Apply. Compete. Succeed.

Paying for College is Not a “Cost”

This may be a reflection of my Chinese heritage, but the Chinese generally believe there are two things in life worth investing in. One is real estate, because they’re not making any more of it. And the second is an education. I’m not sure about real estate, but I’m certainly sure about an education.

In my view, our national conversation about college costs is really misplaced. First of all, when you purchase a stock, mutual fund, or real estate, you don’t generally consider that to be a “cost” -- you correctly classify it as an investment. You know that the investment may make you very rich or your investment might dwindle down to nothing. It’s not a cost in the sense of paying your utility bill, having your car maintained, or paying your landscaper to fertilize your lawn.

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Kelly Greene Gets it Right

One of my favorite newspapers is the Wall Street Journal because (a) I love to read about personal finance, and, more importantly, (b) I find the overall quality of reporting to be excellent. This is especially true when it comes to information about paying for college. A recent article by Kelly Greene in the Saturday/Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal (June 8-9, 2013) provides a lot of great information about 529 plans. What Greene says, essentially, is that even though your financial aid award will take a slight hit based on how much you contribute to 529 plans, the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. This comports with what every financial aid administrator has told me over the past 13 years – that it is almost always better for families to contribute to 529 plans than not to do so even if there is financial need as evidenced via the FAFSA.

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Crazy Logic from the NCAA

You may have read recently that former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon is suing the NCAA because this so-called nonprofit organization which makes billions of dollars in sales per year doesn’t see fit to share that revenue with the college athletes whose names appear on jerseys, T-shirts, and all sorts of other paraphernalia. O’Bannon seems to have this absolutely crazy notion that maybe the college athletes that generate the billions of dollars in revenue for the NCAA should get a small piece of the action.

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Terrific New Tutoring Website – Check It Out!

I came across a very interesting operation called InstaEDU that I think would have immediate value for students. Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of most tutoring websites. I just don’t feel most outfits do a good job in terms of recruiting their tutors. After all, it is not as if there’s a certification process to be a tutor.

But InstaEDU stands out, and I’m very impressed with their approach. They draw their tutors from the very top universities in the United States, with a disproportionate number coming from the top 25 schools in the country. I like that. What I also really love about this website is that students can (and do) review their experience with the tutor, and those student reviews are public. No matter what you need tutoring in – say math, science, or history – you have a lot of options for who you want to work with. This company is doing a lot of things I look for in academic startups – they place students first, give students plenty of choices, and will do what it takes to make you happy if you are not satisfied with your tutor.


I love competition, and here the tutors are working to be the best because they are rated. To be frank with you, this is the most innovative tutoring website I’ve come across in a long time, and it’s well worth your time checking it out. They’ve also received some very good press lately, and I wish they had been around when I was in college. Check these folks out and let me know what you think!

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Frothy Stock Market means Good News for 529 Plans

Finally some good news for folks who have invested tirelessly in their 529 plans - with the stock market hitting all-time highs, your basket of investments in your 529 plan should be showing dramatic increases. Now, I am not a financial planner, but one thing that many indpendent eduction consultants will tell you -- including me -- is that the closer your kids are to applying to college, PLEASE choose safer investments and transition out of the higher-risk but potentially higher-yielding investments you may have chosen in the past. After all, who knows what will happen in the coming years - lock in your gains and talk to your financial advisor as always. And, congratulations for the sacrifices, organization, and planning you did for your child's education.

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Museum Youth Programs = Success for Academic Growth

One thing I always stress to my clients is that I find a direct correlation between my top students who do well in their college applications and those who participate in the arts. In fact, what I increasingly see is that many of these students are beginning at an extremely young age, which I think is a great thing. Here in my adopted hometown of Minneapolis, we boast one of the top art museums in the world, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or MIA. What many don’t know, even in the Twin Cities, is that the MIA has a broad range of youth programs that my own children have taken advantage of and as a result, they have really developed both intellectually and creatively.

I would stress to everyone to check out these programs and the visit their website. The prices are surprisingly affordable, the class sizes are rarely more than 15 students, and I have found that the staff at the MIA and especially the teachers who work with young people are incredibly passionate, enthusiastic, and genuinely friendly individuals. It’s a great investment of your time and money, and it will reap wonderful dividends in the future.

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College Counselors Making Promises they Can’t Keep

I am all for my colleagues in the professional independent educational consulting profession doing their best to get their kids in the best schools. That is what I try to do and all reputable independent counselors do. And most do exactly that. But I am coming across a disturbing trend of counselors and even college students promising to get kids into their top choices. Let's stop for a moment. Harvard accepted less than 6% of students this year. I should know because I get admissions emails from Harvard since I interview students for the school. As a Harvard graduate, even I cannot guarantee admission to Harvard (although my track record is pretty good). A word to the wise: if you meet any independent counselor who promises admission to your top choice, run in the opposite direction. Look for someone who will zealously work for you but not make unrealistic promises.

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What is Going on at Rutgers?

Just when it seems as though Big Time Athletics cannot yet rear its ugly head again (see: Penn State) here we have Rutgers University President Dr. Barchi refusing to ask for the resignation of his new AD, Julie Hermann. Never mind that Hermann allegedly abused her players, and that every player of her 1996 volleyball team alleges abuses and behavior that are antithetical to any academic institution. For Rutgers, it seems to be par for the course, and with each passing day of this sad saga, we see the value of a Rutgers degree tarnished by the lack of leadership, due diligence, and common sense so lacking in university presidents and chancellors.

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