November 2017 Newsletter

Planning for college: Perception vs. Reality

Dear Parents,

A few months ago, I told readers that I would be less cautious in my choice of words. The college application process is getting out of hand! The system has so many teens freaked out that the idea of applying to college is paralyzing. Perception is reality, and so it can be very difficult to put college planning into its proper perspective.

Our children– they still are, no matter what they say– think the stakes are so high to succeed, to achieve, to get into that perfect college, that it’s too hard to live up to. Tack the fear of failure onto that, and you’ve got a potential time bomb. A total meltdown. You’ve seen it with other kids you’ve known. It may have even happened to one of your children.

Surprisingly, for the most part, parents are not responsible for the state their child may be in. I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to set some boundaries– and do it early on. Give college the sense of proportion it deserves. Too many students dread the essay, personal statements, and the standardized tests so much, it’s hard to motivate them to do what is expected.

When I speak of perspective, think about how long we live and how long your child is likely to live. For them living to a productive 90 years-old will not be uncommon. With that much time to live life, is it fair to put every student on the same road? Is taking a gap year out of the question? Is gaining work experience before college something to be considered? In more than a few European countries, students don’t attend college until they’re about 22 years-old. And to make sure the student doesn’t lose their “study chops,” they can always take, for credit, a class or two at the local community college or through an accredited online class.

The Truth About Graduation Rates (and other statistics) Ever hear the expression, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure?” The U.S. Department of Education breaks down graduation rate percentages into 4, 5, 6 and 8-year cohorts or groups. The 6-year graduation rate for public colleges and universities is around 58%, and 65% at private nonprofit institutions. The 6-year graduation rate was 56 % for males and 62% for females; it was higher for females than for males at both public and private nonprofit institutions.

An average state university, like Ball State University in Muncie, IN has a 41% four-year graduation rate. We also know that 36% of students receive Pell Grants– which is quite high. If we consider that students on Pell Grants come from low-income families, and that even when that student receives quite a bit of federal and state aid, that it often isn’t enough to cover all of the costs of attendance. When this happens, over time many of these students are simply forced to drop out. Of course, there are many other factors in that drive those percentages (see below). What we can gain from this knowledge, is the higher the number of low-income students, the fewer will graduate, thereby dramatically bringing down the graduation rates. The lesson here, is there are many statistics when considering which college you will send your student. Knowing how they relate to each other and interpreting them correctly, can help you make informed decisions on where to send your student, and ultimately save you a great deal of money.

Mostly Avoidable Causes for Low Graduation Rates

Here are factors that often conspire to needlessly delay college students from graduating:

  1. Parents let them
  2. Students don’t go to class every day, fall behind, and then have to drop classes to prevent a hit to their GPA that endangers their merit scholarship
  3. Students change their majors too often and too late
  4. Students lose credits by transferring schools
  5. A lack of adequate funds or a family crisis keeps a student away for a semester or more
  6. Having a job that interferes with studying or classwork
  7. Student can miss or keep postponing required courses because classes fill up too quickly
  8. Schools can make it difficult by not offering enough classes for the most popular required courses
  9. State schools don’t always offer required courses every semester

High School Juniors: Test Prep Now

Chances are, that last month your high school junior took the PSAT/NMSQT. You’ll have to wait until December before you know their score, but instead of waiting– and losing– six weeks of test prep, see if they are receptive to getting into some classes now. Better scores not only mean increasing the odds of admission, but also increasing the amount of merit aid your student might be offered.

The financial aid process is currently a nightmare and is unlikely to change. The new IRS Data Retrieval Tool, or DRT, is used to transfer parent and student tax return information to their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is supposed to make the process easier and more accurate. Colleges also prefer that you use the DRT. However, there are so many problems with it, that you may want to risk making the process a little more involved to be certain that your tax information is properly reported.

One problem with using the DRT, is that you will not see what tax information transferred. In some instances, this could actually inflate your Expected Family Contribution or EFC. And only the colleges included in the FAFSA can tell you exactly what information that the DRT included. The good folks at FAFSA will be unable to tell you anything, so don’t waste your time with them. It’s almost better to send in an IRS Transcript when asked by specific colleges.

Another common problem is mismatched data or other errors with the Federal Student Aid ID’s needed to sign the FAFSA that parents usually only see when they attempt to finally file their student’s FAFSA. Fixing these problems can involve hours on the phone with a special representative at FSA.

I think that’s enough for this month. Next, I’ll get into the disaster that is the CSS/Profile. Completing and filing this form is like writing a novel on a never-ending roll of bathroom tissue. If I were bolder, I’d describe this in more graphic detail.

We provide guidance and advocacy to help you make avoid making big mistakes. Call us at 732-502-9700 or complete our short contact form to find out how to make your and your children’s dream of going to college an affordable reality. There are more trapdoors and landmines than ever before and often we ourselves are amazed how many.

Time is of the essence. If you haven’t yet put yourself in the best position to pay the least amount of money, the clock is ticking and time is running out.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

John Tillman

P.S. If you find this newsletter helpful to you please share it with other parents like yourself!