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.


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.





Is your College Major a right fit for you?

Choosing a college major can be one of the most formidable tasks in the college preparation process.  It is common for a student to enter college as “undecided” as to their college major.  And even those who have decided, few actually pursue that field of study to its end.  It is widely reported by many colleges that roughly 70% of college students change their major at least once…some change it more than once.  Here are a few suggestions to help with the arduous task of choosing a college major.

College Major Suggestion #1: Current School Activities

What are you enjoying now about school?  What are the subjects in which you excel?  If you find something you really like to do now, it may be because you have a natural ability or interest in that area.  Why not follow something in your area of current interest.  For instance, if you like inspecting, measuring and monitoring, you may want to pursue something in the field of physics.  Or if you have an interest in artistic expression, like drawing or designing, you may want to consider music or visual arts.  Remember, this is just one area of interest, but it allows you to at least begin to see what college major may be a good fit for you.

College Major Suggestion #2: Other School Activities

What are some of the extracurricular activities that capture your time?  Once you have looked at the academic side of school, now take a look at the other school activities in which you are involved.  Perhaps you are a part of the drama club, school government, fundraising, clubs or religious activity.  These areas provide some further details into our likes and dislikes.  Don’t pay much attention to the activities that are forced, but rather the activities that you enjoy.  For instance, do you enjoy organizing events or planning work activities?  You may want to consider event planning or fundraising.  Or, if you love researching information and keeping accurate records, you may want to consider research or project management.  As you travel through these suggestions, each one allows you to see greater details about which college major may be a right fit for you.

College Major Suggestion #3: Current Leisure Activities and/or Hobbies

What are the activities that you do just for fun?  These activities offer some of the most important insights into who you are.  For instance, if you enjoy recording the events of your day in a journal.  You may want to consider writing.  Or, if you enjoy playing sports, you may want to consider physical training, performing, or even coaching.

As you walk through these self-introspecting suggestions you can begin to see a more accurate picture of what college majors may be a right fit for you.  One of the services we offer to our clients is a tool that helps students find the right college major for them.  Finding the right college major will save you time and money.

College Freshman Parent Survival Tips

They have made it!  Your student(s) has successfully completed the high school years and are looking forward to their first year of college life.  They are so excited, but you may be more nervous than excited.  You may be a but anxious about your “baby” heading off to the fresh air of the college campus.  Even if they are staying locally, college life is a whole new world.  And you, as the parent, have a whole new role.  So here are some parent survival tips for those with college freshman

Parent Tip #1: Remember you are not forgotten.

The number one concern parents have about their child entering college life is losing touch with their student.  And it makes sense that this is a concern.  For the past 18-19 years, the parent has been right there for every major event in the life of their student.  But now, there is a strange separation.  You should celebrate your child maturing into an adult.  But sometimes this separation causes a great deal of anxiety.  So remember, you are not forgotten, but you should take deliberate steps to stay connected.  That brings us to the second of our Parent Survival Tips.

Parent Tip #2: Remember to stay Connected

The number one way you stay connected with your student while they are in college is to communicate with them.  This may be a bit tricky because college schedules can get crazy.  However, you can find time.  Many families choose to have a specific time that they connect with their child.  You can schedule time on the calendar before it gets taken by classes, study, work or party time.

Also, you need to know that once your child enters college, their privacy is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  You should familiarize yourself with the the particulars of this law.  FERPA was designed to protect the private information of the college student.  You as the parent(s)/guardian(s) have to ask for permission to view this information.  Here is how the law reads, “schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.”  So make sure you and your student sign the pertinent documentation if you would like access to this school information.

Parent Tip #3: Remember to evaluate the plan

The third of our Parent Survival Tips is to evaluate the plan.  As you connect with your student, make sure you evaluate your college financial plan.  If you are wise, you and your student has developed a college financial plan.  You will need to include all the income and spending plans for the semester/year.  Then evaluate this plan on a monthly basis.  It does not need to be a thorough evaluation, but rather a check-up.  For many students this is the first time they will need to be concerned with a budget.  Financial planning is an important lesson your child will learn during their college life.

We are sure there are many other parent survival tips that you will learn over the coming months.  Be sure to comment below to share some of your favorite parent survival tips.

Survival Tips for College Freshman (Student Edition)

You made it!  You have successfully completed high school and are looking forward to the fresh air of the college campus.  While college life does offer its fair share of niceties, it also has its share of pitfalls.  Here are a few survival tips for college Freshman.

Survival Tips: 1 – Remember to Stay Focused.

College life offers so many options that many people lose their focus.  It is easy to get sidetracked by all the activities on campus and forget the reason why you are there.  Stay focused!  That does not mean that you can’t have a good time, but it certainly means you should at least attend classes.  While you are at it, make sure you get to know your professors.  Maybe even engage in a study group with other classmates.  Don’t allow the optional to take you away from the essential.  Remember you are there to receive an education which will act as the foundation for the rest of your life.

Survival Tips: 2 – Remember to Stay Connected!

When you first arrive on campus everything is new.  There are new living spaces, new sights, new classrooms, new food, new coffee shops; in fact just about everything is new.  But just because you are in a new environment, surrounded by new friends, does not mean that you should disconnect from everything from your past.  Stay connected!  Stay connected with friends.  Stay connected with family.  These connections act as anchors when the new storms of life arrive.  It’s okay to phone home.  It’s okay to send a message or a snap to a friend.  These connections offer a safe familiarity in the midst of an ever changing Freshman year.

Survival Tips: 3 – Remember to Stay Disciplined!

Of course, there will be plenty of new rules to follow, but that’s not really our focus here.  You need to stay disciplined when it comes to your finances.  If you have created a financial plan for college, you will need to monitor that plan to ensure you are staying disciplined.  If you do not have a financial plan for college, creating a college budget is where you might want to start.  Once your  plan (budget) is in place, it will take discipline to follow it.  Stay Disciplined!  Follow your plan!  Discipline in your finances is a life lesson that is well worth the investment.

Although these are not the only survival tips that may be beneficial to the Freshman year of college, they are important ones.  We hope that your first year of college will be great.  But remember… Stay Focused!  Stay Connected!  Stay Disciplined!  Coming soon…survival tips for the Freshman year (Parent Edition)!

The Unexpected Expense of College Textbooks

It’s hard to plan for every expense that a college student can incur.  But everyone knows that they will need textbooks for each and every semester.  Many people are surprised at the unexpected expense of college textbooks.  Probably the easiest way to get your textbooks is from your campus bookstore, but there are many ways you can save money while shopping for your college textbooks.

Order your college textbooks from the college bookstore

By far the easiest way to get your college textbooks each and every semester is to order them from your college’s campus bookstore.  Usually, this process is just a few simple clicks and you can walk in the first day of class and pick up every book you need in a nice little shrink-wrapped pile.  It’s easy!  But it will also be the most expensive way to obtain your college textbooks.

Even buying your textbooks from the campus bookstore may offer some money saving options.  For instance, many bookstores will also allow you to rent textbooks for the semester.  You may even be able to purchase a used textbook instead of a new textbook for a particular class.  So, don’t rule out the campus bookstore, it is definitely the easiest option if you are willing to pay a little bit more for your textbooks.

Order your college textbooks online

For those with a more adventurous (read frugal) spirit, there are other options for acquiring your college textbooks.  You can buy your textbooks from multiple online vendors.  This method requires some time and effort.  It’s definitely not the easiest way of gathering your college textbooks, but it can reap a load of savings.  Here are a few of the ways college students are saving on their textbooks:

  • Amazon Search: The easiest way is to use a source like Amazon Marketplace.  A quick search of the ISBN will show multiple vendors with varying prices.
  • Internet Search: If you want to widen your search a bit, simple type in the ISBN in your favorite browser.  You will find pages of resources ready to sell you that specific textbook.  Just make sure you get the correct edition of the text.
  • College Classifieds Search: Another resource may be your college’s classified listing.  Students from the previous semester may be looking to sell their slightly used books.

Many people are taking advantage of these money saving tips on college textbooks.  In 2016, the national average for a student’s annual textbook expense was $602.00.  That’s a 14% decrease of the national expense of 2007-2008.  This may be the only area of college expense that is decreasing!