Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

Boost your chances for college financial aid with these FAFSA tips

by Grace

Lynn O’Shaughnessy offers some excellent FAFSA tips that can help maximize your chances of getting financial aid.

1. Don’t provide retirement assets
Families can dramatically hurt their chances for financial aid if they include assets from their 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts, 403(b) and other qualified retirement accounts on the FAFSA. The financial aid form only requires that you share non-retirement assets.

2. Don’t include business assets
Parents who have a family-owned and controlled small business do not have to report the company’s net worth on the FAFSA if it has fewer than 100 full-time employees.

3. Skipping deadlines
Colleges impose deadlines on families to submit their financial aid forms, and these dates can be much earlier for students applying through early decision and early action options. Find out what the deadlines are, and don’t miss them.

4. File early
Although there are essentially no federal deadlines for seeking financial aid, states do impose deadlines for families who hope to qualify for financial aid through their state programs. State deadlines can be as early as February. In some states, aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s best to file your FAFSA well ahead of the state deadline.

5. Seek help
Confused? FAFSA staffers can help. You can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via online chat, phone or email. Here’s where to find the financial aid contact information.

6. List the most current marital status
You need to provide your marital status — divorced, separated or married — on the day that the FAFSA is filed. Separated and divorced parents will sometimes enjoy a financial aid advantage.

7. Have the right parent complete the FAFSA
In families of divorce, the parent who has taken care of the child during the majority of the 12 months dating from the day the FAFSA is submitted is considered the custodial parent. This can be especially advantageous in families when one ex-spouse earns significantly less than the other. Ideally, the child would live with the lower-earning parent for at least six months and a day. This parent would complete the FAFSA, and the other parent’s income would not be included. If the custodial parent remarries, however, the income from the new spouse would also be included on the FAFSA.

8. Avoid blank answers
If the answer to a question is zero or not applicable, write “0” or “Not Applicable” on the online form. Leaving blank answers can cause miscalculations.

9. Pay attention to graduation rates
When you complete the FAFSA and designate that the application be sent to specific schools, the FAFSA website will provide you with the graduation rates of each school on your list. Try to avoid schools with low graduation rates.

10. Don’t inflate your education
Plenty of schools will give applicants brownie points if they are considered first-generation college students. If parents didn’t graduate from college, select “high school” as the highest education attainment.

Regarding #7:  Every week it seems I hear about another variation that raises doubts about who the “right parent” is.
The latest one was a case where the parents are divorced and the student lived with a grandparent for most of the past year.  The answer hinges on which parent actually has legal custody, but there may be other mitigating factors.  It can get complicated, and sometimes it is advisable to notify the college about unusual circumstances.

January 30, 2012

Put kids to work to fix the problem of delayed adolescence

by Grace

Reason for delayed adolescence is that prefontal lobes aren’t properly exercised
Psychology professor Alison Gopnik offers a solution for the problem of delayed adolescence among young people, many of whom are spending their twenties in directionless and unproductive activities.  Here’s the root of  the problem.

 … contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups

The solution
We need to treat kids more like grownups in giving them the kinds of experiences they will face as adults.  Experiences where they must achieve a real goal in real time.  School apparently is not doing this for most kids, so we must give give them other tasks such as cooking, caregiving, and even jobs.

A Berkeley professor and Newt Gingrich agree that we should make children work?  Amazing.

Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship. AmeriCorps, the federal community-service program for youth, is an excellent example, since it provides both challenging real-life experiences and a degree of protection and supervision.

Nature vs nurture – The argument is that experience can significantly alter the development of the prefontal lobes, thereby playing an important role in reversing this trend of delayed adulthood.

This new explanation also illustrates two really important and often overlooked facts about the mind and brain. First, experience shapes the brain. People often think that if some ability is located in a particular part of the brain, that must mean that it’s “hard-wired” and inflexible. But, in fact, the brain is so powerful precisely because it is so sensitive to experience. It’s as true to say that our experience of controlling our impulses make the prefrontal cortex develop as it is to say that prefrontal development makes us better at controlling our impulses. Our social and cultural life shapes our biology.

Second, development plays a crucial role in explaining human nature. The old “evolutionary psychology” picture was that genes were directly responsible for some particular pattern of adult behavior—a “module.” In fact, there is more and more evidence that genes are just the first step in complex developmental sequences, cascades of interactions between organism and environment, and that those developmental processes shape the adult brain. Even small changes in developmental timing can lead to big changes in who we become.

The role of schools
No doubt our expectations and actions often infantilize children.  I do think that part of this is in reaction to the academic pressure coming from misguided public school policies.  For example, pushing developmentally-inappropriate literacy skills down to younger grades can cause parents to become over-involved and overprotective of their  children.  Similarly, assigning elementary students projects requiring advanced Internet skills and organizational abilities can establish a trend for excessive parental involvement in their children’s school work.

In a similar vein, Brett Nelson at Forbes proposes  “grownup training”  to help young people on their road to maturity.

… Specifically: six months spent working in a factory, six in a restaurant, six on a farm and six in the military or performing another public service such as building houses, teaching algebra or changing bedpans. (Of course, mandated military or civil service between high school and college is nothing new. Austria, Brazil, Finland, Greece, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam all require between six months and two years of service. Israel demands three years from its men and two from its women, after which many would-be undergrads take what the English call a “gap year” to travel the globe before heading off to college.)

HT Joanne Jacobs

January 27, 2012

Reynolds’ Law explains why we should not subsidize college for all

by Grace

“Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.”

Glenn Reynolds explains why taxpayer-subsidized college education (and home ownership) for all is not a good use of our money.

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

Megan Mcardle expresses a similar sentiment.

 “it’s all too common for well-meaning middle class people to think that if the poor just had the same stuff we do, they wouldn’t be poor any more (where ‘stuff’ includes anything from a college education to a marriage license to a home). But this is not true. . . . If poor people did the stuff that middle class people do, it’s possible–maybe probable–that they wouldn’t be poor. But this is much harder than it sounds.”

In a previous post I noted that it is not the college degree in and of itself that causes college-educated women to marry at higher rates.

January 26, 2012

College Goal Sunday helps students obtain financial aid

by Grace

College Goal Sunday is a program dedicated to assisting students and families in accessing financial aid for college.  Events are held nationwide where students can go to:

  • Get free on-site professional assistance filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.
  • Talk to financial aid professionals about financial aid resources and how to apply.
  • Get information regarding state-wide student services, admission requirements, and more!

Check out their website to find a location near you.  Act quickly because you must pre-register and some sites are very popular.  I will be at the New Rochelle College Goal Sunday on February 12, but it has filled up and is no longer accepting registrations.  Yonkers is nearby and still has open slots.

(Cross-posted at Kitchen Table Math)

January 25, 2012

Don’t wait too long to request college financial aid

by Grace

SmartMoney‘s 10 Things Financial Aid Offices Won’t Say is a gold mine of wisdom for families seeking financial aid.  The entire list is good, but the first item is particularly timely.

1. “You waited until April? Sorry, we gave your money away.”

At first glance, the amount of financial aid available to students seems like a goldmine. According to the College Board, graduate and undergraduate students received more than $168 billion in aid during the 2008-09 academic year; more than $109 billion came from the federal government alone not including education tax benefits. But thanks to the down economy, competition for that money is expected to be tougher for the coming year. Don’t miss out on aid because of confusing deadlines for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Available at, the form must be completed to be considered for government grants and loans and both the government and prospective schools will review it. The federal deadline on the form is June 30, 2011, but schools’ financial aid deadlines listed in the colleges’ materials are as early as this February.

“Families need to submit their financial aid info as soon as they can after Jan. 1, preceding the student’s freshman year,” says Barry Simmons, director of university scholarships and financial aid at Virginia Tech. While the FAFSA asks for the previous year’s tax information a common reason parents postpone applying until April parents can estimate tax figures based on last year’s return and update them later.

A financial aid administrator posting on CollegeConfidential puts it this way.

Aid is limited, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I would tell you that.

Another reminder that January is a good time to file your FAFSA.

January 24, 2012

Apple iBooks 2 – Is easier and flashier always better for learning?

by Grace

Apple announced it would update its iBooks platform to include textbook capabilities.

iBooks 2 was introduced last week, and I can’t help but get excited.

… a new textbook experience for the iPad. The first demonstration showed what it’s like to open a biology textbook, and see an intro movie playing right before you even get to the book’s contents. When you get to the book itself, images are large and beautiful, and thumbnails accompany the text. To make searching easier, all users need to do is tap on a word and they go straight to the glossary and index section in the back of the book.

Navigating pages and searching is easy and fluid, and at the end of each chapter is a full review with questions and pictures. If you want the answers to the questions, instead of searching for a page toward the back of the book, all you need to do is tap the answer to get immediate feedback.

Need to take notes? Apple now lets anyone highlight any text on the page using your finger. iBooks 2 immediately and automatically takes your highlighted notes and turns them into flash cards for later studying.

Okay, I’m salivating just thinking about how easy this will be to use.  But I wonder about the downsides.  Remember, there are always downsides.

I’m taking a self-study continuing education course right now, using an e-textbook.  When I need to look up a term in the book, it’s easy to do a quick search without having to know the context, without having to think much about it.  But if I had to search the old-fashioned way, I would be forced to consider what chapter or context would likely include the term.  I would have to think more and in different ways – assess, infer, predict, recall, reason, apply logic, and more.  It would not be as easy as simply typing in a word and letting the search function find it for me.*  Does this make a difference in how I’m learning?  Yes, I believe it does.  And while I don’t know exactly how it’s different, I strongly suspect there’s a downside.  Does the overall improved efficiency make up for the decreased amount of critical thinking?  I just don’t know.

Here’s my question in a nutshell.  Even if it’s easier to go through the course material, is it possible that I am actually learning less?

* Yes, a paper book typically has an index that can be used in a manner similar to an ebook search function, but it usually requires more thinking skills to use as efficiently.

A more basic problem for public schools:  In order to buy and read these textbooks, each student will have to own an Apple iPad.

Related:  Kindle Fire – the end of deep and focused reading?

January 23, 2012

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – FUNCTION OF A PARAGRAPH

by Grace

Although I’ve lost some momentum in getting through my writing project, today I’m going back on track to write about the next segment.  The topic is the all-important “function of the paragraph” as explained in Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point (For new readers, this is my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, explained in my initial post in this series.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

First, let’s look at the Kerrigan X-1-2-3 sentence structure, and relate it to the more traditional names used by instructors.

Traditional names for X-1-2-3:
—  X is commonly called a thesis sentence, thesis, thesis statement, main idea, or theme sentence
—  1-2-3 are topic sentences

Function of a paragraph:

… a paragraph is a group of sentences whose only function is to provide specific, concrete details for the thought expressed in its topic sentence.

This is very important!  Don’t include extra stuff in your paragraph, even if it sounds good!  I suspect many developing writers break this rule often, resulting in less coherent, wordy, rambling essays that distract and tire the reader while failing to clearly make their point.  [This blogger is guilty as charged!]

I like this passage, having seen young writers struggle this way.

If writing seemed to you, before you began to study this book, a process of putting down one thought, then thinking of another thought and putting it down, then racking your brains to think of still another; then a paragraph, for you, meant an indentation marking some greater break in thought than occurs between sentences. *

By the way, the punctuation (especially the semicolon) in the sentence quoted above intrigues me, but I’ll not explore further for now and just assume it is correct.  This is Kerrigan writing, after all.

Editing is vital
If the paragraph’s function is solely to elaborate and explain more about the topic sentence, than  it is almost inevitable that some editing must occur.  Here’s Kerrigan on the pain of deleting material.

If you plant a vegetable garden, you may have to pull out a flower simply because it does not belong.

Even if it’s a gorgeous bloom that has touched your heart, yank it out if it doesn’t belong.

Stick to the topic in your first sentence!


Previous posts in this series:

January 20, 2012

Parents have misconceptions about price of college

by Grace

Parents need to dig deep to know the true “net price” of college for their children.

Key points from the AEI Nothing but net: helping families learn the real price of college report:

  • Six in ten families rule out some colleges because of sticker price, yet many do not know that the “net price” is typically far lower. Stanford’s sticker price for tuition, living expenses, and books is $55,918, while Cal State Long Beach’s is $20,675. But for some low-income students, aid discounts those prices to $4,496 and $3,593 respectively.
  • To help parents and students make informed choices, the federal government now requires “net price calculators” on college websites. That is a start, but proactively teaching parents—especially those with lower incomes—to think in terms of net price is critical.
  • An AEI survey found that a majority of parents do recognize a distinction between sticker price and net price after aid when asked to think of the cost for a low-income student. Low-income parents tend to overestimate the net price for their child.
  • Three corrective measures: (1) generate net prices for the  schools students list on financial aid forms; (2) enlist guidance counselors to marshal relevant data; and (3) encourage web developers to create online tools that help to compare net prices across institutions.

It would be better if families could easily know upfront what the college costs would be.

For many families, though, the net price of college remains hidden until far too late in the process. Colleges engage in what economists call “price discrimination”: they set a sticker price and then tailor aid packages to reduce the actual cost of attendance based on student characteristics like family background, academic qualifications, and other accomplishments. Price discrimination is an important recruiting tool for colleges and universities, who use aid packages to attract the desired mix of students.

Related articles

January 19, 2012

College-educated women marry at higher rates

by Grace

I have to admit the fact that college-educated women marry at higher rates enters my mind when I think of my own children.

Educated women are still the marrying kind because they know intuitively what research concludes: children are more likely to succeed in school, go to college, and get good jobs if they grow up with their two married parents. Prepping your kids for a competitive knowledge economy is a time-consuming, devotional task; no wonder it works better with a steady, focused twosome.

An alarming statistic (to me) is that over 40% of American children are born to unmarried mothers, but the picture is very different for college-educated mothers.

… The latest Census shows that percentage of college educated women who have children outside of marriage is only about 6%. That’s an increase from previous years, but a very small one.

Is it any wonder that middle- and upper-class parents are so intent on ensuring their children snare a diploma from a ‘good’ college?  We think of it as the entry ticket to a happy family life.  However, the evolving landscape in higher education, including soaring costs and the possibility that traditional colleges may lose their monopoly on career credentialing, portends changes in how we’ll guide our children’s educational path in the years to come.  How soon will real changes come and what form will they take?  I wish I knew.

Of course, related to all this is the important point that correlation does not always indicate causation.

January 18, 2012

Reminder that Wikipedia co-founder says we still need to memorize things

by Grace
Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

On a day when Wikipedia is blacked out in protest of SOPA and PIPA, I’m reminded of co-founder Larry Sanger’s admonition that the only way to begin to know something is to have memorized it.

But, for those bits of information that we haven’t memorized, the Washington Post offers some survival tips for today, including the suggestion to call some older folks for help.

This may also be a good day to take advantage of Encyclopedia Britannica Online’s offer of a free 24-hour trial subscription.

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