Class of 2017-College Admissions Application Workshops

Class of 2017 !!
Since you are applying to college this year, save yourself some time, effort and energy: attend our College Application Boot Camp to get a jump start on your college application process.
The Common App enables you to fill out one standard application for many different colleges and submits everything online. It can be a little overwhelming and that’s why A2Z College Planning wants to help you.
Sign up for our College Application Boot Camp and complete draft of the Common Application; learn how to utilize academics, extracurricular, volunteer and summer activities to enhance your application and complete a draft essay that can be used for multiple applications.

If your colleges don’t accept the Common App, A2Z College Planning will help you with their individual admissions application.

Some colleges have deadlines as early as October 15 so you need to be working on your applications now!


Prefer to have personal one-on-one help with your applications or essay?  Register online for your private appointment today.

Dorm Room and Legal Checklist

Author:  Fred Amrein, College Affordability

For college freshman, the first steps of independence are approaching quickly. For both students and parents, a smooth transition into college requires an organized plan. We have compiled a list of items that you should consider before leaving for college. Some of your planning will be highly dependent on how far from home your child will be and whether you will be able to transport these items.

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June 2016 Newsletter- Why Study Abroad?

With so many graduates starting to leave behind their high school life for the college dream, June seems like a great time to discuss studying aboard.
This month’s newsletter includes:
  • Why Study Abroad? – Students heading off to college should think seriously about study abroad options, and factor this into their long-term planning.  For rising seniors finalizing their college lists, research study abroad programs at colleges that interest you.
  • Majoring in Industrial-Organizational Psychology – This major combines the principles of psychology and motivation with the world of business.
  • Managing College Finances – Its not just tuition, room and board, books and fees.  Budget for all of the additional expenses that are part of the college experience.
  • The New SAT vs the ACT – What are the differences and how can you choose which test is right for you?
  • Getting Off to a Great Start at College -College is different from high school – things to consider as you transition to the next phase of your life.

 Click here to view this month’s newsletter

The Value of a College Education


Going to college is one of the biggest decisions in a person’s life. The high cost of getting a college education can make it a daunting prospect, but with lots of financial aid available in the form of loans or grants it is often not impossible and is very valuable. Here are some reasons that the decision to go to college is a good one.
·         It is the best investment anyone can make. Most graduates get a huge return on the cost of college during their life. Also, the value of a college degree never decreases so you will always have it to fall back onto when looking for a job.
·         College graduates are generally more well-rounded people because of the experience that they gain. Nothing beats the college experience for developing social skills that will be useful wherever you go and whoever you meet.
·         The chance to meet and network with people who share the same interests. This should not be underestimated–building contacts can help greatly in the future when you’re looking to get a job, as well as providing a stepping stone into different industries.
·         College helps a student to become an expert in their field. This allows them to contribute to their subject’s future in a meaningful way, while learning about the subject they love and enjoy.
·         The social skills picked up at college are used throughout the student’s life. Being able to meet new people is one skill that will be useful no matter which field of work you go into.
·         College helps to make students more aware of the country they live in and gives them a sense of what is right and wrong. College graduates tend to be a lot more willing to stand up for what they believe in because of this.
·         The chance to meet and make friends for life. To be happy, we all need good friends around us and college is a great place to find some. This is because lots of the people you meet will be motivated and share the same interests as yourself.
·         A college education is one commodity that will only ever increase in value. No matter how many years go by, your college education will always be of value wherever you go.
·         A college education opens up many doors in the workplace that otherwise would have been unavailable. This is especially true today when more and more people are going on to higher education.
·         Going to college is investing in a student’s own future. When you go to college you are giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed.
There are plenty more reasons for going to college, some are financial, some social and some personal. Going to college is, for many people, the best decision that they will ever make!

3 Tips for Effective Studying

Many students have little motivation to study because they lack the tools for effective study. Here are some general guidelines to help you get the best out of your studying.
Learn time management skills. Organization is the key to improving study skills. Set out a plan before you begin and stick to it. Allotting a certain amount of time or a period of time each day when you feel that you learn best and studying during that time is usually a good strategy. It will not only help you accomplish your goals, it will keep you on track time-wise. Don’t get behind on your studying or homework; keep up to date with your assignments to relieve some stress in the long run and to study more effectively.
Study in short bursts. There is nothing worse than burnout when you are trying to study. Don’t try to do a marathon session of studying, as you will not be able to remember everything all at once. Take breaks every now and then between chapters or subjects to give your brain a rest! Cramming is not the answer–don’t put off studying for a test until the last minute. Most teachers give you plenty of advance warning before an upcoming test, so studying in small sections at a time over a span of days  will help you to remember more. Then you can review everything right before the test if it is necessary. You might be surprised at how much you actually remembered!
Block out distractions. Turn off your phone, shut off your IM program and the TV, and close your door. Nothing will derail your studying as quickly as interruptions. If you really want to be successful, you need to focus. Another great tip is to make sure you have everything you need–books, paper, and pencils/pens BEFORE you start studying to cut back on distractions.
Most importantly take your time, make a plan, and stick with it. The key to improving study skills is to study smart, not hard. Don’t procrastinate and don’t get distracted and you’ll be acing the test sooner than you think!

Making Sense of Financial Aid Awards

By Peter Van Buskirk

It’s crunch time for families in the college selection process. The admission decisions are in and, with less than a month remaining before the May 1 Candidates’ Reply Date, students are now turning their attention to the final choice of a college. It’s an exciting—and nerve-wracking—time to be sure, especially for families trying to reconcile cost and affordability against limited means and/or cash-flow concerns.

If you are in that number, there is a strong likelihood you applied for financial aid and are now trying to interpret the financial aid award letters you received from various colleges. Months ago, as you engaged in the grueling task of completing the financial aid applications, it was the promise of the “just reward” that kept you going. Now that the award letters are in hand, you are left wondering, “What does it all mean?”

A young man shared with me the financial aid award letters he had received from ten different colleges. Never mind that he had allowed his list of colleges to grow too long—he had been admitted to ten and had received various forms of financial aid from each of them. With an EFC or “Expected Family Contribution” (per the FAFSA) of $5,000, the award letters were predictably generous. They were also troublingly inconsistent.

For example, two of the schools, at total costs of $39,825 and $61,740, respectively, appeared to cover the entire cost of attendance with financial aid. The first included modest “self help” (loan and work study) totaling $2,565, in addition to more than $37,000 in grants and scholarships, in its financial aid offer.

The second college issued a financial aid award letter that featured $36,900 in grants/scholarships. The balance, ($24,840), however, was covered by loans and work study! On the surface, it seemed both schools were being quite generous in covering all of his costs. Upon closer examination, however, the difference in “out-of-pocket” expense for this family at the two schools would be greater than $20,000—all with the same EFC!

The wide variance in financial aid awards in response to the same financial circumstance is the result of “preferential packaging,” a widespread practice that is integral to the strategic deployment of financial aid as institutions attempt to leverage the enrollment of the students they value most. Students who are more highly regarded typically receive financial aid that includes greater portions of grants—and, possibly scholarships.

Conversely, the attitude toward other students, whose credentials were strong enough to warrant their admission, but not strong enough to gain them superstar status at a given school, is that “if they (the students) want us badly enough, they find the means to make it happen.” It is when families, often wide-eyed with their students’ acceptances into high profile schools, buy into this logic that they open themselves to unreasonable debt burdens.

As you compare financial aid award letters, then, you need to get to the bottom line “out-of-pocket” expenses for each. Where does the bottom line create the least amount of debt exposure to your family? Unfortunately, the award letters don’t always spell that out for you. The following tips are offered to make sure you are comparing “apples and apples.”

  1. Identify the total cost of attendance for each institution. This will include tuition, room and board as well as books, supplies, activity fees, lab fees and possible transportation expenses. You may need to consult the school’s website for a complete list as very few award letters provide a complete documentation. A phone call to the financial aid office can produce the same information.
  2. Add all of the grants and scholarships listed on the award letter together. These funds comprise the “gift” aid you are receiving—money you don’t have to re-pay. The sources of these funds may include the state and federal governments as well as the institution itself. It is not actually cash that you will see. Rather, it represents a discount on the cost of attendance.
  3. Subtract the total amount of “gift” aid from the total cost of attendance to determine the total out-of-pocket expense for your family.
  4. In most cases, institutions will offer a standard “self-help” component to the financial aid award that includes a Guaranteed Student Loan (Stafford) of $3,500 and a campus work-study opportunity worth up to $1,500. These are funding sources that will help you address out-of-pocket expenses. Note that the two figures are likely to increase in subsequent years: the total cost of attendance and the amount of the loan eligibility attributed to the students. Moreover, additional loans authorized for the student or the parents (PLUS Loan) may be offered in place of “gift” aid in years 2-4.
  5. A word of caution is in order here. If you have somehow managed to pool your family resources into coverage of costs for the first year on the assumption that, because you will appear more “needy” in the second year, you will be treated to more financial aid—guess again! Colleges and universities typically budget financial aid for students in years two, three and four based on the EFC of the first year. They will have contingency funds available for emergent situations (catastrophic health issues, changing employment status, loss of life, etc.), but not for families who claim sudden poverty because all of their funds were committed to the first-year expenses. In the case of the latter, get ready for a heavy dose of loans for both the student and the parents.
  6. It is not uncommon for the total amount of financial aid offered, both “gift” and “self help,” to fall short of making up the difference between the Expected Family Contribution and the total cost of attendance. This is practice, known as “gapping,” is symptomatic of preferential packaging and is employed by institutions that choose not to meet the full need of the student with financial aid. In such cases, the student is left to his/her own devices to find the remaining funds. Unmet need of this nature becomes another factor to consider with your out-of-pocket expenses.
  7. Know the difference between grants and scholarships. A grant is awarded because you demonstrate financial “need.” It should carry forward in subsequent years as long as you continue to demonstrate need and remain in academic good standing. A scholarship is offered in recognition of merit and will likely carry with it academic and/or performance renewal terms.

Make Smart School Selections to Save

It is important for parents and children to work together when it comes to selecting a college. There are a number of factors that influence this choice. Parents often what to find a school that offers a quality education at a reasonable cost. Students may be more concerned with finding a college or university that offers a specific type of program.
They may even want to choose a school because of where classmates are going. Compromise is essential when selecting an institution of higher learning. This is true whether tuition is being paid by parents or through financial aid. Researching individual schools is a part of making this decision. It is also a good way to save money while finding a good college.
Local Educational Opportunities
The most economic option for earning a degree may be in your local area. This ultimately depends on what city you live in. There are schools in many areas that provide students with ways to save on their college education. High school guidance counselors are often a good resource for this information. Even colleges that are within a short distance from home can be a viable opportunity.
Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants can open many doors for students. These can provide for an education within the state that they live in. In some instances, these resources allow students to travel away for their education. Applying for scholarships and grants is very important. Juniors and seniors in high school should begin finding these opportunities. Eligibility is generally a part of this process and is essential to qualifying.
Affordable Tuition & Board
Making a list of certain schools that interest you is a great way to make a selection. While you are listing these schools, you should also look at the costs associated with each institution. Those that have the most affordable tuition, room and board, and other essentials are good candidates. These schools must also offer degree programs that fit students’ goals.
An economical education has a host of benefits. This means that they can be paid for with little or no concern. Parents and students working together can find institutions that fit into this category. Taking advantage of opportunities that are available to them, students can acquire an excellent education and save at the same time.