Interview the College First!

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

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

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

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?

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.

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