3 Things Every Busy High School Student Needs to Know

What does an F-14 Tomcat aviator have to say to your high school student? 

  • Follow your dream, it's worth it.

  • Make academics #1 priority.

  • Learn to manage your time-schedule.

Here's a link to a YouTube broadcast from Commander Ward Carroll (USN, Ret.).

Before you click to watch, finish reading this. Make sure you notice the following facts about Commander Carroll's experiences.

  1. His dream was the Naval Academy. However, because he did not give his maximum best effort in high school, he was forced to spend a year at a prep school in order to earn admission to Annapolis. That was expensive in dollars, and in time an entire year of his life.

  2. At the Naval Academy his dream became F-14 Tomcat officer specifically he chose RIO (Radar Intercept Officer; second seat) due to a substandard eye test.

  3. Once again, by not making academics his #1 priority at USNA, he had to detour for another year in order to qualify for the assignment.

  4. A highly significant skill he acquired, however, and by his own testimony in the video, is the skill of time management. Commander Carroll remarks that the USNA intentionally overloads your schedule. You cannot do everything with equal attention. Therefore, you learn to prioritize and focus on "first things first." He states emphatically, that skill is invaluable in a combat aircraft. It will save your life!

Here's the reason I write this blog, and share Commander Carroll's wisdom. The greatest challenge I have in coaching teenagers to achieve their goals is their overly busy schedules. School, part-time job, sports, friends not to mention self-care such as sleep all add up to more than can be done in a 168-hour week. Then I come along and ask a 16, or 17-year-old to accommodate one hour (two at the most) per week. Crash and burn!

The facts are:

  • None of the students I work with plan to be professional athletes, yet everything in their lives seems to get subordinated to the practice and play schedules.

  • None of the students I work with is working their part-time job in their anticipated, adult career. Behind sports, work seems to get the next time grab. Even asking a student to notify an employer a week or two in advance of a need for a day free, is met with resistance from most students.

  • Success in our common goals (right college, right price, graduate on time with the right degree) can be valued, literally at thousands of dollars of savings, plus a college education with purpose for the future.

Bottom line: Commander Carroll's video is an admission of poor priorities, as well as testimony to the value of his military academy education.


Enjoyed this content? Here are other posts you might find valuable:

The 4 Year Myth -- Hidden Costs

The 4 Year Myth -- A True Story

Navigating the Pathways of College Admission and Financial Aid in 2021

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as college planning.

Why Campus Visits Deserve Your Time and Energy

Campus visits matter a lot!
According to the prestigious non-profit,
Complete College America, the second factor in students needing more than four years to complete their four-year undergraduate education is transferring from one college to another.

That is often precipitated by a change in major; which is the number one reason for prolonged, undergraduate education.

One extra year of college, in many instances, is the cost-equivalent of the first four years. You can look for the white paper, "The Four-Year Myth" (www.completecollege.org), and learn the details. I have also posted a 6 part series on the subject. You can check those out here - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

There are a few "must-do" activities every prospective college student must complete during their high school years (and before they start 12th grade). 
I have those detailed in my book
College is a Consumer Purchase, 2nd edition (now available for purchase on amazon). Among those are strategic, campus visits.

Remember, students live and work at the college of their choice, for weeks on end. If a student is not more than comfortable on that campus, it is nearly inevitable that he or she will leave hopefully to transfer rather than drop out. 

"The" pandemic (you know of the one I mean) further complicated campus visits. My current students, rising seniors in high school, are scrambling to complete a strategy for campus visits; one that has proven powerfully effective for more than a decade. The reason for the scramble, of course, is that college campuses were closed to visitors for more than a year. A virtual tour is great. In fact, it is one of the responses to COVID-19 lockdowns that represents an advancement. I am a fan! However, the virtual must, eventually, be followed up with the in-person inspection.

My recommendation to you is actually an urgent appeal. Whatever plans you have to change in order to fit in at least six, meaningful campus visits before high school resumes (August?), do it. The consequences of slacking off may include:

  • Great(er) anxiety a year from now (or whenever the student starts college),
  • Increased likelihood of transferring colleges,
  • Costs of a college education rising more than 50%, to as much as double.

Listen, you may be making a mental list of reasons why you can't align your summer to a heavy, campus visit schedule. Consider, as a counter-balance to excuses, that this is the most important decision for nearly every family. It is your student's first step along the adult path of life. My prayer is, that step will be made confidently, on the best path among the many choices facing you.


Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as Campus visits, college planning.

SAT - ACT: Take it, or go Test Optional?

"UNC System won't require SAT or ACT test scores in fall 2022" The Charlotte Observer, May 28, 2021, front page.

The headline may even be a little confusing, but the message can definitely be confusing.

The story is that the UNC System universities will not require SAT or ACT test scores for students completing an application to attend college beginning with the fall semester, 2022. Primarily, that means rising high school seniors (fall 2021, 12th graders).

The operative verb is "require." It does not mean that a score report will not be considered. In fact, ¶3 reads, "students can still submit . . . scores with their applications." For those of us who are English majors, the sentence should have used "may" rather than "can." Okay, sorry; we English majors are compulsive like that.

As I have written elsewhere, no particular score will get you into a college, and no particular score will keep you out. What the colleges are seeking is multiple points of relevant data to help evaluate the candidate. If you have a test score, and if it is decent, why not include that information with your application.

SAT and ACT Test optional
Here's an example from last fall, when test scores were also optional. My student took the SAT, not having taken a test prep class, and scored 1290 (660 Math, 630 Reading). He was in the midst of taking a test prep class with the goal of improving his score to (aggregate) 1410+. Then COVID hit and, well, you know the rest.

We submitted the 1290 and, in additional information, mentioned to planned test prep and score goal. The young man was awarded a Letter of Acceptance to every college to which he applied. He was thrilled when, the last of the five letters was from his first choice of colleges.

Would he have been admitted anyway? That's a question with no answer. It is also obvious, however, that his 1290 did not hurt. Furthermore, his stated goal (1410+) demonstrated the virtues of persistence and achievement. I am aware that virtues like achievement are currently out-of-fashion. You may want to receive my "List Of Important Questions to Ask" as you make your college list. You can receive that free download by clicking here.

In conclusion, if you are able to test, do so. It will give you valuable information, if nothing else. Your meritorious test results will also provide the colleges to which you apply another, favorable data point to evaluate you as a candidate.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as ACT, SAT, Test Optional.

The Best Way to Pay for College

What do you think is the best way to pay for college?

Well, besides having someone else pay for you . . . that would be nice. So let's talk about that for a moment. 


Here's the truth:

  • There are no rich people out there waiting to jump at the chance to pay for your child's college education.
  • Scholarships tend to fall into two categories: Merit, based on very low income; and Merit, based on exceptional achievements.
  • There are others, and they are often very narrowly defined as to eligibility.
  • Scholarship searches should be done no later than the summer between 11th and 12th grade. Deadlines for application are typically early in 12th grade year.


Remember, you finance every purchase you make. Either you pay interest to a borrower, or you lose the interest you could have earned had you kept the money invested. That is what opportunity cost is all about. Spend $80,000 for your student's college education, at in-state tuition rates. What could that eighty-grand, well-placed, have earned for you between now and your retirement? That is the true cost of paying cash.


  • Borrowing from the right source may, actually, be very efficient. Here's an example: You know you can earn 5% - 6% using proven, financial strategies.
  • Students can borrow (2020-2021 rates) at 2.75%
  • Why take money out of account earning 5% or better, when you could use someone else's money @ 2.75%?

I am not recommending loans, nor am I recommending paying cash. What I am advocating is that you consider all options; and especially those that an experienced college planner, with financial expertise, may suggest.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as paying for college.

How Much is a College Education Going to Cost You, Really?

The news is filled with stories warning about student debt, lamenting student debt, highlighting political promises to forgive student debt. I have yet to see a news story that reveals the true cost of a college education with or without loans.

One factor in understanding true cost is to add in opportunity cost. Another factor is missed income because a student took more than four years to graduate. A third factor is the one most people think about, interest rates.

Let's look at them in reverse order. Interest rates on Direct Student Loans are actually as low as current mortgage rates; currently 2.75% for students borrowing for the academic year 2020-2021 (FSA Student Loans). Furthermore, undergraduates hit a borrowing ceiling of $27,000 over four years. A $27,000 loan at 2.75%, amortized over ten years will incur a monthly debt service of less than $276.00. That is not crushing debt service for a college graduate.

Are you wondering, then, where all the stories come from about crushing student debt? The answer is found when students "need" to borrow beyond the $27,000 federal, direct loan. Then they go into the private lending market. Sallie Mae is a big player in that arena, and interest rates there can be as high as 12%. Here's an example of what can happen:

  • Wilma decides she must attend "Bigtime U" at out-of-state rates of $31,750.

  • $31,750 multiplied by 4 years is $127,000. She borrows $27,000 @ 2.75% using the Direct Student Loan privileges. The remaining $100,000 is picked up at Sallie Mae, and let's say her consolidated loan interest rate is fixed at 10%; amortized over ten years.

  • Total, monthly debt service is $1,586.00. Yes, that is one thousand five hundred eighty-six dollars per month for ten years ($1,310 to Sallie Mae; $276 to Federal Student Aid).

  • Furthermore, her Sallie Mae loan required a co-signor. So now a $100,000 obligation is sitting on mom's, dad's or grandparent's credit report.

We're not done. Hang in there. Keep reading.

If Wilma takes five years to graduate with a B.S. in something, that fifth year will cost her the full, out-of-state tuition, plus other costs; let's say $50,000. In addition to borrowing another fifty grand at current interest rates, she will not be earning $45,000 in her first career track job (The 4-Year Myth). Therefore, the cost of the fifth year is actually $95,000; nearly equal to the cost of the first four years. We have previously written a 3 part series on The 4-Year Myth. You can click here to read part 1,
part 2,
and part 3.

Finally, factor #3 is opportunity cost. Let's keep this simple and not even factor in the interest Wilma is paying. Let's just look at the principle sum of $177,000 ($127k for years 1-4, and $50k for year 5). If Wilma had put that amount of money into an investment account earning a modest 5% interest, compounding annually during her working career, she would have, at age 67, more than two million dollars to live on in retirement. I hazard a guess to say she will struggle to achieve that with her college degree, and $1,586 per month debt service.

You can find a better path. Be a smart consumer.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as college costs, education loans, paying for college.

Navigating the Pathways of College Admissions and Financial Aid in 2021

Pandemic Pandemonium

If you feel that the pathways of college admissions and financial aid are labyrinthine, I would not challenge you about that perception. "Straightforward" is an adjective few veterans of the processes would use.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines pandemonium as a chaotic situation (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pandemonium). Who could argue with that as apt, standing as we are just inside the doorstep of 2021? Sadly, for us all, the current pandemic is adding confusion to the chaos.

What were high school students (grades 10 and 11, in particular) doing at this time last year? They were marking their calendars for campus visits. High school seniors were making calculated decisions about at which college to matriculate, from among several letters of acceptance. Campus life was a much more exciting prospect to those seniors than to their parents.

Then March arrived, along with the national, two-week shut-down to flatten the curve. Longest two weeks of my life! How about yours? So many excited first-year students have suffered through "virtual" higher education, and many from their parents' homes. I wonder how many parents now wish their college student was, in fact, away at college?

What will life look like for current high school seniors, come August, 2021? I have no idea; nor do the colleges; nor does anyone I know of, save the Lord God.

Here are my suggestions for 2021:
· High school seniors plan on campus life, somewhat modified by COVID-19 restrictions. However, also develop an at-home contingency plan. That includes re-organizing space in your house to create a dedicated study room. Include purchasing a new laptop computer with software suitable to the demands of college. Ask your college(s) what they recommend; particularly in your proposed major. For example, one of my former students, and now a rising college senior, needed a very sophisticated software program, with correspondingly powerful processors, for her engineering classes this past fall. Her plan to share with classmates was cancelled by the fact that she could not meet with any of them, even though she was living in a university-owned apartment, conveniently off-campus.
· High school juniors double down on your efforts for campus visits. Contact the colleges on your "Top Six" list. Ask about visiting. For campuses offering "virtual tours" only, schedule an appointment for that (or get the dates those are being offered). Write down every question you can think of. You may find yourself online with just one or two others, providing you a valuable opportunity to get some personal attention. Furthermore, be certain you set foot on the college campuses you are seriously considering, even if it is a private, unscheduled and unofficial visit. It is important that you see the campus, walk around the grounds, and visualize yourself there. Does it feel like the right place for you?
· High school sophomores surely, I mean surely(!) by the fall semester of 2023 campus life will have taken some form of predictability. Therefore, rather than concentrating on "Where?", concentrate on "Why?" For what reason are you going to college? To what end? Is a college education essential to your career-plans following high school? Do you know what those career plans look like? Why not? Those questions, and other similar questions, are much more important than where you will fulfill your higher education; at least for now.
One last fact to mention, and that is regarding financial aid. Big, big changes are coming to the financial aid formulae for the college years beginning Fall 2023-Spring 2024. The changes do not favor the middle class.


Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as #collegeplanning, campus life in 2021, college admissions in 2021, Financial Aid, financial aid in 2021, Financial planning.

Merry Christmas! Your Child and the Christmas Child

Your Child and the Christmas Child

Second only to you is there someone who values and cares about your teenage children as they stand on the threshold of their adult lives, backs to their childhood homes, about to step forward, irreversibly and consequentially. That someone, in the existential sense, is me your college admissions and financial aid coach. Beyond that is the one who called me to my work, our Lord and Savior. In his name I serve you.

It is important for you to know that. At this time of year nearly everyone is caught up in some expression of observance. For me, Christmas is the right word, because the child born in Bethlehem is the right person to worship and adore. It is he who gives inexpressible and eternal value to your child's life. In a world in which prenatal life is widely disregarded, your child's life is of supreme value to our Creator, and has been since conception. It is that moral conviction that forms my relationship with the students I coach for college admissions and financial aid. In other words, it is not so much the "where" of college, as the "who" the young man or young woman going to college.

I hazard a guess and declare that all of the high school students with whom I have worked know, beyond doubt, that I value and respect them sincerely. It is important to me that your child is affirmed and valued. A primary aim of my work is that all of the teenagers know someone believes in them as human beings, as persons of worth, loved and admired for who they are, more than for what they have accomplished (or will accomplish). Your child is important because your child is present among us.

The opportunity I have to engage with teenagers at one of life's crucial junctions is a privilege I would have no claim to except by the call of God on my life, and your parental permission in my life. For all of that I thank you, and our Lord this Christmas.


Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Gear Up, Tenth Graders

You are at, or about to begin the winter break that coincides with Christmas and Hanukkah. For most of you there are (+/-) fourteen days in which to do as you please. It might please you, if you're a tenth-grader intending to go to college, to write out your plan for college selection, and to set that plan in motion.

In my book, College is a Consumer Purchase (available here), are listed the most common mistakes people make regarding college admissions and financial aid. Among those mistakes is they wait too long to start.

This article is intended specifically for students in the middle of their tenth grade year. A common perception is there is plenty of time before you have to start thinking about college.

Reality check! Twenty to twenty-four short months from now you will be receiving letters of acceptance (or not ugh!).

Suggested Outline for 10th graders in high school to begin college planning

Two years when you say it that way it sounds like a long time. Twenty-four months? Not so much. Think about everything else you are packing into those two dozen, thirty-day windows of opportunity. There are (at least) eighteen months of school, with homework. There are family vacations, sports games or dance, and similar activities. There are parties to attend, friends to hang-out with you get the picture, right?

Here is a suggested outline of what your plan might look like:

  • December, 2020 complete a professional career assessment. We use the Birkman Profile, administered by LEAProgram, Cincinnati, OH (www.leaprogram.com). It is worth every dollar.

  • January & February 2021 study and assimilate your Birkman report. Begin exploring the career suggestions, hyperlinked in the document.

  • March & April, 2021 continue to explore career options, and also identify college majors that would logically prepare you for those career tracks. For example, what major would you choose to prepare you to become an optometrist?

  • May & June, 2021 begin identifying colleges that are strong in majors you are considering. Universities, in particular, offer a broad array of majors. They do not support those departments equally, however. For example, a university that graduates 500 business majors is going to direct more resources that way, than to its social sciences department that graduates 20 per year.

  • July & August, 2021 Delve more deeply into colleges that look attractive. Contact them. Learn what are their key considerations for admissions.

  • September & October, 2021 Which entrance test will you take SAT or ACT? Do the colleges on your list have a preference? Ask. What is the score on either of those tests that will put you in the top 25% of applicants.

  • November & December, 2021 You are a year into now, and you are beginning to get a clear picture of why you are going to college (that is, what you will do with that education and diploma). You should also have a family conversation about what you can afford by what of annual, out-of-pocket costs.

  • January & February, 2022 Enroll in an SAT/ACT preparation class. That will consume most of the extra time you have for six to eight weeks.

  • March & April, 2022 You will sit for your SAT/ACT exam. Phew! Got that done. You also will continue (or begin) in-person, campus visits. A clear picture of your future

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as #collegeplanning, #collegeplanningtimeline, #tenthgrade.

Apply for Fall, Get Spring Semester. Why do colleges send "Spring Semester Acceptance" letters?

Why do colleges send "Spring Semester Acceptance" letters?

Are you familiar with the phrase "hedging your bets"? It describes a strategy whereby you reduce your risk of loss. You bet on more than one winning option, and reduce your chance of total loss.
Did you receive a Spring Semester Acceptance letter? Here's why and how you can approach it.

By offering some students Spring semester, rather than Fall semester admission, colleges are hedging their bets.

  • Colleges seek to fill every seat in the new, first-year cohort. Some of those students, a few, will drop-out, flunk-out, die (horrible thought); for whatever reason, create vacancies for the Spring semester. Colleges are not guessing, but rather forecasting based on decades of records.

  • A Fall semester drop-out represents a loss of revenue in the Spring. A Spring admit solves that problem.

  • Stats every college keeps them; and every college has to report them. The statistics in focus for this discussion are retention rates and graduation rates.

  • Both datum are required to be kept only on first year, Fall admits. Therefore, transfer students and Spring admits are not considered.

  • Spring admits are students who, by the college's reckoning, are less-well qualified academically and, therefore, more likely to leave the school short of graduation.

Your student has received a Letter of Acceptance, but for the Spring and not the expected, Fall semester. What does that mean?

  1. Your student is considered marginally qualified as a scholar for the college's academic rigor. In plain English, the college thinks they may be too hard for your kid. If you have other acceptance letters for the upcoming Fall semester, those options should be strongly considered.

  2. Your student will receive little or no financial aid, beyond what the family qualifies for based on financial need. The "scholarships" will have been given out to the Fall class. Even some federal dollars may be in short supply until the following Fall semester. That may be made up with financial aid in the form of loans (not really aid, but considered aid in the game of higher education).

  3. Most important, in this author's opinion, is the dilemma of what your student will do from June until the end of January. Students enrolling in a community college should check with the four-year school as to how those credits will be handled. Will your child now become a transfer student? Historically, that further impacts financial aid offered. Work? A great option, especially if your students saves most of the money for college expenses.

  4. Finally, and related to that last fact of what to do with the time, it is highly likely your student will not find the transition to be smooth. There are so many things shaping a student's experience of Fall semester admissions that simply cannot be replicated for the Spring admit. I am not speculating, but rather relating the experience of the few students I know who went ahead with a Spring semester matriculation.

Bottom line: decline Spring admission. Your child has better options.

Want to know the top 5 mistakes to avoid when sending your student to college? Be sure to grab your copy of our free download by clicking the button below! 

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as #applyingforcollege, #applyingtocollege, #collegeapplications, #collegeplanning, #financialaid, #howtopayforcollege, #springsemesteracceptance.

Why do colleges "Wait List" some students and what to do if you're on the wait list

Why do colleges "Wait List" some students? 

The answer is found in the principle that colleges are selling higher education services, and parents are the customers. That means that Letters of Acceptance are issued primarily for the benefit of the colleges. They accept who they want, when they want, how they want.
how to handle the college wait list

Colleges track their admissions data very closely, over decades of time. Those large numbers give them a very accurate picture of how many letters of acceptance are needed in order to fill every seat available. Remember, each seat in a first-year cohort is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of the student's education.

In the administrative offices, "yield" is the number of students who actually matriculate from among the greater number to whom letters of acceptance were sent. Let's take some easy numbers to help your understanding. 

Big Time College plans for a first-year class of 2,000. Their historic yield is 50%. Therefore, they sent out 4,000 letters of acceptance, and notify another 1,000 they are on the Wait List. Suppose this year they miss their yield by 1%; 20 students. Big Time College's wait list is now accessed. Starting at the top, they go down the list until they find the 20 students who will accept an offer of admission.

What is the top? The wait listed students are ranked academically from most-well-qualified to less-well-qualified. Those at the top of the list probably missed by inches a letter of acceptance in the first place.

Should you wait on the wait list? Probably not.

  • You will never know how close to the top you are.

  • You will not find out if you are chosen until the deadline for commitment has passed for the other colleges that accepted you.

  • Financial aid will be little or none, because whatever aid they had to give, was committed to those who were accepted in the first round, and who sent in their deposit of commitment.


Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies. Tagged as #collegeplanning, #collegewaitlist, #financialaid, #howtohandlecollegewaitlist, #waitlist.

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