Before College: Begin Your Search for Scholarships by Spring of Your Student’s High School Junior Year

Hey, parents of high school juniors! Remember that old saying, “The early bird gets the worm!” It’s especially true for college scholarship searches. That’s why you and your juniors should begin your searches during the first quarter the new year!

Most scholarship providers don’t want to receive applications from students until their high school senior years. Nevertheless, if you’re well organized, beginning your search by the end of March has advantages. Identify scholarships for which your students appear to be good matches, record their application deadlines on your calendars, and be ready to apply for them shortly before their deadlines.

Where to Look

Have your students start in their high school counselors’ offices, looking through scholarship binders, folders, or database maintained there. Your students should keep going back there weekly to look for new scholarship notices.

Next, look locally. Many businesses, churches, civic groups, community foundations, labor unions, and similar organizations offer scholarships to local students — and their notices about what they offer don’t always reach high school counselors.

Finally, look nationally. Use reputable websites such as Big Future by College Board, FastWeb, and — search engines that don’t charge fees and that sell students’ personal information to marketers only if students “opt in” to that practice.

Speaking of fees, never pay a fee for help in identifying and/or applying for scholarships! Far too many of these “services” are scams and rip-offs, taking your money and giving you guidance you can get for free from high school counselors and college financial aid administrators.

What to Look For

While many scholarships are awarded on the bases of grades and test scores, a significant number of scholarships are awarded for other reasons.

Many providers want to help students who remind them of their younger selves in terms of career interests and community, employment history, extracurricular, or leadership activities. So look for scholarships whose eligibility criteria match up well with your students’ experiences and interests.

Students generally must complete scholarship applications with essays and “resumes” describing themselves. So if your students haven’t already done so, have them start compiling resumes similar to what you would build for a job search; resumes with clear career objectives and chronological listings of all they’ve done while in high school. Then, when it’s time, they can easily transfer this information onto scholarship applications.

When to Stop Looking

Different providers publicize their scholarships at different times, so a single search won’t do. Students who land the most scholarships routinely conduct searches right up until college graduation.

What Are You Waiting For?

Search early, keep searching, and submit timely, well-prepared applications. Yes, this’ll take a lot of time. But remember, scholarships are “free” money for college. If you invest 100 hours over the next 12 months and win $5,000 in scholarships, that amounts to “earnings” of $50 an hour. Where else can high school students achieve earnings like that?

Next Wednesday’s post will provide additional information on the financial aid scams and rip-offs you want to avoid.

Special COVID-19 Bulletin # 14: Federal Student Loan Relief Extended Through January

Yesterday the U.S. Education Department (ED) announced the extension of the forbearance on all student loans held by the federal government. This means that, through January 31, 2021:

  • Interest isn’t being charged on your loans;
  • You’re not required to make payments on your loans, although you may do so if you wish; and
  • If you would have been required make payments on your loans, January will be another month that counts toward the months you need to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, forgiveness under the federal income-driven repayment plans, and loan rehabilitation agreements — whether you choose to make payments or not.

Remember that “loans held by the federal government” means all loans borrowed under the:

  • Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP);
  • Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), if the banks or other lenders that once owned them transferred ownership to ED; and
  • Federal Perkins Loan Program, if the postsecondary schools that once owned them transferred ownership to ED.

This extension may lead to an even longer forbearance — something in which President-Elect Biden and congressional Democrats are interested due to the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Keep following the College Affordability Solutions website for more news about this forbearance in the future.

Before College: College Affordability Is About Fit As Well As Finances

Last week we discussed financial issues to check out when comparatively shopping for schools at which your children will pursue postsecondary learning. Today we focus on an equally important issue — shopping for institutions that are good “fits” for your students.

Yes, dollars and cents are important. But they’re not the only thing to take into consideration. Even if the net price of School A is somewhat higher than School B, it would still be good to select School A if it better conforms to student needs.

Students attending institutions that don’t fit their needs is are more likely to suffer emotional distress, which often causes poor academic performance. Even if they don’t flunk out, they’ll face three choices:

  • Transfer: If you’re lucky, new institutions will accept all courses your students successfully completed at their prior schools. But transfers frequently must retake at least some of those courses. This inflates their costs, because they pay twice for the same classes and because they may need extra academic terms — and the expenses that go along with those terms — to complete them.
  • Persist: Students unhappy with their colleges can always tough it out and remain their until graduation. But this often generates extra costs for support services (counselors, tutors, etc.). It may also lead to some terms during which it all becomes too much and they “stop out” — again, increasing costs by lengthening time to degree. Either way, unhappy persistence can affect grades and/or graduate school test scores, limiting the ability to get admitted to such schools and/or to receive assistantships and fellowships to help them pay for them.
  • Drop Out: Students mismatched with colleges or universities may throw up their hands and simply drop out. Results? A substantial financial investment is lost. Educational loans still must be repaid, but without increased earning power that accompanies postsecondary degrees. And even if they return to college a few years later, scholarships initially awarded to them won’t be there, causing increased reliance on debt to pay costs that rise in excess of inflation almost every year.

Fortunately, you know your students’ ambitions, passions, turn-ons, and turn-offs. Take these into account during campus visits and frank conversations with trusted friends already at various schools as you consider:

  • Campus Characteristics: Do your students need small church-related liberal arts schools, or campuses in small towns or rural areas, or would they flourish at large, diverse universities or in the midst of big cities? Would they fit better in vibrant on-campus communities or be OK at commuter schools where most classmates go home every night and weekend?
  • Class Characteristics: Is it important for your students to have small classes versus large lectures and clinics?
  • Student Body Characteristics: Would they be compatible with other students who are conservative or liberal or of one or the other gender? Do they want to associate with fellow students from diverse ethic and racial groups?
  • Campus Locations: Should they attend colleges close to or far from home and family?

In short, don’t ignore how much postsecondary affordability and success are related to fit as well as finances!

College Affordability Solutions also evaluates your student’s financial aid offers, determine the net costs, and identify funding gaps your student will incur at institutions making those offers. Email to arrange free consultations if we can help.

Before College: Shop Comparatively When Selecting Postsecondary Institutions

Would you make purchases costing you tens of thousands of dollars without doing comparison shopping? Surely not! Well, make sure your Pre-College Finance Plan includes a healthy dose of such shopping as you and children start deciding which colleges they’ll attend.

This year alone, what students pay to attend postsecondary institutions averages $18,550 at community colleges and $26,820 at in-state public colleges and universities. That’s a lot — so most families can’t send children to postsecondary schools without financial aid and student loans.

Here are some pointers on how you comparatively shop to discover a postsecondary school’s affordability:

Avoid For-Profit Schools — At Least For Now: Donald Trump once paid $25 million to close a lawsuit brought by 6,000 students who sued him for defrauding them through his for-profit school. Not surprisingly, his administration protected similar schools. Although Joe Biden plans to crack down on them, that’ll take some time. So for now, send your children to a community college or state technical institute for technical or vocational education.

Be Careful About High-Priced Private Institutions: This year’s posted Cost of Attendance (COA) averages $43,280 at out-of-state public colleges and universities and $54,880 at private colleges and universities. The Federal Pell Grant maximum is $6,345 and freshmen may borrow up to $5,500 in federal student loans. In most states, non-residents aren’t eligible for state grants and loans so, absent lot’s of institutional and private scholarships, understand you as parents may need to borrow heavily.

Determine True COA: Colleges play games with the COAs they publish. So double check:

  • Room and Board: Usually this is an average of what students living on-campus pay. Groceries, rent, and utilities may cost more or less in off-campus apartments.

  • Books and Class Supplies: This is typically an average of what all students spend. In certain majors (architecture, art, literature, etc.) it could be more.

  • Transportation: Most likely this is for getting to and from an in-state home a few times a year. It doesn’t include costs associated with having a car at school or flying between home and out-of-state schools.

Carefully Consider Each School’s Aid Offer: Have your children been offered “renewable” grants and/or scholarships. If so, study their renewal criteria carefully. Some are a form of “bait and switch;” requiring exceptionally high GPAs and credit hour completion for renewal. Also, understand that most Federal TEACH Grants ultimately turn into costly loans.

Compare Net Prices: Net price represents what you and your children will have to pay by borrowing, liquidating assets or working.

Shop comparatively now to avoid massive debt or other problems later!

Next Wednesday we’ll be posting an article right here about another seldom-considered but absolutely essential issue in shopping comparatively when selecting and affordable college or university. So become a follower of this website to get this and other college affordability strategies.

Before College: Make Money Management Education Part of Your High School Senior’s Pre-College Finance Plan!

By Linda Matthew, AFC

Parents, you have 9 months until your children leave for college! (let’s assume for now that by next September they will indeed be leaving . . . ) During the next several months, do take some time to help them get ready to manage their money in the real world.

This may not be the most comfortable topic — therapists say that talking about money can be more difficult than talking about sex — but do it anyway. Most students today graduate with large loans: the average loan balance was $29,200 (Note 1). This means an average payment of $393 per month in every month after they graduate. In addition, over a third of students in college say that they already have credit card debt of over $1,000 (Note 2).

So take time to prepare them, and see if you can minimize their debt.

  • Help them put together a draft budget. Tuition, room, board and book costs are often well understood. But what will they need for living expenses? Together, write a list of your best guess at the items and their costs each month, and total it up. Decide how much you can give them and help them figure out how to earn the rest. Or help them figure out what they can live without.
  • Consider the car. With the cost of insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking (and tickets!), this can add up. If they can manage without one, skip the cost.
  • Teach them how to cook and how to do their laundry so they don’t have to nervous about these tasks. Send them grocery shopping (on their own, with your card) to help gets the kinks out of that process. Even in a dorm room, you can fix a surprising amount with a mini-fridge and microwave.
  • Teach them to review their bank statement at the end the each month to see where their money went. They can even download their transactions and total them up by category — it can be surprising to see the numbers. (Those little rental scooters. They add up.)
  • Teach them how to save. This is a journey all its own. Have them work at least next summer, and have them save at least half of what they earn.

Children get most their information on managing money from their parents. But most parents, when asked if they talk to their students about managing money, say no. Take this time to give this gift to your children. Whether we know it or not, our children are learning from us.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or need help. Start with the “College” chapter of my book, Teach Your Children About Money. I wrote it just for this purpose.



About Linda Matthew . . .

Linda Matthew is today’s guest author. She is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and owner of MoneyMindful Personal Financial Coaching through which she has clients throughout North America. Linda is also the parent of both a college graduate and current college student.

Linda’s new book, Teach Your Children About Money, offers a variety of age-appropriate ways help your children learn about themselves how to manage their money. Go to the MoneyMindful website to learn more about Linda and arrange a free consultation.

Special Bulletin: Contact Your Federal Representative and Senators Right Away on This Important Matter!

If you’ve been following our blogs, you know we recommend your College Finance Plan include exercising your right to be politically active. And if you owe money on postsecondary loans you borrowed from the Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP), it’s particularly important to be politically active right now by contacting your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators!

A recent COVID-19 related presidential executive order extended the following postponements on FDLP debts through December 31, 2020:

  • Interest Postponement: The government is charging no interest on FDLP loans through December 31;
  • Payment Obligation Postponement: Payments on FDLP loans aren’t required through December 31; and
  • Default Collection Postponement: All activities normally conducted to collect defaulted FDLP loans (bad credit reports, hiring collection agencies, garnishment (i.e. confiscation) of tax returns and wages) are suspended through December 31.

Mr. Trump said he’d extend these postponements beyond December 31 if necessary. And extensions are certainly necessary since our country’s new explosion of COVID-19 infections and deaths is causing many of the 44 million Americans owing the FDLP to become ill, loose jobs, etc.

But after losing the election Mr. Trump seems less and less interested in running federal programs such as the FDLP. So there are serious questions about whether he’ll make good on his promise to suspend these postponements. While President-Elect Biden seems more likely to extend them, if he does it will be a full three weeks between December 31 and when he takes office and can do so.

This means Congress needs to extend these postponements as part of some “must pass” bill such such as the one that’ll fund the government after December 11 or a COVID-19 relief bill that may be negotiated. But congressional Republicans must drop their opposition to extending the postponements past December 31 for this to happen.

Result? You need to call or email the House member and Senators who represent you in Washington. Find their contact information on the House website and Senate website.

Contact them in support of extending the FDLP postponements because it’s in your best financial interest! Contact them in support of extending the FDLP postponements because it’s in the best financial interests of 44 million fellow Americans! But contact them, and do so as soon as possible!

College Affordability Solutions has 40 years experience in help borrowers with federal parent and student loans. Contact us to book a no-charge advising session if you need help managing the debt you owe from such loans!

Before College: Here’s a Great College Affordability Strategy for Your High School Students

Would you and your children be interested in a Pre-College Finance Plan strategy that generates funds for college and has almost a dozen other advantages? If so, here it is — have your children to work part-time while in high school.

Understand that we’re not advocating sending your children out to work in the midst of the current COVID pandemic. Some of the jobs most available to high schoolers, such as cashiers and fast food workers, appear to have the highest COVID infection rates.

But if the vaccine breakthrough recently announced becomes widely available over the next five or six months, it could become much safer to hold such jobs sometime during the second half of 2021.

Before the pandemic, 25% of high schoolers and 40% of college students worked. Those who did achieved higher levels of independence, became better time managers, built resumes and professional networks, enjoyed increased confidence, earned money that, if saved, helped reduce their reliance on college loans, and gained skills transferable to future jobs.

It’s unfortunate that fast food workers are currently at such risk of contracting COVID, because part-time positions in fast food restaurants are particularly well-suited for high school students. For one thing, there are many such jobs and fast food establishments are constantly hiring.

These jobs also require little or no experience and often offer flexible work schedules. Plus, fast food’s average hourly wage of $11 can generate a little more than $8,000 per year for employees working less than 15 hours per week. This can significantly enlarge your high schoolers’ college savings and pocket money.

Best of all, many — not all, but many — fast food companies try to recruit and retain good employees by offering to help them pay for college. A great example of this is the Chipotle restaurant chain. It’s “Cultivate Me” benefits for crew members offers $5,250 per year for college, supports debt-free education for crew members who seek certain business and technology degrees, and pays quarterly bonuses to crews whose restaurants meet certain performance measures.

Chipotle’s not alone. Several other employers both inside and outside the fast food industry offer benefit programs that help pay for college. And even in the midst of the COVID recession, they’re generally maintaining these programs.

True, delivering packages, flipping burgers, and serving tacos isn’t glamorous work. But the money your high school students can earn, and especially the postsecondary benefit programs some employers offer, can really help make their postsecondary education more affordable. So when it’s safe for them to seek employment, recommend they consider fast food jobs and always ask potential employers about their employee education benefits programs.

Need help designing your Pre-College Finance Plan? Let College Affordability Solutions help. We bring over 40 years experience to this topic. And we serve as consultants for parents and students at no charge. Set up a consultation with us by calling (512) 366-5354 or by emailing

Before College: Extracurricular and Community Activities in High School Create Stronger Scholarship Candidates . . . And More!

Here’s a dirty little secret about scholarships for prospective college students — many of them are awarded for reasons other than athletics, class rank, GPA, and college entrance exam scores! Instead, a record of involvement in community and high school extracurricular activities is one of, if not the deciding factor.

This is especially true for the almost $17.5 billion in scholarships awarded by employers, foundations, and other community organizations. It often sets their scholarship selection processes apart from those of college and university scholarship committees. The latter are often under pressure to help recruit freshman classes that will help their institutions get high rankings in publications such as the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Guidebook. These publications do use factors such as class rank and ACT or SAT scores.

But many scholarship providers reject the selection of scholarship winners based on easy-to-calculate but overly simplistic numerical data. Their biggest such concern is that doing so ignores factors that are so important to success in and after college, things like:

Young people who engage in school-based extracurricular activities and charitable and other community activities tend to refine such characteristics and bring them to college with them. They also strengthen the resumes many scholarship selection committees evaluate when selecting recipients. And they often have more interesting experiences to cite when responding to the essay questions such committees evaluate.

However, it’s not necessarily the number of activities in which your high schoolers engage, but the persistence and quality of their engagement. Some high school students pad their resumes by joining numerous extracurricular and community organizations and teams, but they often fail to be really active members of those organizations and teams. This makes scholarship evaluators are cynical about resumes listing many short-term, low-level memberships.

So work with your high school students early on to identify activities about which they are enthusiastic and interested. Guide them toward joining in those activities early on, really investing their energy and time in those activities and, as their peers and teammates get to know them, volunteering or even running for leadership positions within those activities.

Taking part in extracurricular and community makes your children stronger scholarship candidates. It also makes high school more interesting and helps your children mature. So urge them to participate!

College Affordability Solutions is posting a new article right here every Wednesday about strategies for parents and students to include in their Pre-College Finance Plans, so follow this website to make sure you get these articles!

Before College: Earning College Credits in High School is An Excellent Way to Make College More Affordable!

A big part of your Pre-College Finance Plan should include your children going to college while in high school, because this can generate big savings by quickening postsecondary completion after they transfer the credits they earn into the postsecondary institutions they choose to attend.

Here’s are three ways to go to college while in high school . . .

Dual Credit Courses

High school students successfully completing dual credit courses earn both high school and college credits. The vast majority of dual credit courses are taught in high schools. Another 17% are offered on college campuses and 8% are accessible online. Over 88% of all high schools offer such courses, and more than one-third of high school students (mostly juniors and seniors) take them — with 92% leading to credits accepted by community colleges and 64% resulting in credits that apply in 4-year colleges.

Dual credit courses generally cost less than equivalent courses taken while in college — in fact, some dual credit courses are free.

It’s usually best to use dual credit to fulfill core or “general education” requirements that’ll transfer into most college degree programs.

Advanced Placement Classes

The Advanced Placement (AP) program is a product of College Board — creator of the SAT test. AP courses help approximately 2.8 million students complete 38 entry-level college classes including, but not limited to, biology, English, and U.S. history. These can generate college-level credits and help students qualify for higher-level classes as college begins.

AP courses are designed to prepare students to take AP exams. Scores of at least 3 on a 1 – 5 scale qualify students for college credits. The exams cost $95 per course, and students may get $33 of this waived if circumstances merit. That’s much less than tuition and fees than college students 3-credit courses, which average $1,056 at public 4-year colleges and $3,765 at private 4-year institutions.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Program

Fewer high schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program than dual credit and AP classes. IB’s a 2-year program for 16 – 19 year olds offering a core curriculum and 6 different sets of courses in the arts, individuals and society, language acquisition, language and literature, mathematics, and science.

As with AP, passing scores on IB assessment tests lead to college credits. While IB courses are generally free, IB tests cost $10 to $170.

Dual credit, AP, and IB offer your children ways to pay less for college-level credits, start taking courses within their majors more quickly, and hasten their progress to college degrees — thereby cutting costs such as room and board by shortening their time in college. Don’t ignore these options if they’re available!

College Affordability Solutions uses 40 years experience in postsecondary finance to provide both students and parents no-cost counseling on ways to manage, reduce, and pay college costs. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or to arrange a consultation.

Before College: Helping Your Children Enhance Their Online Skills Can Payoff in Their College Years

Some friends with a 12 year-old daughter are happy she’s attending middle-school online this fall. This is because they realize its safer as COVID spikes again and, although her school system’s emergency move to distance education earlier this year left much to be desired, they think her online classes are somewhat better now.

Her elementary schooling increasingly used high-tech teaching methods and tools before COVID, suggesting that, even after the pandemic, online communication and research will become more prominent in navigating America’s educational system — including higher education.

Make helping your children gain and refine their online skills part of your Pre-College Finance Plan, because doing so can reduce the exorbitant costs paid today while getting postsecondary degrees.

We’re not talking about video games here. We’re talking about your children becoming experts at identifying, then using, high quality, reliable online resources to find, absorb, understand, and communicate ideas and information.

Clearly, there’s great skepticism today about the quality and effectiveness of online higher learning — especially at colleges charging the same tuition and fees for web-based and in-person courses. Unfortunately, because most postsecondary schools have suffered significant revenue losses during the pandemic, it may be a few years before they can afford to freeze or reduce tuition and fees for any classes.

But institutions can deliver online instruction to more students than they could possibly stuff into even the largest lecture halls. At some point, this should deflate their cost per student. These savings can result in lower tuition and fees, especially if public pressure to for them keeps up.

And let’s face it, online classes have tremendous potential to cut 56% of the costs public 4-year college students pay. Travel costs to and from a distant campus will become unnecessary, as will costs for establishing a second household — whether it be an on-campus dormitory or off-campus apartment — on or near that campus.

Of course, cost cutting is only one advantage for those adept at using online tools. Such expertise can also help secure funds to help pay a student’s bills.

In Texas, for example, the state’s largest and most prestigious private scholarship foundation recently switched from in-person to virtual interviews. Other scholarship providers are also moving in this direction to reduce COVID transmission, for now, and, in the future, to cut transportation cost for candidates and interviewers. But successful online interviews for any purpose will require your children to employ certain preparatory steps and interview strategies.

Also, the part-time and seasonal jobs that help students rely less on loans and gain resume experience are increasingly online. Foundations, marketers, merchants, researchers, and other employers are looking for employees who know their way around the internet and it’s related technology.

So help your children gain useful online skills now. It’ll payoff during their college years!

Looking for help in selecting strategies for your Pre-College Finance Plan? College Affordability Solutions offers free consultations based on 40 years experience in postsecondary student finance. Contact us at (512) 366-5354 or to schedule a consultation.