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Choosing a College Goal: Personal Interest vs. Career

Is career choice an either-or situation?  When students foresee the goal of their college education, they are caught in a tug-of-war between the sensible prospect of job security or a career path tailored to their passions and interests.  Rarely do they overlap.  They may consider the kitchen their happy place, but know that majors in Culinary Arts fall on the lower end of the college grad income spectrum.  Therein lies the conundrum: What should be their focus?

Out of a pool of Freshman polled entering UCLA, the majority listed a decent job as their top reason for attending college.  This is a clear shift from 20-30 years ago, when gaining skills and exploring interests reigned as the core ideal.  As expected, this correlated with an overall deviation from the number of awarded degrees in science and the arts.

Despite technically-driven majors leading to the highest paid entry-level careers (Engineering in particular), such programs offer little if any skills in communication.  According to Bloomberg’s “2015 Job Skills” interactive graphic, the most desired and rarer attributes would sorely lack in technical programs: Leadership, Creative Problem-Solving, and Communication.

Speech 101 may cover the basics, but GE courses typically only dip the student’s toe into the pool instead of drilling deeper into specifics, as they are intended.  Those students of technical study must then train themselves via self-education or consciously step outside their area of expertise by enrolling in courses unrelated to their degree.  This more than likely parallels our earlier mentioned tug-of-war.

Unrelated courses may inspire and motivate, while required material feels more like a tried and true job; it may lead to possible dislike and eventually resent toward their field.

As with life, students should find that golden balance between necessity and passion.  Avoid relying on an illustrious career as a renowned author, but find a way to weave your writing prowess into a job with a proven record for stability.  Who knows; actively pursuing creative hobbies on the side may end up paying the bills, too!

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinarcall us at (650) 587-1559, or send us an e-mail.


Future Investing with Summer Programs and Internships

watermelonWith summer approaching, you and other high school students may first bask in the glow of three months away from essays and assigned projects.  Once that feeling subsides—particularly for all of you wonderfully ambitious students—you’ll wonder if any options exist to keep your mind stimulated, prepare yourself for their future careers, or possibly explore avenues they have yet to tread.  So what’s the answer?  Summer programs and internships!

Science? Art? Communications? There’s a Program for All of Them!

For our California pupils, here are a few local opportunities orchestrated by colleges over the summer that may peak your interest, courtesy of the Los Altos High School College and Career Center:

Academy of Art College in San Francisco
“Six-week intensive art program offers up to four classes either online or onsite in San Francisco. Get a glimpse into college life, meet other young artists and explore a variety of art & design fields. Note: Students staying in Campus Housing must take four on campus classes.”

COSMOS (California State Summer School for Math and Science)
UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz

“Cosmos is a four week residential academic experience in math, science and engineering for top high school students. Students can participate in one of the many clusters of the COSMOS program at any of the above UC campuses. Some sample clusters are Under the Sea: Exploring Marine Organisms and Their World, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering: Robots and Flying Machines, Medical & Veterinary Responses to Infectious Diseases, and Environmental Sciences and Experimental Ecology.

Students apply to one of the four University of California’s COSMOS campuses — UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. Each campus may have a different focus.”

Internship Programs

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program
Palo Alto, CA

“An 8-week summer internship program open to high school juniors and seniors. Hands-on research under guidance of a one-on-one mentor. Choose from immunology, stem cell biology, neurobiology, cardiovascular medicine and cancer biology.”

ZOMA Worldwide
Palo Alto, CA

“An international internship program for high school students based in various industries in Shanghai, China. Must have completed sophomore you and have strong academic records and proven leadership abilities. Chinese language is not required by students enrolled in Chinese language coursework is preferred. Internships are available in the areas of high tech, marketing, public relations, advertising, law travel and hospitality and architecture. Bilingual resident assistants are on-site 24 hours for supervision and assistance.”

Make a Decision Based on YOUR Goals

If earning some cash on the side is your driving force, an internship may not be your best choice for this summer.  While internships add bulk to an otherwise sparse resume, they are often notoriously unpaid.

On that same token, unpaid internships and volunteering may seem like thankless work, but both can easily lead to a future “in” at a company.  A connection with them on LinkedIn® assures an open-ended opportunity to re-connect once you’re finishing up the last requirements for your degree.

We all deserve some R&R, but with three long months ahead of summer 2015, why not devote part of your time to a worthwhile investment in your future (and bank account)?

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinarcall us at (650) 587-1559, or send us an e-mail.

Photo Credit: Harsha KR


College Choice: How Important is Financial Fit?

3493082186_52d4d2807f_z-150x150Acceptance letters are in!  Seniors have less than a month to finalize their college choice.  Most seniors have applied to multiple colleges, and potentially found two, three, or more acceptance letters sitting in their mailbox or popping up in their inbox.  While some find the choice is a no-brainer, others are stumped.  Out of five acceptances, perhaps not a single one stands out as the golden opportunity.  So, how do you choose? Does the cost matter?  How do you measure your ROI (return-on-investment)?

ROI

Your choices may be pitted against one another as equally good academic and social fits, but what about the financial fit? Which college measures up as the best investment based on financial returns for your student?

ROI, as defined by PayScale, refers to the college’s net cost combined with the length of time required to earn that amount after securing a job.

Recently, PayScale released their yearly list of top colleges based upon ROI.  They offer a quick review of their top performers in their “Best Value Colleges.” According to PayScale, majors and career choices matter as well as college choice.  Science majors would see Cal Poly and San Jose State topping the chart, while students of Economics would mull over Rank #1 University of Pennsylvania and UC Berkeley at #2.

“Results May Vary”

The report lists estimated ROI, the average 4 year cost (with and without financial aid), graduation rate, and more.  Keep in mind the data is mined from average statistics at each college, not data down to the individual student.

Results do vary by student.  Every student will pay a different amount for college (it’s true!), so you’ll need to calculate your own ROI, using PayScale’s salary estimates for the career you are seeking.  ROI provides an analytical, practical means to assist in determining your final college choice.

We recommend keeping financial fit in the forefront of your decision making process, along with academic and social fit.  The cost of college does matter to the majority of families.  Consider ROI as one determining factor to make your ultimate decision.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning.  For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: circulating


Top 10 FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Are you ready to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?  Because the government and colleges give aid on a first come, first serve basis, it’s important to submit as early as possible.

FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Unfortunately, a single (seemingly harmless) mistake on your FAFSA can delay processing for weeks, moving your application behind the countless others that were submitted correctly. The good news: Youu can take steps to prevent those mistakes from happening!

Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid when completing the FAFSA:

  1. Leaving a field blank.  Many people see a question that doesn’t apply to them and mistakenly leave it blank. Instead, write in a “0” or “not applicable” so the processor doesn’t assume you forgot to answer and reject the application.
  1. Entering the wrong tax amount.  Do not use the information from your W-2. Instead, refer to you 1040 federal tax return to report income and taxes paid. Remember you should fill out the FAFSA before you file taxes using an estimate, but you need to get in there and update it with the correct numbers once your taxes are complete.
  1. Reporting incorrect marital status.  Although you may be engaged, if you aren’t legally married on the day you file, list your marital status as single.
  1. Reporting incorrect parent information.  The parent you lived with for most of the year is the one to fill out the FAFSA, so make sure you include information for the right parent. If your primary guardian remarried, you’ll need to include requested information about your stepparent as well.
  1. Forgetting to sign the application.  It might sound simple, but a lot of people forget this important step. If you’re filing as a dependent, both you and your parents need to sign the application. If you’re filing online, you can sign electronically using PIN numbers (you can get them from http://www.pin.ed.gov).
  1. Filing late.  Procrastinating leads to missed opportunities for aid. Remember to stay on top of deadlines, and because it’s first-come, first-serve, get your FAFSA in as soon as possible.
  1. Providing too much information.  You don’t need to include information about retirement accounts and home equity. If you include this information on your application, your chances for aid will shrink, so leave them off. NOTE: The FAFSA does ask about second homes and real estate investments, so you’ll need to provide details about those if applicable.
  1. Listing just one school.  List every school to which you’ve applied or are planning to apply so you don’t miss deadlines at any of the colleges you’re considering.
  1. Not filing at all.  There is no reason not to file the FAFSA. Even if you think you make too much money, you might be surprised, and it doesn’t hurt at all. Simply by completing the application you will be eligible for Stafford government student loans. Some non-citizens qualify for federal and college financial aid, too, so don’t use your citizenship status as a reason not to file.
  1. Not following directions or getting help.  As with any form, read the directions carefully. If you aren’t sure about a question, check the FAQ section on the FAFSA Web site or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED AID (1-800-433-3243). You also can take advantage of the government’s online chat sessions by using FAFSA on the Web Customer Service Live Help from Monday through Saturday. Of course, I’m happy to answer any questions you have as well. Feel free to contact me via phone or email!

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: Terrance Heath


Scholarships for the College-Bound Soul

Don't Stop BelievingCan we all agree that college is not cheap? Scholarships can definitely help with the financial burden. Searching for scholarships can get overwhelming, but do not let the search discourage you from finding them. They can be found in many places such as local businesses, religious or community organizations, ethnicity-based organizations, or organizations in your related field interest.

They can also be found with a simple Google search. Websites such as Fastweb.com, ScholarshipExperts.com, Scholarships.com and College Board’s scholarship search engine are great places to search for scholarships. These websites are dedicated to helping you find the perfect scholarship for you. It is important to note that scholarship scams are also on the Internet. Make sure that the scholarship is legitimate before you apply! Some signs of scholarship scams include application fees and guaranteed winnings.

Here are a few scholarships we found while browsing the Web. Check them out and see if any of them might interest you.

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4 Tax-Saving Strategies for College Funding

Tax CheckIt seems there are as many ways to save for college as there are colleges. It pays to do some research and understand ways you can not only save for your child’s education, but also save on your yearly tax bill.

Depending on how much college costs, it’s possible to use tax strategies to save as much as you spend on college tuition (particularly in the long run). Here are a few tactics to consider:

      1. Income shifting.  This is the practice of “shifting” earned and unearned income to your child, so that you avoid paying taxes on that income.  Your child may have to pay some taxes, depending on the amount and the age of your child, but will be subjected to a much lower rate.  Note that unearned income (gifts) tax rules allow for a $13,000 annual exclusion per person, or $26,000 on joint returns.
      2. Standard deduction and personal exemption.  Parents can claim a personal exemption for their child as long as they provide more than half the child’s support.  If your child uses their own income as a personal support (more than half), then they can claim the exemption instead.
      3. Tax credits.  There are several tax credits your child can claim, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)—worth up to $2,500 a year per student—the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, or the tuition and fees deduction.  However, keep in mind that you can only use one.
      4. Watch out for the Kiddie Tax.  “Kiddie Tax” is tax on unearned income to minors.  It applies to children under age 19 and full-time college students under the age of 24.

Strategies used for each family will undoubtedly vary.  Some strategies, such as income shifting, only makes sense for a family who will not qualify for need-based financial aid.  Income shifting may save taxes, but also might consequently decrease financial aid eligibility.

Curious which of these strategies might work for you?  Contact me for advice specific to your family’s situation!

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at (650) 587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Great Beyond


Get Financially Fit

weightsYou may tough it out on the football field or dive for volleyballs on your school team, but there’s far more to self-development than physical fitness.  As you channel your focus on college, there’s no better time to dive past physical fitness.  Get in shape for college by being financially fit.

1st Step: Map out your “Meal Plan”

You need to start somewhere.  Just like you would allocate your goal, including calories per day and ultimate desired weight, you need to set financial goals.  Calculate a rough estimate of how much your top colleges will cost per year, along with daily or weekly spending.  For example, you may limit yourself to $100 per week on essential expenses, and another $50 for extra items.

Even if you feel as though you won’t qualify for a grant or scholarship, apply!  Unlike a loan, you won’t be obligated to pay back either, so why not give them a shot?  Equally as important: Don’t forget about the FAFSA!  Again, it’s free money in your pocket for college!

2nd Step: Dive in Head-First & Track Your Progress

Without even the smallest inkling of understanding about your daily habitual spending, it’s difficult to know what you consider necessities versus other wants that may easily be cut out of your budget.  For the first two weeks of your college life, track your daily expenses.  Thankfully, technology will give you a hand with that.  Apps make your budgeting experience a whole lot easier.  Mint and LearnVest not only sync with your bank account, they even allow you to separate your purchases by category.

3rd Step: Treat Yourself with a Cheat Day

As you train yourself from day to day, you may end up bogged down, unmotivated because the finish line seems so far out of reach.  Every few weeks, allow yourself to let loose and purchase something a little past your budget, whether it’s a nice lunch at a restaurant or a new pair of shoes.  Think of it as a reward.  It should give you a much-needed boost to energize your spirit and feel proud of your accomplishments so far.

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at 650-587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Louish Pixel


The Gravity of the CSS Profile: Why You Should Apply

astronautsGet ready to complete the CSS Profile!

While not as commonly used as the FAFSA, for those colleges that do use it, completing the CSS Profile boosts your qualification for more financial aid, and who doesn’t want some extra money toward their college fund?

You may not realize it, but the CSS Profile is required by over 300 colleges.  It is very likely that one or more colleges in your personal top 10 list will need of the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA in order to be considered for all available financial aid.

Be prepared: Colleges that request the CSS Profile include those from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the well-known (Santa Clara University), lesser known (Whitmore College), large (Boston University), to small (Pomona) private colleges; even a few public colleges (University of Michigan) opt for the CSS Profile.

How is the CSS Profile Different than the FAFSA?

1)    Unlike the FAFSA which is spearheaded by the federal government, the CSS Profileis administered by the College Board.

2)    While the FAFSA is FREE, the CSS Profile requires a cost for submission ($25 for the first college and $16 for each additional college).

3)    The CSS Profile is now available online for fall 2015 admission.  Some colleges have deadlines as early as November 1, 2014 for Early Action and Early Decision applications.  The FAFSA only becomes available on January 1, 2015.

4)    Every college requires your submission of the FAFSA for consideration of anygovernment financial aid.  Colleges that ask for the CSS Profile require it to determine your eligibility for various non-government avenues of financial aid.

5)    Are you part of a two household family?  The FAFSA only asks for financial and household information for the custodial parent household.  The CSS Profile also inquires about financial and household information for the custodial parent household. In addition, many colleges request that the Noncustodial Profile be separately completed by the noncustodial parent.  For those colleges, an Expected Family Contribution will be calculated for both households.

6)    Colleges that call for the CSS Profile also will likely request copies of tax returns, W2s, plus supplemental forms for every business and farm.  Make sure you know the requirements for every college.  It’s important!.

Is it worth the time and effort to complete the CSS Profile and send in all your financial information?

YES!  Many students who do not qualify for government need based aid do qualify for college-specific financial aid.  You may be one of them!  These institutional funds lie dormant awaiting claim for many students who have income and assets that are too high to qualify for government funds.

Remember, you have to apply to even be considered.  To illustrate, here is a statement on Santa Clara University’s website: “To be considered for the full range of SCU-awarded scholarships and grants, applicants are required to complete a secondary application, the College Scholarship Service/Financial Aid PROFILE.”

Check the financial aid web page for EVERY college on your list.  Discover which explicitly require the CSS Profile and Non-Custodial CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA.  Confirm the related deadlines and submit the application before the cut-off date.

Applying for both the FAFSA and CSS Profile (where requested) guarantees your maximum potential amount of gift aid for college funding from sources other than a student loans!

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at 650-587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Johnson Cameraface


How to Make the Most Out of Your Summer Break

Boy Jumping out of the OceanSoon-to-be Seniors (and Juniors): We’re smack dab in the middle of summer, and now that you’ve soaked up some sun and clocked in plenty of R&R, it’s time to maximize your free time to its fullest.

While you’ve been rightfully savoring your vacation days, you don’t want to leave your mind rusty or completely fall behind on college planning. Once you’re required to again wake up at 7am each day and deal with classes on top of tedious homework assignments, your brain will most likely feel too burnt out to even consider college planning. With over a month still ahead of you, there’s plenty of time to space out activities that will exercise your mind muscles and get you one step ahead of the college planning process.

  • Indulge Yourself in a Few Books

    No, we’re not suggesting any lengthy Charles Dickens’ novels. You’ll get to those in English class (if you haven’t already), unless that’s your cup of tea, then go for it. If you aren’t an avid reader or classic literature enthusiast, try one that’ll give you some food for thought as you prepare for college, such as these listed on Washington Post’s “A Summer Reading List from College Admissions Counselors:

o   “How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)” by Cal Newport

o   “Going Geek: what every smart kid (and every smart parent) should know about college admission” by John Carpenter.

o   “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation” By Parker Palmer

Then relax with a light-hearted love story or a unique, thought-provoking tale:

o   “The Opposite of Loneliness” by Marina Keegan

o   “The Guilty One” by Lisa Ballantyne

o   “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World” by Michael Pollan

o   “Endurance: Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing
Want a few more suggestions? Check out the books listed on NerdWallet’sFavorite 2014 Summer Reading Programs.

  • Volunteer

    Take a minute to think about your deepest passions and interests. Feeding the homeless? Caring for the elderly? Whatever drives you, there’s likely a volunteering option that’ll boost your community as well as strengthen your inner spirit… and not to mention, your resume!

    Not sure where to start? VolunteerMatch customizes your search options by region and category (Advocacy & Human Rights, Animals, Children & Youth, and so forth).

  • Spruce Up Your Activities Resume

    Speaking of resumes, summer offers a great opportunity to not only build your activities resume, but also tally your current and past work. It’s very similar to a job-oriented resume: past history, skills, utilizing action words, but with less detail. It’s a quick way to show off your experience and passions.

You deservingly will relish in the splendor of 5-6 weeks school-free, but also think of summer as an open opportunity to mix relaxation with improving your skills and adding to your repertoire. It’ll not only strengthen your personal life, but also solidify your path to college.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

Photo Credit: Dmitry Kichenko


Stimulate Your Mind — Take a Summer Program!

SunflowerWith summer just around the corner, high school students may first bask in the glow of three months away from the stress of school.  Once that subsides, particularly for ambitious students, they’ll wonder if any options exist to keep their mind stimulated, prepare them for their future careers or possibly explore avenues they have yet opted to tread.  So what’s the answer?  Summer programs and internships!

Science? Art? Communications? There’s a Program for All of Them!

For our California pupils, here are a few opportunities orchestrated by colleges over the summer, extracted from the Los Altos High School’s College and Career Center that may interest them:

Academy of Art College in San Francisco
“Six-week intensive art program offers up to four classes either online or onsite in San Francisco. Get a glimpse into college life, meet other young artists and explore a variety of art & design fields. Note: Students staying in Campus Housing must take four on campus classes.”

COSMOS (California State Summer School for Math and Science)
UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz

“Cosmos is a four week residential academic experience in math, science and engineering for top high school students. Students can participate in one of the many clusters of the COSMOS program at any of the above UC campuses. Some sample clusters are Under the Sea: Exploring Marine Organisms and Their World, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering: Robots and Flying Machines, Medical & Veterinary Responses to Infectious Diseases, and Environmental Sciences and Experimental Ecology.

Students apply to one of the four University of California’s COSMOS campuses. — UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. Each campus may have a different focus.”

Digital Media Academy
“For grades 10 – 12.  Hands-on, project-based digital media, filmmaking and visual effects, music and audio production, photography and art design, programming and app design and robotics courses at twenty university locations, including Stanford University, University of Texas, South Carolina and San Diego.

Internship programs are also available, including:

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program
Palo Alto, CA

“An 8-week summer internship program open to high school juniors and seniors. Hands-on research under guidance of a one-on-one mentor. Choose from immunology, stem cell biology, neurobiology, cardiovascular medicine and cancer biology.”

J. Craig Venter Institute Internship Program
San Diego, CA

“Offers motivated high school students the opportunity to nurture their interest in science by participating in cutting-edge genomic research at the Institute. Interns are assigned to a mentor who is a member of the Institute’s faculty or senior staff. Each experience is tailored to the participant’s education level and capabilities. Interns are required to present a summary of their research/work experience to the staff at the conclusion of their internship.

There are also administrative internships available in legal, communications, library and environmental health and safety areas.”

ZOMA Worldwide
Palo Alto, CA

“An international internship program for high school students based in various industries in Shanghai, China. Must have completed sophomore you and have strong academic records and proven leadership abilities. Chinese language is not required by students enrolled in Chinese language coursework is preferred. Internships are available in the areas of high tech, marketing, public relations, advertising, law travel and hospitality and architecture. Bilingual resident assistants are on-site 24 hours for supervision and assistance.”

For a full list of both programs and internships alike, click here.

For juniors and seniors, summer programs aren’t the only way to best optimize your vacation: Schedule a time to take the SAT and ACT, e-mail your favorite teachers to request letters of recommendation and continue to whittle down your list of college choices.  In-between R&R, the possibilities to flesh out your student’s summer 2014 are limitless.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar or call us at (650) 587-1559.

 

Photo Credit: Matteo Angelino