The Scoop on Test Optional Colleges


I was having a discussion on Twitter last night with a mom about the SAT, ACT and test optional options. I am of the opinion that not taking the test is a bad idea, even if you are applying to test optional colleges. And I’m not the only one. Paul Hemphill of Planning for College and Lauren Gaggioli of Higher Scores Test Prep agree with me (or I agree with them).

test optional colleges

Here’s a podcast Paul did with Lauren about the ramifications of not taking the standardized test. It’s worth a listen. Lauren says, ” It is worth hearing all of the facts before you make the testing decision for your student and this is the side of the argument that tends to get lost in the conversation.”

Also, read these posts as well:

The Financial Risks of Not Taking the SAT

Why the ACT May Be a Smarter Choice for ADHD Students

The Race to Nowhere: Are We Pushing Our Children Too Much?


race to nowhere

With all the talk and the hype about college prep, we should ask the question: Are we pushing our children too much? I believe in preparing for college. I don’t believe in pushing so hard and preparing so much that your student becomes stressed, over-anxious, and burned out. Recognizing that there’s a real problem, Vicki Abeles, a concerned parent, directed a documentary about the pressures our students face. The result was a documentary called, “The Race to Nowhere”.

“Race to Nowhere” is a film that calls us to challenge current thinking about how we prepare our children for success. Named by as one of “10 Education Documentaries You Don’t Want to Miss”, “Race to Nowhere” brings communities together to spark dialogue and galvanize change in America’s schools.
Featuring the heartbreaking stories of students across the country who have been pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing and the relentless pressure to achieve, “Race to Nowhere” points to a silent epidemic in our schools. Through the testimony of educators, parents and education experts, it reveals an education system in which cheating has become commonplace; students have become disengaged; stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant; and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.
Shown nationwide and internationally in more than 7,000 schools, universities, cinemas, hospitals, corporations and community centers, “Race to Nowhere” has become the centerpiece of a nationwide, grassroots movement for the transformation of education.

Do yourself and your kids a favor and watch the trailer for this film and encourage your student’s school to set up a screening for parents. It might change the way your family views college prep and relieve the stress around the process.

Wednesday’s Parent: “We Won’t Qualify for Financial Aid”


fafsaIf I had a dollar for every time parents said this to me, I would be rich. Surprisingly, most parents believe this fallacy. Believing this, they don’t complete the FAFSA and miss out on all kinds of aid. Just because they were misinformed and unaware of how financial aid works.

Why should you complete the FAFSA?

College is expensive and it’s a chance for you to grab yourself a piece of the financial aid pie.

Why should you complete it by February 1st?

The early bird gets the worm when it comes to financial aid. If you want your piece of the pie, you have to be the first in line. Once financial aid packages are disbursed, the money is gone and that means your student’s financial aid package will be composed of student loans only. If your form is filed and completed once the decision for admission is made it puts your student in a good position to receive some of those funds.

What can the FAFSA do for you and your college-bound teen?

There could be federal, state and college funds available. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you won’t be able to get any of them. Even if your family income is high and you might not qualify for federal aid in the form of grants, your student might be eligible for state scholarships and merit-aid awards from the college. Additionally, any federally subsidized loans, including parent loans, require you to complete the FAFSA.

What should you do if you haven’t filed your taxes before FAFSA filing?

It’s simple. Use last year’s tax figures and update once you file. Don’t wait to file the FAFSA until after you file your taxes.

Why do some people tell you that you won’t qualify for financial aid?

The easy answer is they are misinformed. Remember there are all kinds of financial aid. While not everyone will qualify for federal grants, most students receive some form of financial aid. If you don’t apply your student will not be one of them.

Read Wendy’s post: 4 Strings Attached to Free Financial Aid


This month Wendy and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT on Wednesday, January 21. Our guest will be financial aid expert Jodi Okun. She is the founder of College Financial Aid Advisors, an Expert, Paying for College, and the @Discover Student Loans Brand Ambassador. Jodi has worked for over 10 years in the financial aid industry and helped thousands of families navigate the financial aid process. Don’t miss a chance to get her tips and ask questions.

Read Wednesday’s Parent Night on #CampusChat for some simple instructions to join a Twitter chat.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from parentscountdowntocollegecoach to and vice versa.

Studying Abroad: The Pros and Cons


Many college students jump at the chance to study abroad. For some, doing a semester abroad in a foreign country is as traditional a college experience as living in dorms or making long-life friends. While there are many exciting cultural and social benefits to studying abroad, there are also a few potential drawbacks. If you’re a student or parent looking into study abroad programs, here are some things to consider before planning the trip:

studying abroad

photo courtesy of Merrimack College

The Advantages to Studying Abroad 

The main attraction to studying abroad is getting to visit another country. For many young adults, study abroad programs offer them their first chance to travel internationally. Experiencing another culture first hand is a fantastic educational opportunity, which serves to advance a young student’s intellect and widen their perspective.

Studying abroad gives students the chance to learn outside of the confines of lecture halls or limitations of textbooks. Getting to immerse yourself in something you’ve only previously read or heard about adds a deeper dimension to your understanding of it. When a theater major watches a Shakespeare play at the historic Globe Theatre in London or a fine art student looks up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, they are experiencing something that will have a major influence on their craft.

For those looking to sharpen their foreign language skills or better comprehend world history, studying abroad can be a great asset to their education. Whether it’s studying Spanish in a Latin American country or learning about China’s industrialization in Beijing, studying abroad can have a profound effect on their knowledge.

In addition to sightseeing and receiving an enhanced educational experience, students who do a semester or yearlong study abroad program can gain vital social skills. The challenges of interacting with a different cultural group and meeting new people on a daily basis has the potential to make students more adept at public speaking and networking, as well as making them more tolerant of others.

studying abroad

photo courtesy of Merrimack College

The Disadvantages to Studying Abroad 

Despite all its positive potential, studying abroad comes with potential problems, too. Some study abroad arrangements work more like vacations than they do as learning programs. If a program lacks strong leadership from its educators/professors or doesn’t enforce a study schedule, then students are likely to fall behind on their scholarly work or indulge in non-educational activities.

While it’s beneficial for students to experience unconventional educational experiences, young students still require discipline and direction. Outside of their college environment and routine, students may take advantage of their new freedom and foreign setting in ways that are detrimental. Some students spend too much time sightseeing or fraternizing with others in their program rather than trying to learn new concepts. Instead of spending a semester expanding their intellect, students may just act as if they are on an extended break.

Besides falling behind on their studies due to excessive partying, many students studying abroad run the risk of becoming victims of crime or even breaking the law themselves. Like tourists, students visiting foreign countries are easy targets for criminals looking to steal money or abuse others. It’s hard to guarantee a safe housing situation when signing up for a study abroad program. Regardless of the program, students who are ignorant about a country’s customs or laws may get themselves into trouble with law enforcement or the locals.

The overall educational quality and advantages of studying abroad depend on both the individual student and the structure of the program. An immature or disrespectful student is likely to lose out on the intellectual and cultural potential of a good study abroad program, just as a bad program is likely to fail an eager and hardworking student. Either way, it’s up to every individual college student to consider what they want out of their time abroad and to find the right program for themselves. Talking to former study abroad students and to an academic advisor are good places to start when planning for studying abroad.


Javaher Nooryani is a writer and editor based in Denver, CO. She has a BA in American Literature & Culture from UCLA and a Masters in English & American Literature from NYU. As a former private tutor and college prep advisor, Javaher is passionate about higher education and is happy to share her knowledge on CollegeFocus, a website that helps students deal with the challenges of college. 


Wednesday’s Parent: College Prep Peer Pressure


college prep peer pressureLast month, I was speaking with an interviewer about college prep peer pressure in the context of how it relates to the stress factor. Parents need to factor in peer pressure when they think about how your student will react to it, how it will affect his college choice, and how the stress surrounding it can affect his emotional health.

How do students react to peer pressure about college?

Students react to peer pressure in different ways. There is positive peer pressure—the kind that causes your student to excel to compete with other students. There is negative peer pressure—the kind that causes your student to make poor choices based on other people’s choices or example.

How does peer pressure affect your student’s college choice?

Peer pressure can have a strong effect on where your student wants to apply to college. It can make him feel like he needs to apply to an Ivy just because his fellow students are applying. It can cause him to want to apply to a college because a friend or boyfriend is applying. Peer pressure can have a profound effect on your student’s college choices if you don’t guide him to be self-serving and wise when making those choices. And not only are the students pressured by their peers, but parents feel pressure as well from other parents who brag about their students college choices. Additionally, parents often apply pressure toward a particular college during the selection process. This puts added stress on the student and can often cause the student to choose a college that he is not interested in just to please his parents.

How will the stress surrounding peer pressure affect your student’s emotional health?

Every parent knows the affect peer pressure can have on your student. Students feel less successful than others who are applying to prestigious colleges. Students can feel depressed about their own college choices when they stack them up against other students. The battle intensifies once college decisions begin rolling in and other students start talking about where they will be attending.

The bottom line: Beware of the college prep peer pressure and do your best to negate it. Encourage your student to be an individual and follow his own path.

Read Wendy’s post: Peer Pressure Sabotages College Prep


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Wendy and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Wendy and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from parentscountdowntocollegecoach to and vice versa.

The Parents’ Role in College Prep (The College Checklist Podcast)


college checklist podcast

About a month ago I was happy to be a guest on a podcast with Lauren Gaggioli of Higher Scores Test Prep. The topic of the conversation: What is the parents’ role in college prep? For 30 minutes I shared my own family’s college prep experience and why I became a Parent College Coach.

I answered the following questions:

  • What do you see as the parent’s role in college admissions?
  • Where is the Goldilocks zone? That “just right” amount of involvement in the process?
  • What can parents do to reduce the family’s stress around the cost of college and make sure there is clarity regarding tuition responsibilities?
  • How can parent further help to reduce stress around college admissions?

If you’ve ever asked these questions or would like to hear about my college prep journey, you can listen to the podcast here:

Or download the podcast to your smartphone and listen at your own convenience.

Subscribe to The College Checklist Podcast on iTunes
Subscribe to The College Checklist Podcast on Stitcher Radio

What is a podcast: a podcast is an on-demand radio​ show that you can access online through your smartphone. They’re like a blog post or news article you can listen to at the gym, on the road, or while making dinner.


Mom-Approved Tips: Other College Blogs I Love


1383208_93464262It’s easy to get college information overload online. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and others are shouting “Read Me! Read Me!”. But let’s face it, we only have so much time to assimilate college information and even less time trying to decide what to read. And that’s where I come in. I know who has the best college related blog posts and where to find them.

Apart from mine (shameless plug), these are the other college blogs I love. Sign up for their mailing lists, follow their blogs and soak up all the relevant information they provide. Because who wants to read every single post from every single college expert? And . . . who has the time?

Planning for College-The Ugly Blog

Paul Hemphill, an independent college counselor is famous for his “no bull” advice to parents. He doesn’t mince words and tells it like it is. He’s on the parents’ side, always and exposes some unknown truths about colleges and how they handle admissions.

The College Solutions Blog

Lynn O’Shaughnessy blogs about everything related to college prep and admissions. She is an expert in the area of college admissions, has written books on the topic and also a course to parents called, “Cutting the Cost of College”. You will find accurate and up-to-date information on her blog.

College Financial Aid Advisors Blog

Jodi Okun blogs about financial aid. She’s an expert with the FAFSA and advises parents on all areas related to financing college. As an added bonus, Jodi hosts a weekly chat on Twitter (#CollegeCash at 5PM PT).

College Prep Examiner Blog

Wendy David-Gaines (POCSMom) blogs at about college prep and the latest college news. Her advice is directed towards parents and you will find all topics on her blog: admissions, financial aid, scholarships and college news.

TeenLife Blog

Sponsored by TeenLife Magazine, this blog offers college news, parenting tips, information about summer programs and gap years, along with all sorts of information about college prep.

Smart College Visit Blog

This blog is jam-packed with all sorts of tips and advice for parents and students involved in the college prep process. It offers scholarship tips and parent tips along with advice for all aspects of the admissions process.

More Than a Test Score Blog

This blog from Zinch/Chegg offers student advice, parent advice, scholarship information and tips for winning scholarships.

Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA




Do you have questions about the FAFSA? or financial aid? Have you looked at the form and find some of the instructions complicated or ambiguous? You’re not alone. If you have a senior headed to college in the fall or you just want to be prepared for your future college bound teen, you should join tonight’s #CollegeCash chat. I’ll be the guest and @JodiOkun and I should be able to answer all your questions.

What: #CollegeCash

When: (Tonight) Thursday 8PM ET

Where: Twitter using #CollegeCash hashtag

Who: Host @JokiOkun and guest @SuzanneShaffer

Don’t forget to follow both of us on Twitter. If you’ve never attended a Twitter chat, here are some simple instructions.

How to Take Part in a Twitter Chat

See you there!


Wednesday’s Parent: New Year’s Resolutions and College Prep


new year's resolutionsI’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. It’s rare that we keep them. I do, however, love to review goals, examine past mistakes, and make corrections along the way. College bound students should be using this tactic all throughout high school. As each semester passes, students should evaluate these four areas of concern on a college application:


Evaluate your student’s grades every semester. Look at his test scores, his essays, his research papers and daily class work. Where can he improve? Where has he excelled? If you determine that he needs a tutor, don’t be afraid get him help.


Is your student maximizing his free time by participating in extracurriculars? Is he showing consistency? Should he be spending more time in one particular area and less time spreading himself thin? Is there a balance between school activities and community service? Where should he focus his time to show a consistent participation?

Faculty/Mentor relationships

This might be the most important area to evaluate each year. These relationships will provide your student with recommendation letters needed for the college applications. Build those relationships throughout high school, starting with your student’s high school counselor and key teachers. If your student is participating in a community service project, encourage him to find a mentor within the organization he’s working with.

Social media

Monitoring social media throughout high school is a critical task because your student’s social media presence reflects on his character. He should also establish social media relationships with the colleges he is interested in attending. Those relationships will be valuable when he submits his applications. Colleges are looking for students who express an interest in attending. These social media relationships express that interest.

As with any project, the key to its success is to evaluate your progress. Evaluation enables your student to move toward the eventual goal of applying to and being accepted at his first choice college.

Read Wendy’s post: College Prep New Year Spoiler Alert


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Wendy and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Wendy and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from parentscountdowntocollegecoach to and vice versa.

FAFSA Tips, Reminders, and Mistakes to Avoid


FAFSAIt’s FAFSA time. “Yuck”, as one parent said. “Dreading, dreading, dreading” from another. “It’s my least favorite time of year (other than income taxes)”, said another. I get it. Nobody likes filling out federal forms, especially when money is on the line. And with the FAFSA, money is on the line.

Today I am sharing some of the best FAFSA advice I’ve found online. If you have a college bound teen, this information will be invaluable. Don’t just skim it, however; you need to read every last word. Not knowing can mean the difference between receiving aid and receiving a big fat zero. Trust me, I have learned from experience and listened to so many parents that neglected to do the research before completing the form.

An Easy Guide to the 2015-16 FAFSA

University Parent asked me to write an easy guide for parents who are new to the FAFSA this year. I broke it down into basic information, items you will need to complete it, working as a team, and the changes for 2015-16.

Read more . . .

Avoid These FAFSA Mistakes

My first piece of advice comes from Lynn O’Shaughnessy of The College Solution blog. Her advice is spot on and goes into great detail about some key points regarding marital status, household size, and reporting assets. It’s an easy to understand guide for parents and breaks the government lingo down into simple language.

Read more . . .

10 Tips to Prepare for the FAFSA

I wrote this article for giving parents tips on what they need before completing the FAFSA. You want to be the first in line for financial aid. Students who complete the government form early are more likely to receive funds set aside by the colleges for financial aid. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you won’t receive any aid. Everyone should file the FAFSA, even if you think you won’t qualify for federal aid.

Read more . . .

False FAFSA Assumptions

Jodi Okun of College Financial Aid Advisors wrote this piece for One of the most common statements I hear from parents is, “I’m not going to file because we won’t qualify for financial aid”. Jodi points out the huge mistake in making this assumption and others.

Read more . . .

7 Legal Ways to Squeeze More Money Out of the FAFSA

It makes perfect sense, just with your taxes, that you should receive what is owed you. With the FAFSA, this affects your student’s financial aid award. Kim Clark of shares her best advice on how to complete the form properly to ensure you get the most financial aid.

Read more . . .

Do me a favor and pass this information along to other parents. The more you know, the more you will maximize your financial aid. And…sharing is caring!