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.

2.  Asset Protection Allowance (APA) is a variable within the FAFSA formula.  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.

529 Plans -- yes or no?

August 3, 2015

A 529 Plan, should I start one?  We ( hear that question, or some variation of it, often.  There is no one-size-fits-all answer.  Consider these facts and factors: 

  1. 529 Plans - established by the U.S. Congress; run by states and by colleges.
  2. 529 Plan - an IRS designation relating to taxability and penalties.  Those two words should not be ignored.  Click the link to the relevant section ( 
  3. 529 Plan a cash asset available for college expenses.  Your Expected Family Contributions (EFC) ( may go up and your financial aid offer go down.
  4. 529 Plans - unlimited contributions allowed (subject to the parent/child gift exclusion; refer to the IRS Q&A linked above).  Large accounts, however, may leave an undistributed balance, which may be subject to taxes and penalties.
  5. 529 Plans may be shared within families; given to friends or anyone else.
  1. Conservative investment practices may mitigate market risk for a 529 Plans.  The flip side of that is a history of  modest gains inside of 529 accounts ( 
  2. Families with large EFC-exposed assets ( may benefit the most from 529 Plans for the tax savings possibilities.  However, the IRS gift exclusion allowance should also be considered (see Forbes article linked above).
  3. Families with high Adjusted Gross Incomes (IRS 1040, line 37) may also derive a benefit from 529 Plans. 
  4. If scholarships and college tuition concessions are of little or no importance, the taxes saved in a 529 Plan are worth considering.
  5. You have to spend the money on "qualified educational expenses," not necessarily on what you think your student needs for a particular year of college (a car; off-campus housing; airfare home at a holiday).
  6. Distributions drain the account The magic of compounding is eliminated.  
  7. Consider a college savings strategy that has the option of using your asset as collateral, while continuing to enjoy uninterrupted compounding growth.
Is a 529 Plan right for you?  The facts and factors discussed above, when carefully considered, will help you arrive at the answer.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as 529 Plan, Cost of College, Financial Aid, Save for college.

Hough High School -- Thank you!

May 7, 2015

Just finished talking with some of the amazing students of Hough High (Cornelius, NC).  Thank you Donna Davis for inviting us to present at Husky Time.  Here's the memory joggers we left with them as a hand out:

Planning Well is Part of Succeeding Well

  • You are what you eat
    • Your body:  the only one you get!
    • Whole foods more
    • Processed/packaged/fast foods less
    • Food journal record what you eat . . . AND
      • How it makes you feel later
    • Make new food habits (feel better perform better look better)
  • Pick a Destination before starting the trip
    • Career aptitude assessment
    • Earn Money (a job) or Spend Money (college)
  • Always give your BEST effort
    • Be worth more than you are being paid
    • Always continue to learn
  • Plan Campus visits
    • Do not apply if you have not seen
    • Look, listen, ask questions, keep notes
  • Only one option = no real choice
    • Best time to look for work is when you do not need a job
    • Apply to 6 to 8 colleges
    • ½ State colleges & ½ Private colleges
  • Being free means being accountable to your own actions and decisons
    • Communicate directly (you + boss  ///  you + college)
    • They are really nice people
We're here to help you

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

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 ( and 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.

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