Your most Successful Semester of College

The 2018 fall college semester is just around the corner.  Whether this is your first (freshman) or last (senior), this could be your most successful semester.  We’ve asked one of our college students to identify some steps they take each semester to ensure a successful semester.  Our college senior is Mikaela, she maintains a high GPA and is on the highest honors list at her college in PA.  Here are some of her tips for a successful semester.

Tips from a College Senior for the fall college semester

Plan before you get to school.  Your syllabi usually come out two weeks prior to school.  One helpful tool is to purchase or create a planner.  These come in many different varieties from daily to weekly.  If this is your first semester, you may need to experiment a little.  But a planner will help you keep your assignments in order.

Keep up with your college assignments.  Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your assignments.  The tendency is to wait.  And sometimes you feel like you have a lot of time left, but time can easily get away from you in college.  Waiting will only mean that you get jammed up toward the end of the week, or end of the semester.  “I try to get my weekly work done early in the week, so I have the weekends off.” (Mikaela, college senior)  You can also divide larger projects into your weekly work schedule.  By keeping up with your weekly work, you can ensure a successful semester.

Make a wise decision regarding your class textbooks.  First, rent books that you are not going to keep.  If you are going to keep your books, think about buying them online or from friends who may have already taken the class.  Check the college classifieds or college bulletin boards to find books that may be available for your upcoming classes.  You may be able to save hundreds of dollars this way.

Additional Advice includes: You need to work to balance your class work with activity/rest time.  Also, use google drive for notes…this way you can share your notes with classmates easily.

Tips from a College Financial Planner:

Find the best way to send money to your college student.  It never fails, every semester there will be a call from your student to ask for money.  You need to find the best way to send money to your college student.  There are multiple options available.  Using your local bank to transfer money may be the best option, but make sure there are no holds on funds or restrictions on amounts of transfers.  You may also be able to set up an automatic transfer to your student’s college account to give them extra funds for on-campus spending.

Again these are some tips that we have found beneficial.  We invite you into the conversation below.  Please take time to add your tips, or thoughts on the tips we have mentioned in the comment section below.


How do you get Ready for 2018 College Semester?

The college buzz is in the air.  The 2018 Fall college semester is just around the corner, and, if you are like me, your house is in a frenzy.  This year, we have two college students, a senior and a freshman, heading off to college.  That means there is one who knows nothing about college and one who thinks they know everything about college.  There is a lot of wisdom in both ends of the spectrum that will help you prepare for the 2018 college semester.

The Perspective from the Freshman

Make full use of lists!  Every college has a list of supplies that may be useful to incoming students.  “You may even want to make a list of the things you use on a day to day basis.”  You can also find a plethora of useful lists online.  But most importantly make these lists personal, not everyone needs the same stuff.

Check you college portal.  This may be called your student dashboard.  You can find valuable class information on these sites.  This will help you become more prepared for the upcoming semester.  Start setting up your schedule, look over syllabi, even ordering your books early can ease the semester pressure.

Other helpful advice includes: keeping in touch with your admission counselor, contacting your roommate, or contacting any friends who may be attending the same college with you.  Remember, this advice is to help you use this month to help you be better prepared for the upcoming college semester.

The Perspective from the Financial Planner

Do you have a financial plan in place for the college semester?  This should include your plan to pay for college tuition, room and board, as well as spending money.  It is always good to start with a plan, even if you have to make adjustments in the middle of the college semester.  Your financial plan can help as you more forward to the next semester.  Consider the cost of sporting events, special events, travel home expenses, school supplies, and even coffee.  These small expenses can add up, so make a plan and you will find yourself better prepared for the upcoming semester.

In this post we have examined tips from the upcoming semester from the college freshman perspective.  We hope that you will find some of these tips beneficial to the 2018 fall college semester.  Please, add you tips to the comment thread below.

New College Admission Metrics

Have you applied to college yet?  If not, your final date to apply is fast approaching.  Many colleges close their application acceptance by the end of the year or the first of next year.  That means you have less than 20 days left to apply.  With the college admission process becoming increasingly tricky, the applicant needs to take advantage of every opportunity to set themselves apart.  According to Erik Hoover senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education,  ” When colleges choose applicants, they’re juggling competing goals, like increasing diversity and bringing in more revenue. Admissions officers aren’t looking for students who fit just one description — say, those who’ve earned all A’s or won the most awards.”  So what steps can you take to navigate these new College Admission Metrics?

Standardized Tests Still Rule in College Admission Metrics

One of the largest factors for college admission is still standardized testing.  You know the tests; they include the SAT and ACT, but could also include other tests.  These tests still play a major role in the admission process.  While many colleges are downplaying their importance, they do value the one stop insight that these standardized tests offer.

Your Coursework Plays a Role in College Admission Metrics

But what happens when two applicants have very similar test scores.  In reality, colleges are not weighing one against another, they are weighing hundreds against each other.  What makes one applicant stand out from the crowd?  Colleges begin to drill down into the specific rigors of the applicant’s educational portfolio, specifically, the individual coursework of the applicant.  From here the colleges are looking at the difficulty of the specific courses or the specialization of the coursework as it relates to the applicant’s field of study.

Personality Profiles are playing a larger role in College Admission Metrics

The New Metric in college admissions may be more inline with a personality profile, than an academic profile.  In a recent interview with Dr. Perez of Trinity, he states “Trinity still values conventional measures, the new model has expanded the staff’s understanding of merit.”  What is that new model?  Perez says, “While reading applications, its admissions officers now look for evidence of 13 characteristics — including curiosity, empathy, openness to change and ability to overcome adversity — that researchers associate with successful students.”  All these personality metrics are used to ensure the applicant has the greatest potential to excel at that particular college.

What is the message?   While standardized testing is still important, what really separates one applicant from another is more personal in nature.  Colleges are looking for a “right fit” which will include academic and personality, as well as other indicators, to assist them in the admission process.


College Planning Questions for your High School Guidance Counselor

This may surprise you, but no one cares more about your child’s college planning than you!  I know this may sound a bit strange, but it’s true.  Your child has other things to think about than college planning, and the guidance counselor has so many students to care for that they can’t possibly care for everyone.  So you, as the parent, need to take control of the college planning preparations.  To help you in this endeavor, we have come up with some college planning questions to ask your high school guidance counselor.

College Planning Questions – Plan

This question may sound simplistic, but it is often overlooked.  Every parent and student needs to ask if the school has a specific plan to help your student prepare for college.  Be specific!  Schedule a meeting and simply ask: What is the plan to help me/my student prepare for college?  This is sometimes referred to as a roadmap, but you are simply looking for the strategy the school has in place to help the student prepare for college.  You don’t have to be in a college preparatory school to be thinking of college planning.  But by asking the question, you and the school can at least be moving in the same direction when it comes to college preparation.  One final thought, it’s never too early to ask this question.  So ask early!

College Planning Questions – Tools

This college planning question has more to do with finding the right major/career path.  Ask…”What tools are available to help me/my student find the best career path?”  Your particular school may have some valuable tools available to help guide you in good career direction.  These tools may include assessments, career counseling and even mentorships.  But again, if you do not ask the question, you may miss some valuable tools that are readily available to you.

College Planning Questions – Partnerships

The area of strategic partnerships is not new in the educational arena.  Vocational schools have a long tradition of strategic partnership with community businesses that help the student find work and licensure.  Private schools offer some strategic partnership with colleges, and even public schools have colleges that offer some great scholarship to individuals in their schools.  You will need to ask your guidance counselor if there are any work or educational partnerships available to your student.

These questions will help you gain a better understanding of the ways in which your high school guidance department can help you prepare for college.  We would like to know what questions you have already asked your guidance counselor that you have found beneficial?  Share a question in the comments section so that we can all benefit from your experience.

Choosing the right Career Path

It may surprise you that 80% of college students change their major at least once.  Sometimes these changes are small shifts within a field of study.  However, some changes constitute major shifts that can affect your financial plan for college. One of the ways you can minimize these changes is by exploring a career path before you make your college major decision.  Let’s look at some of the tools available to help students explore a career path.

Exploring a Career Path: Career Fair

One tool to help you explore a particular career path is a career fair.  Sometimes these fairs are held at local schools, sometimes they are held in conjunction with local college fairs.  The benefit of these fairs is that you get to ask any question you may have about a particular job.  It may not offer you the specific information you need, but at least you get to meet someone who actually works in that career.

Exploring a Career Path: Shadowing/Internship

Another valuable tool is shadowing or internships.  Shadowing is simply following a person in a particular career for a short amount of time.  While an internship affords you the opportunity to actually work in a particular career for an extended amount of time.  As you can see, these opportunities allow you to actually see what a particular career would entail.  This is beneficial information to help you make a good decision when choosing a career path.

Exploring a Career Path: Career Roadmap

One tool that may be available to you is a career roadmap.  A career roadmap is an assessment tool you fill out to determine what career path may be of greatest interest to you.  The career roadmap would ask you questions to determine what career may be the best fit for you.  It certainly eliminates any career choices that would not be a good fit and may help you choose that perfect fit major for you.  A good assessment tool will include information like: pay range, average job satisfaction ratings, employment opportunity, and testimonies of people currently employed in that field of employment.

No tool will ever be able to eliminate changes in one’s college major, they will give you better confidence in your decision.  Remember, not all tools are created equally.  So choose well, and use a variety of tools.  We offer one of the best roadmaps on the market, so if you would like more information, please contact our office.



Early Decision and Early Action

October is an important month in your college planning.  It starts with the important task of filling out your FASFA but also includes an important decision.  Do you want to try to obtain admission early?  For most colleges, the deadline for early admission is November 1st, that makes October the month to apply.  Early admission offers some benefits, but the terminology can be confusing at best, and detrimental at worse.  So here are the facts about Early Decision and Early Action.

The Facts about Early Decision

Early decision is the process of applying early to your specific college with the intention of attending that college if accepted.  This is a binding agreement between the college and the student.  It shows the college that you as a student are serious about attending their college.  While it does allow the student greater opportunity to be accepted before the admission spots are taken, this form of early admission is “usually” binding.

The word “usually” offers a great amount of confusion.  While many sources say that it is totally binding, others say that it is only binding if the financial award meets the financial need.  (See our post on words of confusion.)  Also, you need to note that it is up to the family to demonstrate that the financial aid package does not meet the need.  So make sure you read the information for your specific college regarding early decisions

The Facts about Early Action

Another option is early action.  “Early action is a type of early admission process for admission to colleges and universities in the United States.”(1) The greatest benefit of early action is the fact that it is not binding.  Another benefit is that students are free to apply early to other colleges.  The student will benefit from early action because it still shows that the student is serious about attending that particular college.  The student also benefits from being able to compare the financial offerings from different colleges before making a final decision.

A new kind of hybrid option is the single choice early action option (SCEA).  While not binding, it acknowledges the students’ willingness to attend that particular college by only applying there.  The student is free to apply to other colleges during the regular admission round.

The important thing to remember is to make sure you understand your colleges’ early admission guidelines.  These guidelines are usually available online and are always available through a conversation with your admission advisor.  We think the best early admission option is Early Action since it allows you to compare financial offerings to find the best fit for your family.


College Apps for the College Student

We live in a technology-driven world that is ever changing to meet the needs of its consumers.  The moves in technology happen so quickly that the consumer doesn’t even know they have a need until the latest innovation alerts us to that need.  Nowhere is this truer than on the college campus in the lives of the modern day college student.  There is no way to stay ahead of this technology curve unless of course, this is your field of study.  This is not the time to run and hide, but rather the time to make some quick technology choices that will aid your college needs.  Here are the kind of college apps for the college student that are most beneficial.

Our goal is not to give advice on specific apps, although we will name some specific apps that are getting great reviews.  But rather, to show the kinds of apps that may offer the greatest benefit for the college student.  We have come up with three primary categories relating to college life: productivity, study and financial.

Productivity College Apps

Productivity apps are defined as those apps that help you accomplish your coursework on a timely basis.  They would include your word processors, spreadsheets, note taking apps, calendar, task lists, just to name a few.  This is a large category, so let’s start super obvious.

  • You need to make sure you have your college’s online platform loaded or linked for fast access.  Many colleges are asking that assignments be loaded and dropped into an online platform like Blackboard, Dropbox, Moodle, Schoology, and others.
  • You need to have a robust planning platform.  This would include a way to track your schedule and tasks.  There are many options available from your calendar and task lists, to dedicated programs designed to track classes. One such app is entitled myHomework Student Planner.  But a simple internet search will show many other options.
  • You will need a productivity office suite.  I know this sounds simple, but make sure you have a suite that will accomplish all your student needs.
Study College Apps

Study apps are closely related to productivity apps, but these apps are more for personal help rather than submitting work to your professors.  These apps will be more about personal preference than fulfilling class requirements.  For instance, would you prefer flashcards or bullet points?  Do you learn better by reading over the notes, or practice quizzes?  Here are a few options:

  • You need a note-taking app.  You can certainly use a word processor here, but other options are available.  Evernote is a note-taking app but combined with its Studyblue, it can become flashcards and quizzes.
  • You may want a flashcard app.  There are many to choose from, so it really becomes a matter of preference.
Financial College Apps

This last category is often forgotten about by many college students.  Many don’t think they need to know this, but it is our belief that this may be the most important kind of app.  Here are two kinds of apps that are necessary to help you make the most of your college finances.

  • You need your banking institution’s app.  This is the place where you can go to check the account balances.  This is the foundational piece of your financial planning.  You need access to this information so that you don’t overspend your money.  Your bank(s) will have a free app for you to track all your accounts.
  • You need a financial budgeting app.  This app allows you to track your spending and ensure that you are staying within your college financial plan.  While the banking app offers you little choice, the budgeting app offers you maximum choice.  You can even get apps that will sync with your bank to bring their information right into their app.  One such app is Mint, but there are other like available as well.

There are certainly other apps that the college student will use like, entertainment apps, social apps, music apps, and even reading apps.  But the kind of apps we have listed above are essential.  Make sure you use the best college apps for college students.

Parents’ College Visit

It has been a few weeks since you said goodbye to your college student and watched through the rear-view mirror as you pulled away.  You can hardly believe it’s that time of life for you and your student.  Whether they have called every day or once since you’ve left, a parents’ college visit is a good way to get reconnected.  So take advantage of these important visits.

Scheduled Parents’ College Visit:

Many colleges see the need for a parents’ weekend.    These scheduled events usually happen in the fall and are very beneficial for both the student and the parent.  It’s a time to reconnect the family, but also a time to see your student in the “normal” flow of college life.  These weekends are full of events that are academic, like visiting a class; social, like attending a play; or collegiate, like attending a college sporting event.

Here are some tips to remember when attending the scheduled parents’ college visit.  Make sure you know the schedule.  An event schedule is usually posted on the college’s website well in advance of your visit.  Talk with your student and ask what events they would enjoy.  While the schedule is a great place to start, don’t feel as if you have to follow it exactly.  Sometimes you need to do your own thing.  The most important part of this trip is to connect with your student and let them show you they are doing just fine.

Surprise Parents’ College Visit:

While scheduled visits are great, sometimes a surprise parents’ college visit can be just as effective.  These surprise visits can come at just the right moment to add an extra boost to your student.  In fact, who knows your student better than you!

But before you jump in the car and drive a few hours, there are a couple of things that you need to consider.  Make sure you know your student’s schedule.  Don’t make a surprise visit when your student is overwhelmed with school work or tests.  This will add a great amount of stress for both you and your student.  So make sure you check your student’s schedule.  Also, make sure you check the holiday calendar and that your student will not be traveling to a fellow student’s house for the weekend or holiday.  You would be really surprised if you showed up on campus and your student was in another state with their roommate.  I am sure you know how to get the pertinent information without giving away your surprise visit.

There is no perfect reason for a parent’s college visit, but there are plenty of benefits.  So make sure you do the proper planning to make your college visit the most beneficial.  In fact, you may want to calculate these college visits into your college financial plan.


FERPA and your College Finances

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was enacted to protect the privacy of educational records.  But did you know, when a student reaches their college years, the parent no longer has rights to the students educational information?  The FERPA law gives all protection to the student as an individual.  Here’s what you need to know to help prepare your college finances for FERPA.

FERPA Defined

According to the United States Department of Education, “The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.”  What is important to note, is that these rights are transferred to the student after high school.  The US Department of Education asserts, that “FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.”  While FERPA is designed to protect the family, it also creates barriers for the parents of college-aged students.  College academics and college finances are two areas where FERPA may create these barriers.

FERPA and Your College Academics

College academics are an important part of college life for the student.  But they are just as important to the parent.  Many parents, who are paying for college, like to know how their students are performing academically.  Others parents like to be a source of encouragement in their student’s academic life.  Whichever the case, parents need to be involved in their student’s academic information.  FERPA restricts this information.  In fact, without permission from the student, this information is not accessible by the parent.

Luckily, FERPA does allow the student to grant permission for the parent to have access to their academic and financial information.  The US Department of Education states, “Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.”   A sample of this document is found on the US Department of Education website.  Make sure to check with your college to see if they have a specific form that needs to be on file.

FERPA and Your College Finances explains the ways in which FERPA affects college finances.  They state that “records created and maintained by the financial aid office are considered to be education records and may not be disclosed without the student’s consent.”  According to FERPA, the parent(s) should have no access to this information.  This information may include Federal loan information, student accounts, cost of attendance information, and even financial payment information.  These are important financial areas where both the student and parent(s) need to monitor.  This will help evaluate and develop your financial plan for college.

Most of the academic and financial information is now given through the student’s college portal.  Some colleges allow the parent to have a sign-on to this student portal after permission has been granted.  Each college will have different methods for handling the FERPA permissions.  What is important is that you as the parent obtain the proper permission so that you can have access to this vital information.  No one wants your student to succeed academically or financially more than you do.

How your SAT/ACT Scores Impact your College Finances.

College finances are one of the most complicated aspects of preparing for college.  There is so much pressure placed upon students and families to gain the best possible financial aid package.  Colleges go to great lengths to disclose all the important financial information.  They even try to cover as much of the financial burden as

Your SAT/ACT Scores Impact your College Finances.

possible.  However, your SAT/ACT scores play an important role in your college finances.


Many colleges are moving away from using the SAT/ACT scores as a primary source for admission.  However, these scores still play a major role in your college finances.  Most colleges use the SAT/ACT scores to award merit-based aid.  In fact, Marie Willsey states, “a recent study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), nearly four out of five colleges use standardized test scores as an eligibility criterion for merit aid.”  Your SAT/ACT scores impact your college finances.  Here are some ideas for improving your SAT/ACT scores which in turn improves your financial aid.

Study, Study, Study!

You should make sure you are ready for your SAT/ACT.  This means you need to study.  There are plenty of study options available.  Depending on your particular learning style, you can learn from private tutoring to classroom training, online tools or study guides.  At College4Less, we offer a great SAT/ACT preparatory course.  You need to be ready for your test because your college finances are affected by the outcome of your test.


A simple search of your college’s financial aid web page can show the merit-based aid.  This scale is usually defined primarily by your SAT/ACT scores.  The better your score; the better your financial aid.  Each school determines its own merit based scale, but the fact remains that a better score means better aid.  Your SAT/ACT score impacts your college finances.

With just a few improvements, you can see huge dividends in merit-based aid.  In fact, one student, in our program, improved their SAT score by 40 points and receives an additional $16,000 in merit-based aid.  So while the news reports that SAT/ACT are not as important in entering in college, they are still very important to your college finances.