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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Senior HS Parent Reflections

Spirits were high at the Churchill Senior Breakfast yesterday as parents, students and Churchill staff mingled in the school auditorium.  The ordeal of figuring out how to transition to life after Churchill is now behind us. At least the first step of the journey. Most students will attend college in the fall and a few are taking a gap year.

My son will attend Hofstra University on Long Island. His route there meandered from wanting to study hospitality at a small college in Florida to business management at a medium sized university with many academic options and solid LD support. Other students will attend Adelphi University, American University, Boston College, Connecticut College, Ithaca College, Skidmore College, SUNY New Paltz, Syracuse University and other great schools. A gap year student will attend University of Madrid, Spain.

Churchill families are savvy. "We're still waiting for financial packages," some parents would respond when asked where their son or daughter would attend. As readers of this blog know, I think that how to pay for college should be a main decision factor - families should think hard about the consequences of racking up debt to pay for education.

Having completed the college search with my son, I am now ready to hand over this blog to another Churchill parent, yet to be 'appointed'. Let me or Ms. Hugger know if you are interested.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Emilie did ED at Connecticut College - the only school on her list

In October of her senior year, Emilie Stoll applied Early Decision (ED) to Connecticut College (Conn) and became the first Churchill student ever accepted, On December 15 she knew she would be attending her first and only choice, she said in a recent interview.

Emilie first heard about Connecticut College in her junior year at Churchill when she ran into an old dance buddy at the 28 Street subway stop. It turned out that her friend was a freshman at Conn and raved about its dance program and the college in general. Inspired by the conversation, Emilie started researching Conn and discovered a small test-optional liberal arts school that would allow her to combine her love of dance with a strong academic education. After touring the campus twice, doing a lot of leg work including learning about LD support, she decided to apply ED.

The Churchill guidance office offered solid support throughout the process. "Ms. Hugger and Ms. McEntee were great," Emilie says. "They always had such enthusiasm for anything I had to share with them about the school,” she adds.
Taking advantage of the option, Emilie did not send any test scores. She did not want to dedicate too much time to test prep and basically just showed up to take the ACT, on which she says she scored OK.
Once she had decided to apply to Conn, Emilie saw no reason to visit other schools. “I wanted to avoid becoming overwhelmed,” she says.
Emilie in her Conn dorm room.

After she was accepted, Emilie traveled to New London, CT a third time to familiarize herself with more practical Conn aspects including living options. She requested a room at the North Campus, which she preferred due to its proximity to the main dining hall and recent renovations. She and a room-mate share a spacious room with great natural light and cross ventilation. 

The academic transition has been smoother than expected and much is due to Churchill teaching and instilling self-advocacy: “This is such a big one," Emilie says. In addition to asking her professors for assistance when necessary, Emilie takes advantage of French tutoring once a week and considers utilizing the Writing Center.

Emilie plans to major in Dance and English or Dance and Human Development during her time at Conn, and study French in Paris in her junior year.
Even though she has now firmly launched into the college phase of her life, Emilie misses Churchill and still keeps in touch with her school friends and teachers. She plans to attend Alumni Night in January and share her Conn experiences.

About Early Decision (ED): Several colleges offer ED, which is a binding commitment. Students who have been accepted ED have to withdraw all applications to other schools. The advantage with ED is that a larger proportion of the applicants tend to become accepted. Most colleges list data that makes it easy to figure out ED odds. A similar option is Early Action, which is non-binding and gives a piece of mind along the college process to those who are not yet ready to commit to ED.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Measuring College Prestige vs. Cost of Enrollment

By Paul Sullivan (published in The New York Times 4.19.13)
Having a choice is generally a good thing, and being able to choose among several college acceptances should be a wonderful thing indeed.
But let’s face it: the cost of a college education these days ranges from expensive to obscenely expensive. So the decision is likely to be tougher and more emotional than most parents and children imagined as they weigh offers from colleges that have given real financial aid against others that are offering just loans.
While some students will be able to go to college only if they receive financial aid and others have the resources to go wherever they want, most fall into a middle group that has to answer this question: Do they try to pay for a college that gave them little financial aid, even if it requires borrowing money or using up their savings, because it is perceived to be better, or do they opt for a less prestigious college that offered a merit scholarship and would require little, if any borrowing? It’s not an easy decision. 

“It’s not just the sticker price and the net costs,” said Sarah Turner, professor of economics and education at the University of Virginia. She added, “How likely is it that you will get into medical school or law school or have some other opportunities” if you choose the more prestigious college?
That’s the rational argument. In these decisions, though, emotion often wins out, and it can lead to the slippery slope of excessive borrowing. 

“Families really need to look realistically at what they can afford,” said Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of “The College Solution” and a blog of the same name. “Sometimes, they’ll look at a package and say, ‘It’s not enough, but we can sacrifice and send our children to the school they really want to go to.’ They have to realize this a four- to five-year commitment.” 

Ms. O’Shaughnessy said she was trying to counsel a father in New Jersey who was on the verge of making a horrendous financial decision. His daughter had received a full scholarship to attend Rutgers University but her first choice was New York University, which, even with financial aid, would cost the family $32,000 a year. The father, an engineer who was also out of work, said he was going to send her to N.Y.U.
“I can’t even believe he’s considering it,” she said. “I was floored. It’s irrational.”
But, unfortunately, that father is not so unusual. While it is hard not to give our children what they want, here are some ideas on how to think about this financial dilemma without going broke — or at least know why you will be broke. 

The competition to get into top colleges is fierce in many cities and towns in America, but nowhere is it more so that at the country’s elite institutions. And many parents feel compelled to reward all that hard work.
The debate between paying full tuition at an elite institution or accepting a merit scholarship from someplace less prestigious “is a conversation we have all the time,” said James Conroy, chairman of post-high-school counseling at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Ill., an affluent suburb in Chicago. “It’s a tough conversation because what it gets down to is the values of the family.”

But he said many parents did not realize that their children were going up against other children who were identical to them — at least on paper. “There are 100 schools that we talk about in this office day after day after day,” he said. “But those are the same schools that every New Trier across the country talks about.”
Prestige has always been part of the equation, but he said he had expected parents to start looking for value in colleges after the 2008 financial collapse. Instead, parents have come to see the elite universities as the only way to give their children a chance at success. They feel jobs are hard to come by and companies are only going to look to hire at the elite universities.
“Whether it’s true or not, I have no evidence,” he said. “But that was what was out on the bongo drums in the community.” 
Ms. O’Shaughnessy knows this thinking well. The New Jersey father she described has many contemporaries willing to try to pay for something they could not afford. And there’s no guarantee, she said, that N.Y.U. will bring his daughter greater success.

“Frankly, I think that’s why East Coast schools that aren’t in the top tier but are in cities can get away with charging outrageous amounts of money and giving mediocre financial aid packages,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. “Students fall in love with these schools, and there are parents who are willing to sacrifice beyond all rational reasoning.”

But economists are not sure this trade-off is worth it. In two much-discussed studies about the value of a degree from an elite college — one with people who graduated in the 1970s and the other with more recent graduates — Alan B. Krueger, then an economist at Princeton University, and Stacy Berg Dale, a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, found that equally smart students had about the same earnings whether or not they went to top-tier colleges. The big difference, their studies found, came from minority and low-income students who went to top-tier colleges: They did better later on.
Lawrence Katz, a professor of economics at Harvard University, said he could envision circumstances where there might be a benefit to attending the more elite institution, but he could see more instances when paying to go to a large, nonelite university was a waste of money. 

“The difference between going to Swarthmore and Penn State is greater today than it was in 1976 because there are higher returns to all upper-end skills and connections,” he said. By contrast, a larger, private, expensive nonelite university was not necessarily better than “the flagship campus of a top-notch state university.”
For parents willing to pay more for that nonelite, private university, Professor Katz said they should not think about it as an investment but as a form of consumption. “If your kid is dead set on it, you can splurge on it,” he said. “But you should view it like a wedding or a vacation. There are plenty of things that you can do that make your life better if you’re upper middle class, and that’s fine.” 

This spending becomes problematic, of course, when parents cannot really afford to pay and, worse, Professor Turner said, when students borrow heavily without thinking about the kind of life they want after graduation.
“Am I certain I’m going to end up on Wall Street?” she said. “If you know that’s what you want to do, borrow and go to N.Y.U. But borrowing does not make a lot of sense if you want to go to culinary school.”
In most cases, though, the decision is what Professor Turner called, “a choice under uncertainty”: few high school seniors really know what they want to do and, by extension, what they will earn. 

Parents and their children trying to make the decision now need to be honest with themselves, Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. If they decide to pay more than they can afford for the coming school year, they need to remember that they’re looking at a four-year expense and that given increasing tuition, the total cost will be more than four times the cost of freshman year. “If you have a smart student who can get into some of these expensive schools, they’ll do well in other places,” she said. 

Parents and students also need to look at the graduation rates of the colleges they’re considering. While taking on a lot of debt is not good, taking on a lot of debt and not graduating from college is even worse.
And if the students received any merit scholarships, they should consider them. They are a sign that a college really wants the student. 

For parents who will be in this situation in a few years, you could do worse than take a page from the playbook of James Montague, director of guidance and support services at Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the United States and one that selects students based on exams and grades. Mr. Montague said his students, a third of whom are on subsidized lunch programs, do not often have the options of their peers at wealthy suburban schools. Their parents are not going to be able to find or borrow $30,000 a year for four years. 

To prevent disappointment — or to force the students who want to be bakers to go to work on Wall Street to pay back their loans — he said he encouraged students to apply to at least one state college that would give them merit aid and to stick to the federally subsidized loan limits.
“Our students are reasonable about this,” he said, adding, “Our students are very resilient. They’re going to make it work.”
And ultimately, that will be what determines success long after a college is chosen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How Final Is a College’s Financial Aid Offer?

This is an excerpt from a New York Times blog Q & A with Brian Lindeman, the director of financial aid at Macalester College in St. Paul:
 Families should know at least four things when they compare financial aid offers:
  1. How much will I need to pay to the college (how much is my bill)?
  2. What other costs do I need to be prepared for (textbooks, travel to and from campus, personal expenses, other fees)?
  3. How much will I need to repay after college? What will be the required monthly payment and how long will it take to repay my loans?
  4. Are there factors that might cause my financial aid to change after the first year? (Issues that can sometimes cause year-to-year fluctuation include grade point average requirements for renewal of scholarships, family members who graduate or enter college, or significant changes in family income.)
There is a lot of information in a financial aid package so at Macalester we offer this video tour to our families.

Q: How does a student improve his or her chances of getting financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid?
A.There are some obvious pitfalls that should be avoided:
  • Don’t be tardy with your financial aid application.
  • Make sure you check the answers on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, and other application materials to be sure you haven’t overstated your assets.
  • Avoid the common Fafsa mistakes.
  • Don’t be shy or embarrassed to let the college know about unusual circumstances that may affect the family’s ability to pay for college. Unusually high medical expenses or a recent job loss are examples. My recommendation is that you write a short letter describing those circumstances before you receive a financial aid result. If you then receive a financial aid package that doesn’t seem to fit your circumstances, follow up with the school’s financial aid office to ask how they took your special circumstance into account.
Please note that there is no rainbow you can follow to a pot of gold. You don’t need to visit campus and meet with the “right person” or make sure that the financial aid officer is impressed by the student’s wonderfulness. (If there is money for wonderfulness, it will be distributed during the admission process in the form of a merit-based scholarship.)

Q. How final is an institution’s financial aid offer? Is it etched in stone? Penciled in? Drawn in sand?
A. Most financial aid offices will not respond positively to simple requests for more aid. We generally won’t improve financial aid packages in response to a financial aid offer from another school. In my office, our goal is to provide a financial aid package that makes Macalester financially feasible. We know that the student will almost always have a lower-cost option.
Over the years, I have had hundreds of conversations with parents that start with, “My daughter loves Macalester, but we are really struggling to figure out a way to make it work financially.” The next step is a conversation about the content of the financial aid application. We sometimes uncover factors that were either misinterpreted initially or weren’t reported. Sometimes we can provide more aid.
Families who are wondering whether to ask questions about financial aid should know: You will not be the first or the last to do so. A parent of a student who asks for more aid needs to be ready to hear “no,” but there’s no reward for silence.

Q. What’s the worst thing a student could do when comparing financial aid offers?
A. I think the most common mistake I’ve seen is the failure to understand cost and value in the long term. Too often, I talk to parents who are choosing between schools based solely on the first year’s cost.
Students and parents should be thinking about the total cost for degree completion. How many years will it take to graduate? What will student and parent debt load be at graduation? How might sibling enrollment affect financial aid availability in the future? Are there other factors that might affect the availability of financial aid in future years?
Similarly, families should be considering each institution’s value as a multidecade return on investment. For traditional-age students, the college years can be a crucible of intellectual and social development that shapes a person’s life far beyond the first job after college. That doesn’t mean that parents and students should sacrifice everything else to choose the “perfect” school but it can sometimes mean that it’s a good idea to stretch for the right fit.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to afford 'the right fit'?

It’s not even April and many Churchill seniors have already been accepted to college. I recently spoke with the mother of one of those seniors, who does not want her or her child’s name in this article due to privacy concerns. Her joy about her child’s acceptances is mixed with financial fears.

To optimize financial and academic odds, the senior applied to 15 colleges, some testing optional and other requiring SAT/ACT scores. After receiving acceptance letters from several top colleges with the right academic support, however, the family is concerned that a top college could be financially out of reach, even after factoring in merit aid and low cost student loans.

The family has experienced that the more competitive the college is, the less free funding its financial aid package will contain. While the student’s first choice did not offer any merit aid, other colleges are tempting with up to $35,000 of free funding based on academic accomplishments and other factors represented in the student’s applications.

The preference is to minimize costly loans and rely on merit aid, which requires the student to maintain a certain grade point average, but doesn’t need to be paid back. News stories about debt-laden college graduates who toil at unpaid internships or low wages are common and scary. “College can become a debt sentence,” says private finance adviser Suze Orman, who tells parents to entirely avoid private student loans.

Today, a private undergraduate degree can cost around $250,000 while a SUNY/CUNY degree is within reach for a fraction of that price. A private college, however, may offer merit aid that can make the price variation less dramatic. Applying early for financial aid can pay off because there is a first come/first serve aspect. The family submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and CSS profile as soon as applications were accepted (January 2013). In addition, the student applied early action to several schools, which was a confidence booster.

Working with Churchill’s college guidance office, the family has also done a tremendous amount of independent research, which the mother thinks is typical for the Churchill parent body.

“Churchill parents are savvy, otherwise we would not have children at Churchill,” she says.

Additional financial aid links:

Monday, January 7, 2013

Summer programs that prepare for life after Churchill

There are many programs that prepare high school teens for transitioning to semi-adult life. Several colleges offer summer classes of varying degree of academic rigor. Some of these programs award college credits while other mainly focus on giving students a taste of independent life away from home and how to function in a college setting.

While many of the private colleges' summer programs are expensive, City University of New York (CUNY) offers a tuition free six week summer college program. Click here to read interview with a Churchill student who attended College Now. Not all colleges accept credits from College Now, but if you are considering a CUNY school you will be able to accumulate college credits in advance during a College Now summer. College Now is free for Churchill students and NYC public school students.

Other teen programs focus on community service, language immersion and exposure to other cultures.

A limited list – feel free to contribute:

Ithaca College offers one week or three week summer college classes to prepare high school students for college.
Brown University has an extensive summer program and I know of students who went back for seconds.

Curry College and  Landmark College are top LD colleges that offer college programs for high school students during summer.

NOLS:  A parent brought up this college credit leadership program at a recent Parent Breakfast. Expensive, but scholarships are available.

Wingspan is a tuition free summer acting program.  A Churchill student who attended enjoyed it very much. No college credits offered.

Visions Service Adventure offers international community service programs during the summer for teens of various ages. The cornerstones of the programs are meaningful service, cultural immersion, adventure and community building.

Global Works is another company with many years of offering community service immersion programs in foreign cultures.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Free mock ACT and SAT tests

Several companies that offer SAT and ACT prep classes also offer free mock ACT and SAT tests. If you decide to do a mock test, make sure to apply for extended time. One of the companies that offer mock tests is Bespoke. Some current 11th grade students have taken tests at one of Bespoke's locations and given positive feedback. Visit Bespoke's website to view multiple test sites and times: