Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What is an Independent Educational Consultant?

An Independent Educational Counselor (IEC) is an individual who is independent of high schools or colleges and are hired privately to provide expert college counseling assistance, working in the best interest of families.

Professional Organizations

Reputable IEC's belong to professional organizations such as Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and/or Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA). IECs must meet membership qualifications while abiding by the organization's Principles of Good Practice. In addition, many IECs have high school setting work experience (12 years myself) and may also belong to the National Association for College Admission Counselors (NACAC) and/or their local state affiliates, such as the Illinois Association for College Admissions Counselors (IACAC). 

Campus Visits

To become a professional member of IECA, a consultant is to have visited a minimum 50 college campuses. Just as it is important students visit a college campus, an information session and tour allows an IEC to feel the atmosphere in and around the quad, interact with students to understand social life and feel the vibe of the campus. This firsthand knowledge is something that cannot be gained by perusing brochures, browsing websites, or hearing the facts/figures from admission representatives at college fairs. This is valuable information that an IEC has the time to learn, not just during summer vacation, but while college is in session. According to IECA, an IEC spends visits an average 22 college a year. I personally have visited over 150, 3 already this year, and 3 more in the coming days.  

Individual Attention

The U.S. Department of Education states the student to counselor ratio is 467:1. How can a school counselor find the time to individually meet with each senior to discuss their future plans, find the best fit college, brainstorm/edit essays, assist with the FAFSA/CSS Profile, give them a 'high five' when they receive an acceptance letter and give them a big "I'm proud of you!" when they announce on May 1st where  they will attend? An IEC typically works with a smaller caseload. IECA states this is an average of thirty high school students, not just seniors. This allows each IEC to personally develop a relationship with each family. An IEC is also readily available via email, text or call for quick questions, or can easily schedule appointments to meet with parents and/or students who have concerns, are stressed or would like to complete 'just one more essay.' In the very competitive college admissions world, having someone behind you, helping to guide the process is priceless. 

To learn more about Tom, visit my website or contact me.

Monday, April 10, 2017

How To Make a Final College Selection

May 1st is around the corner and that means high school seniors must send their housing deposit to the college of their choice. If a student fails to inform a school by this date, colleges will no longer guarantee their admission. Here are a few tips for a high school senior to make a proper decision on which college to attend.

Social Fit

As an 18 year old high school senior, it is hard to imagine making a decision that will impact the next four years of their life. The first step to make sure the school is the proper social fit. Having hopefully already visited campus, this on-campus experience should have provided the student enough knowledge to make an informed decision. But can the family envision the student on campus, participating in the activities in the quad, eating in the dining halls or sleeping in the dorms rooms? If they can, this is a good sign. If they cannot, perhaps a last minute follow-up visit to the campus might be in order.

Financial Fit

By now, the soon to be college freshman has received a plethora of acceptance letters and financial aid awards. Reexamine each of the acceptance letters and financial aid awards and ask yourself, “Can I afford to send my son/daughter to this school?” If the answer is a clear cut yes, then compare each of the school’s finances together. Think about the programs they offer and your likes/dislikes about each school to make a proper decision. Select the school that you feel is the best fit for your family.

If there is some hesitation in affordability, here are some things to consider regarding the college:

  • How many loans will the student have to take out?
  • What will the final amount of loans be when the student graduates in four years?
  • Can my son/daughter receive the same quality education at a school that is not their first choice, but offering more in terms of financial aid?
  • Is the scholarship they are receiving a one year scholarship or renewable for four years?
  • What are the qualifications to be renewed?
These are important questions to discuss as a family as May 1st will be here soon. 

Eliminate Friends From Decision
You can meet new friends at school, 
such as the Colgate Raider!
Many high school seniors are afraid to leave their comfort zone. Many adults are like this too; it is only natural. Making their college decision based upon where their friends will be attending is not a recommended way to make a decision. With Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Skype/Facetime and email (snail mail to teenagers) students will easily be able to keep in touch. This is a great time for students to learn to think for themselves, be an individual and make an adult decision. They should choose the college that best fits themselves academically, socially and financially; not those of their friends. Young adults are resilient, they will be able to find their routine by keeping in touch with their high school friends while also making a campus full of new ones.

Post a comment regarding your college acceptance experience! If you have questions regarding the college process, contact us.

Monday, February 13, 2017

What Goes Into a Financial Aid Award Package?

As colleges begin to send out financial aid award letters, now is as a great time to discuss financial aid. Listed below are four types of 'awards' typically found on a financial aid letter.

A scholarship is merit based, meaning, students have accomplished something. This may include:
  • Academics
  • Standardized Test Score (ACT/SAT)
  • Unique Talent (Athletic, Performing/Visual Art)

Scholarships are awarded for various lengths. Make sure to investigate their stipulations. Regardless the length, scholarships do not need to be repaid to the school.

Based upon 'financial need,' grants, like scholarships, do not need to be repaid. They are the biggest reason to complete the FAFSA. These awards can be from the institution, federal or state government. There are 2 common federal grants:
  • Pell Grant: Up to $5,920 (for 2017-18 school year) to students who demonstrate financial need.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: In addition to the Pell Grant, this award is up to $4,000 for families that demonstrate exceptional financial need.

Federal Work-Study
Students work an on-campus job and earn a specified amount. There are ample opportunities reserved for federal work-study students in places such as the admissions office, school cafeteria or recreation center. Students cannot earn in excess of the amount offered on the award letter.

To defray the remaining cost of attendance, colleges will most likely package loans into the award letter. The are three types of main loans.
  • Direct Subsidized Loan
    • Based upon financial need. 
    • 10 year repayment period Accruing interest is paid by the Department of Education until 6 months after a student leaves school. 
    • Loan limit is $3,500 to $5,500, depending upon the year in school.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan
    • NOT based upon financial need. 
    • Borrower is responsible for all interest, which accrues immediately. 
    • 10 year repayment period on this loan (including accrued interest) does not begin until a student leaves school. 
    • Award amount is up to $2000 a school year. 
  • Direct PLUS Loan
    • For a student's parents/guardians. 
    • NOT based upon financial need. 
    • Borrower assumes all interest. 
    • The interest rate is slightly higher, but generally lower than a private loan. 
    • Maximum amount borrowed is the cost of attendance, minus any financial aid received.

When comparing financial aid award letters, do not compare the actual awarded amount. Compare the financial commitment between schools and the amount of loans the family will have to repay. 

If you have questions regarding your family's financial aid award letter or how to prepare for the rising cost of college, contact us

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Options to Delay College

The term gap year came into America's mainstream vocabulary last year with Malia Obama's announcement that she will delay her entrance into Harvard until Fall 2017. An Australian and European mainstay, the gap year means an academic year spent between high school and the start of college to pursue enrichment opportunities.


  • Work
    • Intern at a company of your academic interest
    • Teach English in South America 
    • Au pair in Europe. 
  • Volunteer
    • Start at your local food pantry
    • Join City Year to help rebuild America
  • Travel
    • Gain invaluable life experience by backpacking through Europe
    • Driving a camper across Australia
    • Go to South America like Malia Obama 
  • Learning
    • Develop those entrepreneurial skills and intern at a startup company
    • Learn a new language in a foreign country
    • Research a passion in its actual setting.


  • A gap year allows students to take a step back and 'recharge' from working hard to create a spectacular high school resume (link to old blog post) 
  • The life experiences gained can make students better prepared not only academically, but socially as well for college.
  • Working can not only begin a professional resume, but can help earn money for college, taking the pressure of tuition or other college costs. 
  • Students get the chance to experience life away from home before starting university through travel, experiencing a new culture(s) or being immersed in a new language. 


  • Taking part of an organized gap year program, traveling across countries or living in a new city can be expensive.
  • College financial aid packages may be changed as families will have to once again complete the FAFSA.
  • Do students just want to travel? Perhaps they can consider cheaper alternatives while accruing college credits through college study abroad programs.
  • For students who fail to develop important organizational habits, it might be easy to lose focus and fall out of the academic routine.
  • A poorly planned gap year may mean a year spent binge watching Netflix.

While a gap year between high school may not be for everyone, neither is immediately attending college. Perhaps some of these options can be used as an extended summer break while in college, explored during a study abroad semester, or done prior to entering the workforce/graduate school. If you would like to further explore Gap Year options, here is a recommended website.

If you would like to find out more about Gap Years, or anything college related, contact us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

4 College Scholarship Questions

The most frequently asked question I receive as an Independent College Counselor is, "Do you help with scholarships?" While 85% of all scholarships will be awarded from the colleges themselves, this does not mean students should not seek to win the estimated  $3.3 billion awarded from private sources. With all that potential money available, along with $100 million in scholarships unclaimed,  the answer  is, "yes."

What Is a Scholarship?

A scholarship is an award based upon student merit, or the accomplishments of the student. This may include high school academics, standardized test score (ACT/SAT), or unique talent (athletic, performing or visual arts). Scholarships are awarded for various lengths. Make sure to investigate their stipulations. Regardless of length, scholarships do not need to be repaid.

When is the Best Time To Look?

Another question I receive about scholarships is "when is the best time to look?" The answer: "all the time!"  Students should set aside an hour a month to search for scholarships. This means an hour to just research. Create a spreadsheet to track due dates. Make sure to budget additional time to craft an essay and complete the application. You do not have to be obsessed with this, but take the proper amount of time needed to win. Think of this as a job. In the end, hopefully you will be 'paid.'

Are Scholarships Only for Seniors?

Keep in mind, not all scholarships can be only won by seniors. Many times any student can apply for the scholarship, with the money either being held and sent to the future school of choice, or paid to the family with the expectation it be used for college. Check the 'rules' of every application.

When to Stop Looking?

The easiest answer is never! Why stop when most colleges allow for 'stackable' scholarships? This means any outside scholarship brought to the college will be 'stacked' on top of the financial aid package awarded. Keep in mind, smaller scholarships may have a smaller applicant pool because students do not feel these are worth their time. A few of these smaller scholarships will add up to a larger scholarship! Remember, you cannot win unless you try.

If you interested in learning more securing college scholarships or anything college, contact us.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Last September, President Obama announced his plan for earlier college financial aid. This means that families can now begin the FAFSA on October 1st. What is the FAFSA? It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a government form that determines a family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and is used by colleges as a gateway to financial aid. 


Beginning this year, families will be entering 'Prior-Prior Year,' or PPY, tax information. This means if you will be attending college in the Fall of 2017, you will enter the tax information from two years previous, or 2015. This will eliminate the need to estimate your income and re-enter the information when your taxes are complete. 

Families will first need to create a FSA ID to access accounts such as the FAFSA and Federal student loans. This site will also serve as a student and parent's online signature (each have to create one).

Once this is complete, on October 1, families can begin using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to upload tax information to complete a significant portion of the form. Additional information required include: balance of cash (savings/checking account), trust funds, 529 accounts, stocks, bonds, certificate of deposits, and other forms of 'liquid' cash, along with the number of children that will be attending college concurrently.


Financial aid award letters should be sent out earlier. Student's should to learn of their acceptance and financial aid award information at the same time, allowing families to make better financial decisions for college

With the use of prior-prior year tax information, the need to ask for a financial review to financial aid office should rise. This should not be taken as a negative. Circumstances will change over a year's time, allowing families to easily document changes in their financial situation to college. 

You can submit your FAFSA as your student applies to college. Most schools will accept the FAFSA as early as the first filing date, but most colleges have their financial deadline being the same time the student applies to the school.


Make sure not to rush
Since 2013 when the DRT was created, the average time to complete this form is 20 minutes, but slow down. On average there are an estimated 10 errors per form, which can cost you money.

You Can Submit the FAFSA to College You Have an interest in attending, by have not yet applied
You can submit  up to 10 colleges to have the FAFSA sent too. 

File as early as possible
Applying to a college by the priority deadline helps colleges develop a financial picture, thus allowing them to allocate the approximate amount of money necessary to secure a class
Funds are set aside for late applying students, but filing early is always better. 

'You' on the FAFSA refers to the student
Since the student is gaining the aid, the form is assuming they are completing the form.

No matter the amount of money a family earns, complete the FAFSA
There is no income ceiling to prevent a family from qualifying for federal student aid. 
Several factors that go into the financial aid report besides income.
Not all financial aid is need based (grants), it can be merit aid. (Link to other blog)

If you have any questions on competing the FAFSA, financial aid or anything college, Contact Us

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A College, a Roman Catholic Saint and the Indy 500

This Memorial Day weekend will mark the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. In honor of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," I felt it was only appropriate to write about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, located just outside Terre Haute, Indiana.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

How many colleges can boast they have a saint on their campus? SMWC has a shrine, which includes the remains of Mother Theodore Guerin, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Saint Mother Guerin emigrated from France in 1839 at the request of the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. Along with 5 other French nuns, she set roots outside Terre Haute, Indiana to minister. Her accomplishments include founding a new religious order (Sisters of Providence) and numerous schools in the Indiana/Illinois area, including the eventual Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She has been attributed to two miracles, one taking place in the church itself, allowing her to be canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 2006.

The Mission of the Sister's of Providence

St. Mary-of-the-Woods College is Indiana's oldest Catholic college. It was founded in 1840 by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, founder of the Sisters of Providence. The school is still run by the congregation with nearly 300 sisters residing on campus grounds. In 1984, the campus began offering co-educational graduate school programs and in 2015 began offering men the opportunity to enroll in their campus based programs. The campus also has a vibrant online education program.

College Ring

The SMWC ring is the most recognizable image of the college. The tradition began as a way to honor the academic success and sacrifice of the students, while showing their pride and loyalty to SMWC. There are two ceremonies connected with the rings. Ring Day occurs during junior year where the students are bestowed their rings. The other is the Oakleaf Ceremony where students are inducted into the alumnae association by turning their rings around, such as an acorn turns into an oak tree.

School of Equine Studies

By now, you have been reading this post and still wondering, where is the Indianapolis 500 connection? The School of Equine Studies is named after current Chairwoman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mari Hulman George. Ms. George, along with her mother, Mary Fendrich Hulman, are alumnae of SMWC.

At SMWC, women can pursue two paths in Equine Science: General Studies or Equine Training & Instruction. The General Studies program allows students to explore different areas of equine study through a variety of courses.

The Equine Training & Instruction major is for students to become either a trainer or instructor of horses. Throughout the coursework, students are exposed to different philosophies, techniques and approaches to training and instructing. These courses can be designed specifically for either training or instructing, or a combination of both.

When you are watching the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and hear Mari Hulman George command, "Ladies and Gentlemen...Start Your Engines!" make sure to think of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

If you would like to know more about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, or other colleges or equine programs, contact us.