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Top Three Lessons I’ve Learned to Shake Out of the End-of-Semester Slump

By Enya Daang   There are some days when you get everything on your to-do list done and you feel unstoppable. Then there are days when you know you have countless number of things to do, but the motivation to get them done is just out of reach. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. With finals quickly approaching, this is a hole you don’t want to find yourself in. Luckily, I’ve come up with my top three lessons to shake yourself out of your end-of-semester slump!

Change Your Environment

An effective trick when you are having a hard time keeping your mind focused on a task is to change your location. This allows you to take a step back and see what work you’ve done and what is left to do as you settle back down. It’s basically a reset button for when you’ve become too comfortable in one setting. Personally, I move to a completely different room because it gives me a chance to stretch and walk around for a bit before getting back to work. Now, be careful. Try not to move to a place where you will most likely be hanging out with friends or be distracted by the noise! Remember, you are trying to be productive.

Find What Time You Are Most Productive

The beauty of college is that your schedule is incredibly more flexible than in high school. Coming into college, I naively thought I could make myself sit down and be productive for hours at a time, at any time of the day. I did manage to work for several hours at a time, but it was a struggle to keep focused and to retain the information that I was learning. The secret here is to figure out what time of the day you have the most energy and plan your day accordingly so you can maximize the amount work you get done. After several days of logging my energy levels throughout the day, I discovered that I am most productive during the late morning and early afternoon. With this in mind, I always put the work that requires the most thinking during those times. Try it out!

A Word on Scheduling

Planning out your day is one of the most important things you can do when you study. It is the running start you need right before diving into the work you had set out to do and, most of the time, it will keep you on track. However, scheduling can be a little tricky. When you make your schedule too detailed and structured, you are most likely going to miss a couple of tasks and take it as an excuse to give up on working all together.

A good way to avoid this is to find a balance between structure and flexibility that works best for you. There are some people who need to plan out the exact time and location while others just go with the flow. On most days, I give myself a general idea of what I want to accomplish in a certain amount of time, but leave enough room in the day to finish the work that I did not get done, if I have any.

Keep your head up, follow the top three lessons and study hard these next couple weeks! You’ve got this.

Enya is a technology intern at GiveTeens20®. Although her hobbies include photography and solving rubix cubes, her heart always belongs to math and sharpening her programming skills!


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


The Money-Hungry Monster of Textbook Prices

Textbook PricesImagine this scenario: You’re a newly accepted freshman wrought with a sense of anticipation and wonder as you hit the “submit” button to finalize your class roster.  To fully prepare for your upcoming venture, you view your college’s bookstore website to add up prices.  Then you sit, horrified and wide-eyed as your textbook cost amounts to $300, $400, or $500+ for the required materials.

This number may be particularly shocking for California community college (CCC) attendees, who intentionally avoided excess cost for their initial 2-year courses spent at a CSU or UC.  Instead of shelling out over $13,000 per year for a CSU in-state tuition, the average a CCC student can expect is around $4,000.  So they accept their $1,000 to 2,000 or so fee for the term, only to realize that books alone could reach up to $600 or more that semester.  That’s 40% of their tuition.  Talk about excessive!

Unimaginable Price Jumps

As pointed out by the Wall Street Journal, the book “Principles of Economics” forces students to pay at least $250 for that single text.  Many students end up covering textbook costs using their own money.  If they clocked in 35 hours of minimum wage earns, they could afford that book, but compared to 1982, a book with that information cost $20.  With minimum wage at $3.35, it instead took merely six hours to cover the cost.

To put the massive sticker price jump into further perspective, let this digest for a minute: In the past 30 years, textbook prices have swelled up—get ready for it—a whopping 812%.

Underlying Reasoning

If you get the chance, unfold the front cover of a classroom textbook and see if you can find its retail price hidden anywhere among the usual publishing details.  We can almost guarantee that’ll be a futile venture.

While publishers purposely leave out the wholesale price, teachers and students fail to question it further.  The allure of used and rental opportunities beckon penny-pinching students, but unfortunately, additional features like online quizzes (via SAM or other mediums) can only be accessed using a code, either bundled with a pricey brand-new book or as a stand-alone code.  It seems silly, but you could purchase what you think is a full-fledged text, and find yourself $200 deeper in debt for a piece of paper typed with an activation key.

Instructors choose these routes because of the beneficial features to save them time: PowerPoints, pre-made exams, and other helpful materials… but these are for the teacher’sconvenience.  Despite the outrageous sticker prices, instructors accept it as necessity, and thus render students unable to bypass the extra cost.  With the focus on rising tuition costs, textbooks become a side-product of the higher education inflation.  At what point will we start raising our voices and pushing back to what’s considered unreasonable?  900% inflation?  1,000?

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: Jeff Krause


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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10 Things to Consider in College As Told by a Recent Grad

Hello GT20 readers. Today’s post will be different. It will still be informative (hopefully!) but more conversational. For some of you, college is right around the corner. This post is for you.

In retrospect, college gave me the best four years I could ever ask for. It was engaging, challenging and eye-opening. Yes, from time to time there were tears, but also a lot of laughter. I have made a lot of good memories with some unforgettable people, and I have learned a lot about myself.

Throughout my years in college, I have learned a few lessons that I would like to share with you all. In no particular order, here are 10 things to consider in college, as told by a recent grad.

1. Take some classes for pure enjoyment.

The nice thing about college is that you can pick and choose what classes you want to take. College is a nice time to explore your interests. If you can, take some classes that sound fun to you. Going to class is a lot better when you enjoy what you are learning.

 2Join clubs and/or organizations.

College is not only a nice time to explore your interests, but it is also an opportunity to meet new people. Joining clubs or organizations are great ways to do this. There will be a club or an organization for almost anything. Find something you enjoy and hang out with people that enjoy it too!

3If your school has a recreational center, take advantage of it.

In college, the one thing that I regret was not using the recreational center as much as I would have liked. You are in fact paying for it through your tuition fee, so why not use it? It is important that you take care of yourself and stay healthy.

4. Network.

Trust me, it is never too early to start networking. If you are not on the social networking website LinkedIn®, it is time to create a profile and get connected with classmates, teachers and mentors. This website allows you to connect with people in your professional world, find job opportunities, and gain insight about your career. It is one of the best networking tools out there so take advantage of it! Your future-self will thank you for this. Once you graduate, it is not who you know, but who knows you.

5. Pay attention in class.

You do not have to be a perfect student, but make sure you know what is going on in your classes. If you have questions for your professor, make sure you ask them. Getting an A in the class means nothing if you do not retain any of the information.

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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


Life After High School: 4 Alternatives to College

Going to college right after high school is not for everyone and that is okay. The important thing is that you are constantly learning and growing as a person. Actress Natalie Portman once said, “I don’t love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful.” Learning is beautiful and people learn in different ways. Some may find learning in a four-year college, while others may find it in volunteer work. That is the beauty of learning–it is everywhere. If you feel like college may not be the right path for you, here are four alternatives to college.

 

1. Volunteer

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

If you are unsure about your future and the idea of college, volunteering could be an option for you. Not only is it a great way to give back and do some good in the world, but it also teaches you about compassion, humility and selflessness. Through volunteer work, you can learn about social issues, and gain a great amount of life and work experience.

Here are a few programs that might interest you:

AmeriCorps: Here, you can volunteer to become a mentor, build homes, clear trails and many more. Members serve in nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups. There are many programs within AmeriCorps such as the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and AmeriCorps State and National.

Habitat for Humanity: In this program, volunteers build homes worldwide for those in need.

If the two above does not interest you, check out Idealist.org for more volunteer opportunities.

Lastly, look around locally and see if there are any organizations that you would like to get involved with.

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