How to Ensure That College is a Good Investment

September 2nd, 2015

All I have left is this tshirtAs the high school Class of 2015 becomes the Class of 2019 as freshmen in college, the College Board continues to support the belief that earning a college degree now is more important than ever before in the global economy. A typical bachelor’s-degree recipient, they claim, earns 80 percent more than a high school graduate during a 40-year career, more than $500,000 over a lifetime. That financial incentive has resulted in an enrollment surge in the past decade for American colleges and universities.

In addition, since 1990, supply and demand and increased Federal Aid loan and grant programs (for the poor) have allowed colleges to continue increasing tuition and fees faster than inflation since 1990. (Grove City College is a prime exception.) This has stretched the budgets of parents with incomes ranging from $100,000 to $350,000 to save even enough to cover one or two years of college costs. In past posts I discussed why college is so expensive.

When the financial bubble burst because of lack of oversight of investment banks in 2008, average college costs in the U.S. consumed some 40 percent of median earnings in the United States, up from less than a quarter of income eight years earlier. baflr23_frank_walts_630Now as students and parents have fallen prey to the student loan scam, debt has surpassed more than $1 trillion, parents are asking what they were getting in return for the high cost of a college degree. While the value of higher education to prepare for a career continues to be the big selling point promoting college, prospective students and their parents are beginning to cast doubt on the return on investment of certain majors and particular colleges.

In response, many colleges, like Lafayette, and High Point University are focusing even more on the outcomes of their students and are putting in place programs to better prepare their undergraduates for the job market. In an extensive survey of college leaders, conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education in the fall of 2014, six in 10 of them reported an increase in discussions about job preparation for their graduates in just the past three years. The survey, completed by some 800 vice presidents, deans and directors at two-year and four year colleges, focused on their attitudes about the value of their degrees, strategies to measure the outcomes of their graduates, and what skills higher education should provide to students.

President Obama used the annual address to announce new higher-education proposals, proposals that did not bring joy to college cropped-money-pic-2.jpg
administrators who wanted more federal dollars for student aid. But on this night, the president was not to announce any new federal investment in higher education. Instead, he said his administration would release a new ‘College Scorecard’ that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

Now there would be a government tool (and additional layers of costly, redundant bureaucracy) that would turn college into a product to compare in the same way consumers size up cars or televisions in Consumer Reports. The more things that change, the more they stay the same. Everyone wants to protect what they have, particularly if what they have is a cash cow.

Working with students with college aspirations, we show them the value of following steps that will lead to the outcomes they want. One of those steps is helping them discover what they want and another to help them understand the financial ramifications of those decisions.

Success Next xitWhile colleges and universities attempt to redefine their approaches to measuring student outcomes after graduation, we show families how to do their own due diligence in measuring the merits of colleges by asking good questions and applying good old, albeit rare, critical thinking.

It all starts with a complimentary “get acquainted” no obligation conversation with us at (978) 820-1295. Simple postgraduate surveys are not enough for many prospective parents and students to. But there are proven methods to prepare students for the job market and measure their success long after graduation.

What! Me Worry?

August 2nd, 2015

Dear Class of 2017,

One of the most popular humor magazines when I was in high school was MAD magazine. Are you familiar with it? Staring out on each issue’s cover was the silly looking young man above. He was Alfred E. Neuman with his perpetual gapped tooth grin and his now universally known exclamation “What! Me worry?” It was a timeless teenage sentiment. Can you identify with that? If you have just completed your sophomore year, congratulations, you are now a high school junior ~ the largest; most competitive college bound class in American history! Do not worry.

But do pay attention. You may now be in the same place I was “way back when”. Perhaps you are fifteen or sixteen years old with vague college aspirations? You may not have any specific reason to go to college other than “it is the expected thing to do, and/or everyone else is doing it.” Well, not everyone is planning on college and some of your classmates will probably not go to college. That is, not a four year liberal arts college. They may want to get technical training education or some sort of certification, however.

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Have You Heard About Our “Dry Run”?

July 27th, 2015

I wish I heard about you sooner.” is not an uncommon response after I explain what we do. “I expected that at least two of the colleges my daughter had her heart set on would give her more financial aid.”  Every year, several families come to us because they heard from someone that we can help them “get more money” from the top choice colleges to which their child has been accepted.

Quite often we can, but once the horse has jumped the fence and headed for the hills it is much harder to do. You do not want to be a parent who realizes too late that the cost of four years of college is not possible without borrowing an amount that resembles the cost of a used Rolls Royce.

No matter how often I talk about the importance of our money saving “heart attack prevention” exercise called the “Dry Run” (step # 3 in the college planning timeline) there are still families that do not take advantage of it. Of course, it is not the end of the world if the student attends a community college for a couple of years. In fact it could be a good strategy in some instances. But more satisfactory outcomes result with planning that includes an early look at the financial options all families have.

Many families go through the college selection process content not to question the colleges’ “we have financial aid” pitch or “our average grant package is $33,000.” Wide eyed impressionable teenagers are told to “just put your application in and then apply for financial aid.” Once you are accepted “we will send you a financial aid package.”

All that students hear (and some parents) is what they want to hear. Reality comes knocking at the door too late for many of them. Though the most frugal and financially savvy parents have saved enough to cover the first year or two, it often does not cover all four…or dare I say, five or six. To do that is very difficult without a steady source of extra income coming into the household. (By the way, we do have a solution for that too. Read the last paragraph here; then give us a call.)

In the meantime, if you have a student still in high school with college aspirations, NOW, not later, is the time to call to complete a “Dry Run”. It does not matter if the college list hasn’t been started yet either. We can suggest appropriate colleges.

Sticker Prices Hide the REAL Cost of College

May 19th, 2015

 NetPriceVsStickerPrice     One of the many acronyms that college bound students encounter is COA or cost of attendance. It constantly amazes me when media only talks about “tuition costs” when they run stories about colleges. What they should do is include the fees, room and board and personal expenses to that figure. That will often bring the COA up another $18,000 or more.

Private colleges that use federal money in their financial aid packages are generally running about $55,000 to $65,000 per year “soup to nuts”. With the exception of about 50 so-called elite colleges, most offer merit money to highly qualified students or meet the criteria for those scholarships. Admittedly, a good 30% of private colleges and out of state publics simply offer “tuition discounts” in the guise of scholarships simply to get students to commit.

Having said that, I have had many students graduate in four years form fine private colleges at less cost than they would have paid at an Ivy League college or state university where the latter would be offering only student loans. For many middle income families state schools often create the largest financial burden to a family despite the lowest published cost.

In addition, due to the ever increasing strategy of financial aid leveraging and preferential packaging, an applicant’s academic profile will greatly effect how much grant or scholarship aid he or she will get. While not used by all colleges, these practices will negatively impact the aid a student who is in the lower quartile of the applicant pool. That is why I place a great deal of emphasis on researching the current class profile or ‘common data set’ to measure where the student may fit in that demographic.


      In other words, if two colleges have similar costs of attendance, a student may be offered entirely different financial aid packages should one of the colleges be using leveraged analysis or preferential packaging. Unless, you do a money saving “Dry Run” with us or someone else who is familiar with the financial aid practices at many colleges, you will seldom know which college is offering the best value from a financial standpoint. Even now with the required “College Cost Calculator” on college websites, you still won’t know the true bottom line cost of that college until one week following the student’s acceptance.

     The differences outlined above can be as large as $15,000 a year or more.  These differences are often masked by sticker price. That is why we encourage all families to include a realistic money-saving “Dry Run” step in their college planning. If you have not done that yet, then what are you waiting for? Do not repeat the experience that this parent had.


Brand Name Paralysis

May 13th, 2015

bromwich_1-081414_jpg_600x636_q85 If you were to ask a random group of kids “Name three competitive colleges.” Most would reel off Harvard, Yale and Princeton without any hesitation. In fact ‘HYP’ has practically become an acronym for any “brand name” college. It is at this time of year that the mail box gets the most attention. Especially if the college bound senior has applied to the most competitive colleges in the country.

With all the attention given to magazine rankings, colleges that are on the top of the list are often the only ones bright high school students think of when developing his or her initial list. I smile inwardly when I realize (after a few minutes of conversation) that a family has what I call “Brand Name Paralysis” or BNP.

It is a neurological disorder, but not a serious one. However, not treated, it could result in unnecessary stress, abdominal pain and a depleted investment account. Of course, I am joking…kind of.  Treatment is painless but does call for the patient to have an open mind and a modest ability to think “outside the box”. Review our college planning timeline to understand how we do this.

In our offices we have large maps showing the colleges in all 50 states and Canada. We have placed pins into the colleges so that families can see where other students we have guided have Grove City Greenmatriculated. It is great fun to place a pin on a college name that a student (or parent) has never heard of prior to meeting with us. Two such examples would be the college to the right and in the upper left of this page. Can you tell me the names of those colleges?

One is in Pennsylvania and the other is in California. In both instances students have received wonderful educations without any debt, yes ZERO! But there is more to it, much more. All of which we can cover in a complimentary “get acquainted” consultation. We look forward to sharing more with you.  Call (978) 820-1295.

Spring Rites of Passage for the College Bound

April 22nd, 2015

Many high school seniors have heard back from some of the colleges to which they applied. The most competitive colleges will be sending out their letters no later than April 1. All students (and parents) will then have thirty days to make their final college decision.  

If you are a client be sure to FAX both your acceptance letters and subsequent financial aid letters to us as they come in. We will then help you make your decisions based on both academic and financial criteria.  If you have done a “Dry Run” earlier in the process, we will update the numbers.

Unfortunately, every year I hear about families who experienced something like this family did. There are many uncertainties in our world, but this does not have to be one of them. If you have college aspirations, take time to discuss the options in paying for college as a family unit. In fact, call us to learn how thousands of families are paying for college from income alone, and not borrowing a nickel.  

Attention juniors and sophomores. Two other spring rites are for you. If you have a list of possible colleges (and you should) try to do some college visits while classes are still in session. If some of the colleges on your list are too far away, they may be coming to you!

March, April and May is ‘College Fair’ time. Check the National Association of College Admission Counselor site here for the date, time and location near you! There are several college fairs coming up in many states.  For instance, Anaheim, CA is on April 26.    

Some of the so-called Elite colleges do not participate in such marketing efforts but check each college website for their travel plans. In addition, you should also check out the location for the group of 40 colleges that have been identified by the late Loren Pope in his popular tome, Colleges That Change Lives

The second spring rite is actually a four-season ritual. Yes, I am referring to the ubiquitous standardized tests. There is a plethora of ways to prepare including no preparation at all. But if you are looking at possible merit scholarships or very competitive colleges, then you should prepare. Would you compete in your favorite sport without practicing? 

But if you want to practice with unequivocally the best test prep yet, we can help. Take the demo here with 30 practice questions. For the PSAT, SAT, ACT and Math II tests, I believe there is NO better way to prepare outside of an individual tutor like Kris Fox.

If you have any questions, I look forward to answering them for you.

Best wishes for college success…and beyond.


Are You a Procrastinator?

April 20th, 2015

If you are, you may put off reading this. That would be your first mistake. To all you college bound students, you will soon be taking a milestone step in your life journey. Hopefully it will be the college of your dreams. Even if it is not, if you have done your research properly, all will work out fine. Thousands of college graduates have learned, in hindsight, that it was meant to be and it wasn’t bad after all.

They quickly learned in the first month of college that a professor’s expectations and assignments given would be nothing like those from teachers in high school, even those AP classes they took that were supposed to prepare them for college level work. Those that got through in four years quickly learned how to get organized and stay focused.

If you were a last minute kind of student in high school, that may have worked. But college is a different world. If it is not, then you may be at the wrong college. Because if you are not challenged, you will not grow intellectually, spiritually or socially. But I digress.

The phrase, “I’ll do it later” is probably the biggest killer of college success. Chances are, you will not get it done later. If you do “wing it” later, it will be sloppy and not your best effort. This causes stress and sets you up for the kind of anxiety that leads to dropping out of college because of low grades and/or illness.

The day planner that your proud grandmother gives you at high school graduation won’t do you any good if you are constantly putting things off. Sometimes students (and adults) put things off because they are intimidated by them. It manifests in the subconscious. You are afraid of failure so you set yourself up for failure. The solution is to simply get started. Break the task into manageable chunks and schedule time for each task.

Maybe it is long blocks of time that you find intimidating or tedious. No problem. You can do anything for 25 minutes. Am I right? Work with NO distractions. Put the electronic gizmos away and out of sight and sound. That includes the ear buds. No, you don’t work better when you listen to “music”. :-)

Buy a timer and set it for 25 minutes. Focus on the task seriously for that period. As you  begin to see something accomplished, whether it is a writing or reading assignment, you will begin to feel better about it. Dare I say, even inspired to do more. You also will soon realize that by tacking homework when it is assigned is soooo much easier than waiting until the 11th hour.

Still stuck? Another technique you can apply is to blatantly lie to yourself. Tell yourself that you don’t have to do the entire thing. You are just going to read a couple of paragraphs or just draft an outline. What will happen is that you will get some momentum going and realize that you can do more than you first thought.

Reading a few paragraphs becomes finishing the whole chapter. Outlining the paper becomes drafting the first paragraph and so on.

You are not alone, the majority of humans find a reason to put things off that we either don’t deem important or don’t like even if we know it is important. Even administrators at the most selective colleges like Princeton University realize that procrastination needs to be addressed. Look here to see what they have done to help their undergraduates.

Spring Surprises

March 25th, 2015

 cropped-college-pinwheel.jpg The Class of 2015 has seen a year of stiff competition similar to recent years. Once again, the elite colleges rejected 95% of their applicants. They all knew the 7% acceptance rates going in but it is still tough to take rejection. And to hear that “everything happens for a reason” is not any consolation for those applicants who were Valedictorians with 2400 SAT scores. In any case, where ever you go, keep college a four year or less experience. The fact is that only 38% of those who enter college this fall will have earned a diploma after four years.

The 60 or so “elite” colleges have over 90% graduation rates in four years. Yes, it can be that (or less) with most other colleges if you have done (and continue to do) your due diligence. Take responsibility for your education and the advising at your college.

But here are some reasons why that percentage is so shockingly low.

  1. ALL four-year colleges are considered. Both public and private from the non-competitive to the most competitive. Often large state universities and less competitive private institutions have weaker or overwhelmed advising staffs.
  2. Students may fall behind on credits earned in their major.
  3. They change majors more than twice; credits are not transferable.
  4. Students drop out for academic or affordability reasons.
  5. Some classes are over enrolled, limited or cutback and students are not able to take the prerequisite courses in their majors in a timely fashion.

When researching each college using the AAA method a student will be better prepared to avoid most of the above scenarios. This includes understanding the data the colleges are required to report on the Common Data Set. If you do not find the CDS on the college website or via the search box, ask admissions for it.

In any case, if the Class of 2014 thought it was competitive getting into college, they will need to consider this. Job prospects for new college graduates are at historic lows, partly caused by financial misfeasance and malfeasance on a global scale. If a recent graduate has some internship or cooperative work experience to show on his or her resume, that will help. But with the economy what it is, the challenges still remain.

The average student loan debt for graduating seniors in 2011 was $23,186. This year, I dare say the average will be at clip_image002least $27,000. Since the 1970’s student loans have increased the cost of college. In fact that is the primary reason college costs are inordinately high! Need proof? Here it is! We are facing a “student and parent loan bubble” that will dwarf the mortgage and derivative frauds above.

If loans are a burden, parents and students should not hesitate to call us now. We have a sure-fire plan to show you how to become debt free sooner than you think. It makes no sense in starting off with a job that does not give you the ability to pay basic necessities, provide the comforts and lifestyle you want to have and still meet monthly debt obligations.

In the meantime, for newly minted college graduates… get ready for the toughest job you will have. Start by reading this timely New York Times article ~ How to market yourself.

Making Your Final Decision

March 24th, 2015

               Countdown to National Deposit Day!


     At this time of year many high school seniors have heard from the colleges to which they applied. The most competitive colleges and universities are almost finished reviewing applications from all of the country and the world. For many of them, April 1 is the date they will send out letters to anxiously awaiting seniors.

There will be just one month from then until “National Deposit Day”. May 1 is the day by which all college bound seniors must decide where to enroll in the fall of 2016. Making the final decision may not be easy unless you have done certain things in the year or two prior to spring of this year. In any case, most students are usually presented with at least two positive alternatives from which to choose.

So how does one go about making an effective decision ~ a decision that allows the entire family to win? The following steps are what we advise our students. Think about these even if you will not be facing such a decision for a few years.

The overall goal, I believe, is to integrate the admissions decision with financial considerations. That is particularly important when there is more than one college bound child in the household.

First … Make an objective evaluation of each financial aid award. Determine how much aid the college is awarding in the form of grants, scholarships and loans. Most colleges do not include adequate amounts in the cost of attendance (COA) to include personal expenses. These are books, supplies, personal sundries and transportation. If you have done a “Dry Run” with us prior to your student’s application you will see that we often add $4,500 to the direct expenses. The direct expenses are the fixed billable costs, tuition, fees and room and board. You should too.

Keep in mind that college work-study is not a direct credit toward billable costs. Do not include that in your calculations. If there is a loan offer in the award (other than a Stafford or Perkins), do not include that either. Subtract all the other awards from your COA and you will close to knowing what the “real out of pocket cost” is for that college. Do this for each college and make an objective comparison.

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How to Show You Are Interested

March 3rd, 2015


When I was looking at colleges “DI” stood for drill instructor, not demonstrated interest. The DI was someone many kids in my generation had very little interest in knowing. In the myriad of acronyms and abbreviations surrounding the college process today, “DI” refers to the level of interest the applicant demonstrated in a particular college.

The question is how much importance does the college admissions committee (adcom) place on demonstrated interest. The answer is, not much…some…and very much. In other words, it depends on the college. Emory and American, for instance will admit it takes the applicant’s level of interest into consideration. Others, like Stanford and MIT, may say it does not matter how much interest you show, they look at all applicants equally. But I suspect they say that to ward off students who want to game the system, as you will learn here. 

Regardless of what a school may say, I recommend that all students make an effort to show demonstrated interest and learn as much about their prospective colleges as possible. It all starts with research using the AAA method. Once that is accomplished the student should have a good idea of the appropriateness of each college on his or her list.    Is it a good fit intellectually, compatible with ones values and, based on the common data set, is it a reach, a 50/50, a safety or in the “snowballs chance in ____” category? Not to mention are they affordable?If such due diligence still leaves the college on the list then further inquiries need to be made.

Such inquiries may be described as showing “demonstrated interest” and that is fine.  For instance, prospective students should know about the depth and nature of academic internship and career advising. Other good conversation starters are:

  1. Is the faculty 100% invested in the teaching of undergrads and if teaching assistants are used what are their responsibilities? (Universities primarily)
  2. What has been the four-year graduation rate over the last four years, and does it vary with major?
  3. Are certain programs offered in the (your intended major) department going to be expanded or cut back?
  4. I am a student at a high school that does not give grades. Are you familiar with the ________ Schools curriculum? How do you compare my application with someone from a more traditional high school?
  5. What will be the merit scholarship criteria for the “_______ Scholarship next year?”

Do this more to learn more about the school’s attitude toward students than with the intent of “buttering up” the regional admissions counselor. Colleges can spot the disingenuous inquiry. Thoughtfully think about the questions before you call (or email) them. Of course, be sure you are not asking questions that are already answered in the “fast facts’ or FAQ sections on the college website.

By the way, too many students are taking their safety schools for granted. Applicants should have some good reasons why they would be fine at their safety too. Carefully research and show interest in them as well. Such fall back colleges have been known to wait-list or reject students whom the adcom has determined would not attend if accepted. No college markets itself as the # 1 “favorite safety school”, so buyers beware. Even state colleges are hard pressed to accept the students they once could because of the over flow of applicants. States are cutting back faculty, programs and other costly expenditures once taken for granted. In many cases, a top student may be able to go to a private college at much less than a state supported public.

If you are in the Class of 2016, now is the time to review your college list and make plans for the summer. Some of you will take Subject tests and the ACT this semester, but at the end of June you will be starting the college application and essay writing process, give us a call or email today. We will soon be announcing our college essay-writing program for students throughout the country.