Thursday, February 21, 2013

College of Wooster

If you can play the bagpipes, the College of Wooster is the place for you! Wooster, Ohio is a community of 26,000 that is located about 55 miles southwest of Cleveland, 80 miles northeast of Columbus and 30 miles west of Akron. The town's proximity to large metropolitan areas allows for easy access to air and bus transportation, while still far enough away give the town a true Midwestern feel. The campus flows into the downtown area, providing the campus with a community feel. Founded in 1866 by the Presbyterian church, this liberal arts school is truly unique amongst colleges. 

1. Independent Study (I.S.)
Kauke Hall and the famed Arch
In 1947, school president Howard Lowry wanted students to choose a topic that would encompass their education at Wooster. During their last year on campus, students replace one of their four courses per semester with their I.S project. This may seem like a daunting task, but the Wooster curriculum is set up from day one to prepare students for this capstone project. Since then, every senior has participated in this yearlong coursework project.

During the process, students work one-on-one with a faculty advisor to complete a written thesis or research project. The partnership meets weekly for an hour to evaluate progress, refine research, present drafts and discuss feedback. From time to time, small groups  present materials and findings to other students.  

Following Spring Break, students turn in their completed thesis to the registrar's office. In return they receive a yellow and black numbered button stating "I Did It!" along with a coveted Tootsie Roll. Although the celebration begins, students are still required to defend their project in front of a faculty examiner in order to graduate.

One day in April, the college will cancel classes and seniors will display their I.S. theses and projects to the entire school during The Senior Research Symposium. The entire student body walks and discusses the projects with the seniors to stimulate ideas for their I.S. projects.

2. College of Wooster Pipe Band
This black and gold kilt wearing pipe band participates in many campus events. The first day of school introduces freshmen to this pipe band. The band marches all first year students through the Kauke Hall Arch as a symbolic start to their Wooster careers. It is also through the same arch as seniors, the band will lead them again. As the last student leaves the registrar's office on I.S. Monday, the band will lead the provost and seniors through the Arch and into Kittredge Hall to have a celebratory dinner. The band also leads the seniors through the Arch on their final day, graduation.

3. Involvement
A student at Wooster “dabbles in a little bit of everything." All students are presented with a holistic approach to their education; blending their extracurricular interests with their studies, including their Independent Study projects. The average student at Wooster participates in four extracurricular activities and double majors. How do they handle all of it? I was informed that a Fighting Scot is someone who has great time management skills and is excited about their school, campus activities and education. The students enjoy participating in campus life and getting involved. Many of the students I talked to said the hardest thing was to be away from campus life when they studied abroad. Over 40% of the student body studies abroad, mostly during their junior year. With the adventuresome spirit of the campus, it is easily understood why nearly 70% of all Wooster students come from outside Ohio; while 98% live on campus all four years.

4. Colleges That Change Lives
This small, liberal arts school was exactly what Loren Pope was looking for when he wrote his book, Colleges That Change Lives (1996). Pope visited numerous colleges that he felt offers as much, if not more than Ivy League schools. The College of Wooster was one of the 40 schools that Pope chose to include in his 'educational college guide.' Pope felt that the College of Wooster was his “original best-kept secret in higher education." While visiting the school in 2012, over 15 years after he wrote his book, it is clearly evident that Pope was correct in his description of the school. From the outgoing students greeting me as I walked across the campus, to the pride each student had as they discussed their future senior thesis (I.S.) plans, this college is definitely worth a closer look for students who want an active college experience.


Monday, February 18, 2013

College Scorecard

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has highlighted the accumulating debt Americans face, especially in regards to higher education. Last Tuesday at the State of the Union Address, President Obama officially announced the creation of the College Scorecard for the 2013-14 academic year. 

1. Compare Costs At Schools
The College Scorecard is an interactive website that provides financial information for the purpose of comparing higher education. The concept behind the Scorecard is to assist college-bound students and their families. This tool will help families make appropriate financial decisions when determining their college decision. President Obama said in his State of the Union Address, “… my administration will release a new College Scorecard that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.” The Department of Education and President Obama also want to hold colleges accountable for the rising debt crisis of the nation.

2. How It Works
This interactive tool compares basic information regarding the college search in a easy to read format. The consumer can either begin by creating their own college search or by entering a school of their choice. The website provides five basic components: Cost, Graduation Rate, Loan Default Rate, Median Borrowing and Employment.

The Cost component refers to the average net price cost of attendance per academic year at a particular school. The Graduation Rate provides the percentage of full-time students that graduate within 6 years from that institution. Loan Default Rate makes available the percentage of borrowers that defaulted on their federal student loan within three years of repayment. Median Borrowing presents the amount a typical family borrows to attend the school and the monthly repayment amount of their federal student loan. Employment will publish information on earning potential of that particular college's graduates. This portion is a work in progress as the Department of Education has yet to finalize the information that can be found here. All the information within the Scorecard will be updated periodically by the Department of Education. 
3.  Net Price Calculator

The Net Price Calculator (NPC) was mandated by the Department of Education to be placed on a college websites. Since October 2011, each college provides information on their website that allows potential students to see the actual cost of attendance.

Although this is a helpful tool for college-bound families, there are still criticisms of the NPC. One strong complaint been the placement of the NPC on a school's website. Some colleges are transparent with the NPC. It is easy to manage, while providing an accurate estimate of the cost of attending that school. Other schools make it difficult on the consumer. Either the NPC is not easily found on the website, or it asks only a few general questions. The Department of Education has created a basic template all schools to use. Yet, most colleges have created their own specific version that provides an accurate estimate of potential financial aid.
4.  Criticisms of Scorecard

The Scorecard is a convenient website that provides information at a consumer's fingertips. Yet with a little research, much of this information could easily be obtained. For example, the Department of Education plans to publish information on earning potential later this year in the Scorecard's Earning's section. This information is already provided on the internet by the Department of Labor.
The O*Net ( is a free online database created by the Department of Labor that can be used for career exploration, job analysis and earning potential. It explains the education needed to obtain a position in a particular field, along with a short and long term prospectus.

Other criticisms to the Scorecard are that it is a 'one size fits all' report that compares colleges based on their financials. Many critics feel that the cost of attendance overshadows other important elements of college, such as quality of education, student-to-faculty ratio and retention rates. Many colleges have been critical of the Scorecard. They state a college that graduates more students in traditionally higher paying professions, such as engineers and medical fields, will have higher evaluations. Those schools who graduate students into traditionally lower paying careers such as social services and education will be penalized with lower evaluations.   
This newest government higher education mandate is another tool for college bound consumers to use at when comparing college. The Scorecard is a work in progress and a step in the right direction. It is not a game changer, but with the rising cost of higher education growing faster than the rate of inflation, it provides families with another useful tool to use when making an important financial decision.

The Scorecard can be found at

Monday, February 11, 2013


In last Monday's post, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was discussed. Topics highlighted were:

      ·         How the FAFSA works
      ·         How to properly fill out the FAFSA
      ·         Information is needed for the FAFSA
      ·         Tips were provided to accurately complete the FAFSA

This week, In and Around the Quad will debunk some common myths about the FAFSA.

MYTH #1: I need to file my taxes before submitting the FAFSA.

·         This is not true. A family can submit their FAFSA by providing a reasonable estimate of their previous year's income taxes. The Department of Education works with the Internal Revenue Service to help connect a family's FAFSA information with their tax return when completed. The sooner a family submits their FAFSA, the quicker the financial aid packages will be sent by the school.   
MYTH #2: Families that make too much money should not fill out a FAFSA.

·        There is no income ceiling to prevent a family from qualifying for federal student aid. If someone is offering to provide you with money and all you have to do is fill out a FREE form, why not fill it out? You have nothing to lose and only money to gain! In addition, there are several factors that go into the financial aid report besides money. Information such as size of family and the number of children in college concurrently. According to Sallie Mae, the typical family earning more than $100,000 received $5,451 in grants and scholarships during the 2012 academic year. Also, the FAFSA is only for federal student aid. Colleges can and will give out their own aid. The FAFSA is simply a starting point.
MYTH #3: Colleges only look at what is stated on the FAFSA, even though my situation has changed.

·         The EFC is only a government recommendation. Parents are encouraged to contact the financial aid office at each college to appeal their financial aid package. This office can make adjustments if there have been changes to a family's income or assets. Examples of items that may not show up on the FAFSA; loss of a job, using savings to start a new business, medical bills and/or having another child.
MYTH #4: If both parents are divorced and remarried, all of the parents' information must be entered on the FAFSA.

·         The information that should be entered on the FAFSA is that of the parent the student has lived with more than 50% of the time within the last 12 months. In addition, that step-parent's financial information MUST be included along with the student's tax information, if they filed an income tax. Unfortunately, the student cannot choose to enter the information of the parent/step-parent that makes the least amount of money to secure a lower EFC.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Texas A&M University

Once a week I will take you on a college campus visit. I will post pictures, descriptions and reactions of my campus experience for you.
Texas A&M University
Howdy! That is the official greeting of the 6th largest student body in the nation, Texas A&M. Originally founded in 1871 as the first public institution of higher education in Texas, it is located in College Station, Texas, ninety miles northwest of Houston. When on campus, there are four things easily associated with Texas A&M, TAMU or A&M: Engineering, Corp of Cadets (ROTC), Aggie Spirit and friendliness.

1.  Engineering
The Dwight Look College of Engineering boosts the 8th ranked engineering program of a public institution offering a doctorate degree. The overall ranking for the engineering programs is 16th in the nation. Both rankings are according to U.S. News & World Reports. The engineering program is by far the largest school at Texas A&M, boosting over 10,000 students, more than 20% of their student population. Being that large is not enough for A&M! Its goal is to increase the College of Engineering to 25,000 students by 2025. First year engineering students have their own dormitory, The Engineering Living Learning Community (ELLC).
2.  Corp of Cadets
Memorial Student Center (MSC)
Stepping on the campus of A&M, one will not miss the Corp of Cadets. More than 2,300 students belong to the ROTC program, making it one of nations' largest uniformed student body. Texas A&M commissions more officers than any other institution outside of the nation's service academies. The Corp of Cadets reside in special dormitories in the Quadrangle. The Memorial Student Center (MSC) recently completed a 4 year renovation and serves as a memorial to all Aggies who have served.

3.  Aggie Spirit
E. King Gill, the original 12th Man
Tradition was the first word I was told by an Aggie alum in reference to TAMU. That tradition goes along with another Texas passion, football. During the fall on Saturday, Kyle Field will dra between 30,000-40,000 students; almost half of its capacity. The 12th Man, as they are officially known, stand the entire game, while waving their official white towels, to support their fellow Aggies. Besides the football games, the tradition of the Aggie Ring, earned by students after 90 hours of credit, is recognizable to graduates of Texas A&M since 1894.  Other traditions on campus include placing a penny at the foot of the statue of former president Lawrence Sullivan Ross (or as his namesake in Monsters, Inc. is called, Sully), for help during exam week. Near the statue of 'Sully', one will find an odd shaped Century Tree, the oldest tree on campus. This is where many traditions of good luck and marriage proposals occur. This section is not complete without mentioning the highest ranking member of the Corp of Cadets, Reveille VIII. The official A&M mascot, a purebred Collie, has a Corp member assigned to her at all times and has the power to dismiss class if she barks. If you cannot keep Reveille interested, you cannot keep the students engaged.  

4.  Friendliness
Once you step on campus, it is hard not to see the friendly atmosphere of TAMU. I was greeted multiple times, in the form of 'Howdy',  on the phone, by the student admissions office receptionist and by nearly every passing student whose eyes I catch. Not only do you hear 'Howdy,' but if an upperclassman hears something they like, they 'Whoop!' If you are a underclassman, do not worry, as each class has their own specific 'yell.' These are rehearsed at the Midnight Yell Practice and performed at football games. This Aggie Spirit is vital to the culture of A&M. 92% of freshmen return to A&M for their sophomore year; an impressive statistic at such a large university. TAMU graduates 80.4% of their student body. These graduate are linked to the university forever. An Aggie never says goodbye. They give a 'thumbs up,' and exclaim 'Gig 'Em!'

Monday, February 4, 2013

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

January 1st was a very important date. Not only did it signal a new year, but it was the date the 2013-14 FAFSA was released. What is the FAFSA? It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a form produced by the United States Department of Education that determines a family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The FAFSA is a 103 question form used to determine a family's EFC for college. Financial information is imputed into a formula developed by the United States Department of Education to determine the EFC. The EFC is then forwarded to up to ten designated colleges to individually determine a student's financial aid package.

The form can be accessed online ( starting January 1st of each year and is submitted electronically. A family can opt to print a copy and send it via the mail, but this will delay the process by 2-4 weeks. The sooner the FAFSA is filled out, the quicker the information can be received by each college. The longer a family waits to submit their FAFSA can lead to a college having less financial resources to award to a family. 

To fill out the FAFSA, families will use their previous year's IRS Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ  (whichever Federal Income Tax Return Form that was used) both for the parent(s) and the student. Many of the questions ask about specific 'lines' on the tax form, such as adjusted gross income and balance of cash (savings and checking account). Other questions ask about a family's net worth (trust funds, stocks, bonds, certificate of deposits, etc...) and the number of children that will be attending college concurrently.

Complete whichever IRS Form 1040 as soon as possible. A parent can estimate their earnings when filling out the FAFSA, but they will need to later adjust and provide accurate figures. The sooner taxes are filed, the quicker an actual EFC will be calculated. The student will then be closer to the front of the line to receive each college's maximum financial aid award. Make sure not to rush when you are filling out the form. There are an average of 10 errors estimated per form. Remember, the form is free. One should not pay to access a FAFSA website.

In addition, keep as many assets out of the student's name as possible. Student earnings are weighted more heavily than parental money (nearly 20 cents to the dollar). Why is this? The logic is that a student has earned money and has saved over the years for college. Though that might not be the case, make sure to legally change the location of your high school student's assets by their 2nd semester of junior year or 1st semester of senior year (the FAFSA uses the previous year's tax returns, not the year they begin attending college). A FAFSA must be submitted each year a student is looking for financial aid; from the first year in college, until the last year of their doctoral program.

Next Monday, In and Around the Quad will debunk common FAFSA myths.

Friday, February 1, 2013

What is an Independent Educational Counselor? (Part 4 of 4)

An Independent Educational Counselor (IEC) is an individual who is hired by families to provide expert college counseling assistance. IECs are qualified professionals who are independent of high schools and colleges and work on behalf of families in order find the best academic, social and financial 'fit' for students. An IEC is similar to a school counselor in that they assist students in the college process; yet in many ways they differ.

4. Individual Attention
The U.S. Department of Education states the student to counselor ratio is 467:1. The American School Counselor's Association asserts that the average Illinois school counselor works with 667 students. How can a school counselor find the time to meet with each member of the senior class, for an hour, to discuss their future plans, schedule their proper courses, find the best fit college, assist in filling out college applications, brainstorm and edit college essays, discuss financial limitations on college selections, assist with the FAFSA and 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 have sent their deposit check too? An IEC typically works with a smaller caseload. IECA states that number 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 or phone for quick questions, or can easily schedule appointments to meet with parents and/or students who have concerns, are stressed or would like to fill out 'just one more essay.' In the very competitive college application process, having someone behind you, helping to guide you along the way is something that is priceless.