Writing a Magnificent College Application Essay: Where to Start

December 29, 2014

There are many tricks of the trade when it comes to writing a great college application essay. I want to share with you a simple task which you can begin now to improve your writing skills. If you are a freshman or sophomore in high school then perfect -- you will have even more time to improve your writing skills so don't delay!

One of my English professors taught his classes this trick. If practiced daily or at least several times a week it really helps to relieve writer's block and to get your creative juices flowing. Ready for the secret? It's called "freewriting". Sit down for 10 minutes a day and write! Write about anything you want. This is not a time to be concerned with grammar or punctuation. Don't concentrate on perfecting your writing just focus on getting your thoughts down on paper. Set a timer and write for 10 minutes straight. It's important not to overthink anything during this task. In time you will find yourself being more creative in your writing, your thoughts will flow more freely and your overall writing skills will naturally improve.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as college application essay, essay writing.

College Rankings -- Worth Reading?

November 5, 2014

Different news organizations and research groups publish "Best Colleges" rankings.  What use can you make of them?

  1. Understand their criteria.
    1. Some are more data-driven and, therefore, more objective.  Others are opinion-driven and more subjective.
    2. "Money" uses only data retrieved from the U.S. Dept of Education and from the schools own data, published in standardized format (to make school-to-school comparison easier).
    3. Some focus on outcomes.  For example the "Washington Monthly" ranks schools based on how many graduates enter not-for-profit, public service or government service careers.  Several others include job placement and entrance incomes to rank the schools.
    4. A few rely heavily on student reviews of their own college perhaps the most subjective analysis of all.  Others ask College Presidents to rate their competition.
    5. Somewhere in the fine print you may find the criteria used by each publisher.  That will be a helpful guide to understanding and making use of what you are reading.
  2. Let the lists inform you as to a "type of college" to search out.
    1. The most significant issue with nationally published rankings is how few colleges are mentioned out of a total census of 5,000 6,000 campuses.
    2. For example, a highly rated college in California may be of theoretical interest to a North Carolina family, but a remote practicality.
    3. That school in California, however, does have qualities and characteristics that can be found in similar colleges closer to home.  Your job is to find those other schools.
    4. The criteria of different lists also can help with different aspects of the decision-making process.  Before sending in your deposit to the University of Great-Expense consider (1) post-graduate outcomes, (2) campus culture and (3) net costs.  Those three, critical factors can be drawn from reading a variety of lists.
Thanks to Kim Clark at Money (kim_clark@moneymail.com) and www.ncagonline.org for making me smarter

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as Best Colleges, colleges, rankings.

Filter the Noise -- Hear the Truth

September 9, 2014

"Learning to filter out the noise so you can hear the truth" 

What does the quest for the right college have in common with the quest for good health? 

My email inbox is flooded with "stuff." Weekly, sometimes daily emails regarding different nutrition plans and various plans for fitness fill my screen. Which diet is best? The list and opinions seem endless. Fitness, too -- everyone claims their method holds the ultimate secret. 

I realized none of the information is useful if it isn't implemented correctly. If you choose to follow a diet that is so far out of your comfort zone that you will never stick to it then you will probably not see the results you desire. The same is true for fitness. What is the secret to success? Finding a nutrition and fitness plan that fits you! 

The same principle works with college planning. There is a continuing stream of articles, published daily, regarding the top paying majors and the hottest careers. This information can be helpful to observe current trends in the marketplace. However, it can also be confusing. 

High school students get lots of advice -- most not asked for -- what you should major in, careers that will "make you a lot of money". People's intentions are probably pure, but their advice may not be. Just like with my fitness and nutrition, you have to learn to filter out the noise. 

I recommend: 

  • Choose a life's vocation in a field you really enjoy and are naturally good at
  • Pick a major that folds naturally into that vocational choice
  • Pick colleges that are really strong in that major
  • Begin a relationship with the admissions people at those colleges so they know who you are and why you are interested
  • Give your high school years your very best effort -- you don't have to be a Straight A student to get into college; and a strong work ethic will attract attention. 
Student Services Director

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as how to choose a college, how to choose a major.

College Costs -- Options for paying

August 18, 2014

$24,000 every year that's what one, state-supported university publishes as the cost to attend for residents.  Out-of-state students add another $27,000 to make it $51,000 every year.
How do you manage to pay for that?  Heard of the 529 Plan?  It takes its name from the section of the IRS Code that stipulates its requirements and advantages.  Not a bad plan, in that you deposit money from your take-home-pay (yes after you've had your taxes withheld) into an account that, from then on, will grow without tax obligations IF . . .
That is a big IF. 

  • If you do not need it for something else urgent and expensive.
  • If those education costs line up with the approved list of expenses.
  • If your children attend college and spend all of the 529 account.
  • If your plan does well in the stock market.
  • If, when you need the money, the market isn't having a major correction.
  • If you do not mind paying a hefty penalty plus the tax owed if an if happens.
Let's just say, for the sake of conversation, you dodge all of that.  There is still the small matter of once you spend the money for approved college expenses, that's it.  All gone.  Account balance zero.
You managed to save $100,000 for each child.  Each child now has a college diploma and is looking for work, getting married, sprouting your grandchildren, trying to buy a house and all of those hundreds of thousands of dollars you had scrimped and sacrificed to save poof! -- are gone.
What if, instead of filling up that college savings tank full of money, and then draining it dry, you could have collateralized those funds?
What if your children, who earned the diploma, helped pay that all back as part of their future retirement?
In other words, what if your hundreds of thousands of dollars could have kept compounding interest while you used them as collateral to pay the expenses of a college education?

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies, Wealth Creation Strategies. Tagged as 529 Plan, college planning strategies, paying for college.

Tax Deferred = Tax Postponed

April 16, 2014


The link will take you to a splash of cold reality.  And I'm not picking on the current President and Congress.  Since the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1913 tax increases have been a way of life for "we the people."

Tax-deferred accounts not only postpone the tax due, but also the tax calculation -- and you will have no say-so in what that calculation is.

Is your retirement leaning on tax-deferred (that is to say, postponed) accounts?

I am available to discuss with you facts that may change your life in retirement.

Posted in Retirement Planning.

FAFSA - Get on it!

January 30, 2014

It's the time of year to complete FAFSA! (FREE Application for Federal Student Aid) We have included a few guidelines to keep in mind:
1.       The FAFSA must be completed every year. If you are already a student in college don't forget to complete the form for the upcoming year.
2.       You don't have to wait until you file your taxes to complete FAFSA. It is wise to complete FAFSA as early as possible as financial awards are often given on a first come first serve basis. Use last year's tax return to complete the form. You can always make corrections at a later date if needed.
3.       Every student preparing for college should complete the FAFSA regardless of their family's income level. Don't make the mistake of thinking your family's income level is too high. Financial aid can be awarded based on many different factors including number of children in college. Also, in many cases colleges will not give merit based awards unless the student has completed the FAFSA.
4.       Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is the FAFSA is always free to complete. If you find yourself at a website asking for money in order to complete the form then you are not at the official FAFSA website.
Completing the FAFSA is an important step in your journey to college. Having problems completing FAFSA? Are you still not sure where to begin?  We offer a one-on-one consulting session at no cost to you. Contact us today.
Hannah, Director of Student Services

Posted in College Planning.

Diploma or Career -- what are you seeking?

March 12, 2015

Which do you want a Diploma or a Career?

Probably both, and we agree. What if, after you earn your diploma, there are no career opportunities in that field? Current college students majoring in journalism and communications may be in for a struggle. http://adage.com/article/media/columbia-shrink-journalism-school-media-woes-mount/297557/

Why include communications majors in that? Because what jobs do you think many of those displaced journalists will be applying for? Our approach includes:
Career assessment with coaching
Future vocation opportunities (what experts predict about the job market)
Where those jobs may be and how much they are likely to pay.
Before spending $100,000 earning your diploma do you think it is wise to find out the likelihood of that diploma helping you in the job market? Read more

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as career, college, jobs.

Generation Z

September 5, 2014

There is a lot of information out there regarding Generation Z (those born from 1995 to present). Much of it is geared toward marketers who need to adjust their strategies in order to sell their goods. This information is of particular importance to me because Generation Z includes the high school students I work with on a daily basis. While there are many points to be made about this generation, quite different from Millenials by the way, there were three points that really struck me: They are eager to start working
They are mature and in control
They intend to change the world
Awesome! These three items alone will help ensure success in college and in their future careers. Among the students I work with the majority all have jobs or do some type of volunteer work. They are able to carry on an adult conversation and they have a fairly extensive understanding of the way the world works. There is no need to dumb down anything when talking to these students. They have desires to be entrepreneurs. They envision themselves having meaningful careers that impact others for the better. The goal of completing college is viewed as a gateway to fulfilling their dreams rather than simply acquiring a job and receiving a paycheck.

To Generation Z: The ball is in your court! You have the tools needed to be successful. Just looking at the three traits listed above makes it more important than ever that you carefully choose a major and a college that fits you. Forget college rankings and name recognition for a moment. Picture your end goal and let that motivate you as you make your decision. Remember you are eager to work, you are mature and in control and you intend to change the world!

Student Services Director Read more

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as Generation Z.

Money for College -- Dangers Lurk

August 8, 2014

Beware of Loan Programs with Fine Print

A recent email arriving in my inbox was from a major credit card company offering money for college expenses. Forgive me for stating the obvious but, be careful!.


That link recounts just one of the snares awaiting families who fail to exercise the utmost caution when dealing with the very emotional issue of sending a child to college.

We offer a helpful (dare I say vital?) & objective perspective. We are good at "finding money." Call us. Read more

Posted in College Planning. Tagged as college planning, college planning strategies, money for college.

Are Colleges Curbing Costs?

August 4, 2014

Are colleges curbing costs?

The North Carolina legislature recently approved the UNC System Board's decision to hold tuition increases to five per cent (5%). The legislature also imposed a maximum of fifteen per cent (15%) aggregate financial aid from total tuition revenues. What does that mean for students and their parents?

First, the 5% cap is on tuition. At UNC campuses tuition is generally only about one quarter to one third of the cost of attendance. I have not read that there is a similar cap on the other charges room and board, and various fees that every student pays.

Furthermore, how much is your family's income growing annually? Is it by as much as 5% every year? It looks like NC public school teachers will receive something around a 7% salary increase. How long ago was their last increase in pay? How much longer will they wait for the next one? In the meantime their children face annual cost increases to attend college.

I cite teachers because, in my mind, they are representative of America's middle class -- hard-working; limited options to increase their earned income; many single mothers; struggling desperately to balance the family budget with sharp increases in food, utilities and gasoline.

Second, financial aid has been capped at 15% of revenue. For most of the system campuses that means approximately $1,100 - $1,200 per full-pay student per year. It is important to understand what those numbers mean. For every student paying full tuition the school has about eleven to twelve hundred dollars to offer other students in "scholarships."

Such financial aid is not necessarily need-based. Schools use their discretionary dollars to entice students they want enrolled. Therefore, a student with strong academics, coming from a six-figure-income family is as likely to be offered that thousand dollar grant as is a similarly strong student from a family with i Read more

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

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