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How to compare financial aid offers: Part 1

8 Mar

As you are weighing which college to attend, a big consideration can be the various colleges’ financial aid offer. Today we’ll look at Cost of Attendance (COA).

Carefully examine each college’s cost of attendance, which is the list of various fixed and other expenses. Obviously, the tuition is not flexible, but often you can whittle down some of the following expenses:

– Fees (some of those fees are optional such as parking, health services (if you provide proof of health insurance), and some student body fees.

– Books and supplies: Textbooks can now be borrowed from the library, as well as purchased used online (make sure the ISBN is the same).

– Rent/housing: Perhaps you can figure out another option than the dorm, although it’s usually recommended to stay in the dorm the first year so as to make connections and feel a part of the campus life.

– Utilities and cell phone: Be realistic about what these will cost, especially if you will be in an apartment.

– Transportation: I do NOT recommend that a freshman student have a car the first year. Every other person who does not have a car will want to borrow it (a mistake) or ask you for rides. Gas is expensive, as are parking tickets and accidents. Also, a college freshman with a load of kids is a recipe for weekend disaster.

– Clothing and laundry: Could graduation gifts cover these expenses? Find out how much the machines are in the dorm and estimate how much you really will need to do laundry.

– Miscellaneous: The temptation to eat out all the time is great — create a budget item and stick to it.

It may be possible to take a chunk off the college’s estimated Cost of Attendance (COA). Doing that may even eliminate having to take out a student loan or parent loan. Take time to sit down together and make a realistic monthly budget, so that you’re prepared for the coming year.

Coming: Evaluating financial aid offers — including hidden info financial aid offices usually won’t tell you!



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Making the decision

28 Feb

Six of my family–including my husband, daughter, and I–have all graduated from UC Berkeley. The Greek Theatre is an impressive commencement site.

March is when a lot of exciting news comes: acceptances from the more exclusive schools, as well as financial aid offers. Then comes the time when you need to sit down with your parents and create a chart of pros and cons.

These are some factors to consider, as they may be important to you:

  • Location (distance from home, geographical location, city/suburban/rural, the “feel” of the community)
  • Transportation (How will you get there and back home? Related expenses?)
  • Size of the college
  • Reputation of college
  • Strength of the major program (Print out the online catalog pages that describe the major and its courses, so that you can visually compare the offerings.)
  • Study abroad program
  • Academic challenge (Allow yourself to be stretched!)
  • Campus life (Is it vibrant . . . or is it a commuter campus?)
  • Housing options
  • Financial aid offer

If you haven’t visited a campus for a school you’re still considering, spring break is the perfect time! However, even if you can’t, don’t dismiss that school as an option.

My oldest daughter was accepted at all five colleges to which she applied; she decided to go to the one she had NOT visited, because the school offered her a leadership scholarship, and she loved the idea that Biola University already viewed her as a leader. When we drove onto the campus in La Mirada, Orange County, California, for her freshman year, she FREAKED OUT, saying, “I hate this! I hate this!” Nevertheless, a week later she called home: “I love this! I love this!” She got both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there — and did love every minute . . . including the five-minute drive to Disneyland. The lesson here is that even if you visit a campus and don’t initially like it, there may be other benefits that outweigh first impressions.

Yes, it’s a big decision . . . but know this: Every college has something wonderful to offer.

Remember to check your portal on your college websites DAILY . . . and stay on top of those deadlines.

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Prep for placement tests

23 Feb

As you are narrowing your college selection choices, make sure you are staying on top of English and math placement requirements.

Most colleges need to know if their entering freshmen are going to be able to handle the rigors of college-level coursework. If you have not been contacted by your colleges about your English/math placement status, do a search under “placement testing” on the various college websites. On that web page you will find the college’s minimum requirements for placement into the various levels of mathematics and English, as well as other courses.

Typically, students need to (1) get high scores on the SAT or ACT, (2) pass a transferrable English composition exam from a college, or (2) pass an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam in English/Critical Reading/Writing and mathematics. If you didn’t meet the muster, you’ll need to do a placement exam.

In California those tests at public colleges are the following:

  • Accuplacer for most community colleges
  • English Placement Test (EPT) and Entry-Level Mathematics (ELM) for California State University campuses
  • Analytical Writing Placement Examination (AWPE) for the University of California campuses

Since these are typically given in April and May, you need to check into this right now, so that you are able to enroll in classes this summer.

One more thing for your college checklist!


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