About Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer has been a member since April 8th 2011, and has created 652 posts from scratch.

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Scholarship Friday: Use Social Media to Your Advantage


social mediaYou have buried your head in the sand if you don’t know the impact that social media has on your reputation. Just watch the news, and celebrities put their feet in their mouths daily on Twitter. The whole world is monitoring what they say. But who is watching what your teen says? Just about everyone these days: colleges, scholarship judges and committees, and future employers.

It’s not enough for your teen to bridle their keystrokes on Twitter or set their Facebook page to private. It stands to reason that if these entities are looking at social media, you should use it to your advantage and create a positive impression. Social media is a great place for scholarship applicants to document their volunteer activities.

Be authentic. Create a blog and write about your experiences. Post pictures on Instagram. Comment on Twitter and Facebook about what you are learning while volunteering. Use social media to showcase your interests, your activities and your learning experiences.

For some excellent tips on how to use social media to your advantage, read:

Scholarship Applicants: Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Your teen may not be a celebrity, but he is being watched by people who are interested in knowing more about him. Don’t let your teen have one of those “uh-oh” moments like Gilbert Gottfried did a few years ago:

bad tweets


Cost of Learning Releases Research Findings on Net Price Calculators


net price calculatorsCostofLearning.com, the website providing transparency into the true cost of college via its universal net price calculator, released research findings assessing the accuracy of more than 100 well-known public and private college net price calculators. Published on the Cost of Learning blog, the analysis details which colleges under-estimate and over-estimate their true cost of college.

For this research, Cost of Learning used the net pricing data the universities submit to the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (“IPEDS”) and compared that to the data found on each college’s net price calculator.

“This is the first time anyone has merged these two data sources and the results are surprising,” said Jimmy Becker, CEO and Founder of Cost of Learning. “Unfortunately, some of these calculators aren’t providing accurate information.”

The findings show state universities seem biased in favor of being conservative and over-estimating the net price of college while private colleges seem biased in favor of under-estimating prices. In some cases, these private colleges are under-estimating their pricing by thousands of dollars compared to the actual reported IPEDS data. (Editorial note: please see the blog for a full list of universities and the data.)

“Families depend on the college net price calculators to make decisions about which schools they can afford. Schools that over-estimate may discourage low-income families from applying to outstanding schools,” added Becker. “For the colleges that under-estimate, the risk is that families may have an unpleasant surprise when they receive the acceptance and award letter.”

To find out which schools over-estimate and which schools under-estimate costs, readers can read the blog or visit CostofLearning.com where they can also compare net pricing for more than 1,500 colleges and universities.


About CostofLearning.com

Based in Boston, MA, Cost of Learning’s mission is to enable families to make well-informed financial decisions about the true cost of college. With CostofLearning.com, the company is bringing actionable, clear, and simple information to what is currently a challenging and stressful process for many families. College is too expensive and the financial aid system is too complex for most of families to easily navigate. CostofLearning.com is making it easy for families to determine their true net cost of college and compare those prices across a range of colleges. With this information, families can make better choices determining which college is best suited and most affordable for them.


Wednesday’s Parent: Cultivate the Counselor Relationship


counselorYou would be surprised at the amount of material that comes across your high school counselor’s desk: from scholarship opportunities, to college admissions counselor recommendation requests, to leadership positions, to volunteer opportunities. Making friends with your counselor may well be the most important and valuable relationship your teen cultivates during high school.

My daughter and son attended a rather large high school. At the time, being uninformed and unaware, we did not understand the value of this relationship. When senior year came along she missed several scholarship opportunities because the counselor did not even know she was applying to several of the colleges. When recommendation letter time came along the counselor refused to complete her recommendation stating that she did not know my daughter well enough to write a letter for her. My daughter had to explain to several admission committees why she was not able to obtain a counselor recommendation.

She would have spared herself that necessity if she had known the importance of utilizing the resources that were available in the counselor’s office and had known how important it was to cultivate that relationship. Counselor recommendations are considered an important part of most college applications.

The counselor relationship

It’s no surprise to parents that high school counselors are busy. They juggle regular counseling duties, paperwork and college prep. Most have too many students to advise and most are required to spend so much time on paperwork that it’s impossible to speak with every student. Research shows that the average counselor to student ratio is 470-1 and that they spend less than 20 minutes a year with each student.

A recent article in Time, “The High School Guidance Counselor”, explains the problem:

In addition to huge caseloads, budget cuts have forced to counselors to increasingly contend with duties unrelated to their traditional roles, such as monitoring the school cafeteria or proctoring exams, says Eric Sparks, the ASCA’s assistant director. And few get more than scant training before taking on the job, says Alexandria Walton Radford, a former U.S. Department of Education official who has studied the issue. Many degree programs for school counselors don’t offer coursework on helping students make the best college choices, or getting financial aid, according to a national survey of counselors.

The result is an overtaxed system in which many students either never go to college, go to institutions that are the wrong for them, or never learn about financial aid for which they may qualify. According to Radford’s research, low-income, ethnic minority valedictorians and first-generation college applicants shy away from elite schools, unaware of scholarship opportunities; freshmen over-rely on friends and relatives for advice about college.

What should parents do?

A counselor from Pikesville High School in Baltimore, Maryland had this this suggestion, in a recent article I wrote about the high school counselor conundrum:

I appreciate that you care about SCHOOL counselors’ lack of training in college planning, but I disagree about your recommendations. There are more productive and proactive ways than becoming the squeaky wheel…Like asking district and state leadership for smaller caseloads and more professional development for SCHOOL counselors.” Good advice. Get involved in your school community and ask for changes.

The bottom line

Get involved. Ask questions like these: 5 Must-Ask Questions for your Child’s Guidance Counselor. Start early by making contact with the counselor and building a relationship. They may be busy, but most counselors are eager to help if asked.

Read Wendy’s post: School Counselors and the Parent-Student Team


Wendy and I will be joined by Shelley Krause (@butwait), a high school counselor, on Wednesday’s Parent night (the fourth Wednesday of each month) on #CampusChat, Wednesday, August 27, 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will talk about how to establish a relationship with your high school counselor and how they can help with 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!

Academic Writing Tools


recommendation letterMany people view academia as “pretend” – as something separate from the real world. While there are many things about school that don’t translate well into real life, there are many things that do. The process used for writing a dissertation, and in fact writing anything, can be a good foundation for how to approach any real-life problem.

Formulate An Idea

This is probably the hardest part of writing. You need something to write about. There are a lot of ways to come up with ideas, but one of the best is to think about what you’re most passionate about, what needs further research in your field of study, and then find the crossover point.

Poll your professors, other students, and alumni for answers. You can also hire a company like Ivory Research to get the wheels turning. Companies like these are professional research companies that help with the research and writing process. But, they’re not just good for a dissertation. They can help you write practically anything.

Start With Brainstorming

A good brainstorming session begins with a clear, yet focused, mind. You must clear your thoughts of all distractions. A good way to do this would be to do some meditation before you write, or go for a walk in the woods – somewhere where you can find peace and tranquillity. When you’re ready to write, get rid of all distractions.

You should silence your phone, shut off access to the Internet, and close and lock your door for privacy. Then, start writing. Don’t think too hard about what you’re writing – this is a mistake most students make. This is not a time for editing anything. This is a time to write from your subconscious.

Your first draft should look almost like a stream of consciousness. You might veer off onto tangents. That’s fine. You’ll go back and edit it later. Eventually, your drafting process will become cleaner so that extensive editing won’t be necessary. However, and especially if you’re not an experienced writer, your first draft will be quite ugly.

Do not edit anything. Resist the urge to edit as you type. This not only slows you down, but it can kill the creative writing process, which is necessary to make your dissertation, or research paper interesting as well as informative.

When you’re out of college, this technique is useful for just about any problem-solving you will do. You can whip out a sheet of paper and start writing down questions and problems you’re facing – even if they initially don’t make sense. Then, you can go back and analyse them.

Analyse The Draft

There’s a lot that won’t make it into the final draft. The editing process is where you decide which takes priority. This is the time when you can be objective about your writing. Before, it was purely subjective. You were tapping your subconscious for ideas – powerful, emotionally-driven ideas. Now, it’s time to justify those ideas with logic and reason.

Think about the process itself and uncover patterns you might have developed subconsciously.

Think About The Process

The writing process itself is a learning experience. Thinking about your process consciously and objectively can teach you about how your subconscious reacts to certain situations, ideas, and how you feel about things.

Naturally, this carries over in real life. When you’re feeling distressed about something, or happy, you can use writing to write out all of your emotions, questions, and ideas. Then you can think about the processes going on inside your head. Why did you think or feel a certain way?

This can help you uncover hidden motivations in your writing, patterns that limit your writing, and even processes that strengthen your writing.


Jenny Wescott has been an online tutor for some time now. She likes to share her insights to help others research and write better. You can find her blog posts mainly on education, research and writing websites. 


App Tuesday: A New Ethics App


I recently received an email from The Big Q (@thebigqethics), an online project of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. She told me about an app they created to help students with decisions using a step-by-step approach to ethical questions. Today’s App Tuesday post is a guest post explaining the ethics app and its uses.

ethics appWhile most universities offer ethics classes, the focus of these courses is often on questions that can seem distant to most students, like euthanasia or capital punishment.  But college students face ethical dilemmas every day: What do I do if I see someone cheating on a test? Should I take a study drug?  What is my responsibility to a roommate who is depressed?

An app created by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University provides a step-by-step approach to ethical questions both big and small: Ethical Decision Making: A Practical Tool for Thinking Through Tough Choices.  The app takes users through a process that begins with getting the facts and identifying the stakeholders in the situation.  Then they’re introduced to five classic ethical approaches—Utility, Rights, Justice, Common Good, and Virtue—posing questions such as “Does this action produce the most good and do the least harm for all who are affected?” and “Does this action treat people equally or proportionally?”

Finally, users weight the different approaches and get a score that indicates whether their thinking is on the right track or whether they should evaluate another option.  The app does not give a “yes” or “no” answer, but the score helps users decide if they wish to move forward with the decision.

Santa Clara is using the app this year with all incoming students during its orientation sessions on academic integrity and cheating.  The app has been downloaded 4,900 from the Apple App store and viewed almost 8,000 times online.

The app draws on the Ethics Center’s popular “Framework for Ethical Decision Making,” which has been online for almost 20 years and viewed over a million times. “The Center has always believed that we need a deliberate method to make good ethical decisions,” said Center Executive Director Kirk O. Hanson.   “We’ve used the Framework for many years, and we’re delighted to offer it in a new medium that may be particularly attractive to a new generation.”