5 Steps to Choosing the Right College

How to choose the right college:

Consider priorities, focus on goals and enjoy the journey.

Acceptance letters are rolling in and choosing a college is about more than the name on the diploma. Where a student goes to school touches numerous aspects of his or her life, from academic studies to social activities and beyond. Considering the importance of this decision, prospective students should think carefully about where they decide to enroll when looking over their options. Accepted to several of your top-choice colleges? That’s an enviable position to be in – though it might not feel like it.

Follow these 5 steps to help you make a college decision.

1. Develop your short list.

  • A lot of thought should go into developing a short list of schools you would like to attend. But what kind of factors should drive your thinking when crafting that list? Brennan Barnard and Rick Clark, authors of “The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together,” urge students to think about location, enrollment size, majors and programs, the people on campus, opportunities outside of the classroom, cost and selectivity.

2. Rank your priorities.

  • Carefully consider your wants and needs when thinking about where you’ll spend the next four years or longer. One way to do this, write Barnard and Clark, is to create a list of those wants and needs.

3. Don’t procrastinate.

  • Experts suggest getting started on the application process by the start of your senior year in high school. And plan plenty of time for college visits, taking standardized tests, writing essays and asking for letters of recommendation.

4. Go back to schools.

  • While you should have gotten a feel for campus life during initial college tours, take another trip to each school and ask 10 to 15 detailed questions, says Bob Roth, author of several books on college success.

5. Focus on your endgame.

  • Ask yourself where you want to be in four years. If you can pinpoint a reasonable job and financial outlook, consider which college might best help you reach those goals.

Why Federal Student Loan Exit Counseling Matters

LIFE AFTER COLLEGE CAN be a challenging period full of changes. If you have federal student loans, they will enter repayment six months after you leave school or drop below half-time enrollment, and that can be a big transition both financially and personally.

Further complicating matters, many student loan borrowers realize near the end of their education journey that they have forgotten the information needed to manage student loans in repayment, especially borrowers who started their education four or more years ago.

That’s where federal student loan exit counseling comes in. You likely learned a lot during your entrance counseling at the start of your education journey when you accepted federal student loans, but you may have forgotten some of that knowledge along the way. Exit counseling can be a great refresher of some key things you need to know to repay your student loans.

Exit counseling is required for all federal student loan borrowers. Borrowers who received a subsidized, unsubsidized or PLUS loan under the direct loan program must complete exit counseling when they drop below half-time enrollment, leave school or graduate. Private student loan borrowers with no federal loans are not required to complete federal student loan exit counseling but may be required to complete a similar program offered by their lender.

Exit counseling is provided online and typically takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. Like entrance counseling, exit counseling topics include the following: Understand Your Loans, Plan to Repay, Avoid Default and Make Finances a Priority.

With so many competing demands on your time, it can be tempting to view student loan exit counseling as just one more item on your to-do list and rush through the session as quickly as possible. But the information it provides can help prepare you to repay your federal student loans, so you should slow down and be sure you absorb it.

Federal student loan exit counseling is worth your time because it can help you:

  • Learn key terms and vocabulary.
  • Understand your loan repayment terms and plan options.
  • Learn how to avoid default.
  • Get financial planning tips.

Learn Key Terms and Vocabulary

Learning how to manage student loan repayment can sometimes feel like speaking a foreign language. There are so many terms that may feel unfamiliar, especially if a student loan is your first financial product. Overlooking an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the related terminology can lead to confusion and frustration down the road, especially if you wait until you need to troubleshoot a problem.

Exit counseling is a chance to brush up on key student loan-related terms and financial vocabulary – like endorser, forbearance and annual percentage rate – that you likely encountered during entrance counseling but may have forgotten. For quick reference, the Federal Student Aid website also maintains a glossary of these terms that you can refer back to later.

Understand Your Loan Repayment Terms and Plan Options

Navigating federal student loan repayment can be complicated. Beyond the standard 10-year repayment plan, the federal student loan program features several additional repayment plans that you can choose from, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each when making your selection.

Student loan exit counseling is your opportunity to learn more about these repayment plans and select one that is aligned with your goals. For example, standard repayment is the fastest and most cost-effective way to repay your student loans. Depending on your financial situation, however, you might find that a plan with a smaller monthly payment initially that grows over time as your salary likely increases – known as graduated repayment – is a better fit.

You can take advantage of the opportunity to choose the best repayment plan for yourself by spending some time with the U.S. Department of Education’s online Loan Simulator repayment calculator, which allows you to estimate your monthly payments on each plan.

Learn How to Avoid Default

Exit counseling is also a good time to learn about the options that are available to you as a federal student loan borrower if you ever experience financial hardship that affects your ability to repay your student loans. It’s important to be aware now of the tools in your toolbox so that you can be proactive and address any problems as they arise.[ 

READ: Student Loan Default: What to Know. ]

Fortunately, the federal student loan program offers many options for struggling borrowers, from pausing payments to lowering monthly payment amounts based on your income. Being aware of these tools and using them as needed can help you avoid going into delinquency and then default, which can damage your credit score and affect your future ability to borrow.

Get Financial Planning Tips

Student loan exit counseling can also help you with your personal finances because it covers financial planning and goal setting. It includes tools to help you think about income taxes and how to access tax incentives for student loan repayment, as well as prompts related to building credit and strengthening your credit score.

Following these tips can get you off to a good start repaying your student loans and put you on a path to a healthy financial future.
10 Big Student Loan MistakesView All 12 Slides

Meghan Lustig, Contributor

Meghan Lustig is the manager of government affairs and member services for Education Finance   READ MORE

Tags: student loansdebtpaying for collegeeducation


Student Loan Ranger helps prospective and current students and recent graduates make sense of borrowing options, student debt and loan repayment. Previously authored by the Financial Counseling Association of America, National Foundation for Credit Counseling and American Student Assistance, the blog is currently authored by Education Finance Council, a national trade association representing nonprofit and state-based higher education finance organizations. EFC’s member organizations have helped more than 2.5 million families plan and pay for college.

Article by: Meghan Lustig, U.S. News Contributor

Meghan Lustig is the manager of government affairs and member services for Education Finance.

The Elite.

While the national acceptance rate is much higher, the average at these highly selective colleges was 7%, per U.S. News data.

Getting into a dream college can be a tough task, particularly if it receives an abundance of applications. Some schools are highly exclusive, accepting only a small percentage of applicants. Among the most selective colleges ranked by U.S. News, the fall 2018 acceptance rates range from 4% to 8% at these 13 institutions, including ties.

While applicants to these 13 schools face long-shot odds for acceptance, that isn’t true at the majority of schools across the U.S. In fact, the national average acceptance rate at the 1,363 ranked schools that provided acceptance rate data to U.S. News was 67% in fall 2018. Broken down, that means two out of three students were accepted last year at schools to which they applied.

The most selective schools, however, accept only small proportions of applicants. Stanford University in California, the college with the lowest reported acceptance rate among ranked schools, only took in 4% of applicants in fall 2018.

Selectivity demands high standards. According to U.S. News data, the average SAT score for students admitted to Stanford in fall 2018 was 1420, well above the national average of 1068. Admitted students in the 25th-75th percentile range scored between 720-800 on the math section and 700-770 on the evidence-based reading and writing portion. The national average scores on those sections are 531 and 536, respectively, according to the College Board, which administers the test.

U.S. News data also shows that freshman students admitted to Stanford who submitted their high school GPA had an average 3.9 GPA, and 96% of those who submitted their high school class standing were in the top 10% of their class.

Right behind Stanford are Harvard University in Massachusetts and Princeton University in New Jersey, both of which had a 5% acceptance rate for fall 2018 applicants. Across all 13 of these schools, the average acceptance rate was a mere 7%.

Of the colleges on this list, six are Ivy League schools. Looking at other factors, these 13 colleges range in size, location and by institutional category. There are 11 National Universities represented here, defined as institutions that are often research-oriented and offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Also on this list is one National Liberal Arts College, a type of school that emphasizes undergraduate education and awards half or more of its degrees across liberal arts fields. Likewise, one Regional College appears here, a type of school that focuses on undergraduate education but grants less than half of its degrees in liberal arts fields.

Students interested in attending a highly selective school should understand the admissions standards, recognize the competitive nature of getting in and familiarize themselves with how colleges choose students to admit.

Below is a list of the 13 colleges where it was most difficult to gain acceptance in fall 2018. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

Stanford University (CA) 4% 6 (tie), National Universities
Harvard University (MA) 5% 2, National Universities
Princeton University (NJ) 5% 1, National Universities
Columbia University (NY) 6% 3 (tie), National Universities
Yale University (CT) 6% 3 (tie), National Universities
California Institute of Technology 7% 12 (tie), National Universities
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7% 3 (tie), National Universities
University of Chicago 7% 6 (tie), National Universities
Alice Lloyd College (KY) 8% 21, Regional Colleges (South)
Brown University (RI) 8% 14, National Universities
Northwestern University (IL) 8% 9, National Universities
Pomona College (CA) 8% 5, National Liberal Arts Colleges
University of Pennsylvania 8% 6 (tie), National Universities

What are your thoughts on the top 13 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates?

Leave your comment

College Acceptance Letters

It’s about that time!

Many of our clients have been reaching out to let us know that their child is receiving their acceptance letters. YAY! Naturally, the next question that is asked is, “What happens next?” Well, here’s what you can expect from the letters and how to respond to them.

“Congratulations! I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve been admitted to…”

No words could be sweeter if you’re a high school senior looking for confirmation that you’ve been accepted into college. College acceptance letters can represent the moment that many high school students have been working toward, figuring out your next chapter in education and beyond.

When Springtime of senior year rolls around, you can expect to start hearing some rumblings in the hallways. “Macy got her acceptance letter, so did Trevor. Alannah heard back from all four of her schools. Is mine LOST? Does this mean I didn’t get in?!” Nerves can take over, leading you to your mailbox every day after school or constantly refreshing your inbox. The anticipation is completely normal, but it doesn’t make the waiting game any easier.

Whether you’ve applied to one school, or ten, chances are you’ll soon be presented with a decision from a college or university that holds the key to your future! When that day finally comes, here’s what you can expect from the letters, and how to respond to them.

What is a college acceptance letter and what does it include?

College acceptance letters, although varied from school to school, follow a pretty predictable format.

First, an acceptance letter will make it clear if you’ve been admitted or not. If you see the congratulatory message you want, let that sink in! You’ve worked hard and it’s been recognized. If you are seeing a rejection, know you’re not alone – and this isn’t the end of the road. Did you know? Tina Fey was rejected from Princeton, Tom Hanks got a ‘no thanks’ from several colleges, and Steven Spielberg was reportedly rejected from UCLA.

If you’ve been accepted, you’ll see some information about upcoming events for prospective students – these are to help get you familiar with the campus and opportunities that the school can provide, and you should look at this as your chance to decide if the school is really the best fit for you. (Take advantage of these types of events: you may have been accepted to several schools, so now is the time to be extra clear about your wants, needs, and which school fits those best.)

Finally, you’ll want to make note of any deadlines included in your letter. Usually, the school will tell you the deadline for you to make your decision. This date is pretty universal, and typically falls on or around May 1, because you would have heard back from all of the schools you’ve applied to by then.

When are the letters sent out to accepted students?

The big question: when do colleges send out acceptance letters? If you’re wondering when acceptance letters arrive, know that it can vary a little bit based on the schools and when you applied. There’s also a little bit of variation in how decisions are conveyed: you can expect many colleges to send acceptance letters by email or online portal, though some will still send a formal letter in your mailbox, too.

If you applied for early action or early decision to your dream school, it’s likely that you sent in your application earlier than you would have otherwise, typically by November. Your conviction and commitment to the school will be rewarded by an early decision (hence the name), and you should expect to hear back in the winter months: December, January, or February.

If you’ve applied to multiple schools and are unsure of which you want to attend, you probably submitted your application for regular decision, usually by February. In this case, you should expect to see letters come in through mid-March to early April. You should expect to hear back from schools by the first week of April. Why? Because of the May 1 timeline that colleges and universities rely on.

With that said, there is a chance you won’t hear an official decision until the summer. How can that be? Well, for students who are waitlisted, you may not receive final word until the school has more insight on just how many admitted students will accept their invitation to attend and register for classes. That means, for some students, you could find out as late as August. If you’re going to keep a school that has waitlisted you on your list of potential destinations, be sure to have a backup plan (whether it’s a gap semester or year, a short stint at your local community college first, etc.).

How to respond to a college acceptance letter

Your next steps may hinge on whether or not you’ve applied (and been accepted to) more than one school. Since the average student applied to four colleges or universities in 2018, let’s assume you have a few options.

Now may be a good time, if you haven’t done so already, to create a spreadsheet of the schools you’re still considering. You’ll want to include the decision deadline noted in your acceptance letter – don’t lose track of this! The last thing you want to do is miss an opportunity to attend your dream school just because you couldn’t remember when you needed to notify them you intend to register (and submit your deposit; more on that below).

If you’re still in comparison mode, use the spreadsheet to keep track of information on housing, meal plans, and even the details of your financial aid offer letters (which will arrive separately – learn more about award letters). Your offer letters are particularly important if you’re not sure which school to attend. One school, for example, may offer you a large financial aid package, while another may have little to give you. The budgetary implications may help you choose between your various options. You can use a College Planning Calculator to help figure out the full cost of college, further informing your decision.

Once your college acceptance letters are in and you’ve decided which college or university to attend, it’s time to notify your school of choice. You can usually do this by filling out a form and sending it to the college along with a non-refundable deposit. This deposit (which can typically range from $50-$500) is used to secure your spot in the incoming class of students. It’s important to note those deadlines and make sure to send the deposit before the deadline hits, so you don’t lose your spot.

This is also the time to let the other schools know that you don’t intend to enroll. Again, this can be done with the form given to you as part of acceptance letter packet. You should aim to do this by May 1.

Next steps after responding to your college acceptance letter

So, you’ve taken the next step in your journey and enrolled in college – congratulations! So, now what?

You have a few key things to remember:

  1. Whatever you’ve been doing to get into college, keep it up! Colleges can rescind their offers, so now is not the time to slack off. Use this time to continue studying (maybe you have some AP tests that you can take to save money on future college courses), look for summer internships in a field you think you might want to study or a summer job so you can save money, or enjoy the last few months you have with your high school friends before you’re off to your next chapter!
  2. Be sure to keep your social media profiles free of any content that would portray you in a negative or inappropriate light. Your social media accounts are an extension of your transcripts and resumes. Don’t do anything that would embarrass you, your family, or your future college and classmates.
  3. Your college is chosen, but there’s a lot of planning that still needs to take place. For example, how are you planning to pay for college?

    Remember those financial aid offer letters I mentioned? Those are really important, and now that you’ve chosen your college, you just need to reference the one that came from your school. It should list what types of financial aid you qualify for, and can include federal loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study. You’ll need to formally accept part or all of your financial aid offer (or none of it, if you choose), so be sure to do that in the timeline indicated by the school.

    If you haven’t already, start your scholarship search now. Contrary to popular belief, scholarships aren’t just for valedictorians and quarterbacks; there are scholarships for everyone! Are you left-handed? There’s a scholarship for that. Love to bake? There’s a scholarship for that. An expert asparagus grower? There’s a scholarship for that, too! Make sure you’re using this time to find scholarships, carefully apply, and make the most of the free money out there earmarked for your future.

    After you’ve nailed down scholarships and accepted parts of your financial aid offer, you’ll have a better idea of how much of your college costs (tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, etc.) are covered by the funds you’ve outlined. If there’s a gap, you have a few choices to consider, including using some of your savings or income, or taking out a private student loan. This monthly budget worksheet and student loan calculator can help you determine what’s right for you. Helpful hint: don’t take out more in student loans than what you expect your starting salary in your desired profession to be.

That’s a lot to soak in – so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember to pause, celebrate, and keep your eye focused on your future. You’ve done the tricky part and now it’s time to show the college why they were smart to admit you.

Article by Ashley. She is a Sallie Mae employee and a graduate of Immaculata University. A mom of two young girls, her favorite dinner topic is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Did My Athlete Get A Good Scholarship Offer?

According to College Aid Pro, the world of athletics is dynamic and exciting. For parents who raised children with the passion, drive, and inclination toward a particular sport, their world has likely been filled with early mornings, long drives, sweaty laundry, and big bills. 

The financial implications of raising a child who loves sports can be challenging to navigate. Some fortunate families are able to see their children pursue sports in their college and even professional careers. 

If the time comes that your child should receive a scholarship to play their respective sport in college, congratulations! That is an incredible feat that should be celebrated. But before rushing to accept an offer, take the time to consider the financial and personal implications that come with it. 

Your financial advisor is an excellent person to turn to at this time and can work with you and your child to evaluate the offers and provide the education, insight, and confidence to help you make the best decision for your family. In general, advisors can do this in two distinct ways: financial and personal by exploring a few central questions. 

How does the offer fit into your financial plan?

One of the most immediate benefits of a scholarship offer is the funding available to your student. Your financial advisor will help you look at the offer to see exactly what financial benefits are and are not available. This meeting will help you think through and answer some of the following questions:

  • Does the school offer a full-ride scholarship? If not, how much will it cover?
    • This will help you determine the financial responsibilities for both the school, your student, and potentially yourself. Most offers do not cover 100% of tuition costs, making it important to create a plan for the remaining costs such as taking out student loans or evaluating how much financial help, if any, you are able to give them for tuition and other educational expenses like books, access codes, and supplies. 
  • How does the financial commitment impact other savings goals?
    • When it comes to your financial commitment to your child’s education, it is important that you be able to put that in context with your other financial priorities, namely retirement. Many parents sacrifice retirement savings to help fund their child’s education, but that can prove to be a costly mistake as there is no loan for retirement and your financial wellbeing is important. 
  • How does the offer fit into your long-term financial plan? What goals have you set and which offer will be best for you and your family to reach those goals?
    • A scholarship for school can be a huge relief for many families. As you and your student take a look at the offers that come in, it can be easy to lose sight of your financial goals both short and long-term but even in the excitement, it is important to keep your eye on the prize.

A financial advisor will be able to not only see how the offer fits into your financial landscape, but also your personal lives, goals, dreams, and ambitions. This leads us to the second way a financial advisor can help in this situation. 

Is the offer aligned with your and your child’s goals and values?

Remember, finances are just one piece of your financial plan. Your goals, values, and priorities make up a huge facet of how you use and manage the money you have. When evaluating an offer, it is equally important to see how the school’s values align with your own and set your child up for success. Let’s take a look at a few questions to help get you started.

  • Does the odder resonate with the planning you and your family have done so far?
  • Is the school a place that will help your child move to the next level in whatever academic field they decide to pursue?
  • How does the school take care of its athletes? Are there tutoring programs and other educational processes to help them balance athletics and academics?
  • Does the school align with yours and your child’s values? How would the experience they would get at one place be a better fit for them as opposed to another option?

As you think more about these questions, remember there is no right or wrong answer, just what is best for your child. You want to help set your child up for success and choosing a place that values them as a person and is invested in their success is a great way to do that. 

How does it prepare your child for the future?

Fewer than 2% of student-athletes go on to play professionally, making a focus on education equally as important as the stadium that adorns the campus. As you look at the offers, be sure that you are focused on the one that set’s your child up for success after college as well. It is important to think critically about the longevity of the sport and have the foresight to plan ahead for life after graduation. 

This is where long-term financial and personal goals come into play. These are so important to consider and your financial advisor will be able to help discuss these ideas in tandem to give you the information you need to make the most informed decision. 

By including your financial planner in the mix, you will also set a precedent for your child to learn the value of a strong financial advisor. Especially for athletes, having a financial advisor you can trust and who has your best interests at heart is a rare gem at that. This will help instill the need for strong financial planning in their life, no matter what professional avenue they decide to pursue. 

College is a formative time, so choosing the right place to go is an important decision that will help set the course for your child’s life. Especially for athletes, it is important to have a plan for finances and personal development in order to make the right choice. Working with an advisor can help you do both, setting you up for a future as bright as you can dream. 

Do Admissions Officers View All Activities The Same?

professional concentrated basketball player spinning ball on finger

As per collegevine.com, higher tiered activities show admissions officers whether you demonstrated leadership, good judgement, and initiative given the available resources.

Additionally, students are evaluated on whether they earned regional, state-level, national, or even international recognition for their extracurricular involvement.

Here’s what admissions officers consider:

The Activity’s Tier

We’ve developed a tier system for ranking extracurricular activities the way admissions officers do. The highest tier is reserved for major national and international accomplishments, such as competing at the Olympics or starring in a Hollywood blockbuster. In general, the greater your impact, the more impressive the accomplishment.

Demonstrated Leadership

Your activities help show admissions officers your leadership abilities, and each tier demonstrates a higher level of commitment and initiative. They also want to know if you made use of the resources available to you. If there were no national opportunities available in your hometown, how did you make it a better place with the tools you had?

Level of Recognition

Additionally, students are evaluated on whether they earned regional, state-level, national, or even international recognition for their extracurricular involvement. If you want to set yourself apart in your extracurricular endeavors, look for ways to expand the mark you make on your community.

Is Your Financial Planner Really Helping?

financial planner or personal financial planner is a professional who prepares financial plans for people. These financial plans often cover cash flow management, retirement planning, investment planning, financial risk management, insurance planning, tax planning, estate planning and business succession planning (for business owners).

However, when new or potential clients say to us, “We have a financial planner.” Our follow-up question is, “Did the financial planner sit down with you and take the time to educate you on a financial strategy that is tax-advantaged, pays for cars, houses, can fund for college, AND leave behind a legacy for your grandchildren?” The answer is ALWAYS, NO!

Why accept that if you don’t have too? Over the next week, I’ll be sharing some insight to the financial planner arena and what they SHOULD be doing, but probably are not doing. I’ll be sharing steps 4-6 on Wednesday, but find out the top 3 now.

Financial planning should cover all areas of your financial needs and should result in the achievement of each of your goals as required. The scope of planning would usually include the following:

1. Setting goals with the client This step (that is usually performed in conjunction with Step 2) is meant to identify where the client wants to go in terms of his finances and life.

2. Gathering relevant information on the client This would include the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the client’s financial and relevant non-financial situation.

3. Analyzing the information The information gathered is analyzed so that the client’s situation is properly understood. This includes determining whether there are sufficient resources to reach the client’s goals and what those resources are.

Is your financial planner creating a strategy for you, that you’re proud of?

If not, then come and get another opinion.

The OTHER College Companies

For over 15 years our firm has been studying how High School guidance departments, high priced College Prep Companies, Super high-priced consulting firms like IvyWise, College Planning Network, Top Tier Admissions, and small firms have been misleading and overcharging families with students headed to College for years.

They all (for the most part) tell you, “We will get your student/students into the College of your dreams,” or blatantly tell you if an Ivy league school is in your dreams, we will make that happen. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

A four year stint at Cornell, Penn, Stanford, or Yale, and my student is, to borrow an overused phrase, “Set for Life.” Unfortunately, this rah, rah B.S. it’s as effective as a cardboard cutout cheering at the new normal football stadium.

Over 70% of today’s graduates say that they are not using much of what they learned in College. Most are not pleased with their current job position and many have yet to find a job at all!

Professionals tell us the majority of recent graduates are back to that horrible habit that many of you are all too familiar with, hating Monday on Sunday. I am not referring to future professions like medicine, engineering, dentistry, law, and others where education and apprenticeship are integral to job satisfaction and performance.

We have graduates and even parents we work with who have stated to me, “All my College Degree represented to my employer was that I was trainable.” An excellent partner whom we have had the pleasure of working with for over 10 years, Emily Melious, the principle of Launch Consulting, has helped over a thousand students begin their life’s work on the right foot!

Using modern assessment tools like Kolbe assessment and OPgig, our team has avoided these frightening stats:

• 70% of people hate their job.

• 80% of workers feel stress on the job.

• 70% of low performing employees are working against their instincts.

• Just 8% of U.S. high school graduates complete a curriculum that prepares them for the workplace.

• College students change majors three times on average.

We have stated for years, that one of the most important services we provide our student clients is to help and teach them how to discover their economic passions and career path, which will give them a huge advantage in the marketplace.

Our firm takes pride in steering our students and their families out of the time-worn process of getting into a great College before we address Career evaluation, using today’s tools and of course, Emily’s award-winning services.

It is heartbreaking and a financial disaster when we see a very fine young student after two or three years of full-time College classes, not have a clue what type of work they prefer to begin as a career. After all, isn’t college supposed to be career training? Proper professional guidance and College Planning does work.

It is no longer necessary to ask your student “What do you want to study in college or what are you going to do for a living when you grow up?”

To learn more contact Jessica and learn first hand how we work with your student/students, how much time needs to be allocated to be successful, and how much our services will cost for your family.

We are now offering a complete no-cost College Entrance Report with your First Consultation (FC).

Do College Rankings Matter?

By Scott Jaschik

As they do every fall, high school students and their parents are deciding on college lists — figuring out where to apply and which colleges are on top of their wish lists. As is also the case every fall, U.S. News & World Report and others have released their rankings, suggesting which are the “best” colleges — among all and in certain categories.

Many students gravitate (regardless of what the rankings say) to public institutions close to home. But many others rely on rankings to identify potential colleges — or to convince parents that a particular institution is worth whatever it charges. And many colleges are banking on that, boasting about their scores in the latest rankings.

Educators have for years questioned the validity of the rankings, pointing out flaws with various parts of the methodologies of U.S. News and others.

A new study from researchers at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education examines all of the evidence about rankings and comes to this conclusion: the best way to find a college that is a “good fit” is to ignore the rankings.

Notably, the finding isn’t based on abstract ideas about the value of education not being something that can be measured.

Rather, the analysis is based on research about factors many students (and parents) say they take into consideration when they evaluate potential colleges: student learning, well-being, job satisfaction and future income.

If you care about those factors, the rankings will not steer you well, the paper says.

In summarizing the paper’s findings, Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford’s education school, said, “Research tells us that the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be. This is almost always the case whether a student attends the top-ranked or 200th-ranked college.”

Key factors in U.S. News and other rankings reward graduation rates and reputation. U.S. News has, over the years, placed more emphasis not just on raw graduation rates but “expected” graduation rates to reward institutions with higher than expected rates for students from at-risk populations.

But the Stanford study finds that graduation rates still reflect the student body being served more than the quality of the institution. And the study says there is no evidence linking reputation to anything but … reputation.

So reputation is “a self-fulfilling metric.”

Even measures that might seem inherently good — such as the percentage of class sessions that are small — may not actually mean much, the study says.

“While small classes are often seen as desirable, this metric is problematic … When schools offer more small classes, there is less space for students in those classes, meaning fewer students actually get to take them. Consider, as an extreme example, a school with 200 students where each student takes only one class. If there are nine classes with two students each, and one huge class with the remaining 182 students, the average class size at the school would still be only 20 students, and a full 90 percent of those classes would be considered ‘small’ classes.”

The report doesn’t say that it’s impossible to measure qualities about colleges that are important to students and parents. But real analysis would require examining the actual learning experience at colleges in ways rankings do not, the study says. For instance, the report cites Academically Adrift (University of Chicago Press), the 2011 book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa that found a lack of rigor and heft in most undergraduate syllabi, and a corresponding lack of learning. The findings were based on looking at what students were asked to read and write, among other things, in their courses. (Others have disputed Academically Adrift‘s findings)

“What does correlate with student learning?” the Stanford report asks. “Time spent studying. This is true regardless of institution and for all kinds of students. In other words, a student who studies hard at a nonselective school is very likely to learn, while a student who slacks off at a selective one is less likely to learn.”

Likewise the report points to research by Gallup on the factors in one’s college experience that predict whether one will appreciate that experience and find personally fulfilling work.

According to these Gallup surveys, the key predicting factor is not prestige of institution, but whether graduates look back on their college days and remember having had a professor who cared about them, made them excited to learn and encouraged them to follow their dreams — which Gallup called being “emotionally supported” while in college. (Note: Inside Higher Ed works with Gallup on some surveys but did not play a role in this research.)

Broadly, Gallup identifies a series of practices for students to seek out at any college as likely to increase their engagement with learning — and their satisfaction. These include “taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting,” and “working with professors who care about students personally” and working on projects across several semesters.

The Stanford report generally suggests that students looking at potential colleges focus on finding places where the right conditions exist for the students to make the most of their opportunities. And that kind of review needs to focus on concrete measures or conditions that typically aren’t what makes a college rise or fall in U.S. News.

A key point of the report is that there is no single right focus for a college search — and that the selectivity-driven measures used in most rankings may be appropriate for a minority of students, but misdirect most others.

“For some students, deciding where to go to college may depend on academic factors, such as access to cutting-edge researchers in a beloved field with opportunities to be involved in graduate-level work, or a well-established professional preparation program,” the report says. “For others, the decision might be influenced by location: a college close to home, or far away, in a small town or in a big city. Or it might have to do with extracurricular programming: a robust student activities program, intramural sports, or the arts.

“The decision might include cultural opportunities: a university with a strong international languages program, a culturally diverse student body, and a track record of successful study-abroad exchanges. The presence or absence of a Greek system or a large Division 1 athletics program might be important factors for some students. Perhaps religious denomination, institutional size, or comprehensive support for those with learning differences may sway the decision. And of course, financial aid and cost are key factors as well.”

The report adds that “rather than choosing a school based primarily on a flawed scoring system, students should ask whether they will be engaged at the college in ways that will allow them to form strong relationships with professors and mentors, apply their learning via internships and long-term projects, and find a sense of community.”

Robert Morse, who leads the college rankings effort at U.S. News, said via email that he and his colleagues were still reviewing the Stanford analysis.

He noted that the paper did not reflect the most recent changes made by U.S. News in its methodology, changes that the magazine says placed a greater emphasis than in the past on rewarding colleges that promote social mobility. (Critics have said that the change are largely cosmetic and that the rankings continue to reward colleges primarily for being wealthy and serving the best prepared and generally wealthiest students.)

Morse also noted that U.S. News does not just release annual rankings, but lists of top academic programs, colleges with good internship programs, innovative study abroad and more.

Just because U.S. News publishes rankings, Morse said, doesn’t mean it believes that’s the only way students should evaluate colleges. “We have always encouraged consumers to use the rankings as a start,” he said.

The Secret To Wealth

Rebecca Walser, a wealth management advisor who specializes in financial planning for high net worth individuals, tells CNBC Make It that the rich use plenty of tricks to build wealth, but “the most common one is something that most regular Americans don’t even know a thing about: Investing in permanent life insurance policies.” 

Permanent life insurance policies, which Walser discusses in detail in her book, “Wealth Unbroken: Growing Wealth Uninterrupted By Market Crashes, Taxes, And Even Death,” allow you to build savings in a tax-advantaged account. 

Unlike term life insurance policies, which are cheaper, temporary and have pay-outs that are only accessible upon death, permanent policies offer a cash-value component. 

Here’s how they work: You invest a lot of money into an account, basically “over-funding” it, and watch it grow, tax-free, says Walser. And that’s money you can access during your lifetime. 

There are a couple different types of permanent policies, whole life and universal life. A whole life plan is a more long-term one with fixed premium payments and death benefits, whereas a universal life plan is more flexible. There’s also an indexed policy, which allows you to invest in an equity index account. 

But the shared benefit of each of these is the accumulation of cash value. 

When it comes to withdrawals, you can take out what you’ve already put in, but if you want to touch the gains, you’ll be taxed. 

As for your beneficiary at the time of your death, his or her insurance payout is not taxable, but what happens to the cash value part of the policy can vary. Sometimes the insurer actually gets to keep it. 

Not touching the money at all allows for maximum growth. By Walser’s estimate, if you start putting $2,000 a year into an account when your child is born, by the time they are 60, they will have access to hundreds of thousands of tax-free dollars. 

On the flip side, cash value life insurance, which can either grow at a stated rate of interest set by an insurer or be pegged to the market, will likely not beat market returns these days, considering its current height. 

And because these permanent policies are significantly more expensive than term policies, they’re not always a great investment for the average American family. Other tax-deferred options like IRAs, 529 accounts and 401(k)s are all available at a lower cost. In fact, many advisors actually don’t recommend buying life insurance for children, unless you are doing it to replace a family breadwinner’s income. 

Also, for those who can afford to over-fund their cash value policy, there can be complex tax consequences. Broadly speaking, paying too much in premiums can turn the policy into a modified endowment contract (MEC). That shifts how your cash-value withdrawals are taxed and imposes a 10 percent penalty on any taxable withdrawals. 

For all these reasons, these policies might not necessarily be the best option for the average American family. For most, life insurance is a protection tool, not an investment. 

Overall, though, Walser thinks these accounts could be an under-the-radar strategy worth considering. “The wealthy have been creating a lot of wealth in life insurance,” she says. 

By Yoni Blumberg