Social media makeover

You need a makeover.  A social media makeover that is!  It’s time to get serious and clean up your online presence before you start applying to college.  We’ve put together this free report on how to do just that.

Social Media Makeover Tips



Summer Tips for High School Grads

Congratulations on making it through a challenging year! If your plans for next year include college, we’ve put together a few tips for things to do this summer.  We hope there is something helpful here for you – including saving hundreds of dollars!

Summer tips

Save money on your textbooks

Summer jobs and taxes


Colleges that are still taking applications for fall 2017

If your circumstances are such that you are still considering your college choices, you might be interested to learn that many colleges are still accepting applications for the fall – well after the published deadlines. In Virginia, the list includes Lynchburg, Longwood, and Randolph-Macon among others.

The full list is maintained by NACAC and can be found here:–publications/Research/CollegeOpenings/




Your overseas competition

Did you know that colleges use commission-based agents to recruit foreign students? These students are enrolling at colleges all across the country, colleges that are turning down U.S. students.

The Wall Street Journal has a thorough piece on this relationship. Let’s look at some of the highlights.

Chinese students in the U.S. increased 41% in the two years from 2012-2014.

Colleges typically pay an agent 10 to 15% of the first year tuition for a foreign student who enrolls.

Foreign students pay agents too. Reports of $25,000-$30,000 paid for made up essays and application packages.

Colleges are well aware of the rampant fraud but do very little to combat it.

Why do colleges permit this? Most all foreign students pay full sticker price. Could that have something to do with the trend?

Certainly there is a place for multicultural experiences with wealthy foreign students. But is that the role of colleges today, to sell spots to the highest bidder? If so, why not do that? Why not take 5% of the freshman class and open it up to the highest international bidder. Don’t worry about credentials! Take the extra money and give it to U.S. students for scholarships.  Then this arrangement might make sense, and you’d get rid of the need for “agents” altogether.


Common app competition

A report in Inside Higher Ed gives details on a new application process of 80 leading colleges and universities which is being characterized as ‘reversing’ the trend of the Common App of similarity among college applications.

The colleges behind this effort include every Ivy League school, as well as UVa, Stanford, Michigan, and Chapel Hill. The group has certain criteria for schools to meet, including private schools that meet full financial need of students. This will limit the coalition to some of the wealthier schools with large endowments and looking over the list, it is clear that these are some of the more selective colleges in America.

The group plans to go live with their new application in the summer of 2016.  One key aspect of the plan is a free online portfolio for all high school students, starting in ninth grade. Students would include samples of their best work, activities, etc., and could share this information with colleges and others that might provide advice. Colleges could also provide feedback directly to students about their work or courses or other activities.

One goal of the system is to provide resources for high school students that do not have access to quality college counseling, where colleges can provide direct input to students. The ability for each member school to have their own unique application is an appealing feature to the colleges who want to get away from the sameness of the Common App.

We will have to see how this plays out, but one impact will be more work for students applying to multiple schools.


Why apply for scholarships?

The easy answer to that is because you might win! We have a number of tips in our free scholarship newsletters on ways to find and focus on scholarships that you have a higher chance of winning – you can subscribe here.  But there are other reasons to apply as well.

UVa. announced that two juniors won Truman Scholarships. Each will receive $30,000 toward their graduate degrees. Pretty impressive. Listen to this quote from one of the winners:

“Put yourself out there. Try the application process. It’s more informative than you think. Regardless of if you get the scholarship, you will learn something. It’s an incredible experience.” – Lia Cattaneo as quoted in The Cavalier Daily, April 17, 2015

You might not be going for $30,000 today, but neither were these two students when they were younger. Use the scholarship process to practice writing an essay, to do mock interviews, to ask for recommendation letters, to write a resume.  These are all good habits and skills that will last a lifetime.


College panel resources

Welcome to visitors from the VCU Scholarship Sharing College Funding Panel!

We’ve put together this resource page to help you with some of the questions that came up at the panel. You can also send us an email with your questions and we’ll be happy to give you additional suggestions.

Student loan repayment

Paying for college


Out of college – now what?


Student loan repayment

  • Students have a grace period of 6 months from graduation before payments begin. You will be contacted by your loan servicer with instructions and repayment plan options. There are a number of choices but the standard repayment plan is fixed monthly payments for 10 years. You have 45 days from being notified of your options to make your choice, or the servicer will enroll you in the standard repayment plan.

  • Use this 6 month period to determine what your best repayment plan is. Login to with your PIN to estimate your payments.

  • Know what you owe by visiting This will show you all your federal student loan debt. If you have private student loans, you will need to contact your lender for similar information.

  • Do not automatically consolidate your loans. This is an important decision and it should not be done without a clear understanding of what you are doing.

  • If your income is low relative to your loan payments, you may qualify for one of the income driven repayment plans. This means that your loan payment is a percentage of your income and your payments change as your income changes. You have to apply for it each year and be approved. 

  • The most attractive plan is called Pay As You Earn. If you have not repaid your loan in full after 20 years of qualifying monthly payments, the balance of your loan will be forgiven.

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a plan that allows your loan balance to be forgiven after 10 years of payments if you work full-time in certain jobs, making the right kind of loan payments

  • Teachers have special loan forgiveness and repayment options.

  • Other careers also have special repayment assistance programs: Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Military, and National Health Service Corps.

If you cannot make your loan payments, contact your servicer immediately and talk about the options. Don’t wait to become delinquent. There are a number of options available to federal student loan borrowers.

  • Deferment means that you work out a plan with your servicer for a period where your payments are delayed. An example of this would be while you were looking for a job.

  • Forbearance can come into play when you do not qualify for a deferment. Forbearance means that you are given a certain period of time by your servicer when you don’t have to make payments. You have to ask for it, so if you cannot make your payments, talk to your lender.

Read more about deferment and forbearance here:

Deferment and Forbearance are not always the best choice. Think first about income driven repayment plans.

We can help you sort through the choices and make a repayment plan that fits with your current financial situation.

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Paying for college

There are two approaches to the cost of college: what you pay and how you pay. What you pay means to reduce what college will cost your family. This is done through scholarships and grants, managing your out of pocket expenses, and taking advantage of tax breaks for education. “What you pay” strategies do reduce the amount you pay for college.

How you pay is different than what you pay. How you pay is all about your specific funding plan. It means using your family income and assets, 529 plan, retirement account, student and parent loans, work-study, tuition payment plans, and other payment methods. How you pay is important but it does not reduce what you are paying to the college.

Together, what you pay and how you pay make up your college funding plan.

If loans, either student loans or parent loans, are part of your plan, you should be sure you have addressed future loan repayment as part of your decision making.

For more tips on paying for college, please consider subscribing to our free newsletter, On Course For College. We cover all these topics and more.

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We are huge fans of local private scholarships!

Our CFG ScholarBank database includes hundreds of local scholarships that you can search and investigate. For students currently in college, we maintain a shorter list (shorter simply because most scholarships are for high school seniors!) of local scholarships for college students.

Our free newsletter, Scholarship Spotlight, contains helpful tips and information on finding and using scholarships as well as special insights on different awards.

Area high schools also offer wonderful leads for students to investigate. Check with your counseling office to find out what information they have. J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College also has a fantastic scholarship blog that you surely want to check out.

How do you find scholarships that you have a good chance of winning? The best way is to apply to those that are closely aligned with your personal attributes. The better the match, the better the chance of winning. It’s your job to make sure the scholarship judges can see what a good match you are!

Look first in your own backyard. What groups, fields of study, civic associations, employers, stores, financial institutions, and religious organizations are you and your family members aligned with? Do any of these sponsor scholarships? If so, you’ll have a head start.

As good as scholarships are, you need to know your college’s policy on how outside scholarships impact your financial aid package. Many families mistakenly think that the scholarship will reduce their out of pocket costs. That’s unlikely. Here’s why. Some colleges want the scholarship money to reduce the grants the college awards you. Other schools reduce your loans, and other schools reduce unmet need. The impact can also be different depending on whether your aid is need-based or not.

Ask what your college’s policy is on outside scholarships. If your college will reduce unmet need, that’s good. If they will reduce loans, that’s good. If they reduce their grants, that’s not good.

For more tips and strategies on private scholarships, subscribe to our free Scholarship Spotlight.

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Out of school – now what?

College is in your rearview mirror and you are starting to realize that you have a number of financial decisions to make. What’s the “right” way to spend your money? How much should you be saving? Should you pay more on your student loans? What about filing an income tax return?

It’s pretty normal to have financial questions when you are starting out. The trick is in finding good answers to your questions. Most advice is cookie-cutter, save X% and spend Y%, that sort of thing. Most financial advisors don’t want to talk to you unless you happen to have a trust fund.

We believe it all starts with your personal cash flow plan. Identify your financial goals, both short term and long term. What’s most important to you? Getting out of debt? Saving for a house? Living within your means? Whatever your answers are, you can be sure that your plan will be personal to you.

Devising your personal cash flow plan is only half of the battle – good implementation is the difference between success and failure. We guide you through the options and assist you in setting up a system that works for you. It’s anything but cookie cutter!

In the end, you will be squarely on the path to achieving your financial goals.  If you’d like to know more about our personal financial coaching for young adults, please let us know.

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Common Application Problems

This goes way beyond “print preview not working.”  Obamacare and electronic benefits cards aren’t the only thing crashing these days.

The New York Times report on problems going on this weekend with the Common App:

Forbes gives an update after the website crashed on Monday:

Remember:  many CSS Profile schools require early admission applicants to file their CSS Profile early.




Common App Tips

1. Be a tech Luddite: In this day and age of “cloud this” and “swipe that”, we tend to take for granted how we push the envelope tech-wise. Not every website can keep up with all the browser variations and operating systems that are out there. You don’t want to find out that something about your computer doesn’t agree with the Common App’s computers.

The Common App lists system requirements on the homepage (look near the bottom.) If at all possible, pick one computer to use that meets these requirements and stick with it throughout the process. Once you’ve started, don’t rush to upgrade to the latest and greatest. Stick with an arrangement that works. For example, some people don’t like the Common App on Safari.

Have plenty of ink on hand for your printer. Most color inkjet printers these days require the color cartridges even to print black text.

2. Provide your best SAT/ACT scores in each area, even if they are from different test dates. If you plan on taking future tests, answer “yes” to that question so the admissions office will be on the lookout for those scores. It’s also a good idea to check the specific test reporting policy of each of your colleges which you can find on their websites.

3. Say yes to financial aid and merit scholarships, even if you don’t think you will get any aid. You can always turn down any financial aid that is offered so say yes now.

4. Submitting the completed application does not mean you are finished. You have to also submit the supplements to your colleges and you have to pay. Consider these to be three separate steps. Make sure you do each and then check your My Colleges page to be sure the status for each application is correct.

5. Print Preview matters – a lot! When all required questions have been answered, a PDF will be generated for your review once you click on “Start Submission.” Print it and read it carefully. Check each line to be sure characters were not cut-off. The fact that you could type the characters on the screen does not mean that they will print out correctly.

Bonus tip: Don’t wait until the last minute. If you are planning on doing the Common Application over Christmas Break, for example, many college offices are closed. That’s not the time to be trying to get your questions answered. The My Colleges tab will show you the deadline information for each of your schools.

Bonus tip #2: Add to your email contacts so important messages don’t get marked as spam.

Have questions? We’d be glad to help. Drop us a note at





Godwin, Tucker, Deep Run, and Midlothian Robotics Teams Advance

Congratulations to the Robotics teams from Midlothian, Tucker, Deep Run, and Godwin high schools for advancing to the world robotics championship in St. Louis!

Read the official press release here about Godwin, Tucker, and Midlothian moving on from the Virginia Regional.  Deep Run advanced by winning the Chariman’s Award at the North Carolina Regional.  Great job!

In addition to the technically challenging aspects of designing, building, and operating the robots, FIRST is all about building teams and building minds.

FIRST also is a pathway to a number of college scholarships.  The full list can be found here: