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Comparing Financial Aid Awards

Comparing Financial Aid OffersIf you’re fortunate enough to have been admitted to multiple colleges you will now be faced with the task of deciding which one is going to be the most affordable option. If you’ve done your homework ahead of time you should have a ballpark idea of what your net cost is going to look like.

Note that I didn’t say net price.

Net cost is your out-of-pocket cost – it’s what the college will cost you after gift aid (read, free money!) is applied to your overall cost of attendance. If the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, housing, a meal plan and insurance, is $55,000 and they are going to award you with $23,000 in gift aid, your net cost will be $32,000.

If you’re noticing that I didn’t mention loans, then good for you! Loans, while a part of financial aid awards, are not gifted money. Loans have to be paid back, with interest, and therefore should be factored in after your net cost has been determined. They are helpful, but you can’t dismiss the fact that they have to be paid back later.

So, what do you do with all of this information as you try to decide where you will enroll?

First, gather all your award letters and take a close look at them. Award letters are not created equal. Some will be incredibly detailed and will include your EFC and the complete cost of attendance broken down into semesters with the award broken down into categories (gift aid, loans, work-study) while others will show just a total for the year.

Second, create a little spreadsheet for yourself so that you can compare apples to apples. Make columns for each school and then break down the costs and the awards so that you can see the total for each school.

Third, subtract the gift aid from the cost of attendance and you will get your net cost.

Keep in mind that the lowest net cost isn’t always the best offer. And this is where you have to look at what kind of loans you’re being offered and if you’re being offered work-study.

You already know loans have to be paid back, but if you were to take out a small loan and that makes up the difference between your top choice school and the second place one, that loan may make sense for you. Work-study can be a great help as well, but you have to remember that you will be required to work on campus for so many hours each week to earn it. Even then, it is not applied to your bill because you earn the money on a week-to-week basis like a paycheck.

At the end of the day, be honest with yourself in regards to how much you can handle. You are making a decision about the next four years based on information you have for your first year only. What happens when the cost of attendance goes up in your sophomore year? What if you’re working for your work-study money and its affecting how much time you have to study? What if you struggle and lose your merit scholarship?

These are all questions you need to ask yourself before making any decisions. Just keep in mind that you have to make a final decision by May 1st.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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High EFC? Here’s Where You Will Find Merit Scholarships

High EFC Heres Where you will find merit scholarshipsIf you’re like most people, you were pretty shocked and upset when you found out your EFC. But it is a necessary step if you want to pay less for college as the alternative of waiting to “see what happens” rarely ends well.

Even if you have a high EFC, there are still ways to significantly cut the cost of college. You just have to know where to look for them.

And you need to get past any obsession with name-brand colleges. If you’re looking for a merit scholarship to Amherst, Boston College, Duke, Georgetown, MIT, or Yale, it’s not going to happen.

Why? Because these colleges mostly (and in some cases, exclusively) provide money based on need. Now, they can have a more generous definition of need compared to most colleges, but nobody is earning a scholarship for stand-out grades or perfect test scores.

By contrast, there are plenty of colleges who provide generous merit scholarships; they just happen to be the ones that don’t make the top 50 of national rankings.

It’s basic supply and demand driven by a popularity contest. The most popular colleges are in high demand and don’t have to provide any financial incentives for students to attend. Their acceptance rates are already in the single digits (or close to it) and they are able to proudly boast of increasing numbers of applications year after year.

Other colleges, ones that you may have never heard of, have a more difficult time convincing students to attend because they’re not as popular. These colleges have to work harder to attract students. As a result, they offer incentives to students to attend.

And some of these incentives, in the form of merit scholarships, can be game changers.

Of course, the first thing you have to do is get past the idea that just because you haven’t heard of a college, doesn’t mean that it is lacking quality in some regard. Yes, there are some stinkers out there, but if you invest some time in learning more about a college’s programs, the type of students who attend, how many students graduate in four years, where they go after college and, then what that college may have to offer you in the form of a scholarship, it is quite possible that you may change your mind on just how important the name of a college is to you.

It is possible to find really great deals on colleges; you just have to get beyond the most highly ranked – and most popular – colleges in the country to find them.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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What is the Coalition Application?

What is the Coalition ApplicationYou’ve heard of the Common Application and you might even have heard of the Universal Application. But just how much do you know about the Coalition Application?

Unless you’ve been paying very close attention to the sporadic media coverage or know someone in the college world who’s had an opinion on it (and there are many!), you probably haven’t heard too much about the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success.

The announcement of this new application occurred this past October. Recognized as some of the most selective colleges in the country, the Coalition Colleges say they want to increase college access for all students while providing a newer and more innovative way for students to apply. Although many of these colleges currently use the Common Application, one of the stated reasons these schools have formed the Coalition Application stems from the issues, technological being one of the more significant ones, the Common Application experienced in 2013.

To date, over 90 schools have joined the Coalition and apparently more are on the way.

These colleges feel that the admission process has been hindered by these issues and students have been limited in their ability to showcase their own innovation, creativity and overall performance. Therefore, the new Coalition Application will have virtual lockers for students where they can enter their work and accomplishments over a four year period of time. The Coalition’s virtual locker is planned to include: extracurricular activities, interests, writing samples, college essays, videos and more. Information to the colleges where the students choose to apply will not be available to them until the student releases their locker during their application season.

The Coalition intended to release this application to students in January, but due to demonstrative feedback from school counselors and independent counselors across the country, the official launch has been pushed back. The locker will be available in April while the application itself will launch over the summer. When it does launch, the manner in which students prepare for and apply to colleges could very well be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

The Coalition Colleges state that their intention is to provide early preparation and access to all students, regardless of financial means. However many counselors, like myself, are concerned that high school will become about just how much students can cram into their lockers in an all-out effort to impress a college rather than doing things that matter to them.

At this point, many questions remained unanswered:

  • Will colleges favor one application over the other?
  • How will the virtual locker be evaluated?
  • Will these colleges use interaction with the locker to measure demonstrated interest and factor that into admissions decisions?
  • If a 9th grader adds a college to their “my colleges” list, what type of communication will the college have with them?
  • What will the competition aspect be like?
  • What are hard timelines for the application?

Ultimately, the optimistic side of me says that the goal here is to make the application process more holistic so that colleges can gain more insight on applicants over a period of time. The Coalition believes in early engagement, being more transparent, increased interest in the public and collaboration.

These are fine ideals with good intentions. However, as we all know, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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Making the Most of Your Financial Aid Eligibility

Making the most of financial aid eligibilityAs many of you are working on your FAFSA right now, and trying to make sure you maximize your aid eligibility, I wanted to share a few tips that may help you along the way. Keeping in mind that you should always be truthful on your aid applications, none of these tips is going to help you game the system or give you places to hide our money. However, each of them can help you make timely decisions that could significantly affect your aid eligibility.

1. Pay off consumer debt, such as credit card and auto loan balances prior to filing – FAFSA asks you about cash assets available to you on the day you file.

2. Likewise, accelerate necessary expenses, to reduce available cash. For example, if you need a new car or refrigerator, buy it before you file the FAFSA.

3. Prepay your mortgage. FAFSA does not ask about home equity.

4. Spend down the student’s assets and income first – assessed at a higher rate (20% versus 5.64%). By spending them down during the first year, they are not available in year two for another 20% assessment.

5. If you feel that your family’s financial circumstances are unusual, make an appointment with the financial aid administrator at your school to review your case. Sometimes the school will be able to adjust your financial aid packag4 using a process known as Professional Judgment.

6. Maximize contributions to your retirement fund. FAFSA does not ask about retirement monies.

7. Do not withdraw money from your retirement fund to pay for school, as distributions count as taxable income, reducing next year’s financial aid eligibility. If you must use money from your retirement funds, borrow the money from the retirement fund instead of taking a distribution.

8. If grandparents want to give money to the student to help them pay for their education, ask them to wait until the student’s last year of college. Any money gifted to the student has to be reported on the FAFSA and reduces next year’s financial aid eligibility. By waiting until the student’s last year, there is no penalty to worry about the following year.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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Scholarship Searching Made Easier

Dobler College ConsultingWith the frenzy of college application deadlines finally winding down families are starting to apply for financial aid. And while some of you will qualify for need-based aid, some of you will not. Or, you will qualify but the award may not be enough to get you where you need to be.

Having said that, if there is a gap between what the college is offering you and what you can afford to pay, spending some time applying for private scholarships can help ease that burden. Scholarships can be found just about anywhere and sometimes getting started can be rather difficult.

Today, I’d like to share a few tips to help make that a bit easier:

1. If you know what you want to major in, you should start looking for scholarships through professional organizations and associations affiliated with that field. For example, here’s a list of scholarships offered through the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE) for students interested in majoring in engineering.

2. To narrow down internet search results, trying searching more specifically such as “biology scholarships 2018 2019”.

3. Make good use of social media. The ScholarshipExperts.com Pinterest board has over 1,400 scholarships!

4. Beware of scams. It should never cost you more than a postage stamp to apply for a scholarship. Also NEVER give out your social security number or bank information.

5. Start your search locally and be prepared to do the work that other students won’t. Check out scholarship opportunities through your parents’ employers, local organizations, your bank or credit union, the town library, your church and, most importantly, your school counseling office.

6. Searching for scholarships is like a part-time job. It’s not a one and done deal. The more you search and the more you apply, the more likely you are to win something.

7. When you are using a scholarship search engine like the ones on FinAid or FastWeb you must fill out the profiles completely if you want to have the best chances of finding and winning scholarships. Incomplete profiles are not going to help you.

8. If you have to write an essay, apply the same rules for college application essays: Grab the reader’s attention in the first two sentences and tell a story. If your essay bores you, it will most definitely bore the scholarship selection committee person who has to read it.

9. Keep in mind the essays you’ve already written for college applications. Recycle and re-purpose where you can to save time, but pay close attention to what each essay prompt is asking you – a recycled essay that doesn’t answer the prompt will not help you win a scholarship.

10. Look for “livelines” versus deadlines. Find out what the earliest date is you can apply and apply on that date. Be the one to lead the pack of applications!

At the end of the day, scholarship searching is a process and a time-consuming one at that. Pace yourself and stay positive. Also keep in mind that private scholarships can often affect your financial aid award. Colleges treat scholarships differently, but some will reduce your merit scholarships dollar for dollar for each private scholarship that you earn.

If you’re unsure of how colleges will treat private scholarships, give them a call and ask. It’s better to know up front before you invest a lot of time in your scholarship search.

If you would like some assistance with your college search or financial aid process, contact me today for a free consultation.

Here’s what other families like yours are saying about how Dobler College Consulting made a difference for them.


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