Why You Should Invest in SAT/ACT Test Preparation and Admissions Counseling

StratusPrep ACT and SAT Tutoring IconApplying to and funding college can be stressful, but proper planning and expert guidance can help alleviate some of the pressure on students and their families. According to the College Board, the cost of attending a four-year college ranges from $91,000 to $179,000. College is a large investment in your child, and as with any other large investment, it is best to seek out an expert advisor who is experienced and has successfully guided others to similar goals.

I’ve outlined a few of the top reasons why you should invest in SAT/ACT test preparation and college admissions counseling for your child as a means to maximize your investment and set your child up for success.

Return on Investment. Working with a seasoned team of SAT/ACT tutors and college admission counselors will substantially increase your child’s chances of gaining admission to the school of his or her dreams. Graduating from a top university increases your child’s opportunities after graduation and lifetime earning potential. Investing less than 5% of the investment’s total in expert guidance is a minimal spend to maximize opportunity.

When seeking professional test preparation and admission counseling, it’s important to choose a tutor and counseling team wisely. Costs for these services varies by company, but be sure to ask questions regarding process, credentials and successes. For example, all of Stratus Prep’s tutors have scored in the top 1% on the ACT/SAT and have had at least two years of teaching experience. It is our firm belief that great test-takers must also be experienced educators in order to help students maximize their test scores. All of our admissions counselors have graduated from the nation’s elite higher learning institutions including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia and have significant admissions experience. We also believe in a team-based, customized approach. Stratus Prep counselors and tutors work together to help each student succeed – from practice test to admission. I am also involved with every single student’s admission plan and at multiple touch points throughout the application process. References are also always available.

Scholarship guidance and negotiation. When it comes to paying for college, there is quite a bit of money available. Since 2011, Stratus Prep has helped students negotiate over $15 million in merit-based scholarship. Our experience with negotiation has allowed many of our students to graduate debt-free. The luxury of not having to repay loans after college provides your child with the freedom to take any job opportunity that he or she may desire. Your child may also choose to extend his or her educational career by going to graduate school and would then be able to do so without the burden of knowing that he or she will soon be expected to make loan payments. It is also important to have guidance to navigate other types of scholarships that require essay writing and other forms of qualification.

A competitive edge. Admission to elite universities is more competitive today than ever. Most students only apply to college once. Just like with anything else, doing something for the first time is rarely as successful as the second, third, or thousandth time. Having the support of a team of seasoned admission professionals who have successfully worked with thousands of students gives your child an edge. Highly skilled admissions counselors know what works and what doesn’t.

An unbiased, available advisor. Many high school students look to their high school’s college advisor for guidance. This person serves as a great resource; however, certain universities may only accept a certain number of students from specific schools and it is up to the advisor’s discretion to promote one student more heavily than another to university representatives. Having an unbiased counselor to help guide your decisions such as essay topics and recommenders will allow your child to maximize chances of acceptance. High school advisors may also be guiding hundreds of students within a single application season. In order to receive personalized attention, it is best to look to an outside admissions counselor who is only working with a small number of students at one time.

For these reasons, you should consider investing in SAT/ACT test preparation and admission counseling for your child. Summer is a great time to determine your child’s application strategy and next steps. Please reach out to me with any questions or comments regarding investing in SAT/ACT test preparation and college admissions counseling at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com.

This post was provided by Shawn O’Connor, Founder and President of StratusPrep, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on June 7th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

An Inside Look at Admissions That Make or Break Student Acceptance

Monmouth College LogoStudents have been to applying to more colleges than ever. As a result, many colleges have actually seen increases in their number of applications. Ironically, this increase comes at time in which many regions across the United States are graduating fewer seniors. Private and Public colleges alike, are seeing increases in the number of applications they receive. Some flagship state universities now have admission criteria that reflect some of the most selective private colleges and universities.

It seems as though students have hit their limit with the number of college applications they complete. The majority of students now apply to 7-10 schools and that number has remained consistent over the past few years. Tools such as the Common Application and its growing popularity have contributed to the rise in applications. However, applications fees, essays and supplemental documents may be the reason why students are generally reluctant to apply to more than 10 schools.

I like to advise students that no one is going to care which schools you applied to and how many of them accepted you. They should not apply to Ivy League schools just so they can say, “I applied to Ivy League schools.” Future employers will only care about the college you did attend. Students should spend a lot of time up front researching colleges, just as anyone about to make a large investment would. Then they should apply to schools meeting their criteria, not someone else’s.

Not all colleges operate the same way when it comes to the admission process. Some have Early Decision or Early Action deadlines in which they hope to secure top students early through a loosely binding process. Many of Regular Decision deadlines occur in January, with review of applications taking place only after that date. An increasing number of colleges have adopted Rolling Admission, in which applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis usually without any deadline for consideration. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) recently released on their website a list of over 200 schools still accepting applications after May 1st, the National Candidate Reply Date. Every year there are students who start their college search late and think applications deadlines have past. Although students should begin seriously researching colleges during their junior year, it should be known that just because one school’s deadline has passed it does not mean all others have as well.

There are vast differences between large and small colleges. The two of the most striking differences are the residential life and classroom experiences. For obvious reasons it much more difficult to build a close-knit community among 20,000+ students than it is at a small, residential college of 1,300 students like at Monmouth College where I work. Additionally, smaller colleges typically have no Teaching Assistants, small class sizes (average of 15 at Monmouth College) and low student to faculty ratios (12:1 at Monmouth College).

Monmouth College is an ideal place for students seeking a broad classroom-based education, great co-curricular opportunities such as Study Abroad and ways to explore leadership opportunities. Over 90% of Monmouth students live on campus and 99% of them received a scholarship or grant. Faculty know students by name, provide them with their cell phone numbers and invite them over for dinner at their homes. Monmouth College has been a great investment since 1853 and continues to be with 99% of our 2013 graduates reporting employment or enrollment in a graduate or professional program within six months of graduation.

This post was provided by Phil Betz, Director of Admissions at Monmouth College, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 31st, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Online Learning vs. Traditional Education: What’s Right for You?

Trident University LogoTrident University International (Trident), recognizing both the changing needs of its students and the employers that hire its graduates, is introducing its first new programs since 2011. Students can choose a path of either Bachelor’s or Master’s of Science in Leadership degree starting in this year’s summer session beginning on July 7th. Registration is open now.

These programs utilize the most current leadership theories and are taught using tried and true pedagogical methods. Students will have the opportunity to build on their current managerial skillset, as well as learn new theories and practical approaches. With a focus on the development of critical thinking skills, the tools provided to students in these degree programs will give them a professional edge, whether they are working their way up the corporate ladder or strengthening their resume as an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“People ask “Are leaders born or made”? I’ve never met a “born” organizational leader who hasn’t gone through the life experience, studies, and work with others that it takes to make a leader.” Dr. Stefan Hanson, Program Director, B.S. in Leadership, Trident University

Roles requiring managerial leadership skills, which are currently in high demand, have grown at 4.5% over the past decade and are expected to generate an additional 410,000 jobs by 2020. Despite this, there are few options to meet that demand in the private online space. Several industry segments have the need for professionals who have mastered these skills, including management of companies and enterprises, professional scientific and technical services, computer systems design, and state and local governments at the national level.

The Bachelor’s or Master’s of Science in Leadership programs resulted from years of research, managed by Dr. Simcha Pollard, Dean, College of Business Administration and College of Information Systems. Approval from accrediting bodies, such as Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC), depended on many factors, including the employability of future graduates from these programs. Both programs received approval from WASC, the body that reaffirmed Trident’s accreditation in April 2013 for 7 years.

As Trident’s demographic diversifies, the university remains committed to student success through the development of degree programs that appeal to a diverse population while preparing these students for careers in the modern world. With the B.S. and M.S. in Leadership, current and future managers can hope to gain the skills necessary to handle growth, increase productivity, and manage conflicts in an ethical way in the modern professional environment. The B.S. in Leadership offers concentrations in Management, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Criminal Justice Administration.

About Trident University

Founded in 1998, Trident University International (Trident) is a leading online post-secondary university serving adult learners. Trident developed the Trident Learning Model, which employs case-based learning in an online setting to teach real-world relevant critical thinking skills to enhance student’s lives and careers. Trident offers high-quality bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, led by a qualified faculty team, over 90% of whom have doctoral degrees. Visit www.trident.edu, Trident’s Facebook page, or call at (800) 579-3197 to learn more about Trident’s wide range of program offerings.

These two blogs were originally posted to Trident University’s website.  Andy Vaughn, CEO & President of Trident University was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 24th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Everything You Wanted to Know about an MBA Degree, But Were Too Afraid to Ask!

MBA TextIn 2002, when I applied to business school, I knew that “getting in” to a top MBA Program was no easy task.  There were so many parts to the process, including:

1) Understanding why I wanted to get an MBA in the first place.

2) Learning about the different types of MBA Programs and various Business Schools.

3) Researching financing options.

4) Approaching recommenders that could detail my strengths.

5) Completing applications and essays.

Once I took care of these parts, I realized there was so much more to do.  From interviews and on-campus visits to actually choosing the right school for me and preparing for academic and networking success, it seemed like a never-ending journey.  But it was one made a bit more manageable due to the influence of a few mentors, including some truly wonderful faculty members at UCLA and at the University of Michigan.

I was fortunate.  Not everyone may have mentors at the schools to which they apply.  As such, it is important for prospective applicants to do their own due diligence.  There is no substitute for research.  Furthermore, the importance of visiting schools and establishing connections with students, alumni, faculty, and staff cannot be overstated.  After all, the culture of the school is largely shaped by its community of scholars, and this culture is something that cannot be researched.  It must be experienced.

The value of an MBA from a top school is immense.  Graduates of the top schools earn salaries that are, on average, double or more of what graduates from other schools make.  Increased salaries are not the end of the story.  Greater career choice, increased job security, faster job promotions, more interesting work, higher status, and numerous other benefits also result from a top MBA, so it is no wonder that so many people want to get into the best school they can manage. Join me on College Smart Radio as we discuss all this and more…it will cover everything you have always wanted to know about an MBA degree, but were too afraid to ask!  If you have any specific questions not addressed on the show, I am happy to address them off-the-air.  You can reach me at npmehta@umich.edu.

This post was provided by Nirav Mehta, Associate Director at the University of Michigan, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on May 17th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: OpenSource.com

Where to Save for College? Part 2

Putting money in a piggy bank529 Plan, Stocks , Mutual Funds, UTMA, UGMA, Coverdell, Roth IRA, Cash Value Life Insurance… How do you decide which savings plan or combination of plans are right for you?

There are many components that should be considered in the decision of where to save your valuable college funds. In “Where to Save For College? Part 1”, we discussed how to calculate how much you’ll need to save and the basic (yet key) factors to keep in mind when taking into account different college savings plans.

Most commonly, I hear parents worried about taxation when deciding on their specific savings strategy. Taxation can be a big deal in a good way and a bad way. As an example, 529 Plans have the tax advantage that earnings are not taxed if the money is withdrawn for a qualified education expense. That’s the good taxation. The bad taxation arises if you need some of that money for a non-qualified education expense or if your student decides that higher education is not for them. In either case, you’d have to pay the tax plus a 10% penalty to get access to the money.

Another frequently discussed feature is whether the college money should be in the parent’s name or the child’s name (UGMA or UTMA). The tax decision will depend on the child versus parent’s tax rate, when the money will be accessed and the kiddie tax rules. The other central feature that parents sometimes forget is access to that money. It is essentially the child’s asset and they gain control of it at age 18.

The Roth IRA’s taxation rules allow money to be taxed when earned, but not taxed during accumulation or withdrawal (subject to some limitations). Roth IRA limits contributions and these limits are dictated by family earned income as well as IRS rules (only $5000 per year for an adult under 50).

One lesser known savings vehicle is to save money is cash value in a permanent life insurance policy.  Savings will accumulate tax deferred and, if the policy is designed correctly, are available to being spent… tax-free!  Contributions can be high and money from the cash value in the policy can be accessed for any need (not only college).

When it comes to college savings and funding, a chief element for many familiesmay be whether the savings are visible or invisible to the financial aid calculation. Every family should assess whether it’s possible that they may qualify for need based financial aid, and if they do, then the financial aid visibility becomes all-important.

To give you a clear visual, the chart below compares different savings plans and the possible benefits of each.

Possible Benefits
Guaranteed Growth Tax Deferred Accumulation Tax Free Use for College High Contribution Limits Investment Choices Transferable (beneficiary) No Income Ceiling for Contribution Access to Money Financial Aid Invisible
529 Plans NO YES YES YES Some Limitations YES YES NO NO
Coverdell NO YES YES NO Some Limitations YES YES NO NO
UTMA / UGMA NO NO NO YES YES NO YES NO NO
Stock / Mutual Funds NO NO NO YES YES YES YES YES NO
ROTH IRA NO YES YES NO YES YES NO Some Limitations YES
Permanent Life Insurance YES YES YES YES Some Limitations YES YES YES YES

When we work with a family to design their college savings plan, it typically will include a combination of these different plans. This allows a family to take advantage of the benefits of each, but lessen the disadvantages. Give us a call to help design your unique college savings plan.

Listen to the April 26th College Smart Radio show to understand the pros and cons of different savings plans, so you can determine which savings plan or combination of savings plans will integrate best with your family’s needs.

This post highlights information discussed during our College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Cost of College” April 26th broadcast where Beatrice Schultz and Mark Guthrie discussed the pros and cons of different college savings plans.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Tax advice is not offered by Beatrice Schultz or Westface College Planning. Please consult your tax professional for additional guidance regarding tax related matters.

Photo Credit: Images Money

Where to Save for College? Part 1

Broken Piggy BankWhether you have dreams of sending your newborn child to Harvard, UC Berkeley or San Diego State, you have a lot of savings ahead of you if you plan to foot part of the bill.

You need to come up with a savings plan EARLY – and stick with it for many, many years.

 

Various types of savings plans exist. In fact there are a few specific ones that are commonly adopted by parents to save for college.  Those include:

  • Traditional investment savings accounts.
  • UGMA (uniform guest to a minor’s accounts in their name).
  • UTMA (uniform transfer to a minor’s account in their name).
  • 529 College Savings Plan.
  • Coverdell Education IRAs
  • US Savings Bonds.

But before deciding where to save, the first question most parents ask is “How much do I need to save?”

As an example, let’s calculate how much you need to save for your newborn to afford 4 years at a UC. Today, a UC will run you about $32,000 per year or $130,000 for four years. Tuition cost as well as room and board continually rises about 4-8% per year.  If we assume a 5% inflation, these parents will be faced with a $300,000 to $350,000 college bill when their child reaches 18 years old.

These parents of a newborn would want to stash away $1,000 per month, equaling $12,000 a year (assuming an average 4.5% rate of return over 18 years) to accumulate ~$320,000 to fund that one child’s college education. Wow – that’s a lot of savings and may be overwhelming for many new parents to consider!

So now that we know how much we need to save, the next question is how and where should these funds be saved for the next 18 years?

There are 4 key components that should be considered in the decision of where to save these college funds. Those 4 factors are the savings plan, the investment strategy, having access to your money and the spending plan.

  1. Savings Plan
    1. Should be easy – auto withdrawal.
    2. Flexibility.
    3. Contribution limits.
    4. Outside help – choose a convenient way for family to help.
  2. Investment strategy
    1. Choose your risk and expected return.
    2. How will taxation impact our rate of return (tax now, tax every year, tax later)?
  3. Access to the money
    1. Would you like access to this money during the saving period?
    2. Access if you have an emergency.
    3. Access for a great investment opportunity.
  4. Spending Plan
    1. Spending Plan
      1. Flexibility. Timing.
      2. Do you want to have all your money in a plan that must be used for college funding?

When it comes to college savings and funding, a vital 5th component may be whether the savings are visible or invisible to the financial aid calculation.  Every family should assess whether it is possible that they may qualify for need based financial aid, and if they do, then the 5th component becomes all-important.

Listen to the April 19th College Smart Radio show to start to run the numbers of how much to save and why these 4 or 5 components should be serious considerations for your savings plan.  Listen in to next week’s show to understand the pros and cons of different savings plans, so you can determine which single plan or combination of plans is right for your family.

This post highlights essential information pulled from our College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Cost of College” April 19th broadcast where Beatrice Schultz and Mark Guthrie discussed the factors of where to save for your child’s college fund.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Images of Money

Secrets for Cutting the Cost of College

Bellevue University LogoIf you are thinking about returning to school the issue of finances has likely come up. You’ll hear a lot about affordability and the cost of school interchanged, but affordability is different than cost. Think of it this way: cost is just the baseline; affordability can be considered how you’re going to manage that cost. In order to best figure the true cost, you must get a clear picture of all the expenses, and look for ways to reduce them when possible.

 

Take a look at the following seven factors when conducting your research:

1. Cost per credit hour based on the academic calendar. Don’t just pay attention to the cost per credit hour – this can be different due to variations in academic calendars, leading to extra fees and valuable time spent. There are two factors to consider here. What is the baseline cost per credits and how are credits figured? Make sure you look at all the factors involved when you determine affordability.

2. Length of program. How long will it take you to complete your degree? Are you starting brand new, do you have some credits? What is the pace of the program? When you know how many credits you need, that can help you figure cost based on how many credits are included in tuition, or if you are paying per class.

3. Transfer credits. If you have previously earned credits how will they transfer in? Are you able to save time and money if you get credit towards graduation for previous coursework? When credits don’t transfer, you could be spending more to retake classes.

4. Books and supplies. For first time students the average cost of books and supplies was more than $1000, according to The National Center for Educations Statistics. Books can get expensive, but are required. Take advantage of shopping strategically to try to land used books, renting textbooks or selling back books when possible, and research how other savings opportunities can be found. Does your school offer text book grants or scholarships to alleviate the burden of this expense?

5. Fees. Get a comprehensive list of all fees that you are required to pay as a student. Are there student fees, semester fees, lab fees, parking fees, etc.? Determine how fees are figured in. Are they included in tuition, are they separate, how often do you pay them?

6. Housing and transportation. Once you have figured out the cost of credits and fees to complete your program, explore this sometimes costly expense. Will you be living on campus? How much will you be spending commuting to campus? What is the value in the convenience of being on campus? Is online an option for you?

7. Other ways to earn credits. Can you test out of classes to earn credits? For example if you can take a CLEP or DSST test in place of a class you could save money on the cost per credit hour as well as the cost of books. According to collegeboard.org, CLEP tests are accepted by over 2,900 colleges and Universities, so explore if the school you are considering accepts them, and work with an advisor to see how they would fit your needs. Also ask how corporate and military training can count towards your degree plan.

College can be expensive, but planning and research can ease the burden without sacrificing the integrity of earning a respectable, accredited degree. Utilizing previous credits, and finding a school that works on your timeline to help you make the most of your funds can reduce costs and make college more affordable.

This post was provided by Dr. Mary Hawkins, President of Bellevue University, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College,” on April 12th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.