About Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer has been a member since April 8th 2011, and has created 983 posts from scratch.

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FAFSA Week: 10 Good Reasons to File the FAFSA


file the fafsa

Parents of college-bound teens look forward to filing the FAFSA as much as they look forward to filing their income taxes. It’s a federal form and all federal forms aren’t exactly user friendly. Many parents are so intimidated by the form that they choose not to file, telling themselves that their student wouldn’t qualify for aid anyway because they make too much. But don’t fall into that trap.

Here are 10 good reasons to file the FAFSA:

1. College is expensive

Even if you’re rich and can afford to pay for your child’s education, it’s expensive. Why would you pass up an opportunity to help with some of the cost?

2. It’s FREE

That’s right. It’s completely free to complete the FAFSA. You’ll spend some of your time completing the FAFSA and you could get thousands of dollars of financial aid in return. So one could say, it’s BEYOND free–they pay you!

3. Getting help is easy and FREE

If you get stumped, help is available using the online help tool or by submitting a question at the FAFSA web site or calling the help number listed on the site. Many schools even host a FAFSA day where they offer help to parents and students on how to complete the free form.

4. FREE money could be waiting for you

According to a recent Reuters article, about 1.8 million lower income undergraduates who might have qualified for aid neglected to file the FAFSA and missed out on financial aid. No matter what your income level, you should file the FAFSA because there is more money out there to be awarded than just need-based aid.

5. Federal money

The federal government provides over $80 billion dollars in grants, loans and work-study programs every year. The only way to get pell grants, perkins loans, stafford loans and other federal aid is by submitting the FAFSA. Federal loans offer the best interest rates and repayment terms for student borrowers and are superior to private student loans.

6. State money

FAFSA is the gatekeeper for state financial aid programs. Each state’s programs are different but they all require the FAFSA to distribute the funds. Check with your state’s higher education agency for deadlines and requirements. In some states the financial eligibility ceilings are much higher.

7. School money

Colleges and private scholarship sponsors offer billions of dollars in financial aid. Even if you don’t have financial need, you may be eligible for these awards. Some school and private scholarship programs are specifically designed for students who were rejected by federal financial aid. Some schools will not award merit aid unless you complete the FAFSA.

8. Scholarship applications ask if you’ve applied

In addition to the aid that a student may receive from federal and state agencies, many scholarship applications include a box to check asking whether the student has submitted a FAFSA. According to Monica Matthews of How to Win College Scholarships, “Scholarship providers want to know that the student is doing everything possible to get financial help in paying for college and submitting the FAFSA is a very important step in the process.”

9. You have two or more children in college

With two in college, your expected family contribution (what the parents can afford to pay) drops by 50%. Even if you didn’t get financial aid with the first, file the FAFSA because having a second child in college can net you some financial aid.

10. You really don’t have a choice

Look at it this way: FAFSA is the ONLY way to be considered for federal, state and college financial aid. Even if you don’t NEED the aid you still want to get it. Who doesn’t want FREE money?

5 Ways To Get Your College Student Home on the Cheap


college studentOver 3 million college students will attend universities outside of their home state this year. With the yearly costs of a private or out-of-state education starting at $24,000, any added expenses beyond room and board, books and tuition can be a real burden. Yet, not having your kids home for the holidays is unimaginable for many parents, so they find a way to make it happen.

For those already thinking about how to get back home “from” school, here are five tips to help your college student get home on the cheap:

  • Rack up miles and earn free flights. While fares during peak season can cost hundreds, earning free flights is easier, and simpler, than many think. RewardExpert helps travelers create easy-to-follow strategies by developing customized earning plans and maximizing frequent flyer rewards. The service makes it easy to earn free tickets in just a few months, making now the perfect time to enroll.
  • Carpool with someone headed the same direction.  College Carpool is amongst a handful off services that allow students to connect with others driving the same direction through private pages for each college. Through forums, students can find available rides, or proactively request one.
  • Enroll in a car share. Many traditional rental car services have restrictions for those under 25, however ride car services like Zipcar andEnterprise CarShare are available to university students. Monthly fees are low, and once registered, students can reserve a car whenever they need one.
  • Hop on the bus… Sure, the bus might not be the most glamorous option, but Bolt Bus, Megabus and Greyhound are cheap options with surprising amenities. Most have free wifi, power outlets and even reclining seats. Smaller-scale regional buses also offer student discounts, such as Short Line.
  • … Or the train. Taking the train home is another great option, withAmtrak providing service from 500 destinations in 46 states. The company offers a 15% student discount, along with the opportunity to earn points towards free travel.

No matter how far away or son or daughter may be, there are some creative ways to get them home without breaking the bank.

Dear High School Junior

high school junior

Dear High School Junior,

Your quest for college intensifies this year. Junior year is THE most important year in the college process. It’s the year you focus your energy on college preparation. All the years leading up to this year have prepared you to begin this journey and as an admissions officer once told me, “drive the car”.

Focus on these four tasks this year and enter your senior year prepared to apply to colleges.


Your junior year is THE most important year as far as college. It’s the junior year transcript that colleges will receive with your application. This is NOT the time to start coasting. Do your best in every class, especially the AP Honors classes. This level of commitment to academics will communicate to colleges that you capable of handling rigorous college courses and have fine-tuned your time management and study skills.

Test prep and study

First–the PSAT is NOT a practice test. It’s your ticket to some substantial scholarship money if you qualify as a finalist. You don’t have to win or be the best; you just have to qualify as a finalist. Most students don’t study for this test so that’s an advantage you will have going into it. If you study, you could be looking at a full-ride at one of the colleges you list on your test. Think carefully before you list a college. Once you do, it’s locked in.

The SAT and ACT are used by colleges to rate you among prospective students. Scoring high on these tests can mean the difference between an offer of admission and a rejection. Study before taking the test. Take advantage of some free test prep even if you feel you don’t need it. Take the practice tests, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and adjust your study accordingly.


College lists and visits

It’s time to start your college lists. Is one college at the top of your radar? Do you want to stay in state or attend a college far from home? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself when you start your list. Remember to look at all types of colleges: private, state, junior colleges, liberal arts colleges, technical colleges and even career specific colleges like a culinary school. One size college does not fit all. It’s time to explore.

Start visiting colleges–either on your list or nearby to get a feel for campus life. Make some preliminary visits before you start scheduling official visits with the colleges. Talk to students. Explore the area around the college. Once you have a tentative list made, start scheduling visits for tours, meeting with financial aid, and interviewing with admissions. Letting the college know you are coming shows interest in their school. Colleges keep track of these contacts; and when the application is received, they can look at their list and see you have expressed interest.


Talk with your parents about how they expect you to pay for college. If they are contributing, ask how much they have budgeted for your education. This will help you know what they are prepared to pay and what you will have to contribute to make up the difference. If it’s substantial you should intensify your scholarship search and start working to save money for expenses.

Don’t apply to colleges that are entirely out of your reach if you don’t receive financial aid. It will only lead to disappointment. Investigate how much financial aid the colleges usually provide incoming students. This will help you plan. Remember that the sticker price of a college is not usually what you will pay. Apply to colleges where you are at the top of the applicant pool. This will improve your chances of receiving merit aid.

It’s time to get serious because senior year is just around the corner. Once it hits, you will be writing essays, applying to colleges, and working hard to keep your grades up. If you prepare in advance by completing these four tasks, you will have less stress your senior year.

Good luck on your journey,

Suzanne Shaffer, Parents Countdown to College Coach

Walking the Helicopter Parenting Tightrope



Parenting has certainly changed.

In the 50’s, our parents let us have the run of the neighborhood. We rode our bikes everywhere, walked home from school alone, and rode the bus to the movies alone. In the summer, we left the house early in the morning and returned home in time for dinner. Our teachers terrified us and we knew if we misbehaved, our parents would back them up. There were no car seats or safety belts. You would never find anti-bacterial soap or even consider using it. When we turned 18, we either went to college or got a full-time job and moved out of the house.

In the 80’s, parenting styles began to change. Because of Adam Walsh, we watched our kids like a hawk. We weren’t quite ready to take away their freedom, but we worried. We worried about where they were, who they were with, and what dangers they might encounter when they were at school, outside, and at the mall. Parents began to question a teacher’s authority and loosened the grip on the discipline of their children. Spanking became taboo and “time out” emerged as a parenting technique.

At the beginning of the 21st century helicopter parenting emerged. It’s not like we planned for it to happen. It just did. We sheltered our children from any disappointment. Everyone on the team got a trophy. There were no winners or losers. We questioned all school authority. We would never consider letting them walk home alone or play outside without supervision. If they forgot their lunch, we took it to them. If they left their homework at home, we took it to school. We began to make every decision for them and protect them from every consequence. We began to feel the “parent peer pressure” for our children to be the best and the greatest. If they graduated from college and couldn’t find a job, they came home to live and thus the term “boomerang” generation was born.

How do you walk the tightrope of helicopter parenting?

How do we raise our children in this frightening world without overprotecting them from the disappointments and trials of life? What are the long-term risks of helicopter parenting? Combine a little of the 50’s parenting, some of the 80’s style of parenting, and a very small amount of the 21st century parenting for the perfect parenting balance. There’s a fine line between cautious parenting and being a helicopter mom.

Ask yourself this question–Do you want your children to be independent successful adults or do you want them living in your basement for years and years depending on you to pay their bills and take care of them? Is it conceivable they will be going off to college and surviving alone, or calling you every day crying for help, or needing assistance with every life task? Will they be running home because they simply can’t survive without you?

My guess–your answers to every one of these questions would be a resounding NO! 

3 Artificial Intelligence Tools to Help with College Prep


college prep

Today’s guest post is from GoSchoolWise, a new website offering free tools to help with college prep.

Is this school a good fit for my child? Do we have a balanced college list? How much will college cost us?

If these are the questions you are asking yourself, there is good news. A smart computer called IBM Watson (the computer that beat humans in Jeopardy) is helping answer these questions for thousands of parents this year at has 3 tools that use sophisticated algorithms to help answer the questions you were wondering. The good news is all these tools are free for high school students and their parents.

College – Personality Fit Tool: The tool has analyzed over 600 US colleges and identified personality traits of students at those schools. 

Example: Some of the personality traits of Georgia Tech students are: Unselfish, Go with the flow, Thoughtful, etc. Some traits for students at Columbia University are: Independent, Change-Agent, Direct etc.

The tool can analyze your child’s essay or Tweets to develop her/his personality traits and identifies their personality fit with each school on your schools list. In addition to campus visits this tool can give you a unique perspective how well your child will fit in at a particular school.

Let us know if you agree with the personality traits of your child by sending a message here.

  1. Admissions Insights: The tool analyzes the schools you are considering applying to and gives you valuable information on the potential acceptance rate based on your child’s gender, and the admissions round you are considering (EA, ED, RD, etc.).

    The tool also recommends other schools your daughter or son should consider as well as checks if you are in compliance with the Early application policy such as Restrictive Early Action or Single-Choice Early Action for different schools.

    In addition to a bunch of other admissions insights, the tool beautifully lays out the schools on a US map (with school pictures) for you to visualize how far your young one is considering going.
  2. Financial Insights: The tool takes your family income and uses historical data as well as factors in the financial aid families with similar income received, predicts the total annual cost of attendance for your child. This can be valuable information to help you understand how much college can cost your family.

You really thought this post will end without giving you any bonus tools and features.

Well guess what we have…

3 Bonus tools/features: SchoolWise also has additional tools/features to help families. Some of the other noteworthy features are:

  1. College Admissions News: College Admissions news and updates from around the web are curated with the help of IBM Watson. The news feed keeps families updated on the latest admissions advice and developments.
  2. Academic Index: Looking to apply to Ivy League school? You should check out the Academic Index (AI) Calculator. AI is a score between 60 – 240 used by Ivy League schools to score the academic achievement of an applicant. The score is highly correlated to acceptance rates. Even though Academic Index is not a secret anymore, but the Ivy League universities and other highly selective colleges are hush-hush about its use.
  3. Schools Pages: Each 4-year college has a beautiful schools page, with pretty images, videos, and interactive tools. One example is the gender diversity tool, which shows the class mosaic. Also, check out the notable alumni and the key recruiting companies section for each school. Some school page examples are: Harvard University, MIT, College of William and Mary.

10 Steps to an Affordable College Education


college affordable

How can you assure that your student receives an affordable college education?

I received this comment on one of my blog posts from a parent:

I am so unprepared. I had no idea about the steps I should have taken. My daughter officially started class yesterday and I am struggling to figure out how to pay for it. She made above average grades and a wonderful ACT so I really figured she would get some kind of offer. She did not and we are middle class but FASFA says we make too much money. I am in such need of help and guidance.

This is the predicament of so many middle class families. Their student applies to college, is accepted, and receives no financial aid. They are stuck with the dilemma of sending them to this college and finding a way to pay, or disappointing their child and also incurring debt so she can attend.

Before you find yourself in this situation, here’s my advice on how to get an affordable college education and avoid this difficult conversation with your student.

Step 1—Get good grades in high school

There is nothing more important to receiving good financial aid than good grades. These habits actually begin in middle school and build until your student applies to colleges. Good grades represent a commitment to education and academic excellence—two things colleges look for in an applicant.

Step 2—Take AP Honors and/or Dual Credit classes

Colleges look for students who take these college-level courses increasing your student’s chances of merit aid. But the best benefit of these classes is the cost savings you will realize. If your student takes AP classes, takes the test and does well, he will receive college credit. Dual credit courses are taken during high school and once completed, count for college credit. Comparing the cost of an AP test or Dual Credit course to the cost of a course in college, you save thousands.

Step 3—Score well on the PSAT

If your student scores well on the PSAT and is a National Merit finalist, the financial flood gates from colleges will open. Your student should take this test as seriously as she does the SAT or ACT. It’s more than a practice test!

Step 4—Score well on the SAT and/or ACT

Standardized test scores will have an effect on the college’s financial aid award. Good grades, a good essay, and good test scores will make you a desirable candidate for admission which can mean merit aid.

Step 5—Apply for scholarships like it’s your job

Your student’s #1 job in high school is to apply for scholarships. Don’t wait until senior year. There are scholarships available for all ages. The more he applies, the better his chances to win. Keep applying during college too!

Step 6—Apply to the right college

If your student is at the top of the applicant pool, it is more likely she will receive financial aid. Colleges reserve merit aid for the students they want to attract. Applying to an elite college where there are hundreds of applicants with better grades and test scores the chances of being awarded financial aid are slim. But if your student applies to a college where most of the applicants scores and grades are average and your student’s are stellar, the chances of receiving financial aid are good.

Step 7—Search for colleges with good financial aid footprints

Use sites like CollegeNavigator and CollegeData to find colleges that award a high percentage of financial aid to admitted students. If your student applies to a college that offers a low percentage of aid, you are gambling with your financial aid. A sure bet would be a college that meets a high percentage of a student’s financial need.

Step 8—Compare financial aid awards and appeal

Once your student receives financial aid awards compare them with one another. Use the top awards to bargain with the college your student most wants to attend. Appeal the awards and ask for more aid. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. Colleges have award money available from those students who declined admission.  If they really want your student, they might increase the award.

Step 9—Work during high school and college

You would be surprised at how much money your student can earn during high school. If he or she is too young to work at traditional jobs, there is always babysitting and yard work. Be sure you put the money in your own account, however. Student savings will decrease your EFC substantially. And during college, your student should work. Studies show that students who work are often better students and time managers.

Step 10—Go for the gold

If your student is open to attending a tuition-free college your worries will be gone! These colleges are not for everyone but they are worth investigating: 8 Colleges Where Students Attend for Free.

Best advice: Determine before your student applies to college how much you can afford to pay if he or she doesn’t qualify for financial aid. Even if you follow all of these steps, be prepared for this possible outcome. If you do, you and your student won’t go into debt or be disappointed when the answer is no.