The Surprising Way Students Can Lose Their Aid

Our piece,  The Surprising Way Students Can Lose Their Aid, is in the September 9th edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about SAP.



Statewide Acceptance Rates

VPAP has a great visual of college acceptance rates across Virginia.

It’s a good reminder for parents and students that while the super selective elite schools have very low acceptance rates, there are plenty of schools with reasonable rates. Consider this from Pew Research:

“The great majority of schools, where most Americans get their postsecondary education, admit most of the people who apply to them, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Education Department data.”

Keep these numbers in mind as you put together your college lists.


Last Minute Items for College

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The Last Minute List, 2019 Edition

We’ve got a few tips to save you some money and stress before you hit the road for college. We’ve collected these over the years from parent and student suggestions, and we hope they help your family.

Start with the back-up plan. You’ll undoubtedly forget a few things or need something at the last minute – so pull out Google Maps and find the nearest Target, CVS, Bed Bath and Beyond, wherever you like to shop. Just plan on making a shopping run and it will reduce the stress.

Next, get some school-specific advice on important items. Check in with the Dean of Students or Student Housing website to get some great ideas that will work with your particular dorm. Leverage the experience of previous students and their parents to make your life easier. What furniture is in the dorm? What is the clearance under the bed? Some Virginia schools will even rent you a small refrigerator and microwave.

Tip: Check one or two other schools for their lists of what to bring too. Look for the Office of Student Life or Student Housing. Larger schools will be more likely to have lists available to read.

Set up Amazon Prime or Prime Student before you go, and add the new address to your account. You’ll want to check with Student Housing to find the correct delivery address for a student living in the dorms. It can be a relief to know that most anything you find you need can be delivered to your son or daughter in just a couple of days.

Things We Love for Mom and Dad

Check into insurance. Some (not all) homeowner’s policies will cover your student’s possessions at college, but they will also be covered by your policy deductible. If your child is taking anything valuable (like a laptop), it might be worth checking into a separate renter’s insurance policy with lower limits and a lower deductible.

Most colleges offer tuition insuranceConsumer Reports explains what it is and how to decide if it makes sense for you. One thing to note: many policies are sold semester by semester, not for the full year, so be sure you know the full cost. You have to buy the insurance before the semester starts.

Update your auto insurance policy. If your student is taking a car to college, you’ll want to update your policy with that new location. If they are not taking a car, check with your insurer to see if you can save money. Many companies will reduce your rates if your teen is not at home to be driving your car.

If they will be driving, it might make sense to arrange for AAA or some other sort of roadside assistance coverage. Our older children had AAA coverage, and even though it thankfully wasn’t used much, it did come in handy at least twice, and it provided us with some needed peace of mind. Remember, the students with cars are the ones asked to drive on road-trips.

Things We Love for Students

The Bunk Buddy.  (Great for home bunks too for younger siblings.)  A space saving shelf that “hangs” off the side of your bunk rail or bed frame.  Attaches with no tools.  Great for a cell phone or a cup of water.

Long charging cords.  Dorm rooms may or may not have convenient outlet placement.  Six foot charging cords are a great investment, and there are even ten foot versions.  You do have to be careful with off-brand versions not working well, so do your homework before you buy. Bonus: take a power strip or multi-plug adapter too.

Under the bed storage. Parents know how valuable this space can be, but the trick with dorm rooms is that you don’t know the dimensions. See if you can find out from the college or from other students so you can be prepared to take advantage of this key real estate!

Small fan.  One thing that older dorm rooms have in common – you need a fan. There’s no reason to haul around a big box type, this little one can do the trick just fine.

Bluetooth speaker.  If you like music, you might have one of these, but someone in your dorm room needs this speaker!

Mattress Topper.  Yes the beds are probably XL, but there is not a mattress in a college dorm room in America that will not feel better with a foam topper.

Textbooks.  What’s to love about textbooks? Well, if you follow our suggestions, the money you save will buy some of these other essentials.  If you only have time for one site for textbooks, try

Two Ideas that Make Sense

First: don’t take anything to college that would be a disaster if lost. Does your teenager need your house key? Do you have a copy of the items in their wallet?  What would you do if they lost their phone? Are they taking a checkbook?

Second: get your documents in order. For some time now, we’ve been encouraging parents to consider three different legal documents for each of their college-age children. You can read more details here, but the three documents are a power of attorney, a FERPA release, and a HIPAA release.

The power of attorney can be helpful both in the case of an emergency or if you need to conduct local business with your child away. Talk to your attorney about the best way to handle this for your family.

The FERPA release will come from the college, and you will have to do some digging to find it. Colleges don’t mind sending parents an invoice, but forget about other things that you think are important, like grades. It’s not their fault, it’s the law, and the FERPA release can grant you permission (from your child!) to have access to this information.

The HIPAA release is fairly common, and it allows you to get information from any healthcare providers that your student sees. If the college has an infirmary or other provider, you can get the release from them. Otherwise, we suggest a general release that you can send to a provider in the hopes that they will accept it.

August is a busy month – both exciting and stressful. We hope these tips come in handy. If you have any questions about any of these topics, please send us an email.


What a welcome tuition freeze looks like

This year, the General Assembly made a significant proposal to state colleges: agree to freeze in-state tuition and certain fees for one year, and receive a share of a special allotment (of over $50 million) from the state.  Other fees were allowed to increase.

The following table is our calculation of tuition and mandatory fees for next year for in-state freshmen at selected colleges.

Tuition and Mandatory Fees'18-'19'19-'20 
George Mason$12,462$12,564
Old Dominion$10,872$11,016
Virginia Tech$13,620$13,691
William & Mary$23,328$23,328
Christopher Newport$14,754$14,924
James Madison$12,016$12,206
Mary Washington$12,654$13,098
Virginia State$9,056$9,398

Sources: SCHEV, various news reports, and school websites


529 Plan Changes for 2018

It’s official. The tax legislation passed late in 2017 will allow for K-12 tuition costs up to $10,000 per year, per child.

Please read our newsletter for the full details of the changes, and if you have any questions, please drop us a note.

There’s no reason to leave money from tax savings on the table.


On-campus news

We like to report from time to time on goings-on at different colleges. After all, this is part of what you pay for. 

The current news that caught our eye is from Stanford. Stanford students will be voting soon on whether to reinstate a two-quarter Western Civilization course requirement covering the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world. It would seem like a no-brainer right? You might even have thought that such a course would be already required at one of our country’s most elite institutions.

Maybe you didn’t know that instead of such a course, Stanford offers “Food Talks: The Language of Food” and “The Science of Mythbusters.” Current Cost of Attendance: $67,000 per year.

However, it’s not clear if the effort will prevail. An opinion piece in The Stanford Daily quotes a student, Mara Chin Loy, saying that the initiative “actively participates in my dehumanization and the dehumanization of my communities…We don’t need to learn about Western civilization and its ideals, because we have spent every moment of our lives resisting and fighting to live and love ourselves, so that we can transcend Western values.”

As we’ve mentioned before, don’t assume your teenagers will be taught the same subjects that you were or that you want them to be taught. The best resource we know of for help in this area is by ACTA. (Stanford rates a C, by the way.)

We will provide updates as the story develops.



FREE Workshop, “Making College Affordable” – Monday, Feb. 8th

Join Us For Our FREE Workshop, “Making College Affordable,” hosted by the Twin Hickory Library on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7:00. No registration is required. See more details here:…/lib/eventsignup.asp…


Getting in to out-of-state public schools has never been easier

We’ve noted for some time that out-of-state public colleges often take a more casual admissions approach to full-pay out of state students. Out-of-state students supplement the tuition of in-state students. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, colleges need to balance their budgets and cover their very expensive overhead and pay for the growing number of departments, etc. However, as taxpayers of a state, do you believe your students should at least have first crack at state supported colleges? Most residents do.

 Look at some of these numbers, according to the Washington Post.  Forty-three of fifty flagship state universities enrolled a smaller percentage of in-state freshmen in 2014 vs. 10 years earlier.

The University of Alabama enrolled 72% Alabamians in 2004.  In 2014, that was 36%. It’s a fun campus, especially during the football season. Might at well take advantage of that popularity by boosting tuition revenues.

The good news is that UVa did not significantly increase the percentage of out-of-state freshman over this time. It remained at approximately 67% in-state. 

As you consider colleges to attend, parents need to know that out-of-state public schools might be very willing to admit your son or daughter.  However, don’t confuse admission with affordable, unless you have some serious academic smarts. There’s something in it for the schools too.





New FAFSA EFC calculator

For years, the Department of Education has kept the FAFSA4Caster EFC calculator at the same URL. Now they have moved it! We will update the links on our site, but archived issues of our newsletter will still contain the incorrect URL (as they cannot be changed).

In the meantime, the EFC Calculator can be found at this URL, which really rolls off the tongue:

Tech note: the website is not URL-friendly. If you get an error or “Session Expired” page, try closing your browser and reloading the website. If that doesn’t work, do the Google trick.


Where to find answers?

There are lots of people offering help about paying for college.  The problem is, the advice is often wrong!

Andrew Ferguson has an absolutely hilarious version of this in his excellent book Crazy U. He spends an evening reading message boards on College Confidential where he finds a mix of good advice, bad advice, and non-advice. Add to that some petty bickering and downright rudeness. In the end, he says, “…nobody can tell you [the answer] because nobody knows, and nobody will admit that nobody knows.”  He concludes with, “How seriously are we supposed to take the opinions of a person who identifies himself as ‘boogerman’?”

Too true!

Looking at College Confidential today, a poster asks if there is any harm in not accepting federal student loans that were offered as part of a financial aid package. The simple answer is no. Loans are not discretionary, basically every student can get a federal loan for unmet need, and you can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. But the thread goes on for post after post, with comments about effect on grants, asking what school the poster is talking about, bringing in subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans.

In the end, the poster says the consensus is that it won’t hurt, she that’s what she’s going with!

Advice on how to pay for college doesn’t have to come from taking a consensus of anonymous opinions. Our blog and newsletter are free and address the very issues that affect most families.  We are always available if you have unanswered questions too. 

Remember, every family’s situation is unique. Even the best advice from a friend or family member might not apply to your family.  Please let us know if we can help.