Major/Minor's blog on the latest in college admissions and academic success. 
Are you prepared to pay for College?

Conduct a Back-to-School Checkup for College Savings

Frankly assess a student’s scholarship potential as high school starts to help plan college savings.

September 3, 2013 RSS Feed Print

Research scholarships and discuss the education cost of your child’s career goals at the start of high school.

Research scholarships and discuss the education cost of your child’s career goals at the start of high school.

For early high school students and their parents, planning how to pay for college is a combination of preparing the student to be a great scholarship candidate while also socking away as much college savings as possible.

As students enter their first year of high school, Ginna Woessner, the only high school counselor in Michigan's Glen Lake Community School, starts counseling families on how to plan to maximize the students’ talents for maximum scholarship potential. 

The process involves a frank discussion of what families can pay and an analysis of a student’s skills and attributes that have scholarship potential, along with an evaluation of the educational costs of fulfilling a student’s career goals. Experts say parents should take the following steps to prepare their children for the cost of college. 

[Find out how college savings can affect financial aid.] 

1. Encourage students to develop skills with scholarship potential:As the school year starts, parents with children in middle and high schools should encourage their kids to get involved in activities that allow them to pursue their passions, which can help boost a student’s scholarship potential, Woessner says. 

A student could get a scholarship for athletics, music or volunteering. Grades may play a part, too. Clare Levison, author of “Frugal Isn’t Cheap,” recommends parents offer contributions to a 529 plan, tax-advantaged college investment accounts, based on their achievements as an incentive to do well. 

For instance, if a child scores high enough on an Advanced Placement test to earn college credit, a parent might contribute $50 to $300 to the child’s account. The exact amount should be based on a family’s individual financial circumstances, experts say. 

[Learn how to evaluate your college savings performance.] 

2. Look for attributes with scholarship potential: College savings go further if families find scholarships to supplement what they save. A student’s attributes can earn them scholarship cash. Michigan, for example, has scholarship opportunities for Native American students, grandchildren of World War II veterans and Medicaid-eligible students, Woessner says. 

If students meet the eligibility standards for the Medicaid-eligible scholarship, they’ll have their first two years of community college tuition and fees covered, she says.

Any college savings that families who qualify have can be used to finish the student’s education at a four-year college, she says. A page of is dedicated to scholarships and grants provided by the state, opportunities as varied as scholarships for high school students taking college courses and a tuition grant for children of fallen police officers and firefighters. 

Woessner recommends families review their state’s website for scholarships offered. While college choices can’t be completely determined by potential scholarships, families can think about how they’ll fill savings gaps with scholarships. 

[Get scholarship insight and tips from The Scholarship Coach.] 

3. Discuss parent contributions: It’s never too early for parents to have an honest discussion with their children about what they’ve saved, how much they’ll continue to contribute to a 529 plan and how much they’ll give their children during college, Levison says. 

Following the discussion, parents could encourage the student to work part-time to help save for college or take more AP courses to reduce the time it would take to get a degree, and discuss the possibility of living at home during college. 

When possible, parents should include school counselors in on the discussion. 

For instance, Woessner advises families who can’t afford to pay for all four years at a four-year college to consider sending their teen to a community college first. Since community colleges can cost a third of what public four-year universities cost for in-state students in Michigan, a parent who saved for two years of university tuition might be able to cover two years of community college tuition and a year tuition at a four-year institution, she says. 

4. Evaluate the educational costs of career goals: Visit with high school counselors in the beginning of a student’s freshman year to start thinking about college options, she says. Counselors can help assess children’s academic and career goals to determine which schools are a good match. 

Woessner weighs career goals heavily, especially in regard to filling in savings and scholarship gaps with student loans. 

“If a student wants to pursue a career in social work, I’m not going to encourage attending a college where they’ll leave with a lot of debt,” she says. However, a strong candidate for an engineering degree can afford to borrow a little bit more based on future earning potential in the field. 

Paying for college involves a balance of free money, including scholarships and grants, family savings and student loans, Levison says. To acquire more of the first two and avoid the latter, don’t wait until a student’s senior year to plan college funding, she says. 

Are you ready for college?

College Students Share Tips for Managing the Application Process

September 2, 2013 RSS Feed Print

High school seniors should aim to tackle small college application tasks weekly rather than attempting to do everything all at once.

High school seniors should aim to tackle small college application tasks weekly rather than attempting to do everything all at once.

Each month, we ask current college students to reflect on their college admissions experience. Their advice for prospective students about how to manage the college application part of their senior year of high school is the subject of this month’s Freshman Flashback.

Is senior year of high school the year to slack off and relax, or the most stressful time of all? Between the madness of college applications and with graduation fast approaching, it can be difficult to determine how exactly to spend these months. 

High school seniors can follow sage advice from their college-going peers for managing this overwhelming time. 

1. Determine your strengths and play to them: After three years of high school, you’re bound to have a plentiful list of compelling experiences and achievements to draw upon and show college admissions officers what a strong candidate you are. There is no time to spare, however. Students advise starting to brainstorm these points as soon as possible to ensure you have them ready to go when you begin your applications. 

Hannah Mueller, a second-year student at the University of San Diego, knew exactly what experiences she wanted to highlight in her personal statements before even looking at them. 

“When writing my essays and answering questions in the application, I already knew what I wanted to talk about before even reading the prompts,” says Mueller. “I had made a list of everything that put me above other applicants, particularly things that made me especially different from them." 

Never underestimate the impressiveness of certain extracurricular activities as well. Asit Shah, a sophomore at the University of Houston Honors College, believes his membership in one group held significant influence on one of his college applications. 

"I feel my extensive involvement in Habitat for Humanity helped my application stand out,” Shah says. “My commitment to giving back to the community really might have encouraged the university of my choice to offer me a full tuition scholarship." 

[Avoid making these common college application mistakes.] 

2. Don’t spread yourself too thin: Perhaps the biggest feat of all is successfully dividing your time between college applications and high school course work. It is crucial to figure out a personal strategy that will allow you to do both, perhaps by tackling small tasks weekly rather than attempting to manage everything all at once. 

Mueller notes how easily the entire college application process can catch up to you. "The application process in total took time. It took time to fill out all of the information, write all of the essays and have them proofread, and to get letters of recommendation,” she says. “All of this needed to be finished by the most important deadlines of my life." 

Additionally, when you select a task to work on, it is important that you stick to it through the very end and give it all you’ve got. Aleena Glinski, a sophomore at Yale University, did everything in her power to ensure her application essays would truly shine. 

"I spent months going through countless drafts, throwing out bad ideas and keeping the good ones,” Glinski says. “Most of the other information on your application speaks for itself – it’s the essays you have to work the hardest on." 

[Read these 10 tips for writing your college application essay.] 

3. Face your stress so you can overcome it: Although students say they felt stressed during senior year of high school, they also say getting that first application completed was half the battle. "Balancing schoolwork with the application process was not easy at first,” Mueller says. “But after my first application was sent in, I learned how to balance it all pretty well." 

Shah commented that finishing his applications led to improvement in his classes. "I actually felt more confident about my schoolwork and was able to concentrate on it more,” he says. 

Brigham Young University junior Brittany Strobelt says she wishes she had thought more carefully about her application list before diving into it to reduce stress and save time. 

“I really wasn’t that invested in all of the schools I applied to,” Strobelt says. “There were really only a handful that I was seriously considering. If I were to do it again, I would at least narrow my list down to five." 

Cathryn Sloane is a marketing coordinator for Varsity Tutors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Iowa.

2013 ESM Leadership Camp in Lake Tahoe
Please enjoy some of the pictures below from the recently completed ESM Leadership Camp. What a great time!
College from the comfort of home?

At CSU, the beginning of the end for traditional lecture classes?

SAN JOSE – Students at San Jose State and other California State universities might soon find themselves watching lectures at home and doing their homework in the lecture hall as part of the system’s latest experiment with technology and free online courses.

Encouraged by unusually high student pass rates in a dreaded electrical engineering course, nearly all CSU campuses with engineering programs are expected to join SJSU in offering a partly online, partly in-person course in the fall through a partnership with edX, a nonprofit online education provider.

Proponents have billed the free online platform as a powerful tool for professors, who will spend more time working with students and assessing their progress instead of preparing and delivering long lectures.

From left, San Jose State University students George Mao, Benjamin Lee, and Brian Ha work on their class homework in the EE98 Introduction to Circuits class taught by Professor Khosrow Ghadiri, at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, April 12, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Staff) ( LiPo Ching )

“Five hundred years ago we gave them a textbook, and in 1862 we gave them chalk,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “What tools have we given them since then? Please don’t say PowerPoint.”

San Jose State also plans to test the technological waters in other disciplines, such as humanities, business and science. It is paying edX nothing for the partnership, which gives participating professors special access to the platform to add their own content and check their students’ online coursework.

Eighty SJSU students in EE098, an electrical circuit analysis course that all engineering students must take, were the guinea pigs for the new approach, which blends online

quizzes and lectures from MIT with in-class quizzes, tutoring and exams.

The results were astonishing, even for online education’s most ardent proponents: The pass rates for the two traditional sections of the engineering course offered in the fall were 55 and 59 percent. In the revamped version, in which randomly assigned students took the same final exam as the others, 91 percent passed – by far the highest that Professor Khosrow Ghadiri had seen in his 22 years at the university.

The structure of the 80-student class, with its emphasis on in-class problem solving, is simply more effective, said SJSU President Mo Qayoumi, who noted another benefit: Only a handful of the students will have to retake the class, reducing bottlenecks in the system.

But there’s another factor, too: The online videos and quizzes can take 10 to 12 hours a week to watch and complete, far more than expected in the traditional format. In addition, Ghadiri said he and his teaching assistants spend a combined 80 hours a week on the class, preparing materials, checking students’ progress and sending them emails when they fall behind.

“It does require a lot more time,” said Marisa Williams, a civil engineering major, taking a break from a group quiz on the power generated from electrical circuits and each of their components.

Entering the large lecture room after a news conference, Ghadiri stripped off his suit jacket and roved among groups of students, answering questions about a quiz. The gregarious professor, brimming with enthusiasm and information, knows not all of his students share his love for the material – especially non-electrical engineering majors forced to take the time-consuming version of the class.

“They say, ‘Why should I put so much time into something that is not my field? This is a core course, and I have to take it. Why do you make my life miserable?’” he said.

But chances are, at semester’s end, they won’t have to take it again.

College Savings at an all-time high.

As tuition soars, parents and grandparents are putting more money than ever into 529 college savings plans.

Average balances for 529 college savings and prepaid tuition plans grew to a record $17,174 in 2012 – up 12% from an average of $15,349 in 2011, according to a report from the College Savings Plans Network, a nonprofit and affiliate of the National Association of State Treasurers. Also known as “qualified tuition programs,” 529 college savings plans are typically offered by the states and allow holders to save money and withdraw it tax-free, as long as the proceeds are used towards approved college costs – typically tuition, fees, room, board and other required supplies.Another kind of 529, prepaid tuition plans, let savers prepay for future tuition and lock in current prices, but they typically do not cover other expenses.

In December 2012, the number of existing 529 accounts increased by about 4% to 11.1 million, up from 10.7 million in December 2011. Total 529 investments reached a record $190.7 billion, up from $165 billion in 2011.

Those numbers were also helped by a strong stock market last year. In 2012, the S&P 500 soared 13%.

Related: 529 college savings options: The basics

Children with a college savings account are seven times more likely to attend college than those without one, according to a 2010 study by Washington University in St. Louis’s Center for Social Development.

The increased savings will also allow these students to be less dependent on costly student loans, said Michael Fitzgerald, Iowa State Treasurer and chair of the College Savings Plans Network. “Every dollar you can save is a dollar you don’t have to borrow,” he said.

Yet, students and their families are still struggling to keep up with rapid increases in tuition.

Related: Five top-rated 529 plans

“We are sort of on a national treadmill,” said Patrick Callan, president of the nonprofit Higher Education Policy Institute. “States are putting more money into financial aid. Students are borrowing more, and parents and grandparents are saving more. But tuition is still outpacing people’s likely ability to pay.”

Average tuition paid at public community colleges and four-year colleges and universitiesrose by 8.3% last year, according to a recent report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Related: Get your kid to graduate in four years

For the 2012-13 school year, the average prices for tuition, fees, room and board for in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities is $17,860, according to the College Board. And the average bill at private institutions is nearly $40,000.

“It’s getting so expensive so the importance of saving for college is growing as well,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a real problem we face, but [529 plans are] one tool that will help.”

Footing the bill not always a good idea for Mom and Dad

The study is based on figures from three large federal data sets that allow parental contributions and grades to be compared. Hamilton controlled for family socio-economic status, allowing a comparison of similar students whose families make different choices about how much of the cost of college to pick up. 

The effect on GPA is relatively small, Hamilton said. “The reason it was so shocking, however, is that all the research on parental investments from pre-school through (college) assumes you give something to your kids, particularly money, it leads to good things. This is one case where it not only doesn’t have the expected good effect, it has a small negative effect." 

When parents pick up greater absolute amounts and shares of college costs, it affects GPA across the income distribution, though the effect is steepest at families earning over $90,000. At that level, and controlling for other factors, parents not giving their children any aid predicts a GPA of 3.15. At $16,000 in aid, GPA drops under 3.0. At $40,000, it hits 2.95. 

While rich families obviously find it easier to contribute, poorer families help as well, at greater sacrifice. But Hamilton says the damage may be greater for those families, because lower GPAs don’t hurt better-off students as much in the job market. Wealthier students can rely on connections and further help from parents. 

Students without those connections "have to have the 3.0 in order to pass the initial resume glance,” she said. 

Hamilton found grants, scholarships, work-study, student employment and veterans benefits don’t have similar negative effects on GPA, though loans do, along with direct parental aid. She suggests that’s because loans and unconditional parental grants have no immediate strings attached, whereas scholarships and grants often carry GPA requirements. There may also be a psychological effect. With grants, “students feel like they’ve earned them in some way” and want to justify them. 

Hamilton said the findings don’t suggest parents should stop supporting students financially, especially considering there is a larger positive effect on graduation rates than the negative effect on GPA. But they should lay out standards and expectations. And even if parents can afford the whole bill, it may be worthwhile to make students put up some of their own funds, or work part-time, so they feel invested. 

In her broader research on the topic, Hamilton says she’s found some parents signal it’s OK to take advantage of their support for a more social experience. 

“Some parents were 100 percent complicit in this,” she said. “They absolutely wanted their children to go to school and party hard. They told me explicitly it’s not about grades, it’s about having fun, the best years of your life." 

"Now for some families it all works out OK,” she said. “The ‘best years of your life’ idea has trickled down to what everybody thinks college should be. But not everybody can afford for college to be like that. And they pay for that for a long time." 

Bye-Bye New UC Logo

The new UC logo went down because tradition rules on campuses

The first is that university administrators were overwhelmed by the backlash in social media. More than 53,000 Cal grads and nongrads signed an online petition denouncing the new logo.

The second explanation – it lacks wide currency, but it should probably be discussed here – is that my embrace of the new symbol a week ago delivered the kiss of death.

“What? That curmudgeon in San Jose likes it? He thinks it has artistic merit?” you can hear some UC fundraiser saying. “We have to dump this puppy right now.”

Naturally, I prefer the first explanation. UC administrators hoping to raise money with a new marketing campaign found it hard to risk indignation over a logo. In my version, they caved.

My readers and colleagues savor the second analysis. If I were to summarize the polite response, it might go this way: “You are an idiot.” The views went downhill from there.

“You are WRONG!” wrote one Cal grad. “It’s a disgrace and a design flaw at best. If you want to be fair about this issue, run a poll of your readers, then let’s hear your thoughts.” When I wrote back that I expected to be in the small minority – and that it never had discouraged me – she vowed to report me to my bosses.


A number of other readers took issue with my admittedly flimsy Cal credentials: I camped with my family for 14 summers at Cal’s Lair of the Bear family camp.

“Of course you like the new UC seal,” wrote a correspondent with the handle Chica Fina. “One should expect nothing less from an elitist Ivy League commie You hate America. You hate tradition.” Thoughtfully, the message included a seal with a hammer and sickle over a “C.”

The most common critique touched on what the new symbol evoked. One writer compared it to the Round Table Pizza shield. Others saw a flushing toilet. And one reader thought the new logo turned upside down resembled an elephant’s butt (This actually is true, although we can quibble about the size of the tail).

UC administrators are sensitive to this because they depend on public funds. And I can accept that there’s room for a wide variety of opinion of the new logo.

I worry about a couple of things. The first is that universities and alumni communities are hardly the havens of free debate they pretend to be. Because campuses are enviable and sheltered places, a challenge to tradition shatters on the rocks of orthodoxy.

The second is that social media, with all its immediacy, can invoke the tyranny of the mob. You have to wonder how the design for the Vietnam War memorial or Alexander Calder’s Flamingo sculpture in Chicago would have fared in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

Sure, a quick and vehement backlash might have prevented a travesty like the Quetzalcoatl sculpture in San Jose’s Plaza de Cesar Chavez. But you have to question: Who’s going to defend upside-down elephant butts?

Day 2 done, two more great days left!

Students at the A’s Academy today (and every day) close the day by saying “one word’ that expresses how they feel about camp. Today we heard, "amazing, informative, connections, informational, productive, enjoyable.”
Music to ESM’s ears and to the great people at the Oakland A’s!

Oakland A's Academy Begins!

As one camp ends (ESM Leadership Camp) another begins. ESM and the Oakland A’s kicking off their inaugural A’s Academy which teaches area students the science behind running a sports franchise from top to bottom. Plus, the kids are getting college admissions advice, SAT Prep and enjoying a wonderfully social, academic and interactive experience.

ESM begins its 3rd annual Leadership Camp

ESM is kicking off its 3rd annual leadership camp this week in Lake Tahoe, CA

Students began arriving tonight and had a nice dinner and went over the itinerary for the next few days. Everyone will get an early start in the morning and the day will be filled with guest speakers, academic work, college planning and a lot of interactive fun!

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