Admit it- when faced with the challenge of helping your homeschooled students apply to colleges, and figuring out financial aid and scholarships, don’t you wish someone would just hold your hand and walk you through it?
That’s what Denise Ames has done with College Common Sense- Going to College and Paying For It. We reviewed the online videos and workbook and found it thorough and packed with useful information that our 16, 14, and 11 year old all absorbed with interest.
In brief, the online course is six video sessions, each approximately 20 minutes long, and with an accompanying .pdf file for you to download and print. The .pdf files are a slightly abridged transcript of each session, which makes them an efficient tool for note-taking and future reference. Sprinkled throughout are all the links to websites that students will need to access in order to work through the process of considering the cost of college, applying for financial aid, and finding scholarships.
“One bite at a time.”
This program takes a lengthy and intimidating task, and chops it into time managed and mentally chewable bits for parents and students.
Starting with the first video, “The Big Picture”, Denise explains briefly, with a combination of slides and speaking on camera, the three major steps of going to college, as well as the real cost of going to college – not just the price of tuition. This is a great introductory session for both parents and kids to watch together. The .pdf file also contains a college campus visit checklist. Be sure to set aside time for all the discussions that these videos will generate. We sat at the table and talked for at least 45 minutes about our educational goals and plans after viewing just this first session.
The second and third videos are “How Financial Aid Works” and “”All About the Free Money”. While these are probably of more interest to parents holding on to their checkbooks for dear life, students need to know what it takes for them to qualify for financial aid and scholarships. One of the things Denise emphasizes throughout is that the student must take ownership and responsibility for their education, and be involved in every step of the process. Parents have an important role, but the student truly is pivotal.
Also included with the files for these sessions are worksheets for using FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and calculating the Cost of Attending.
The unique and valuable gem right in the middle of College Common Sense is session #5 “The System That Works”. Anything that involves a 3-ring binder, dividers, and a highlighter sounds totally cool to my compulsively organized mind! Denise has created a system for keeping track of what would otherwise feel like an overwhelming task. In this section she outlines seven steps for doing scholarships. If a scholarship requires personal references or an essay, the instructions for these are included as well.
I appreciated all the details about different kinds of scholarships and where they come from, and how to make prudent and informed decisions every step of the way. The exercise at the end of the fifth session using the examples of real scholarships illustrates the differences in types of scholarship and the application process.
“You in the Process” brings the focus and responsibility for the entire procedure back to the student. It’s the one time that your child needs to be completely self-involved, but in a good way. Thankfully the file contains the outline of this session, because we will come back to all of this wise advice again and again.
The last video session truly does “Pull It All Together”. I’ve told my kids over the years that their lives will be the sum total of the decisions they’ve made. Denise puts it this way-
The people we call lucky are the ones who recognize the opportunities as they pass through their lives and take advantage of them.
We were inspired by this program to start using Denise’s binder system to keep all of the future reference information organized as we research the college question for our high schoolers. The front of the binder contains all of the College Common Sense files for each video, along with our notes. Both Noah and Emma have their own section to organize their specific plans, and we are keeping it on a coffee table in our school room so that it is always in view. There is something motivating about seeing it there every day, and it helps remind us to regularly review and accomplish what needs to be done next.
There’s more to College Common Sense, though. Each week we received an email with lesson plan ideas, some even directed toward middle schoolers. At first a parent might think that considering college during middle school is a bit premature, but the earlier parents start planning the possible financial costs, the better. And the tween years are a great time for kids to start thinking ahead about what direction they’d like to take their education. It’s been my experience that the sooner a child owns their education, the more invested and self-motivated they become. This program resonated with me as a parent because Denise also approaches this topic from that perspective.
To sample Denise’s wisdom, gained from 10+ years experience in college admissions and financial aid counseling, you can subscribe to the free newsletter, and receive free lesson plans via email. Check out the links on her website for scholarship and grant information, colleges, and helpful articles from around the web for students to read and ponder.
College Common Sense is available as a DVD and workbook for $50 + $5 shipping/handling, or a one-year online access to the video and workbook materials for $25.
Does all this feel like too much information? Have doubts about whether or not your child is college bound? Thinking about skipping the traditional college route and using an alternative method to earn a degree? This course still applies to you, as we do not know what direction the Lord has in mind for our children. Having this resource on hand instead of scrambling to figure things out is worth all the Tums at Walgreens.