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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Look at the Cost of a College Degree & Ways to Reduce It

Living Happily Ever After – Is it Possible?
A Look at the Cost of a College Degree and Ways to Reduce It

By Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS

For many, their dream is to go to college, graduate, get a good job, make decent money, and live happily ever after.  Unfortunately, for many, that does not come to pass.  In this article, we’ll explore several of the reasons why and some options to consider in order to make that dream into a reality.

What does college degree actually cost and What Can We Do to Lessen that Cost?

For those who start with about $16,000 in savings, get scholarships, grants, and work to help pay for school, they will accumulate about $42,000 in student loan debt during the six years it takes most students to earn a bachelor’s degree.

In contrast, if s/he had decided to be a restaurant server rather than go to college, the student would make about $39,000 per year (assuming s/he is in the top 25% in a metro area like Houston).  In six years, after taxes and the cost of living adjustments, s/he would make just over $81,000, rather than racking up student loans.  In other words, s/he wouldn’t have a degree, but would be $123,000 ahead of the average college graduate ($81,000 + $42,000).

How long will it take the college graduate to recover that lost opportunity cost and catch up with the restaurant server?  Assuming the graduate gets a job in a field like marketing that has a starting pay of $51,000 per year, it will take 18 years to catch up with the restaurant server, assuming s/he pays off the loans six years faster than average.  This also assumes that the server’s salary steadily increases every year.  While catching up, the college graduate will pay over $18,000 in interest, a total of over $60,000 in loan payments.

What are the alternatives?

1.     Attend a Public university to lower costs?

Many people think that the only option to make college affordable is to send their children to public universities, given their lower tuition rates.  Let’s explore this assertion.

The average in-state tuition is almost $10,000.  The average out of state public tuition is $25,600 and the average private college tuition is almost $35,000.  However, those are the sticker prices.  The average net price (out of pocket cost) for tuition is $4,000/year for publics and $15,000/year for privates, per Big Future.  In order to see the cost to earn a degree, we must also consider the average number of years to graduate: public university students average 6 school years while privates average just above 4 school years.

Here’s a look at the math:

Public universities:
$4,000/year * 6 years = $24,000 tuition, on average
$10,800/year * 6 years = $64,800 room & board, on average
+ $47,268 lost wages $909/( median weekly earnings of FT workers with HS education)
TOTAL COST OF DEGREE: $ 136,068 + $27,000 in loans (approx.) (+ fees, books, etc.)

Private colleges:
$15,000/year * 4 years = $60,000 tuition, on average
$12,210/year * 4 years = $48,840 room & board, on average
TOTAL COST OF DEGREE: $ 108,840 + $33,000 in loans (approx.) (+ fees, books, etc.)

Here’s a second look, with figures from a different source.

At end of 6 years,

Public university graduate - $27,000 debt

Private college university graduate’s financial status = $68,480
2 years of working at $50,390 (Money mag) = $100,780 – $32,300 debt (with 75% in debt)
(Data from Mark Kantrowitz, 2012)

[For profit college graduates (88% have debt) with the average debt = $39,950]
[A word about for-profit colleges, in addition to their students carrying more debt, their graduation rates are much, much lower than non-profit colleges, with an average of only 19% graduating in 4 years.]

Since the idea of attending a public university to save money on college isn’t actually very effective, we’ll explore some alternatives.

2.     Graduate FASTER!

There are several ways to shorten the length of time to earn a degree (in addition to attending a school with a 4-year graduation rate of over 50%).  By working ahead via AP, IB, CLEP, and DSST exams as well as dual enrollment opportunities during high school, the student, depending on his or her abilities, can accumulate as much as two years’ worth of college credits while still in high school.  Students will need to research the acceptance policies of these various programs by the colleges and universities they are considering.  Each college/university sets its own policies (sometimes by college or department within the university, sometimes as an institution) regarding how these scores and credits are treated.

For some students, staying at home and taking classes online can be a less expensive path to earning a degree. There are, however, social sacrifices involved in that path that make it unsuitable for some students.  Online course completion rates are significantly lower than completion fates for in person classes.  Additionally, having the positive peer pressure to study and complete your degree is found on campuses with a 50% or higher 4-year graduation rate and  is a powerful aid to help students stay on track to graduate in four or fewer years.  Per the National Center for Education Statistics, 36% of public college students graduate in 4 years while
54 % of private college  students graduate in 4 years.

3.     Save more, Get More Bang for Your Buck

Starting earlier and saving more than the $16,000 used in the initial scenario is also helpful.  Saving takes diligent, sustained effort and, often, many sacrifices.  Every dollar saved will actually save your student $1.50; keeping this in mind can help you stay on track with your savings goals. Per CNBS and USA Today, the average amount families have saved for college (in 2018) is $18,000. This is a significant increase from 2004 when I began working with families.  It’s time to be way above average!

There are various types of accounts that can be used to save funds for college.  Some, like 529s and Coverdells, have limitations on the amount of money that can be deposited each year as well as regulations regarding the use of the funds.  Some kinds of accounts are considered assets and so are included in need-based aid calculations while others are not included.  Consequently, determining the best type of account to keep your college money in requires exploring both the tax and financial aid eligibility ramifications.

4.     Plan Ahead

Despite the high costs of college, many students arrive on campus with little to no idea what they want to study or what sort of field in which they would like to work.  As the adage goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of students have received absolutely no guidance regarding potential careers and majors.  Almost none have actually done a job shadow, further an internship in a field under consideration. reports that, per 2017 federal data, nearly one-third of students change their majors during their first three years in college. Other studies state that as many as 80% do. Ohio State University shows data that 38% of their students changed their major between when they applied and when they completed freshman orientation.  They didn’t have data available about how many more change once they matriculate nor on how many times their students tend to change their majors.

In addition to changing majors, 25% -38% of students at 4-year colleges transfer to another college or university.  Students are much more likely to take five to eight years (or more!) to graduate when they transfer, especially those who transfer twice. 

In both cases, students often have many credits they have earned that do not fulfill their new graduation requirements.  For example, a student transferring from French into chemistry will not be able to use most of the humanities credits earned towards their graduation requirements for a BS in chemistry.

When changing majors, students typically add a year to the length of time it takes to earn their degree.  When transferring, two years additional time to degree is not uncommon. The average added out of pocket costs for one extra year of college at a public university is $62,208 ($14,940 tuition/room/board + $47,268 lost wages).  The average out of pocket costs for an extra year at a private college is $74,008 ($26,740 tuition/room/board +$47,268 lost wages).

5.     Should You Start at a Community College?

This is the path that a number of today’s parents used successfully to save a significant amount on the cost of college while still graduating in four years.  Unfortunately, in addition to having a significantly lower 6-year bachelor’s degree completion rate, getting an associate’s degree actually adds the time to degree for those who do earn a bachelor’s degree.  Approximately 25% of bachelor’s degree seeking community college students actually transfer to a 4-year college or university.  And only about 10% of those who start at community colleges have a bachelor’s degree after six years.

This path can be used successfully but it takes even more careful planning and frequent visits to the transfer counselor than the other paths to a bachelor’s degree.

6.     Get Scholarships

Scholarships are given by colleges and universities as well as private organizations.  93% of college scholarship dollars come from the schools themselves.  In fact, private scholarships impact need-based financial aid eligibility dollar for dollar so may or may not lower a given family’s out of pocket costs. (While it feels great to say that your child has received a scholarship, the actual impact on the family’s bottom line tends to be the more important factor.)

Why do colleges give students money? 

Most people are aware that scholarships are awarded for academic and athletic capabilities and accomplishments.  Some know that scholarships are also awarded by some schools for student leaders and those with special accomplishments (top debaters, for example).  Fewer are aware that scholarships are also used by some colleges and universities in exactly the same way as coupons are used, to entice you to buy their product/attend their school, rather than a competitor’s. Colleges and universities that have international reputations and tend to win large research grants tend to not give scholarships intended to entice students; they don’t need to.  Colleges that serve their region or are less well known tend to use scholarships as ways to recruit students.  Some liberal arts colleges and master’s colleges (offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees only) will give all or nearly all their students significant scholarships.  In addition, sometimes scholarships are awarded despite the fact that the family has no financial need, as an inducement to have their child attend their school, rather than another.  And, it works well! 

Lastly, a number of groups of states in the US have banded together in groups called student exchanges through which participating public universities in each state will offer students from the other states a significant tuition reduction (typically $5,000 - $10,000/year) when they attend their school.

7.     Get Help! Work with a holistic college consultant

Hiring an expert to help buy and sell a home is commonplace.  Next to a house, the next greatest expenditure is college.  Hiring an expert to assist with the process saves significant time and money, and protects people from making mistakes because "we just didn't know!"

While many college consultants only work with students to create their applications, some of us work holistically with students and their families.  For each of my clients, for example, I develop a personalized overall strategy then guide the student and his or her family through it, step by step.  I typically start by guiding students to explore possible careers then majors and schools. I evaluate the family’s financial resources then advise regarding ways to lower costs and increase resources in order to help the student accomplish his or her academic and career goals.  Working holistically, I’ve fostered my students’ personal growth and skill development, enhanced their awareness of their strengths, and guided them through the application processes, both for admissions and aid.  My clients have averaged about $75k/college in scholarships, plus need based aid.  While I work with clients from all education settings and backgrounds, I specialize in working with home educated students and Catholic students.

Lowering the family’s stress levels, providing expert knowledge, and seasoned guidance provides an improved quality of life as well as better academic and financial outcomes for my clients.

Evaluate your options and find a better way to get your degree.  College shouldn’t be a debt sentence.

If you’d like to meet with Katherine, you may schedule a consultation at

Friday, November 2, 2018

Is The Pen Mightier Than the Keyboard?

Longhand v. Laptop Note Taking

A look at recent research by Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS

In order for students to be academically successful, they need to be able to learn the material presented in their courses and perform well on exams.  With the nearly ubiquitous adoption of the use of digital devices for delivery of educational material and, in many situations, notetaking as well as the completion of assignments, the question of which is a more effective methodology for learning is of great import.

Dr. Pam Mueller & Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer published a paper in 2014 sharing the results of their research into this topic.  Their study was the first to focus on a direct comparison of the two styles of notetaking.  Other research has focused on the impact of the many distractions available on laptops and how well students could multitask.  Many researchers have shown that students tend to not be on task and to be less satisfied with their education than their pen wielding peers.

Let’s take a look at the head to head comparison of college student’s comprehension retention abilities when offline laptops and pen and paper  were the only options for notetaking during presentations.

In the past, some research showed that the processing of the information that takes place during manual notetaking improves learning and retention.  When a student takes notes during a lecture, s/he cannot keep up with the presenter so must sort and organize the material, as well as abbreviate it in order to record it.  Note taking can include summarizing, paraphrasing, and mapping concepts.  It can also take the form of creating a verbatim transcript of what is heard.  Other studies have shown that verbatim note taking predicts poorer performance than non-verbatim note taking, especially on integrative and conceptual items.  Integrating the new information with prior knowledge and with understanding new concepts are both improved when the note taker processes and records the information without taking a verbatim approach.

In this current study, it was repeatedly noted that students using laptops strongly tended to take more notes, and to take notes in the verbatim copyist style, rather than processing the information and creating their own re-presentation of it like the students taking notes longhand.  It was found that the students who took notes longhand and were afforded an opportunity to study them performed better on examination than any of the other participants.  The longhand note takers also did better than the laptop users when neither was permitted to review their notes.  Some of them even outperformed the laptop users who had been able to study their notes.

Although they recorded fewer words, those who used pen and paper outperformed their technology using peers for both conceptual and factual questions.  Selecting more important information to record may have enabled them to study the material more efficiently.  They concluded: “Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears.  Indeed, synthesizing and summarizing content rather than verbatim transcription can serve as a desirable difficulty toward improved educational outcomes…. For that reason, laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.”

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Recent Changes to College Savings Plans


529 plans allow taxpayers to save larger amounts of money than other tax-advantaged education savings plans do.  They are limited only by the contributor’s gift tax concerns and the contribution limits of the intended plan.  There are no limits on the number of contributors and there are not income or age limitations.  The maximum amount that ca be contributed per beneficiary (the student) is based on the projected cost of college education and will vary by the plan of each state.  Most have limits in excess of $200,000 while others are over $370,000.  Generally additional contributions cannot be made once the account’s balance reaches your state’s maximum level, but that doesn’t prevent the account from continuing to grow.

Although the plans are authorized by the various states, it’s not required that the plan be set up in the future collegian’s home state.  Additionally, the student is not restricted to using the funds in either his or her home state or the state where the plan was set up.  Some states, however, do provide state income tax deductions as an incentive to get their residents to set up plans in the state.  These incentives typically come as a state income tax deduction or a tax credit for the contributions to the state’s 529 plan.

When the times comes for college, the distributions will partially be earnings in value and partially from contributions.  The contributions are never taxable.  The earnings part is tax free if they are used to pay for qualified education expenses like tuition, fees, and books.  In addition to the tax-free distribution from the 529 plan, the taxpayer may claim and education credit such as the American Opportunity tax credit, which can be as much as $2,500 ($1,000 of which is refundable!). 

The big advantage of s section 529 plan is the tax-free accumulation of funds so it is best to establish and fund one as early as possible in the child’s life.  There is a special provision that allows those concerned with the annual gift tax limit (currently $15,000) to contribute five years’ worth ($75,000) up front.  This limit is per contributor.  If there are multiple contributors (parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, etc., huge amounts can be contributed up front and provide considerable long-term growth.

Keep in mind, however, that saving through a 529 owned by the parents means that you are accumulating your college savings in a vehicle that is considered an asset and will be factored into need based financial eligibility calculations by the FAFSA processor. It will also be considered, as long as the student is the beneficiary, no matter who the owner is, by the schools utilizing the CSS PROFILE financial aid application form.


As of 2018, tax free distributions of up to $10,000 per year per beneficiary are allowed for tuition for elementary or secondary schools.  Of course, using the funds for K-12 education  leaves less for college education.  This will especially impact those families not able to front load the 529s since the monies won’t be able to grow over the years.  This is a change to federal law; please check with your tax preparer regarding limitations your state may still have.  Some still restrict 529 distributions to use for college expenses.

The tax reform also allows the distribution from a 529 to be tax and penalty free if it is rolled over to an ABLE account for the same beneficiary (or a member of his/her family) within 60 days of its distribution.  This rollover provision is only available until 2025.  The rollover amount is limited, when combined to other contributions, to the annual maximum.

In case you’re not familiar with them, qualified ABLE programs provide the means for people to save in order to support individuals who became blind or severely disabled before their 26th birthday.  This support is to maintain their health, independence, and quality of life. 

Please contact your tax preparer for additional information.

Friday, September 7, 2018

How to Save on College: Regional Tuition Reduction Programs

Groups of states in various regions of the country have banded together to create tuition reduction programs.  Explore the majors, programs, and schools in your area:


Midwest Student Exchange – Students in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin may be eligible for tuition reductions at certain Midwest public and private schools

Western Undergraduate Exchange - for students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Academic Common Market provides tuition discounts for more than 1900 academic programs in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The New England Regional Student Program enables New England residents to enroll at out-of-state New England public colleges and universities at a discount. Students are eligible when they enroll in an approved major that is not offered by the public colleges and universities in their home-state. More than 700 undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered. Participating states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.


The Western Regional Graduate Program enables graduate students to enroll in available graduate programs outside of their home state at in-state resident tuition rates.

The Western Professional Student Exchange Program enables graduate students in Western states majoring in the health care professions to enroll in selected out-of-state professional programs.

The Southern Regional Contract Program enables students to pursue a professional health degree at out-of-state institutions, but pay in-state tuition at public institutions or reduced tuition at private institutions.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

It's not Really Writer's Block; An easier way to Write Application Essays

There's No Such Thing as Writer's Block!

Have you ever seen your child staring at a blank doc on their computer or looking forlornly over a still blank piece of paper?  S/he feels stuck and calls it writer's block.

Many of the teens I've worked with over the years have shared such experiences with me before we start working on their application essays.


When they feel stuck, they often doubt their basic writing skills, sometimes fixating on those to avoid considering the bigger problem of trying to figure out what to say.  This fixation makes getting started even harder.  Sometimes parents will note the anxiety or lack of progress and try to nudge the student.  However, your best words of encouragement regarding their writing abilities doesn't move the needle of paralysis regarding what to write.

What do you do?  We all know that getting anxious ourselves and speaking harshly won't help.  So, take a step back.  The real culprit is that they aren't starting at the beginning; they are trying to jump the gun.


Writing itself is a great tool for exploring and clarifying thoughts.  This is true in a particular way for the college essays.

Admissions wants to read stories that are personal and reveal meaningful characteristics about the student applicant.  They want to get to know what makes you you.

Writing such an essay requires a process.  When I usually assign two to four "pre-writing" exercises before we even discuss the first draft.  This gives students the opportunities to get started writing and to begin to gather details, recall incidents, and clarify their message before we truly begin.    This process jump starts the thought process that must happen in order to create truly excellent application essays.


Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Think of things and people that you could pull together into a video collage you could share with your future college roommate.  Everything included illustrates one of your traits or a significant event in your life.

Make a list of these items, incidents, and people and write a sentence or two about how they are significant to you or what they reveal to you.

For example, on my desk is a bottle of hand lotion.  It's cucumber melon, and it's 2/3 empty.  Everything else on my desk pertains to writing but then there's this bottle of lotion.  It's significant in a few ways.  First, my mom expressed her affection by giving gifts and this now discontinued scent of lotion was one of those gifts.  And, second, that it is important to stop from time to time and take care of myself, do something to nourish myself, even if it's only moisturizing my hard working hands and smelling an enjoyable fragrance.  After many years being a working single mother of a large family, this lesson took a while so that bottle on my desk is just as important as a self-care reminder as it is a reminder of my mom's love for me.

Limit your list to 20 items.  Spend the 20 minutes making the list; it may well take longer to describe the significance of each.  When you're done, you'll have the beginnings of 20 stories you could write to illustrate different aspects of who you are.  This is a powerful storehouse of ideas when it comes time to begin the first draft.


If your child thinks s/he has writer's block or is fretting over what to write about, it might be time to call in a professional.  I can guide your child and help keep things calm in your home during this stressful time.  As a professional college consultant, I can also step back and help with bigger questions like what to study and where to apply as needed.  Writing essays clarifies the student's thoughts about college and can lead to the need to re-evaluate the college list.  I'm still taking private coaching students for the 18/19 season, but my slots are filling quickly.  Reserve your spot now.

Has your teen already written a draft?  You might want to get professional feedback before clicking SUBMIT.  I'll be happy to give your child a professional essay review.  I will provide comprehensive written feedback, notes on what works in their draft, plus suggestions for improvement.  With over a dozen years' experience, I pay attention to items that matter to admissions officers, like reflection, theme, and flow as well as to technical issues including grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Should You Homeschool High School? Part 4: A Look at Financial Aid Basics

By Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS
Founder, Celtic College Consultants
Author, Every Catholic’s Guide to College: The Best US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics, 2018 & 2019, and The Ultimate Guide to Top Quality College Planning, all available through

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on

Financial Aid, Scholarships
First things first.  Your child WILL be eligible for federal financial aid, even if s/he earns a non-accredited diploma.  S/He’ll need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year, just like all other students.

Financial Aid & Scholarships Basics
Financial aid and scholarships MUST be applied for.  There are a number of means to do so: financial aid applications, scholarship applications, etc.  Sometimes the student’s application for admissions is also used to determine his or her eligibility for various scholarship programs the school offers.  Sometimes a separate application, or series of applications and/or interviews will be required.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT EACH COLLEGE’S FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIP WEBSITE BE CAREFULLY REVIEWED.  The particular opportunities, requirements, and deadlines at that institution will be posted.  Some schools have a central scholarships page, sometimes with their own search function, while others have information scattered around.  Scholarships can be given by the university, the college within the university, and/or the academic and athletic departments.

Need Based Aid – is comprised of tuition reductions, grants, and loans which are qualified for on the basis of “need.”  In common parlance, anyone whose budget comes up short would be thought to be in need.  In the realm of financial aid, there are formuli used to determine need, also known as demonstrated need.  Forms must be completed and submitted by deadlines set by the schools.  For federal student aid, the FAFSA form ( is the form which qualifies all citizens and legal aliens for federal student aid programs ranging from Pell grants to federal student and parent loan programs.  Colleges award need based federal aid before they award any other aid.  There are a couple of colleges in the country who have opted out of the federal student aid programs.  These schools have their own financial aid programs. 

Colleges can also provide need based aid to students.  Many use the FAFSA formula as their guide.  Some colleges and universities also require the CSS PROFILE ( form and/or their own forms.  A few colleges require their own forms.

EFC/Expected Family Contribution – is the official amount of money the FAFSA or PROFILE processor determines, based on their formula, that the student and his or her family can pay for one year of college.  There are five factors that contribute to the EFC:

1.    Parent income (for the calendar year before the year in which the student is applying; for the 2020/2021 school year, 2018 income information will be used.) is based on the Adjusted Gross Income (bottom line on your 1040) of the parents.  In the case of divorce, the parent is the one with whom the student lives more than half of the time or the parent who provides more than half of the financial support. (50.1%)  If the parent is re-married, s/he will report the income of both him/herself and his/her spouse.
2.    Parent assets (current at the time of the form filing) including all portfolio assets with the exception of the family residence, retirement savings, life insurance, and/or annuities.  Businesses are valued at zero if there are fewer than 100 employees.  See PROFILE instructions for their alternate rules.
3.    Student income (for the same calendar year as the parents.  For example, for a student graduating in June 2019, starting college during the 2019/2020 school year (fall – summer), 2017 income information will be used.
4.    Student assets, current at the time of the initial FAFSA filing.  The same assets are reported for the student as were for the parents.
5.    Resources include all outside resources, be they money from grandparents or private scholarships. 

Grants – are monies given to students based on need.  They can be federal money, like Pell or SEOG grants, or they can be money from the state, like the CalGrant program in California, or from the college itself.  Grants do not need to be repaid.  

Scholarships – are monies given to students based on merit of some kind.  There are two main categories of scholarships, from a financial aid eligibility perspective.  Institutional scholarships comprise 93% of all scholarship dollars.  These funds come directly from the colleges themselves.  Private Scholarships are those offered by other organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Nordstrom, etc.  Private scholarships are considered resources by the financial aid formuli.  They reduce a student’s eligibility for need based aid dollar for dollar.
Some scholarships have a need component.  This means that the scholarship awarding agency takes into account both merit qualifications and the student’s financial need. 
Some scholarship money may be taxed.  Money used for purposes other than tuition and fees is considered taxable income to the student.  Check with your tax preparer for particular information for your situation.

Gap – is the difference between your demonstrated need and the amount of financial aid offered.  Most schools “gap” students; they do not meet the full demonstrated need.

Other Aid – Some schools participate in collectives through which they offer tuition discounts to students who live in certain other states.  The Western Undergraduate Exchange & the Midwest Student Exchange Program are two examples.  These tuition reductions are not need based and are only merited by virtue of the student’s state of residence.  Not every public school in states that participate in an exchange offers the program.  Some limit the program to include or exclude certain majors.  Details are found on each regional exchange’s website.

Net Price Calculator – By federal law, every college and university is required to have a net price calculator on its website.  Sadly, many tuck them away and make them difficult to find.  It is often easier to simply use the school’s search function to find it.  In order to get an accurate estimation, the calculator will need to ask about the student’s GPA and test scores.  The less information requested, the less reliable the estimate will be.  Sadly, they are not required to provide a calculator that gives an accurate estimate of inquiring student’s likely out of pocket costs.

Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS is a Catholic homeschooling mother of six who has homeschooled since 1998.  She is the founder of Celtic College Consultants and has served college bound teens all across the US since 2004.  Students in her 2015 -2018 classes were offered over $237,000 each, on average, in merit scholarships. In 2017, Katherine compiled and released Every Catholic’s Guide to College: The 315 Best US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics, 2018.  It is available on  Kolbe Academy families are eligible for 10% off of all of her services and $100 off her initial consultation fee.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

High School, from a College Admissions Perspective, Part 3

Continuing our series on aspects to consider, from a college prep perspective, when considering whether to homeschool high school or not, we here consider athletic participation and college recruitment, various “soft” skills students need to develop during the high school years in order to be successful on campus, and how to stay Catholic while in college.

It IS possible for homeschooled athletes to be recruited by a college team. Although the NCAA reminds us that only 2% of high school athletes win athletic scholarships, it IS possible.  There are two aspects to consider: being seen by coaches and becoming and maintaining academic eligibility.  Sometimes homeschooled students can play on the public high school’s team.  Sometimes they are recruited through their club teams or other avenues.

Student athletes must register with NCAA and NAIA eligibility centers, both of which have guidelines for homeschooled students to follow in order to be eligible to be recruited.  Check the guidelines early on and frequently to ensure that the curricula and courses you choose meet the guidelines.

In reality, most college coaches don’t waste their time watching high school athletics; they watch club athletes.  If you are in a good club, you’ll be seen by plenty of coaches.  In general, nonetheless, you need to be proactive about promoting yourself and letting coaches know of your athletic abilities.  With the new rules, they won’t be able to reach out to you until junior year but that doesn’t stop you from reaching out to them every month or two to keep them updated about your activities and accomplishments.  They can keep an eye out for you when they are observing.
It’s essential that athletes train well.  Perhaps you can join an adult team or work out with another team in your club.  You may be able to compete at “open events,” especially for track, cross country, tennis, and swimming events.  Another option, of course, is the local gym.

Maturity & Life Skills

Colleges are reporting a number of characteristics of freshman that are making it difficult for them to be successful.  Each student’s strengths and weaknesses and situations differ from their peers, no matter how they are educated. 

Students need to be able to manage their time well.  The structured life of home and high school is absent on campus.  Students need to be able to prioritize and create routines on their own.

Personal skills like self-care (everything from hygiene to managing stress in healthy ways to managing loneliness and balancing work and relaxation), assertiveness, the ability to ask for help as needed, knowing how to keep safe in various situations and how to avoid risky behaviors are essential.  The ability to create, monitor, and manage a budget is also a necessary “soft” skill on campus.

Students need to develop strong relationship skills in order to resolve conflicts that arise, work collaboratively with peers and professors, and accept constructive criticism.  Students can develop the skills needed to effectively work with others in a number of ways which include participating in team sports, clubs, and other group based extracurricular activities.  Working on service activities/projects and at a job are other opportunities high school students have to develop these skills.

Sometimes, a person needs to lead a project, take charge of a situation, etc.  Many students have not learned how to do that before they arrive on campus.  That deficit makes many facets of adjusting to life on campus quite difficult.

Young people need to know how to carry on a conversation, ask questions, listen actively, and maintain eye contact.  These skills are important when working with professors, dealing with other students in the dorms, on jobs, and during interviews.  An internship in a professional setting is another way students can develop and hone these skills.

Another important skill is the ability to look at problems from a number of perspectives and to solve them in creative ways.  Sometimes there is no pre-determined path to the solution; students need to be able to create one.  Dealing with disappointments and set backs is an aspect of problem solving that students also need to learn to handle successfully.  Experiential learning based courses can help students learn these things.  Activities in unfamiliar settings can help, too, like Cotillion or debate, or anything outside the student’s comfort zone.

Independence/Study Skills

Successful college students need college level study skills.  These include excellent note taking skills, efficient study skills, effective test taking strategies, solid time management skills, and the ability to avoid procrastination.  Be sure that your student knows that effective studying involves notepaper, not a highlighter, and not a computer (at least not as a primary tool).  Being able to participate in class is essential. Proactively seeking answers to questions that linger after class is essential.  It often matters just as much that a student understands how to find an answer as that s/he can give the correct one.  Memorizing the textbook and definitions might be adequate to get good marks in high school; it isn’t at college. 

How to Survive as a Catholic

No matter what college or university you attend, you must choose to incorporate your faith into your life at college.  For the first time, you must motivate yourself to get out of bed and to Mass, alone.  Given the fact that human beings are social creatures, finding a group of peers who will reinforce your best habits (like getting enough sleep, eating well, and practicing your faith) is absolutely essential.  College students must be intentional about forming a group of friends who will support their goals, who share their values, and who will challenge them to become better versions of themselves.  At college, for the first time, you choose your peers.  You’ll have your dorm mates, but you won’t necessarily spend much time with them.  The same holds true for the students in your classes and those with whom you may work.

Choose your college carefully.  I strongly recommend getting a copy of Every Catholic’s Guide to College, The Best 315 US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics from and using it to explore possible campuses.  In addition to information about admissions, academics, and financial aspects of each college, the Guide includes a profile of the Catholic community on campus.  And, only colleges with strong support for Catholic life were included in the Guide.  In July 2018, the 2019 version will be released; it will feature an index of the colleges by the majors they offer.  You’ll be able to find, for example, all the schools that offer a major in economics, or physics, or industrial engineering. 

Remember that you must choose to spend time with people in order to create your inner circle of peers.  The Catholic community on campus is the perfect place to find those people.

More to Come…
In the next installment, I will address financial aid, scholarships, and a few additional skills needed to be successful on today’s college campus

Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS is a Catholic homeschooling mother of six who has homeschooled since 1998.  She is the founder of Celtic College Consultants and has served college bound teens all across the US since 2004.  Students in her 2015 -2018 classes were offered over $237,000 each, on average, in merit scholarships. In 2017, Katherine compiled and released Every Catholic’s Guide to College: The 315 Best US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics, 2018.  It is available on