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Budgeting: First Car vs. College Tuition

February 27, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

college tuition versus a car

College is a costly but important adventure. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your child about the costs of college as early as middle school. Together you can start researching various ways to finance your child’s degree. One conversation you should have with your child involves options regarding luxury items versus school costs. For example, if your child wants to have his or her own car, he or she might need to take an after-school job or do some work-study while going to college.

Don’t forget to remind your child that there are many ways to pay for college. He or she should primarily learn the concept of budgeting.

A budget is a plan for saving and spending money. Developing a budget is essential for a healthy and happy financial life because it forces one to think about what they really want to have and devise a strategy to get there.

Another important concept of personal finance/economics related to budgeting is the principal of opportunity cost. No one has an unlimited amount of money and therefore one must make choices about how to spend their dollars.

I chose NOT to have a car for almost 10 years and I told my students that I had set a goal to own my own home. The only way I could own a home was by not paying for a car, which I calculated to be about 10 times more expensive than using public transportation. Having a car would cost me the opportunity to own my own home.

This example directly applies to a conversation all parents will likely have with their college-bound students regarding getting that first car or saving for post-secondary school tuition. Crunch the numbers; how much is coming in versus how much is going out.

What is doable given that reality and what is the top priority for the long term? As a family, have this discussion. Keep in mind the budget and the fact that every economic choice will cost an opportunity.

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Finding Scholarships

February 26, 2014

By Judy Razo

Find the tuition maze!

If you have children in grades eight through twelve or in their first three years of college, your child should be applying for scholarships. That’s correct, from the ages of 14 to 21, your child should be applying to about 10 scholarships for every $1,000 of college that you would like paid regardless of how much Financial Aid you think your child will receive.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work and there will be many other things to worry about, like his or her GPA, AP classes, the SAT and ACT, extracurricular activities and even prom. But your child graduating from college with zero or no debt for either one of you will make it all worth it.

So where can you find all of these magical scholarships? You need to dig for them and here’s how:

  • Start local. Many community organizations and local business in the city or town you live in will offer scholarships. Start by asking around at your own place of employment or that of your spouse, friends, and relatives. These may not be huge scholarships but they will be easier to get and small amounts add up in a big way.
  • Go national. Start looking for scholarships from around the country. You can do a simple Internet search for “scholarships” or have your child sign up for scholarship search services such as College Greenlight, BigFuture by College Board, or Fastweb. These services are free and will match your child with scholarships he or she qualifies for, taking some of the legwork out of having to research the scholarships one by one.
  • Go for gold! Cheer on your child’s favorite talents by encouraging him or her to participate in contests and competitions using those talents. There are competitions for many talents such as writing, singing, dancing, sports, and even pageants, to name a few. Many of these contests offer cash prizes or scholarships to the winners—all money that can go toward paying for college.

Encourage your child to apply for smaller scholarships along with large ones. Competition for larger scholarships is a lot steeper than for small ones so the chances of winning a smaller or less known scholarship is greater. However, don’t shy away from big ones like from Coca-Cola or Dell either; you never know what scholarships your child will win unless you try.

Lastly, remember to let your child do most of the work when applying to scholarships but don’t leave it entirely up to him or her. Guide your child through the process, help him or her with research, and always proofread his or her applications. These tactics will help your child learn the process so he or she knows how to apply to scholarships on his or her own once your child has left home for college.

Good luck!

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Translate Your Child's Video Gaming to Coding Skills

February 25, 2014

By Amanda Gebhardt

Two kids smile as they play video games.

Most of our lives and livelihoods are run on code. Our phones, our computers, our tablets, even our cars all run on code.

As coding becomes the language of the future, experts worry that American school children are not learning to code. Women and girls especially are underrepresented in the technology fields and classes. With today’s emphasis on science and technology and making sure that the U.S. produces the next generation of technological leaders, gaming might just be the hook that reels your child into the tech world.

Over the years, after marrying a gamer and becoming a bit of one myself, I’ve grown to love video games and respect the art and craft that go into building such complex systems. In fact, the pure technological know-how that goes into even the most basic video game says a lot for the dedication and passion of those people who have made careers out of gaming.

If your child loves gaming, help steer that love into technical skills like coding and digital animation. Some of the most frequently used programming languages in game development are C++, C#, Java, and Flash. Other languages in high demand with employers are SQL, C, XML, HTML, JavaScript, Perl, and Python.

There are many free online resources out there where children can learn to code. Here are some of the best sites that can teach you and your child the basics of programming:

  • Code Academy. Code Academy offers after-school programming for children that provides an easy way to learn code through interactive and fun activities. 
  • Khan Academy. The learning site has a computer science division with lessons that can teach you and your child how to use the JavaScript language and the ProcessingJS library to create fun drawings and animations. 
  • Code.org. All ages can watch video tutorials on programming starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech superstars, and even play games that will teach them the basics of coding.
  • Grok Learning. It offers, among other things, an introductory course about using Python for people with no programming experience, including high schoolers.

Honestly, I don’t know a lot about coding myself. The Visual Basic class I took in high school taught me about as much coding as my high school Spanish class taught me Spanish (thankfully I learned a bit more Spanish in college). Coders, though, are running the world, and any reason you can find that inspires your child to join their ranks might just be the thing that gets his or her future up and running.

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Final Steps to the College Application Process

February 24, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

A student completes a college application.

With 2014 well underway, many students are completing the final stages of the college application process. I have been receiving daily requests from my senior students for assistance. Here are some of the most important things you can do to help your child cross the finish line and get into college.

Letters of reference

Make sure your student does not leave this step for the last minute. Teachers and counselors have a full plate and it is difficult to fulfill last minute requests to write a great letter of recommendation. Sit down with your child and write a general letter of reference that highlights positive characteristics, academic achievements and extra-curricular activities. This sample letter can then be given to recommenders to guide them and make completion faster.

FAFSA Documents 

W-2 forms are needed to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application will determine how much state and federal aid will be available to defer tuition costs and it operates on a first-come, first-served basis. The money runs out, so it is imperative that your child submits the FAFSA as soon as possible and they need your tax information. Most high schools offer parent-counseling sessions during this time of the year to answer questions and navigate your tax situation.

Interviews

Several students of mine are currently having interviews to make the final determination on a scholarship opportunity or admission to an institution. Interviews can be tough, but there are some simple strategies that can help your child feel more confident about them.

  • Practice, practice, practice. Generally, interviews involve the same kind of questions: Tell me about yourself, why do you want to go to school here? Tell me about a time when you were a leader, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Review these questions with your child and help them refine their answers.
  • Make a good first impression. First impressions also play big role in determining the outcome of an interview. Practice shaking hands with a firm grip and eye contact, get your student there at least 15 minutes early, and make sure he or she is dressed for success.
  • Send a thank you note. A hand-written thank you note, sent after the interview, is also a nice touch that can separate your child from the competition.

College Admission Test Prep 

These tests can produce a lot of anxiety. The best way to have your student feel better about them is to do some research about what specifically will be on the exam. Once that is determined, the student can put in some practice time. This is especially important for admission tests that involve timed essays. Getting the timing right takes rehearsal and repletion. Check with the school counseling office to see if there are any practice tests available so that the format and question types can be reviewed.

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Black History Month Infographic

February 20, 2014

Black History Month infographic part one

Black History Month infographic part 2

Black History Month infographic part 3

Illustration by Leah VanWhy
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