Shocking report about Virginia colleges

Most parents don’t really know what is going on during four years of college.  We know what it costs, certainly, but beyond that, we only hear what is reported through the filter of our young adults.  We don’t see the opportunities not taken, the courses not offered, the ability of the teachers to connect.  Not that we necessarily should; our kids are on the road to adulthood and are those things really our job?

So when you read the report issued by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, you will be shocked.

  • Over 33% of Virginia schools do not require math.
  • No Virginia schools require a course in economics.
  • Only two schools require a basic course (one) in American history or government.
  • The notion of a core curriculum as fundamental is only lip service.
  • At 22 of the 39 colleges, less than 50% of students graduate in 4 years.
  • At 17 of 39 schools, tuition and fess (notice this excludes room and board and living costs) now represent more than 40% of the median household income.
  • Facilities are significantly underutilized in terms of hours of average weekly use.
  • Most colleges require all sorts of testing of students before they are admitted.  Only a small handful of Virginia schools participate in any sort of academic accountability program once the students are enrolled.

Parents and students, are you getting what you are paying for? 





Here are a few things to keep in mind while you are working on the FAFSA.

If this is your first time dealing with the FAFSA, it can be intimidating.  We suggest you run the FAFSA Estimator first.  It takes less time to fill out and it will give you a chance to get comfortable with the questions before the “test”.  It can be found at null

Decide who is in charge, parents or student?  The FAFSA will be in the student’s name, using his or her social security number, birth date, driver’s license and financial information.  But the real focus of the FAFSA is parental income and assets, and most parents prefer to handle that information themselves.

If your tax return for 2011 is not yet filed, don’t wait.  Go ahead and file the FAFSA now using good estimates and make corrections later.  Be conservative in your estimates; otherwise, the changes you make might yield some unwelcome surprises. 

Most of all, if you think you don’t need to file because there is no reason to, you might be mistaken.  Drop us a note and we’ll help you determine if filing is worth your time.


FAFSA for North Carolina Residents

The North Carolina General Assembly made significant changes in how the state of North Carolina awards state financial aid.  A single, new need-based scholarship will replace a number of old scholarship and grant programs.  Eligibility for this new scholarship will be based on the results of the FAFSA.  But here is the biggest takeaway: 

The new scholarship will be awarded first-come, first-served. That means you want to get your FAFSA in immediately if you expect to qualify for aid from the new program.  Students who are legal residents of North Carolina with EFCs of $15,000 or less and who meet the eligibility of the Pell Grant Program will be eligible.  Check with your school’s financial aid office for more details.  If you are unsure, call their office, this news is so new that many websites are not yet updated with current information.

This is only true for North Carolina residents.  Virginia residents can continue to observe priority deadlines of specific colleges and scholarship programs.  Always check the deadlines, and file sooner rather than later.  You can file the FAFSA without waiting for your 2011 tax return to be completed.  You do this by using estimated information and making corrections when the return is done.


Newspaper Readers – Calculator Report Here


Please follow the above link for our detailed report on Virginia schools’ net price calculators.  If you have any questions, simply drop us a note.  You can also subscribe to our free monthly newsletter using the button at the top of our home page.  Thank you to the Times-Dispatch and the Daily Progress.


Finding net price calculators

Colleges are required to have net price calculators on their websites, but they are not required to make them easy to find.  The best idea is to look under the Financial Aid section.  We put together the following table of clickable links to 27 Virginia colleges’ calculators. (Note: Links updated February, 2018 – please report a broken link here.)

Christopher Newport
William & Mary
George Mason
James Madison
Norfolk State
Old Dominion
Mary Washington
Virginia State
Virginia Tech
Emory and Henry
Mary Baldwin
Washington and Lee
Sweet Briar
Shenandoah University
Hampton University


Deadlines Move Up

Most parents and teenagers know that deadlines are important when it comes to applying for college.  The “system” is built around a certain timing – start getting serious in the spring of junior year in high school, take tests, apply in the fall and winter of senior year, hear back in the spring, make a decision, and graduate.  It’s been that way for years.

But it is changing, subtly.  Students are applying earlier and earlier, and now, colleges are moving up application deadlines.  No longer is January 1 or February 1 the only important date.  Some schools are encouraging applications beginning as early as September!  The new popularity of Early Action programs (as opposed to Early Decision) means that most students will have at least one admissions decision by Christmas.

What does all this mean?  First, you have to know each of the deadlines for every school on your list.  You cannot assume it will be the same as last year, this is a rapidly changing area.  Second, merit aid may have its own deadlines, especially for early applicants.  Third, for families with juniors in high school, you need to be focused on college now.  Do not wait until the spring to get started. 

The entire calendar has shifted forward.  Get started sooner so the shift does not catch you off-guard.  For seniors, be meticulous about your deadlines.


Henrico College and Career Night

Thank you to everyone who stopped by our table at the Henrico College and Career Night.  Here are some websites that we talked about:

EFC Calculator:


No-loan pledge schools:

Information on how generous colleges are with financial aid:

If you run into any questions as you do your research on colleges and aid, please let us know.


Helpful Advice

The Wall Street Journal Sunday edition had a nice article on saving for college.  The idea was to give parents advice on what to do using a three-year countdown until college starts.  The advice was fine, but what happens so often with articles like this is that the advice has to be apply to so many readers that it is very generic.  It is certainly well-intentioned but even trying to follow some of it is daunting.  Here’s a sampling:

About 529 plans:  if your 529 plan is “underperforming” or is high-cost, you can roll it over to another plan but beware of the fees.

On financial aid:  start juggling money three years out so it won’t weigh as heavily in the financial aid calculations.  One year about, the article suggests that you “submit all necessary paperwork.”

On loans:  two years out, start looking at loan options – federal loans for students and parents and private bank loans which have variable or fixed rates.

The idea here isn’t to bash the article, it is fine for generic advice.  It is to ask is that advice helpful to you as a parent?  What specifically do you do with that, and is that a good use of your valuable time?

We believe that good guidance for college is targeted to your family’s situation, so that you know what to do when, and you can make informed decisions.  Contact us to find out what that means for you.


It’s Tuition Bill Time

Tuition bills for the upcoming fall semester are coming in now. If you haven’t seen one in the mail, check online through your student’s online ID, since larger schools often send bills electronically. Many schools offer different payment options, including electronic funds transfer from a checking account, credit card payment, and good old fashioned checks. Credit cards are not always the best option however, since there are often large service fees charged by the college’s credit card processor.

Writing a check is often the best option. It makes sense to limit giving out your bank account information, and a written check will provide easy documentation for tax considerations.

Many colleges offer payment plans. Payments can be spread out over a number of months and any charges to set up such a plan are relatively small. You may have to agree to electronic payment to use such a plan, but that might be worth the risk.

If you plan on using money in a 529 plan, you usually have three options. The withdrawal can be paid to the college, to the beneficiary, or to the account owner. You will want to choose the option that is easiest for you and best fits your needs. Generally speaking, payments directly to the college are least advisable since you lose control over the entire process. Remember to allow sufficient time for the withdrawal to be processed by the 529 plan.

If you have specific questions about your situation, please drop us a note and we’ll be glad to help.



Counting Down

The last summer home can be especially trying for parents with rising freshmen. Ideas of some special bonding time, family vacations, and special dinners are wonderful but often not shared by the kids. They are more interested in being with their friends, the friends they will be leaving in a few weeks. Mom and Dad aren’t going anywhere after all!

These differing perspectives are fine unless Mom and Dad fail to see where their teen is coming from and push too hard to do the things they want to do. Talk to your son or daughter now and get them to commit to one or two family activities that you feel are important. Then let them have the rest of their time. Maybe they’ll spend some of it with you if they don’t feel like they have to. Also, there will be time hanging out when they are just around home or running errands with you that can count as quality time too. Value it.

The best part is that a couple of summers from now they likely will be more interested in spending time with you than they are this summer!

And for those of you who just can’t wait, parents or teens, you might want to Google “countdown timer”.