When a 4-year college doesn’t make sense
March 10, 2016

Ian Welham asks: When is a 4-year college not the best choice?



Many parents believe that good jobs with good salaries require a 4-year degree.

That may be true in some fields, but certainly not all.

In fact, community and/or technical colleges provide a better return on investment vs. 4-year colleges in a number of careers, including:

  • Engineering technology
  • Radiation Technology & Medical Imaging
  • Plumbing and Heating
  • Dental Hygiene

Four-year colleges can cost three to 10 times more than community colleges. Yet a study of the earnings of 2-year degree holders vs. 4-year degree holders in these fields reveals little salary differential.

Associate degrees in fields such as health care, manufacturing, and information technology offer median incomes up to $55,000 and can make upwards of $75,000 – $100,000.

The Department of Labor predicts a growth rate of 20% and higher for many of these careers, making them even more attractive. Food for thought — especially when you consider that over half of college and university graduates end up in jobs that don’t require a 4-year degree.

In other news, George Washington University has joined the growing list of colleges and universities that no longer require applicants to take the SAT test. Last time I looked, there are over 150 schools where SAT scores are either not required or optional.

I also saw last week where President Obama’s plan to rank U.S. colleges and universities died a quiet death. The idea was to rate colleges according to affordability, student success, and other factors.

Great idea. But in execution, the 3 proposed ratings — high-performing, low-performing and those in the middle — were pretty much worthless because the majority of colleges would have scored in the middle category. If everyone is in the same category, what’s being revealed? Very little.

Also, according to The Wall Street Journal, college administrators fought hard against the rankings, “arguing that the value of an institution’s education is far too subjective to be captured in a single metric.”

The beat goes on…




This college plan never works
March 6, 2016

Ian Welham talks about the college plan that does not work


OK, quick quiz for you…

What was the #1 source of college funding for the school year just ended?

A) the federal government
B) college scholarships & grants
C) local scholarships
D) state tuition assistance
E) parents

The correct answer is E, reports a national study by Sallie Mae and market research company Ipsos.

According to the report, parent income and savings covered 32% of college costs, while scholarships and grants came in second at 30%. The remainder was covered by student borrowing (16%), student income and savings (11%), parent borrowing (6%) and contributions from relatives and friends (5%).

The study also found that families spent 16% more money on college costs this past year than in the previous year (quite a jump in one year).

One surprising fact is that 62% of families did not borrow any money to pay for college. Among those who did borrow, 75% of the total debt was taken on by students.  (Clearly, the student debt bubble continues unabated.)

Three out of four students who borrow money for college work while attending school vs. 68% of non-borrowing students. Students who take on jobs work an average of 22 hours per week, according to the report.

Here’s a thought-provoking statistic:

60% of families surveyed admitted they had no plan to pay for college. Families who do have a plan get rewarded: their students borrow 40% less than those without a plan.

The lesson is clear.

Unless you make your own plan or seek the help of a college-funding advisor, your student will pay tens of thousands of dollars more for their college education.

If you haven’t already, isn’t it time to sit down and make a plan?


What is your “dream” college?
March 2, 2016

Ian Welham asks: What is your dream college?


Every year the Princeton Review conducts a survey of high school students applying to college and their parents. They ask questions such as “What is your ‘dream’ college?” . . .”How many colleges will you apply to?” . . . “What is your biggest concern about applying to college?”

Here were the findings that caught my eye.

What is your dream college?

Students                                          Parents

Harvard                                           Stanford

Stanford                                           Princeton

Columbia                                          Harvard

NYU                                                    Notre Dame

Princeton                                         M.I.T.

To the question, “How necessary will financial aid be to pay for your child’s education?” 86% said financial aid would be “extremely” or “very” necessary, with 61% saying “extremely.”

Parents want their children to pick a college closer to home. Students want to leave their home state. 51% of parents said they would like to see their child attend a college less than 250 miles from home. Meanwhile, 67% of students said they would like to attend a college more than 250 miles from home.

More parents than ever – 75% — reported that the state of the economy is affecting decisions about applying to college. Over half of the families reported that they are applying to more “financial aid safety schools.”

The most popular answer to the question, “What will be the biggest benefit of your child earning a college diploma?” was “a potentially better job, higher income and career preparation” at 62%.

And here’s the most important one: “What advice would you give to college applicants or parents going through this experience next year?”

The #1 response?

“Start early.”

Good advice.



Turning the Table on Colleges
February 22, 2016

Ian Welham talks about protecting your college investment.


College these days costs as much as a house.

What do you do when you buy a house?

You get homeowners insurance. Why? To protect your investment, right?

Too bad there isn’t any such thing as college insurance — to protect your $200,000+ investment.

But alas, maybe there is.

Most parents I meet are willing to sacrifice for the good of their kids. But with today’s sky-high tuition costs, families — even high-income families — are questioning whether college is worth it.

Many wonder: Does it make sense to drain our savings on a bunch of maybes?

MAYBE our child will pick the right-fit college.

MAYBE she’ll choose a major that’s not a dead end.

MAYBE he’ll be one of the lucky ones to get a job and be able to support himself and not have to live in our basement.

Maybe . . .

. . . Or maybe not.

The stakes are high.

It seems like colleges always have the upper hand.

THEY decide who gets in and who gets turned away.

THEY dictate how much aid to give.

THEY determine how many years your child will be paying off costly student loans.

Wouldn’t it be nice to wrestle back control so YOU have the upper hand?

How can we know for sure that college is going to be worth it even before we write that first-semester check? Is there a way to ensure our student’s success – not just during the 4 years they’re in college – but in the 40 years to follow, as they pursue their career and life goals?

The answer is absolutely YES – but . . .

It requires a different approach. An approach that runs counter to what your neighbors and teachers and guidance counselor are telling you.

In fact, it flips the traditional college planning process on its head.

It’s a simple way to prevent a $200,000 mistake, take away the MAYBE’s, and put the control in YOUR hands and not the college’s.

Send an email to info@completecollegeplanningsolutions.com if you’d like to learn more.



The subject of getting into college – everyone’s got an opinion
December 17, 2015

Ian Welham  the subject of getting into college.

Dear Friends,

Nothing brings out rumor, innuendo and hearsay more than the subject of getting into college.

Everyone’s got an opinion – each wackier and more uninformed than the next.

Unchecked rumors are what cause families to apply for early decision when they shouldn’t… apply to 27 colleges… get hammered on the college bill because they were told there was no point to applying for financial aid.

When the gossip wheel gets turning — neighbors chitchatting, teens yakking — the distorted facts pile up on top of each other, obscuring truth and reason.

The problem is, hear enough pabulum, and you can find yourself starting to believe it.

Case in point: One of our brightest and most accomplished seniors applied to 10 elite colleges, three by early acceptance. This student is a gem; I won’t be surprised if she gets accepted at all 10 schools. But for some reason, she was late to hear from her early-action schools. As the days went by and her friends’ acceptance letters continued to arrive while her mailbox remained empty, doubt began to creep in. Listening to the speculation of prying parents and the views of well-meaning but clueless friends, she began to wonder, “Did I do something wrong on the application?”… “Were my essays off the mark?”… “Did I choose the wrong teachers to write recommendations?”

It was around this point that I asked her what she thought her chances were at her first early-action school (a very competitive university). “Around 50-50,” was her reply.

Long story short: Her acceptance envelope eventually arrived. Not only was she accepted, but also the admissions department congratulated her for being among the top 5% of all applicants (this school attracts over 30,000 applications).

I thought, if this cream-of-the-crop student can be convinced that she was a barely middle-of-the-road candidate, it could happen to anyone.

My advice: beware the scuttlebutt. Be vigilant against the rumors… If you’ve done the work and followed our guidance, you’re going to be fine.

Warmest wishes,

Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor


When being well rounded doesn’t pay
December 15, 2015

Ian Welham  being well rounded doesn’t pay.


Have you ever visited a college for an official visit? At most universities, the process goes like this:

Step 1: the Director of Admission or Assist. Director of Admission gives a speech.
Step 2: some students and/or professors are brought in and they give a speech.
Step 3: question & answer session.
Step 4: one or more student guides are brought in and the visitors are assigned guides and off you go on the tour.

I’ve certainly seen my share of colleges, and during the Q & A session there’s one question that always seems to be asked. Usually it’s a Mom (with her son or daughter cringing beside her) who raises her hand and inquires, “Is it better to get a ‘B’ in an Honors Course or an ‘A’ in a regular course?

Usually the Director of Admission will start in with the answer and often the audience will finish the sentence… “It’s better to get an ‘A’ in the Honors course.”

One question that’s less frequently asked — and usually stumps the audience when it is — is this: Is it better to be a well-rounded student or to have a single special skill?

It’s a common myth that colleges and universities seek well-rounded applicants. While true to some extent, the fact is, you have a better chance of getting accepted if you have a unique or special skill that distinguishes you from other applicants. That’s because there are hundreds of thousands of well-rounded kids out there. But there are very few kids who play the vibraphone in a jazz band at the Village Vanguard, for example.

Think about it: Every incoming freshmen class is a mini community. What does that community need? It needs dancers and debaters, newspaper editors, long jumpers, tuba players, glee club members, etc., etc. — not a whole bunch of generalists.

If you have a special skill or talent, what’s the best way to communicate that to a prospective college? For starters, include it on your application; and also talk about it in your essay, personal statement, and if possible, during an interview. In addition, you can ask your coach/teacher/mentor to write one of your letters of recommendation.

Sometimes parents ask: Should we include newspaper articles or citations that highlight the talent? I suggest caution here. For one thing, admissions officers don’t have lots of time to read extra information beyond what’s requested. And even though Grandma Jones may think it’s a big deal to be mentioned in the local town paper, the college admissions officer probably won’t.


Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor


A Summer Job That Pays $500/day
December 11, 2015

Ian Welham  on a summer job for students


Here’s a common question I usually get in the Springtime:

“What should my child do this summer to improve her resume for college?”

Actually, the question is usually phrased more like this: “Is Lauren better off doing an algae census on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef or calculating the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

I’ll answer that question with a question of my own.

Did you read Wednesday’s blog?

In it, I discussed how colleges give much higher aid packages to students who score well on standardized tests such as SAT and ACT.

I showed how raising your combined reading and math SAT scores from 1150 to 1300 takes you from zero aid to $5,000 to $10,000/year at Miami (OH) University. And how improving your ACT score from 28 to 32 could mean $11,000/year in extra merit aid.

Are you wondering what this has to do with a summer job?

Everything, actually.

Unless your child has signed on to hike the Appalachian Trail barefoot or invent an alternate fuel source, she is more likely to be earning minimum wage making milkshakes at Frostee Freeze.

A more profitable use of her time might be to take an ACT or SAT prep course. If you can increase your aid package by $5,000 a year, that’s $20,000 in your/her pocket over a four-year college career.

Where else can an 18-year-old earn $20,000 over the summer?

Most kids work about 8 weeks during the summer. $20,000 divided by 8 weeks is $2,500/week, or $500 a day.

Sure beats Frostee Free milkshakes — and those painful ice cream headaches.


Ian “The Professor” Welham


College gives $10,000 to improve your SAT score
December 9, 2015

Ian Welham talks about SAT/ACT Classes


Sometimes we make things more complicated than they have to be.

Want colleges to offer you more money?

Have your student raise his/her SAT or ACT test scores.

Works every time. In fact, there’s no surer way to increase your aid offer.

For example, let’s take a look at Miami University (Oxford, OH), an excellent school – especially for engineering, business and sciences. Here’s how much they award in merit scholarships based on test scores. (Assumptions: the student has a high school GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale and is pursuing a rigorous course load.)

ACT SAT*         SCHOLARSHIP           AMOUNT** (non-Ohio resident)

26-27                  1170-1240                       Up to $4,000 per year

28-29                  1250-1320                      $5,000 – $11,000 per year

30-31                   1330-1390                      $7,000 – $15,000 per year

32+                       1400+                            $16,000 – $30,000 per year

* Miami uses the best composite score for ACT and the best Critical Reading and Math scores for SAT.

* Based on 2013-2014 cost of tuition. Merit aid is separate from and in addition to federal financial aid.

Let’s say you raise your SAT score from 1150 to 1300. That’s only 150 points, but it takes you from zero dollars in merit aid to $5,000 – $10,000 per year in free money. Over four years that adds up to $20,000 – $40,000.

Boost your ACT score from 28 to 32, and you could gain $11,000 a year in additional funds. That’s $44,000 over four years.

Even going from 28 to 30 is likely to be worth $8,000 – $10,000 over your college career.

Any way you look at it, it quickly becomes clear that even modest increases in test scores translate to higher aid awards.

And this is true, not just at Miami, but at most major colleges and universities.

So… the single most important thing you can do to get more money from colleges is to improve your test scores.

Parents ask me all the time: Which test prep do I think is best?

Here’s my answer: There are many excellent choices out there, but there’s no one “right” way for all kids. You have to know your child, how they learn best, and what best fits their schedule.

Are they self-starters or do they need hand holding? Do they need a teacher to keep them focused? Are they busy with extracurricular activities or can they attend a class every Tuesday, say, for 14 weeks?

Also, what can you afford? Are you prepared to pay $150/hour for one-on-one tutoring? $800 for a Kaplan or Princeton Review course? Or are you looking to spend less?

There are lots of choices out there.

CCPS offers SAT/ACT test prep to accommodate different learning styles, schedules and budgets.

1. live, teacher-led, real-time sessions online
3. private one-on-one tutoring

For more details, contact gina@completecollegeplanningsolutions.com.

Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101

P.S. Hundreds of students have taken our SAT and ACT prep classes. Typically students see an improvement of 3-4 points on the ACT and 140 – 180 points on the SAT.


What to ask when visiting colleges
December 1, 2015

Ian Welham on what to ask when visiting colleges.


When I go on college tours, here are some of the questions I typically hear asked:

Where is the rock-climbing wall?

What percentage of freshmen students gets basketball tickets?

Do you have Chipotle?

When is Spring Break?

Gloria Cordes Larson is the president of Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. Here are some questions she recommends you ask:

At what point will your school offer me career planning programs and services?

What percentage of students completes an internship (or two), and when can I expect to participate in my first one? Are they financed?

What are some examples of the places recent alumni have gone to work or graduate school?

Will I have the opportunity to study abroad? Where does your school have strong global partnerships?

How does this school partner with professionals working in the marketplace?

Does your school offer service-learning programs? Can I put these credits toward my degree?

In an interview with the New York Times, President Cordes Larson said this: “What is most important is that you feel prepared after your college years to build a fulfilling career and meaningful life.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Lies in Your Financial Aid Letter?
November 23, 2015

Ian Welham asks are there  “Lies in Your Financial Aid Letter?


In the hierarchy of obfuscation, Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Clearly, Mr. Clemens didn’t know about college financial aid letters, which are currently arriving in the mailboxes of high school seniors. To say the least, thy can be tricky.

Of course they’re not supposed to be. Colleges are supposed to play nice and follow a government standard called the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

In short, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is designed to make crystal clear:

  • what’s a loan (money you have to repay with interest) vs. what’s a grant (free money you don’t have to pay back)
  • the actual amount you’re expected to pay out of your own pocket
  • when a grant or scholarship is for one year vs. all four years

Presently, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is voluntary. And fewer than one third of the nation’s colleges and universities have adopted it, reports The Washington Post.

Unless and until law requires all colleges to play by Financial Aid Shopping Sheet rules, I suggest you read your financial aid letters as if Snidely Whiplash wrote them. Perhaps you might want to wear protective clothing.

Here are some sleights of hand to watch out for:

Sticker Price Shenanigans – I’ve seen financial aid award letters that leave out important costs. Or their allowance for textbooks and/or transportation is unreasonably low. Make sure to triple check all numbers provided by the college. Some will try to focus your attention on the amount of aid you will be receiving. Certainly good information to know; but just as if you’re buying a house or a car, you want an accurate number for the total cost. Otherwise, how can you know how to properly budget, and even if the college is affordable?

Mixing Loans with Grants – A loan does not decrease college costs. It increases the total cost you will pay (due to interest payments). Therefore, it does not belong in the same category as grants and scholarships. By mixing in loans with grants and scholarships, colleges give the impression that the loan is reducing the family’s costs. Some readers might even believe the loan doesn’t require repayment at all. Well, it most certainly does (and it can’t be discharged like other loans). It’s my contention that all loans should be listed separately from “free money,” and loans should include their interest rates, fees and payment schedule. On 99% of financial aid award letters, you’ll see no reference to loans requiring payback or costing extra.

Nothing but Net – What’s the difference between “net cost” and “net price?” Could be thousands of dollars. Most financial aid letters calculate net cost, while what really matters is net price. Net cost is the difference between the total cost of attendance and the total financial aid package. But since the total financial aid package includes loans — which do not reduce college costs — your actual cost of college will often be much higher than the number listed on your award letter. Net price subtracts just the free money (grants, scholarships, etc.) from the cost of attendance. It more accurately reflects the amount a family has to use from savings, income, borrowing, etc., to pay the college bill.

Watch These Grants Disappear – A diamond may be forever, but a grant is not. Many schools provide a juicy aid package for freshman year, only to take it away in subsequent years (after your student is settled in on campus). Parents are shocked when they realize they’ve fallen victim to a bait-and-switch tactic. And according to The Washington Post, “about half of all colleges practice front-loading of grants.”

The Private Scholarship Gotcha – Here’s another thing colleges forget to disclose. If your student works hard to earn a private scholarship, the college will reduce your aid package by the amount of the scholarship. In other words, if you get a $2,000 scholarship from the Rotary Club, the college will take away $2,000 of aid they originally promised. They can choose to reduce loans, or they can choose to reduce grants. Option A: If the private scholarship replaces loans, this is a good thing; your net cost goes down. Sadly, this is not as common as Option B: If the private scholarship replaces free money from the college, your student is no better off for having earned a scholarship. The university, however, is thrilled because you’ve done them a tremendous favor. They can give “your” money to another student. And it’s my experience that the colleges don’t send a thank-you note.

Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


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