10 Best & Worst Paying College Majors

Choosing the right college major is one of the most critical steps in the college prep process. There are many factors that students should consider when determining which career path is the best fit … including which career path will lead to their financial well-being.

With that in mind, it can be helpful for college-bound students to think about how much they might expect to earn after graduating. While a potential salary shouldn’t be the only thing students consider, it’s a factor they certainly shouldn’t ignore, either.

Let’s take a look the best and worst paying college majors of 2016 (according to Payscale.com).

Here are the 10 college majors with the LOWEST starting salaries:

1. Early Childhood Education (Starting Salary: $30,300)

2. Child & Family Studies (Starting Salary: $30,900)

3. Child Development (Starting Salary: $31,500)

4. Youth Ministry (Starting Salary: $32,200)

5. Counseling (Starting Salary: $32,300)

6. Early Childhood & Elementary Education (Starting Salary: $32,900)

7. Social Work (Starting Salary: $33,200)

8. Culinary Arts & Culinary Management (Starting Salary: $33,600)

9. Art Teacher Education (Starting Salary: $33,800)

10. Therapeutic Recreation (Starting Salary: $33,800)

Here are the 10 college majors with the HIGHEST starting salaries:

1. Petroleum Engineering (Starting Salary $101,000)

2. Mining Engineering (Starting Salary: $71,500)

3. Chemical Engineering (Starting Salary: $69,500)

4. Computer Science & Engineering (Starting Salary: $69,100)

5. Computer Engineering (Starting Salary: $68,400)

6. Nuclear Engineering (Starting Salary: $68,200)

7. Systems Engineering (Starting Salary: $67,100)

8. Electrical & Computer Engineering (Starting Salary: $67,000)

9. Electrical Engineering (Starting Salary: $66,500)

10. Dental Hygiene (Starting Salary: $65,800)

What do you think? Did any of these surprise you?

Debunking the 3 Biggest College Loan Myths

With the cost of college on the rise, misinformation about college loans is on the rise as well. Understanding the truth about college loans is becoming more important than ever. These common myths should get you thinking …

Myth #1: If a family makes too much money, there is no need to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Reality: The only way to qualify for a loan through the federal government is to complete the FAFSA. If your family is planning to use any federal loans, filing the FAFSA is a must.

Myth #2: Accepting a PLUS Loan is always the safest option for parents.

Reality: Before accepting the PLUS loan, there are several factors to consider.

By qualifying for a PLUS loan, a parent is eligible to receive the full cost of education for their dependent student (minus any other financial assistance received, of course). This fact alone can help alleviate an immense amount of financial stress when a child begins their postsecondary journey. However, there are several other factors to be considered.

First and foremost, there is currently a 6.31% interest rate and a 4.276% loan fee associated with the PLUS loan. Sure, this rate is fixed for the life of the loan, but parents with an excellent credit history must ask themselves if perhaps a private college loan could yield more desirable results? Parents should examine all options before making a commitment, i.e. banks, credit unions, online lenders, etc. Moreover, during the application for a PLUS loan, the government looks only for negative marks on a parents’ credit history. The feasibility that a parent can actually repay the loan is not taken into account. One should utilize online tools, like that offered by studentloans.gov, or seek help from a professional college financial planning firm, like ourselves, in order to determine what amount is safe to borrow.

Myth #3: Since some colleges, especially private institutions, traditionally favor high-income families, it is okay to indicate on the application that you will not be applying for financial aid when in fact you intend to do just the opposite upon acceptance.

Reality: It is never advisable to lie on an application!

After all, both the admissions committee and the financial aid department at the school will play a huge part in determining your child’s future. Making either party angry is a horrible idea. It is perfectly okay to wait until after an acceptance letter has been received, however, to complete your FAFSA. This is assuming that you are paying close attention to the filing deadline. Remember the following two points: (1) don’t lie about your intentions and (2) don’t miss the FAFSA filing deadline. Managing cut-off dates for the FAFSA and different college applications can become extremely taxing on both parents and students. Once again, we recommend seeking professional college planning advice to ease the pain of this process.

Remember … the number one thing to keep in mind is that there is no “cookie cutter” approach that works for everyone. Families who are starting the college planning process should talk to a professional in order to avoid destroying the family finances.

Rural? Urban? What is your ideal campus setting?

Where will you be happiest for four years? An important step in finding your “right-fit” college is figuring out the best campus setting for you.

There are advantages and disadvantages to urban, rural, suburban, and small town campuses. Our goal is to help you determine where you will best fit in and be most successful.

To get started, click here to take our 5-question quiz and let us know your results!

Sophomores and younger, this can be a great starting point as you begin your college research.

Juniors, keep your ideal campus setting in mind as you schedule college visits and narrow down your list.

Last but not least, seniors, this is a factor to consider as you receive acceptance letters and decide where to attend.

Take the quiz now!

Scholarships: Fact vs. Fiction

We get a lot of questions about “outside scholarships” to help pay for college. Will my child get a scholarship because he or she is left handed? Will my child get a scholarship because he or she has allergies? Will my child get a scholarship because he or she is the great-great-grandchild of Abraham Lincoln’s best friend’s niece?

The first two questions are legitimate, and we get those questions multiple times per year. But as ridiculous as the last question may sound, some people seem to think there is a full-tuition scholarship out there for everything, and that this is the best way to pay for college.

At every workshop, Mike talks about the best places to get “free money” for a student’s tuition and room and board. Most people do not realize that the absolute number one place to get scholarship money is not the federal government, not the local YMCA’s yearly scholarship fund, and certainly not the high school’s guidance department. The number one place is from the colleges and universities themselves.

Only 4% of scholarships given out every year come from private sources. This number is surprising to most families, especially when there is a misconception that there are so many scholarships available outside of the colleges and universities. In reality, most of these scholarships pale in comparison to a merit scholarship offer coming directly from a college itself, when the right student applies to the right school.

Our financial aid search tool, part of the student’s Career Cruising account, makes it easier for both students and parents to find private scholarships that they may be eligible for. Each scholarship may require a different essay, a different application, and potentially an additional interview. If families have the time to complete all of this, it may be worth a shot.

However, we stress at Ensphere that finding a student’s “right-fit” college is the process of matching the right student to the right school based on multiple factors. Are you eligible for financial aid? Do your income and assets make you unqualified at most colleges? These are questions that need to be asked when applying to colleges, and it certainly helps to know ahead of time which schools give the best merit aid for certain situations. Most colleges list their scholarships online, but to how many students do they actually give these scholarships? Over 10 years of seeing all kinds of scholarship offers from different schools for all kinds of students gives us the edge in knowing which schools give the best aid, and to which students. Need to fine-tune your family’s college funding plan? Click here to get on our calendar.

Your best bet has been, and will continue to be, to match the student to the right school to get the most scholarship money. The right colleges will give a good offer to the student that matches the profile they want.

Are you as prepared for the future as you think?

Take a moment and think about the expensive things in life. What comes to mind?

  • Cars

  • Houses

  • Vacations and Vacation Homes

  • Technology

What most people forget to acknowledge is the fact that they are either planning to go to college or have a child who wishes to go.

When you prepare to purchase something large like a car or a house, don’t you devise a plan first? You would normally review buying options, build a budget, negotiate, and then chose the best-fit option for your unique position. Why wouldn’t you do the same for college?

College is easily one of the most expensive costs a family will incur, so why don’t you know how to finance it?

At Ensphere, we develop family-specific plans to show our clients not only how to save for college but also how to save on the cost of college. We provide families with an estimated cost of attendance and a tangible plan in writing that illustrates how exactly they will finance their family’s college journey.

Does any of this sound like you? Are you and your family looking to plan for college but don’t know how or where to start? Do you need some peace of mind about your college journey?

Start by talking to one of our team members about your family’s specific situation. Schedule your personal, free, 60-minute consultation today.

4 Tips for Getting GREAT College Recommendation Letters from Teachers

Letters of recommendation are an often-overlooked part of the college application process. Although many students don’t take this step seriously, letters of recommendation can have a significant impact on your admissions chances.

Here are four tips for getting recommendation letters that will wow the admissions committee and give you the best possible chance of getting into your dream school.

Tip #1: Plan ahead!

As with all steps in the college planning journey, preparation is the key to success. Every college has different application requirements, so it’s important to know what you will need.

Make sure you know how many letters are required … and how many of those letters must come from one of your junior-year teachers. Some colleges will specify exactly whom they want to see letters from. Other colleges may be more flexible or may even say that recommendation letters are “optional.” (Remember, when a college says part of the application is “optional,” you still need to do it if you want a good chance of getting in!)

Tip #2: Build relationships with your teachers!

The best letters come from teachers who know and like the student on a more personal level. The more a teacher likes you, the more likely they are to spend time giving the letter a personal touch.

When reading thousands of recommendation letters, it is easy to see which ones are “copy-and-paste” form letters versus ones where the teacher has a lot to say about a student. If you want your teachers to be able to gush about what makes you so special, you have to get to know them.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by simply showing your teachers that you care about their classes. Show up to class prepared every day. Participate, listen, and ask questions. You don’t even need to be the most vocal student in class to build a good relationship with your teacher. If you feel more comfortable asking questions or asking for help one-on-one after class, go for it!

Simple interactions before and after class can also make a big difference. Don’t rush past your teachers in the hallways; smile and say hello! Ask your teachers how their weekends went. Talk to them about your athletic and extracurricular activities. At the end of class, comment on what you learned that day. It’s as easy as saying, “Thanks for the great class! ____________ was helpful/interesting. Have a great day!” It’s just about showing that you are interested and making an effort.

Of course, you will probably connect with some teachers better than others. That’s okay! As long as you’re able to build good relationships with a few teachers, you should have enough options when it comes time to request letters of recommendation.

Tip #3: Ask in advance!

College application season is a very busy time of the year for teachers. Some teachers are asked to write 100 (or more) recommendation letters each year. It’s important to get on your teachers’ lists as early as possible, so as not to delay your admissions decisions.

Many schools have a process where the student makes a formal request online. Still, it is a great idea to talk to your teacher in person about your request, to make sure you are on his or her radar. In fact, I would recommend speaking with your teachers in person during the second half of your junior year, to give them a heads up.

It helps to say something about why you’d like this particular teacher to write you a letter (“I gained a lot from being in your class, and you helped me to grow as a writer/thinker/etc.”). Ask if your teacher would be willing to write a positive letter of recommendation for you as you apply to colleges this year. In almost every case, the teacher will say yes. When your teacher says yes, remember to say thank you!

Tip #4: Say thank you!

When your teacher agrees to write a letter of recommendation for you, you should follow up your conversation with a personal thank you note. Acknowledge your teachers’ busy schedules, and let them know how much you appreciate their help in the college process.

Don’t wait for your teacher to finish the recommendation letter before sending your thank you note. Thanking your teacher right away shows your appreciation, serves as a reminder of your conversation, and helps you to stand out from the other students.

Later in the year, remember to let your teachers know where you’ve been accepted! Teachers love hearing updates from their students. Share your happy news in person, and write another thank you note to let them know how much their time and effort made a difference.

Students, what's your Financial IQ?

In today’s automated and internet-based world, where information is readily available with just a few clicks on a phone or computer, many of us, especially students, are still financially illiterate.

Many teenagers hold part-time jobs and don’t understand the information on their paychecks and W2s or even how to file a tax return. These same students are about to enter college and will be faced with making decisions for themselves on many levels.

Students, are you ready to make basic decisions about money? Here are the basics every college student should know.

How to open and balance a checking account

The basic concept of a checking account is a powerful tool. Students need to understand the basics as well as the fees associated with checking accounts. Is there a minimum balance that needs to be maintained? What are the fees, and what is the cost? Does the account pay interest? Can I get a debit card with my checking account? What are the transaction fees associated with a debit card?

What is a loan?

Many students will have to borrow money to help pay for college. Do you understand the mechanics of a loan? What is the interest rate? Is it a fixed rate over the life of the loan or a variable rate that is tied to some market rate? Is the loan interest compounded? What are my payment options? Interest only? Interest and principle? What is the term of the loan? 10 years? 15 years? 20 years? When do I have to start making loan payments? What happens if I cannot make a payment?

Credit Score

A credit score is the basis of all borrowing in the United States, such as obtaining a credit card, buying a car, obtaining a mortgage, and getting insurance to cover your car, home, or life. A bad credit score will cost money. A great credit score will open doors. It is important! Do you understand that missing loan payments or making late payments can negatively impact your credit score? It is important to understand how to create and maintain a good credit score.

Credit Cards and Debit Cards

Credit cards can get students into a lot of trouble. A credit card is not the same as a debit card. If you are using credit, you are taking out a loan subject to fees, interest, and payment terms. You must make payments on a credit card just like any other loan. For debit cards, there must be money in your checking and savings account that is associated with the debit card.

Savings

Our society is more into spending than savings. How do you prioritize the following each month? Taxes, debt payment, savings, lifestyle? Most people put savings last, when we should be putting savings first. Yes, we have to pay our bills, but shouldn’t we also pay ourselves first? Without adequate savings for emergencies and goals, people resort to credit cards and loans. It is important for every student to get into the habit of saving, whether it is $5 or $50 a month. Learn to focus on needs, not wants.

Compound interest

Einstein said that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. To realize the magic, you need to start saving and investing early. Understanding the power of compound interest is the basis for financial success in later years. The reverse of compounded interest? Increasing debt! You don’t want to be paying interest on interest on credit card debt. You want to be earning interest on interest on your savings.

Understanding gross versus net wages

Many students do not understand that what you will be paid is not what you will receive. There are mandatory deductions from every paycheck, such as social security taxes, federal, state, and local taxes, unemployment insurance, Medicare taxes, health insurance, etc. Before making decisions on borrowing and loan payments, understand what your net wages will be every month. Understand how much of your net wages will have to be allocated to loan payments. Understand how payroll deductions work and what adjustments you can make to maximize net wages.

Budgeting

In order to pay yourself first and use compound interest to your advantage, students will need to understand how to create a budget for themselves. Do not use credit for “wants.” Save first, and then buy. Credit should not be used for short-term wants, such as entertainment, video games, clothing, etc. Credit and loans should be reserved for purchasing something that will have and maintain value over time.

Do Good Grades = Good SAT/ACT Scores?

“As long as you have good grades in school, you don’t need to study in order to do well on the SAT/ACT.”

We’ve heard the above misconception many, many times. And we wish it were the case!

Unfortunately, the SAT and ACT do not match the content of high school courses as closely as you might think. A perfect 4.0 GPA does not guarantee that you’ll achieve high standardized test scores.

I’ve encountered many straight-A students who really struggle with the format and style of questions on the SAT and ACT.

Learning what the SAT considers to be the “right” interpretation of a passage, getting used to the pacing of the ACT, and practicing other test-specific strategies will often feel very different from most students’ academic experiences in high school.

The good news is, practice really does make perfect!

The SAT and ACT are tests that you can study for. Familiarizing yourself with the test structure and most common question types is half the battle. Students need to get comfortable with the kinds of questions they’ll see over and over again and get used to how quickly they need to work through each section of the test.

Over 50% of students end up taking the SAT/ACT more than once.

The students who spend time studying are the ones who see sizable increases in their scores.

Early preparation is key. This is one of the reasons why we encourage students to take both the SAT and ACT in the fall/winter of their junior year. Doing so will leave you enough time to study and retake the test(s) before the end of junior year.

Remember, our free Method Test Prep courses can be accessed through your Career Cruising profile!

8 Steps to Acing the College Admissions Interview

The personal interview is an often misunderstood part of the college admissions process. A good interview, however, can make the difference between getting accepted or rejected by your top school. Typically, interviews take place during the student’s senior year. As with every other piece of the college planning process, it’s important to be prepared!

Does every school require interviews? No. Many of the more competitive private schools will require (or “strongly recommend”) that students participate in admissions interviews, either on campus or with local alumni if you live out of state. This means, if you skip the interview, you most likely will not be accepted. At some schools, the interview is optional—which means you should still elect to participate for the best chance of admission. Other schools do not offer interviews at all. Every school will be slightly different. It’s important to research the schools you’re interested in ahead of time so you understand their policies and requirements.

Read on for some steps you can take for a successful interviewing experience.

1. Do Your Research.

Visit the college’s website before your interview. Make sure to read about the program of study that you’re interested in. Think about what makes this school special. You should be prepared to tell your interviewer why this school is the right fit for you, beyond rankings or the college’s name recognition.

2. Schedule In Advance.

For some schools, you will need to submit an interview request before a certain deadline. Other schools will contact you by phone or email—after you have completed your application—to invite you to interview. Either way, it is a good idea to schedule your interview for the earliest date possible. The sooner you interview, the greater the chance that your interview will be given careful consideration in the decision-making process. Remember, after the interview, your interviewer needs time to write a formal summary and submit it to the school. If you put off the meeting, you run the risk of interviewing too late in the game to really influence the admissions decision.

What if you’re invited to interview on a day that’s not ideal for your schedule? Make it work! Declining an invitation to interview, canceling at the last minute, or even asking to reschedule can signal to the school that you’re not really interested. There’s a good chance your “yes” will turn into a “no.”

3. Dress Neatly.

While you need not show up in formal attire, it is a good idea to wear clothing that is neat and clean. Many schools recommend “business casual” attire for interviews.

4. Practice.

Sit down with a family member or friend, and practice! For many high school students, the college admissions interview is one of their first experiences with this type of conversation. Don’t memorize a script, but practice answering some of the basic questions you can expect to encounter. Be prepared to talk about why you’re interested in attending this particular college, why you’ve chosen your desired major and career path, and how you spend your time outside of school. Practicing ahead of time will help you to calm your nerves and come across more naturally in your interview.

5. Prepare Questions.

Don’t be taken by surprise when your interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” The worst thing you can do is to have zero questions for the interviewer. In fact, it’s a great idea to prepare school-specific questions in advance. You should be ready with questions that are specific to the school you’re interviewing for, whether those questions relate to academics or campus life. This is another reason why it’s important to do your research beforehand. Asking the right questions shows that you’ve put some thought into this particular college.

6. Be Positive.

Try to phrase your responses as positively as possible. Interviewers are looking for enthusiasm and personality. Avoid taking a negative, bitter, or bored tone during the interview. Positivity includes body language! Sit up straight, make eye contact, and smile.

7. Relax.

Take a deep breath, and be yourself! The interviewer is not expecting you to use big vocabulary words or have the “perfect” answer to every question. It’s okay to take your time when answering questions. Interviewers are looking for thoughtful responses that reflect who you are outside of grades and test scores. The best interviews are conversational and authentic.

8. Say Thank You.

After your interview, it’s a great idea to send a handwritten thank you card to your interviewer. Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you, and reference something that you talked about in your conversation to show that you were paying attention. These days, it’s becoming less common for students to send thank you cards after their interviews, so you will impress your interviewer by going the extra distance.

5 Keys to a Successful Financial Aid Season

For high school seniors, financial aid season is upon us. What can your family do to ensure that you stay on top of deadlines, submit all the right information, and get as much financial aid as possible? Follow these five steps to put you and your student on the right path.

1. Make A Timeline

When it comes down to the admissions and financial aid process, nothing is as important as deadlines. Make a timeline that includes every school your student is applying to, along with all of the admission due dates, financial aid requirements, and follow-up schedule. This will guarantee that you miss no deadlines, submit all of the correct forms, and make sure that the school has received all of the information that they have asked for from your family.

For Ensphere families, we will guide you through each step of this process. Our financial aid software lists your deadlines and requirements in one place.

2. Know What the College is Asking For

Many colleges, especially when considering Early Decision applicants, will ask for additional information that your family may not have had to submit with the CSS PROFILE or FAFSA forms. For instance, Cornell has asked for a copy of the parents’ tax return for all Early Decision applicants. It is important to check each college’s website along with our financial aid software to see if your schools have any additional requirements. Again, if you miss a deadline, it could be the other person who submitted their tax returns on time that gets accepted, leaving you on the outside looking in.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

If you aren’t sure whether the financial aid office needs something, ASK! Applying to 8 or more schools can get crazy and confusing. Different schools ask for different kinds of documents and data. If you aren’t sure what the school needs, it is better to be safe than sorry. A 30-second phone call is all it takes to ensure that the correct documents are being sent to the financial aid office.

4. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

There is a reason we tell students to apply to over 8 schools, and it isn’t just to guarantee you are accepted to at least one. It’s all about matching the student to the school that wants him or her the most, and using that financial aid package to increase your leverage against other schools. One school may give a lower offer than expected, but if you have a better offer from another school, you may use that to try and raise the offer from the low-offer school.

5. Hire a Group of Professionals

Hiring a professional who works with high school and college-aged students every day about the financial aid process will pay dividends. Whether it be to help you maintain your timeline of financial aid forms, to answer questions about income or assets a college is asking for, or to help assess different financial aid offers. True college planning firms have the knowledge and experience to maximize your family’s opportunities for receiving financial aid.