Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: College Common Sense

As a mom of an only child (and since he's homeschooled I'm with him the majority of his day), it's difficult to think ahead to the day he goes off to college.  And yet if I don't think of it he may never get to go because we won't have saved up the money to pay for it-- I certainly don't want to saddle him with student loan debt.  So even though my son is only 10, I looked forward to reviewing College Common Sense.  This resource service is the brainchild of Denise Ames, who has worked in a college financial aid office for more than a decade.

I received  access to the Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook ($25 for 12 months of log-in membership).  There is also a DVD/workbook option available for $50 plus $5 shipping.  If you have two or more  kids spaced several years apart, this may end up being the more economical option.  To follow the program as directed you will also need a three-ring binder and a spiral notebook. The program has instructions geared to four different audiences:
  • Parents OF elementary age students
  • Parents AND middle school age students
  • Parents AND high school age students
  • Parents AND college age students
Each group has an assigned letter and as you read through the workbook you'll find the activities coded with the letters to know which are appropriate for each group.  I fall into the first category and it was left to my discretion whether or not my son would watch the videos with me.  He did not.  While the information is extremely important, it's not very exciting.  Even I had to pause and "rewind" as I caught my mind wandering or my eyelids drooping.  There was only one workbook exercise for elementary students-- starting and keeping an All About Me spiral notebook.  He was asked to write down his likes & dislikes, what he truly believes and what he stands for, and what he wants to do with his life, etc.  All this in preparation for essays required with college applications.  My son struggles with penmanship, so I asked him to just take 5 minutes a day to write about likes and dislikes. 

The program is divided into Six main sections (written to the student unless stated otherwise ).
  1. The Big Picture: Preparing for and touring campuses,Getting accepted to schools, determining the cost of attending, getting offers of aid, comparing schools and making a commitment.
  2. How Financial Aid Works: the Financial Aid Office at college and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) website
  3. All About Free Money: Need-based, Merit-based and performance scholarships come from schools, governments, businesses, non-profits, foundations and individuals. Determine which are you likely to win can and concentrate on those.
  4. The System the Works: Building a binder of scholarships applied for and scholarships won. The goal is to apply for one per month.
  5. You in the Process: Applying to schools and for scholarships is really about selling yourself as a product.  The All About Me notebook will help you identify likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, goals, etc.
  6. Pull it All Together: Success in college and a career is about recognizing opportunities and taking advantage of them.
You should read the workbook pages for each section before watching the video.  The video segments are 15-20 minutes long (another reason to consider the DVD option if you have dial-up service like me). 

One of the things that most surprised me was learning that scholarship are available to kids long before they're graduating high school.  In one of College Common Sense newsletters it described a six year old earning a scholarship from Kohls.  I emailed Ms Ames about this practice and she replied the same day.  She said that if a child receives a scholarship the donor will likely require that a 529 account (college savings account) be set up and the money deposited there.  That way the donor is assured it will be spent on higher education.  If your child decides not to go to college you would need to contact the donor but it may be able to be used for technical school.

In addition to the online membership (or DVD version) College Common Sense has a weekly emailed lesson plan with activities for parents, students in all school levels (with emphasis on high school seniors).  These same lessons (and an archive) are available to members of SchoolhouseTeachers.com.   I barely remember when I applied for college (and I did get a scholarship) so I'm certainly thankful for someone to guide our family through this process.  It is certainly a small investment that can lead to a great deal of savings.

Disclaimer: I received a free online access to this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

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