Teaming up to help your student tackle ACT/SAT tests

If your high school student is taking the ACT or SAT in the coming months, you can support them by helping them lay the groundwork. Students who get overly stressed may need a little more guidance to help them do their best. Following are some tips that may help:

Plan ahead. Visit the website for the SAT or the ACT with your student to determine which date is best to take the test. Have your student sign up, then plan ahead for that test date. They will need to set aside some time to study and do practice tests, so look together at their calendar for study times and plan those in. Remind your student to clear his or her schedule as much as possible in the days before the test. This will give your student a chance to go into the test relaxed and well-rested.

Talk strategy. If your student is taking an SAT or ACT preparatory course, they may cover test-taking strategies. Even so, it can’t hurt to reinforce those with your student in the weeks leading up to the test. Check out these key tips for the taking the ACT and the SAT and share them with your student.

Minimize stress. Taking these major tests may seem overwhelming. Your student has no doubt heard about them for years and knows it’s an important step toward getting into college.If your student seems to be particularly stressed about taking the test, try to help minimize the anxiety in the time leading up to test day.

Maximize rest and perspective. It’s important that your student is well-rested on test day. Discourage any last-minute cramming on the night before the test. Try to relax as a family and encourage your student to get a full night’s sleep. Help your student keep things in perspective with reminders to simply do the best job they can, and know they can try again if needed.

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4 reasons your high school senior should take AP/CLEP tests

With all the testing done in the schools today, not to mention the ACT/SATs, your high school student may feel a little over-tested. With that in mind, should you encourage them to take the AP or CLEP test as well?

The short answer is yes. There are four good reasons why your students should focus on taking these tests.

First things first – what are these tests?
AP stands for Advanced Placement, and if your student is enrolled in one of these courses, the course itself is free but there is a fee to take the exam offered at the end of the course. A passing score on the exam could allow your student to earn college credit for that course.

CLEP stands for College-Level Examination Program and these tests demonstrate a student’s mastery of college-level material that’s been acquired through academic study, extracurricular work, etc. Passing these tests may also allow students to earn college credit.

The four big reasons to take them:

  • Earn college credit. Both AP and CLEP exams allow a student to earn college credit with a satisfactory score. Your student can earn up to 12 college credits with a passing score on CLEP exams, and there are 33 tests available to choose from. There are 34 AP courses available, including immersive courses that can allow you to tackle subject matter more deeply.
  • Save money. The cost to take the CLEP and AP tests are each just a fraction of the amount you pay in tuition and fees—not to mention textbooks—for a college course. Testing out of college courses, whether through CLEP or AP exams, can lower the amount your student needs to borrow for college and ultimately may allow the student to complete their degree requirements more quickly.
  • Skip introductory courses.If a student tests out of a course related to their major, they may be able to skip introductory classes and move into advanced courses more quickly. Or, if the subject is unrelated to their major, they may find more time to pursue other classes.
  • Stand out on college applications. Taking AP courses can also help your student stand out on college applications, by showing schools that they are willing to take on the toughest classes their high school offers and can handle college-level coursework. Passing the AP or CLEP exams sends a strong signal that your student is ready for college.
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Accepted! Now what do you do?

If you have applied for early acceptance to college and gotten in, congratulations! It is a great way to lock in the school you’re certain about. So what happens next? Now, you can start planning for the year ahead:

Accept the offer. Early applications are usually made with the intent to attend that school if you get in, but you may still have to formally accept their offer to secure your place. Pay special attention to the paperwork the school included with your acceptance letter, and make note of what has to be sent in and when.

Get your finances in order. With the college decision out of the way, you can focus on preparing financially for the next year. This is the time to ensure you have the right financial tools in place, including a checking account with a debit card attached. Getting this set up now will give you time to become familiar with your bank account and learn how to keep track of your money.

Start budgeting. While you may not have a financial aid package in hand just yet, it’s not too early to start making a college budget. If you haven’t already, check your school’s Net Price Calculator to get an idea of what costs will be, and talk with your family about expectations for next year. What costs should you plan to help with and what is your family able to handle?

Consider job options. While you’re talking about finances and budgets, it’s the perfect time to discuss whether you should get a job while at college. It may be a necessity, but give it real consideration even if it’s optional. You may want to focus on your classes, but a campus job may open opportunities you won’t otherwise find, and add cash to your pockets. It never hurts to see what employment options might be available at your school.

Research housing options. If your school offers a choice in housing, either on or off-campus, now is a good time to start researching options. Housing often goes quickly in college towns, so the sooner you can get started, the better.

Get familiar with the course catalog. You may not be ready to declare a major right away, but it’s important to get familiar with the course catalog and start planning a course schedule for the first year. Gaining early acceptance allows plenty of time for you to look at class options and think them over. Classes sometimes fill up quickly, so also make note of a number of “backup” courses planned in case class sections are unavailable or time slots don’t work out.

Plan for orientation. College orientation often comes up early in the summer, so check out the dates for your school and talk about the best time to attend. The summer before college is often a busy one, so get a jump on planning for orientation and sign up as soon as you’re able.

Sport that college gear with pride! Knowing which college you’ll attend next year can be a great relief, and its wonderful news to share with family and friends. Take some time to celebrate—get that college mug or sweatshirt and enjoy the moment!

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College application time: encouraging your student to look at many options

Students may start their college search with a set of preconceived ideas. They may have their heart set on a prestigious college, or they may simply want to attend the nearby school where their friends are headed. Neither choice is necessarily wrong, but during the college search, one of the most important things you can do is help your student consider all of their possible choices.

Choosing a college is a big decision, and probably one of the most significant your student has undertaken so far. Talk over the following topics with your student and challenge any assumptions they might have about certain schools or types of schools. The idea is to ensure your student has thought through all their college options, not to change their mind about any one school or the other.

Big school vs. small school. If your student is strongly in favor of one school size over another, ask why. Talk about the pros and cons of each—one isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s more about which is the right fit for your student.

Is it an academic match? For any school your student is considering, this is important. Of course the school should offer the major your student wants to pursue, but what’s the coursework like? What approach and philosophy does the school take? What are the professors like? These are questions that will require some digging and talking with both students and professors at the school. You may be able to find some answers online, or by emailing people at the school, but it’s also a primary topic to explore when you and your student make a campus visit.

Is it a social match? This is a little tougher to get a handle on, but is critical to your student’s success at college. Do the campus and student body offer an atmosphere that feels comfortable to your student? Does it feel like a place where he or she can make friends? Pursue extracurricular activities?

What’s the cost? If the cost of tuition is a concern to your family—and it is for many families—be sure to let your student know early-on that price may be a deciding factor. That doesn’t mean your student has to avoid looking at private schools or even colleges with higher tuition. You never know what financial aid packages you may be offered. But be sure your student understands that cost is an important consideration.

Location, location, location. Geography is another key consideration. Some students look forward to going a college far from home, others want to stay nearby, maybe even live at home. Again, it’s important to look at the pros and cons of each option—going to school far away means adventure and independence, but also increased transportation costs and possibly fewer trips home during the year. Living at home may save money, but would your student benefit from the independence of living on campus? There is no one right answer for every student—it’s important that your student consider the possibilities and all the options available.

As your student continues the college search, keep in mind that there is no set formula for choosing the right school. But working through the above questions can help your student work out which school to choose—it may mean they’ll end up considering a school they never would have before, or perhaps circling right back to their original choice. Either way, you’ll know they’ve considered a variety of options first.

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Send out recommendation thank yous

This fall was likely full of tests, applications, and essays of all sorts. And that doesn’t even cover your school-work. College and scholarship applications not only took up a lot of your time, however: there were all of those recommendations that you needed.

To all of those trusted teachers, mentors, parents, counselors, or coaches that took time out to help you with your application, this is a good time to say thank you. Each recommendation letter can take an hour or two to write, and is something they had to do in their off-hours on evenings or weekends. Thank yous can come in many forms, so here are some ideas to get you started:

A thank you note. The classic never goes out of style, and is always appropriate. Tell them how much you appreciate their help in getting into college. If you have already received your acceptance and know where you’re going, this is a good place to share that, too.

A small gift. A gift is always appreciated, and does not have to be expensive. You can bake some cookies, draw a picture, or include a gift card with your note. Let your talents and your budget be your guide.

A video. Look into the camera and tell them sincerely all of the things you appreciate about them, and how they have helped you.

How will you say thank you?

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Get your students ready for college acceptances

Early acceptance letters are already trickling out, but soon a flood of acceptance letters will be sent to your high school seniors. Once your students have received their acceptance letters, what happens next? It’s the perfect time to help them figure out what they’re looking at and get a jump on planning for the year ahead.

Start budgeting. While your student may not have a financial aid package in hand just yet, it’s not too early to start making a college budget. Many students are not familiar with the budgeting process, so help them get started with a basic budget worksheet.

Review the award letters carefully. It may be helpful to have your students create a side-by-side comparison of offers to fully understand the aid that each school is offering and what each student’s final costs will be. An award letter comparison tool may help compare apples to apples. If your students don’t have all of the information they need to complete the comparison, you can help them contact the school to get all of their questions answered.

Accept only one college. After reviewing the award letters, the student should select their college, and send them the appropriate paperwork. Then, they should send a decline to the other colleges that have offered them a place, so those schools can start contacting their waitlists.

Make a strategy for the waitlist. If any of your students have been placed on a waitlist by their top choice, there is still plenty to do. Encourage the students to accept one offer that they have received, and help them evaluate their options. Perhaps redoubling their efforts and pulling their grades up will show the college they are on the right track. The waitlist time is not a time to be passive, so encourage your students to keep communication open with their preferred schools.

Keep going! With acceptance letters in hand, your students may be tempted to slack off a bit, but encourage them to finish the year strong and in a way that will make themselves and their future school proud. After all, the acceptance can be revoked if a student’s grades fall too far.

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What do college admissions officers look for?

As you are looking at colleges and determining what you want in a college, you will also want to consider the other side of the relationship: what will the college want to see from you?

Every college admissions office receives a flood of applications each year, and each has developed their own method for sorting through the applications. Essentially, every college is trying to find a student who will succeed academically on their campus, and contribute to the vibrant life of the student body. How can you communicate these points to the college through your application?

Start with your numbers.
While some schools are beginning to throw out their minimum requirements for grade point averages (GPAs) and national test scores, those schools are still just a small fraction. Make sure that you are keeping your grades up and challenging yourself with your classes, as admissions counselors review both the academic rigor of the class and the grade. Even if you started off high school with a less than perfect GPA, an upward trajectory in your academics can help show that you are moving in the right direction for college.

Then prove that you are more than your numbers.
Look to your extracurricular activities, volunteer time, sports, or hobbies for examples of your character. Think about what you have learned about yourself through these activities, and what skills you have acquired. How do your activities tell the story of who you are and what you want to be? Committed, consistent efforts often look better than a variety of scattered activities, so make sure to show how your activities are related to your goals and interests. You can use this story in your application essays and you can ask the adults involved in these activities for letters of recommendation.

Show your school spirit.
In your campus visit, essay, or interview communicate how interested you are in that particular college. Include the work of professors that you admire, or courses that you wish to take. The more specific you are, the clearer you can show them how you would fit into their picture.

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The Power of Your Credit Score: How its value exceeds your GPA

An interactive website offering information on how to build and imporove credit.

An interactive website offering information on how to build and imporove credit.

Your grade point average (GPA) may have been the single most important score that teachers, academic institutions, and companies used to determine your ability to learn and take responsibility. Because there was such value placed on your GPA, you probably know all the ins and outs around how to build it, how to improve it, and how to maintain it. But if someone asked you about your credit score, would you be able to share with that person your strategy to get your score higher?

Much like your GPA reflects your scholastic history, your credit score is a number that summarizes your credit history, and is calculated by taking into account many factors from your credit report. When applying for a loan or credit card, lenders will look at your credit score to determine your credit risk – the higher your credit score, the lower risk you may present to the lender.

Your credit score may be as important to your financial success as your GPA is to your ability to be accepted into a top college or university. Good credit opens the door to financial possibilities like helping you save money on interest by qualifying for lower rates. Knowing why credit is important and how it works is an important first step in building your credit journey.

Credit: building it up and keeping it up

When applying for credit for the first time, lenders will often look at a combination of different factors to determine whether you will be able to pay back what you have borrowed.

For that reason, it’s important that you are prepared before you apply for credit. Here are three steps that can help you get started:

1. Establish a relationship with a bank. It’s easier to get credit if you already have a checking or savings account.

2. Have an income. It’s hard to pay back money if you don’t have any. A lender may ask to see pay stubs or other documents in order to confirm your ability to repay.

3. Don’t ask for too much. Start small and manage your credit responsibly, and later you’ll be able to borrow more.

Once you get credit, it’s important to keep it up. Like your GPA, maintaining a good credit score takes time and work, and each person’s situation is different. However, there are certain things you can do to maintain good credit, including:

• Paying your bills on time. The most important thing is that your pay all your bills on time – every time. Missed or late payments may have a negative impact on your credit score.

• Keep your balances low. Using your whole credit limit may have a negative impact on your credit score. It might work better in your favor to keep credit card balances low.

• Check your credit report regularly. Your credit report contains details about your credit history, including balance, credit limit, and payment status. Make sure your credit report contains current and accurate information. If you find errors, correct them as soon as possible because they may negatively impact your credit score and even indicate possible identity theft.

As you begin to build financial independence, your credit score will play a critical part in shaping your financial independence and success – just like your GPA played an important role in achieving academic success. For more information on how get and build your credit score, visit Path to Good Credit, an interactive website that offers information on how to build and improve credit. It offers quizzes, videos, tips and infographics that illustrate why credit is just as important.

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Your student has gotten early acceptance—now what?

Applying for early acceptance to college is a great way for students to lock in on the school they’re certain about. If your student has achieved early acceptance, what happens next? It’s the perfect time to help them get a jump on planning for the year ahead. Following are a few ways to get started:

Get finances in order. With the college decision out of the way, you and your student can focus on preparing financially for the next year. This is the time to ensure your student has the right financial tools in place, including a checking account with a debit card attached. Getting this set up ahead of time will help ensure that he or she knows how to use it and keep track of funds in the account.

Start budgeting. While your student may not have a financial aid package in hand just yet, it’s not too early to start making a college budget. Many students are not familiar with the budgeting process, so help them get started with a basic budget worksheet. Talk about expectations for next year, what costs you plan to help with and what your student will be expected to handle.

Consider job options. While you’re talking about finances and budgets, it’s the perfect time to discuss whether your student should get a job while at college. It will be a necessity for some students, of course, but if it’s optional, give it real consideration. While some parents prefer that students focus on their classes, for some students, a job—especially one on campus—can help them better-organize their time, as well as add cash to their pockets. Work with your student to see what employment options might be available at their school.

Research housing options. If your student will have some choice in housing, either on or off-campus, now is a good time to start researching options. Typically housing goes quickly in college towns, so the sooner you can get started, the better.

Get familiar with the course catalog. Your student may not be ready to declare a major right away, but it’s smart to get familiar with the course catalog and start planning a course schedule for the first year. Gaining early acceptance allows plenty of time for you and your student to look at class options and talk them over. Remind your student that classes sometimes fill up quickly, so it’s important to have a number of “backup” courses planned in case class sections are unavailable or time slots don’t work out.

Plan for orientation. College orientation often comes up early in the summer, so check out the dates for your student’s school and talk about the best time to attend. The summer before college is often a busy one, so get a jump on planning for orientation and sign up as soon as you’re able.

Sport that college gear with pride! Knowing where your student is headed to college next year can be a great relief, and it’s wonderful news to share with family and friends. Take some time to celebrate– get that college mug or sweatshirt and enjoy the moment!

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Are you on track to graduate from high school?

Now that you have submitted your college applications, it may be tempting to relax and wait for the college acceptances to come in. But you may be missing something. Take this time to check in with your school counselor to make sure that you are still on track to graduate, and to maximize your last semester and summer before college.

Start with:

  • How am I doing academically? Am I on track to graduate this spring?
  • Do you see any room for improvement or additional challenges?
  • What resources should I use to stay on track?

Seek advice for prioritizing your college list
Your school counselor may have great insight how your selected colleges fit with your potential and your personality.

  • What types of schools do you think might be a good fit for me? This should be based on scholarship opportunities, career interests or other factors that are important to you.
  • How do you evaluate schools? Are there set factors to keep in mind (perhaps a checklist)?

Cover financial aid and scholarship options
Paying for college is a significant investment. Whether you’re paying for it, or your family is helping out with the cost, you will want to know:

  • Are there grants or scholarships that would be a good fit for me?
  • What financial aid resources does the school offer?
  • How does the school prepare students for financial aid questions?
  • Are there available resources to walk students or parents through the FAFSA?
  • Where should I go to find out more about funding college?
  • Where do parent loans or private student loans fit in?

Connect to any relevant alumni
There’s nothing like talking to someone with first-hand experience. Alumni, especially recent alumni, can be invaluable in talking with you about college choices. Ask the school counselor:

  • Can you connect me with recent grads that went to one of my preferred colleges?
  • Does the school have alumni groups that would be useful to me?
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