Plan For College

Friday, April 22, 2011

Savings Plan for College Explained

If the cost of tuition in eighteen years has you worried, it should. A child born today may very well face college costs of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Parents of prodigies aside, the rest of us may find it prudent to begin saving today. 

A popular option is the 529 plan, born in 1996 of the Small Business Job Protection Act (which, ironically, had little to do with college savings), and named after the tax code which created it. It comes in two distinct flavors, the Savings Plan and the Prepaid Tuition Plan. Here's the low-down on both:

A 529 Savings Plan offers a lineup of mutual funds (typically), which, depending on the specific plan, you choose individually, or as pre-packaged portfolios, classified by a risk level, or by your child's age. Here, you are at the mercy of the stock and bond markets, much like a 401(k) or 403(b). 

Even if you choose your plan wisely, and choose your investments wisely, you have no guarantee of success. Yet, that risk gives you the potential for significant upside growth...or loss.

A 529 Prepaid Tuition Plan allows you to lock in today's price for a state university, regardless of how high that price is later - and yes, you can buy in small increments. We've seen staggering inflation in tuition recently, which may make this seem like a no-brainer. 

But recent events have cast doubt on a state's ability - or willingness - to make good on its promise. Many states owe to parents much more than they have in the 529 bank, thanks to underperforming investments to go along with the aforementioned inflation. Alabama's plan needed a bailout, and they got it. A handful of other states guarantee the same result if necessary, but most do not.

Both have tax advantages. The Savings Plan has a tax penalty if you use the money for anything other than qualified educational expenses. But the choice between the two will likely be determined by your appetite for risk. Or you may not choose either 529 at all. Either way, make sure you get all the facts and consider you personal situation before you decide.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

5 Tips for Getting Into College Using Social Media

Last week, I talked about 5 ways to avoid being rejected from college by increasing your Facebook privacy settings and making sure you're name has a good connotation online. This week, I want to cover how students can use social media to their advantage in the college application process. Here are my five tips for getting into college by using online tools:

(1) Write your own blog
Free blogging websites like Wordpress and Blogger allow you to write and release your own articles for free, on you own personal URL. If you are a high school student with a specific interest that relates to extra-curricular activities or academics, write about it. A personal blog shows initiative, highlights your writing style, demonstrates how you could add an extra element to a college campus, and increases your transparency online. 

(2) Follow prospective colleges on Facebook and Twitter
Pretty much every college will have a Facebook fan page and Twitter account. Most colleges, in fact, will have multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts. Each one will be targeted to alumni, athletics, UGrad students, press, and other areas. Follow the ones that best fit your situation and interest you the most. Doing this will have two positive impacts: (1) you will be able to stay up to date on the college's information and (2) if the college looks into your social accounts, they will be able to see that you are interested and following them. 

(3) Make a video
As we all know, getting into college is becoming increasingly competitive. Applicants need a way to stand out, and a making a video could be one way to do that. Film yourself talking about why you want to go to a college and how you could add value to the school. Other ideas have been to make a video essay or write a skit that explains what makes you who you are. Then, you can upload the video to Youtube and use the link in applications. Here are some examples of video applications on Youtube.

(4) Use online photo album sites
If you are a photographer, artist, athlete, traveler, actor/actress, or like to participate in any other high school clubs, then you must have relevant pictures. Websites like Flick and Picasa allow you to create your own photo albums under your own profile for free. If you put your full name in the title of your photo-sharing site, this will most likely come up high in Google search results. "A picture says a thousand words," so remember that as much of a positive impact this can have on your application, inappropriate photos could negatively impact it even more. 

(5) Get press

In addition to being great character builders and a positive on the community,volunteering and extra-curriculars can be great opportunities to receive local press. Having your name in a local paper will make a positive impact on your online searchable reputation. 

Here are two other ways to receive press as a high school student. First, if you have a story to tell about yourself (you own your own small business, you volunteer outside of school, you play on some nationally   recognized athletic team, etc.) do not be afraid to approach local blogs and newspapers to tell your story. 

Secondly, Help a Reporter Out is a great way to receive press. Help a Reporter Out sends out three emails daily. These emails are organized into categories and each category has multiple requests from journalists who are looking for sources to write stories. You will see something like this in the email: "I'm looking to write a story about how high school students are helping in the community: for a national blog." Then, you can click through to a bigger description, and if you can help answer the questions, you could become a source for the article.

So those are the top 5 ways you can use social media to help get into college. To make sure you are staying on track with your college application process, fill in the form below to receive a free 15-page college planning timeline.

Are you a student or a parent?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Facebook and College Admissions: 5 Ways to Avoid Rejection

According to a Kaplan survey of college admissions officers, more than 80 percent admitted to using Facebook to look into prospective students. Although social networks are not formally built into the college admissions approval process, there have been multiple cases of rejection because of a social networking profile.  Here are 5 tips to make sure your student's online presence will not effect the college admissions process in a negative way:

(1) Use Socioclean
Socioclean is free software that allows you to run your social networking profiles through and find all of the vulgar content and problem areas. The full report breaks down comments into multiple categories including racist comments, vulgar language, sexual connotation and more. This will show you what a college admissions officer could see in your high school student.

(2) Increase Facebook privacy settings
Facebook allows you to adjust privacy settings from totally open to completely invisible. Minimally, your student's Facebook page should not be open to anyone except Facebook friends. Here's how to get to the privacy settings:
-Click on Profile
-Click on Edit Profile
-Click 'privacy settings' on the left below the list of options
-Choose from the options on the left

(3) Do not accept friend requests from strangers
If your privacy settings are based around "Friends Only," that means that only the people who you accept friend requests from are able to view your profile. Therefore, do not accept friend requests from people you do not know. You do not want a handful of Facebook friends who you are not familiar with for two reasons: first, they can view your profile, and second, they can post on your wall. If you do not know who they are, you do not know what they are capable of writing.

(4) Google your student's full name
Google your full name, or your child's full name: whomever is the one applying to college. I heard once as a job search tip that the first page of search results for your first name should be treated like your resume. This is the same for a college admissions process. If there are areas of concern on the first page of results, this is a red flag for admissions. If there are concerning results, contact us for a free consultation of how to jump the bad results with good results.

(5) Delete Myspace
Myspace is more of  an open social network. Myspace profiles are pretty much open for anyone to view, and this lends itself to more spamming and interaction with unknown people. We recommend just deleting the Myspace profile altogether because they are easily accessible and inherently attract unknown people.

To learn more about preparing for the college admissions process, fill out the form below to receive our 15-page college planning timeline with checklists for all four years of high school:

Are you a student or a parent?