Wednesday, February 27, 2013

College Common Sense (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

The Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook is a program for parents of all school-aged children.  The goal of the program is for parents to help their children to find ways to fund college.   College Common Sense markets this toward families of with school children of all ages -- from as young as early elementary students to high schoolers preparing to apply to college very soon. As part of the Crew, I received a subscription to the online program (there is also a DVD version), and used it to help guide my 3rd, 6th, and 9th graders.  (While a kindergartener could theoretically benefit from some of the program, I felt Jude has so much time and so many delays to overcome that he is not really missing out on anything while not being involved this round.)

There are six video/worksheets pairs in this program:
  • The Big Picture - an overview that includes the author's opinion on when to start parts of the program. 
  • How Financial Aid Works - includes information on the differences between types of aid.
  • All About the Free Money - free is good, right? This part focuses on scholarship opportunities.
  • The System That Works - the author discusses how to logically organize your search.
  • You In the Process - The student's role in obtaining aid is addressed.
  • Pulling It All Together - making the process seem less daunting.


The system is available in two forms.  One is a DVD/workbook set, and retails for $50 (plus a $5 shipping charge).  I think that if you have younger children and you want to get a very early jump on things, this is may be a more valuable presentation, because you can review it as your child becomes ready for the activities over a longer period of time.  The other format is online access to the videos with a downloadable workbook.  This option costs $25, and gives access to the videos for 12 months.  

I definitely appreciate the scholarship information.   I think this is a great help - it has been a long time since I researched scholarships for myself.  In the days before the internet, you had to go to the library and pore over books and books that listed scholarships and their application requirements, and hope you found the right ones for you.  It certainly is much easier to sit on your couch and do some of the background work with the videos!  I like the organization idea presented by the program, too -- they are something that will help us.

The program's creator, Denise Ames, also recommends every student - at any age - keep a journal.  It should be a simple log of interests (and non-interests!), achievements, etc. This way, the student is able to look back over time and see what patterns might emerge, and how he can transfer those lessons and skills into higher learning and career goals.  I think this is a good idea. While it might provide direction for a student who has no real long-term goals, it also is something that would benefit a student who feels their future is just waiting for him to get there.  I know I personally could have benefited from a journal like this.  By seventh grade,  I had one career all planned out.  I knew what I was doing for the next twelve years!  And then I got to college and decided I hated the coursework.  It certainly would have been helpful to have had a book to look back on to help me come up with a Plan B.  (It all worked out in the end, but it was certainly a stressful summer.)

College Common Sense - February 2012 Week 2 lessonCollege Common sense also offers a free weekly lesson plan series.  They are sent via email, and are meant to complement the video series.   While it can be a standalone program, I think they are great with the videos because they keep you on a focused path, especially if you have a younger child. In addition to financial planning,  the second week of each month focuses on practical ways that a parent could help their child prepare for the granddaddy of scholarship yardsticks -- the SAT/ACT tests.  Having scores of scolarships listed may not be helpful if the test scores are below the minimum accepted numbers, so this is a good reminder that just finding free money is not the goal. Qualifying for it is equally important.

A major reservation I have about recommending a program like this for early in a student's career is that if the parent is not careful, it could lead to a lot of stress for the child.  I think all four of my school-age kids could benefit from the "About Me" journal (even now for Jude), but at this point I feel it is too early for the younger ones to really be thinking about anything beyond that.  Celia is still in the "I'm going to marry a Prince" phase.  Of course she will have to realize that there are not that many royal bachelors and she needs a more practical plan, but I'm in no hurry to push her to grow up.  Matthew's focus is on finding a high school, and college just is too far away for him to focus. 

Because Luke is already in high school, I thought he would benefit the most from the program.  However, being only a freshman, it is still a bit early.  He knows he needs to go to college for what he wants to do (he would like to be a pediatric physical therapist), but he is still trying to figure out plans beyond that.  His immediate focus is on trying to figure out what courses he can potentially double up on to earn dual and/or AP credit, and where those credits will apply.  Those decisions will play a large role into where he may go, and what sort of monies he is eligible for.  He would prefer to handle this before focusing on pertinent college scholarships.  I know there are some programs that he may miss out on, but I respect his plan.  It is a logical path for him, and I have no desire to make him so anxious about how to pay for college that he loses focus on doing the best he can in school now.  I think towards the end of sophomore year will be a more realistic time for active planning.

If you prefer to start planning early, this program will help you stay on track over time.   If you want practical advice for working through the financial aid process with your high school student, this program will be beneficial to you as well.   While geared to all students, I think would be most beneficial for students in their sophomore or junior years of high school while they are focusing their searches on a more concrete list of college choices and the accompanying price tags. 

Saving for college is on the minds of many families.  
Click below to see what other families thought about College Common Sense.

Schoolhouse Review Crew! Click to read more reviews.

I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review; all opinions are my own.

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