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Free money for college

1 Nov

Many states have grant programs that assist students with college expenses. Grants are money gifts that do not need to be paid back. In California a student who demonstrated financial need according to the guidelines is receiving the following this school year:

  • University of California: $12,630
  • California State University, $5,472
  • Eligible private colleges, $9,084.

If you do not live in California, do a search on college grant money in your state by Googling like this: “your state name + financial aid.” For example: “Oregon + financial aid.”

In California you must do two things to be considered for a Cal Grant, and requirements are similar in other states:

  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between Oct. 1 and Mar. 2 (www.fafsa, — listing the schools for a Cal Grant FIRST.
  • Make sure your high school has submitted your Cal Grant GPA verification. Verify this with your high school counselor.

The California Student Aid Commission encourages all students to apply for a Cal Grant, even if they THINK their parents make too much money (for income/asset limits,

It is possible that a family’s income picture can drastically change overnight — so it’s good to have the paperwork requirements in place if that happens.

See your counselor today for more information!


Hey, parents! I’m VERY excited that this wonderful gift book for grads will be available this coming spring from Worthy Publishing–just in time for your grad and their friends. More info on ordering will be coming soon! 

Do you really need all that senior “stuff”?

25 Oct

   What’s the key to all things grad?

Around this time of year salesmen visit high schools selling various senior “wares,” including the following items: caps/gowns/tassels, commencement announcements, class rings, senior keys, “official” thank-you notes, senior class t-shirts and sweatshirts, and more.

The final pricetag can be hundreds of dollars. Here’s a breakdown of what you need….

The Essentials:

  • Cap, gown, and tassel: You need these so the senior can participate in commencement. However, your school might provide these for you, depending on where you live. School districts in the state of California are required to provide the cap, gown, and tassel–but you probably have to return at least the gown so the school can re-use it. The district may allow you to decorate the top of your cap and keep it, as well as the tassel. Check with your school’s guidance counselor or senior class advisor to make sure. If your state requires schools to provide these, you cannot assume you can KEEP them.
  • Thank-you notes: Every single graduation gift needs to be acknowledged with a thank-you note. My rule as a parent was that my children could NOT use the item or cash the check until the thank-you note was written. However, you need not purchase official thank-you notes–they’re much cheaper in discount stores.

The Optional Items: Folks, everything else is optional. Students can graduate without any of the other “stuff” the salesman might offer, and you should shop around, as these items can be purchased in many different places. Here are ideas for saving money:

  • Commencement announcements: Typically, these are NOT invitations, as your school may have a limit on the number of people any one senior can host at the ceremony. Check with your school first if you plan to send invitations, as opposed to announcements. However, seniors are often anxious to buy a host of these, in the hopes of garnering all kinds of money and other gifts. You should understand that an announcement (or invitation) is NOT a request for a gift. It is simply sent to share to share the joy and excitement of the event. The traditional embossed invitations with the school name on them are still available through Josten’s or other school supply companies, but you can also purchase your own photo or other cards to send to family and friends. PLEASE follow these social etiquette guidelines: (1) Don’t hand them to people–send them through the mail. (2) Don’t give them to teachers and other school staff members. They will probably already attend the ceremony, and you should not make them feel obligated to give you a gift. (3) Mail them out at least one month in advance. (4) If you’re using formal invitations, address the outer envelope with the full name (Mr. and Mrs. John Jones) and the inner envelope with how you address those people (Grandma and Grandpa).
  • Class rings and senior keys: These jewelry items can be purchased through several different venues now. I even saw a Groupon ad today for “Personalized Women’s Rings” selling for $59 with school-type designs that you can personalize. These can cost hundreds of dollars for something the student may only choose to wear through the end of this school year.
  • Senior class t-shirt/sweatshirt: These are available for purchase through school suppliers, but often a senior class will create its own t-shirt and/or sweatshirt for purchase. Check with the school first.
  • Souvenirs: Folks, everything else is just “stuff”–items that will probably get boxed up. Choose wisely as you consider those autograph dogs, other jewelry items, extra tassels, senior bag, water bottle, key chain, and photo frames.


I’m super-excited that my book, 50 Life Lessons for Grads, will be released in April 2018. Pre-orders for the book will be available soon. Look here or at your favorite book store or website for more information! 



What admissions officers want

30 Aug

My youngest is currently getting a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

While some four-year universities may simply use GPA and scores to determine acceptance, others may consider many criteria in the admissions application, including a combination of the following:



  • School achievement (GPA)
  • Test scores (SAT or ACT)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essay(s)
  • Personal (or telephone) interview
  • Activities, including leadership, athletics, and community service.

It is important to carefully review a college’s admissions considerations, so you can make decisions about where to apply. It is NOT a good idea to apply only to one or two colleges, because that doesn’t leave much wiggle room if the response is negative. Here’s a traditional guideline:

  • Apply to a couple “safe” schools — those to which you (or your student) will certainly be accepted.
  • Apply to a couple “challenge” schools — ones with good reputations that probably will accept you.
  • Apply to one or more “reach” schools — ones that are more selective.
  • Think about a mix of both public and private universities. Public universities usually are more affordable, while private universities can usually offer more free financial assistance, as well as graduation within four years.

The College Board began tracking admissions considerations in the early 1980s and has consistently found that the most important considerations for acceptance are the student’s grade point average and the rigor of courses taken (College Counseling Sourcebook, 4th edition, 2007). Colleges have found that students who challenge themselves in high school and achieve in difficult classes will also succeed at the college level. So, if you have not performed all that well in high school and are counting on the fact that you are student body president this year . . . you may be disappointed.

What I have learned is that I cannot always predict whether or not a student will get into a certain college. My oldest got into all five colleges to which she applied. The next two kids got into most of the schools to which they applied. The last one got into three of the six even though she had the strongest profile of our four kids — and the school she attended (UC Berkeley) was the most selective of those six. So, who knows?

What I do know is that for selective schools a student must have stellar grades and scores . . . and a unique leadership quality that has been demonstrated consistently over the entire high school career. Leadership is demonstrated in a couple ways: holding a presidency or vice presidency in a school, class, club, or other organization or organizing (as a committee chairman or event chairman). Generally, only serving as a member or other kind of officer doesn’t demonstrate “leadership.” So, an ASB president title slapped on during the senior year when no other leadership was demonstrated in earlier years may not be enough for some admissions folks looking for something to tip the scale in the student’s favor.

Community service is fantastic on a student’s profile, but the volunteer work should be focused and cumulative over many years, rather than spotty endeavors in this cancer walk or that food drive for the shelter. Additionally, the college applicant should be able to show that she ORGANIZED the various events, not merely attended or participated. Again, colleges want leaders, not followers.

So, this week’s assignment:

  • Make a list of what schools to apply to.
  • Write the deadlines in your planner.

And understand this: The early bird generally gets the acceptance AND the best financial aid offer. So, make your weekend “job” college applications this fall .  .  . and get them done!

To what schools do you plan to apply?