.
    • Submit others’ letters of recommendation in your behalf (always make sure these are STRONG–full-length letters with detailed support)
    • Submit additional essays if you are given the opportunity.
  • Study diligently and stay involved in your activities.
  • Request a personal interview. Be respectful and friendly as you make personal contacts–admissions personnel are very busy.

Do not have your parents call the admissions office. Be proactive in your own behalf.