Kendell Shaffer

Is Early Action or Early Decision A Good Idea?

My daughter didn’t know about Early Action (EA) when she applied to college. I first learned about it as her friends started receiving acceptances before she’d even finished applying to schools. I thought the only early application option was Early Decision (ED).

The biggest difference between Early Decision and Early Action is that Early Decision applications are binding meaning the student is obligated financially to accept the tuition package offered. Early Action plans are non-binding and the student can put off their decision to accept their package until they hear from other schools. ED works like this; a student applies early to one school and receives their decision early (before May 1). If accepted, the student must accept the offer of admissions and withdraw all of their other applications. This can be quite a gamble because a family is deciding without being able to weigh other options. Other schools may offer the student more financial or merit aid, but the student will never know if they apply ED.  A student should apply to other schools as well in case ED does not work out. However, this is a costly proposal, knowing they must give up those other applications if admitted to their ED school. The only way to get out of a binding contract would be if the family can prove that they don’t have the financial means to pay the tuition. It is so important for students to have backup schools that they love. It’s not wise to rely on one favorite.

Early Action is a non-binding contract. In EA, a student applies to one school early and receives their decision early. However, they do not have to commit to that one school until they hear from the other schools they applied to. This allows the student to weigh all their options.

Students will apply EA or ED if they are very passionate about one school. It is important to remember that your child should only apply ED if they are certain they want to attend that school. Students will also use EA or ED to get into a difficult school that they might otherwise get into during regular admission. The acceptance rates for EA and ED are usually higher than regular admission acceptance rates. A loophole is that some schools do not offer EA or ED (like the UC’s) and others will either offer only ED or EA, not both.

In my experience, Early Decision is a gamble and Early Action is a safer and better bet. EA allows your student to weigh their options (particularly financial ones) while knowing early if they got into their dream school. Knowing what I know now, I would have advised my child to apply EA when possible and only do ED if there are no doubts in their mind that this is the perfect school for them.

What Does Test Optional Really Mean?

If your student excels in extracurriculars and has a good GPA, but doesn’t test well, then Test Optional schools are great options. About 1, 000 colleges accept applications without requiring SAT or ACT scores; they refer to those schools as test optional. This option gives the student more opportunity to be valued by their strengths, instead undervalued because of their weaknesses. But make sure your student has a good GPA if they don’t submit test scores.
Universities tend towards tests because they receive so many applications they need some way to screen candidates. But some universities are becoming test optional. The University of San Francisco, for example, is finding that a better indicator of how well a student will do in college is their grades in college prep classes, not SAT test scores. More liberal arts schools are test optional because they have extra resources to review individual applications.
“About half of the top 100 liberal arts colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report are test-optional. Institutions that are test-flexible allow applicants to substitute scores from other tests such as SAT Subject Tests or Advanced Placement tests.”
FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a non-profit that advocates against the tests. is the best way to find test-optional schools and has a list of over 1000 colleges that are test optional listed alphabetically.
If your student plans to apply for financial aid, then they might need to do some additional research. Candidates may not be eligible for merit aid if they don’t supply their scores, so please make sure your student asks the colleges about merit aid.

How Many Times Should You Take the SAT or ACT?

SATs and Acts have different rules about how many times someone can take them. But it’s probably best to follow your student’s college counselor’s guide to determine what is right for him or her. Please consider that although these tests are important, they are just part of the package that colleges look at when assessing a student.
Students can take the SATs as many times as they want. There are no restrictions. However, only the most recent six remain on their file at a time. In contrast to the unlimited times you can take the SAT, the student is only allowed to take the ACT twelve times. But taking the test so many times may not be a great idea. Some colleges require students to submit all their test scores to be admitted. They report poor scores alongside great scores. Some schools let the student Score Choice and select the best scores to submit. It’s important to review the requirements of each school before diving into the SAT or ACT tests.
Superscoring is a good way for students to submit the best of their scores to schools. Instead of defining their score by a specific date, some colleges agree to allow students to send their superscores, which may be a culmination of tests taken on different dates. For example, if your child scores higher in math on their June SAT, and higher on English on their September SAT, their superstore would be their June math score along with their September English score.
My son’s college counselor is suggesting that he take both the SAT and the ACT in June and then see which one he performs better on and which one he feels more comfortable with. Then she wants him to pick one and take that test again in the fall. She does not want him to spend all his time for the test. She wants him to spend the summer on his college essay and prepare his art portfolio. This advice works well for my son, but it might not work well for every student.
Tests are expensive, so unless your child has a large budget, taking the test multiple times can be a strain financially. I am comfortable in knowing that my son will take the test twice, but not obsess about it and spend his entire summer studying.

Should Parents Limit How Much Time Children Spend on Tech Devices?

Balance is the most important thing when raising teenagers. They are at the point in life where they want to make their own decisions. They think they know what is best. But they really don’t. So in maintaining a peaceful household, I find compromise and balance to be essential. I’m not one for punishment, I let my teens know the parameters and hope they make the best decisions.

But decisions on tech devices are tricky. That was never an issue when I was a kid since there were none. But I did watch a lot of television. Probably too much, but I had a career in TV so I like to think all those years watching was good training. As an adult, I know I spend way too much time on tech devices and find I need to limit myself. I recently cut out Facebook and all my social media for a month. It was a breath of fresh air. After two days picking up my phone, with nothing to do on it because I had deleted all social media apps, I realized how addicted I’d become to the phone.

Soon I reflected more, read more, jotted ideas down in a journal I kept with me. I listened to podcasts when I had time to kill and then put a newspaper app on my phone and read more articles during downtime. I don’t think it would have been fair of me to limit my son’s device time if I hadn’t limited my own.

But it’s hard to tell a seventeen-year-old what they can and can’t do. So I make suggestions and hope he listens. And I knew I needed alternatives to offer him. So I brought up drawing pads for him to draw on, pulled out an old guitar, and plugged in the keyboard. I noticed as these creative outlets were in the living room; he’d pick those up instead of his phone.

Children learn by example, we all do, so I knew I needed to set my example. I recall once when my daughter was about five and I was online looking for new toys for her. She came up and said, “Mommy, I don’t want new toys. I want you to play with me.” I kind of think this still applies. They don’t really want to be online; they want us to play with them. Although they won’t admit that, try it and see what happens. You might surprise each other.

Whose Fault is it if a Child is Failing in School?

The old expression, “it takes a village” applies with our children’s education. Parents know what it takes to get into a competitive college or university. We know how hard junior year is and how challenging SAT’s and ACT’s can be. We also know from experience how valuable a college education is. So we sacrifice for years, our time, our money to provide for our children hoping they can achieve this goal and graduate from college. That’s our part.

We rely on good teachers and administrators at school to not only educate the children but to keep an eye on their academic progress. We hope they will report to the parents and work with students when they notice slipping grades or bad behavior. But, it is ultimately the child’s responsibility to maintain their grades and academic responsibilities. This is part of the maturing process and the preparation to live away from home. In college, they won’t have so many eyes on them.

In many schools, classrooms are overcrowded and students don’t get the personal attention they need. But hopefully they can find mentors in their community when they need help and guidance.

Wouldn’t it be great if our community could work with our students as well? If our kids could go to their friend’s parents if they needed help in school or with a social problem. Extracurricular teachers also play important roles, coaches and dance teachers, art teachers can be a great ears and watchful eyes on our children’s progress. Employers also have an inside look into our children. Are they arriving at work on time, handling their responsibilities, acting appropriately?

In elementary school, parents would gather for class meetings where issues surrounding the children were discussed and shared. As children got older, parents moved on from these discussions as the children wanted more privacy. The “village” model deteriorated as our children began to drive and stopped asking for help with homework.

So, whose fault is it if a student is failing in school? I’d say everyone’s fault. Children need support and eyes on them and should not fail. But if they do, they should know someone will be there for them. And hopefully they will have more than one person they can count on.

Can Cell Phones Be Educational Tools?

Everyone has a cell phone in their hands these days, so why not use them for learning? My sixteen-year-old son disagrees. He says you can’t use cellphones as educational tools because they are too much of a distraction. But then he listed the apps on his phone he uses for school. The calculator is the most obvious one, but he also uses Duolingo for Spanish. He looks things up on Safari when he needs to find a definition of a word or a quick point for a debate class. 

His sister is studying Italian in college and has switched all her phone settings to Italian, so now whenever she picks up her phone it’s an Italian language lesson. It makes it tougher for the rest of us when we accidentally grab her phone.

My son also uses an app called Wolframalpha. His cousin who is a systems programmer turned him on to this app which allows you to type in complicated math problems and then see an example of how to solve them. 

I researched when my daughter was studying for the SAT and ACT’s and found super helpful apps such as Magoosh ACT Flashcards – presenting a pool of problems and once your student masters the problem, that kind of problem is removed from the pool; Daily Practice app from the College Board gives your student an SAT problem a day; Math Brain Booster app which gives the student practice problems from the non-calculator part of the SAT and The Grading Game allows the “player” to find errors in college essays.

SAT Vocab by Mindsnacks looks a little silly with its coloring book artwork, but it gets great reviews and it’s free. So maybe a few silly cartoons can cut through some other heavy-handed apps when learning vocabulary.

I had some of these SAT and ACT apps on my phone and answered the questions and played games when I had time to wait. Sure beats looking at Instagram. Now if I can just get my sixteen-year-old to switch over to Magoosh from Snapchat.

Does Technology Get in the Way of Learning?

I think the phone and social media definitely impedes learning. But nowadays some kids are required to bring a phone to school. My son uses it as a calculator, to look things up in class, and to take photos of class assignments. All of his homework is assigned and uploaded on the school’s specific website. They track his grades on that site and post school announcements there. In his Spanish class he uses a program called Quizlet and in math sometimes he’s assigned a Khan Academy video to watch.

But it’s the social media that is a problem. Not only can apps like Instagram and Snapchat become addicting, they can also lead to depression and bullying. What’s worse than seeing your friends post pictures from a party you weren’t invited to? And texting can take up so much time.

I once taught a two week writing workshop where a shy girl sat in the front row and looked into her lap each class. She didn’t do one bit of writing or respond to questions. I worried about her. When I looked closer, I saw she was texting the entire time. I approached her and tried to engage her about her texts. Texting is writing after all. And since I was teaching a screenwriting class, I equated texting to dialogue. She was writing her side of a conversation. Since she did not care if she would pass this class or not, I felt challenged to engage her. But after, she still didn’t care and continued to text until the bell rang never turning in an assignment.

Some schools are talking about banning phones from classrooms. Our local middle school hangs shoe organizers with pockets that keep cell phones safe during class and out of the student’s hands. This sounds like a great idea and I’d like to implement it in my house.

I watched a lot of television as a kid and I try to equate the phone usage with that. But My television didn’t go everywhere with me and I didn’t have it in my bedroom at night. My biggest gripe with the phones are that they aren’t allowing our children to have any downtime. Or to daydream or to spend a moment without stimulation. It’s always there within thumbs reach.

I hope the technology will one day be boring for kids. I hope they only go to the computer to look up something or to learn. But for now, I can only hope they come up for air once in a while.

How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?

Bad report cards are warning signs that something in your child’s world is not right. Did they take on too heavy of a course load? Are classes are too advanced for them? Is something socially upsetting them? Whatever the reason, it’s time to take stock. 

I learned early on that what my kids feared most was disappointing me and their dad with bad grades. As soon as I figured this out, I made it very clear to them that their grades good or bad were not important to us, but they should be important to them. I suggested my job is to support them and help them to get the best grades they can and when they are slipping in a subject to let me know early on and I’d try to help them to figure out why. I found when the fear factor was removed, my kids took more responsibility for their grades and did not want to disappoint themselves. 

But what can we do as parents when a bad report card comes home? The first thing is to evaluate whether that class is just too hard. Perhaps meeting with the teacher and figuring out if they might have been placed in the wrong level. It’s okay to do a math level they can succeed in instead of an advanced math course they might fail in. This is also a good time to test if your child is putting in the work they need to for this class. 

A meeting with our child’s Advanced Chemistry teacher after a bad grade made all of us aware of his study poor habits. When he was in Chemistry the previous year, he studied the night before each test and got A’s. This year in Advanced Chemistry the tests are cumulative, so his teacher pointed out he needs to study every night even if he doesn’t have a test the next day to secure the ideas they review in class. She also went over some test-taking skills and found that he panics with short-answer questions. She suggested he start the test in the middle, warm up with the sections he is comfortable with and then go back to the short answers. These helpful hints have really worked and his grade is back up to an A and he feels a lot more confident and less scared of both his parents and his teacher. 

During a meeting with his English teacher she emphasized that going to her for help with essays before turning them in is crucial. Once he did that, his English grade improved. Teachers want their students to do well and if the student shows an interest in their grades and improving them, the teacher is thrilled and might even offer extra credit. 

Evaluating your child’s extracurriculars and how they spend their time after school and on weekends is important. Perhaps being on two sports teams and three clubs is just too much. It’s true that colleges like to see well rounded students, but that GPA can really make or break whether they get into the school of their choice. So when in doubt, get those grades up before anything else. 

It’s always best to look at your child’s grades before their report card comes out. So the more involved you are with their assignments and tests early in the semester the better. But what to do if a child fails a class. Check in with their advisor. Sometimes it might be best to take that class again in summer school, the following year, or at a community college. 

And finally, if your student’s grades are slipping, make sure things are okay socially. Are they being bullied? Hanging out with the wrong crowd? Or depressed? Falling grades can be a warning sign so rule all the outside factors out and seek help if need be.

High school is a tough time academically and socially, so the more your child knows you and their teachers are on their side and want to see them succeed, the happier they will be. These are the last years we have at home with our kids, so please don’t make it all about punishment for a bad grade. Enjoy this time and work through the struggles with them. And they will succeed.

What is All This Mail My High School Junior is Getting and How to Prioritize It

If you have seen a lot of mail from colleges coming for your high school junior, it’s most likely because they have just taken a PSAT or ACT. Colleges buy mailing lists from standardized tests. This is a way for lesser-known colleges to advertise to potential students. And a way for well-known schools to generate more applications which will then make their colleges more desirable and rank higher on lists like US News. This strategy began in the 1970s when the College Board agreed to sell names of students to colleges.

Sometimes the mail will seem personalized, noting the major your child is interested in. When the student takes the PSAT, they indicate their major of preference. This info is part of the info sold to colleges. Business schools can send mail to all potential business majors. Colleges also market to students based on their PSAT scores. So you may find that where University of Chicago is sending mail to a student who scored high on their PSAT’s their sibling who might have not scored so well is getting mail from lesser-known schools. 

Is it important for your student to open this mail? Only if something about the school is intriguing. This could be an opportunity for your student to learn about a school they never have heard of. Otherwise, you are free to recycle the paper mail and delete the emails. 

What if a specific school becomes aggressive in their mailings? The schools can be aggressive sending weekly emails with quizzes and activities to engage your child. They can ignore all of this. It will not make a difference if your student engages in these emails even if they plan to apply to that college.

Some college advisors suggest the student create a separate email address for all of their college related information. So before taking the PSAT help your student set up one of these emails. That way they can separate all the college-related email from their regular life email. If your student didn’t do this, then set up a folder with in their email box where they can store all the college-related emails. When they have downtime, they might spend a couple minutes looking at the emails, and then they can delete them. 

Organization is important during the college search. Your student will also gather college brochures from tours and college fairs. So perhaps setting up a storage box and some filing folders will be a great way to store important items without them getting lost. You can toss the snail mail in there too. 

The mail will slow down. It won’t be a solid two years of your mailbox being bogged down. But be on the lookout for those acceptance letters during the spring of their senior year. You don’t want to ignore those!

Checking in With Your College Freshman Half Way Through Their First Year

My daughter has been in college for 168 days, but she’s home today. Asleep on the sofa. It’s eleven o’clock in the morning. She woke up about an hour ago, came downstairs and immediately curled up on the sofa under a blanket she crocheted this summer and fell asleep again. 

She was up late last night studying, turning in a paper due at midnight which she uploaded to her professor. I think she might have stayed up after that as I saw the light on in her room as I passed by in the wee hours of the morning. She didn’t want to tell any friends she was back this weekend. She wanted to relax, read, take a bath, walk on the beach, “be quiet and reflect”, she said. All the things she missed most about being at home. 

Academically she is doing great, stimulated, challenged, working very hard and feeling proud of her good grades. Socially she has made friends and has learned to pick who she wants to spend time with. She realizes her time is valuable and she can’t afford to give it all away. She’s been athletic, taking advantage of the jogging paths, yoga classes and lap swimming the school has to offer. Not to mention the hikes between classes and the five flights of stairs she walks up several times a day to her room. Her dorm has no elevator. She probably hasn’t been in better physical or mental shape ever. 
But she misses solitude. Time to think. She is surrounded by people always. Even when she finds a cozy spot in the library to study, there are people nearby. She shares a dorm room with two roommates, so someone seems to always be in the room, there is really no place to be quiet. 

She has noticed kids dropping out already. Her neighbor just never came back to school after a long weekend. Another kid decided he wanted to become a fireman and dropped out to pursue that dream. Some just couldn’t take being away from home or the academic load and quit. School it turns out is not for everyone. 

It’s hard balancing all of these things on your own as an eighteen-year-old. Some thrive being away from home and exploring their independence. Some just want to be at home with their cozy pets and their childhood comforts. It’s hard to watch the transition into independence and as a parent I kind of want her to stay at home. But I know she needs to figure out how to live on her own and juggle the many aspects of life and to figure out how she can find solitude in a busy world. But for now I am happy to watch her curled up on the sofa under her favorite blanket she designed which fits her like a cocoon because when she is ready, I know she will emerge as a brilliant butterfly. 

How to Get the Most Out of College Fairs

This time of year is College Fair season where representatives from colleges and universities around the globe visit high schools. Sometimes college fairs are organized by majors. For example, schools focusing on STEM programs might be in attendance one evening and schools focusing on Arts programs might be in attendance another. The Ivy’s travel together and have one big event usually at a central hotel. The events can be overwhelming. I suggest that you look ahead and mark the upcoming dates on your calendar. Then give yourselves some time study the schools. Learn as much as you can about them beforehand and narrow down the ones your student is most interested in. Time at the fairs will be limited, so it’s best to pick the top four or five. Popular schools may have lines, so familiarize yourself with some schools that are not so popular and visit those. 


At the event you and your student has a chance to talk to the representatives. This is the first impression your student will make. Most likely the rep will ask the student to fill out an info card with their name and address and email. This not only puts the student on the school’s mailing list, but begins a file on the interested student. The representative may make notes on the student’s info card. It’s best for your student to come prepared with specific questions for the rep. The more prepared, the better they will look. The rep will most likely then give the student their business card. If that happens, then make sure your student follows up with a thank you email, perhaps with another question. The rep will add the email to the student’s file and when it comes time to review the application, a relationship with that student has already been established. 


Also make sure your student is open to looking at schools that might not have initially been on their radar. Smaller lesser known schools are represented at college fairs and will try to interest students with strong financial aid packages or majors that may not be offered at bigger schools. At a recent art school fair my son became interested in the Art Institute of Chicago, a place he never would have considered just reading about it. But the rep gave such a good pitch, and the program sounded remarkable, my son is now considering the school even with the recent -22 degree weather reports!


Be prepared, keep an open mind and follow up with the reps and your student will make the most of their upcoming college fairs. 

It’s Time To Start Thinking About Summer Programs for High Schoolers

There are so many ways for high school students to take advantage of summer programs. They can range from trips abroad to experiences in your nearby town. But many require applications and those deadlines are approaching. Here is a list of several interesting programs that have popped up on our radar lately.

Seeds of Peace 

This notable program begins in Maine and expands around the world. The idea is to foster leadership in young adults by bringing together students from all walks of life to discuss global issues. This is a tough program to get into and requires a writing based application. But from what I hear, students make life long friends from around the globe.

National Geographic Student Expositions

National Geographic offers destination programs that may or may not involve community service. Their website is inspiring and trips range from 11 to 21 days. Your student could do community service in Madagascar or focus on photography in New York City. And lots of other options in between.

Global Routes

This program is specifically service driven where students spend time in small communities around the world whether it be constructing schools and health clinics in rural areas or cleaning up streams in the rain forest. The program promotes cross-cultural learning and hands on experience.

Teton Valley Ranch Camp 

I have heard wonderful things about Teton Valley Ranch Camp in beautiful Dubois, Wyoming. A chance to spend the summer in the wilderness working on a horse ranch (ages 11-16).

California Summer State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA)

My son and daughter both attended this in-state program taught by professionals in the arts. Drama and dance in their cases. It was a great chance for my kids to experience college life while being an hour from home. They stayed all week in dorms at Cal Arts and opted to come home for weekends. As a California resident the tuition was subsidized and super affordable for this four week program.

Girls Who Code

This program is a free 7-week immersion program for girls in 10th and 11th grade. The program has locations in most of the major cities in the United States and requires an application. There are lots of hands-on computer science classes as well as field trips to local tech companies.

College Transitions has an extensive article with a multitude of interesting summer programs for teens from Bank of America Student Leaders Programs to U.S. Naval Academy summer programs. Be sure to spend some time looking at some of these other programs too.

But if your teen doesn’t want to leave home this summer there are are many opportunities in their own back yards. Check out the following places for local classes near you:

Public Library, Local Art museums, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA’s and Local language centers. Universities in a city near you offer teen summer programs in various majors as well.

And don’t forget about community college classes. Teens can sign up for those and take care of some high school credits, get a jump start on college credits and also enjoy enrichment classes.

10 Common Mistakes Made on the FAFSA

When completing the FAFSA form it’s important to follow directions carefully and with over 100 fields, anyone can make mistakes. Here are a few tips to help you get started and some common mistakes to avoid. 

Starting Tips:
1. Use the Correct Form – The correct FAFSA form can be found at fafsa.gov. This form is FREE to fill out. Don’t ever pay for a FAFSA form!

2. Federal Student Aid ID – Your student needs to obtain a Federal Student Aid ID number and use their ID number at the start of the form.

3. IRS Data Retrieval Tool – When asked, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to attach tax returns to the FAFSA form.

4. Prior-Prior Tax Returns – FAFSA will ask for the parent’s prior-prior year tax return. In other words, the 2017 tax return is required for the 2019 application.

Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid:
1. File Early and On Time – The form opens on October 1 and some college programs have limited funding that could run out if not applied for early.

2. Use Correct Social Security Number and Driver’s License Numbers – Changing the social security number is the only mistake that cannot be corrected. If the wrong SS number is used, a new form must be generated.

3. Make Sure To Select Colleges to Send FAFSA Form To – Up to ten schools can be selected and will be sent your student’s FAFSA. If the schools are not selected, then your student won’t be eligible for financial aid.

4. Use Student’s Full Legal Name – The student’s name must be consistent with what is on the parents tax return

5. Use Correct Marital Status – Correct listings of both parent’s marital status is a must. If one or both parents are remarried, that information must be included as well.

6. Don’t Leave Blank Fields – Leaving too many fields blank can disqualify an applicant.

7. Males Register for Selective Service – Failure to register for Selective Service for males 18-25 can disqualify an applicant. Registration can be taken care of while filling out FAFSA.

8. Fill out the FAFSA Form Every Year – FAFSA must be filled out every year student attends college.

9. Calculate the HouseHold Dependents Correctly – If the student is attending college are they considered a dependent? Yes! If parents are providing support for that student, they are considered dependents.

10. Sign the FAFSA Form – Not signing FAFSA report is the biggest mistake made. The form is signed using the Federal Student Aid ID number (FSA ID).

But don’t worry, almost all mistakes can be corrected by logging into your student’s myFAFSA page and selecting the category called Make FAFSA Corrections.

Tips for Filling Out the FAFSA

When I set out to fill out my daughter’s FAFSA report last year, I gave myself the entire day. In reality, it takes about three to five hours, but I know if I have other things scheduled, I’ll never finish.

They design the FAFSA report for students to fill out, but since household financial information is usually handled by the parents, it’s best if the parents are hands on, or fill even out the forms for their students.
The FAFSA reports opens on October 1. I always like to apply for financial aid as early as possible. Getting the FAFSA report out of the way leaves your student and family more time to focus on applications. 

It’s very important when filling out the FAFSA report, that you use the correct report from www.fafsa.ed.gov. This report is free to submit. There are some misleading sites that charge the student to submit the FAFSA report, those are incorrect and please don’t get caught up in paying for a form that‘s intended to be free. 

Gather the documents you and your student will need prior to filling out the report. There is nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of a long form, having to get up and hunt for your files for a related document. These documents are needed:

  • Federal Student Aid ID
  • Student’s Social Security Number 
  • Student’s Driver’s License Number
  • Student’s Alien Registration Number, if not a US Citizen
  • Federal School Codes
  • Bank Statements (checking and savings for both students and parents)
  • Untaxed Income Records
  • Asset Records (including mortgage info and date of house purchase)
  • Federal Tax Returns (for both students and parents)

You might find that some private colleges will ask the student to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. The same documents are needed, so keep these documents nearby. Also, schools may need further information later on down the line, so it’s best to keep these docs handy. It’s no fun to dig back into your files with short notice for another item. 

The same documents are needed, so keep these documents nearby. Also, schools may need further information later on down the line, so it’s best to keep these docs handy. It’s no fun to dig back into your files with short notice for another item. 

And don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are folks standing by to answer questions. FAFSA has a great support line. Most college financial aid offices will help. Or talk to friends who are also filling out these forms, especially friends who have a student who applied to college a year ago. They are now experts and you will be too next year. I have also heard about FAFSA parties where several parents spend the day together filling out the FAFSA forms. That way if questions come up, others in the room can help. 

For me the form was easy to fill out but the reality of my daughter going to college was. The FAFSA report was the first step we took as a family to start the college application process which kicked off a very exciting time in our household.

Does Your Student Qualify for Financial Aid?

Federal Student Aid is determined by the FAFSA report. To see if your student will qualify for financial aid, have them go through the following list:
  • Your student needs to have completed their high school education either with a diploma or GED.
  • The student must have been accepted by a college or university to receive aid. (They will apply for the aid before being accepted to a school).
  • Male students between 18-25 must register with the Selective Service.
  • The student needs a valid Social Security number.
  • The student agrees that they are not in default of a Federal Student Loan and agrees to use the federal student aid for educational purposes only.
  • The students will maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • The student must be a US citizen, hold a Green Card, have an arrival-departure record, Battered Immigrant Status or a T-Visa.
Once the student confirms all the above, they can fill out the FAFSA report. The FAFSA report factors in real estate, income and other assets and it will determine the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
Next take the EFC and subtract the total cost for the school (including fees and room and board). The sum determines your student’s financial need. The aid offered by schools could be in the form of scholarship, Federal Pell Grants, Federal work-study or subsidized direct loans.
Merit-Based Aid differs from financial aid. It is based on your student’s academic achievements and will be offered to the student regardless if they qualify for financial aid.
So how do you determine if you qualify for financial aid? NetPrice Calculators on the financial aid page of every college and university website should help. There you are asked to plug in your student’s EFC number and the Net Price Calculator will calculate your estimated Financial Aid for that specific school.
Many factors apply including owning your home and price of living in your hometown. Financial Aid offices at most colleges and universities can be helpful to parents if you have specific questions.
It’s best to encourage your student to apply to all levels of colleges, private and state. Where one school may give them a full scholarship, the next college may give them nothing. We can’t determine the amount of aid before acceptance, but filling out the FAFSA and using the Net Price calculates are your first steps in understanding if you will qualify at all.

What is the FAFSA and Why Is It Important?

The Free Application For Federal Student Aid otherwise known as the  FAFSA report  is the gatekeeper to college and university financial aid. Each family must fill out the report every college year. The first time it’s filled out is the year the student applies to college. The reports open on October 1. The application is FREE to fill out for all families and every college and university uses the same application so the application only needs to be submitted one time. When submitting you will select which colleges you would like the report to be sent. Additional colleges can receive the information at any time.

The FAFSA report determines the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on several items such as bank accounts, income and properties owned. Students are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA report, but the language and details may not be something the student understands, so parental support is important. Some parents end up filling out the form for their student, especially the first year while the student is focusing on their college applications. But educating your student on financial documents not only makes them aware of your family’s financial situation but also gives them an introduction to similar applications they eventually will take on.

With the inherent costs of college, it’s not a bad idea to talk early about the reality of your family finances and how it will affect paying for college. There is nothing worse than your child getting into their dream school then later find you can’t afford to send them. Letting your child take part in these realities of finances will be helpful to all of you.

Several things are important when preparing the report and I suggest doing the worksheet beforehand. Make sure you have gathered all the items needed before starting as it will be easier than stopping and searching for figures. It’s a good idea to keep a log of specific figures that won’t change such as the year you purchased your home, the price you paid, the address of your employer, social security numbers.

I left myself an entire weekend day to fill out the FAFSA. That sounds intimidating, but it was necessary for me to gather all the info, fill out the worksheet and then fill out the online form. It’s not the easiest process in the world, but not the hardest either. The hardest part for me was realizing that my child was indeed heading off to college.

Once you fill out the report and submit, you will immediately receive an email from FAFSA with your EFC figure. This is the figure the colleges use to determine how much financial aid they might offer your student.

You will need to apply for financial aid each year your student is in college because family finances could change. Make sure you mark this on your calendar. And if you happen to have one student in college, your EFC will change for the second child since you are already paying one college tuition.

Helping Your Child Who Struggles With Anxiety

Anxiety is an epidemic among teenagers and college students.

In many cases, students are dropping out of college because of anxiety and health centers are seeing more students than ever. The APA sites, “Anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent), followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent).”

So what’s the best way to help if your child is suffering from anxiety?

Talk to them about it. Let them know you understand they are suffering and assure them they are not alone. Encourage them to talk to their friends or roommates. Chances are their friends are suffering too. Visiting the mental health center on campus is also a good idea. Or even the urgent care at school, if they are really concerned.

Often anxiety presents itself with physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, a racing heart, and lightheadedness. It can also bring on numbness in fingers and hands. These symptoms can frighten a student who is otherwise healthy.

My daughter picked up a brochure at the health center about anxiety and the headline read: You Are Not Having a Heart Attack. It then explained the top physical signs of anxiety. She thought it would be a great idea if the college handed out these flyers to all the freshman, since just about everyone she knew suffered from the symptoms.

A friend who is a therapist suggested that sometimes freshman have too much time on their hands since often colleges suggest an easier workload first semester. She said they have too much time to worry and suggests they take on an additional pass/fail classes or find an on-campus job.

Social media is to blame for a lot of this newly brought on anxiety, but so is being away from home for the first time and tougher academics. Anxiety can also be hereditary. This article from the Huffington Post offers a helpful list of seventeen ideas to help with anxiety. My daughter and I are both trying ideas on this list. Just because I’m not in college, doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious. Getting off social media is one of the top items. Not a bad idea for all of us these days.

But please take your child’s anxiety seriously and if you feel it’s becoming a bigger problem than the above list can help with, seek professional help. If you can aid them in managing their anxiety at this young age, they will take those skills with them into the future.

Is It Too Soon to Start Planing for Summer?

It’s not even January and I have to think about summer?

Yep, now is the time. Especially if you have a high school student and they are planning on attending an academic summer program because applications will be due soon. And from my research, I’ve learned that colleges really look at what students do the summer between junior and senior year.

What if you also have a college student. How will they plan their summer? A  college class? Travel abroad? A summer job? And what happens to their dorm room? Most colleges close the dorms to college students during the summer, so they will have to move out and perhaps back home. Is their room ready or have you already turned it into a sewing room? Or has their younger sibling taken it over?

And what about family vacations?

I remember vividly my friend Jenny, who had her kids a lot earlier than I did, lamenting when they were in high school that there were only so many family vacations left. Her words are ringing true as I realize my kids will be in opposite directions very soon.

Gone are the days when both my children are at the same school with the same summer schedule. If you have kids in college and high school then I’d plug in the summer vacation dates now for both. Does your college student start back early August, but your high schooler begins after Labor Day? You might want to know that now as well.

How about college tours? Will you be taking those with your high school junior or senior? Will your college student want to attend those with you? Can you combine college tours with a family vacation?

This is all overwhelming as I try to coordinate college tours, summer academic programs, summer jobs, and a family vacation. Not to mention the cost as college payments are just around the corner. I’ve never been really good at planning so far ahead, but I see the benefits.

So during the upcoming holiday week, I will sit down with my family and try to sort all this out. Perhaps we can come up with a summer plan that suits everyone. Or maybe everyone will just want to stay at home this summer, as it might be one of the last ones at home where we can be altogether as a family.

Exploring Non-Traditional Colleges

What if your child isn’t a traditional learner? What if following the path of every other college freshman turns them off? Not to worry, there are colleges that cater to the needs of students who want a more independent academic experience.

St. John’s College with campuses in both Annapolis and Santa Fe offers only one major, Liberal Arts. They base the curriculum on a “Great Books Program” and they have few tests and lots of class discussions. The website boasts that it grants one of the most affordable tuitions at $35,000 per year.

How about Hampshire College, a member of the Five College Consortium including Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and the University of Massachusetts. At Hampshire there are no grades and the students can design their own concentrations of study (no majors either). It’s a great choice for creative, self-directed students.

Antioch College (Yellow Springs, Ohio) requires that the students hold down “full-time co-op jobs” switching between work and study. This can be great for students who need to support themselves and still wish to get a college degree.

College of the Ozarks is another college that requires the students to work. This time in exchange for tuition. The entire campus is run on solar power and 30% of their cafeteria food is grown on campus. It’s a liberal arts college that is also Christian based.

Then there is Colorado College which seems ideal for the outdoor student who would like to study one subject at a time for an extended amount of time, (three weeks) then have a week off to explore the great unknown.

Cornell College (not Cornell University) in Iowa offers a one class at a time curriculum. And according to their website, the student can immerse themselves in “1 Course x 18 Days x 8 Blocks. The territory we cover is the same as on a semester system. But the path we travel offers an entirely different journey.”

And for something completely different, Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois is run by McDonald’s and based on managerial training. Classes translate into business management credits at other colleges.
It opened in 1961 and every year about 5,000 students graduate from campuses all around the world. China’s division has an admission rate of 1%.

Your student may find an alternative school that feels like home, or after looking at the alternatives, they might prefer a traditional college after all. But this is the time for exploration and with over 3000 colleges and universities in the United States, surely your student will find a school that is right for them.

Exploring why 30% College Freshman Don’t Go Back After the First Year and How to Prevent It

I recently read the New York Times story, When A College Student Comes Home to Stay. And wow. This would have been very helpful to read when my daughter was in high school. Luckily I still have one more at home and hope my son will benefit from my newly acquired wisdom.

The article suggests many reasons for dropping out of college after the freshman year including; finances, failing grades, mental health issues, and homesickness. But the idea that impressed me most was, “at the end of the day, what your child needs most is practice running his or her own life — and college is a risky place to do that for the first time.”

This rang true because I now understand the main reason my daughter is struggling at college emotionally is because we did too much for her while she was in high school.

She was telling me the other day that now in college she has to make every decision for herself including what she will eat for dinner when she will eat dinner and if she will eat dinner. What I thought would be a liberating moment for her, was more of a stressful one.

These simple choices about food are only compounded as she decides everything for herself. What classes to take, where to study, how to get around campus etc.

I hadn’t realized that while I thought I was supporting her by being on top of her high school schedule and driving her where she needed to go and cooking healthy meals, I was actually weakening her. She needed some training on making her own decisions.

How do I do that for my son? He is a high school junior, so there is still time. The first thing I have implemented is to have him help me with some household repairs, something I wish I had done with his sister.

So when the toilet clogged this weekend, I showed him how to use the plunger. When we needed to change out a deadbolt on our front door, I had him do the work as his dad and I talked him through it. And starting this week I am going to see to it that he finds his own way home from school on Fridays. He can take the bus or the train or ride with a friend. And I think one day of the week, we’ll have him make dinner. He needs to develop according to the article, “skills to take care of himself.”

The article goes on to say that, “students haven’t been given control of their own lives until way too late.” So even as our instincts as parents are to hang on to our young ones as long as we can, we actually need to let go a bit sooner. It’s going to be hard for us, but it will be more helpful to our students in the long run.

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