Archive for ‘college search and selection’

April 21, 2015

Evaluating college financial aid award letters

by Grace

Among its “tips for deciphering financial-aid letters”, the Wall Street Journal includes information that can be useful in evaluating student loan offers.

Difference between subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans

The federal government pays interest charges on federally subsidized loans while a student is in school, for example, which can help borrowers substantially. Such loans are generally given to students who demonstrate some kind of financial need, but students don’t need to come from low-income families to qualify.

Just over 34% of undergraduates with family income of at least $100,000 received subsidized Stafford loans at colleges where total annual costs, including tuition and room and board, were at least $30,000 in 2011-12, according to an analysis by Edvisors of the most recent federal data available. Just 12% of such students received the loans when attending less-expensive colleges.

Unsubsidized federal loans can be less desirable because interest accrues while the student is in school, which—if unpaid—could result in a significantly larger balance by the time the student graduates. Some colleges don’t include unsubsidized loans in financial-aid offers.

Colleges and universities also may offer their own loans, which may or not be preferable. Compare and contrast the terms on offer, including the interest rate and when interest charges begin to boost the outstanding balance.

Check out this link for the full article:

Annamaria Andriotis, “How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game”, Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2015.

April 14, 2015

A college financial planning timeline

by Grace

Don’t wait until your child’s senior year of high school to begin planning how to pay for college.  The first 18 years go quickly, and it’s never too soon to begin preparing.

Here’s one simplified approach showing some important steps along the timeline to college, with a focus on the financial planning aspect of the process.

20150412.COCPlanningTimelineB

 

Before High School

Start saving for college ASAP:  This is the relatively uncomplicated part.  Although we can’t predict the costs of college over a child’s lifetime, it almost always makes sense to begin saving early on.  Even if MOOCs or other innovations make higher education more affordable in the future, there’s usually not much of a risk in saving too much since there are options for dealing with “left-over money in your 529 plan”.

Before Junior Year of High School

  • NMS potential:  If your child tends to score in the 95%ile of standardized tests, he may have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship.  A little test prep can make the difference in qualifying for significant merit financial aid.
  • Base Income Year (BIY): If there is a chance your family may qualify for need-based financial aid, you should explore ways to minimize income during the BIY, the 12-month period that begins January 1 during your child’s junior year.  Since the BIY is used as a snapshot for determining financial need, you may want to consider strategies such as not selling stocks or property that will create large capital gains, refrain from converting to a Roth IRA, or defer bonus or other income.

Junior Year of High School

  • Create list of schools:  Get serious and make a realistic list that includes academic and financial safeties.
  • Can we afford it? 1-2-3:  Determine affordability by using the 1-2-3 Method or something similar.

Senior Year of High School

Senior year is the busiest time for families as they handle the many details of the college application process, including final determination of how they will be paying.  Some important acronyms:

The two main forms used in determining financial aid eligibility are the FAFSA and PROFILE.
FAFSA is the acronym for Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. It is a form submitted to the government that collects the financial information needed to decide your eligibility for federal FA. It’s also used by many colleges to determine institutional aid.
PROFILE is a financial aid application service offered by the College Board, used by about 400 colleges to learn if students qualify for non-federal student aid. There is a fee to submit a PROFILE, whereby the FAFSA is free.

The SAR (Student Aid Report) is a summary of your FAFSA responses and provides “some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid”.


It’s important to get started.

While this outline only hits the highlights along the road to paying for college, it can be used as a springboard for further research and action.  It makes sense to start with an outline, and then fill in the details as you go along.

April 7, 2015

Path to prestigious job may require a prestigious college degree

by Grace

A growing number of employers say a degree from a prestigious college counts less than it once did. But among elite finance and management-consulting firms—which offer some of the highest starting salaries for new graduates—an alma mater still matters. That puts students from less-selective schools at a disadvantage, career-services officers and students say.

A tale of two students demonstrates how the path to prestigious Wall Street jobs is easier when the starting point is an Ivy League school.

To land a summer job on Wall Street this year, Fairfield University junior Matthew Edgar sent 300 emails, made dozens of phone calls and several networking trips to New York banks from the Connecticut campus.

Darwin Li had a more direct route: The Princeton University junior applied online for positions and attended campus information sessions where company recruiters walked him through the application process and the firm’s culture.

The preferred schools vary depending on different career paths, but for Wall Street “they tend to include Ivy League schools and a handful of other elite institutions, such as Stanford University”.  Other careers have their own list of preferred schools, so the message to students with specific job goals is to do your research.

Students who do not attend preferred schools are not shut out completely, but they have to work harder.

For students at nontarget schools, the trick is finding a way into that pool. Without recruiters on campus, they must initiate a blitz of emails, calls and messages through networking sites like LinkedIn to find a banker or consultant willing to flag their application to recruiters.

Related:  If you want a job at an elite firm . . .

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Lindsay Gellman, “How 300 Emails Led to a Summer Job on Wall Street”, Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2015.

April 6, 2015

Stanford just became free for more students

by Grace

Stanford University just got more affordable for upper middle-income families.

Stanford University announced last week that tuition will be free for students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year. The standard had been $100,000. Students whose families’ annual incomes are lower than $65,000 will also be exempt from paying room and board, up from the current $60,000 cutoff.

Wealthy students help pay for the free ride received by other students. 

… Stanford is able to fully subsidize the tuition of these students because of the high number of wealthy students who attend….

Cost of attendance at Stanford before financial aid is “roughly $65,000″ per year.

Of course, before getting the great tuition deal, students will have to gain admission at the “Toughest College to Get Into in the United States”.

… Stanford University is the toughest college to get into in the nation. Yes, harder to get into than Harvard.

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Fred Imbert, “Stanford just made tuition free for these students”, CNBC, April 2, 2015.

Liz Dwyer, “What’s the Toughest College to Get Into in the United States? Hint: Not Harvard”, TakePart, April 01, 2015.

March 17, 2015

Is your college at risk for closing?

by Grace

The closing of Sweet Briar College caught many students and potential students by surprise, disrupting their plans and creating uncertainties in carefully laid-out plans of how to pay for college.  No one wants to be in that situation, and the Washington Post offers tips on “How To Spot A College About To Go Out Of Business”.

Applicants should try to know as much as possible about the financial strength of the schools they are considering. One-third of all colleges and universities in the United States face a financial future that is significantly weaker than before the 2008 recession and are on an unsustainable fiscal path, according to an analysis published in 2012 by Bain & Company. Another quarter of colleges find themselves at serious risk of joining them.

Possible indicators of diminished financial strength:

  • Lowered bond ratings
  • Growing tuition discount rate
  • Failure in meeting enrollment targets
  • Increased debt load
  • Frequent changes in leadership positions

Smaller colleges are at higher risk for closing.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for the smallest colleges to compete for students, and any college with fewer than about 1,500 students is particularly at risk for closing,” he told me. “Coming up 50 students short in an incoming class would be a rounding error for large colleges, but potentially devastating for a college with only 300 first-year students.”

Even if a college is not forced to close its doors, financial stress can affect students if it means staff cuts, limiting course options, inadequate building maintenance, and more.  So it’s a good idea to include financial strength to the components to consider when selecting a college list.

 Related:  “Downsizing trend hits higher education”

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Jeffrey J. Selingo, “How to spot a college about to go out of business”, Washington Post, March 11, 2015.

March 4, 2015

Can we afford this college? The 1-2-3 approach

by Grace

One of the most basic questions during the college planning process is often one of the hardest for a family to answer.

Can we afford this college?

The hard part is usually not in knowing what you can afford to pay, but in trying to find what the net cost of attendance will be for your child.  Here’s a three-step process that may help you answer this question.

  1. Run the Net Price Calculator
  2. Check the college website to find answers to the College Board “dirty dozen” questions
  3. Contact the school’s financial aid administrator


1.  Run the Net Price Calculator (NPC)

The NPC is an online tool that is a useful first step in comparing affordability.  Every college website has a calculator, which typically requires entering family financial information such as income and assets before the estimated net price of attending is generated.  Remember, this is an estimate and may not produce accurate results for business owners and other situations.  Proceed with caution, and check for online resources like the CollegeBoard tip sheet to help in the process.

2.  Check the college website to find answers to the College Board “dirty dozen” questions

A list of 12 questions to get you started on gathering information about a school’s financial aid policies is provided by the CollegeBoard.  In my experience, the answers to most of these questions can usually be found on college websites.  Going through these questions often prompts families to consider other important questions about college costs.

3.  Contact the school’s financial aid administrator

Okay, so not all your answers about costs and financial aid were easily found on the college website or other online resources?  Contact the college’s financial aid office and get the information directly from them.  They should be able to give you information rather quickly, and if they don’t it might be an indication of how transparent and helpful they are in other situations.

For organized families, it’s not a bad idea to create a spreadsheet that can capture important information and allow for efficient comparisons.

February 27, 2015

So you’re interested in a career in hotel and resort management?

by Grace

What is it like to manage a hotel, and what kind of background is needed for this career?

Here’s the story of a hotel manager who does not have a college degree, but who worked his way up from his first job as a valet.

I’m in my late twenties and I work at a major 150+ room hotel in a major city in Louisiana. My official title is “Operations Manager.” I’ve been working in hotels since 2007, first as a valet and bellman for two years at a 200 room corporately-owned resort in coastal Alabama, then at the front desk at a smaller independent hotel. After that I was a front desk agent at a 300 room corporate hotel in Dallas where I was promoted to front desk manager, and finally I moved to Louisiana a year ago. I started at my current hotel as front desk manager and was promoted to Operations Manager in a couple of months. I’ve been at this hotel for one year.

A college degree may be the preferred way to enter this field, but another way is through “a beastly work ethic”.

To get my first hotel job I just walked in and applied. It’s easy to get an entry level position. To be an Operations Manager, you usually need a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management/Business or, like me, a beastly work ethic, willingness to go above and beyond expectations, work long hours, and volunteer to take on tasks around the hotel that go outside of your job description.

A degree can offer specialization in various areas, including travel and tourism.

Hospitality management, or hospitality administration, is a large field with an array of majors. Depending on your interest and skills, you can pursue degrees centered on hotel management, travel and tourism, conference or event management, the restaurant industry and more. A course of study can cover everything from business to food science to botany, and internships and assistantships are typical components as well.

U.S. News offers information about hospitality management scholarships.

TheBestSchools.org* ranked hospitality management four-year college programs, including these top five:

  1. Cornell University, School of Hotel Administration
  2. Michigan State University, School of Hospitality Business
  3. University of Nevada at Las Vegas, William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration
  4. Fairleigh Dickinson University, International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
  5. Virginia Tech, Pamplin College of Business, Dept. of Hospitality and Tourism Management

An associate’s degree in hospitality management is another way to prepare for a career in this field.

The bad news is that competition is tough for the best jobs.

Job growth in management positions is projected to show little or no growth over the next several years, even though growth in tourism and travel is predicted to be robust.  Like many other segments of the economy, the hospitality industry is streamlining operations, leading to scaled-back staffing.  Median salary in 2012 was $46,810.

In New York, SUNY at Delhi is a state school that offers a BBA Hospitality Management: Hotel and Resort Management.  Their students can participate in the Walt Disney College Program.

… Through this program, students work at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for six months in a unique working/learning experience. Students can now earn SUNY Delhi course credit for the Disney courses offered as part of this program while they are working at Disney. Any student interested in this special program option should discuss it with his/her advisor early in their Delhi career. Disney courses include Communications, Leadership, Hospitality Management, Human Resources Management, Disney Marketing U, and Disney Experiential Learning.

It sounds like a good program for the right type of students, but I wonder if they are the target of jokes about their “Mickey Mouse” degree.

* ADDED:  Thebestcolleges.org doesn’t disclose its ranking method, but their list can be a starting place to find colleges that offer hospitality management major.  The College Board is another resource to use for finding and evaluating schools.

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Andy Orin, “Career Spotlight: What I Do as a Hotel Manager”, Lifehacker, January 20, 2015.

Matt Konrad, “Check Into These Hospitality Management Scholarships”, U.S. News, March 20, 2014.

February 17, 2015

Online master’s degrees in education have gone mainstream

by Grace

… As online programs have grown in popularity, online master’s in education degrees have become more acceptable, experts say….

In some cases, Horn says, ​schools don’t even indicate the mode of instruction on degrees and transcripts, which means school officials only see the program or school name anyway.​

Even in cases where an online degree is obvious, it rarely matters in public school districts, experts say. In the K-12 world, at least, online master’s degrees in education are so common that employers don’t think of them much at all​, Horn says. Those in hiring positions who have been to school recently have taken a blended or fully online course, so they know the classes can be just as rigorous as their on-campus counterparts.

Of course, students must cover the basics in selecting their online provider, making sure the school is accredited and that the program will lead to the desired state license.

Best Online Graduate Education Programs — U.S. News & World Report

  1. University of Houston — Houston, TX
  2. Florida State University — Tallahassee, FL
  3. Northern Illinois University — DeKalb, IL
  4. Pennsylvania State University—World Campus — University Park, PA

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Devon Haynie, “What Employers Think of Your Online Master’s in Education”, US News & World Report, Feb. 13, 2015.

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November 13, 2014

A reminder to look at net costs when comparing colleges

by Grace

Families should look at the net costs, after financial aid of all types, when assessing potential colleges.

Parents comparing college costs would be doing themselves and their kids a huge disservice if they just pay attention to listed tuition prices. What really matters is how much the school will cost you after financial aid and outside scholarships. And frankly some schools offer more scholarships than others….

Reyna Gobel offers a three-step method for getting started on a college list.

1. Have your son or daughter gather a list of 10 schools they’re interested in attending….

2. Use the net price calculators on each school’s website….

3. Talk to the high school counselor for your teen….

Net price calculators are imperfect estimators, so be aware of the cases where they are more likely to produce inaccurate results.

Related:  Are you eligible for a college tuition discount?

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Reyna Gobel, “Why Applying to Schools Based on Tuition Prices Can Cost Families Money”, Forbes, 8/31/2014.

October 9, 2014

Colleges want students who ‘can pay full price’

by Grace

Here’s a sobering reminder for students working on their college applications now.  It’s number 8 on the list of “10 things the college admissions office won’t tell you”.

We’d rather admit someone who can pay full price

All other things being equal, a full pay student often has a better chance of admission than a student who needs financial aid.

According to the College Board, 10% of college freshmen in 2013 were foreign students. One reason colleges woo these international scholars: Many are wealthy enough to pay the full price of tuition.

At publicly funded state universities, higher tuition for out-of-state students often helps subsidize education for state residents. For example, for an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, in-state tuition is about $13,000 a year; for an out-of-state or foreign student, tuition is about $36,000 a year.

Full pay can be an admissions boost for marginal students.

The interest in full-pay students is so strong that 10 percent of four-year colleges report that the full-pay students they are admitting have lower grades and test scores than do other admitted applicants.

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Daniel Goldstein, “10 things the college admissions office won’t tell you”, MarketWatch, Oct 4, 2014.

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