Category Archives: college planning

How to get a perfect ACT score

Tiffany Yang, (pictured) a junior at Ironwood High School in the Peoria District, says it’s important to believe you can do something, and then make it happen. Of course it’s also important to lay the groundwork.

Yang scored a perfect 36 on her composite ACT test. The ACT is a standardized achievement test for high school students consisting of English, math, reading and science tests.

I asked Yang how she earned a perfect score, because fewer than one percent of ACT test-takers earn a perfect score on the test. She said she took a few practice tests to get used to the way the multiple-choice questions were worded and check that she used her time efficiently to get to all the questions.

The ACT tests measure how much students have learned in specific subject areas. Yang is in the International Baccalaureate program at Ironwood and takes honors and AP courses so I suspect the practice tests played a minimal role in her perfect score.

I was hoping, when I went to talk to her Wednesday, she would tell me that her secret to a perfect score was drinking Red Bull and eating Fig Newtons. Yang doesn’t study all day every day. She’s too busy with the varsity track team and a variety of school clubs and organizations. So, how did she do it?

I asked her if she had always been a good student. “I guess,” she said. “I get straight As in school,” she added. She also got straight As through elementary and middle school.

Yang says , “I listen really well in class, stay focused on what the teacher is teaching and study the material afterwards at home so I don’t forget it or anything.”

Yang says her dad is an engineer, so there was always math help if she needed it. And her mother is a second grade teacher who worked with her a lot when she was in elementary school. But there’s more. Yang says her parents had high expectations for her to do well in school and she worked hard to meet those expectations.

To review, the secrets to a perfect score on the ACT are establishing good study habits early on, getting extra help when necessary, paying attention in class, studying the material at home and meeting high expectations.

Sadly, no real secrets, special formulas or tricks or even Fig Newtons.

Your price may vary

A college education is an expensive proposition. College costs have increased far faster than inflation and many students graduate to find there aren’t jobs matching their level of education and they have crushing debt.

But still the value of an education goes beyond employment prospects and a college degree definitely opens doors closed to non-graduates. But still, it’s expensive.

Prescott College

When I was touring colleges with my kids every campus seemed to be building a new science center, student union or some complex guaranteed make them look newer and shinier than the thousands of other institutes of higher-priced learning.

Truthfully, schools need students in their classrooms and so they offer grants, gifts and scholarships to get qualified student to enroll. A high percentage of students enrolling get some sort of grant or scholarship to go along with the student jobs and loans they’ll need.

If your child is among the best and the brightest students, they may receive a scholarship or grant regardless of the parents’ income just because his or her awesomeness casts a golden glow across the land.

Most families need a combination of financial aid, loans, grants and scholarships in addition to helping their child choose an affordable school.

The College Board has a Net Price Calculator  that factors in the various expenses and funds available to students for participating schools to show the actual estimated cost of a year at college, not just tuition.

Just for fun I chose Prescott College because it is the only Arizona school using College Board’s calculator and Kenyon College in Ohio because it’s an excellent but expensive school. To be fair, I don’t know much about Prescott College other than what I read on their website yesterday, but it looks progressive and innovative.

Prescott College lists their estimated cost of attendance per year as $38, 814. Equal to the cost of a very nice new car. Kenyon lists their estimated cost of attendance as $57,910, which is like a really nice new car you’d likely have to sell to send your kid to attend Kenyon.

Kenyon College

Both schools offer grants, scholarships and gift aid. Just for fun I entered numbers into the calculator for both schools for a family of four that earned $60,000 per year with just a few thousand in savings, a mortgage and another child following the first one to school in a couple years.

The estimated cost after grants, scholarships and aid from Prescott College came to $10, 714. Still a chunk of money to cough up every year but still, not a mind-boggling number.

The Kenyon College cost after grants, scholarships and aid came to $12,180, which surprised the heck out of me. The two schools are almost $20,000 apart expense-wise and now less than $2,000 apart. Maybe there will be money left over to buy a car?

I also entered numbers for a family of four making $125,000, ample savings, solid interest and dividend income, and lots of equity in their home. The calculator said, sorry, you’re own your own.

Clearly, colleges want kids to attend that qualify and they have money to offer to get them there. Someone has to use those new science buildings.

Oddly though the Kenyon calculation only listed $280 in personal expenses. For a kid from Arizona the costs for cold-weather clothing will be more much than that the first year. Prescott College listed $2,650 in expenses, which is more realistic.

Both only listed transportation costs as $1,000 or so, which for Prescott is reasonable, as it is only a short car ride away from the valley. For Kenyon though, there’s at least two round-trip plane tickets each year unless parents want to drive to Ohio and back, twice, or tell their new collegian they have to stay at school over winter break.

Here’s an interesting article from U.S. News The College Solution blog about Net Price Calculators. Apparently all schools needed to have them on their websites by Oct. 29, 2011 as per Congressional mandate.

Story by Daniel Friedman

Prescott College photo credit:
Kenon College photo credit:

Federal student aid app help

This Saturday and Sunday is the 16th annual College Goal Sunday & Saturday event, so start nagging your high school student now. Text them: U have to be awake @ noon Sat and/or Sun.

It takes place in locations statewide from 2-4pm to provide students and their families with professional assistance in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Note: is not affiliated with the US government.

Keep in mind the locations on Saturday are not the same for Sunday so visit the event information page for accurate information.

Before showing up at the event students should register for a personal FAFSA PIN as well as bring the student’s 2011 tax information if available, or W-2’s, social security numbers and other financial information. The parents’ tax information is also required for dependent students. FAFSA wants all the financial info, don’t leave anything out.

Students who attend the event can win scholarships and Kindle Fires e-readers.

Scholarship portal open to students

photo: Michele Molinari,

The Arizona Community Foundation has a scholarship portal for high school seniors, college students or graduate students seeking funds for their education. There are 52 scholarship opportunities on the website as of Jan. 31, 2012.

The scholarships are available based on intended field of study, geographic location or demographic group. Amounts awarded for a scholarship vary from about $1,000 to $5,000 per year with awards renewable each year for four years.

Students fill out one application to be matched to all the different scholarship opportunities. The application asks for grade point average, transcript, test scores, and financial aid information.

Career opportunities for high school teens

The Scottsdale Public Library will be holding a Teen Career Fair at the Civic Center Library at 1pm, Jan. 25 to inform teens of the opportunities to learn skills for future careers through the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) program for high school students.

Students walk through the entry atrium at EVIT.

EVIT offers free classes and transportation for high school juniors and seniors to learn about a variety of fields including welding, aviation and 3D animation. Students can receive certification and even have a job before graduating high school. The program is also for college bound students who want to get a head start in learning about a particular field. More programs information can be found on the EVIT website.

The Career Fair is free and open to the public. Medina Zick, the youth and teen coordinator for Scottsdale Public Library, said there will be tables set up for teens and parents to visit and ask questions. There will also be a video production, refreshments, giveaways and a raffle for teens to win a flip cam.

“This can provide options to help kids who don’t really know yet what they want to do,” Zick said.

There will be another Career Fair on February 21 at the Palomino Library. If you have any questions about the Fair call the Scottsdale Public Library at 480-312-7327.

How to apply for Arizona tuition tax credit scholarships

For families considering a Catholic high school for their middle school-aged children but concerned about the cost of a private education, Seaton Catholic Preparatory High School in Chandler is offering a free event called “How to Apply for Arizona Tuition Tax Credit Scholarships” at 9 a.m. this Saturday, Jan 7.

The presentation, which is open to the public, will be given in Seton Prep’s Fine Arts Building by Jody LaBenz, CPA, the Principal Auditor with the Maricopa  Community Colleges. LaBenz will provide an overview of state tuition tax credit scholarships and the types of school tuition organizations. He’ll discuss how to navigate the maze of options, and help parents understand how they can qualify for tuition tax credit assistance and other scholarship programs. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation.

A parent reception for families in the foyer of the Fine Arts Building will begin at 8am. Seton student ambassadors will be available the day of the event to provide campus tours for parents and students.

The Catholic high school entrance exam, or High School Placement Test, will be taking place for students at 8:30 a.m.

For more information on the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit presentation or the High School Placement Test , visit or call Seton Catholic Prep’s Admission office at 480-963-1900, ext. 2355.

Preparing for college expenses

The final Making College Happen Workshop hosted by Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) is at 9:30am, Tuesday, Dec. 13 in the West Pod Auditorium at Desert Mountain High School, 12575 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 85259.

The workshop, “Road to Financial Preparedness,” is for parents, guardians and teachers of middle school students, not students, because it’s mostly about money. There are other topics like college selection, and the admissions process and the timeline for the entire college process. Here are the topics as supplied by SUSD:

  • Exploring college education costs
  • A look at the standardized tests
  • How do colleges select students?
  • A thought on how to select a college
  • College education planning choices
  • Saving tax free for college
  • How are we going to pay for these future expenses?
  • Do I already have enough money set aside?
  • How much do I need to save to achieve my goals?
  • An admissions discussion
  • Gifting for college
  • A timeline for success
  • Real life financial aid case study examples
  • Developing a financial plan for college
  • What are my investment choices, and which one best fits my financial situation?

The workshop will provide parents information to make informed, effective, educated decisions regarding college financial planning options.

Wheel of Future

Scottsdale Unified School District sophomores took the PLAN assessment Tuesday to help them figure out where they are academically if they are going college and/or what kind of job they intend seek.

From the PLAN website

The PLAN website tells about the test, what scores mean and tips on taking the test. I was drawn to a link called “Your Future.” Under that is “Career Possibilities” with the chart shown above with various broad job parameters for working with people, data or things and the various combinations of those, like people and data.

Clicking on various job areas brings up a list of job titles, education necessary for the job, job duties and salary for each one. It’s worth looking at for high school kids and college kids facing the prospects of a tight job market.

Children’s Museum of Phoenix hosts college savings awareness event

State Superintendant for Public Instruction John Huppenthal. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Education.

Arizona’s Superintendent for Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, will visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix Thursday as part of the museum’s College Savings Awareness Campaign. October is Arizona College Savings Awareness Month.

The event will take place between 1 and 2pm and will feature a variety of interactive activities and giveaways. It’s sponsored by the Arizona Family College Savings (529) program.

Huppenthal will attend to help families understand the importance of saving early for their child’s postsecondary educational expenses. Admission to the events is free with paid Children’s Museum of Phoenix admission of $11. Members and children under the age of 1 are free.

“Saving is an important step in college preparation and motivation for a child,” says April Osborn, Ph.D., executive director for the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education. “Children with savings accounts are up to six times more likely to enroll in college, according to research by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.”

The Arizona Family College Savings Program is sponsored by the State of Arizona.

Here’s a rundown of the day’s events:

1-1:15pm: Coin Rubbings. Huppenthal will be join children in an Art Studio project of coin rubbings from gigantic pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and silver dollars. This activity is designed to teach the value of money and the importance of saving.

1:15-1:30pm: Story Time – Making Cents. Huppenthal will lead the group in a story time with an educational narrative to teach children what it truly means to save, spend, and budget money.

1:40-2pm: Q&A. Huppenthal and Osborn will host a Q&A session about saving money, the AZ 529 Program and the importance of Arizona College Savings Awareness Month.

Earnings in a 529 Plan grow federal income tax-deferred. Withdrawals from a 529 Plan college savings account are federal income tax-free if they are applied to qualified higher education expenses such as tuition, fees, room, board and books. For Arizona taxpayers, qualified withdrawals are also Arizona income tax- free and annual contributions to the 529 Plan are Arizona state income tax deductible up to $750 per person and $1,500 per married couple.

A 529 Plan can be used for college expenses at any accredited postsecondary institution, including vocational schools in the U.S., and for educational expenses at some institutions abroad.

Arizona Family College Savings Program offers investment options through three providers: Fidelity Investments, College Savings Bank and Ivy Funds InvestEd 529 Plan. The Arizona 529 Plan offers an array of investment choices among state-sponsored 529 Plans including a variety of FDIC-insured CDs, direct-sold mutual funds and advisor-sold mutual fund products.

For more information on the Arizona Family College Savings Program, visit

The Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education’s mission is to expand access and to increase success in postsecondary education. ACPE is the state’s administrator for Arizona Family College Savings Program, administers student financial aid programs, hosts College Goal Sunday, and numerous other postsecondary education initiatives.

Coaching your child through the college admissions essay

By Mary Fallon

The most important element of your child’s college admissions portfolio is the college entrance essay. This is the piece that can distinguish your child, helping him or her stand out as an applicant the college will want to have as a member of its community.

What can you do to support your child in the writing of this all-important piece? Start by educating yourself. The best college admissions essays:

Explain something about your child that might not be evident in the admissions packet. What does your child love to do? What challenges has your child met or overcome? What has your child learned from failure? What lessons have been learned about life, caring, courage, love?

• Show rather than tell. Your child should employ all the sensory impressions of an incident in an effort to put the reader there. What did your child see, smell, feel, hear, taste?

• Have a grabber lead—a great beginning—so the reader wants to continue. Consider the difference between these two approaches:

I am going to write about an important challenge I met in grammar school.

I was nervous. I had never done it before and now was the time. She was sitting next to me, and I was looking into her eyes.

• Use simple language. This is not the place to display SAT vocabulary. Your child should write in a voice that sounds natural.

• Use specific descriptions. Instead of “the dog charged,” “the pit bull charged.”

• Use strong verbs. Verbs make writing come alive; they make writing palpitate with life. A car doesn’t just come down a road. It “clunks” or “sails” or “screeches” or “pounds.”

• Avoid stating the obvious. You don’t have to punch the reader in the face by writing something like, “This significant event shows that I am able to meet a challenge through hard work and dedication.” The essay should show this.

• Express the truth. Readers are moved by authenticity. If the message seems phony or pretentious, the sense of self your child wants to express will be lost.

Once the essay is drafted, suggest your teen read it aloud to some trusted adults who will be honest with their feedback. It should also be reviewed by a couple of people for punctuation, spelling, grammar and typos. It should be perfect.

Keep in mind that the college application process is fraught with emotion as both parents and teens anticipate the looming separation. Sometimes the best help you can offer is to step out of the picture and find a neutral adult to guide your child through this process.

Mary Fallon.

Mary Fallon is a Scottsdale writer who is an award-winning teacher, English department chair, and curriculum author with a specialty in the writing process. She has employed her expertise in the teaching of writing for more than 25 years and has overseen the development of hundreds of highly successful college entrance essays. Contact her at 603-998-4743 or