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With planning, juniors can get a jump on their college search

Posted by Leslie Anderson March 21, 2014 11:55 AM

She’s only 15, but Andrea Labonte already has several colleges on her list and knows for sure which ones won’t make it on there.

The Nashoba Regional High School junior from Bolton started looking last year while her sister, now a senior, started the process, and she quickly learned she wants a small school close to home.

She came to that decision not by searching online or browsing through brochures, but by seeing schools in person.

“I don’t like the bigger schools and I was able to figure that out by looking around,’’ she said. “You have to go and look at a school to get a feel. You have to be able to sit in that environment and see if they are the type of people you want to be around. If you can’t picture yourself there, why would you go?’’

While many high school seniors are anxiously awaiting word from their top college picks, juniors and their parents are entering a critical period in the college search process.

Counselors and college admissions officials say now is the time for juniors to start making their lists of contenders, visiting schools, prepping for and taking tests such as the SAT and ACT, identifying teachers for recommendations, and thinking about an essay topic — all while still hitting the books.

“It’s the last year that will be on the transcript that’s sent out to colleges, so it’s really important to keep the grades up and have the best shining year of high school,’’ said Kerran Goff, a guidance counselor at Pembroke High School. “It’s their last opportunity to get their GPA up.’’

Many high schools hold events for juniors and their parents to give an overview of the college search process with experts to help answer frequently asked questions.

At Hopkinton High School, for example, parents, and students could attend an evening of workshops offering advice about writing an essay, tips from a college admissions officer, or information about the military, and gap-year options.

“They need the information,’’ said Evan Bishop, the school’s principal. “This really is the time to sit down and think about post-secondary plans and how we can help them in the process.’’

In addition to the evening session, Hopkinton juniors will also take part in guidance sessions during the school day this spring to help them get started on the essay, and take them through the Naviance online college search program, the process of obtaining letters of recommendation, and writing thank-you notes, Bishop said.

The class will also include a mock admissions exercise in which students take on the role of an admissions officer and are asked to select among applicants and explain why.

During the next few months, guidance counselors will meet individually with every student’s parents to make sure they are working on a plan, whether it’s for college, the military, or something else, Bishop said.

“We make it a priority,’’ Bishop said. “It’s important to build relationships with them.’’

One of the reasons juniors need to get started now is because early action and early decision deadlines are in November, said Martha Savery, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, which provides a wide range of college planning resources for families.

Students looking to meet those November deadlines won’t have time to get everything done if they start in the fall of their senior year, she said.

One of the best ways to get started is to visit as many schools as possible, Savery said.

“In Massachusetts, we have such a great opportunity,’’ she said. “Two hours away in any direction and you can hit any type of campus.’’

Kerri Johnston, associate dean of enrollment and undergraduate director of admissions at University of Massachusetts Lowell, agreed that campus tours are a critical part of the search process. Visitors can talk to current college students, see dorms, and tour the facilities.

“It gives students an opportunity to see first-hand what a college has to offer,’’ Johnston said. “Once you step foot on a campus, you get a feel of the campus and culture.’’

Johnston recommends that even if a student doesn’t think they would like a large school, they should still visit one, just to be sure. She said students should visit schools large and small, near and far, urban and rural, state and private.

“It’s important to look at all types of schools,’’ she said. “They could be pleasantly surprised.’’

She also urged students not to worry if they don’t know where their career is headed. If students don’t have a good idea about what to study, they should choose a school that has more than one major of interest so if they choose to switch, they don’t have to transfer.

“It’s OK to change your major and it’s actually rather common,’’ she said.

And while it can be a stressful time for students and their parents, Johnston said, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With some planning, the process can even be enjoyable, she said.

“This is an exciting time in their lives and if they are organized, it can be a fun and joyful process for the family,’’ Johnston said. “It doesn’t have to be so stressful if they take it step by step. There is a school out there for everyone.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.

MEFA helps seniors "After the Acceptance" with seminars, more

Posted by Leslie Anderson March 20, 2014 03:20 PM

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) is offering a suite of free services through its "After the Acceptance" program to high school seniors who have been accepted to college in order to make the decision process easier, according to a press release.

The program, which runs from mid-March through April, includes free seminars across the Commonwealth starting March 20. At the seminars, MEFA experts will help students and their families understand and analyze the financial aid they've been offered and choose their best financing options. Participants are encouraged to bring copies of financial aid award letters for personal consultations after the seminar. A list of seminar dates and locations, as well as registration, can be found on mefa.org.

Students can also get advice through one-on-one counseling with program experts at MEFA's office, 160 Federal Street, 4th floor, Boston, or over the phone by calling 1-800-449-MEFA (6332). Walk-ins and appointments are both welcome.

Other resources include live webinars on mefa.org in English and Spanish. Families unable to watch a live presentation can visit the website to watch a recording. The website has many other tools, including a College Cost Calculator and a Monthly Payment Calculator.

Students are invited to follow the ongoing college discussion on Twitter by using the hashtag #MEFAATA and by following @MEFAtweets.

After the Acceptance's goal is to ensure families have timely guidance before making enrollment decisions by the May 1 deadline.

“We urge parents and high school seniors to speak directly to a MEFA expert to get the advice and guidance they need to make the important decisions they face," said Thomas Graf, executive director of MEFA. "We want to make it as easy as possible for them to reach us, and we invite them to call us, log in to a webinar, attend a seminar, visit our website or stop by our office for free advice from our experts.”

MEFA was created in 1982 by the state legislature at the request of Massachusetts colleges and universities to make higher education more accessible and affordable for students and families. The extensive community education programs and online resources offered by MEFA provide families guidance on saving, planning and paying for college.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaggieQuick.

Panel highlights cost, testing in college admissions

Posted by Leslie Anderson March 12, 2014 11:09 AM

The importance of standardized tests and tips for planning for the costs of higher education were discussed by a panel of college admissions and financial aid experts at a College Bound Globe Insiders event March 11.

A summary of the panel can be found here. @GlobeEducation live-Tweeted the event.

The panel featured the following speakers:


  • Jennifer C. Desjarlais, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Wellesley College, which recently implemented an online college cost estimator for prospective applicants

  • Andrew Flagel, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment at Brandeis University, who has supervised admissions efforts at both public and private universities for over 25 years

  • Kevin Kelly, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UMass-Amherst, whose office oversees the recruitment and selection process for approximately 40,000 freshman and transfer applications each year

  • Diane Ryan, Director of Guidance 6-12 for the Bedford Public Schools and head of the College and Career Initiative, who guidies juniors and seniors and their families through the application process

  • Martha Savery, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at MEFA, a nonprofit agency that helps students and families make their way through the financial aid process

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaggieQuick.

New SAT: The essay portion to become optional

Posted by Catherine Cloutier March 5, 2014 02:26 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as ‘‘prevaricator’’ and ‘‘sagacious’’ in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

College Board officials said Wednesday the update — the first since 2005 — is needed to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. The test should offer ‘‘worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles,’’ said College Board President David Coleman in remarks prepared for delivery at an event in Austin, Texas.

The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year’s ninth graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will be on a 1,600-point scale, with a separate score for the optional essay.

Students will have the option of taking the test on a computer.

One of the biggest changes is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged guessing, will be eliminated. And some vocabulary words will be replaced with words such as ‘‘synthesis’’ and ‘‘empirical’’ that are used more widely in classrooms and in work settings.

‘‘By changing the exam’s focus, we change the learning and work the SAT invites. Today, many students who are terrified they will be tested on lots of SAT words have one recourse: flashcards,’’ Coleman said. ‘‘Every educator knows flashcards are not the best way to build real word knowledge, but when the SAT rolls around they become the royal road. Students stop reading and start flipping.’’

The essay will be changed in other ways, too. It will measure students’ ability to analyze and explain how an author builds an argument, instead of measuring the coherence of the writing but not the quality or accuracy of the reasoning. It will be up to school districts and colleges the students apply to as to whether the essay will be required.

Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.

A longstanding criticism of the SAT is that students from wealthier households do better on the exam because they can afford expensive test preparation classes.

The College Board seeks to defuse that by saying it will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. It also says every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will receive four fee waivers to apply for college, which continues an effort the College Board has had to assist low-income students.

These are the first SAT upgrades since 2005 when the essay portion was added and analogy questions were removed. There have been other notable changes to the test, such as in 1994 when antonym questions were removed and calculators were allowed for the first time. The test was first used in 1926.

The SAT was taken last year by 1.6 million students. It has historically been more popular on the coasts, while the other popular standardized college entrance exam, the ACT, dominated the central U.S. But the ACT overtook the SAT in overall use in 2012, in part because it is taken by almost every junior in 13 states as part of the states’ testing regimen. Last year, the ACT said it would begin offering computer-based testing in 2015.

Credit unions push student loans

Posted by Leslie Anderson March 3, 2014 05:43 PM

Credit unions are expanding their sale of student loans despite the associated risks, according to a story by Deirdre Fernandes in Monday's Boston Globe.

"Student loans have a default rate of about 12 percent, compared with 4 percent for car loans and 11 percent for credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis," writes Fernandes.

"The entry of credit unions into the private student loan market should provide families with more options, but [students] should first maximize federal loans, which have rates nearly half those of private loans, according to consumer advocates."

The article also notes that credit unions are becoming more invested in student loans at a time when big banks are moving away from them because of their risk.

"Two years ago, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union of Lowell held less than $300,000 in student loans; last year its student loan portfolio topped $12 million ... Minneapolis-based US Bank stopped accepting new student loan applications after 2012."

To learn more about credit unions and student loans, read the full article here.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaggieQuick.

College camps for high schoolers: Questions to ask

Posted by Leslie Anderson February 28, 2014 11:34 AM

Recently, The Washington Post published a story on summer college programs for high school students.

In it, the author, Allison Klein, notes that as college admissions have become more and more competitive, high schoolers have been testing their academic interests and building real-world experience through summer programs offered at schools like New York University, Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard.

High school students can qualify for some of the programs through standardized test scores, and many of the programs cost over $1,000, according to the article. If your child is considering going to a college camp this summer, check out Klein's advice below.

The Washington Post News Service

Eight questions students and parents can ask as they think about applying to summer college programs:

1. Do I have an academic or other interest I'd like to explore with people my age?

2. Am I familiar with the application process and deadline? Many programs are accepting applications now.

3. Do I want a residential program, meaning I live on campus for several weeks? Or would I prefer a commuter option?

4. If it is a residential program, what supervision is offered for the students? Are there chaperones who live with the students?

5. Is the program operated by the university or a private company partnering with the university?

6. Are the instructors professors at the university during the school year?

7. Does the program offer college credit?

8. What is the total cost of the program? This can include tuition, room and board, transportation, books, application fees and other costs. Is financial assistance available?

Regis College and Assumption College work to make master's more affordable

Posted by Leslie Anderson February 27, 2014 02:23 PM

Regis College and Assumption College have joined forces to make a Master of Arts in Heritage Studies more affordable for college students, according to a press release from Regis College.

Through the new partnership, Regis will accept two undergraduate courses in the History baccalaureate degree program at Assumption for credited courses in the Master of Arts in Heritage Studies program. The agreement should save qualified students pursuing the degree around $4,000.

“This agreement provides Assumption undergraduate students an opportunity to benefit from the strengths of two outstanding institutions as they earn a Master’s degree,” said Deborah Kisatsky, chair of the history department at assumption. “Assumption College offers excellent preparation for graduate level work, and Regis has an exceptional graduate program so we are happy to partner with them.”

Regis has similar agreements with other baccalaureate degree programs, but this is the first aimed specifically at humanities and liberal arts students.

“Regis and Assumption are both Catholic institutions of higher education with similar missions and commitment to the liberal arts,” said Dr. Claudia Pouravelis, associate dean of graduate academic affairs at Regis. “Students also gain real world experience through Assumption’s internship and Regis’s field experience, making this a practical as well as a financially favorable arrangement for the student.”

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaggieQuick.

Tuition, living expenses up at Boston-area colleges

Posted by Catherine Cloutier February 25, 2014 04:08 PM

College Bound is hosting a panel on applying to and paying for college on March 11. Click here to attend.

Tuition and living expenses are on the rise at local colleges and universities, with reported hikes of 2 to 4 percent for the 2014-15 academic year.

Here are the cost details reported by Boston.com:


  • The annual cost to study and live at Suffolk University will rise by about 2 percent next fall. Students will pay a total of between $46,742 and $49,392 to cover tuition, fees and room and board next year, depending on which meal plan and dorm room type they have.

  • Berklee College of Music's annual price (including tuition and living expenses) will increase by about 3.5 percent to $56,370 next fall.

  • The annual cost to study and live at Babson College will jump by about 3.4 percent to $59,614 next fall, by about 3.4 percent to $59,614.

  • Tufts University could see the largest hike of 4 percent as academic and living expenses would total $61,100 next fall if a proposed tuition increase is approved by the school's board of trustees.

Other area schools will announce their 2014-15 rates over the next few months.

The most expensive school in Massachusetts is Amherst College, where academic, living, and travel costs can total above $65,000. On-campus students at other local private schools--including Brandeis and Harvard universities, MIT, and Babson, Wellesley and Williams colleges--pay in the mid- to high-$50,000s.

Nationwide, college costs have steadily risen, reported the Associated Press. Tuition and fees at four-year public colleges increased 27 percent in the past five years; private colleges saw a 14 percent hike, found the AP.

School officials cite financial aid as a solution for families struggling with college tuition sticker shock.

“All our undergraduate aid is based on financial need, which assures that our aid goes to needy students who would otherwise not have access to a Tufts education. Last year the average grant for first-year students was almost $36,000," Tufts spokeswoman Kimberly Thurler told Boston.com.

Experts say, however, steep tuition and living prices often deter students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, from applying to colleges.

Reporting by Matt Rocheleau of Boston.com staff was used in this post. For more higher education coverage, follow Boston.com's Your Campus blog.

Boston Globe hosting panel March 11 on getting into, paying for college

Posted by Catherine Cloutier February 25, 2014 03:52 PM

Are you a high school junior starting out your college search this spring? Are you a senior weighing your choices and figuring out how to pay for it all?

Bring your questions to Globe Insiders, where our panelists will discuss their perspectives on the college admissions and financial aid process – and how to find the right fit. Most have been featured in the Globe’s College Bound column.

The panel will take place on Tuesday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. at The Boston Globe at 135 William T. Morrissey Blvd. in Boston. Sign up to attend here.

PANEL:

Jennifer C. Desjarlais is Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Wellesley College, which recently implemented an online college cost estimator for prospective applicants.

Andrew Flagel, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment at Brandeis University, has supervised admissions efforts at both public and private universities for over 25 years.

Kevin Kelly is Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UMass-Amherst. His office oversees the recruitment and selection process for approximately 40,000 freshman and transfer applications each year.

Diane Ryan is Director of Guidance 6-12 for the Bedford Public Schools and is head of the College and Career Initiative, guiding juniors and seniors and their families through the application process.

Martha Savery is Director of Public Affairs and Communications at MEFA, a nonprofit agency that helps students and families make their way through the financial aid process.

MODERATOR:
Leslie Anderson is Regional Editor for the Boston Globe, overseeing its suburban sections and College Bound, a column that provides tips and perspectives on preparing for college.

For more information, visit globetalkscollege.eventbrite.com.

UMass funds fastest-growing category of student financial aid

Posted by Leslie Anderson February 12, 2014 10:52 AM

The following is a press release from the University of Massachusetts.

The University of Massachusetts expects this year to direct $148 million of its own funds toward financial aid for students, primarily in the form of grants, to maintain affordability and access and keep student debt manageable, UMass President Robert L. Caret said today.

Institutional aid to UMass student is the fastest-growing category of financial aid, rising 7 percent over last year and 178 percent in the last decade, from $53 million in Fiscal Year 2004 to the estimated $148 million in Fiscal Year 2014. State and other sources of financial aid have remained relatively flat, according to a report provided to the UMass Board of Trustees’ Committee on Administration and Finance.

"More and more students need help paying for college, and we are committed to helping them so that the doors of opportunity remain open on all five of our campuses," President Caret said. "I commend the chancellors for working to ensure that students with financial need get the assistance they need. It is critically important that we keep UMass affordable and not burden students with unmanageable college debt."

Overall, UMass students borrowed or were awarded a record high $728.3 million in all forms of financial aid this year, more than double the $346 million in Fiscal Year 2005 and up 2 percent from Fiscal Year 2013. The University and the federal government are the two largest sources of aid for UMass students, constituting 74 percent of total aid awarded.

University finance officials say the need for financial aid is growing, with more in-state undergraduates applying for financial aid and more being eligible for it. They said that, going forward, the challenge for the University would be finding ways to increase financial aid at the rate that the need for it is growing.

Among other findings of the financial aid report:

  • -34,829 students applied for financial aid, an increase of 3 percent from 2013.
  • -98 percent of students with need receive some type of need-based financial aid.
  • -UMass continues to be affordable compared to other public and private universities in Massachusetts. In Fiscal Year 2013, the average cost of attendance was $25,855 at UMass, compared to $27,274 at other public colleges. The average cost to attend a private university was more than $58,000.
  • -74 percent of UMass undergraduates will graduate with an average of $29,406 in college debt in Fiscal Year 2014, compared to 72 percent who graduated with average debt of $27,448 in Fiscal Year 2011.

UMass was able to freeze tuition and mandatory fees for the current academic year for in-state undergraduate students as a result of a $40 million state funding increase—the largest increase in the University's history. UMass is seeking a similar increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and has said that a comparable increase would bring about a second tuition-and-fee freeze.

Mass. ranks 4th in Advanced Placement exam scores

Posted by Catherine Cloutier February 11, 2014 09:53 AM

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of 2013 public high school graduates who scored 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams.

Advanced Placement exams are scored on a 5-point scale with 3 indicating a student is considered qualified of doing the work of an introductory-level course in a particular subject at college.

According to a new report by the College Board, which administers the test, nearly 28 percent of Massachusetts 2013 high school graduates scored 3 or higher — up from nearly 17 percent in 2003.

That places Massachusetts behind Maryland, which ranked first, followed by Connecticut and Virginia.

Nationally, about 20 percent of 2013 public high school graduates scored a 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement Exam.

Some colleges and universities grant credit for scores of 3, 4 or 5.

Report points to untapped students interested in STEM fields

Posted by Leslie Anderson February 6, 2014 04:23 PM

A new report from ACT, the makers of the ACT college entrance exam, suggests that there is a gap between the number of students who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and those who plan to pursue a STEM career.

The report, The Condition of STEM 2013, found that nearly one out of every 10 ACT-tested 2013 graduates who preferred work tasks associated with STEM careers had no plans to pursue a STEM major or career. A total 48 percent of those tested either intended to pursue a STEM major or occupation, or preferred work tasks associated with STEM jobs.

“The good news is that student interest in STEM is high overall,” said Jon Erickson, ACT president of education and career solutions. “The bad news is that a sizable number of students may not be connecting the dots between their innate interests and a potential STEM-related career.”

The findings come after President Barack Obama emphasized the need to train more Americans for STEM jobs in his State of the Union address last month. Reports from the Bayer Corporation’s Facts of Science Education survey and Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology have also suggested that there is—and will continue to be—a shortage of qualified STEM professionals if current trends continue.

“The findings in this new report are supported by those in our recent College Choice Report, which showed that a surprising number of students are planning to pursue majors or careers that don’t match their interests,” said Wayne Camara, ACT senior vice president of research. “If we encourage young students who are interested in STEM to consider related careers, I believe both they and U.S. employers will benefit.”

More than half of the top 50 jobs in U.S. News & World Report's 100 Best Jobs of 2014 are STEM-related.

The ACT report also found a gap in STEM interest and preparation. Of the 2013 ACT-tested graduates who intended to pursue STEM majors and careers, around half were not prepared to succeed in first-year math or science college coursework. Counterparts who also preferred STEM-related tasks were better prepared than those who did not.

“Early assessment and intervention are extremely important in helping students get on track for college and career success, and that’s particularly true in the areas of math and science, where so many of our students are falling behind,” said Erickson. “If we can identify students earlier and then keep them engaged, they may be more likely to choose a STEM career.”

Previous ACT research has shown that when students chose majors that align with their interests, they are more likely to remain in their major, stay in school, and finish in a timely manner.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com.

Lawmaker says colleges are misleading on aid requirements

Posted by Leslie Anderson February 4, 2014 11:44 AM

New York Times Syndicate

Many top colleges are misleading applicants about the paperwork needed to seek financial aid, possibly violating federal law and costing students extra money, a congressman said Monday.

The Department of Education said it was reviewing the allegations by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, based on an investigation by committee staff members.

Under federal law, college students need to fill out just one form to apply for several kinds of aid from the federal government, including Pell grants and loans: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. Before granting aid from their own coffers, hundreds of colleges require both FAFSA and a form created by the College Board, called the CSS/Financial Aid Profile.

The College Board’s form is much more complex than FAFSA, and unlike the FAFSA, it is not free, carrying a $25 fee for the first college a student sends it to and $16 for each additional one, though the fee can be waived for low-income families.

The problem, Cummings said, is that the instructions on many colleges’ websites give the incorrect impression that both forms are required for federal aid. In a letter released Monday, he asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan for help in making sure that colleges “are not creating improper and unnecessary barriers to the federal assistance that is so critical to enabling students to pursue their academic and professional dreams.”

Bucknell University’s site says of the College Board profile, “This form must be filed if you would like to apply for need-based aid,” without explaining that in fact, federal aid relies strictly on FAFSA.

Hamilton College’s website lists the Feb. 15 deadlines for submitting both FAFSA and the College Board profile, and tells prospective students, “You must meet the deadlines in order to receive full consideration for financial aid.”

Andy Hirsch, a Bucknell spokesman, said the university would change the wording it uses in response to the complaint.

“We do not intend for our language to suggest that the CSS form is required by the federal government,” he said.

In all, the committee staff identified 111 schools whose instructions were misleading, Cummings said, including many of the top schools in the country, like Duke, Stanford, Notre Dame and every member of the Ivy League except Princeton. It also singled out the University of Southern California and Bard College as schools that clearly explain the distinctions between the two applications, and different sources of aid.

Saving for college a top priority for most Mass. families, study says

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 30, 2014 12:55 PM

Eighty-three percent of Massachusetts parents cite saving for college as one of their top three savings priorities for 2014, according to the 2014 College Resolutions Study conducted by Fidelity Investments and the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA).

The study, which explored New Year's resolutions and college savings plans, was conducted online for a week in December 2013 among 301 Massachusetts adults who had children under 18 and had started saving for college. It found that 84 percent of Massachusetts families plan to save at least as much for college as they did last year, with 48 percent of those planning to save more.

The study also found that 50 percent of families saving for college have a financial plan in place to reach their 2014 savings goals. Survey respondents' plans included a range of strategies. Seventy-eight percent of the study's participants said they would be saving monthly; 26 percent said they would save part of their 2013 tax refund; and 20 percent said they would set aside a portion of a bonus or raise.

strategies.jpg
Provided by Fidelity Investments

Thirty-four percent said they would be setting aside a portion of their children's monetary gifts for college. This is in line with another finding—almost a third of parents expect monetary gifts from family and friends to cover nearly a quarter (23 percent) of college costs. Currently, 44 percent of Massachusetts parents receive contributions to their children's college savings from friends and family. Thirty-eight percent of grandparents are contributing to savings funds.

contributors.jpg
Provided by Fidelity Investments

In the high-stakes game of college costs, 32 percent of parents feel that not having enough income is still a barrier to saving more for college, while 22 percent are concerned with paying down existing debt while trying to save.

Parents are also planning to talk more with their children about the costs of college and how they can contribute, researching scholarships and financial aid, and talking to experts.

High school grades matter most in college admissions, report reveals

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 29, 2014 12:09 PM

A student’s high school record is the most important factor in college admission decisions, according to survey results released Thursday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Data in the 11th annual edition of NACAC’s “State of College Admission” report show that students’ grades and the academic rigor of their course loads weigh more heavily in decisions to admit than standardized test scores, high school class rank, or demonstrated interest in attending, the association said in a release.

“The results show that getting good grades in challenging courses is what college admissions offices value most,” said Joyce E. Smith, NACAC’s chief executive officer. “This is valuable news for college-bound students and their families.”

The report also suggests that that U.S. post-secondary institutions are less able to predict enrollment trends today than they were 10 years ago, as shown by declining “yield rates” -- the number of accepted applicants that ultimately decide to attend a college -- as well as the increasing numbers of students placed on wait lists.

The report says that other trends, including a slight decline in the number of applications submitted per student, may indicate that colleges are starting to reach a new equilibrium in the application and admission process.

Among other significant findings in the 2013 “State of College Admission,” the data showed overall higher education enrollment declined for the first time since 1995. Declines in enrollment at for-profit colleges and two-year public colleges drove this trend, while enrollment at public and private, non-profit colleges continued to grow.

Based in Arlington, VA, NACAC is an association of more than 13,000 secondary school counselors, independent counselors, college admission and financial aid officers, enrollment managers, and organizations that work with students as they make the transition from high school to post-secondary education.

Female athletes commit to colleges. Next stop: 9th grade

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 27, 2014 11:25 AM

New York Times Syndicate

Sanford, Fla. — Before Haley Berg was done with middle school, she had the numbers for 16 college soccer coaches programmed into the iPhone she protected with a Justin Bieber case.

She was all of 14, but Haley was already weighing offers to attend the University of Colorado, Texas A&M and the University of Texas, free of charge.

Haley is not a once-in-a-generation talent like LeBron James. She just happens to be a very good soccer player, and that is now valuable enough to set off a frenzy among college coaches, even when — or especially when — the athlete in question has not attended a day of high school. For Haley, the process ended last summer, a few weeks before ninth grade began, when she called the coach at Texas to accept her offer of a scholarship four years later.

“When I started in seventh grade, I didn’t think they would talk to me that early,” Haley, now 15, said after a tournament late last month in Central Florida, where Texas coaches showed up to watch the her juke past defenders, blond ponytail bouncing behind.

“Even the coaches told me, ‘Wow, we’re recruiting an eighth-grader,’” she said.

In today’s sports world, students are offered full scholarships before they have taken their first College Boards, or even the Preliminary SAT exams. Coaches at colleges large and small flock to watch 13- and 14-year-old girls who they hope will fill out their future rosters. This is happening despite NCAA rules that appear to prohibit it.

FULL ENTRY

Tips for filling out the FAFSA

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 22, 2014 06:59 PM

Here are some tips for filling out the FASA:

-- Students must fill out a FAFSA to be eligible for state or federal aid or federal loans

-- Sign up for the PIN (electronic signature first at www.pin.ed.gov)

-- High school seniors should fill out the form dated 2014-15

-- Fill it out online

-- Don’t leave a question blank; enter “0” if necessary

-- Know the filing deadlines for all colleges

-- Have all documents ready

-- Don’t use nicknames; the name used must match the name on the social security card

-- Make sure you list an email contact that is checked often

-- Students must reapply each year

Visit www.mefa.org, www.fafsa.gov, and www.fafsaday.org for more links and resources including webinars, worksheets that include sample questions, blogs, checklists, an “ask an expert’’ tool and frequently asked questions. Questions include information about assets, divorced parents, and taxes.

The Federal Student Financial Aid Information Center has customer service representatives available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. They are available for live chats or by phone at 800-433-3243. MEFA representatives are available by phone from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday at 800-449-6332.

Source: MEFA and fafsa.gov

-- By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts

Where to go, what to bring for FAFSA Day

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 22, 2014 06:48 PM

FAFSA Day events will be held in January and February throughout the state to help familes will out the free federal financial aid form. Families can attend any location.

Parents and students should each bring:

FAFSA pin (The pin serves as an electronic signature. Sign up at www.pin.ed.gov.)
Social security number
Driver’s license number
Most recent federal tax return
Most recent W-2 or year-end pay stub
Untaxed income records
Bank statements
Business and investment records
Alien registration card if not a U.S. citizen

Here is a list of FAFSA Day events:

Amesbury High School, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Burlington High School, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Malden High School, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Middlesex Community College, Lowell, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Northern Essex Community College, Lawrence, Feb. 23, 1 p.m.
North Shore Community College, Lynn, Feb. 23, 1 p.m.
Northeast Metro Tech High School, Wakefield, Jan. 22, 6 p.m.
Somerville High School, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Blackstone Valley Vocational Regional School District, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Dean College, Franklin, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Framingham High School, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Marlborough High School, Jan. 23, 6:30 p.m.
Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m.
Bristol Community College, Fall River, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Dean College, Franklin, Jan. 26, 1 p.m.
Fisher College, North Attleboro, Jan. 25, 1 p.m.
Massasoit Community College, Brockton, Feb. 10, 6:30 p.m.

Source: MEFA, Fafsaday,org

-- Jennifer Fenn Lefferts

Now the hard part: Applying for college financial aid

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 22, 2014 06:11 PM

Seventeen-year-old Megan Grossi of Malden has filled out her college applications, applied early, and received acceptance letters from all four schools. And now the hard part — figuring out how to pay for it all.

Grossi, a senior at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, has received a commitment for an academic scholarship at her top choice, and is scouring for local and national scholarships.

Up next, she said, is filing the dreaded financial aid form that all students must complete to be considered for any federal aid such as grants, scholarships, loans, and work study. This year’s version of the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid was made available Jan. 1.

“Finances are huge for us,’’ said her mother, Carol Ann Desiderio-Grossi. “That’s why she applied to schools she really wanted and also state colleges. We aren’t quite sure how the finances are going to work out.’’

Grossi’s top choice, Ohio Wesleyan University, has already offered her a scholarship covering 60 percent of the $51,000 annual cost. Desiderio-Grossi said while the aid sounds like a lot, it still leaves a gap of nearly $100,000 over four years.

That’s why they will be among the many families filling out the FAFSA over the next few weeks.

Martha Savery, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, said all families should take the time to fill out the FAFSA even if they don’t think they will qualify. Not only could a family’s financial situation change, she said, but the form is necessary for federal student loans, which are available to any student regardless of need. And it’s free.

“We always recommend that a family take the time to file a FAFSA,’’ Savery said. “It’s not to say it’s a breeze, but it’s not as difficult as some people believe it is once they get into the process.’’

Like college applications, deadlines for applying for financial aid vary from school to school, officials said, which means families must take careful note of the earliest date by which the form must be filed.

“Families really need to be on the ball to start the process,’’ said Savery.

Deadlines typically range from mid-January to March.

The other key is having all paperwork together before starting the process, Savery said. To start the form, families will need a FAFSA PIN, which serves as an electronic signature. This is available at www.pin.ed.gov. Parents and students will need to have Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, their most recent federal tax returns, the most recent W-2 or year-end pay stubs, untaxed income records, bank statements, and business and investment records.

“Being organized and having all the information there is really what makes it a simpler process,” Savery said.

She said it takes most families about an hour to complete the form if they have all their records together.

Savery said there are many resources available to help students and parents prepare and file the form.

In addition to resources online at www.mefa.org and www.fafsa.gov, families can receive personal assistance from financial aid experts at upcoming events organized by the state agency.

The resources help families answer questions about a variety of topics including assets, what records are needed, and how to link updated tax information. There are also answers to complicated family situations such as divorce, noncitizens, and emancipated minors.

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority helps organize FAFSA Day Massachusetts, a volunteer program in its 10th year providing free assistance to students and families seeking to complete the form. More than 20 FAFSA Day events will be held throughout the state, most on this Sunday or on Feb. 23, though the dates and times vary by location. A list of all locations is available at www.fafsaday.org.

“It’s scary for families, but the more they know and can learn about the process, the easier it becomes,’’ said Mary Beth Courtright, the director of financial aid at Massasoit Community College in Brockton. “The folks that help out are all there because they want to be there. They want to help families through the process and make it as easy as possible.’’

Massasoit will host a FAFSA Day event on Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m. This is the second year Massasoit has hosted the event, which was previously held at Brockton High School. About 200 parents and students typically attend, Courtright said.

Elizabeth Hennessy, the director of counseling at Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Upton, said families can walk into a FAFSA Day event not knowing where to start and leave having the form completed and filed. “It’s really streamlined,’’ Hennessy she said.

“We have lots of volunteers because it takes an army. We have students move people around the building and triage them based on their need.’’

Blackstone Valley’s event will be held Sunday at 1 p.m.

When families arrive, they will be asked questions such as whether they need an interpreter, have they started the form, or do they just have a few questions. Families just starting will get a brief overview and then can sit down at a computer and complete the entire form. If they want to finish later, they can save the information, Hennessy said.

Families with a question or two can go to FAFSA Express, where they meet individually with experts and leave when they are ready. Hennessy said the financial experts come from all over the state, which means families don’t need to worry about sharing personal information with people they know in their community.

“You can walk in with nothing done and leave with it done,’’ she said. “The thing that families like is that it’s free, they get access to financial aid experts, and it doesn’t leave that day. You can leave with resources so you can continue on.’’

Once families get a confirmation that the form has been completed, they will wait to hear from the colleges about award letters, which typically arrive in March, Savery said.

Until then, families like Grossi’s will search for ways to help pay for the hefty bills that start next year.

Desiderio-Grossi said between savings, loans, scholarships, and financial aid, she hopes to have enough money so her daughter can attend her dream school.

“It’s like putting together a puzzle,’’ Desiderio-Grossi said. “You piece it together until you get the whole picture. Once the FAFSA comes through, then we’ll know where we really are.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

Chat: Ask your financial aid questions

Posted by Catherine Cloutier January 22, 2014 11:16 AM

The college applications have been sent out. The early acceptances received. Now the daunting question looms: How will I pay for this?

Martha Savery, director of public affairs and communications of the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA), and Meredith Barnhart, MEFA's manager of community outreach, will take your financial aid questions on Thursday at noon.

Join us during the live chat or submit your questions via email.

 

UMass student trustees urge second year of 50-50 funding

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 16, 2014 10:28 AM

The five student trustees of the University of Massachusetts system are urging state government leaders to approve a funding increase for the upcoming fiscal year that would complete the two-year 50-50 funding cycle currently under way, according to a press release from UMass.

"This action would have the effect of increasing state funding for the five campuses of the UMass system by $100 million over two fiscal years, which would be a landmark accomplishment and allow the University of Massachusetts to continue to provide high-quality academic programs and unrivaled opportunity to the citizens of the Commonwealth," the trustees said of the proposed full funding of the 50-50 cycle.

The term "50-50" refers to a balance in funding where students and the state provide equal shares of funding for the University's education programs. In 2012-2013, students and their families provided 57 percent of the funding via tuition and fees, with the state providing the remaining 43 percent. The goal is to return to a 50-50 split next year.

UMass is receiving $479 million in state funding during 2013-2014 as a result of a $40 million funding increase—the largest increase in the University’s history. President Robert L. Caret had pushed for the increase to address the student-state funding imbalance, allow for a tuition and mandatory fee freeze for in-state undergraduate students, and end an era of flat funding for UMass.

The University is seeking $519 million in state funding for the fiscal year that begins on July 1—a sum that would advance the University’s quest for student-state funding parity and allow for tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduate students to be frozen for a second consecutive year.

The trustees, who are elected to represent the 72,000 students enrolled in UMass' five campuses, issued their statement today as the Fiscal Year 2015 budget process is about to begin on Beacon Hill. Governor Deval Patrick is expected to unveil his budget proposal next week.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com.

Citizens Bank introduces refinance loan for student loan borrowers

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 14, 2014 03:17 PM

There is good news for college students who live in fear of the "L" word—loans.

Citizens Bank on Tuesday introduced the Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan, an option for students looking to refinance their private student loan debt, according to a press release from the bank.

Designed to help simplify private student loan payments, the loan enables borrowers to refinance or consolidate their private student loans at a competitive rate with flexible repayment terms.

“Private student loan borrowers have historically had a limited number of refinancing options available to them,” said Brendan Coughlin, Head of Education and Auto Finance for RBS Citizens Financial Group. “After graduation, many students successfully build their credit and are off to a promising start to their career, and they deserve more flexibility regarding their student loans."

The refinance loan provides private student loan borrowers with the benefits of a single monthly loan payment, the opportunity to go from a variable to a fixed rate, and potentially a lower interest rate or monthly payment.

The loan offers interest rates as low as 2.82 percent. There are no application, origination or disbursement fees. Refinancing is available with either a fixed or variable rate.

Detailed information on qualifications required for the loan is available on the Citizens Bank website.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has urged the creation of a market for the refinancing of private student loans to help make student debt more manageable, and officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have warned that rising student-loan debt impacts consumer spending and fuel economic growth.

This is not the only program Citizens Bank has in place to help students. Its other resources include decision-making guides, loan estimators, and the TruFit Student Loan for undergraduate and graduate students.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com.

Gap year gives students - and parents - time to pause

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 13, 2014 04:23 PM

The high school graduates who take a gap year before going to college may be better off than their peers, according to an opinion column in Monday's Boston Globe.

Choosing to forgo school for a year can be intimidating as students worry about falling behind their friends and the possibility of tuition raises. But taking a year off to travel, volunteer, or work can help young adults find themselves and their academic interests.

An extra year can also give families time to sort out finances, Jennifer Graham argues in her column.

Those who take the leap will be able to hit the ground running when move-in day eventually arrives, rather than worry about spending a year’s worth of time and money “Undecided.”

Graham's own daughter took a gap year.

"Predictably, the eyebrows arched ever so slightly when I told family and friends she was not enrolling in college, but taking a year off from studying — first to earn money, and then to spend it in Europe. And in the fall, there were days she’d have rather been sitting in Psych 101 than working double shifts at Olive Garden," Graham writes.

"But in a week, she’s headed to Europe, possessed of a new backpack and a three-month rail pass, while her friends, many of whom have yet to declare majors, endure another semester of escalating student-loan debt and “Ferris Bueller”-like soliloquies of dubious worth."

Read the full column here.

Rating system could change funding for US higher ed, Fitch Ratings says

Posted by Leslie Anderson January 7, 2014 10:59 AM

If the proposed Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS) becomes linked to federal financial aid packages, support for some colleges could rise and others could fall depending upon how institutions operate in a more metric-driven environment, Fitch Ratings says.

Fitch’s 2014 Outlook for the Higher Education Sector noted that PIRS would likely incorporate graduation and job placement rates as a measure of an individual institution’s success and effectiveness. PIRS will also measure access and affordability of colleges and universities to ascertain the relative value of an institution. Should a college or university prove unable to achieve acceptable benchmarks within PIRS, financial aid allocations could decline which could weaken demand and consequently, retention, and graduation rates.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education issued a request for information on PIRS’s metrics, data collection, weighting and scoring, and presentation frameworks. The notice reiterated President Barack Obama’s intent to propose allocating financial aid based on this evaluation technique by 2018. The system is slated to be put into place by the 2015-2016 academic year.

Over the shorter run, Fitch believes this request for information could add further descriptive and measurable factors to PIRS.

Student debt burdens often heaviest at small private colleges, study finds

Posted by Catherine Cloutier January 6, 2014 04:30 PM

Massachusetts college students graduated with average debt of more than $28,000, the 12th-highest in the country, according to a report by the research and advocacy group Institute for College Access & Success, The Boston Globe reported Monday.

Loan burdens proved to be heavier at small private institutions, such as Wheelock College, Anna Maria College, Becker College, and Curry College. These schools saw average student debts of more than $40,000, while larger private universities with higher endowments--Harvard University, Amherst College, and Boston College, to name a few--were able to offer sizable scholarship grants to disadvantaged students.

Officials at smaller private schools told the Globe they attract many students from "less wealthy backgrounds, who even with generous financial aid packages must borrow money."

The report relied on debt figures provided by colleges, and more than half of all public and nonprofit private schools responded.

Globe subscribers can read more about the study here.

Compare student debt at local colleges in this graphic:

06debt.jpg

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