Students

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Live like a broke college student

Teenagers say in survey after survey that they want to contribute to the cost of their college education.  The majority seem to feel a sense of responsibility, but they also don’t have a lot of money to chip in.  So what can you do to help out?

Reorient your spending!

Make it your primary goal to live like a broke college student.  You don’t need to wait until you go to college to do this, you can start right now.  Think of all the discretionary expenses you have, the things you’ve gotten into a habit of spending (most likely your parents) money on.  Your clothes, your hair, your unlimited data plan, your entertainment…how would you spend less if you had to?  “But I like Polo shirts,” is not an answer. 

Tell your parents what you are doing and make yourself accountable.  You’ll have to make some hard choices and not keep doing the same things you have been, but it’s worth it for the lessons you will learn and the money you will save.

If you don’t know where to start, being by tracking your spending and the spending your parents do on your behalf.  What’s your financial footprint?  Once you have a couple months of data, you can start identifying where you can cut.

Sooner or later, your standard of living is going to decline sharply.  College can be a great, safe time for that.  Most things you need (food, activities, shelter) are provided for you and you can really focus on keeping the discretionary expenses down.  Find new ways to save money…share, be cheap, get by. 

When you get out of college, hopefully you’ll have an income, but your newfound savings habits will still be with you.  You’ll have extra money to save, and if you can do that, it will be worth more than much of what you learned in class.

 

Moodys Downgrades College Students

With all the talk about debt downgrades and ratings agencies, we thought it would be timely to consider what one of them has to say about student loans.  From Moody’s recent report, Student Lending’s Failing Grade:

“Unless students limit their debt burdens, choose fields of study that are in demand, and successfully complete their degrees on time, they will find themselves in worse financial positions and unable to earn the projected income that justified taking out their loans in the first place.”

Borrow less and study smarter or you’ll risk default.  Remember, you can’t walk-away from student debt.  Take it seriously.

So what do you do if you have to borrow?

If you are a high school student, take a realistic, cost-based approach to your college selection.  The conventional notion of reach and safety schools is not your current reality.  What will college cost you?

If you are a college student, pursue courses and activities that will lead to productive careers that are in-demand.  Learn what majors matter.   How can you stand out from the crowd?

 

Step by Step Guide to Getting Cheap Textbooks

Time to get your textbooks. Here’s what you do, step by step.

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 Chegg.com and search by ISBN.

If you want to use Amazon, sign up for Amazon Student using your college email and you can get free two-day shipping for one year. 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

  • buy new from the bookstore (bad idea)
  • buy new or used from Amazon (much better) and then trade them in at the end of the semester (fantastic idea)
  • 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 prepared to organize this for you, drop us a note.

 

Summer Tips for Graduates

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.

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 textbooks the classes will be using.  Colleges are required to give that information to you.  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.”

 

Financial Aid Award Letters

Acceptance letters bring a huge sigh of relief across the country.  But arriving shortly behind those is the financial aid award letter.  This is the letter that needs to be scrutinized closely, and colleges do not make it easy to do that.  Don’t let your excitement about being accepted interfere with the need to review and understand the terms on which you’ve been accepted!  Here are some tips to do that.

First, schools use different terminology for the same thing.  It’s important that you understand exactly what is in the letter line by line.  What are the important items to determine?

1.  What’s the real cost of attendance?  For this you’ll need to do a little research.  Check out the college’s own website and search for “cost of attendance”, or go to CollegeBoard.com, search for the college and click on the Cost & Financial Aid tab.  Write down the line items:  Tuition and fees, Room and board, Books and supplies, Personal expenses, Transportation, and Other expenses.  Of these, only the first two are determined by the college, the others are simply estimates of what you will spend.  Colleges may supply estimates in their cost of attendance or they may not.  You want to be sure each of these items is accounted for.  Books will not cost significantly more at one school than another, but transportation might.

2.  Next, separate the gift aid from the loans and work-study.

Gift aid includes any grants and scholarships whether from the college or an outside source.  You want to know:

  • Is it for one year or for four years?
  • Is there any performance requirement (GPA, etc.) for the grant?
  • Does it come from the government (state or federal) or from the college?  Government budgets are under pressure, can you reasonably expect this amounts to be available in the future?

3.  Loans go by the name Stafford (either subsidized or unsubsidized), Perkins and PLUS.  Identify what is in your package, and be sure you know what the terms are.  Be sure there are no private loans in your package.  If you see anything other than Perkins and Stafford loans, make a note to ask about it.

Most important:  loans will be in an amount for one year, but you are planning on college for four years. Stafford loan amounts are determined by the government and actually increase as you get older.  You need to understand clearly what your loan  payment will be when you graduate!   Please do not skip this step.  Calculate what your loan payments will be, the schools will not do it for you.  If you need help with this step, drop us a note.

Work-study employment is not guaranteed.  Those jobs are coveted and can disappear if you wait too long.  If that is part of your package and you want to accept it, don’t delay when it comes time to apply for that job.  Be sure you give some thought to the implications of working while in school and that you are comfortable with that.

4.  Finally, with the numbers you now have, calculate your out of pocket cost.  That’s the cost of attendance less the free money parts, the gift aid and work-study.   This tells you what you will pay, either now or in the future (through repaying your student loans.)

If you have questions about a specific letter, the financial aid office of that college can help sort it out for you.  Do not accept any award that you don’t fully understand!

For some additional reading and a suggested comparison table, take a look at Julie Morgan’s piece.

 

College Admissions and Facebook

82 percent of college admissions officers reported that their school uses Facebook to recruit students.  That news comes from a survey of admissions officers by Kaplan Test Prep.  So what should you do? Delete your profile?  Maybe, especially if it’s really ridiculous.  Here’s the test question for that:  Do you show your profile to your parents?  If not, why not (and don’t say it’s because you are protecting your friends’ privacy – there’s nothing private about Facebook?) 

By all means, clean things up if you need to.  But do more than that – actually use your Facebook profile to your advantage.  Blog using good writing skills.  Follow the feeds of the schools you apply to.  Join interesting groups.  Post reasonable pictures.  In other words, present yourself well.  Sure, let your true self shine through, be unique.  But don’t continue to think that Facebook is private or that no one ever looks at your profile – they do.

First impressions matter.  Your Facebook page will be part of your first impression. 

 

New Scholarships Going Up

It’s scholarship season! We’re posting new scholarship information as it comes in, so be sure to check back frequently.  A search on Monday might give different results than a search on Friday.

Two quick tips:

1. Use the Evernote button to save pages that you like.  It’s free and easy (and Evernote is a great program.)

2. Remember that if you find a scholarship with a 2010 deadline, don’t despair.  Chances are that the new 2011 deadline has not been updated yet.  Check the link for additional information, or drop us a note and we’ll check it out for you.

 

Looking for Scholarships

This is high season for private scholarships!  Please search the CFG ScholarBank and make note of any you wish to apply for.  Two things to keep in mind:  First, you will see deadlines listed, some of which might be 2012.  Don’t be discouraged, that generally means that the scholarship will be offered with a similar deadline in 2013.  The best way to check is to follow the link for additional information.  If you still are not sure, drop us a note.

Second, we’ve added a neat feature to help you keep track of scholarships of interest.  It’s called the Evernote Site Memory Button, and you will see it on each scholarship listing.  Click it and you will get to save that page to your free Evernote account.  Try it, we think you’ll appreciate the simplicity.  Evernote is a great, free tool for organizing your college-oriented projects and information!

Remember, private scholarships can play a role in your college funding plan.  You are already ahead of the game by using the CFG ScholarBank.  Brainstorm and think outside of the box–you’ll be surprised what you find!

 

Common Application Tip

Going online is central to applying to colleges, from reading school websites to completing the Common Application to filling out the FAFSA.  Technology is great, but that doesn’t mean it always works perfectly.  Here’s a tip that might save you some stress.


When you think you have your application essay all ready to go in the Common App, try doing a Print Preview.  Believe it or not, different browsers render the preview differently; so can different printer selections; and so can random printer settings that might be affected by a virus or a kid brother.


When you get the Print Preview on the screen, read it!  Look especially at the right margin, are any letters cut off on the longer lines?  Then look at the bottom:  does it finish the way you expect or is your last paragraph truncated?


In this Edit-Paste-Submit world, a little old fashioned proof-reading can go a long way.  But the trick is to proof it in Print Preview mode, not just on the screen in your browser.


Going online is central to applying to colleges, from reading school websites to completing the Common Application to filling out the FAFSA. Technology is great, but that doesn’t mean it always works perfectly. Here’s a tip that might save you some stress.

 

When you think you have your application essay all ready to go in the Common App, try doing a Print Preview. Believe it or not, different browsers render the preview differently; so can different printer selections; and so can random printer settings that might be affected by a virus or a kid brother.

 

When you get the Print Preview on the screen, read it! Look especially at the right margin, are any letters cut off on the longer lines? Then look at the bottom: does it finish the way you expect or is your last paragraph truncated?

 

In this Edit-Paste-Submit world, a little old fashioned proof-reading can go a long way. But the trick is to proof it in Print Preview mode, not just on the screen in your browser.

 

PSAT Confusion

It’s PSAT week and a reminder how confusing the PSAT can be for parents, not for students!  Here’s what you need to keep in mind.


The PSAT serves two purposes:  (1) It is a practice test for the SAT when taken by sophomores or juniors.  (2) It is part of qualifying for National Merit Scholarships but only when taken by juniors.


What that means is that if your student is a sophomore, go ahead and take the PSAT and view it as good practice.  Don’t worry about the score.  Some counties won’t pay for the sophomore PSAT but will for the junior PSAT.  If your student is a junior, take the PSAT to participate in the National Merit Program.


There is a practice test available online, but the PSAT as a sophomore is good practice in standardized test taking, with no stress attached.


 

Don’t always accept the headline

When you come across a nice one-line summary of a complex situation, say “College grads break even at age 33”, you need to ask, “I wonder what assumptions are behind that?”  A study released by the  College Board, “Education Pays 2010”, includes that positive piece of news.  So let’s take a deeper look.


One of the basic findings in the study is that when you compare the incomes of college graduates with high school graduates, you find that college graduates earn more.   They earn enough, in fact, that they make up the cost of college and the cost of missing four years of working by the age of 33.  After that it’s all “profit.”  That’s the quick summary, but you know more than to take things at face value, right?  Look at some of the assumptions:


One:  The cost is for a four year public school, not a private school.  Further, they use a national average of $6,600 per year and the larger public schools in Virginia are closer to $9,000 – $11,000.

Two:  Costs include tuition and fees, but exclude housing, food, textbooks, and having a life.  How realistic is that?

Three:  No income taxes are deducted and people who make more pay more taxes.

Four:  That you can borrow 100% of the tuition and fees at the 6.8% Stafford Loan rate.  The maximum loan amount for a freshman is $5,500.  How are you supposed to make up the difference?

Five:  That all subgroups of the overall population are the same, men vs. women, etc.  They aren’t, so your mileage may vary.

Six:  That a college degree is what separates the earnings of grads vs. non-grads, not talent, ability or some other combination of factors.


Elementary school taught us how to read the study.  High school taught us how to comprehend the study.  Hopefully college taught us how to question the study.


But there is one solid takeaway:  Keep your college costs as low as possible.


 

Colleges, Classes and Jobs

What is the thought process behind why you are choosing the schools on your college list?  Many parents and teenagers would say “because I’ll get a good education there” or “because I’ll get a good job after graduation.”  Those sound like good reasons.  Let’s put them to the test.


Where will you get a good education?  The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has a website to help answer that  www.whatwilltheylearn.com The group examined seven core subject areas to see what schools had stronger core curricula, and what schools offered wider choices that may or may not actually teach the core subject matter.  In Virginia, for example, Christopher Newport University receives a B, University of Richmond gets a C, UVA gets a D.   Do you really want to pay $30,000 for your teenagers to fulfill his history requirement with “Gynecology in the Ancient World” (which is what he could do at Emory University?)


Okay, so maybe they take some fluff classes, who doesn’t?  It’s all about the job anyway and the degree from that “name” school will be worth gold, right?  The Wall Street Journal ran a story this week on the colleges that corporate recruiters love.  The top 3:  Penn State, Texas A&M, Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


Before you just assume you know where you can get an education and preparation for a job, take a deeper look at these.


 

Start Here – Using the CFG ScholarBank

One thing we discovered when looking at scholarships available to Richmond-area students was that there was no “one” source of regional scholarships. So we decided to take a crack at it. And thus, the CFG ScholarBank was born. We are continually tracking down scholarships available to Central Virginia college-bound students and gathering them all into our searchable collection.
Ready to start searching for the perfect scholarship? Go to the CFG ScholarBank and type in a search term that applies to you. You can search by region, grade level , or any keyword that might narrow down your search.  Say, for example, that you are a female high school senior in Richmond that wants to major in accounting. You could type in any, or all, of the following keywords in the search box: female, accounting, Richmond, senior. The more keywords you use, the more you narrow down your search results. Don’t want to limit yourself that much? Type in one keyword and the list of scholarships will be that much longer.

At over 300 500 scholarships for $1,000,000+ $1,500,000 and counting, the CFG ScholarBank is a great resource for students looking for a little help in defraying college costs. Why pass up free money if you can get it? Plus, just think of the serious brownie points you’ll score with your parents.

To stay ahead with the latest news,  subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

If you have any questions, send them to us.

 

Tough Job Prospects – Plus a Surprise

The stories abound about the dim job prospects facing college graduates.   Here are a few quotes:

“Everybody, including college graduates, needs to learn to adjust their expectations in line with reality. We are in the middle of a global financial crisis, which means individuals have to make sacrifices. As for college graduates who are looking for first jobs, they should settle for whatever they can find for now and switch to a better one when the economy recovers.”

“Take some graduates with a bachelor’s degree for example. They don’t have the physical strength of migrant laborers or the practical skills mastered by vocational high school graduates. If they only want to land a good job, they might stay out of the labor market and continue to live indefinitely on allowances from their parents.”

Sound about right?  Here’s the surprise…those articles are from China.  It seems we’ve exported not only KFC but also College Graduate Unemployment Angst.  It’s a worldwide problem.  Students should not incur a large amount of student debt with the hopes of paying it off with high paying jobs.

 

Making Sense of the Census for College Students

It may seem strange, but college students should be counted in the 2010 Census as being at their college location, and not back home, according to an article by Pew Research.  While there are clearly problems with the logic (like being resident of a different state, perhaps!), this is how it is supposed to be done.  So students, don’t throw those forms away.

For purposes of the Census, you are where you sleep.

 

Gettin’ Some Buzz: CFG ScholarBank Featured on Local News

Recently, our very own Jonathan West was interviewed by the local ABC news affiliate about the CFG ScholarBank™. Great story about College Funding Group and our online database of college scholarships provided by metro Richmond organizations for local students.

 

The Best College for You Might Not Even Be on Your List

You’ve earned good grades, prepped hard for high SAT and ACT scores, and participated in all those extracurricular activities that your guidance counselor insisted would impress college admissions offices. The next step is coming up with a list of your top college choices and start filling out those applications.

So, how do you come up with that list? You’ve probably got a couple of schools in mind already. There are many reasons you could prefer one school over another—your parent’s suggestion, your favorite college basketball team, a specific program of study, and so on. But you need to make sure that the schools you’re seriously considering are a “good fit” for you.

Before you get ahead of yourself and start applying only to Ivy League schools, be sure to chat with your parents about your family’s college budget. If you and your parents simply cannot afford the tuition, it’s better to cross that school off your list. Otherwise, your parents will never be able to retire and you’ll never hear the end of it, or you’ll be stuck with massive student loans that take years, even decades, to pay off.

With each of the remaining schools on your list, be sure to research the academic rigor, the school culture, the social scene, available financial aid, how the professors teach (big lecture halls vs. small classes), and the characteristics the school desires in its students. Now how do these schools match up with you?

Consider this–schools that maybe you hadn’t initially considered could actually be a better fit for you. Check out schools that don’t have the big-name athletic programs or the prestige of a Harvard. Many times colleges whose name you do not recognize may be willing to offer significant financial incentives to entice you to attend if your profile matches the freshman profile of that school. The most important thing is to keep all your options open. Explore all types of colleges – in-state, out-of-state, public, private, large and small. By getting to know the pros and cons of each, you’ll be able to figure out what characteristics are most important to you.

 

Using the CFG ScholarBank

One thing we discovered when looking at scholarships available to Richmond-area students was that there was no “one” source of regional scholarships. So we decided to take a crack at it. And thus, the CFG ScholarBank was born. We are continually tracking down scholarships available to Central Virginia college-bound students and gathering them all into our searchable collection.
Ready to start searching for the perfect scholarship? Go to the CFG ScholarBank and type in a search term that applies to you. You can search by region, grade level , or any keyword that might narrow down your search.  Say, for example, that you are a female high school senior in Richmond that wants to major in accounting. You could type in any, or all, of the following keywords in the search box: female, accounting, Richmond, senior. The more keywords you use, the more you narrow down your search results. Don’t want to limit yourself that much? Type in one keyword and the list of scholarships will be that much longer.

At over 300 scholarships for $900,000+ and counting, the CFG ScholarBank is a great resource for students looking for a little help in defraying college costs. Why pass up free money if you can get it? Plus, just think of the serious brownie points you’ll score with your parents. You can thank us later.

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If you have any questions, send them to us.