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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


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


Financial Aid Calculators: One You’ve Heard About, Two You May Not Have

calculator3Seniors: As you search for necessary information required for the FAFSA, you most likely have ran into the idea of financial aid calculators, but what are they and how do they work?

Generally speaking, there are three calculators that colleges use: the FAFSA, Profile and Consensus, all of which abide by a set of rules:

    • Your family’s income and asset amounts are added into a calculator every year.
    • A chunk of your parent’s income (a minimal amount based on the size of the household) and a portion of their asset (typically $20,000 to $50,000 based on the age of the oldest parent) are set aside.
    • Once the entire calculation is complete, you end up with your “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC), defined as the estimated amount your family is expected to put toward your college expenses.
    • In the case that the EFC falls under the cost of college, the difference is your financial aid eligibility.
    • Keep in mind, Room + Board + Tuition + Fees = Cost for the child attending college.  Your EFC will be lower (not quite half) for each child if you have two children attending college at the same time.

So What About These Three Calculators?

As you’re probably aware, the vast majority of colleges utilize the FAFSA’s financial aid calculator.  Another formidable calculator is spearheaded by the College Scholarship Services Profile, which configures income and assets differently, aptly named “the Profile”.  While it is less common, about 300 colleges maintain it as their calculator of choice.

Finally, the third arose from a Section 568 Presidents’ Group, but only 24 elite colleges use this calculator.  It’s known as Consensus.  Considering calculator preferences vary between institutions, you will want to know which is adopted by every college on your list.

Major Differences

FAFSA      Profile Consensus
Overall Far more laid-back when compiling assets.  Stricter.  Stricter.
General Assets Excludes primary home value, along with your farm and small business. Counts businesses, farms, equity of the home, annuities and 529s. Includes the same as the Profile, but only considers home equity up to 120% of parental income.
Exemption Exempts a family from asset consideration if parents file a short-form tax return, totaling less than $50,000 of gross income (You should consult your parents about this one).  No exemptions.  No exemptions.
Separated Households Grants leniency toward divorced parents where the low-income parent holds primary custody. Grants no leniency toward divorced parents (Both incomes are judged). Grants no leniency toward divorced parents (Both incomes are judged).
Parent Assets Assessed at 5.6% (i.e. for every $100,000 in assets, your EFC is increased by $5,600). Assessed at 5% Assessed at 5%
Student Assets Assessed at 20% Assessed at 25% Assessed at 5%

 

Which One Should I Use?

That all depends upon your desired colleges.  While it’s safe to say that you’ll be crunching you and your parent’s numbers in the FAFSA, you may also need to employ the Profile or Consensus.  Make sure you know which formula (and financial aid applications) every college on your list uses.

If anything else, estimate your EFC with all three calculators (the FAFSA’s estimator is called the FAFSA4caster).  You may be surprised to find out that you may qualify for more financial aid at a college which uses one formula over another.

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: Lincoln Blues


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.