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Gift Idea for Students: the Gift of Saving!

December 11, 2013

By Kevin Rutter

Gift Idea for Students: The Gift of Saving

As a teacher of personal finance I regularly tell my students the most important thing about building a healthy financial life is to save. Expert financial advisors say that 5 to 10 percent of your income is a good number to shoot for, but the more you save, the better. 

There are three basic principals in being successful at saving money:

  1. Pay Yourself First (PYF). This is a strategy to stay disciplined in regularly contributing to a saving plan by paying into it first. Every time a paycheck is earned, take 5 to 10 percent off the top and add it to the savings plan.
  2. Save for the long term. The true power of saving money can only be unleashed when money is saved over a long period of time in an interest-bearing account at a financial institution. Money deposited at a financial institution is also insured by the federal government through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to 250,000 dollars per account. So, the savings cannot be lost or stolen no matter what happens to the bank. 
  3. Start ASAP. The sooner you start to save, the sooner that money will grow. 

This holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to start educating your student on the importance of savings. Use part of any gift money to open up a savings account for your child and encourage relatives who wish to buy something to do the same. 

Additionally, state governments across the country are encouraging parents to save for their children’s college fund by creating special investment opportunities called 529 plans. There are significant tax breaks for those participating in these plans and other benefits depending on which state you live in. In Illinois, the 529 plan is known as Bright Start. For more information about opening this type of account and the benefits of having one, see Bright Start Savings.

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Teach Your College Student to Embrace Diversity

November 11, 2013

By Jessica Vician 

Teach Your College Student to Embrace Diversity

Racial and ethnic diversity is a great strength of American colleges and universities, as young adults are exposed to people from many different backgrounds and learn about other cultures. They will take these lessons with them through school and careers all the way into retirement. However, for some teens, this instant exposure to people from different backgrounds can create a culture clash. 

I grew up in a moderate-sized Indiana town about an hour from Chicago. Despite its close proximity to a large city, my elementary and high schools did not have much diversity, nor did we have a lot of people move to our town from outside the Midwest. 

When I went to college at a large state school, I met a lot of students from another part of the country who happened to associate with a different religion from the one I was raised. I found that many of those students stuck out from the other Midwesterners because they were rude, loud, and unfriendly toward others. At the time, my friends and I associated that behavior with their religion and I failed to realize that my perception of their behavior was merely a culture clash between two very different geographic regions of the United States.

We blamed these students’ religion for their behavior, failing to realize that first, their religion did not make them behave negatively; and second, their behavior wasn’t necessarily rude—they just didn’t express themselves the same way we did. We inappropriately judged a group of people because they acted differently from us. 

I am sharing this story not because I am proud of it—instead I’m terribly ashamed—but so you can learn from my mistake and take the opportunity to teach your teen not only tolerance but to embrace other cultures. When your child returns from school for the Thanksgiving holiday, talk about how he or she is coping with culture clash.

Here are a few talking points:

  • Ask your teen about the different students he or she has met. Where are they from, and what differences have your teen noticed? If your teen seems to dislike certain groups, ask why and try to give him or her a greater perspective about that group or culture. For example, people raised in cities might behave differently than people raised in small towns.
  • If your teen has met someone from a different country, encourage him or her to ask questions about the country’s political system, culture, food, etc. It’s a great opportunity to learn!
  • Remind your teen that exposure to diversity prepares him or her for a future job. Today it’s more common to work for international companies that have their own work ethic and customs. 
  • Talk to your teen about his or her perspective on other cultures. Encouraging a greater perspective fosters self-knowledge, which will help your teen make informed decisions about professional and academic issues.
  • If your teen is part of a minority in college, he or she might feel like an outsider. Suggest that he or she use this cultural distinction as a chance to educate others and engage in discussions about diversity. Part of the college adventure is being exposed to different ideas and ways of life in classrooms, dorms, cafeterias, and in general campus life activities.

Encourage your teen to use the university experience not only to obtain academic knowledge, but also to hone social and cultural skills. Remind him or her that college offers a unique chance to connect with both people with similar mindsets and with those from different backgrounds.

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Helping Your Child Choose a College

November 11, 2013

By Kevin Rutter

Helping Your Child Choose a College

Every year I work to support my students in finding the right college or university for their future studies. The most important thing I try to emphasize is that it is a process. It requires a great deal of planning, determination, and adult encouragement. In other words, we need you!

There are three areas in the college application process that cause the most trouble for students and provide the greatest opportunity for parents to assist.

Personal Statements 
A personal statement is a short and focused essay where a student writes about who he or she is and where he or she wants to be. These statements are often required as part of the application to a college or scholarship to help the selection committee "see" whom the student is. It is a great chance for the student to showcase who he or she is beyond what is shown in his or her transcripts. Writing a good personal statement is also a process that needs plenty of time for thinking, writing, editing, peer review, teacher feedback, more writing, and more revision.

Parents, get your student to write a personal statement when he or she is a junior in high school. Writing about yourself can be very difficult and I often have students who have no idea what to write about. As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to help define your child’s best qualities and provide a story or two where you have seen your child using his or her positive characteristics.

FAFSA 
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the most important part of the college process because it will determine how much grant money will be available to your child. A grant is the amount of money a child can receive toward their educational expenses without having to pay it back. There is a limited amount of government grant money and it operates on a first come, first serve basis. If you submit the application too late, the money will be gone.

Parents, you have a critical role in completing the FAFSA. The forms will require you to provide evidence of your family’s income by using your tax documents, W-2 and 1040 forms. You will be able to submit the FAFSA sooner if you have this information available. All schools offer free services to parents to help prepare these documents, so take advantage of them.

Comparison Shop
Students have no idea about how much things cost and often fall in love with a school or program without regard to the price tag. Shop around! For example, community colleges sometimes offer the same certifications at a very discounted price.

Parents, I need you to help your child look at every option before deciding which school to attend and have a serious discussion with your parenting partner and child about costs. Taking these first steps should help get your child on the right path to choosing a college and financing his or her education.

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