Plan For College

Thursday, February 8, 2018

NEW POST: Financial Aid Award Letters

How to Read Financial Aid Award Letters

Congratulations! You received financial aid letters from colleges.  You worked hard to get this money, but do you know what all the dollar signs mean?

After you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll receive an award letter in the mail from each school you have been accepted to. Your letters will outline how much the school will cost and what kind of financial aid package you will receive. 

>> BUT Not all financial aid award letters look the same.

Below are some points to consider:
  • There are big differences between a federal loan, school aid, gift aid, scholarship, award and grant money.
  • Are you sure you understand what money you must pay back?
  • You do not have to accept all the financial aid from your award letter. 

We recommend that you first consider accepting gift money such as scholarships and grants that you do not have to pay back.  Also, earned money (work-study) is always good and does not have to be paid back.  Lastly, consider borrowed money (federal student loans) that you do have to repay.

Once you decide which financial aid package you wish to accept, you will need to respond within the deadline set by the school. If you wait, another student gets that money!

College Planning Group reads hundreds of award letters each year and will help you decide what is right for you.

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Financial Aid Schedule: Oct 1 Opens "FAFSA Season"!

Saturday Oct 1, 2017 marked the opening of the 2017 - 2018 "FAFSA Season"
For those unfamiliar with it, FAFSA stands for "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" and it’s a government form that give you access to $Millions of Federal money for college…Hundreds of $Millions have been awarded in the last few years alone!

You can find the deadline schedule for the federal applications here:  As far as each school's deadlines, check with your college directly.

Now that the opening date has passed, you should be working on in now…(Or have a College Advisor working on it!) NOTE: If you are late or wait too long, the money may be gone until next year!


>> Here are some tips and links:

> Federal FAFSA Deadlines: You can file a FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year NOW so do it quickly to maximize your chance of federal monies. The latest they will accept applications is (not recommended!) June 30, 2018 and any corrections or updates must be submitted by September 15, 2018. See

> State Aid Deadlines: As far as MA students pls visit the website for the Office of Student Financial Assistance at the  Massachusetts Department of Education This is the official website of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Ed. For RI, CT, see your local state websites.

> If you have large assets or cash accounts or liquid investments that you think would disqualify you, Do Not Assume you should list them…not all assets need to be listed! The FAFSA is not an department of the IRS so be careful in detailing your financial picture.

> Some help can be found here:

As always, consider using a College Planner who has filled out hundreds of FAFSA forms (and is likely filling out dozens for students right now!) Make sure they know all the tricks for getting you the most Financial Aid…

Many "weekend experts" just fill it out assuming old rules and statutes without learning the new laws and requirements, and, as a result, do not maximize your Financial Aid.

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Financial Aid Schedule: Deadlines Approaching!

The College Planning Group Blog Post 

Financial Aid Schedule: Deadlines Approaching!

What is FAFSA? "Free Application for Federal Student Aid"
If it's Free, it must be simple, right? No…it is a 14-page form that requires a lot of data and information and, if it is incorrect, you may get Less Federal Financial Aid!

When is it due? Soon! You should be working on in now…(Or have a College Advisor working on it!) If you are late or wait too long, the pile of money will be gone…

What mistakes do most people make? They make all kinds of mistakes but the most common is waiting too long! If you are off on your income or assets, these could affect your aid package…But if you wait even a month longer than most, you may have the perfect FAFSA but miss out anyway!

>> Here are some tips and links:

> Federal FAFSA Deadlines: You can file a FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year as early as October 1, 2016 so do it quickly to maximize your chance of federal monies. The latest they will accept applications is (not recommended!) June 30, 2018 and any corrections or updates must be submitted by September 15, 2018. See
> State Aid Deadlines: As far as MA students pls visit the website for the Office of Student Financial Assistance at the  Massachusetts Department of Education This is the official website of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Ed. For RI, CT, see your local state websites.

> You will need various tax forms and historical tax data. You may be able to use 2015 or 2016 tax returns depending on your situation. The College Planning Group are not tax advisors but we know exactly how to navigate the FAFSA and get it right the first time…NOTE: any mistakes will lower your chance of financial aid!

> You can always edit your data on the FAFSA website but do it before you commit the data. You can edit income, assets, debts, addresses, etc etc at any time but once you commit that is it.

> If you have large assets or cash accounts or liquid investments that you think would disqualify you, Do Not Assume you should list them…not all assets need to be listed! The FAFSA is not an department of the IRS so be careful in detailing your financial picture.

> If you are separated or divorced and have sole-custody or joint-custody, these need to be handled very carefully: Do Not Assume that, if you have 100% custody of a child, that you alone should fill out the FAFSA…an ex-spouse may be included in your financial picture in many cases to show increased need.

As always, consider using a College Planner who has filled out hundreds of FAFSA forms (and is likely filling out dozens for students right now!) Make sure they know all the tricks for getting you the most Financial Aid…Many "experts" just fill it out assuming old rules and statutes without learning the new laws and requirements, and, as a result, do not maximize your Financial Aid.

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rising Seniors Alert!

The College Planning Group Blog:  >> Rising Seniors Alert!


As summer nears a close and the Back-To-School Sales are everywhere, there is a big reality check for thousands of parents of High School Seniors: Their Rising Senior will be going to college in 12 months!

Are you prepared? Have you been following our advice for the last 3 years and this reality has no effect on you? If so then you can stop reading…enjoy the rest of your summer!

If you are starting to panic, You might be in one or many of these situations:

          - You have not visited any colleges yet

          - You do not know how to apply for financial aid

          - You have not saved much money to pay for college

          - Your student has not asked for Recommendation Letters

          - Your student has not taken the Standardized Tests yet

          - Your student has decent grades but not great

After all that, you do not need to panic: We can help you and your child like we have helped many before you…There are some things you need to do, however:

First: Download our Free College Planning Timeline…start at page 12 to see the overall plan.

Second: Get your 2016 tax federal tax return and W-2s together so you are prepared to complete the FAFSA form online. (NOTE: We know tricks and tips so let us help you)


Next: Talk to your financial advisor to see how you can afford college and minimize your child's student debt.

Next: Book a meeting with you and your student with their High School Guidance Counselor ASAP. They can help you find local and regional colleges best suited for your student.

 Finally: Sit down with your student and discuss WHY they want to go to college. Listen for positive reasons and negative ones: If they want a certain career in a field they love, we can help you find colleges that will fit their needs.  They should apply to 6-10 colleges.  If they only offer reasons to avoid certain jobs they may need to explore local Community Colleges while they focus their goals.


Rising Seniors: Let us help you have a great Senior Year with less stress and worry…it is not too late!


Hope this helps!



The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569





Thursday, June 15, 2017

College Planning in the Summertime

College Planning in the Summertime

Planning a family road trip this summer? Instead of visiting the World's Largest Ball of Yarn or Muskrat Carnival Village, why not make a stop at a couple of colleges in between? Many families are realizing that the best time to visit school campuses is in the summer, and colleges are more than eager to have you visit.

If you would rather be at the beach or the lake, no problem: Find a college near the sandy shore or a few miles away from the lake house and spend a few hours will not regret it, especially if you happen upon the hundreds of smaller, unknown schools that are very attractive and great institutions of learning. Rather be in a big city? Same thing goes: Inner city colleges love summer visitors so they can show off their summer learning and sports programs and give tours of more buildings because the school population is down 90% from the rest of the year.

So here are some ideas on how to find a college that is the right fit for you:

  • You get to see a lot more areas of the country while you travel. Don't change your destination, just the route. Driving through 3 states? Look at what colleges are in the towns along the way, plan a stop for 2 hours
  • Many colleges have summer programs for Grad Students and underclassmen with double majors. These students make better tour guides because they are more invested in the school and have more experience with the community.
  • Call Ahead: Many professors and coaches are on summer leave. If you want to tour the Computer Lab or all the sports facilities, you will need to communicate directly with those departments. Check the school website for a list of emails.  Some facilities may be closed for renovations also.
  • You may be able to get High School credit for a Road Trip Report…Your English or History teacher may take a 3-page summary of your trip if it meets criteria for a writing or research project. Visit a college and include some notes about the school's history or an anecdote about a famous student in your paper. Less homework in the Fall maybe?  hmmm…
  • Family Friendly: While you tour the science wing with Mom, your younger siblings can hang with Dad (or vice versa) to visit the town and have their own adventure...they can tell you about the rest of the town you did not get to see
  • Social Media: Post from campus, create a photo album of the campus, hashtag the college and add yourself, make a FB Live video as you walk the Music Rooms for all your friends to see…you get the idea. Note: Selfies with the College T is always a good image especially when college recruiters see your post (and they will!)
  • Don't be afraid to visit colleges that do not have a big label. Prestige has nothing to do with a good education. campuses tend to be more beautiful and lush if they are in the countryside where land is more plentiful.
  • Take advantage of extra time: College visits during the school year are often limited in order to avoid missing lots of classroom time. This usually isn't the case in the summer. If possible, stretch out your visit for an extra day or two, especially for schools that are high on your student's list.
  • Tours are more personalized: In general, fewer students visit schools during the summer, which means that your group will be much smaller—perhaps just you and your family! Use the personal attention to get all your questions answered, either by your campus tour guide or another admissions representative.

STUDENTS: Here are some other ideas on how to plan for college in the summer:

  • If you work, make it count! Save as much money as you can. Your college resume is stronger if you show you can keep a solid job when other students are getting tans and sleeping until noon!
  • Sport Camps: If you attend a sport camp, use it to impress College Coaches: Post with pro college messages. Ask the coach for a leadership role or help run the camp anyway you can. Wear a college T and send a selfie with the team.
  • Be careful of Social Media Fails: Smart Social Media is a must…College Recruiters are watching and are being trained on how to scour the internet for reputation-ruining posts. The Internet never forgets!
  • Volunteer while you have time away from High School stress. Giving back to your local community shows a college that you will do the same when you get to college. They don't just want 4.0 students…They want students that help create a sense of community, inclusion and camaraderie to keep their campus vibrant and innovative.

Hope This Helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Introducing another team member at The College Planning Group

A quick note about another great resource available to our families: College Planning Group Consultant Mark Haberland

Mark was interviewed recently at a College Event and had this to say:

"Guiding high school students was my profession for 35 years. I had the pleasure of being a guidance counselor at Gloucester High for all of those years. My philosophy is simple: We will work together as a team to find the best match for you, regardless of the challenges you may face. 

I am aware that getting ready for college is a big step.  We will however proceed in tiny steps, one foot at a time until you get there. The journey will be part of the overall goal.  College planning can be fun."

So we are very excited here at CPG to offer this awesome resource to all our new and existing families...Mark has a unique insight from the High School perspective. He knows how to work with High School families and how to get the students to step up and get deeply involved in teh planning process.

As a side note: Mark agrees that starting the college planning process in the Freshman Year is a great strategy for finding the the best college fit for the student...

You can reach Mark via email:

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Who is the "Group" in The College Planning Group?

Obviously Stan Ezekiel, who is the founder and most active advocate at CPG, is the person who is most known to our clients. Stan has decades of helping young students, especially Freshman and Juniors in High School, find the college that is right for them. He makes it fun and seamless for both the student and the parents.

However, Stan also relies heavily and more recently on a very special person named Kerry Vieira who has years of experience inside the college admissions offices of some major league universities.

Ms. Vieira has worked in the area of college admissions for over twelve years. She started at Simmons College, where she became an Associate Director of Admission and traveled overseas for international admissions recruitment. 

After Simmons, she worked contractually for both Suffolk University and Bentley University. For the past five years, she has been a team member at The College Planning Group (CPG). 

Her work at CPG also focuses on editing college essays and resumes, as well as conducting the workshop entitled “College Essay Bootcamp.” Presently, she also works on the Northeastern University Campus where she is the director of the World History Association. She holds a Master’s Degree in Modern European History. 


So if you have a student who is a Freshman or Junior in High School (or later), please reach out to Kerry...she is eager to help you and your student find the right school!

Email her at 

Or call today:  800-985-8569 Toll Free

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Role of The Parents in College Planning

Why Start College Planning Early? Series    #5

Role of The Parents in College Planning

Some parents want to do everything for their child during the college planning process. They want to write the essay, fill out the applications, contact the admissions departments, etc etc. They even want to pick the college their student should attend.  Most students want to be involved and take responsibility for the choosing their college.   They will have a much better college experience if they are truly involved in the college planning process.

Too many parents it seems know the right thing to do; especially if they are college graduates, right? They graduated so they know everything about how to get in and succeed. They know their alma-mater has the best programs and campus life that their child should go there also. They are experts at college planning, even though they graduated 10 or 20 or 30 years ago...right? Actually, they are probably wrong and the student is the one that suffers during the planning process.

"Well I went to ABCU and it's the best college for my daughter" Really? What if it's is not? If they are merely bystanders in choosing the right college for them, they will not be fully committed when they arrive. Too much parental involvement will deprive them of the feeling of commitment and investment into the next 4 years of hard work. It not help them acclimate when they arrive and they will likely either quit early or take longer to finish.

So, what is the best role for parents? What can they do to make sure the college their child attends is the best for the child and gives them the best tools for a successful life? We at The College Planning Group believe that the parents should be guides, encouragers and provide gentle pressure to keep the student focused over the long process.

We also believe the earlier the parent and student start together, the smoother it will go. Starting in their Freshman Year of High School means there is less pressure and stress Senior Year and the student can enjoy the process. Parents that encourage them to start early see less stress, better communication, a more enjoyable experience, and, most importantly: The best Student / College match.

Here are some ideas on how parents can best help their child during the College Planning Process:
  • Don't assume the student will not want to participate
  • Do not write the essay for them. Read it and offer gentle comments but let it be their work.
  • Help the student start early. Freshman Year is the best time to begin for less stress and better planning.
  • Prepare finances for college. College is expensive and the student is aware of high student loan debt possibilities. Plan early with your financial advisors.
  • Don't scare the student into doing more than they can handle: High School is already hard enough. Starting early and spreading the work out over 4 years is best...Otherwise it will add pressure they do not need
  • Discuss career goals in simple terms. What are you good at? What jobs seem interesting? What challenges do you prefer? Do not ask them if they want to be a surgeon or tax accountant just yet.
  • Be open to a Gap Year. Yes, this is a possibility...especially to get your finances in line and give the child a chance to search internally for their best career path.
  • Make sure they look at local and community colleges, even if they want to go Ivy League. The financial benefits are obvious but these schools cater to undecided students who are still searching.
  • Encourage student to complete tasks before deadlines. Set rewards for completing tasks.
  • Talk with guidance counselors to learn about scholarships.
  • Parents should plan college trip logistics. Student should pick the colleges to visit but you plan travel, hotel, meals etc.

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why Start Early? Series Blog Post #4 TOPIC: Tips for Visiting Colleges

The "Why Start College Planning Early?" Series    #4 of 6
Tips for Visiting Colleges

When visiting a college DO NOT just go on the tour and sit in the presentation and think that you have seen the whole picture. If you do, you will only see about 1/3 of the whole college and 90% of visitors will think that is enough to decide. You deserve a much deeper, wider view of a college and here at The College Planning Group, we want to show you some ways to get it.

First: Understand that the college tour and presentation are designed to get large #s of people through in an orderly fashion. For example, U Mass Boston has a population of over 16,000 students. If they want to maintain that they may need to see 4-6x that # of students on their tours...that's over 96,000 students on tours, sitting in presentations, talking to admissions etc etc...They have to make tours quick and efficient and presentations fast and packed with a lot of info. You cannot decide on a school with only these 2 events.

You can walk the campus with a chaperone. How to find one? If you know a student going there, that is best. Ask them to walk around with you and take you into classes, sports facilities, computer labs, science areas, cafeteria, and dorms. Talk to as many students as you can. Try to see as much of the campus as you can.

Compare facilities between schools. Which one has bigger and newer labs? Is the freshman dorm closer to class at one school vs another? Is the cafeteria bigger and closer at one school or another? Ask professors about their recent upgrades to equipment and supplies.

Dorm rooms tend to be all the same: small space, bunk beds, wooden desk, cinderblock walls...They must cram a lot of kids into the building. But if you can find a group of students on your "extra tour" you can ask students about bathrooms, cleaning, Wi-Fi, electricity, heat, etc etc that will help you compare each dorm.

Some other good hints:

  • Sign up for the first tour of the day. This way you can make notes of where you want to revisit later in the day. If you can be done by 10 you have 2-5 hours of extra time to see more areas.
  • The smaller the school the better chance of seeing a lot more of the school. Makes sense physically but they are often looking for more eager, creative students and if you want to walk the halls and talk to more students they often will encourage it.
  • Use existing students to help you. If you know any call them and tell them you will buy them coffee or lunch. Free food is a good strategy! If you do not know any, get to the campus early and ask some students you see if they can meet you later in the cafeteria or library or gym. If you can find a student with your major, even better.
  • Admissions folks may block you from "self-touring"...For safety and privacy concerns, you can't walk around by yourself. So,  tell admissions in advance what you want to do and they will likely help you. If you have specific requests ("I want to meet the Soccer Coach" or "I would like to see the Bio Labs" or "Can I see the library and IT Center?") tell them you need these to pick the right school. Don't try to sneak around and they will appreciate that. Email them later thanking them for their flexibility...
  • Teachers want to help! If you want to be a music major, get to the music building and knock on a teacher’s door...ask directions or a simple question about courses and they may give you 10 minutes to help you out...TIP: Get their email and thank them may be the only one out of thousands that does this and they will remember you!
  • Eat! Visit the Cafeteria and eat lunch or get coffee...bribe a student to get you in and you will be able to talk to a lot of kids who are there. Sit near a big group and introduce yourself...find out their majors and chat about campus life...if you were a student there wouldn't you be helpful to new students?
  • If you go back to a campus for a second visit, ask (in advance) if you can sit in on a class or meet with 2-3 teachers in their office to discuss classes and projects etc. If you are into sports or music, then ask to visit a practice or a game or sit in on a music class or rehearsal. Get as much time as you can with the will be spending a lot of money and years of your life there so investigate early and often!

Remember, plan ahead to get a chaperone and get as many emails as you can to thank them later. Most students will not personally thank people they meet for their time and help so you will stand out...You never know who has influence on selecting the next incoming class!

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ensuring a Positive Social Media Image

The "Why Start College Planning Early?" Series    #3 of 6

"Ensuring a Positive Social Media Image"

News Flash: Last year hundreds of applicants were rejected by a college because of their Instagram or Facebook posts! Many more got much less scholarship money than they could have because their Social Media Image was damaging...But smart applicants can avoid this very easily: Clean up your Internet Image!

Colleges look at Social Media to understand who a student is and if they are a fit or not for their unique community. If you are a student athlete that is being considered for a large scholarship, admissions staff can find you easily on any Social Media platform and look at years of pictures and posts. If they see anything they don't like, do you think they will call you and ask about it? No...they will go to the next candidate in the pile and keep looking.

What does your Social Media say about you? Does your college resume and application contradict your FB and Twitter stream? Are you a great student on paper and on your Twitter feed or are they contradictory? Do your daily videos and pictures show a lot of partying on the weekends and skipped school days on the beach? Do you have pictures of you holding a Red Solo Cup? Everyone knows what that means and if you are under age, it's not helping your image!

Or do you use Social Media as a promotional tool to convince colleges to accept you? We are not saying that you should stage pictures in front of a church or homeless shelter or in the library to pretend you are a good person...And we are not saying that you can't show fun times or crazy adventures...Colleges like applicants that are well-rounded, mature and adventurous so show them your best sides! Your Social Media Image is you and it may need to cleaned up!

~   ~   ~   ~

Some General Do's for Social Media:

·         * Make sure you tag the college often...They can see if you include the College Name in your posts

·         * Like the College Social pages, add them to your incoming feeds, follow the college Social Media Site, re-tweet their posts and add your own positive comments
 ·         * School Clubs: Post pics and vids from competitions and meetings.
Community Activism: Post from the food pantry showing co-workers. If cleaning a local park on weekends, make a FB event and invite all. Making care packages for soldiers or flood victims? Selfie that!
Sports: Live FB feed from meets / games with peers (Parents can help video from the stands)
Hobbies: If it fits with your desired major, post away! If not leave it out.
o   Good Example: If you are a big gamer or Cos-Player or like computers and are going into art, theater, design or graphics etc., then post plenty of events, projects and group photos at festivals or conventions. Show how much you love it...colleges want passion in their students!
o   Bad Example: Hoping to get into a top Nursing Program? Don't post party pics on Facebook from 3AM. Hoping to score a big scholarship for accounting at an Ivy School? Don't flood Instagram with only

Some smart "College Planning-Friendly" posts for your Social Media Feeds:

·         Visiting a College
o   Pictures in front of the College Sign wearing a school hoodie
o   Selfies with the tour guide or Dept Head in a classroom
o   Use comments like:
§  "I love (Tag College Name)! I love their engineering program and their dorms are so nice"
§  "Met some great people at (Tag College Name)...I want to go here so bad!"
§  "Fingers crossed that I get into (Tag College Name)! This would be a great fit for me!"
o   Even if you visit multiple colleges, still post about each unique in your comments. The college admissions staff will likely see your multiple visits as a sign you are serious about college and even consider more financial aid to sway your view of them.

·         Sports Teams
o   Sports show teamwork, dedication, personal achievement and focus: Post often showing progress and the fun you are having
o   Win 11th or 4th or even 1st place? Post it with your award!
o   Videos of you competing can be casual or professional: If you are hoping for sports scholarship, then post higher-quality, edited content
o   Selfies with the team on and off the field
o   Use comments like:
§  "(Tag College Name) has a pretty good sports program...can't wait to go there to show my skills"
§  "I definitely will go to all the games at (Tag College Name)...Looking forward to going in the fall"

·         Work Time
o   If you have a job, college admissions staff will view you as a young adult that is organized, reliable, hard-working and responsible. Posting from work will help your image
o   Have customers post positive testimonials about you, tagging your name so it shows up on your feeds. Twitter is great for viral messages
o   Pictures of the staff with you in the middle are great memories and if you comment about how much fun you are having while working hard, that is even better
o   Use comments like:
§  "Working late tonight...Making money so I can go to (Tag College Name)"
§  "Here I am at work with my favorite customers...I hope I can get a job on campus at (Tag College Name) like this!"

You get the idea...put yourself in the shoes of a College Admissions Director and ask yourself: "Will my Social Media help me get into college or not?" If Yes, bravo...keep it positive and you will do fine. But if it is No, you may want to delete some sketchy posts or maybe even delete your entire existing account and start fresh.

Hope this helps!

The College Planning Group
Canton MA     800-985-8569