You Interview the College

October 19, 2015

Interview the colleges before applying.  A formal campus visit is the perfect time for that.  Develop a set of questions that cover the details of things most important to you.  Ask those questions and make certain they are answered specifically. 
Campus culture has changed a lot since mom and dad were in school.  Some campus policies are greatly relaxed, others are more restrictive.  For example, words that you may use commonly even absentmindedly  around your home and in your community may be taboo at some collegeshttp://(
 What are the school's Core Values? ( for example: 
Learn the details of the specifics behind broad and benign statements of 
ideals.  How are those values practically applied on campus, in the students' lives?  Remember, you're going to be living at this place for four years.  Make sure it's a good fit for who you are as a person.  The most expensive decision you can make is to transfer colleges.  It adds time toward earning a degree; and time is money. 
To reiterate: the college scene, since your parents graduated, has changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable to them.  There is no safe assumption about campus life, about course-work and about costs of attendance. 

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Choose Your College On Purpose

October 4, 2015

Will where you grew up impact your college experience? Will your grades be enhanced or will they suffer based on your hometown? If you have a choice, is it better to greet your favorite professor with "Hey" or "Mahnin" (that's Yankee for Good Morning)?

Dialect and Influences on the Academic Experience of College Students is a research paper out of North Carolina State University and published in The Journal of Higher Education. The report indicates that "students from the South or Appalachian regions face challenges of perception in university classes. " Their accent makes them "sound stupid." (Ouch! Right?)

That report underscores the importance of each student choosing thoughtfully and intentionally a college or university -- choosing on purpose.  Facts, rather than imagination, will serve you better. Campus visits are worth the time and money.

High school students from Hough, North Meck, Lake Norman Charter, Pine Lake Prep, SouthLake Christian, Hopewell, Mooresville, South Iredell, Lake Norman High, Davidson Day, East Lincoln and a handful of others in the Charlotte, NC and Lake Norman regions are where most of our students attend. When asked which colleges or universities they are thinking about, with rare exception, a short list of two or three are mentioned. Digging a little, it becomes apparent that the students' preferences are based on what they imagine the college is like, rather than on facts they know for certain, and impressions they have gained from first-hand experience.

Research online and e-correspondence plus telephone calls to the Admissions Office of a college under consideration are invaluable in making good decisions as to where to apply and, ultimately, where to matriculate. Every college that gains a spot on your "seriously interested" list is worth a scheduled campus visit. Your list of questions, prepared in advanced, will significantly help you make the final decision.

We know that growing up in the South produces a lovely articulation. We also know that Southern students daily accomplish the highest levels of academic rigor. Let's be very patient with, and understanding towards those who don't know those facts -- even if they are PhD's.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

"I've got a full ride" and other urban myths

September 27, 2015

Students say the most amazing things.  They say them to us, but the most amazing they reserve for each other.  Among them is, "I'm going to the University of Havagreatime on a full ride."  Also popular is, "I'm going to get a lot of scholarships instead of student loans."  A common delusion suffered by parents is, "We're planning on scholarships to help us pay for college."
  • "On a full ride" -- remember high school?  It is a professional sport in high school to "one-up" your peers; to put down your rival; to stretch the truth while talking about yourself.  Yes, there are non-athletic, full rides.  There are also people who win the Mega-Zillion-Jackpot lottery.  I do not know any of those people, but I read about them in the news.  In SWIC's five-year history we've had one student go on a merit-based 100% scholarship.  She was valedictorian at a private high school.  And, by the way, we know of another valedictorian from a different but equally prestigious high school who is attending a well-known university with $0.00 (zero) in financial aid awards. 
  • "Lots of scholarships" -- according to the U.S. Department of Education only about 1% (one percent) of all educational dollars comes from private scholarships.  Many of those are linked to very specific qualifications.  For example, in my Sunday, Sep 27, hometown newspaper there was an article about a local student who received a very generous scholarship which he qualified for as an employee of Autobell Car Wash, Inc.  Many scholarships, if not most, are attached to very specific criteria.  It is worthwhile to check, and apply for all you qualify for.  Furthermore, many scholarships are "one offs," meaning you are awarded them once and that is all.  It is important to let your financial aid office know that fact.  
  • "Pay for college" -- Money for college comes predominantly from parents' check books, from student and parent loans, from a university's own resources (endowment, and tuition discounts) and from work-study earnings.  We advise parents to be prepared to pay one hundred percent of the cost of attendance, minus any student loans their child undertakes.  Any outcome better than that is a plus!  At SWIC we help families do better than that, nearly all of the time.  However, there is more art than science in the achievement.  Furthermore, if you will scroll down to previous blogs, you will understand that it is anything but automatic.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

The Four Year Experience or a Diploma Leading to a Career?

September 23, 2015

Let's wrap up the conversation we started last week ( "The Four Year Experience at only $100,000 Each").  Students commonly give us some push back on the task of college selection. The student often has one university in focus; maybe two at the most. There is economic value in expanding those horizons.  

That is where mom and dad come into the action. The cost of a college education, at the end of the day, is a family decision. We [] can produce choices. Which choice is made, however, is entirely yours.

We have had families turn down a full scholarship (90% or better cost-of-attendance covered) and choose something more expensive, but closer to home. One family turned their collective noses up at a 50% scholarship (a potential savings of more than $120,000), because they had one particular college in mind and did not care what it cost. There are other, less dramatic examples, but the point is there is more to college selection than price.

Value is an intangible that not only will be considered by consumers, but should be considered. Value matters. Value is why SWIC does more than coach students in the intensive work of college choice. We also coach and advise parents on cash flow solutions. It is not uncommon for families to choose from the middle of the cost pack among the choices available. At SWIC we are actually very good at finding wealth transfers -- money people are currently transferring away unknowingly and unnecessarily -- and recouping those dollars to be applied to the out-of-pocket costs of a college education.

Regardless of what your final choice may be, our unwavering counsel is to choose a college or university with a degree program that will open a door to a personally satisfying and economically remunerative career for your student.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

The Four-Year Experience at only $100,000 each!

September 14, 2015

Students are buzzing about "the four year experience."  The fact that the phrase is repeated verbatim by our students indicates to me that it is the buzz around high school hallways; maybe even in the classrooms.  My question to we parents is, "How much do we want to spend to give our students an "experience"? 
Here's a quick run-down: 
  • Even at the better colleges, only about 6 out of 10 students graduate in 4 years.  There are some notable exceptions, but no college I know of reports better than about 90% 4-year graduation rate
  • At $20,000 per year cost of attendance (N.C. residents, in-state rates), and a good chance of the "four year experience" taking 5 years (or longer), $100,000 is reality. [more info
  • Cost of Attendance = tuition, fees, room and board, books and miscellaneous expenses. Between our students and ourselves all of that will be borne as some combination of cash outlay and education loans.  If a student gets some merit grant-in-aid (scholarships) to reduce the sticker price, good for them, and for us.  But . . .
  • Remember, in nearly every case scholarships (merit grants-in-aid) are based on four years, are dependent on maintaining an eligibility GPA, and may be lost if a student encounters any disciplinary issues.  In addition, if the grant-in-aid is tied to a particular degree program, a change of majors may result in the loss of some or all of the scholarship
Come back next week to read my concluding words [], answering the "So what shall we do?" Question.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Tim Tebow, the NFL and Your High School Student

September 7, 2015

Being the best in the nation is sometimes not good enough.  Consider Tim Tebow [visit website] and the NFL.
Read full story.

One lesson to learn may apply mainly to college athletes and a professional sports career. Another lesson, more widely applilcable, relates to the first question we ask our high school students, "What are you going to do the Monday morning after you graduate from college?" []  Put another way, focus on the 40, not the 4 -- the forty years of a working career after college, and not just the four, delightful years of college. 

College is wonderful, and a good choice for many high school students.
  College is also an artificially created and sustained community bearing very little resemblance to "the real world."  Just ask Tim! [view story]  

Tim was best in the nation as a college football player, a Heisman Trophy winner.  He competed for two national championships, winning one.  Everything he did in college was with an eye to playing professional football.  Sadly for Tim, he simply did not have the skill set to achieve his goal.  If only, while a scholastic athlete, someone had evaluated more thoroughly his skills and potential, he may have avoided the deep disappointments of the past several years.
Too few high school students move into their college dorm with a clear plan for the day after college ends.  Published graduation rates (barely half graduate within 6 years -- and student loan default rates [view stats] approaching 23% lend underscore the reality [read more].
At Succeed Where It Counts, LLC [] we provide each student with a formal career assessment profile.  We use the Birkman profile, and are happy with it. [] 

College?  Know the end-game before the kick-off.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Interview the College First!

August 30, 2015

Every family should interview any college they are considering applying to.  In the news is a case-in-point.  At least one professor at Washington State University ( threatens a reduction in class grade, even to the point of failing the course, for students who use certain, common words and phrases.  Those include such ordinary words and phrases as male, female, and illegal alien.  (
Whether you find this to be wonderful or horrifying, my point is simply that you must learn in detail what is the academic and social atmosphere of every college to which you plan to apply, and possibly to attend.  Your student must find his or her college a good, personal fit.  Campus visits are also invaluable. Otherwise a transfer may be in your future and an added year of college tuition, room and board and fees. 
Make up a set of questions that cover the details of things most important to you.  Ask those questions and make certain they are answered specifically.  

Another example comes from one of my students, a sophomore at a well-known state university.  One of her required courses is "LGBT Families."  Again, if that is within your cultural framework, no problem.  If, however, you would find that problematic as a required course, it is best to know that before applying, much less before matriculating. 
One of the points we make with parents is that the college scene, since they graduated, has changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable to them.  There is no safe assumption about campus life, about course work and about costs of attendance.

Succeed Where It Counts, LLC ( is committed to helping every student find "The Right College, at The Right Price, and to Graduate on Time with The Right Degree."©

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Three Changes in Financial Aid Every Family Must Know

August 25, 2015

Three "must know" financial aid changes:
  1. Perkins Loan program phased out. 
  2. Asset Protection Allowance reduced 
  3. Increased scrutiny of student debt
1.  The Perkins Loan program's $5,500 per year in guaranteed loans has not been renewed by Congress.  There will be no new loans offered after Sep 30, 2015.  Students currently benefitting from Perkins Loans will be "grandfathered." The Stafford Loan program remains active in both the subsidized and unsubsidized modes.  Students may borrow up to $5,500 for their freshman year; $6,500, $7,500 and $7,500 in subsequent undergraduate years. read more

2.  Asset Protection Allowance (APA) is a variable within the FAFSA formula. [see formula guide]  Its intended purpose is to fence off certain assets in respect to parents' retirement and old age.  APA amounts are based on the age of the older parent, and their marital status.  The scale has been cut dramatically for the 2016-2017 academic year reduced by 60% or more.   I can't give a specific number because of the variables, but, as an example, a family that would have had more than $52,000 protected from college expenses, will have that reduced to under $19,000.  For most families $33,000 put back in play to cover a college's Cost of Attendance would probably rule out need-based financial aid
3.  Increased scrutiny of student debt ( is a fact of life for colleges.  With default rates hovering around 20% the Department of Education is encouraging financial aid offices to keep loan awards to a minimum.  The result is that students may not, initially, be offered the full amount of the Stafford Loan they are entitled to.  Students may have to ask if more money is available.  Although student debt is a legitimate concern for us all, student loans can be effectively leveraged by some families to better manage their cash flow during the college years.  
Succeed Where It Counts, LLC is an independent college admissions and financial aid coaching company.  We help students find the Right College, at the Right Price, and to Graduate on Time with the Right Degree.  We can't make college free, but we can help make it affordable.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Financial Aid -- FAFSA Changes

August 17, 2015

Financial Aid, also called "money for college," begins with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid  This BLOG makes three, important points for high school seniors and their parents.

  1. FAFSA is essential to receiving any financial aid
  2. FAFSA has some changes, so start now
  3. Succeed Where It Counts, LLC ( will help you (no charge/no obligation).
FAFSA Essential For Receiving ANY Financial Aid
  • Every student is eligible for financial aid consideration, regardless of grades, test scores and family finances (wealthy or poor).  Every college participating in the Federal Student Aid program ( requires a completed FAFSA in order to make a financial aid offer. 
FAFSA Changes Call for an Early Start
  • Changes include creating an account with a username and password.  The use of a PIN (Personal Identification Number) has been eliminated.  Every student creating an account needs a unique email (one not shared with anyone else who will be accessing the account).  Every student will complete challenge questions for security purposes; and input his/her Social Security number.  That number will be verified by the Social Security Administration.  The U.S. Department of Education recommends creating your account well in advance of needing to complete the FAFSA form (January).

Succeed Where It Counts will help with FAFSA -- no charge and no obligation
  • Conforming to the U.S. Department of Education guidelines, Succeed Where It Counts, LLC offers to help any family complete FAFSA, as a public service and free-of-charge.  Please contact us early to schedule your appointment.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

National Conference/Campus Tour

August 8, 2015

National College Advocacy Group ( helds its annual conference in Los Angeles, CA August 4 - 5, with an optional campus tours of Loyola Marymount University ( and Otis College of Art and Design ( on August 6.  I was there.  We all benefit.

Among the presenters were:

Takeaways inlcude:
  1. Be a smart consumer of higher education.  Costs can be mitigated.
  2. College application essays are important and should be prepared for as one would a final exam.
  3. College representatives are really nice people, and they care about students.  They also get paid by their college, so they are not objective resources, but they have integrity as to the students they speak to.
  4. Federal Loans are not simple to understand.  Ask for help especially after graduating college -- ask for help right away!
  5. ACT enjoys ascendancy at the present.  Prep resources are available (
  6. Athletic grants-in-aid are a special category.  Seek out a professional who specializes (and often were themselves student-athletes).
  7. Loyola Marymount is an enchanted spot on the map (  For the super-smart it can be affordable.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

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