Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #10 Expand Your “Circle of Safety”

#10 Expand Your “Circle of Safety”

Most colleges seek a geographically diverse incoming class. The reality – a majority of first-time freshman (approx. 60%) attend a college 100 miles from home. Understanding this dynamic and expanding your search area can yield significant cost savings. Why?

Let’s look at the University of Minnesota (UMTC):

  • Fall 2017 it received 43,000+ applications
  • The overall admit rate is 50% – it’s more selective than many realize
  • Average ACT score = 28
  • Average GPA = 3.71
  • Cost of Attendance (COA) 2018-2019 = $28,106
  • They offer merit scholarships to < 25% of incoming freshman

Compared to the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH):

  • Fall 2017 it received 4,454 applications
  • The overall admit rate is 81% – it’s not selective.
  • Average ACT score = 28
  • Average GPA = 3.79
  • Cost of Attendance Out of State (COA) 2018-2019 = $38,788
  • Merit Scholarships = Automatic:

UAH 2018-2019 Merit Tuition Scholarship Chart

At UAH a 30 ACT and 3.50 GPA nets you a four-year renewable full-tuition scholarship as a resident or non-resident student (a $21,378 annual savings for non-resident students). These same credentials are unlikely to earn a merit scholarship at the UMTC, in many cases making UAH the less expensive option. What about academics? The University of Alabama – Huntsville more than holds its own…

The objective is not to pick on the University of Minnesota – it is an excellent academic institution, merely to point out an instance when expanding your “Circle of Safety” can save on the cost of a college education.

Given the enrollment habits of students, many institutions have as many students from their home region as they want or can enroll. Thus, in certain instances expanding your circle of safety and looking for a college beyond a 100-mile radius from home, which fits your needs academically, socially, and financially may produce significant cost savings. Perhaps:

  • The nationally recognized Cyber Security program at Dakota State University (reciprocity tuition rates for MN residents) or
  • The Degree in 3 Program at Ball State University or
  • Rhodes College – A “College That Change Lives” school which enrolled zero students from MN in their Fall 2018 incoming class or
  • Truman State University (considered a “Public Ivy”) – Midwest Student Exchange Tuition eligible for MN residents,
  • Or…

You have more choices than you think!

Interested in learning how to save on the cost of a college education –  Contact me today.

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.

10 Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College

Don’t believe the headlines. A college education does not “need” to cost a proverbial “arm and leg”. Over the next few weeks, I will share 10 Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College (and Student Debt):

You have more choices than you think!

Interested in learning how to save on the cost of a college education – Contact me today.

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.


Strategies to Decrease the Cost of College #9 Tuition Banding

#9 – Tuition Banding – Rule of 120/126

Successful businesses leverage the 80/20 rule. Investors the rule of 72. You can use the rule of 120/126 to save on college costs.

What is the significance of 120 and 126? To graduate with a four-year college degree generally requires 120 to 126 completed credits.

Back when I went to school the majority of colleges charged tuition by the credit. The current trend – a banded (flat rate) tuition model. The most common model is to charge the same rate of tuition for between 12 – 18 credit hours.

At the University of Minnesota (UMTC), for example, you are charged the same tuition if you take 13 or 15 or 19 or 25 credits in an academic term. You don’t need to be a Math major to leverage the rule of 120/126!

U. Minnesota

U. Minnesota Twin Cities

Anyone can save $15,000 on the cost of a UMTC degree How? Simple math. Multiple 18 by 7. You get 126. Enroll in 18 credits per semester at the UMTC (or many other colleges) and you can graduate in 7 semesters. Savings = $15,000 (based on estimated Fall 2019 cost of attendance). 

Today, it takes the average student 5.2 years (basically 11 semesters) to graduate. Is it any wonder so many students leave college with huge amounts of student debt. Every semester beyond the fourth year is typically funded by student loans…

Failing to follow the basic Rule of 120 = more $$$ for your degree. 

UW Eau Claire

UW Eau Claire

It’s not hard to graduate in four years. 15 credits represent a typical academic load. 8 * 15 = 120.

Never, never, never fall below 15 credits per term – you would be surprised by the number of students who do and end up paying more for a college education than necessary. 

Fall 2018 Cost of Attendance at UW – Eau Claire for an MN resident taking between 12 – 18 credits is $20,289. Don’t pay an extra 20+ grand for your degree, i.e., 8 * 15 = 120.

I know, I know. Not every student is equipped to handle 18 credits per term. And you have to sequence courses correctly to graduate in 7 semesters. And life does happen, so sometimes 15 credits a term is not feasible, but…

Sprinkle in a summer class at a local community college (at lower tuition rates). A dash of AP or PSEO in high school. A J-Term course. A planned transfer. Etc. Anyone can cook up savings using my rule of 120/126.

You have choices!

Contact me today to learn how I will save you $$ on the cost of a college education.

Jeff has spent 30+ years working in higher education as a Registrar and Director of Student/Academic Services. As an educational college planning consultant, he uses his experience and insights to save you $$$ by helping you in identify “good match” colleges to fit your academic, social and financial needs.



College Admissions – Is a Deadline Really a Deadline?

I got a panicky call from a family yesterday. The college bound daughter became interested in applying to a certain public university but missed the last admissions deadline – published on the school’s admission page as December 1, 2016.  “Do we have options?”

Having worked in this environment for many years, I understood that often a published “Deadline” isn’t exactly a hard and true “deadline”. Why? One word. Yield.

I contacted said admissions office, and received this quick reply, “Although our deadline was December 1, our application is currently still available on our website. I would encourage your student to apply as soon as possible, as the application may close at any time. I hope this information is helpful. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions”

This response didn’t surprised me. Why? One word. Yield.

What is yield? #1 – Yield is the magic metric that keeps college admissions officers up at night. #2 – Yield in college admissions is simply the % of students who enroll after having been offered admission.

What did this response show me? The school hadn’t reached the magic number of applications it believes it needs to hit targeted yield numbers for the upcoming academic year. They were still open for business. The published deadline wasn’t really the DEADLINE.

I am in no way implying you should roll the dice in the college application deadline game. I would never counsel families I work with to do so. Missing published deadlines for certain institutions (highly selective) or admission statuses (early decision, early actions) means you are SOL.

Predicting yield at the majority of colleges or universities from year to year is a fools errand at best. Missing deadlines has real consequences – you end up at the back of the line for aid distribution (merit and need), housing, registration priority, etc. But…

Your college bound son or daughter is really really really interested but they “”ran out of gas, had a flat tire. didn’t have enough money for cab fare, an old friend came in from out-of-town, someone stole their car, there was an earthquake, terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T their FAULT, they SWEAR TO GOD!” and missed the published application deadline.

Or in the case of the family who called me, the daughter simply became infatuated with a school late and was willing to accept the low priority consequences, then…

There is no harm in asking.

The answer you receive from many institutions will be predicated more by reaching the requisite number of applications to yield the number of incoming students the institution has budgeted for than by any calendar declaration as published on the web site.

The answer will be a polite “NO” or more often than you think, “Yes, you still have time to apply”.

Tuition Tuesday – College Savings Event


Find a great doorbuster deal this past shopping weekend.  Saved yourself a couple hundred $$. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Passé.

How does saving thousands of $$$ grab you? Carol Merrill, what are we featuring behind Door #3…

College Tuition Savings.

There are many strategies to save on college tuition costs. Taking advantage of dual credit options offered by your high school is one such strategy. There are a number of programs:

  • Advanced Placement (AP)

  • Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO)

  • International Baccalaureate (IB)

  • College in the Schools (CIS)

that may be available at your high school.  However, be careful and strategic in planning duel credit options in a high school curriculum. Why? Consider the following quote from one university system,  “Many of our colleges grant credit to first-year students who have participated in such programs, but each institution has a slightly different policy. Find out which colleges accept what.”

Very true, but also very incomplete. The rub. Not all transfer credit is created equal. There is a BIG BIG difference between “credits being accepted ” and how they “satisfy degree requirements.” The key – satisfying degree requirements. This is how you reduce time to degree completion, thus saving you time and $$.

Working with a trusted college admission professional can save you thousands of dollars on the cost of a four-year degree by helping plan a strategy to maximize the number of dual degree credits which count toward degree requirements or by simply steering you to good match colleges thereby increasing odds of graduating in four years.

Let’s make Tuition Tuesday an annual college planning blockbuster savings event.   Start saving on the cost of college today. As an added bonus – sign up for any of my college planning packages by December 31, 2016 and I will knock 10% off the price.

Happy Tuition Tuesday!





The Most Expensive College?

The one you DO NOT graduate from!


Only 48.5% of students graduate from the first college they attend.  Nationally 33% will transfer. Others simply never complete a degree. Think about that for a second. 48.5%. It is a pretty horrid success rate, not to mention a colossal waste of time and money.

Why the poor success rates? Far too many begin the college search too late – often waiting until senior year. Happy accidents do occur, but frequently a late start results in poor colleges choices – bad matches. Assessing good match (fit) colleges takes time and effort and cannot be done by simply reviewing college rankings list.

On way to mitigate the cost of higher education is to start early. Starting late does not leave enough time to properly research, analyze and carefully consider which colleges are good matches in three important areas – academically, socially and financially.

Top Ten Reasons to Choose a College

# 10 Because my friends, boyfriend/girlfriend is going there.
# 9A Its only 50 miles from home!
# 9B It’s 1,500 miles from home!
# 8 The Football team is good. It must be a good school!
# 7A Mom’s an Alumnus
# 7B Dad’s an Alumnus
# 7C Aunt Mabel’s an Alumnus
Wossamotta U. “it’s perfect for you”
# 6 It will make my “insert anyone but you“ happy
# 5 They sent me a brochure!
# 4 I toured. The Gals/Guys “Hubba Hubba”
# 3 I’m too busy. I will apply to several senior year and just pick one that admits me.
# 2 “Were only interested in the cheapest schools”
# 1 “It’s ranked in the Top 20”


When only 48.5% of students graduate from the first college they attend, one simple fact rings true – the most expensive college is the one you don’t graduate from. Families who work with a college admissions expert significantly increase these odds and student’s often graduate from 1st choice schools in 4 years or less.




Athletic Scholarships – Buyer Beware

Kelsey Softball Catcher

November traditionally kicks off the holiday season. It also ushers in the NCAA “early signing” period (historically the 2nd Wednesday in November).

If you are intent on playing competitively in college, the NCAA National Letter of Intent (NLI) “early signing” period this year falls between November 9 – 16, 2016 for NCAA Division I and II athletic programs in sports other than football, soccer, and men’s water polo.

When working with prospective athletes, I have rules of thumb, among them: a) Like the school more than the coach and b) Like the school more than the sport. Before you sign on the dotted line consider the following:

1. The proverbial full ride is largely a myth. Most college sports teams are defined as equivalency sports  (a “head count” sport = full-ride scholarship.  An “equivalency sport” = typically a partial scholarship). All NCAA sanctioned sports have mandated scholarship limits. For example, a Division I men’s swimming and diving program is limited to 9.9 scholarships, with an average roster size of 28. What is a coach to do? Split those 9.9 scholarships up. Unless your name is Katie Ledecky (Stanford) or Michael Phelps (U. Michigan) do not count on a full ride. The average athletic scholarship covers approximately 30% of your annual costs. Individual families still pay 70% of the bill.

2. Another misconception – scholarship offers cover multiple years. NOPE. Most scholarships offers cover a one-year period. The majority of scholarships are renewed annually at the discretion of the coach. D I programs have the option of offering scholarships for multiple years, however it is the exception rather than the rule.

3. Signing a NLI IS binding. You are making at minimum a one-year commitment to attend and play. The institution is committed to giving you an athletic scholarship for one year. Failing to understand the binding nature of a NLI is can have consequences affecting your eligibility and options if you later decide you made the wrong decision and want to transfer. I aim to avoid this by helping you identify “good match” schools you will be happy to attend regardless if you are competing.

4. If you sign with a NCAA Division II school and are later offered a scholarship by a NCAA Division I school, you CANNOT sign with the D I school. Signing either a D I or D II offer is binding. The school you originally signed with must agree to release you from your commitment – sometimes easier said than done.

5. If a coach is fired or bolts to another program after you have signed your NLI, you ARE NOT released from your commitment. Many mistakenly make this assumption. Coaches are free to move about (by choice or otherwise), athletes are not. Your commitment is to the SCHOOL, not the COACH. It is one reason I preach – “Like the school more than the coach…”

6. Competing in college at the NCAA level requires you meet certain academic eligibility standards. No school will offer an NLI, unless you have registered with and have been cleared to play by the NCAA Eligibility Center. If you haven’t, register today.

7. Can’t decide? What happens if you don’t sign during the November early signing period? Your next opportunity to sign is in early April of the following year, commonly referred to as the “late signing” period. Are there risks to waiting until April? It depends. Coaches hope to fill as many open roster spots as feasible during the early signing period, but only the top top programs are consistently able to do so. For the majority of programs the recruiting season extends to the April late signing period.

8. Once I sign my NLI, can coaches from other programs contact me? No. When you sign it is binding. Once signed, other schools need to stop recruiting you. Does it still happen? Yes, but what goes around comes around.

9. A verbal commitment IS NOT binding.

10. Division III (D III) schools are prohibited from awarding athletic scholarships.

Buyer beware! Make sure YOU understand what YOU are committing to.

Does Tuition at Every College Cost $50,000?


Look at the tuition rates (approximate for 2015-16) for a handful of colleges in the image below.


Yet ad nauseum I am reminded of the high price of college. This morning I read another story on the rising cost of college tuition. The other day my news feed was inundated with this storyaverage college debt is up again this year“. Why the doom and gloom? It sells. The sad reality is the mainstream media focuses 99% of their coverage, upon a handful of highly selective schools – the roughly 150 schools with admit rates under 20% and where tuition alone costs upwards of $40,000+
Are college cost rising. Yes, I won’t argue that point, but… there are many many great affordable programs that don’t cost the proverbial “arm and a leg”. When was the last time you read an article on Truman State University?  
Did you know Truman is considered a “Public Ivy”, is recognized as a College of Distinction, was a top producer of U.S. Fulbright students for the 2015-2016 academic year, and boasts high graduation, retention and post graduation rates rates? Oh, and it’s affordable. As a Midwest Student Exchange Program partner institution, out of state students in eight partner states (including MN) pay a MSEP tuition rate of approximately $10,728 this academic year. Look beyond the headlines!  
Look beyond the box scores! And beyond a geographic region. There is more to the Crimson Tide, than football. How does a full tuition scholarship opportunity for out of state students grab you? Touchdown! The University of Alabama offers attractive academic merit scholarships for out of state students with a composite ACT of 27+ and a 3.5+ GPA. A scholarship + a reasonable out of state tuition rate = affordable.  
One national college publication¹ reviewing small college bargains had this to say about the University of Minnesota Morris. “If you’ve ever taken a wrong turn on the way to Duluth, you might have stumbled upon one of the best public liberal arts colleges in the country.” Despite being geographically challenged (UM-Morris is pretty much due west of Minneapolis), the Fiske Guide does nail the fact it is a great academic institution. With both low tuition rates (in and out of state) and competitive merit scholarships, UM Morris is a very affordable option.  Look beyond the headlines!
Reduced out of state tuition options, i.e,. Reciprocity.  Residents of MN, WI, ND, SD, and the Canadian province of Manitoba enjoy lower tuition rates if they attend public colleges and universities in these states.  For MN residents, the University of North Dakota is one such option. There is a reason the Princeton Review included it in the 2015 The Best 379 Colleges edition. Low tuition, strong academic programs, and automatic merit scholarships = affordability. Look for regional tuition discount programs!
Look beyond four year degree options! Still haven’t grown out of the Thomas the Tank Engine phase? Dream of being a railroad engineer? Consider the Railroad Conductor Technology Certificate program at Dakota County Technical College. This program boasts established partnerships with many national and regional railroads, high program placement rates for graduates (the industry is experiencing high retirement attrition), and the 16 credit certificate program generally takes less than one year to complete. High placement rates + low tuition + < one year to complete + above average beginning salaries = affordable.
Good match colleges and universities exist for everyone. Eschew the doom and gloom articles. And any “College Rankings” for that matter. Find colleges that match “fit” your college bound students academic strengths, talents and interests and meet their needs academically, socially and financially. More good match colleges and programs exist than you might think.

¹Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College, 4th edition

College Visits – 10 Tips

Leaves are changing color.  A nip is in the night air.  Students are eagerly awaiting some time off. Holidays already? Nope. MEA is in the rear view mirror.  For many MEA (Fall break in MN) means hitting the road, – it’s College Visit season.


To my way of thinking visiting a college campus is a must. You will never get a true sense of campus life from web sites, brochures, virtual tours, your friends, or crazy uncle Louie.
Each college has a unique personality. Only by visiting campus will you get a true sense of what a college – and life at that college – is really like and whether any particular college is the right fit for “You”.
Enjoy fall break and if you happen to be visiting a campus or two over MEA (Oct. 20-23), consider these tips to help you get the most out of your visits.
Tip #1 – Don’t’ be afraid to ask questions, after all this is a big decision, but please, please, please let your son or daughter take center stage. During the formal presentation or tour, let them ask the questions and form their own impressions. Resist the temptation to be “that” parent – the one asking all the questions as your son or daughter slowly slinks into the shadows – you will have plenty of opportunity to corner an admission rep once the formal visit is over.
Tip #2Don’t drag the entire family along. Ten year old’s Tommy and Timmy incessantly asking “can we go yet”during the tour or enthusiastically enjoying video games during the information session only serves to detract from the experience of your college bound daughter or son.
Tip #3Don’t schedule more than 1 visit per day – a visit is more time consuming than you realize. How long will you be on campus? Plan to spend at least a half a day per visit.
Tip #4 – Have Fun. Don’t make college visits an ordeal. Treat it as a mini vacation. Relax and enjoy yourself. Plan time to wander around town after the formal tour and presentation. Take in the local sites. Grab a bite to eat at a local favorite – you just might stumble upon a local “secret”, like Cookie Dough Egg Rolls.  “MMMM…Egg Rolls”.  Explore the surrounding community – you just might be living there for four years.  
Tip #5 – Wear comfortable shoes. Visits require a lot of walking. Heels, sandals, flip-flops, soccer spikes. Really?  I’ve seen plenty of miserable people after an hour+ tour.
Tip #6 – Wear appropriate clothing. While it is unnecessary to dress up, your wardrobe will be noticed. Dress casual – don’t make admissions officers uncomfortable talking to you by wearing inappropriate clothing.  Don’t be the ”    ” who wears the “Bucky Badger” sweatshirt when touring the University of Minnesota. Check the weather, dress for the climate and season.
Tip #7 – The quality of tour guide(s) varies. Almost all will be current undergraduate students. If your gut instinct is “I love this place”, don’t let first impressions of one admissions officer, tour guide, professor, or student influence your overall feelings about a college.
Tip #8– Talk with Current Students! They are the best source of unvarnished information. If you truly want to understand what it is like to be a student on campus ASK THEM. If you visit during an off period and not many students are around, contact the admissions office for the names of current students (and contact information) who are willing to speak to prospective students.
Tip #9 – Your interested in biology, but the tour didn’t feature the biology lab…  Wander off the beaten path. Seek out areas of campus that interest you. After the admissions office spiel and tour take a behind-the-scenes peek for yourself. Campuses are welcoming and open. Don’t just talk to students. Talk to professors, staff, and the barista at the on campus coffeehouse. Each will give you a different perspective of what it is like to be a student at this school.
Tip #10 – Although not guaranteed, showing demonstrated interest can be a tip factor in your being admitted or not. The first way to show interest – Show up for an official campus tour and information session. It is one of many activities that earns a prospective student demonstrated interest points. Don’t try to game the system (by signing up but not showing). There’s a reason those sneaky admissions reps make you sign in.
Demonstrated Interest Hint: It is a good idea to introduce yourself to the admissions representative assigned to your school or geographic region. Ask if it is feasible to meet with him/her. If they are busy follow up with an e-mail.
Bonus Tip  – The ideal time to visit a campus is when classes are in session. Life happens and often you must visit during an “off time”. If visiting during an “off-time”, keep in mind that what you see may not be reflective of the normal campus environment. If you like a college when visiting during an off time, make sure you schedule another visit when school is in session.


Scholarships – The Holy Grail

You’ve completed the FAFSA.  Seen your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) figure for the next academic year. Likely are thinking, “how am I going to pay for this?” You are in same boat as the vast majority of families – make too much to qualify for Federal Aid, but can’t simply write a check for the cost of college.
Your thoughts turn to scholarships… the Holy Grail of college funding.
We’ve all seen the headlines screaming, “How I Helped My Son Win over $100,000 in College Scholarship $$… and I Can Show You How You Can Too”.  Don’t believe the hype.  The secret – sweat equity.  The rule of thumb for national scholarship competitions:
  • For every 100 scholarships you find, you
  • May qualify for 10, and odds are you “might” win
  • One!
There are no magic wands.  Don’t be romanced by the headlines or focus your entire strategy on the big payout potential of national competitions like Coca Cola Scholars or the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program. Why? Exactly two students from Minnesota were recognized as Coca Cola Scholars in 2016. Wisconsin three. California the most populous state, 15. The odds are long. The competition is intense.
The minuscule % of families who manage such headline grabbing awards often employ a scholarship or two or three a day approach.  If your child has the gumption to research, apply and submit as many as three scholarship entries a day, by all mean have at it. For the rest of us lazy souls?
Turn your attention to the greatest source of scholarship $$. The colleges themselves. To get you started visit my College and University Scholarships page which will link you to the freshman merit or general scholarship opportunities at many colleges.
Look first for automatic scholarships. Many colleges offer them based simply on test scores, GPA, and academic rank. Don’t stop there. Dig deep. The linked College and University scholarship pages do not represent a schools comprehensive list of free money. Dig into the college web site to unearth opportunities for transfer, sophomore, junior, and senior students. Hint: you will often (but not always) find this information within individual academic departments in the form of scholarships, grants, stipends, fellowships, etc. or on the schools financial aid page.
The next best source of scholarships? Local opportunities, which too many families overlook. Don’t underestimate the potential payout from local sources. You will likely qualify for many many more $500, $1,000, or $2,000 local scholarships then any national competition. Last year Cola Cola Scholars had 150 winners and upwards of 70,000 applications. Your local credit union = three $2,000 scholarships and maybe 25-30 applications, 100 tops – have to like those odds.
The first places to look locally are:
  • chambers of commerce
  • fraternal organizations (Lions, Elks, Rotary, VFW, American Legion, etc.)
  • your church
  • your financial institution
  • counseling/guidance office at your high school
  • your employer
  • athletic organizations
  • charitable organizations
  • my list of scholarships open to MN residents
Don’t have the time to do the research. Don’t know where to start? Need help crafting a strategic scholarship search or strategy to find good match colleges where your daughter/son may qualify for merit scholarships?  Give me a shout.




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