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Building a Smart College Budget in 5 Easy Steps

Cutting CouponsSeniors: Keeping track of your everyday costs can be mind-boggling for students not particularly savvy at organization.

Financial preparation is one of the most valuable assets you’ll ever learn.  It not only teaches you irreplaceable skills, it also paves your bright path to adulthood.  A solid foundation will secure your independence.  No ambitious college-bound student would want to rely on their parent’s meager allowance forever.  The earlier you begin financial planning, the better!

If you create a clear-cut budget and stick to it, you’ll stay far ahead in the “paying for college” game.  But you may agree this all sounds wonderful and still ask yourself, “Where do I start?”  Follow these five steps and you’ll map out a game plan for your budget, monthly costs and how to pay for your overall college expenses:

  1. Pick a School.  Determine which school you plan to attend and when you hope to start.
  2. Calculate Expected Costs.  Make a list of all set (e.g. rent) and variable (e.g. entertainment) expenses, then estimate your average monthly cost of living.  If possible, include an emergency fund.
  3. Construct a Monthly Budget.  Using a budget worksheet will help (the University of Illinois provides a straightforward one, but there are many more circling around cyberspace). If needed, consider ways to lower college costs.  Then determine what to include when creating a budget for college expenses.
  4. Determine Fund Sources.  Money for school can come from any number of places. Be sure to explore all your options (parents’ savings, parent income, student income, grants, scholarships, other sources).  Keep in mind all federal loans require a payback with interest.  Weigh the possibility of a subsidized or unsubsidized loan.  If those aren’t the right fit for you, check out private loans.  PLUS loans are also available, but should only be considered after you’ve exhausted all other options.
  5. Calculate What to Borrow.  Available Funds – All Expenses = Your Projected Monthly Income.  This will give you the maximum amount that will need to be borrowed.

Once you’re done creating a budget for college, the real challenge lies ahead: being consistent and staying on track.  Limit your use of credit cards to emergencies and planned expenses.  Track your spending closely and be wary of peer pressure.

Little changes will add up to sizable savings, if you know where to shrink otherwise unnecessary expenses.  For instance, your instinct may tend to crave a fragrant blended coffee as you pass by Starbucks, but brewing a cup from home can make a difference of a whopping $3.  It may seem trivial, but when you’re on a tight budget (and an admittedly avid coffee drinker, to boot), it adds up quickly.  That coffee substitution alone would save you around $20 per week and $80 a month.  Take a look at this handy infographic from USA Today College for more money-saving tips.

Part of the experience of college is to prepare you for real life.  Forming good habits with money now will help you in the future.  Even if you’ve already begun digging yourself in a seemingly endless financial hole, it’s never too late to establish mindful saving habits.  So why not start now?

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: Tricia Adams


AP Courses… Are They Worth It?

Student reading a bookIt’s the time of the year again when high school students must decide which courses to take for the coming school year.  With college looming ahead, making wise choices is imperative in order to reduce time and money spent on college and to be competitive for scholarship awards.  But, does being “wise” mean that your student sign up for available AP courses?  With numerous articles both encouraging and cautioning AP courses available on the internet, I’ve attempted to summarize both sides below.

What are AP Courses?

AP, or Advances Placement, courses are college-level courses taught in a high school setting designed to challenge students above and beyond a high school level.  The requirements, workload, and exams are designed and regulated by College Board.

The Pros of AP Courses

AP courses are a good choice to consider for students who perform well in honors level courses (A’s and B’s) or for students who get straight A’s in regular College Prep classes and need or desire more challenging material.  Because AP courses are weighted differently than CP courses, students can increase their GPA as well as their class rank.  This could be beneficial when being considered for scholarships.  And, beyond GPA and class rank, taking AP courses demonstrates hard work which is equally, if not more, important to most colleges.

Taking AP courses also offers the opportunity to gain college credit by taking an AP exam.  Students who score above a 3 (on a scale of 1-5) are considered to be qualified to receive college credit for that course upon entering college.  This effectively can decrease the amount of time in college which, in turn, can decrease the out-of-pocket expense.

The Cons of AP Courses

With the rigors of AP courses comes a lot of stress, therefore they are not appropriate for all students; nor is it necessarily appropriate for a student to load up on AP classes that may not interest them just for the sake of increasing their GPA.  Most colleges prefer un-weighted GPAs and some might even request an un-weighted transcript or recalculate the GPA of core classes on their own.  In that case, earning a C in an AP courses might not be looked on favorably by a selective college.  This varies greatly from college to college.

Regarding college credit, that too varies widely from school to school.  Some colleges do not limit the number of credits that a student can bring in with AP courses.  However, other schools are more limiting.  Dartmouth college, for example, recently announced that beginning Fall 2014, it will no longer grant any college credit for AP examinations.

In summary, with over 30 possible AP courses available for high schools to offer, students have more opportunity than ever before to advance their education and potentially save time and money on their out-of-pocket expense for college.  However, a common sense approach to the number and types of AP courses taken should be utilized for each individual student.  Parents need to help their children evaluate what subjects interest them and how many AP courses they can take and be successful at while staying informed of the current policies for their college of choice.

Sources:

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/about.html

http://www.examiner.com/article/are-ap-courses-worth-the-effort

http://www.nytimes/com/2013/01/18/education/dartmouth-stops-credits-for-excelling-on-ap-test.html

http://www.usnews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2012/05/10/weigh-the-benefits-stress-of-ap-courses-for-your-student

This blog was provided by Emily Kelly of College Planning Relief from their March 2014 e-newsletter.

Photo Credit: UGL_UIUC


Merit Aid: Some Assembly (May Be) Required

Man looking at assembly instructions.Seniors: if you believe all colleges only require their application for consideration of merit aid, think again.

If you’re unfamiliar with merit aid, it essentially grants students with funding stemming from academic or other achievements, such as an impressive GPA or recognized honors, not based upon financial need.

It’s true that most colleges only request you fill out their school-based form along with the FAFSA, but about 300 of them signify you must also submit your CSS Profile.  To search for your top college picks and whether or not they need your CSS Profile, consult this College Board list.

Merit Aid Isn’t Always Automatic?

NYU is one of the few institutions that requires both the CSS Profile and FAFSA for all financial aid considerations, including merit aid.  A few of their scholarships may blend need-based and merit aid requirements, therefore the forms are necessary.

Special applications separate from the admissions form may also be desired, but typically only one or two, such as the Barnes Scholarship at Colorado College or Johnston Scholars at the University of North Carolina.

On the other hand, a total of 14 scholarships through the University of Michigan require individual applications.  They, like NYU, also prompt students to complete the CSS Profile regardless of merit or need-based aid.

Look Out for the Details

Unfortunately, you’re left to read the fine print.  Students and parents must scrounge through each school’s financial aid program to figure out special stipulations.

While not many fit into this category, it pays to check just in case the college of your choice does need the FAFSA or CSS Profile for merit aid.

If your student’s SAT scores are through the roof or they consistently receive top marks, definitely consider the possibility of merit aid to lessen the burden of college-related debt.  Just be aware of possible extra applications so they don’t miss out on the opportunity.

This blog was provided by Westface College Planning. For more tips and information, sign up for a free College Funding workshop or webinar.

Photo Credit: Sharyn Morrow


Gearing up for the FAFSA, Middle Class Scholarship & More

It’s December!  We reach the end of 2013 and what better time to get a head start on the FAFSA?

Because the application period for the FAFSA opens on January 1st 2014, the time sandwiched between the two holidays presents a fantastic opportunity to collect related documents.  This includes tax forms and bank statements, among others fully listed in this month’s FAFSA-themed Senior Scoop.

Waiting until the 11th hour poses the threat of obtaining very little student aid.  They cater to students in order of submission so it’s vital to apply as early as possible.

Middle class families may shy away from applying for the FAFSA because they believe they won’t qualify for any aid.  For these families, this month’s featured find is for you.  We indulge you on the requirements and details of the Middle Class Scholarship.  For the 2014-15 academic year, it has the potential to award aid to students of families with up to $150,000 of income.

Reserve a seat at a webinar or give me a call when you are ready to take your next step on the path to creating a clear college funding plan.  To avoid rushing or being shut out of opportunities, both financial and academic, having a plan is key!

If you have any questions, please feel free to join me on Tuesday, Dec. 17th at 12pm via Google Hangout, where I’ll be discussing tips on preparing for your FAFSA submission.  It’ll be a live video feed and allows you to ask questions throughout the broadcast.  Happy Holidays!

All the best,
Beatrice Schultz, CFP®
Westface College Planning
College Funding Specialist
650-587-1559

College Smart Radio CrestCollege Smart Radio:  Tackling the Runaway Costs of College
Tune in to 1220am KDOW – the Wall Street Business Network from 3:00pm-3:30pm every Saturday for my radio show, College Smart Radio – Tackling the Runaway Costs of College.  The show can be streamed live at www.KDOW.biz, too!

Curious what College Smart Radio covers?  Tune in Saturday, December 3rd when my guest Christine VanDeVelde, co-author of  “College Admission: From Application to Acceptance”, reveals insight on the seemingly impenetrable fortress of being accepted.  It’s not as impossible as many perceive.Listen in to the College Smart Radio podcast of a show last week when I spoke with guest Dr. Neal King.  He laid out the differences between non-profit and profit colleges, emphasizing which choice works in favor of your goals and financial benefit.

It’s all great information you won’t want to miss out on. Thanks for listening!

Girl laying head on booksFeatured Find: Middle Class Undergrads, Rejoice!
Thousands of middle class students suffer with a tremendous lack of financial aid simply because their household income lies above normal need-based aid.  For those of you in this category, prepare for some amazing news!  Governor Jerry Brown signed a California bill enacting the “Middle Class Scholarship” (MCS) program.It will help support undergraduate students with up to $150,000 in family income beginning the semester of 2014-15.  Otherwise, loans have been nearly inevitable, but the MCS will lend students within the middle class bracket more leeway.

Continue reading article here.

Upcoming “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” Webinars
Seating may be limited – Register to ensure your spot!

Most parents are not financially prepared to enter the most expensive time period of their lives, covering their child’s college education. Our 1-hour workshops provide steps you can take right now to assure you understand the cost of attendance and how you can afford college without jeopardizing your retirement.

Our next upcoming workshop is:

It’s reported that up to 70% of FAFSA submissions contain errors or remain incomplete.  This leads to delays and possibly refusal of obtaining student aid.  Don’t let yourself fall into this category!

FAFSA Teal LogoSenior Scoop: The 5 W’s to Buckling Down & Gearing Up for a Successful FAFSA
As we approach December, dressing Christmas trees with festive ornaments and enclosing presents in colorfully decorated wrapping paper, some muse about the upcoming year’s resolutions.

One in particular should rank high on your list, particularly for those orchestrating a smooth transition from high school to college: preparing for the FAFSA.

FAFSA?

While the majority of parents are overly aware of the FAFSA and its benefits, some are entirely new to the world of preparing for college. So, what is the FAFSA?

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) allows parents and students to submit a yearly application that leads to accessing and utilizing student aid money-grants, loans, and work-study, to name a few.

Continue reading Senior Scoop here.

Advice & Insight
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About Westface College Planning

If you are a typical parent with college bound students, you’re probably overwhelmed by all the research necessary to help your sons and daughters make the right choices and prevent overpaying for their education.

You are not alone!


Get the facts. Educate yourself to potentially save tens of thousands of dollars on a single college education. Parents of more than one child heading to college in the next few years, can save even more.

At Westface College Planning we work with families to help you plan for and navigate the “paying for college” process. We teach you how to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses, maximize financial aid eligibility, understand the best way to navigate through the college selection process and prioritize your sources of college funds to protect your life savings!

Sign up for a free workshop or webinar or call to schedule a complimentary college funding consultation today.

More information at westfacecollegeplanning.com.