Wednesday, February 22, 2012


By Erika Rae - Grockit

So you beat the SAT, after taking advantage of Grockit test prep, practice tests, and free SAT questions. You wrote a terrific college application essay and did so well in your admissions interview, that you were accepted to your dream school. Now, there are more tests ahead of you as an undergrad – not just chemistry quizzes and history exams, but also physical, mental, and emotional stuff that will challenge you in ways you probably haven't experienced yet. Here are some ways to beat stress in college:

1. Get Busy & Be Patient, Too
To keep your mind off missing home, keep yourself busy with orientation parties, campus events, and dorm mixers. The beginning of the year is a great time to check out lots of clubs and meet lots of people – but it's also a stressful time if you're constantly “on.” Don't try to jump in and join everything – and don't worry about finding your place and your people immediately – or you'll totally drain your batteries. Relax. Be patient. You will feel at home, eventually.

2. Call Your Mom & Email Your BFF
While you're having a terrific time exploring the campus, checking out organizations, and making new friends, you're probably also going to have some lonely days and boring nights. When you have a rough day, it really helps to contact your parents or best friend. Your family and oldest friends know you best, and they might be the best people to get you feeling connected and grounded again. Remember you'll probably see them soon – and even if you don't head home for the holidays, you can keep in touch with calls, emails, letters, and care packages (which you can hint about when you call).

3. When Work Piles Up, Stay on Top
First: Check out the locations of your classes and how long it takes to get to each one, so you don't show up late, breathless, and stressed. Second: Every prof seems to think that his or her class is your only one, and the work will be piled on accordingly – but the workload should balance out, and even if it doesn't, your ability to handle it will improve. Third: Create a schedule of all your classes, study time, and free time and post it in your room. Stay on top of it, and you won't get overwhelmed by it.

4. Escape Pod
Find yourself a secret spot somewhere – preferably off-campus – where you can escape everything college-related. A bike trail that leads to a huge oak by the river. A bench at the baseball diamond in the city park. A corner table at a greasy diner. Go there as often as you can – even for just twenty minutes each day or every week – to get quiet and be alone. Just closing your eyes and breathing deeply for a few minutes can be a very effective form of meditating and reducing stress.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tips on Completing your FAFSA

If you’re the parent of a student who is in college or is headed off to college soon, then you’ve no doubt heard of the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”, or the “FAFSA”. If you’ve never heard of it though, the FAFSA is the Federal Government’s application for financial aid for college. It determines how much you are expected to pay for your student’s college education, one year at a time. Oh, and in case you think that “free” means “easy”, a few years back our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Congress, “You basically need a Ph.D. to figure that thing out!”…and he’s a Harvard guy.

The FAFSA is arguably the single most important application in determining how much and what type of financial aid a family will receive. However, it has failed to keep up with the changing composition of our families and our lives. Confusion is widespread and can lead to an inaccurate portrayal of a family's finances.

A more recent example: One of our advisors just attended College Goal Sunday, an event dedicated to helping families complete the FAFSA for their students in one afternoon. After attending, this advisor couldn’t believe the amount of difficulty that people were having. I had to remind him that even the most “basic” questions to college guys like us could be complicated and complex for the everyday person. If you don’t deal with college financial aid everyday, how can you be expected to automatically understand one of the most daunting financial aid applications out there?

When our company hosts local college workshops, we try to take a few minutes to answer individual concerns. Many of the questions tend to be the same for middle and upper middle class families so I thought I'd summarize five of the more common issues here.  Quick disclaimer:  these responses are general and should be considered a guideline, not a recommendation -- remember, no two families have exactly the same circumstances.  Finally, the guidelines for the FAFSA are available through the Department of Education. Keep in mind that it may be similar to deciphering Greek or the entire IRS Code, but these guidelines are out there.

1. The student is the applicantAny reference to 'You' or 'Your' on the FAFSA and on the CSS/Profile refers to the student! Don’t make the mistake of accidentally listing parent income or assets under the student’s name. This can cause a huge problem and may result in the colleges thinking you can afford more than you’re supposed to.

2. On the matter of children with separated or divorced parents: Dept. of Education guidelines require that the applicant report the household income and assets of the legal parent who provides more support. This is typically the household where the student lives the majority of the time. Just keep in mind that the non-custodial parent's household is largely ignored on the FAFSA, but will likely be counted in the CSS/Profile formula.

3.  For most business owners, the proper value of their business is “$0”.  Why? Well according to the FAFSA, a “business” is only a “business” if it has 100 or more employees. Those with fewer than 100 employees should be exempt, but  I’ve seen CPAs make the mistake of reporting a value greater than $0 when trying to fill out a FAFSA and lose thousands in potential financial aid.

4. I get so many questions from parents who want to 'emancipate' their children so that they can be considered “independent” on the FAFSA. Unfortunately, “independent” for the FAFSA and “independent” for your tax return are two completely different things. The Dept. of Education has certain criteria to determine whether a student is “independent” and trust me, you don't want to answer 'Yes' to these questions, at least not yet (like, for example, whether your child is married or has dependents of their own).

5. Work-Study is a great program. You probably realize that most colleges do not give out 100% free money.  Most schools award a combination of free money and loans/work-study.  You should check 'yes', indicating that you wish to be considered. You can always appeal later or decline the work-study offered, but it's harder to ask for it later. Besides, if your kid works 10-20 hours a week and makes a few extra bucks, that's a good thing.

6. Cash, checking, savings, and investments:  Aside from questions about your income, the FAFSA will also ask about assets. A key point is this: You don't have to disclosing the value of your retirement accounts or the value of your primary residence! The FAFSA specifically tells you not to include those assets, so don't! You do however, need to enter the total amounts of cash holdings you have as of the day you file. So, if you have to, make any large payments (like mortgage, etc) BEFORE you file.  As for other non-retirement assets, there is an asset protection allowance, and certain annuities and insurance products could also be exempt. A good rule of thumb: consult a professional college advisor if you have more than $50,000 worth of non-retirement assets.

We do cover a lot more information than just this in our workshops, so if you are local to the greater Boston area, we encourage you to come out over the next couple of weeks.  We conduct our workshops at venues like high schools and libraries, and they are of course open to the public. If you have college-bound children and want to attend, simply click here to register. If you don't, please send this on to someone who does -- I'm certain they'll thank you for it.

If you are not local or can't make it to one of these workshops, that’s OK. Check out our brand new videos we just finished to see what parents and other professionals are saying about our online college planning toolkit. It’s nice to save time and money, not to mention have a seasoned team of professionals by your side as you try to navigate the college planning process.

Best of success,

Murray Miller, CEO
College Resource Center, LLC

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Admissions Boot Camps Across the Country: The Breakdown

There are many different organizations around the country that provide some kind of admissions “boot camp” for students getting ready to apply to college.  Typically they are offered for a couple of days in the summer before the student enters their senior year.  They essentially go through the entire college admissions process and get students ready to submit their college applications.  They are designed to help students and parents get ahead of the game so that they are done with the process early on in their senior year, eliminating a stressful fall application season.  Here we will outline just a few of the college admissions boot camps around the country. As you will see the fees for these events vary immensely although from what we can tell the content and deliverables are quite similar. If you do decide to take advantage of one of these events we suggest reading what it is that each offers carefully and speak with a representative from each company before you hand over your credit card...

Application Boot Camp (ABC)

Overview: Dr. Michele Hernandez and Mimi Doe cofounded Application Boot Camp® LLC after publishing their book, Don’t Worry: You’ll Get In in 2005. Application Boot Camp® LLC is a company devoted to empowering high school students from around the world in the college admissions process. Application Boot Camp® LLC offers a four day program for students entering their senior year of high school. Students have the opportunity to work with Michele and Mimi and leverage their experiences to create applications that rise above the rest.

Intent: Develop an application strategy to increase college acceptance possibilities
Date: August 2012
Length: 4 days
For Who: Rising Seniors
Activities: Work on common application; prepare essay(s); develop application strategy; receive advice on their odds at top colleges; complete an activity sheet; take part in mock interviews and interview training.
Cost: $14,000

College Admissions Bootcamp – Via Smart Track™ Toolkit

OverviewThe College Resource Center, LLC  was founded in 2009 by Murray Miller and Scott Greenameyer to provide families and organizations with an online platform for the college planning process.  Murray and Scott, along with their professional staff, combined their years of experience and the tools they use daily to create the company's proprietary Smart Track™ Toolkit.  The College Admissions Bootcamp was created to give students the ability to attend a live version of the Toolkit and to jump start their college planning and college applications.  For two days during the summer, the College Admissions Bootcamp helps students overcome the challenges of the college admissions process and gets students on the Smart Track™ to college success.

Intent: Get your student on the right track before they start their senior year, before most of their peers, and before they get overwhelmed.
Date: August 2012
Length: 2 days
For Who: Rising Seniors
Activities: Create an initial college list; work on the Common Application; prepare essay(s) and receive feedback from professional essay editors during the event; develop an application strategy; take part in mock interviews and interview training; engage in SAT/ACT test prep; and not only receive advice from experts in admissions, but also attend workshops presented by experts in financial aid and student-athletics. Attendees will also be addressed by an actual admission officer from a top tier college and will be given a behind the scenes private campus tour while onsite.
Cost: $1,595 (discounts are available for early registrants)

College Admissions Boot Camps 2012

Overview: College Admissions Boot Camps (CABC) are interactive, informative, activity-oriented and intensive four-day workshops for navigating specific elements of the complex, anxiety-ridden and competitive college admissions process.  They are programs held jointly with BHA Education Consultants and Pinnacle Educational Center.  Sessions are in July and August, in Greenwich, CT and Midtown Manhattan.  Participants will receive inside tips, recommendations and expert advice from BHA Education Consultants and former admissions officers and representatives from Ivy League, highly selective and competitive colleges.

Intent:  Aiding students in navigating specific elements of the complex, anxiety-ridden and competitive college admissions process
Date: July & August 2012
Length: 4 days
For Who: Rising Seniors
Activities: Receive inside tips, recommendations and expert advice from leading college admissions experts; design an activity sheet that makes you shine; write a "Why the college" essay that will dazzle the admissions committee; learn to impress in interviews; garner the right recommendations; finish applications before senior year starts; gain a competitive edge in the hypercompetitive college admissions environment.  General topics to be covered include: standardized test preparation, choosing the right college, what top colleges are looking for, planning campus visits, developing a college admissions calendar, an admissions committee review, sessions for student-athletes and student-artists, financial aid / scholarships, post-admissions process.
Cost: $7,500