Common and Coalition App Essay Prompts

Next week is spring break for many students. Those looking for something to do might consider reviewing the Common App and Coalition App essay prompts, since next year’s are already available. Those for whom college is a few years out may also find it helpful to look now, for a couple of reasons:

  • Thinking about essays now may give you a lens through which to consider activities or incidents that come up during your high school year and to start establishing a narrative from them.
  • Reviewing previous years’ prompts shows that they don’t change significantly from year to year, especially since the last prompt for each is “a topic of your choice.”

Something else to think about: The Coalition App essay is 500-550 words; the Common App is up to 650. Students who need to use both applications should prepare themselves that the differences in length are likely to require them to write two different essays, even if they’re writing on the same topic.

Finding Money

Of his two college choices, my son is leaning heavily towards the more expensive one. (Good news: it’s not as much more expensive as we had originally thought, but still around $4,000-$5,000 more for freshman year, including transportation– not exactly chump change.) We tasked him with finding some ways to bring his costs down and we’ve been pleasantly surprised with what he’s learned. Continue reading Finding Money

Athletics and Admissions

David Leonhardt at the New York Times points out that the enrollment scandal all over the news this week would not happen but for the outsize role that athletics plays in college admissions. To summarize: admissions decisions give preferential treatment to excellence in a variety of areas beyond academics– music, art, social service, research activity, athletics. They also boost admissions chances for other groups including low-income, underrepresented minority, and legacy students. However, by far the biggest admissions boost went to recruited athletes, who were “30 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a nonathlete with the same academic record.” Continue reading Athletics and Admissions

Planning for All Four (or More) Years

A friend whose son is my twins’ age was surprised recently when I told her some of the colleges my daughter was applying to. She thought they seemed unlikely choices given my constant messaging of finding affordable schools. Her son was interested in some of the same ones and the net prices they found were quite high. The answer: we have the benefit of two children in college all four years. That means our EFC gets divided between then and in many cases, this yielded lower likely net costs. Good news for my Continue reading Planning for All Four (or More) Years

Hitting Pause

My daughter just forwarded me an email—appending exclamation points and smiley faces—from one of the schools she applied to, saying they’ll be sending out acceptances between March 1 and March 15. She’s nervous about acceptances but excited for her next steps so she was thrilled to learn she’ll get at least one answer really soon. For me, a moment of relief that the answers are coming was quickly replaced by an urgent desire to hit the Pause button on life. Yes, I’m excited for her and yes, I’m confident that she’ll have some good choices. But I also feel like we only have a few more days in the world of Continue reading Hitting Pause

Why 529s Always Make Sense

It’s easy to explain to parents of younger children why 529s make sense: Contribute now and your account grows tax-free for 18 years until college. If you live in one of the more than 30 states that offers a tax deduction, that’s an even bigger incentive. Here in Oregon, for example, we get a tax deduction for the first $4,865 in contributions to the Oregon College Savings Plan. If I contributed that much for my newborn (well, they act like newborns sometimes) I’d get an immediate return of 9% (state tax rate) or $437.85. Suppose that my account then grows for 18 years at 5% (I’m drastically simplifying the math here), I’d have almost $12,000 when my child was ready to start college, and no tax bill to access it. Added bonus: the FAFSA and Profile don’t count that gain as income in their formulas, unlike how it would be treated if it were in a taxable account. Continue reading Why 529s Always Make Sense

College Endowment Returns

If you’re still smarting from your year-end 401k statement, you might not want to read this. The 2018 NACUBO-TIAA Study of Endowments showed that even institutional investors were not immune to market performance, with endowment returns down almost 1/3 from 2017 to 2018. Endowments still managed an average return of 8.2%, though the 10-year average annual return came in at 5.8%, short of the 7.2% 10-year return target. Continue reading College Endowment Returns

Budgeting for Books and Supplies

When comparing the two schools my son is considering, we noticed an interesting data point: one school estimated books and supplies to cost $800 annually; the other $1,146. One of the schools my daughter applied to estimates $1,800. While I can certainly understand that different meal plans or living options might be more or less expensive at different schools, it’s hard to understand why books would cost 50% or 100% more from school to school. Continue reading Budgeting for Books and Supplies

What’s in a 1098-t

(and what isn’t)

A 1098-t is a tax form that serves several purposes. It reports qualified tuition and fee payments made to your college, as well as scholarships received to offset those costs. But qualified expenses is a big tent-type of phrase that means different things in different situations. All by way of saying, your 1098-t is not an exhaustive list of qualified expenses. Continue reading What’s in a 1098-t