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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


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


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