Wednesday, February 27, 2013

CREW Review- College Common Sense

Have you sent a child away to college yet?  This year was a first for us, the first of four kids leaving the nest to fly on their own.  Letting them go is almost as hard as planning the details of how they are going to get there and who is going to pay for it.  Almost!  It is a difficult road, let me just tell you, especially the how are they, make that WE, going to pay for it part.  I now have a resource to help answer that question and am already putting it into practice with our next child up who is in her freshman year of high school.

 College Common Sense, and the program Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook  is the brain child of mom and college financial aid consultant Denise Ames.  Her goal with this program is to simply make sense of the financial aid process, help you navigate it efficiently and show you how to get as much "free" money as you can to send your child to college. 

Her program falls into two parts really.  The first is her website and her free monthly newsletters and lessons plans.  By signing up on her website you will receive a monthly newsletter with helpful ideas and goals to work on.  The weekly lesson plans that are sent to you get more specific on certain things you should try to accomplish that week or month.  For example- attend a college fair or fill out the FAFSA.  She also often references free videos to watch that are easily located on her site. 

Here is what is unique to these lesson plans as well as Denise's program- she breaks the assignments into four age groups- Seniors, other highschoolers, Middle school students  and Elementary school students.  Yes, even the younger kids can participate in this program.  So if the assignment is go visit a college campus, the assignment for the younger kids may be to come back and draw what they saw in their notebooks, while the older students will be focused on the details such as what majors the school offered.

The second part of the program is the DVD and workbook that can be purchased through College Common Sense.  The DVD consists of 6 video lessons, each lasting about 20-30 minutes:

The Big Picture
How Financial Aid Works
All About Free Money
The System That Works
You in the Process
Pull it all Together

There are several pages of notes in the workbook that correspond with each video lesson as well as additional worksheets for some.  Denise recommends that just the parent watch the videos in the case of younger students, but having teens watch independently or with you.  Though most of what you read in the workbook she repeats in the videos, I think the auditory learner in all of us will benefit from seeing it presented in two different mediums.

So how did we work through this-
My 9th grader and I watched the videos, sometimes together and sometimes separately to get the idea for the week.  We then picked one or two of the activities that Denise recommended to work on for a few days.  I found that one of the things we learned about that was an AHA! moment for us was the scholarship binder.  While we did apply to scholarships with my oldest, I felt we were rather willy nilly with the process and definitely could have stood to be more organized.  By creating a binder with 12 tabs, Denise gives you the organizational tool and many tips on how to aim for completing one "good" scholarship a month.  Just think, if you start as a freshman or sophomore, that is a lot of scholarships you can apply for with minimal stress to your child and no last minute scrambling.  Denise even says that there are scholarships out there for kids to earn as early as elementary school.  Who would have thought!

What did we think-
We had a slow start with this program at first, but I will have to say that by the time we got to the third video  I was sold.  Yes, some of this information you might know, but I would be willing to bet that a lot of it you would have to deliberately set out to find.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Why drive yourself crazy, and believe me you can, when someone else with years of experience can guide you through the often confusing system?   Instead of searching for random scholarships that may or may not be a good fit for your child, Denise gives you several websites to start with, but more importantly helpful hints on not only where to look but how to look for what is the best fit for your child.  Another area that I was especially impressed with was Denise's breakdown of how to write an essay for scholarships.  She gives a simple outline to use that makes the set up a breeze for highschoolers.  Trust me on this, any little hints and techniques you learn can and will make a difference in how cooperative your child will be when it comes time to put in the effort.

Scholarship Binder

What did my child think-
Quite honestly, it overwhelmed her a bit, but it did get her thinking outside the box a little with her likes and dislikes and where she would like to head.  There is a lot of information out there to take in and with a military family there are still a lot of moving parts to consider. I think that by starting this program at an early age and approaching it as an adventure, you could take some of that scariness away.

If college is something you are considering for your child, I would recommend taking some of the work out of the process and allow a veteran in the field of Financial Aid guide you through the process!

Denise's website, College Common Sense, has free access to lots of information!  Start there!
The Going to College and Paying For It online DVD and workbook that we reviewed can be downloaded for $25.00 for a year's access.  The physical products cost $50.00.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

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