Blogs - 102/102 - Merit Educational Consultants

I commend Carolyn Walworth for writing a revealing and courageous essay about her painful academic experience in the Palo Alto Unified School District. While I believe that both Paly and Gunn have excellent teachers and counselors, we need to rethink how many AP courses students should be allowed to take and offer students more engaging activities that allow them to explore their passions. Please take a few moments and read what she has to say.

(Photo copyright Carolyn Walworth)

March 26, 2015

Stress and the Modern Student

I commend Carolyn Walworth for writing a revealing and courageous essay about her painful academic experience in the Palo Alto Unified School District. While I believe that both Paly and Gunn have excellent teachers and counselors, we need to rethink how many AP courses students should be allowed to take and offer students more engaging activities that allow them to explore their passions. Please take a few moments and read what she has to say.

(Photo copyright Carolyn Walworth)

March 25, 2015

Dirty Little Scholarship Secrets (And How To Avoid Them)

Did you know that colleges can actually take scholarship money away from students? It’s called DISPLACEMENT, it’s a common practice, it’s highly unethical, and it makes my blood boil more than just about anything else (except MAYBE Maury Povich). What’s worse is that they can take money they said they’d give to YOU and give it to someone else instead. The money you bring in from outside awards/scholarships DISPLACES (or replaces) any awards the school has said it would give you. And often, students don’t even realize this until very shortly before they start school, which can put them in a very difficult financial situation.

Here’s how it works: 

Let’s say that someone (like my daughter, for example), works hard to get a $20,000 outside scholarship to help pay for her VERY expensive education. One of the colleges she considered offered her $30,000 in financial aid. Tuition, room and board were $55,000 per year. So logically, she should have had to pay just $5,000 for her freshman year. Great, right? NOPE.

The school takes the money they said they’d give you and SUBTRACTS the amount you bring in “from outside”, which tosses the funds you would have received back in the pot/endowment/whatever. To add insult to injury, this particular school told her that the only way her outside scholarship would be applied toward her net cost AT ALL was if she earned OVER $30,000 in outside scholarships. In other words, she would have to MATCH what the college gave her in financial aid, and ONLY THEN would they apply a single dime toward her tuition bill. SO. SO. WRONG.

Colleges should not have the right to take a student’s promised funds and give it to another student. This discourages students from applying for outside scholarships and discourages philanthropists from awarding grant money to students in need.

BEFORE you accept admission on May 1st, PLEASE check with the financial aid department to make sure your scholarships/outside aid will actually be applied to your tuition bottom line! Fortunately, not all colleges work this way – make sure yours doesn’t! College is expensive enough!

March 25, 2015

Child Care for Free? No, You’re Not Hallucinating (Part Two)

Alright, let’s get the math out of the way first: do you know how EXPENSIVE it is to hire a babysitter these days? It’s not like those nice 80’s movies where you can get the neighbor girl Tina to look after Little Billy for 4 hours, at the end of which you pay her $10 and hope her boyfriend Troy was at football practice all afternoon. No, today’s babysitters are sleek, efficient, expensive individuals with Linked In profiles who accept credit card payments via their website.

Just how bad is it? According to a recent Yahoo article, you can expect to pay somewhere between $13 (the average) and $16 (in San Francisco) per hour for a babysitter. That doesn’t count tips, annual raises or the obligatory background check (seriously, don’t cheap out on the background check). So that’s $13 per hour. You’re going out to dinner as well? Tack on another $50. Catching a movie after? Shell out another $40. Popcorn and snacks? Listen to the sad wailing of another $15 leaving your wallet. Oh, and you decided to watch the most recent 3 hour 7th part of your favorite trilogy? That’s at least 5 hours of solid babysitting time, which brings our total to a whopping $170 plus tip. WHO CAN AFFORD TO PAY THAT??

Spending that kind of money can take the thrill out of even the most romantic of plans. With pressure to save for college tuition for 2 kids AND my own retirement (not to mention having some money to enjoy LIVING), I had to come up with a creative way to give my girls great care without having to resort to putting a stocking over my head and holding up the local chapter of the 1%.

After a few sleepless nights, I came up with what I think is a fabulous way to get free child care – I would STOP SPENDING MONEY I DIDN’T HAVE, and set something up myself. All I did was invite 2-3 kids to join my girls for a preschool program during the time I worked or needed child care. I hired a wonderful caregiver/teacher, laid out an engaging program, bought educational games and art supplies, and HOT DIGGITY, my child care was covered! Cost to me? ZERO. The tuition the other kids paid covered all of my expenses.

In fact, I kind of love this idea so much I wrote a book about it. It goes into a ton of detail and has forms and graphs and charts and everything you’d need. That said, it’s not the right solution for everyone.

Another great way to lessen the pain of paying for child care is to gather a group of parents you know and trust who have kids the same age as yours, and take turns watching each other’s kids. No money need change hands, and you can all work out a schedule that works best for you!

Have you done something like this, or know others who’ve done something similar? Let me know in the comments below!

March 24, 2015

Child Care for Free? No, You’re Not Hallucinating (Part One)

One of the biggest shocks to new parents is just how much being a parent COSTS. Forget all the furniture, the car seats, the designer diaper bags, the “Kiss Me, I’ve Been Changed Recently” onesie, all of it. Childcare is one of if not THE biggest cost. You will literally need 2 full incomes to support this ONE expense, and it’ll be at the expense of other things you like, like eating nice food or driving something OTHER than a lime green Gremlin with one orange door.

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones with a mom who is available 24/7 to help take care of your babies so you can work or to give you a break, you’re probably struggling with the rising cost of childcare and after-school programs. I have two things to say to you: One, you are not alone, and Two, there is a way to get child care for free, and I’m going to tell you how to do it. 

So what’s a parent to do? STOP COMPROMISING, and start looking at child care from a different perspective. Instead of looking at the child care problem from a consumer perspective, look at it from a PROVIDER perspective. Rather than searching for the perfect (and perfectly elusive) child care program, I started a program for my girls right in MY home. This gave me COMPLETE control over my kids’ activities and I even got to select their teachers and their playmates. 

By setting up a child care program right in my home, my kids were able to :

  • Sleep in every morning (no more pitching a fit when I was running late)
  • Participate in activities (I got to choose what they did each day)
  • Use the materials and books I purchased (mother knows best!)
  • Take naps right in their own bedrooms

When they were sick, I was relieved that they could stay in bed and their care giver was there for them if I couldn’t stay home. And if I was running late, I simply made a call and didn’t have to pay late pick-up fees or penalties! Now here’s the FREE part: to get the program to pay for itself, I just enrolled a few other children in the program I set up for MY kids, and THEIR tuition paid for the teacher, curriculum, materials and other expenses. 

In other words, IT’S FREE! I didn’t stay home to teach, I hired a teacher to run the program while I went to work. It’s easy to do. 

That’s all for today, check back here tomorrow for Part Two, which includes some super fun facts and figures! Everyone loves math!

March 18, 2015

3 Things That Will Mess Your Kids Up (And How to Avoid Them)

From the minute I was pregnant, I immediately devoured every scrap of info I could get my hands on to see if my development was normal, and I did things like comparing my body to other pregnant mothers. Of course, everyone is different, so this was a fun little emotional rollercoaster: some days I was elated, others I was devastated, and the worst part is that I did it to myself, AND it’s very easy to transfer this sort of thinking to your kids. What I didn’t know then is that the way we talk to our kids will have a deep and direct impact on how they feel about themselves. We’re talking about self-esteem here.

SO! Let’s think about how we interact with our kids, and keep from screwing them up.  Here are 3 easy things you can avoid:

  1. Don’t label. When discussing their inappropriate behavior, don’t call them “bad” or “naughty little scamps”, just describe their “actions” and explain why their actions were wrong or bad. This can be super hard to do, because we’ve been programmed to label people based on their behavior. It’s easier to stop doing a specific thing (like tripping the neighbor boy Joey), but it’s much harder to stop being a “bad kid”. (Labels are bad, mmmkay?)
  2. Don’t compare. Unfortunately, this is how our brains work – we learn and communicate via comparison, and often the easiest comparison is to your other kids, or kids your kid knows. NOT GOOD. By comparing your child to another child, you’re setting them up for competition in a negative way. Nobody likes to hear that little Jessie got straight A’s or that Jason makes his bed every morning without being reminded. This just makes them hate Jessie or Jason, and the message you’re trying to convey is lost. Instead, try comparing their behavior to their own history. Bring up past examples of when THEY did well. By comparing them to themselves, they feel that you acknowledge that they are good kidsThen, all they need to do is change that one thing — they won’t be dealing with a constant battle to be better than someone else.
  3. Don’t lie. Kids are smart, they’ll pick up on fibs, no matter how “white” the lies might be. So don’t waste your time telling them that they probably didn’t mean to say that Jeni is ugly – kids are very literal – in their minds, she really is ugly! Don’t try to make them look better than they are because that just tells them they’re not living up to your expectations. This can cause lead to acting out or other, larger problems. If you catch yourself starting to fib, stop and simply ask your kid what he should do to fix the problem.  If they don’t know how to respond or they continue to defend their behavior, explain why that behavior isn’t ok.

See?  Easy!

March 12, 2015

Will Failing Grades Kill Your UC Dreams?

So you’ve worked hard to maintain mostly A’s and B’s, and an occasional C, and you were setting your sights for the UC’s. UCLA in So Cal or Cal up in Berkeley for you high achievers. Santa Barbara with the beaches or Santa Cruz with the redwoods. Everything’s set. Life is swell. But then you check your grades and find out that you actually bombed your pre-calc final, and ended up with a D! Oh noes!

Your head starts spinning. Your dreams vanish. You think you’ll be the only one in your class who won’t get into any colleges, and you’ll wind up working as a purse-dog swapper for a socialite. But wait, IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. 

Come on out from under that rock, and dust yourself off. Believe it or not, one terrible grade won’t hurt your overall GPA if you’ve been getting mostly A’s. 

While living in denial is a happy place to be, it’s time to calculate your GPA so you can make some smart decisions that can actually help you to get into your top colleges. But, if you’re like most people, you don’t actually know your GPA. And, the thought of figuring out the formula and doing the math stresses you out. Then you actually start thinking that a community college might be your best option. But seriously, all you need is one of the many GPA calculators you can find online.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Get a copy of your transcript — unofficial is fine.
  2. Enter your grades and their weights (regular or honors/AP), and the calculator will do the rest for you!

Remember, some colleges only consider 10th and 11th grades, not 9th grade or 12th. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, enter an A or a B to replace your D in Pre-calculus to see if retaking the class will substantially improve your GPA.  

OK, now that you’ve got the facts, it’s time to make some decisions. If your D or F brings down your GPA below where you need it to be to get into your #1 college, then you have 3 choices. You can:

  1. Retake the class at your school,
  2. Take the class at a local community college or online program, or 
  3. Take a one-on-one class at a private school (like Merit Academy!)

The good news: Most colleges will replace your original D with your new grade when calculating your GPA. 

Your parents’ financial situation will probably determine which of the 3 options is best for you. Retaking the course (it has to be the exact course, with the same course title) will be the easiest and least expensive. Meet with your guidance counselor to make sure the course is offered the next semester or over the summer.

Pro Tip: To improve your chances of getting a better grade, compare teachers and select one who has the best reputation. 

If your teacher options are murky at best, consider retaking the course at a different school, a community college, or an online program. The downside here is that there will be a cost (for private schools and colleges) and the course may be taught at a faster pace with a wide range of students whose grades will affect the class curve.

Pro Tip: Only choose this option if you’re a strong student and you feel super confident that retaking it will land you an A in the class. If you’re really lost and this subject is NOT one of your favorites, taking it in college with instructors who expect college-level students or taking an online course without an actual instructor is a BAD IDEA. 

If finances aren’t muddying the decision process, then retake your class from an accredited high school that offers one-on-one classes. Yes, these schools do exist! While it might not be fair, it is totally legit. You’ll have your own teacher who will customize your course so that you completely understand the concepts and you’ll have the best chance to actually ace the class. The class schedule is set around your busy schedule and you can actually complete the class in as little as 2 months! It’s really a no-brainer, but it IS the most expensive option. 

The bottom line: retake classes that you got a D or F in. It’ll improve your GPA and keep you in the running for college admissions.

February 20, 2015

FAFSA Secret That Will Improve Your College Admission Chances

Ok, I know that headline is a little click-baitey, but I promise you this IS an actual thing that almost no one knows about. It WILL make a difference, and it involves a bit of sleight-of-hand. The way the system is set up now, you (as a high school senior) log into the FAFSA site, and you see that you’ve got 10 spots to list the colleges you’re interested in. Great, right? Almost everyone just fills all of those fields out, submits, and calls it a day. BUT WAIT! There’s a problem with this.

What you don’t know is that ALL of those colleges can see your submission, INCLUDING the other colleges you’ve applied to. This might not be in your best interests to do – if Joe X from Awesome University sees that you’ve applied to College Z, he might think that you’ve put College Y on your list as a “safety school”, and give you LESS consideration than if he only saw HIS college on the list, EVEN IF YOU MEET ALL THEIR REQUIREMENTS. If good old College Y (Go Ys!) is the only college on that list, it might appear to Joe that you really really want to get into that school, which works in your favor. Schools like to see enthusiasm

So here’s what you do: file the FAFSA and list just ONE college. Then wait a few days, log back in, delete that college and enter the next college on your list. Do this until all of the colleges you are applying to have been entered on the FAFSA.

Worried that this is a bit shady?  Don’t be.  FAFSA actually says that this is an ok thing to do, and they have recently updated their website with this information. You won’t be penalized for using this method – you’ll only increase your chances of getting into the colleges you want.  o go for it! You’ve got nothing to lose, and maybe the college of your dreams to gain! Let us know how this went for you in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!