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What is a Community College? Is it the Best Choice Right Now?

What is a Community College? Is it the Best Choice Right Now?

What’s your initial first reaction to the question, “What is a community college?”

They’re affordable? They’re primarily for commuter students? Yeah, true, but there’s more to it than that. 

First of all, it might not even cross your mind that there are similarities — not just vast differences — between a community college, liberal arts college and a university.

Finally, there’s value in visiting all types of colleges, even if you think your child knows what kind of college he wants to attend. Do your due diligence and visit before you commit to a college. In the meantime, I’ll give you some solid information about community colleges to guide you.

What is a Community College?

Community colleges offer two-year associate’s degrees, certificate programs and vocational training. Your child might choose to go directly into the workforce after his or her degree or might choose to pursue a four-year degree after community college.

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Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree is an undergraduate degree that usually takes two years to complete. Here are the common degree types you can get: associate of arts, associate of science or associate of applied science.

Here are a few career paths that require a two-year degree (in case you’re looking for some ideas!):

  • Registered nurse
  • Air traffic controller
  • Pharmacy tech
  • Medical assistant
  • Dental hygienist
  • Dental assistant
  • Paralegal
  • Radiologic technologist

Certificate Program

Certificate programs are short-term, non-degree programs that usually take between six months and a year to complete. You may be able to take classes in the evenings or on weekends, which can be handy if someone is trying to juggle other responsibilities, like a job.

Why would you want to get a certificate program? Let’s say your student wants to learn something new that will help that future career. But you’re not interested in taking the classes necessary to get a degree.

Here are a few career paths that require a certificate degree instead of an associate’s degree:

  • Auto mechanics
  • Construction trades
  • Computer and information services
  • Business and office management
  • Cosmetology

Let’s say your child’s interested in business management. Here are a few different ways your child’s interest in business management could shake out at a community college:

  • Management: Associate degree
  • Accounting clerk: 1-year certificate
  • Accelerated accounting: Less than 1-year certificate
  • Entry-level accounting clerk: Career pathway certificate

See how it’s possible to have several options? You won’t have to get a two-year degree if you don’t want to.

How are Community Colleges Different from Other Types of Institutions?

Here are a few other major types of postsecondary institutions:

  • A public (or state) university receives significant public funds from the government of that state.
  • A private university is not funded by the government.
  • A liberal arts college is smaller than either of these types of institutions and is also not government funded.

All states in the United States have public and private colleges and universities.

Community college instructors spend most of their time teaching and working with students. They usually don’t spend as much time working on research as their counterparts at four-year public research institutions. Professors at large research universities spend a great deal of time conducting original research. They often spend less time teaching. 

Liberal arts colleges offer four-year bachelor’s degrees. Professors at liberal arts colleges teach broad-based courses instead of the specific training you’ll find at a community college. They offer classics like history, mathematics, art and English — you won’t find majors like industrial technology or welding at a liberal arts college.

Professors also spend most of their time teaching instead of conducting research. Liberal arts colleges typically offer:

  • Small class sizes
  • Accessible professors
  • No teaching assistants
  • A focus on undergraduate education, rather than a full focus on research and graduate education (this means that professors with a terminal degree in their field teach classes)

Community college students on a four-year track can elect to attend a liberal arts college, private university or large public university. You’ll be a transfer student if you continue your studies at a four-year college or university.

Most community colleges are commuter colleges. This means that most students do not live on campus. In contrast, private colleges and universities in particular offer a residential community.  

Earnings Potential

The most glaring difference between a high school diploma, associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree could be how much you can earn over a lifetime. Here’s a quick snapshot, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce:

  • High school diploma: $1.3 million
  • Associate’s degree: $1.7 million
  • Bachelor’s degree: $2.2 million

Obviously, money isn’t everything. Maybe your child’s lifelong dream has always been to become a dental hygienist. Don’t let these figures scare both of you away. Many associate’s degrees can result in an excellent salary and offer great lifetime earnings potential.

Pros and Cons of a Community College

There are several reasons students choose to attend a community college — and there are also several cons your child may want to seriously consider.

Pros

  • Affordable tuition
  • Flexible schedule
  • Can be a good way to transition from high school to college
  • Small class sizes
  • Offer the convenience of living at home
  • Can help you figure out what you want to study
  • May give you a chance to strengthen your grade point average

Cons

  • Curriculum is more limited and less rigorous
  • Student life is less robust
  • Commuter school isn’t for everyone
  • Professors with a terminal degree in their field aren’t usually what the norm at a community college.

What are your child’s highest priorities? For example, let’s say your kid’s looking for an active social life and a challenging curriculum. In that case, a community college might not be a great fit. On the other hand, if your child’s priority is to save money and live at home, then a community college could be your best choice.

It also may be a great option right now. Community college is a great first step if you’re not interested in navigating coronavirus far away from home.

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How to Apply to a Community College 

Applying to a community college is a little more cut-and-dried than writing college essays for Ivy League schools. You can just decide which school you’d like to attend and apply.

Step 1: Do your research. 

It’s true that it’s super-easy to find a community college to attend — chances are, there’s one in your town. Just make sure that the community college offers the program you want. Let’s say you plan to study robotics but you find that your local community college doesn’t have that program. It’s not going to make much sense for you to go to school there, is it?

Check out the community college’s website, schedule a college visit and visit the campus. Ask good questions on your tour. You can do all of this before you apply — or you can apply first and then visit a community college. You may feel most comfortable with a mask on or opt for a virtual tour right now.

Step 2: Fill out the application. 

Your child will be able to find the community college application on its website — most community colleges have their own application portals. Find the “Apply” button. You’ll have to fill out many of the same details on each application:

  • Name
  • Address 
  • Citizenship
  • Address, including state of residence
  • High school
  • Goals in college, such as an associate’s degree or certificate

Your child may be required to prove residency in the state. Your child may need to provide proof of residence through a:

  • Driver’s license
  • Bank account information
  • Voter or vehicle registration
  • Your taxes

Contact the community college admission office if you’re not sure what your child needs to provide.

Note: Your child’s transcripts will be enough to prove residency. As long as your child attends high school in the same state as the community college for at least a year, that will be sufficient evidence that your child is a resident.

Step 3: Submit transcripts.

You won’t need to get letters of recommendation, write an essay or send in your SAT or ACT scores. You’ll only need to show the school your child’s high school transcripts.

Submit those transcripts if your child hasn’t yet graduated from high school. Doing so will prove that your child intends to graduate from high school. Ask your child’s school counselor to send transcripts to the community college.

How Much Does a Community College Cost? 

Great question. Simply put, the average in-state tuition and fees at community colleges were $3,660 in 2018-2019. This is the lowest cost among all higher education sectors, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. This compares to $10,230 for in-state students at four-year public universities and $26,290 for out-of-state students at four-year public universities. The cost to attend a private, nonprofit four-year institution in 2018-2019 was $35,830, according to that same report.

What kind of financial aid can your student get at a community college? First, you’ll have to file the FAFSA for need-based financial aid.

  • Grants: Financial aid that you don’t have to pay back. 
  • Work-study: You can get a job at the community college you attend. Just like a regular job, you get to collect a check for the hours you work.
  • Loans: Financial aid that you have to pay them back with interest.

Want to learn more about how to get need-based aid? Check out the basic eligibility requirements.

Does a Community College Fit Your Student’s Needs Now?

A year ago, your student may never have even thought about the possibility of attending a community college. However, the world has changed — and there are so many paths your child can go to become an accountant, doctor or journalist.

It doesn’t have to look like this anymore:

HIGH SCHOOL —–> FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE —-> PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL —–> CAREER

It can look like this:

HIGH SCHOOL —-> GAP YEAR —-> WORK FOR A YEAR —–> COMMUNITY COLLEGE —-> FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE —-> CAREER

Why not?

37 Best Side Hustle Ideas for Moms of College-Bound Kids in 2021

37 Best Side Hustle Ideas for Moms of College-Bound Kids in 2021

College tuition costs continue to rise. Parents often struggle to manage the costs even with substantial financial aid, and students are (justifiably) fearful of the debt they’ll amass trying to pay their own way. The hope of course is that action will ultimately be taken to reduce student debt burdens and lower the cost of college. For the time being though, lots of families need to find creative solutions — including parents adopting side hustles to pay tuition.

Benefits of Side Hustling to Help You Save for College

Chances are, if you’re familiar with the term “side hustle,” it’s primarily with regard to young adults working full time for the first time. These days, we often expect young people to be working “day jobs” and “side hustles” simultaneously as they look to save up money and establish financial independence. But this isn’t the only use for a side hustle. It can also be a worthwhile venture for a mom — and perhaps a single mom in particular — looking to manage college tuition costs.

Usually, conversations about managing those costs begin with talk of savings, and this is perfectly logical. If you’re a mom hoping to pay for some or all of your child’s (or children’s) tuition costs, you should be looking for ways to save. If you start early, you can take advantage of a variety of methods that help to build on savings over time, and ultimately establish very useful funds that can be applied to tuition checks when the time comes. At the same time though, savings options do fundamentally draw money from your existing income. They are effectively costs that affect your bottom line, perhaps for years at a time.

This speaks to the key benefit of adding a side hustle to your tuition plans. While savings drain your core income, a side hustle provides you with extra income — allowing you to make additional money that you can funnel directly toward payments (or perhaps directly into a savings account, deepening on timing and arrangements). Of course, a side hustle still requires time and effort. But it’s fair to think of it as a way to make extra money for tuition, rather than to further drain the core income you depend on as a working mother.

The other key benefit, as we just alluded to, is that by generating extra income, you may be able to add generously to a savings account or similar, stable investment that can appreciate over time. If, for instance, you are managing a 529 plan for college costs, the money within that plan grows by a small percentage each year. Funneling side hustle earnings into the plan gives you more money that can appreciate over time, rather than just more raw funds.

Now that we’ve covered some of the benefits of side hustles for moms looking to manage college tuition costs, let’s look at some of the best specific jobs worth considering.

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Side Hustle 1: Crafting

With so many ways to sell goods online today, a lot of moms will develop profitable side hustles simply making and selling their own goods. Whether that means homemade tee shirts, jewelry, household decorations, or Christmas ornaments, if the products are well made they can be sold online.

Side Hustle 2: Blogging

It takes strategy and diligence to make a profitable blog. But if you know what to write, you speak to a particular audience, and you learn some SEO basics, you can generate enough attention to make some money simply writing in your free time.

Side Hustle 3: Proofreading

Students and professionals alike are always in need of proofreading services, and today you can easily link up with clients for this kind of work through freelancing sites online.

Side Hustle 4: Transcribing

Like proofreading, transcription services are always in demand on freelance platforms (such as Upwork and others like it). It tends to be easy work to perform in free time, and while pay isn’t lucrative, it does add up.

Side Hustle 5: Taking Paid Surveys

There are all sorts of opportunities to answer paid surveys, and some of them take only minutes at a time. This is a job a working mother can do in a carpool line, at the park while younger kids play, etc.

Side Hustle 6: Selling Art

This is a terrific side hustle for working moms who happen to have a talent for art, naturally. But here again, the internet and social media have made it much easier to sell valuable work. In time, a mother with talent in this space can even develop what is essentially a personal business, generating more and more meaningful income as attention and appreciation for the work spread.

Side Hustle 7: Selling Photos

Everything we just noted regarding art applies to photography, for those who have more skill in this area. Here too though we’ll also note that stock photo sales can make for a handy side hustle, because profits can be generated for work already done. That is, even if you’re only making $1 per download on a photo, those dollars may keep coming in for months or years.

Side Hustle 8: Selling Baked Goods

For those moms who have a talent for baking (or making any sort of treat, really), there is also some potential to generate meaningful side income. Whether through online or local sales, there’s always a market for tasty goods!

Side Hustle 9: Testing Products

Numerous services exist that help to pair willing participants with product-testing opportunities, both digitally and in person. Simply by trying out a product in your own time and offering your thoughts on it, you can earn some decent payments.

Side Hustle 10: Secret Shopping

Once in-person shopping returns to a normal activity level (after the pause of 2020), secret shopping will be an option that some will actually have fun with. This is basically a practice by which a company will pay people to browse through its stores and report on the quality of the service.

Side Hustle 11: Altering Clothing

This is another option in the craft and artistry department. But for moms who are skilled with alterations, there is always the option of setting up a part-time local business.

Side Hustle 12: Tutoring

Tutoring is an excellent part-time option that can sometimes involve fairly appealing rates. Sometimes online but particularly in person, a skilled tutor can reasonably ask for $50 an hour or more.

Side Hustle 13: Assisting With Test Prep

This is very similar to tutoring. But for those moms who want more guaranteed business, test prep is a sort of tutoring niche that makes for a great side hustle. There will always be kids seeking help with standardized testing, and helping them with the process is both rewarding and profitable.

Side Hustle 14: Teaching Private Lessons

It’s a broad category, but teaching a skill — be it in music, sports, art, etc. — is also an excellent side hustle. Here, as with tutoring, $50 or more per hour is a reasonable ask, meaning the extra funds can really add up.

Side Hustle 15: Teaching Online Courses

In a similar vein to tutoring and teaching private lessons, moms with expertise in certain subjects also have the option of setting up full online courses. This can take a fair amount of work, as it involves conveying expertise and doing the marketing work that will attract paying students or subscribers. But the real appeal is that a well-made online course can be used repeatedly to generate more profits from new students.

Side Hustle 16: Personal Training

For moms with experience in fitness, personal training is also an excellent option. Particularly if there’s an opportunity to take on a few client at one time, side income from an activity like this can quickly add up.

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Side Hustle 17: Coaching or Refereeing

Moms who enjoy sports can also have a little bit of fun with a local side hustle participating in youth sports. At parks and community centers and the like, there is often a need for children’s team coaches or referees. These can sound more like demanding jobs, but the truth is they usually involve just a few hours’ work each week.

Side Hustle 18: Web Design

Web design is always in demand, and a mom with particular skill (and a track record or examples to prove it) can command very competitive rates in this department. Whether through a personal website advertising services or through freelance platforms, regular, high-paying side work can be generated.

Side Hustle 19: Accounting

Accounting can be a little trickier than some of these options in that you’ll typically need qualifications to get good, paying work. At the same time though, a working mother today has the option of pursuing an online accounting degree today, and acquiring those qualifications cheaply and affordably. This can lead to substantial income through remote, freelance accounting work for companies in need.

Side Hustle 20: Tax Advising

As with accounting, tax advice is something people tend to look to the experts for. However, if you can prove understanding and capability — and offer more competitive rates than professional CPAs — it is possible to generate good business. Plus, a mother who does good work advising others on taxes can quickly accumulate referrals and good reviews that in turn lead to more business.

Side Hustle 21: Social Media Management

Businesses today need to maintain social media activity to remain competitive, and a lot of them are looking for help doing it. Finding even one company that will pay to have its accounts maintained can make for a very profitable side hustle

Side Hustle 22: Babysitting

This idea more or less speak for itself. But for mothers who may have a few hours to spare in a given week, it’s still a great side hustle option.

Side Hustle 23: Pet Sitting

Even more manageable than babysitting is pet-sitting! Particularly for moms who may work at home, taking on a pet or two to help out a neighbor or friend can result in what is almost passive income. A few walks and feedings are easy enough in exchange for a nice chunk of change

Side Hustle 24: Driving An Uber (or Lyft)

Driving for ride-sharing services has become a very popular side hustle. Not all moms will have the time or flexibility for something like this, but those with older kids may be able to work in a bit of of driving in early evenings or on the weekends. The money isn’t lucrative, but it does add up.

Side Hustle 25: Driving for Delivery Services

It’s difficult to say whether or not delivery services will remain as popular once the pandemic is behind us (this article being written in early 2021). But for the time being, driving for grocery and product deliveries (through services like Postmates, DoorDash, etc.) is a nice, easy way to earn some extra cash.

Side Hustle 26: Cleaning Homes

For those moms who don’t mind the work (or even enjoy tidying things up), cleaning others’ homes is always an option too. It’s not at all unreasonable to charge $100 or more for a few hours of cleaning, such that even doing this a few times a month can add up to a nice bit of side income.

Side Hustle 27: Doing Yard Work or Gardening

For moms who love to be outside, or enjoy working on gardening and landscaping, this is one side hustle that can be the best of both worlds! Lots of people will pay handsomely to have their yard and gardens spruced up, particularly for those moms who will offer more competitive rates than larger landscaping services.

Side Hustle 28: Becoming a Virtual Assistant

This is a relatively new concept in the side hustle world, but one that can provide quite a lot of reasonably well-paid work. Ultimately, tasks for virtual assistants can range from managing appointments, to doing remote reception duty, to arranging travel, and more. But the general idea is to become an all-purpose virtual go-to for a given company’s need during defined hours.

Side Hustle 29: Work as a Doula

The work of a doula can seem like professional medical care at times, but the truth is you do not actually need certification or a degree to perform this role. It might be reassuring to clients of course, but it is possible for a mom seeking a side hustle to step right into doula work. It won’t be the most regular work, but it’s rewarding and profitable, and can of course be done alongside other side hustles.

Side Hustle 30: Renting Out Your Car

Just as Airbnb has enabled people to rent out their homes, there are now services that temporarily rent out cars as well. For any mom with the flexibility to manage this, it can be an excellent opportunity for passive side income.

Side Hustle 31: Brewing Coffee

This is an idea for which it’s important to be careful about weighing costs versus profits. But the opportunity to brew one’s own coffee can be quite a lot of fun, and can even result in something of a home business. Sourcing beans, working out a specific recipe or gimmick, and marketing fresh-brewed coffee locally is side hustle some moms will enjoy exploring.

Side Hustle 32: Life Coaching

Life coaching may be somewhat vague, but it’s also a fairly in-demand service. For those moms who feel they can inspire or motivate, or who have personal stories of overcoming obstacles in life, it’s certainly another option to explore.

Side Hustle 33: Writing Books

Writing a book takes a lot of work, and can certainly become a full-time job. However, thanks largely to self-publishing options and online sales avenues, a lot of people find that they can generate relatively modest profits on simpler projects. That might mean writing a personal guidebook regarding a given experience or skill; it might mean penning an original children’s book. Whatever the case, if it goes well it can result in at least a few thousand dollars to put toward a college fund.

Side Hustle 34: Illustrating Books

Similarly, some moms with a talent for drawing or graphic design may also find work illustrating books. A lot of authors ultimately wind up seeking illustration help, either for covers or for pictures within books, and some of hem (or in some cases their agents) will pay well for the help.

Side Hustle 35: Starting a Podcast

Podcasts aren’t easy to make a lot of money on, but they can generate some profits through subscriptions, patronage, or even ads. So moms with good ideas in this department may as well give it a shot!

Side Hustle 36: Starting a Food Truck

This is a little bit more of a side business than a side hustle. And as with brewing coffee, it’s an idea with which it’s important to measure costs versus revenue to ensure profitability. For a mom with a talent in a certain area of cuisine though, starting a food truck can produce meaningful side income.

Side Hustle 37: Performing in Public

Working as a performer — be it through music or something similar — is also a good way to bring in some cash now and then. On a busy city sidewalk or in a town public square, a talented performer can sometimes gather anywhere from $20 to $50 in an hour of work!

Choose the Right Side Hustle

So there you have some interesting ideas! Choosing the right side hustle for you will of course depend on your own talents, abilities and circumstances. But hopefully the breadth of suggestions above inspire you to give it some thought. You can choose from all kinds of side hustles for moms that can help with college costs. Some of them are even enjoyable or rewarding as well!

Written by: Lena Cusi 

Your Quick Guide on How to Look for Colleges in October

Your Quick Guide on How to Look for Colleges in October

This post may contain affiliate links. 

How do you help your child find the right college fit in October? 

The college search is a process. It’s not like your child can usually apply, visit, get accepted and plunk down a deposit all in the same month. (If you can do that, my hat’s off to you! — Ha!)

Again, it’s a twisty road with lots of checkpoints along the way. 

Senior parents, here’s what you need to know about how to look for colleges in October. (By the way, this is great information even for those parents who aren’t parents of seniors!)

1. File the FAFSA. 

The FAFSA opened on October 1 and now’s the time to fill it out. 

The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Colleges and universities use the FAFSA to consider your child for federal student aid. States and individual colleges and universities also use the FAFSA to award grants, scholarships and loans. 

File the FAFSA as soon as possible — for federal aid, you must submit the FAFSA by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022.

Does that mean you get to veg out till June 29?

No!

Because colleges also carry deadlines. Check with the college(s) your child’s interested in attending to understand their exact application deadlines. 

2. Encourage your child to work on applications in advance — not at the last minute. 

Most colleges evaluate regular applications between January through March. However,  you’ll unearth a few different deadlines for specific admission types. 

For example, early action and early decision applications require students to submit their materials well before the new year. Application deadlines show up during the — you guessed it — fall months! You might see a few mid-October through November deadlines at colleges that have an early action or early decision process.

Check — and double check — the admission deadlines for each college your child plans to apply. Even if the college uses rolling admission, it’s best to apply early so you know where your child stands in terms of merit-based scholarships and other financial aid early on.

3. Check out various other deadlines for specific colleges. 

Your high schooler may not be done with just an application. You may uncover a few other dates to keep track of:

  • Additional deadlines for honors programs
  • More applications or deadlines for scholarships and financial aid

How to keep track of it all? Create an online calendar or spreadsheet to plan campus visits so you don’t — gasp! — miss key application dates for scholarships or financial aid.

4. Note ACT/SAT Adjustments

Does your student plan to take the ACT or SAT? Do a quick study on the latest testing information. Will the test be offered where your child normally planned to take it? What are the COVID-19 requirements? 

If testing is not available in your area or you don’t meet the safety requirements, know that many schools have gone test optional. 

Note: Even if your child’s a senior, it’s not too late to take one of these tests.

5. Start Narrowing Your College List

Your child can only go to one school, right? Time to start narrowing the list! Ask your child a few questions to get closer to a decision:

  • Do you want or need to be closer to home? (Colleges close by may not have popped up on your kiddo’s radar before!)
  • Do you think you prefer a small liberal arts college or a large university?
  • Would you prefer a large city, suburban area, rural community, etc.?
  • Do you think you want community college first?
  • Are you interested in going to a school that’s currently all online?
  • Are you comfortable with some loans?
  • How hard do you want to work for scholarships if schools don’t offer much merit-based aid?
  • What do you think you might major in during college?
  • What types of extracurricular activities would you like to participate in?

Next, divide schools into “safety,” “match” and “reach” schools based on the admission criteria at each school:

  • Safety: A safety school means that based on a school’s admission criteria, it’s likely that your child’s academic credentials are way above the average incoming freshman range. A lot of people call this school a “back-up.” It’s a good idea to make sure your child can proudly say, “I’m okay with attending my safety school” — just in case. 
  • Match: A match school is one that your child is likely to get into based on a particular school’s admission criteria. Your child is likely to be admitted because his or her academic credentials are well within the average incoming freshman’s range. In other words, it’s more likely that your child will attend this school. 
  • Reach: A reach school is not a guaranteed shoo-in. Encourage your child to choose a school that’s not a complete pipe dream (your child can’t apply to Harvard with a 2.5 grade point average, for example). 

Feel like you’re constantly bombarding your child with questions and all you get in return is “I don’t know!” or something along those lines? Remember, your child may not know the answer to some of these questions — this may be the first huge decision he’s ever made. 

Elicit help from a guidance counselor, admission counselor or another individual you trust to help guide him through this experience.

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6. Start Applying for Outside Scholarships

Outside scholarships include private scholarships and cash awards. Encourage your child to go for those $100 scholarships — they add up.

Totally ask the guidance counselor at your child’s school for insight. Here are a few other pointers: 

  1. Go to area high schools and collect programs dating back up to four years ago. You can find the names of scholarships on that list, Google them and then BAM! Your kid’s got lots of local scholarships at her disposal.
  2. Contact various civic organizations in town, like the Elks club or Kiwanis club. They usually give away lots of scholarships.
  3. What types of scholarships does your company offer? Do other family members work for companies that offer scholarships as well? 
  4. Ask your child about scholarship announcements at school. Ask for an email copy of these announcements, if possible, or ask where you can find them online.
  5. Check social media. Join Facebook groups or other social media groups that post scholarships. All it takes is a simple search!
  6. Look at scholarship search engines. Google “scholarships for writers,” for example. Use keywords to your advantage! 
  7. If your child doesn’t look like a match for a specific scholarship, reach out to the scholarship committee and ask if your child can apply anyway. Maybe he’s just missing one tiny requirement. 

I urge you to check out Scholarship System’s free webinar. Jocelyn of the Scholarship System is amazing — she’s turned getting scholarships into a complete system. She knows how to streamline the process so your child gets scholarship results.

7. Attend Virtual College Fairs

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, NACAC has canceled all Fall 2020 in-person fairs and pivoted to virtual programming. Find out details about 2020 Fall Virtual College Fairs. If you’re wondering how to look for colleges, this is a great place to start because your child can learn a lot about colleges from all over the U.S. from a comfy, squashy chair!

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8. Visit Schools

Visit, visit, visit. I can’t stress the importance visiting schools. How to schedule a college visit

  1. Talk over the type of visit your child wants. Talk to your child before you jump on the phone or set up a campus visit. What does your child want to get out of the visit? Does she want to meet with a faculty member or does that idea terrify her? Does she want what I call the “drive-by” experience — just tour and admission counselor? 
  2. Call the admission office of a college or university. I heavily suggest calling the campus visit coordinator at that college or university instead of signing up online. It’s always better to talk to a live person. A computer can’t hear you talking about your child’s interest in biology, but a campus visit coordinator can — and can offer a one-on-one meeting with a biology major or professor. 
  3. Understand your visit options. What are the options? Let’s say you want to visit on a specific date. Maybe the admission office isn’t doing personal campus visits that day — maybe there’s a group campus visit day. 
  4. Consider a personal campus visit. This is my very favorite type of visit option! I love personal campus visits because they allow you and your child to do a visit that fits your child’s exact interests. It’s personalized! You can visit with anyone in the college you need to (professor, coach, student, etc.) 
  5. Visit in person. I know it’s tempting to do a Zoom visit, but while Zoom is wonderful, it can’t take the place of an in-person visit.

Above All Else — Check In!

Take the temperature. How’s your child feeling about the process? It’s easy to become so absorbed in checking all the boxes and forget how your child feels. Start having those heart-to-heart chats!

The Complete (De-Stressed!) Guide to Organizing College Applications

The Complete (De-Stressed!) Guide to Organizing College Applications

Pulling your hair out because your child won’t get going with college applications? Or maybe it’s tricky to get the application deadlines organized, the essays written, understanding the types of college applications… 

Okay, you know what? Let’s not overwhelm you more. 

When I first became an admission counselor, I had zero awareness that other schools even had admission deadlines. 

Why?

Because we used rolling admission and we could accept college applications at any time.

Are you aware of the fact that colleges have application deadlines?

Ha! Just kidding — I know you know. 

Here’s how to take the flummox out of college applications. Flummox: What a great word!

Maybe your kiddo can add it to his application essay! 

Step 1: Review your child’s short list.

Is the list still the list? It could have changed since your daughter’s junior year. COVID-19 hit and everything changed. Your child may no longer want to go to a school far from home. She may be less than interested in the school down the road, which has all online classes — and nothing else. 

The point is, where she was last year could be completely different from now. She also could have added six more to the list since then.

Step 2: Have a family conversation. 

Now’s the time to talk about what makes sense for your child’s needs — together. Maybe your child has severe allergies and you think that wearing a mask everywhere will make it harder to breathe.

Maybe you feel that your child had a horrible junior year and those college prospects don’t look nearly as good as they could have.

Step 3: Understand the various admission types.

Different schools = different admission types. 

Let’s do a quick overview of admission types to help guide you through.

Regular Admission

Your child can apply to a bunch of schools with the regular application submission deadline. The deadline itself varies between institutions. 

Regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers are sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline the admission offers. Colleges that offer regular admission usually incorporate an early college admission option (detailed below).

Rolling Admission

Colleges release admission decisions regularly — sometimes daily — instead of sending them all out on one target date with rolling admission. 

An admission committee reviews your child’s application as soon as all required information is in, rather than setting an application deadline and reviewing applications in a group. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly.

Rolling admissions decisions are non-binding, which means that your child will not be required to attend that school. Your child will not need to decide whether to enroll until May 1, or National Candidate Reply Day. 

Open Admission 

Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate, regardless of academic performance, until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Community colleges often admit students through open admission.

Early Action (EA)

Early action gives your child the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. These plans are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend that particular college. Some colleges have an early action option called EA II — a later application deadline. 

Early Decision (ED)

Early decision means your child submits an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline. Early decision plans are binding. This means your child must enroll in the college if admitted and accept the financial aid award offered — immediately. Some colleges have an early decision option called ED II — a later application deadline than a school’s regular ED plan. 

Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action

Single-choice early action, also known as restrictive early action or restricted early action, is another non-binding option. Your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, your your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period. It’s a combo of both early action and early decision. In other words, it’s less restrictive than early decision but more restrictive than early action. 

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Step 4: Make a list of college deadlines.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all college application deadlines fell on the same date every year?  

Yes. 

Get my spreadsheet, the College Money Tips Visit Spreadsheet, by signing up here. It’s totally free! 

The spreadsheet includes everything you want to keep track of — including application deadlines. Save it as your own and fill it out however you’d like to use it. It’s a great way to get you college search in gear.

And, for heaven’s sake, you can keep track of all those application deadlines!

Step 5: Understand the various types of college applications.

In addition to admission types, you also contend with different application types.

It’s okay, though. Each college makes it very clear on its website which type of application it uses. (Make sure to mark it down the College Money Tips Visit Spreadsheet!)

Common Application

You can apply to nearly 900 colleges and universities using the Common Application (aka Common App), including public and private colleges and universities. In all 50 U.S. states and 20 countries!

Application steps:  

  1. Gather materials, such as transcripts and test scores.
  2. Create an account.
  3. Add colleges your student plans to apply to.
  4. Get recommendations or other official forms from counselors, teachers and others.
  5. Plan the essay and write it.
  6. Submit your application.

Coalition Application

The Coalition aimed to improve the college application process. MyCoalition, is designed to engage students, particularly under-represented students, in the college application process You use a digital storage locker, interactive Collaboration Space and the application is accepted at all member schools.

Application steps: 

  1. Start application. 
  2. Choose your applicant type.
  3. Follow all the links to the various application parts to complete the college’s application. These steps vary depending on the college.

Universal Application

Some schools use the Universal Application — but many schools also accept the Common and Coalition Applications. Figure out which schools on your child’s list coincide with a specific application type and concentrate on that one.

Application steps

  1. Click “Start New.”
  2. First years complete the First Year Admissions Application. Transfer Applicants complete the Transfer Admissions Application. 
  3. Fill out the Personal Statement or essay portion if necessary.
  4. Fill out supplemental forms. 
  5. Complete recommendation and report forms required by the colleges. Each college may require different Part 3 forms and some may not require any at all. 
  6. First-year applicants can request the Instructor Recommendation, School Report, Midyear Report, and the Final Report as well as the Early Decision Agreement or First Marking Period Report when applicable.

Colleges’ Own Application 

Many colleges don’t bother with the Common Application, Coalition Application or Universal Application. You must fill out their own application! Some colleges accept a shared application like the Common Application or their own application. 

For example, the institution where I worked (a private college) requires its own application. We didn’t accept the Common, Coalition or Universal Application. 

If you compared them all, you might see similarities and differences between all application types.

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Step 6: Time block.

Help your student set aside specific amounts of time to fill out the application. Let’s say your student must complete the application by November 1 for Early Decision. 

Sit down with your child and time block out specific evenings and weekends (working around soccer and piano lessons!) to work on the essay and other application sections. It might look like this: 

  1. College X application: September 15
  2. Common Application recommendation requests: September 18
  3. Common Application essay: September 21 to 30
  4. And so on!

Encourage your high school to tackle small sections at a time. It’ll keep your child from getting overwhelmed. 

Small steps! It’s all it takes. 

Step 7: Get help — but schedule ahead!

Your child’s English teacher might be a whiz at crafting essays. Have him reach out to her for help with plenty of time to spare before the deadline. His teacher might be helping 60 other kids with their essays, too! 

That brings up another point: Make sure your child asks for recommendation letters in plenty of time. Weeks, if not months, in advance! You want to make sure your child’s recommendation doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Get Organized

The reality: You don’t know how long it’ll take your child to complete the application. It might take days, it might take weeks! 

But you and your student want to get this part of the college search just perfect. Take plenty of time to get it right. Your child won’t regret crafting the perfect essay, waiting on a stunning recommendation letter and more. 

Just build in plenty of time to do it!

Questions to Ask Colleges and How to Get A+ Answers

Questions to Ask Colleges and How to Get A+ Answers

Time to put a zip in your step, folks! Are you ready to transform into a savvy prospective parent?

What do savvy prospective parents do?

They ask excellent questions.

One family asked me such difficult questions in the admission office that I gave them an “A+” for “hardest questions of the year” and said, “You should go talk to my boss.” 

They asked me questions like: 

  • “What’s the college pay for water and electricity and how does that work into my son’s tuition?”

And: 

  • “How much money do your college’s LEED buildings save per year?”

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t know the answer to their questions.

The point is, it’s important to ask relevant questions. We’re busy. Schedules only allow us to squeeze in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunchtime. That’s about it. 

Relevant questions get to the innards of what you need to know. Asking the right person the right questions is paramount.

Was I the right person to ask about water, electricity and LEED buildings? 

No — and does it even matter in the grand scheme of things? They should’ve asked the director of facilities, “How much waste does this school produce and how does that cost me money?”

“How much will it cost me?” — the real question.

What are the questions you should be asking? Let’s conquer those questions to get you started.

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Who’s my child’s admission counselor?

Let’s start out with a simple question. This question means everything, though. 

You can even figure this out using the college’s website — you just need to select your state and sometimes even your child’s high school. Wham! It’s that easy to find your child’s go-to person.

Why is it important to get to know your child’s admission counselor?

Here’s an easy answer. One day, circa 2012, a student panel was underway during one of our visit days. Here’s how it went: 

Parent in audience: “Why did you come to this college?”

Student panelist on stage: “My admission counselor was awesome! She was one of the main reasons I decided to come here.”

A million reasons, folks! It’s a great question because:

  1. Your child’s admission counselor helps your family navigate financial aid, scholarships and more. The admission counselor may even be able to point you toward other scholarship opportunities. They may be scholarships in your community or online scholarships he/she knows your child could qualify for.
  2. The admission counselor can help you and your child make connections. Whether you need to talk to a biology professor, a financial aid officer or someone else at the school your child’s interested in, the admission counselor is the conduit to making that happen. Take advantage of it!
  3. Admission counselors know a lot about the college they work for. They know about the fun stuff, the clubs and organizations launching, the most popular majors and more. Admission counselors are often alumni, so they really have special knowledge about an institution. Ask an admission counselor what the best residence hall is and you’ll get an earful in milliseconds.
  4. Admission counselors know what types of students thrive at their institution. Let’s face it. Not every college is a great fit for every student. Why not ask what the ideal student at College/University XYZ looks like? It’ll be interesting to hear the admission counselor’s response.
  5. Admission counselors are statistics collectors. Admission counselors’ brains cannot go on autopilot. They should be able to know the percentage of students who graduate, how many go on to graduate school, how many get internships and more. (Just don’t ask them really quirky questions like that family did with me!)
  6. Admission counselors know what it takes to get admitted. Admission counselors are available to walk your child through the admission process. They should be able to tell you whether your child has a shot at getting admitted with his or her current credentials. An admission counselor may recommend submitting an additional letter of recommendation or other supporting documentation. They’re experts at strengthening an application. Ask before you send it in.
  7. Admission counselors can guide you through the process. You’re in the know at all times when you’ve got an admission counselor to guide you.

What should I know about the admission process right now? 

Question two. I know it relates to question one, but it’s an important breakout question. Colleges’ admission processes have changed. 

Maybe COVID-19 pushed ACTs or SATs to the annals of history. Or not.  

Maybe admission offices shoved interviews off the cliff. But maybe not.

You might just be learning the admission process at one school. However, if your child became aware of admission requirements for a particular school last year, things may be different. Double-check!

A few good questions: 

  • Do I need to supply my ACT or SAT score? If not, what will that do to my child’s admission chances? (Test optional should really mean test optional!) Check FairTest’s ACT/SAT test optional college and universities. FairTest is a national advocacy organization that seeks to “end the misuses and flaws of testing practices.” Most accredited 4-year higher education institutions adopted test-optional policies for fall of 2021 admission. 
  • If a college or university isn’t on FairTest’s list: Why does your college or university require ACT or SAT scores? Listen carefully to the reasons and determine whether it’s still important for your child to apply to that college.
  • What other metrics will you use for admission purposes instead of standardized test scores? Every college’s response will be different. Find out.

What are your COVID-19 policies right now? 

Should you find out about a school’s COVID-19 processes, even if your child’s a sophomore?

YES.

True, it’s tough to say what that will look like in a few years. However, learning more about a college’s process right now can help you and your student:

  1. Understand a college’s response to COVID-19. It’s important to evaluate a college on all fronts, and it’s critical to agree with the college’s response to the crisis. 
  2. Figure out what policies may look like down the road. It’s really possible that things could stay the same for next year and beyond. Truth be told, we don’t know how long this virus will hang around!
  3. Learn the online learning protocol and whether it makes sense for your student. Maybe your student says he’s 86ing online learning and you like another college’s COVID-19 policy better. Maybe your child wants to forgo a residential experience altogether. You can find really cheap ways to get an online degree!
  4. Assess how a college can help on the technology front. You and your child may not have the technology needed to make Zoom classes happen. How will the college help?
  5. Determine how a college makes classes interactive or uses creativity within the constraints of online learning. Yeah, how does a chemistry professor do labs online? I’m sure you’re really curious. (I am, too.)

Can my child connect with a professor or other necessary individual?

… or through Zoom if in-person meetings aren’t possible?

One of the best ways to get to know faculty members at institutions is to… meet them! 

  1. Your child will know instantly whether he wants to learn from that person. (First impressions!) You should meet a particular physics professor at my alma mater. He’s got personality plus and he’s exactly what you’d imagine when you think of the stereotypical physics professor. The students rave about him. He’d greet everyone on the first day by asking them their first names and one fact about them — and remembered everything. Great professor!
  2. Even if your child changes his mind on major — most do! — you’ll still get a feel for how the faculty members work with students. I think it’s a bad idea to choose a college based solely on major, but I do think all students should get to know at least one professor during the college search, if possible. It gives your child a general idea of whether professors are hands-on professors, whether they’re available for students and what their office hours are like.
  3. Who else should you meet? You might not be interested in hearing from a professor. What about a dietitian? The tutoring center? A coach?

How can my child talk to a current student? 

Your child must talk to a current student! I don’t care if it’s on Zoom, over the phone, in person — however it can happen, make it happen. You can find out a lot from students, who don’t spew the same jargon-filled, marketing vocabulary that a professor does.

You can learn more about:

  • The overall experience
  • Gossip about professors 
  • Residence hall living
  • Classes and academic rigor
  • Internship availability
  • Students’ opinions about the college’s COVID-19 response
  • Quality of food in the cafeteria (why not?!)
  • Athletic experiences if your student is an athlete
  • Class and day-to-day structure
  • Why the student chose to attend that college (my favorite question!)

Can you think of other topics your student should ask about? Think your student will never agree to talk to another student? How about if the admission office arranges it and the other student has tons common with that student? If you set it up, it might not happen, but if the admission office arranges it? — totally different story.

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What’s one thing you can guarantee that my student will experience at this college and why?

I really, really like this question! Know why? It puts a dart right in the middle of a college’s values. 

Once, a student said this to me about a competitor school: “I really didn’t enjoy my tour at XYZ College. The tour guide spent all her time talking about the religious opportunities on campus. I found out that over 60 percent of students at the college attend chapel or other religious services and I realized that college wouldn’t be a great fit for me at all.”

Now, in reality, the college actually could have been a great fit for the student because it offered an excellent academic experience. And the tour guide was wrong. Just 15 percent of students participated in religious activities. However, the student didn’t believe she’d fit in. It worked out to our benefit, however. The tour guide at our college did an excellent job of sharing all of the other salient points for the student and she came to our college! (It really is all about perception, isn’t it?)

Find out whether the school will meet your kiddo’s expectations. Ask around! Sometimes people take a students’ point of view as the gospel truth — and, well, my story proves what can happen there.

How much financial aid can I get?

Think you have to wait around to find out how much college will cost? Until you get your child’s financial aid award?

No! 

You can find out long before you get that aid award in the mail and can know the cost wayyyy in advance.

How?

You’ll find a net price calculator on every college’s website. The net price calculator holds the secrets: What you’ll pay out-of-pocket or through student loans. The college’s total cost — tuition, room and board and fees, minus any grants and scholarships — tells you what you pay. Is it a full, robust snapshot with every detail?

No. 

But you can get close.

By the way, you can also ask for a preliminary financial aid award or a financial aid early estimator. 

They give you lots of great information. Bottom line: You’re armed with a lot more information way before you receive a financial aid award.

How to Get A+ Answers

How to get A+ answers? It’s simple.

The only way you’re going to get answers to your questions is to ask them. Push a little. It’s okay! In fact, I firmly believe that’s a parent’s job during the college search process. 

Ask tough questions. And when the admission counselor can’t answer — she asks her boss. (Just like I did.) 

And then, when the boss can’t answer, he goes to the facilities planning and management personnel who can answer (or whoever it is.)

The point is, you’re the customer. You should get the answers you want and need. 

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