$1,200 for Recent College Graduates

If your son or daughter graduated from college in 2019, it’s likely they have a $1,200 payment from the government coming their way as part of the COVID-19 relief legislation. You do not need to have lost your job to receive the money.

And it is possible that the special payment might apply to graduates from 2018 too – but only under certain circumstances.

Do you need to do anything to get the money? Most likely not, but read on for the details. And as always, please consult your tax professional for tax advice.

The IRS says the following (link at the end of the newsletter):

Who is eligible for the economic impact payment?
Tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment. For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$150,000 thresholds. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are otherwise not required to file a tax return are also eligible and will not be required to file a return.

Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018 will automatically receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples and up to $500 for each qualifying child.

It’s a fairly simple test for recent graduates who are still single – was your AGI above or below $75,000? Since most graduates don’t make that much in a year, and even those who do only worked for part of the year, that $75,000 limit won’t be a problem for most recent grads.

However, the IRS needs to know you are on your own and earning money. That doesn’t happen automatically. The IRS won’t know unless you have filed a tax return that shows you are not a dependent on anyone else’s return (your parents).

This is important: the IRS says they are going to use the most recent tax return they have for you to determine eligibility for immediate payments. This can present challenges and opportunities.

If your AGI qualified in 2018 but not in 2019, and you have not yet filed your return for 2019, what happens? According to current information, the IRS will use your 2018 return and send you a payment. Since the tax deadline for 2019 taxes has been moved to July 15th, 2020, there is no problem waiting to file that 2019 return.

There is one more way to qualify to receive the payment, but it’s delayed. My understanding is that the payments are really intended to be “for” 2020 because that is when the problems are occurring.  However for practical reasons, the IRS has to use something to determine qualification status so they are using the above 2018/2019 test.

However, if you do not qualify for the payment based on either your 2018 or 2019 return, but will when 2020’s return is filed, you can still get the payment. It just won’t be until next year after you file your 2020 return. That doesn’t help now, but it is important to keep in mind for next year.

(Note for current high school and college students: if you are able to be claimed as a dependent on your parents’ return, you will not qualify for your own payment, even if you have a job and make money.)

The key takeaway for recent graduates: there is a very high likelihood you will qualify for a stimulus check based on your adjusted gross income for 2018 or 2019 or even 2020.

How do you actually receive the money? The IRS says it will use your bank account information, if it is on file, and make a direct deposit. However, if they do not have that information, this is the current info:

The IRS does not have my direct deposit information. What can I do?
In the coming weeks, Treasury plans to develop a web-based portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online, so that individuals can receive payments immediately as opposed to checks in the mail.

Official website:

Finally – what should you do with the money? If you possibly can, save it! Open a separate savings account at your bank with it. You can do this online in just a few minutes. Get the money out of your checking account if you can, so you don’t spend it until you need it.

Update: April 27, 2020

The IRS has updated their website to include specific steps for non-tax filers. Please visit the IRS website for the most current information.


Student Loan Relief Under CARES Act

The CARES Act includes significant student loan relief for most, but not all, federal student loans. Here is the current announcement on

Your payments will automatically stop from March 13, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2020.
To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment. This suspension of payments will last until Sept. 30, 2020, but you can still make payments if you choose.

In addition, the interest rate is lowered to 0% for this time period, which is a fancy way of saying that no additional interest will accrue during this period.

That’s the general point, but there are lots and lots of important details. Rather than repeat all of those details here, I encourage you to do your own research. Here is a direct link to the FAQs provided by the Department of Education where you can find answers:
Here are three additional important points:

  1. Most Parent PLUS loans from the federal government are included in this program.
  2. Most private loans from private lenders are NOT included. Exceptions apply, and this is one area where changes are happening daily.
  3. Some FFEL loans (older student loans) are not included. It depends on if they were sold to the federal government or not, and you can find that out on after logging into your account on

If you still have questions after your research, please send us an email.


A different way to choose a college

From Forbes:

“When David Walentas finished his Navy ROTC application test in 1955, he had to choose one of about 50 schools he wanted to attend. Going to college “wasn’t anything we even talked about,” he recalls, and to better his odds of getting accepted, he picked a school he thought nobody had heard of—at the end of the alphabetical list.”

His choice? UVa. Because it was at the end of the list!

But boy did it ever work out.

Now, 60+ years later, Mr. Walentas has donated $100 million to UVa, the majority of which will be used for scholarships for first-generation students.

Incredible generosity and a very interesting life story.

The Walentas Scholarships will be available beginning 2022. Early estimates are for 60 undergraduate students to receive awards covering the entire cost. This year’s class at UVa included 500 first-generation students, but the Walentas scholars will be geographically limited to in-state students and those from Rochester, NY and New York City.


Save Money on Your Textbooks

If you don’t have your textbooks for this upcoming semester, you still have time to get them and save money too. Here is the short version of how to do just that:

First, get the ISBNs of the books you need. How do you do that? You should have that information from registration, but if you don’t, call the student bookstore at your school and ask them what the books are for your classes, ask the ISBNs and how much the bookstore charges. (The author and title are not always enough information to be sure you get the correct editions.)

Second, go to the aggregator site SlugBooks and enter the ISBN of the books you are looking for. You’ll get a display of different options for buying new and used and renting. (The primary sites for textbooks are going to be and Amazon.)

Amazon is also a good choice, and if you don’t have an account, you can sign up for Amazon Prime Student using your college email and you can get free two-day shipping for six months. You won’t believe how convenient that will be, not just for these books but for any of the items Amazon sells.

Third, with this pricing information in hand, decide whether you want to:

1. Buy new from the bookstore (bad idea).

2. Buy new or used (much better) and then trade them in at the end of the semester (fantastic idea).

3. Rent from a site like Chegg or Amazon (even better).

Fourth, show your parents how much money you can save. They’ll appreciate your can-do attitude!


For more reading on our last-minute checklist and some dorm essentials, click here.


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


Student Loan Rates for 2019-2020

The new federal student loan rates for 2019-2020 are:

Undergraduate Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Loans4.53%
Graduate Direct Loans6.08%
Graduate and Parent PLUS Loans7.08%



Colleges that are still taking applications for fall 2019

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/



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



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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top



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.

Back to top


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.

Back to top


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:


Money matters for teens

It’s pretty easy when you are living at home and don’t have to worry about rent, about food (other than Moe’s and Chipotle), about car insurance and maintenance, about laundry, cell phone bills and utilities and all the rest of it, to forget that you are just a few short years away from being financially independent.

You want to be independent in many ways, just not necessarily financially (yet).

But that time is coming fast, and the way you handle the money you have now will make a huge difference. Even if you don’t have a steady job, money passes through your hands. Gifts, allowance, part-time work, whatever the source, you are in control of a certain amount of money. When you get to college, that amount will increase. How responsible are you being with what you have spend right now?

Here are a few ideas.

If you have a checking account, balance it. If you don’t know what that means, send us an email and we’ll help.

If you use a debit card, write down your purchases when you make them. Don’t rely on online banking to tell you how much money you have. In fact, speaking of mobile banking, do you really think it’s safe and secure? Why?

When you make purchases, do you try to get good deals or do you just impulse buy? With sites like FatWallet, Slickeals and Retailmenot, it’s hard to defend not looking for bargains.

Have you ever talked to your parents seriously about money (and a conversation that begins with “Can I please have…” does not count)? For starters, try asking them about their regular monthly bills so you can get an idea of what you can expect in the real world. How much does this standard of living to which you’ve been accustomed cost?

On a bigger scale, do you understand or pay attention to what is going on in Washington? Do you see “the government” as some magical provider of benefits like roads, education, and health care, or do you know that the government just takes money in from taxpayers and lenders and then pushes it back out?

Finally, when you think about money and financial matters, what’s your biggest unanswered question? Finding answers to those questions now can avoid mistakes later.

As you start to treat money with a sense of responsibility, you’ll develop good financial habits that will put you ahead of the game. Please let us know if we can help you along the way.


Talking turkey

Where are you applying?

Why do relatives do it?  Why do they ask you so many questions about college?  And what should you do about it?

Thanksgiving has always been a great time with family, but you know this year will be different because everyone from Aunt Minnie to Uncle Earl will be asking you where you are applying.  You really don’t want to talk about it!  Aargh!

First, take a deep breath, and think about why the older relatives bring this up.  The primary reason is that this is the first topic in years that they feel they can talk to you about!  You don’t get together that often, and they don’t really know that much about what is going on in your teenage life (that’s a good thing).  That makes having a conversation difficult for them.

But now, this year, they can have a conversation with you on a topic they know something about.  College.  So when they ask where you are thinking about going, don’t be offended, it’s just their way of trying to connect.

Some people say you should nicely tell them you don’t want to talk about it.  I disagree.  You are moving into adulthood, you need to learn how to have difficult conversations.  However, that doesn’t mean you need to offer up your list of schools and hear Uncle Earl pontificate on what strange choices you have.

This is actually a great opportunity for you.  Here’s one way to approach it and have fun:

First, practice with your parents this week, before you get together.  Get on the same page so your parents aren’t working against you.  You don’t need your mom to call out, “Jessica, come tell Aunt Minnie where you are applying,” if that’s not what you want to do.   Talk about how much you are willing to divulge and how you can remain respectful and steer the conversation.

You can actually learn from your relatives.  Ask them where they went to college and what they liked most about it back in their day.  Ask them what other schools were in the running and how they made their final choice.  Ask them if looking back on it all, if they are happy with the choice they made.

You’ll end up honoring their desire to connect and learning something in the meantime.  And enjoy your turkey!


How Sandy might affect your college plans

Mom told you to get it done early!

Hurricane Sandy has shut down many businesses, schools, and families up and down the East Coast.  This comes as many students are facing a deadline this Thursday, November 1, that of early application to college.  You might think that students who are so certain of their number one choice would have their applications done early, but you’d be wrong in many cases.  As many as 50% of students wait until the last day, in some cases the last hour, to hit submit.  With no power, are you out of luck this year?

No.  A number of colleges have extended their deadlines, so if you are facing November 1 as a drop-dead date, call the college admissions office and see if they will grant you some leniency.  Here is a sampling of decisions:

UVA will accept applications for early-action through 11:59 p.m. Sunday

University of Maryland has extended the priority deadline of November 1 by an undetermined number of days.

Johns Hopkins has extended the early decision deadline of November 1 by an undetermined number of days.

Washington and Lee offers flexibility with the Early Decision 1 deadline of November 1.  If you will miss the deadline because of Sandy, please contact the school at (540) 458-8710.  Hopefully you have a friend reading this.

Duke has moved its early decision deadline to November 4.

Vanderbilt is offering flexibility for those impacted by Sandy.

Stanford has extended the deadline to 11:50 p.m. Pacific Time (not that you would wait to the last minute) on Monday, November 5.

Yale is also observing a November 5th deadline but says it will only apply to those in the Northeast.

Elon has moved the early decision deadline to November 5th.

Many other schools have made changes so please check with your school directly to verify the current deadline.  Even the above dates and times might change, this is too important to trust to a blog post.  Get on the phone and find out for yourself!

And, as Mom says, please don’t wait ’til the last minute!

Update:  The New York Times has published a more comprehensive list of extensions.  It can be found here.


Common App essay changes coming next year

Seniors never had it so good!  Juniors, watch out.  Next year’s Common Application will not have the “topic of your choice” essay prompt that has been so popular with students.  Instead, four or five topics will be listed for you to choose from.  These planned changes were discussed at the recent conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors.

The word length requirements will also be strictly enforced (minimum of 250 words, maximum of 500).  The new Common App will be available on August 1, 2013.   Just one more thing for juniors to think about.


Richmond and lacrosse

The University of Richmond is in the midst of a disagreement over the recent decision taken by the board of trustees to make some changes to the sports programs.  Men’s soccer is to be replaced with men’s lacrosse and men’s indoor and outdoor track will be eliminated as well.  The dicussion is both emotional and complex, and both sides have important points.

But the trend toward lacrosse is not just a U of R thing.  Lacrosse is being used at some schools to attract desirable high school students.  The USA Today wrote about it last spring here.  Quoting in part:

Lacrosse players are desirable for several reasons, but the main one is that they tend to be what enrollment professionals call “full-pay” students, or students whose families tend not to qualify for need-based aid. Because of that, they must pay an institution’s sticker price unless the college offers non-need-based grants and scholarships.

According to USA Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, lacrosse players tend to come from more educated households than the general population, with 85% of adults involved in the sport as either players or parents having graduated from a four-year college. They also tend to be wealthier. Less than 10% of lacrosse players come from households with incomes of less than $50,000, and nearly 75% of all lacrosse-playing families value their primary residence at $200,000 or more.

That certainly is a desirable group.  The article does not give comparable demographic information for soccer players, and soccer as a sport seems more popular across the country and across the population.  Lacrosse seems to be faster growing.  At the college level, the administration has to consider the number of scholarships and the different sports offered.  There’s no question it is complicated. 

It serves as a good reminder for all students that just because a college offers a program you are drawn to, whether it is academic or athletic, it does not mean that things cannot change.  Budgets are cut and academic offerings and majors are removed all the time.  Entire degree programs are jettisoned.  Do your homework.  Read school newspapers.  Talk to professors or coaches about the future if those things are important to you.  There are no guarantees, but if you do your due diligence, and you don’t choose a college for one single reason, you’ll stack the odds for a good outcome in your favor.


How many colleges – Part II – Parents can help

How many colleges should you apply to?  We recently addressed this common question with our answer here.  If you look around on the internet, you’ll find many different answers, many different approaches.  The takeaway is that there is no one single answer for all students, you have to decide on the approach that works for your family.

Application costs are not insignificant, both in terms of money and your time.  US News posts a list of ten colleges with the highest application fees, they were in the range of $75 to $90.  Some schools have lower online application fees, so be sure to look for any discounts or waivers that you can get.

Time is often underestimated by students, but think about the time you’ll invest in your essays, alumni interviews, asking for recommendation letters, and all the rest.  You will be doing all this while trying to get straight As and be Mother Theresa-like in your community service, maybe playing a sport or being involved in extracurriculars too.  Can you handle the stress?  Are you well organized?  Do you have a plan or are you just going to wing it?

One of the best resources you can turn to for answers is your parents.  Your parents, amazingly, will have a different perspective.  Bring up your thoughts and concerns and listen to their input.  How many different applications do they think you have time for? Do they consider you to be organized?  How can they help you with your concerns?

It’s a great chance for some project management and teamwork if you invite your Mom and Dad in early.  If you wait until December, you’re going to hear nagging and “I told you so.”  Use their knowledge and wisdom to your advantage.


Making the most of admissions office visits

This is prime season for college admissions officers to visit your high school.  Depending on your school, there might be 75-100 visits scheduled in the upcoming weeks.  How should you handle these visits?  Should you even bother to go?

College visits are absolute musts.  What a fantastic opportunity!  You get to learn about schools you are interested in and you get to meet someone directly connected to the admission process.  You now only want to attend, you want to make a good impression.  That doesn’t mean you turn into Eddie Haskell (your parents will get that joke), but you don’t want to show up late, not take any notes, and not ask any questions. 

Plan ahead.  The guidance office can help with this, but don’t be surprised by a visit that’s taking place in 10 minutes.  Know when the schools you are thinking about are coming, you might need to make some changes to your schedule.

There’s no magic number, but the rule is more is better.  Visit every school that you or your parents have even talked about.  This is not the time to say, “I’ll never go there.” 

Listen and take notes.  The admissions officers will be telling you important information about their schools and how they might fit you.  Colleges are different, this is a great chance to hear about their differences.

Even if you have visited the school or done a tour, you still want to go and meet the admissions officer.  Do not just think, “They know I’m interested” and use that as an excuse to skip it.  Schools keep track of your demonstrations of interest, and every little bit helps.

Ask at least one good question, either in the meeting or afterward.  Admissions officers see a number of students, but they also are trained to remember them.  Separating yourself from the pack will help them remember you, hopefully favorably!

Fill out the information cards at the meeting and leave it with the officer.  Make a note of the name and email address of the representative visiting your school and send him or her a short “nice meeting you” type of note.  This isn’t the place to go into a long discussion of your special case, just let them know on a personal level that you made a connection.

Colleges have personalities.  The best representatives reflect those personalities.  Notice the differences between the tone and content of the meetings.  Are they talking about academics or other aspects of college life more?  What they talk about is what is important to their schools.  If you listen to the presentation, and it is not clear to you, there’s your question:  “Describe your school’s culture and uniqueness.”

If you’d like a list of other possible questions to ask, drop us a note.



Cheating in college

There is cheating at Harvard.  This might sound like gambling at Rick’s Café, but it actually is quite embarrassing for the elite school.   125 students are suspected of collaborating on a take-home test.  Harvard is vowing to study the problem.  The behavior was deemed “unacceptable”, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to punishment.

We’ll see how Harvard handles this but most high schools in our area wouldn’t need to “study” the problem of kids caught cheating.  One novel idea Harvard is considering is to establish an “honor code.”

Contrast this with a recent article on Davidson College, and its honor code:

Incoming students must sign the Davidson Honor Code, pledging to refrain from stealing, lying, or cheating on academic work. They also must report any honor code violations; failure to do so is itself a violation. Infractions are brought before the Honor Council where punishment is decided.

“We take it very seriously,” says Tianna Butler, a senior from Salisbury, Md. “You’ll see laptops on the lawn, or somebody will leave their MacBook in the library and go into the other room to take a nap. People don’t steal your stuff here.”

Very few colleges actually have an honor code.  When you are considering schools for your college list, how important to you in an environment of refraining from stealing, lying, and cheating vs. an atmosphere of “cheat or be cheated?”

More on the Harvard cheating scandal here and here.  By the way, the name of the course that the 50% of the students are suspected of cheating on?  Introduction to Congress.


SAT Tricks

The SAT is challenging enough without some of the well-documented traps that were more prevalent in the past.  However, as with many multiple choice tests, there are things to be aware of that can help you from making some silly mistakes.

Jon Siegelman has a good post on a few of these which is worth reading and considering.  Here’s one takeaway.  At the beginning of each section on the SAT are the easy questions, the hard questions come at the end.  Let’s say you see a question like this:

Q:  Joanne drives to work at an average speed of 20 miles per hour, and returns home along the same route at 50 miles per hour…

Mr. Siegelman says  “If it’s anywhere near the end of the section, don’t answer 30 miles per hour.”

What he is saying is that your brain will give more weight to “30” as the correct answer because you have been conditioned that way, “Hm, 30 is the average between 20 and 40, that must be it!”  But since it is at the end of the section, it is a hard question and 30 is the “easy” answer.  Avoid it. 

We suggest that you don’t look at the possible answer choices until you have calculated your own answer so you don’t get accidentally “attracted” to one of the choices.  Let one of the answer choices validate what you came up with on your own.

That’s not to say obvious answers are not ever correct; in fact, Mr. Siegelman notes they are routinely correct earlier in the sections.  Not every question is a trick, but when you are dealing with the hard questions, don’t jump to conclusions.


Save Money on Your Textbooks

If you don’t have your textbooks for this upcoming semester, you still have time to get them and save money too. Here is the short version of how to do just that:

First, get the ISBNs of the books you need. How do you do that? You should have that information from registration, but if you don’t, call the student bookstore at your school and ask them what the books are for your classes, ask the ISBNs and how much the bookstore charges. (The author and title are not always enough information to be sure you get the correct editions.)

Second, go to Amazon Textbooks and then and search by ISBN. [ can also be a good resource.]

If you want to use Amazon, sign up for Amazon Student using your college email and you can get free two-day shipping for six months. You won’t believe how convenient that will be, not just for these books but for any of the items Amazon sells.

Third, with the pricing information, decide whether you want to

1. Buy new from the bookstore (bad idea)

2. Buy new or used from Amazon (much better) and then trade them in at the end of the semester (fantastic idea)

 3. Rent from Chegg (compare their price to Amazon’s used purchase and then trade-in price)

Fourth, order them and have them shipped to your home now so you get to school and get too busy to be buying books.

Fifth, tell your parents how much money you saved. They’ll appreciate your can do attitude.

Congratulations! If you would like a free worksheet we’ve put together to organize this for you, drop us a note.



HS Graduates-Tips for Summer

Graduating seniors: Last October when you were mired in essays and applications, you probably thought graduation would never get here. Well it’s here! Congratulations and well done – you deserve a pat on the back for both your perseverance and your accomplishment.

This summer is a great time to get a few things straight before heading off to college. The biggest one that many students neglect until the last minute is figuring out your spending money in college. If you have your money lined up for the year already or are counting on a job this summer for it, you’re all set. But if you think you’ll need some from your parents, you’ll want to address this now. Don’t wait for when you are packing up the car!

Start by dividing your expected expenses into one-time expenses and monthly recurring ones. For example, things for your dorm room, a few new clothes, your textbooks – these are one-time expenses. Keep these separate from the recurring ones, things like money for going out, concerts, movies, and having fun. Colleges are great sources of free activities but many things cost money. If you’ll have a car, add in gas and parking costs. If you plan on joining a fraternity or sorority, add in any costs for that.  Greek life can be a surprising expense.

Once you have your estimate, ask your parents to sit down and go over it with you. If you’ve done a good job, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. They might not hand you cash, but it will start the conversation going, and you’ll be beginning your journey toward financial independence!

You also want to spend some time on the mechanics – what bank will you use? Will you have access to that bank’s ATM at college? How will your parents get you money if they need to? What if there is an emergency need for money? Spending some time on these questions now will save you lots of headaches in September.

For more on the ins and outs of your spending money, drop us an email and we’ll send you more tips.

Two more summertime ideas:

  • If you have a student loan in your financial aid package, you must do online “entrance counseling” before you can get the money. Do that this week. It will only take 20 or so minutes and it’s required. Your school’s financial aid office will give you the details of how to do the counseling.
  • When you register for classes (most likely at orientation), write down the ISBN of the textbooks your classes will be using. You can then use it to find cheap alternatives to paying retail price at the student bookstore for introductory level books you’ll only use once. This can save you hundreds of dollars and there’s really no excuse not to do it. Let your parents know you want to do it too, they will appreciate it.

Your newfound freedom brings with it newfound responsibilities, especially financial ones. Use the time you have this summer to make a plan and you won’t be living like Sugarland sings:

“Dear Mom and Dad,

Please send money, I’m so broke that it ain’t funny.

I don’t need much, just enough to get me through.”



Summer Jobs and Taxes

If you are lucky enough to have a part-time job this summer, you’ll most likely be asked to complete a W-4 form so your employer can determine how much income tax to withhold from your paycheck.  The form is easy, it’s the worksheets that go with it that are complicated.

Here’s a tip: for 2019, the standard deduction has increased to $12,200. If you do not expect to make that much income in 2019, go to Line 7 on the W-4 and write the word EXEMPT.  Your employer will not withhold any income taxes which is appropriate because you will not owe any income taxes.  Your share of payroll taxes will still be withheld, and those are not refundable.

If you do expect you will have more than $12,200 in income from all sources in 2019, you will want to complete the worksheets on the W-4 to determine the correct amount of withholding.

Please do not consider this to be tax advice, it is for informational purposes only. For tax advice, consult a professional tax advisor.

One final tip:  if you can manage it, you can open a Roth IRA to deposit some of your tax-free earnings.  The benefit is that those contributions will grow without being taxed if you wait until age 59 1/2 to make withdrawals.  It’s the best deal going!

That covers income taxes, but what about the FAFSA? Students are allowed to earn a certain amount without any impact to the family’s EFC. The amount for 2019 income is $6,660. Student income above that amount is assessed at 50% in the EFC formula. (However, remember that your 2019 income will not be used until the 2019-20 version of the FAFSA, which determines aid for the 2020-21 school year.)



HRA Student Budget Worksheet

HRA Students, find the link to the budget worksheet to use with your parents here.



SAT Scores – What difference can 10 points make?

Quite a bit apparently.

The New York Times reports that a senior official at Claremont McKenna in California has been submitting false SAT scores to publications like the U.S. News & World Report for six years.  The falsified scores were inflated by an average of 10 to 20 points for each reading and math.  The administrator in question has resigned.  Apparently the motive was to improve the college’s ranking in guides that count SAT scores as one of the ranking criteria.  What a sad example to set for students.


Getting through the essay

Students, if you are having a tough time with your college application essays, here are some suggestions on what you can do.

First, acknowledge where you are in the timeline.  You’ve put off the essay and now you are swamped with important schoolwork, extracurricular demands, and your social life.  It’s hard to find time to sit down and write an essay and the applications aren’t due today so what’s the big deal?  Your parents are frustrated and you want them to get off your back.  You’ll get it done.

But inside, you aren’t quite so sure.  What will you write about?  Where will you find the time?  Will it be any good?  Let’s take those one at a time.  First, on the subject, get out your list of colleges that you might apply to.  Make a list of the essay prompts, or questions, for each college.  The ones that use the Common App will have the same prompts, plus they may have a supplemental question or two.  If you are technologically inclined, there is an iPhone app that has every essay question from every school.  This list will help you organize your thoughts and keep you from writing more essays than necessary.

When you have your list, read it over to see what topics grab you.  Go with your first, immediate impressions.  Don’t over think this.  Highlight those and discard the rest.  Your essay will be one of the highlighted topics.  You don’t have to decide which topic it will be right now, so put that list aside.

When will you write it?  If that means when will you have a few uninterrupted hours of peace and quiet and no distractions, you won’t find the time.  Ever.  But you don’t really need that, that concept is just another crutch you are using to keep from getting it done.  Dive in tonight with 15 minutes of writing.  Not one hour, just 15 minutes.  No distractions, no food, no computer, no smartphone.  What you write tonight will not be your essay, it will simply be a way of getting your creative juices flowing.  Pick a topic you like:  what’s a favorite Halloween story of yours?; what was your favorite vacation?; who is your favorite relative and why?.  The topic does not matter, just grab one and write non-stop for 15 minutes.

You’ve made great progress just getting to this point, so now we’ll tackle the final question:  will your essay be any good?  The one secret to getting the most out of your writing is you need a good editor.  Every book you’ve ever read has been edited, and edited, and edited .  Your essay should be too.  This means if you want your best effort, you will not write your essay in one sitting.  Think in terms of drafts – get your first draft out in one sitting, and then turn it over to your trusted editor.  For most students, that can be a parent (one parent, don’t complicate it with two).  If that doesn’t work for you then ask a teacher or mentor at school.  Ask them now if they will accept that role, don’t wait until you have the draft written.

 So, three jobs:

 1.  List the potential essay prompts from your schools; read them over; highlight the ones that grab you.

2.  Write 15 nonstop minutes tonight on a topic of your choice.  Show yourself you can do it.

3.  Ask a parent or teacher if they will be your essay editor.  Commit a date by which you will give them your first draft.

If you start by realizing where you are, you can follow this clear plan on how to get to where you want to be.