“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
– Antonie de Saint-Exupery, pioneer aviator
In her book, “How to Graduate Debt-Free,” Kristina Ellis shares a few can’t-miss financial principles. Here are five principles to consider as you start planning financially for college.
Principle #1: Start Early
Procrastination. It’s the quickest way to avoid getting things accomplished. And when you wait, you lose valuable time to consider all your options. So, since you’re interested in attending (and graduating from college), mark that down as your goal.
Too many students wait until their junior year or even senior year (gasp!) to begin planning for college. We recommend that students begin planning for college in the eighth grade. Some financial planners recommend starting in elementary school – especially when it comes to financing higher education.
Why is starting early important?
If you find out as a junior that your favorite college requires three years of the same foreign language, and you’re in French 1, your application would be denied. While most colleges only require two years, a growing number of selective colleges require three.
Since college admission officers are reviewing your 9th – 11th grade GPA, you’d want to make sure you are taking challenging classes and getting high grades as a freshman.
If you’re just getting started as an upperclassman in high school, that’s okay too. While your options may be limited, don’t procrastinate any longer. Work with your school counselor or an educational consultant to develop a strategy and get started.
Principle #2: Make a Plan
The Bible says that "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5).
Students need to determine what career they want to pursue, what college they want to attend, and how they are going to pay for college. Even if adjustments need to me made, making a plan will alleviate stress and uncertainty.
If you are still reading this article, then you are interested in creating a successful college plan. You need to find a trusted professional or independent educational consultant that will help you create a personalized plan to help you discover the right career and college for you.
Be diligent. Make a plan.
Principle #3: Create and Maintain a Budget
When you start mowing lawns, babysitting, or serving customers, you also need to create and maintain a budget. There are many budgeting tools available online through your bank or other financial resource. Find one and get started!
The spending and saving principles you learn with a budget of $1,000 can also be applied when you have to manage $50,000 per year. When you attend college, they expect to be paid (for the classes, housing, food, fees…) at the beginning of each semester.
Ellis shares that “not monitoring your spending habits can cause you to pay out significantly more than you anticipated, further distracting you from your goals. Especially since college turns out to be far more costly that families expect” (p11).
This is one reason you want to work closely with your school counselor or an educational consultant.
Principle #4: Avoid Debt
There are many ways to avoid owing debt for your college education.
Earning high grades and getting high standardized test scores is the best way to avoid debt. Why? Because those two factors are used to determine how much merit aid a college will award a student. And since it’s renewable, you have a chance to reduce your out-of-pocket costs significantly.
Students are starting at community college to save money – and some two-year schools are offering free tuition to local students. One valedictorian started his college journey at a community college. They waived his tuition because they were so excited to have him as a student. He eventually graduated from Texas Tech and works as a pharmacist.
For those who don't want to start and transfer from a two-year college, should consider attending a public university (and commuting) to save additional money. To begin with, public schools are cheaper than private ones. Commuting means you're living at home and driving to school. It's a different experience - but you are avoiding lots of debt.
While some private universities have a sticker price of $70,000 per year, they offer the best merit aid. They have tuition discounts of almost 48 percent!
Apply for private scholarships. Lots and lots of scholarships. Earning lots of $100 and $250 scholarships will add up in the end. And that will keep you out of debt.
Just remember that loans are used to fill in the gaps and should not be considered until all other resources are exhausted. If you do get a loan, use your budgeting tools to devise a way to pay this off as soon as possible.
Principle #5: Use the Power of Compound Interest
In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructed each follower of Christ to "set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up."
If you want your money to work for you, instead of you working for money, start saving early. As mentioned above, when you bring home your paycheck, you should start saving at least 10 percent of your income. Use the 10-10-80 Principle: if you tithe 10 percent and save 10 percent, you can live and enjoy the remaining 80 percent.
Then, when you invest that money in an account that is earning interest, you’ll see what compound interest does for you.
As you can tell from this article, it is important to start early when saving money and planning financially for college. Take the time to connect with an expert so you can make wise decisions.
For all the independent consultants and school counselors, I'd like to share an article from David Leonhardt of the New York Times discussing the benefits of marginal students graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Knowing the benefits of higher education, we need to be intentional about having college planning conversations. To recommend the right careers and colleges, ask open ended questions about what they are reading, listening to, and doing in their free time with family and friends.
Reading and parental interaction are two of the most important aspects to the educational success of students. I've met a number of parents who did not graduate high school who support their students desire to attend college. So don't be afraid to probe into the educational history of their family. Research shows that persistence increases with each subsequent family member that attends and/or graduates from college.
Leonhardt shared that two independent studies showed that “enrolling in a four-year college brings large benefits to marginal students.” Marginal students who are given a chance to challenge themselves can be successful. Research shows that “students do better when they stretch themselves and attend the most selective college that admits them, rather than undermatching.”
He points out that while investing in students enrolling in community colleges makes economic sense, failing to invest in students pursuing bachelor’s degrees could be harmful in the long term. One twenty-nine year old college student did not graduate high school or earn his GED. Yet, his end of semester grade in calculus was a 97! He's closing in on his bachelors degree.
Even with a national six-year graduation rate at fifty-six percent, some don’t believe marginal students should be encouraged to attend college because of the debt incurred. Yet, “most people with no college education are struggling mightily in the 21st-century economy.”
Since attending college benefits everyone, teach students how to select a college that is a good overall fit.
And remind them of the benefits of a graduating with a bachelor’s degree - which is better than just attending.
English and mathematics.
The ABCs and the 1-2-3's of education.
College-bound students are not getting off to the best start after high school because they must take basic math and English courses. While college freshmen are taking remedial courses, they falling behind on their path to graduation. This is bad.
I was ranked forty-seventh in a class of over three hundred fifty students. Even with top grades in math, my SAT math scores were low (never take your SAT after a Friday night football game). Since colleges use test scores to place freshman in math and English courses, I took two remedial math courses before starting College Algebra. Three months prior to college, I was taking an honors Trigonometry and Analysis final.
IHEPs Access to Attainment reported that fifty percent of college-bound freshman require remediation with twenty percent taking three or more remedial courses.
Meredith Kolodner (Hechinger Report) shared that seventy-five percent of California community college students are “unprepared” for college when they arrive. Seventy-five! What does this mean? Students have to complete their remedial classes before enrolling in college-level math and English courses. In Nevada, fifty-three percent of freshman entering a four-year university were required to enroll in remedial courses.
Thirty-four percent of students did not meet any of the four ACT benchmarks in 2015. The National Conference of State Legislatures posted that "forty-one percent of Hispanic students and forty-two percent of African-American students require remediation, compared to thirty-one percent of white students."
Emily Deruy of The Mercury News reported that forty percent of freshman entering a California State University campus have to take remedial math or English. Koldner reported that only twenty percent of remedial math students make it to College Algebra. While learning math and English is important, studying high school level math in college is holding students back.
Here are four ways that remedial courses affect college-bound students.  It costs money and time. The average 3-hour credit class costs $594 per credit hour. So does a college freshman want to spend $1,782 in a high-school level class?  Remedial courses do not count toward their degree plan.  These courses are designed for students who scored low a standardized placement test.  These courses are seen as more of a barrier than a passageway to a degree.
Schools and organizations are looking for solutions to remedial courses. In high school, students would benefit from free after-school tutoring. IHEP recommends that schools identify students who need remediation before graduating and offer proven remediation practices. Kolodner shared other proposed solutions including Common Core State Standards and addressing the misalignment between college readiness and high school exit standards.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR STUDENTS
If you are a student or parent, I recommend completing a learning assessment to identify ways to improve study habits at home and at school.
I also recommend connecting with a math and English tutor. You can choose from online sources or classroom teachers. Some parents pay thousands of dollars to help their children improve their baseball swing and free throw percentage. But paying a few hundred dollars to improve your sentence structure and numerical reasoning skills is worth a lifetime of benefits.
The good news is that during my third semester at college, I became a math tutor. Yes, even though I had to take remedial courses, I mastered the subject matter. Contact me if you need some additional recommendations. Together, we can do better.
Updated: August 2, 2017
This weeks guest post comes from Ross Dickie, who I've had the pleasure of knowing for a few years. He is always wanting people of all ages to understand more about themselves and make better decisions.
As CEO of Keys to Succeed and President & COO of Human eSources, he is dedicated to helping others "discover educational and career goals based on their unique combination of personality, preferences, skills and talents." Check out this report on the Do What You Are (DWYA) personality assessment, one of my favorite resources..
Like me, Ross started his career at a community college. Read what he has to share about the value of community colleges.
In case you weren’t aware, April [was] National Community College Awareness Month. And never have community colleges played such an important part in helping individuals of diverse ages and backgrounds realize their American Dream.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, its member institutions serve 45% of all college students and 41% of all first-time freshmen. However, that’s only part of the story.
Over half of all African American college students attend a community college. Representation among Hispanic and Native American college students is even higher. And over one-third of students are the first generation in their family to attend college.
Not surprisingly, community college students represent a wide range of ages, the average student being 29 years old.
Community college students are also a hardworking bunch. Well over half of all full-time community college students are employed at least part time, and nearly 75% of all part-time students hold down some form of employment.
In short, America’s community colleges serve students who are committed to a better life for themselves and their families, and are willing to work hard to achieve it.
Perhaps most importantly, this group of students are at the vanguard of a drive to upgrade their skills and remain competitive in a globalized workforce.
We also know that these students face greater challenges to graduation than most other college students. Nearly half fail to return for their second year of education.
The reasons are many.
In addition to attending to their studies, these students all have jobs to hold down. Seventeen percent are single parents. So, for these students, life has a way of intruding on their best intentions.
Many come to community college socially and academically unprepared, yet are committed to success. As a result, first-year experience courses play a particularly important role in helping these students succeed and matriculate through their college experience.
Our collective future depends, to a large extent, on our ability to teach all students to adapt, compete and thrive in a highly competitive global economy. The role of community colleges in reaching that goal has never been more important.
Steps You Can Take If You've Been Put on the Waitlist
Mother's Day is notorious for having extremely long wait times at restaurants, even if you made reservations.
And don't get me started on the waiting line for an amusement park ride!
Through March and April each year, while many students (who did not apply early) are waiting to review their award letters or an appeal letter response from the college, a few have been placed on a waitlist. For the most part, students have until May 1 to finalize their decision and notify the college.
CONSIDER OTHER OPTIONS
For waitlist students who are undecided, community college might be the best option if their top choice is unavailable or if financial aid remains an obstacle. Also know that NACAC releases their College Openings list (4-year colleges) soon after May 1st indicating available options for incoming freshmen, financial aid, and housing.
Students, if you were waitlisted at one of your top choices, you may have to select another college option. Overall, the odds of being selected from the waitlist are very slim, especially at most selective colleges. Consider these waitlist admission rates from the class of 2018: Carnegie Mellon (4%), Princeton (5%), University of Pennsylvania (8%), and Vanderbilt (4%).
WRITE A LETTER
IvyWise, a college consulting firm, suggests that students “express their interest in attending through a waitlist letter.” A letter still demonstrates interest and gives college’s additional information for forming their class from the waitlist. Since waitlists are not ranked, admissions officers will look for special interests or certain majors to complete their class: a female agricultural major, an engineering major from the Southwest, or another tuba player.
Once a decision is made you should notify colleges of your intent. Jessica Velasco, former admissions officer, encourages students to let other colleges they won’t be attending as soon as possible. Here are four benefits:
As you approach the end of your college selection journey, it's important to make good, timely decisions and notify the colleges when your decisions are made.
Originally posted in April 2015. Updated in May 2019.
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.