International Students Aren't Always Full Pay

Until recently, international students always paid full fare for their privilege to attend American colleges and universities.  But that is changing because colleges are seeking those higher-caliber international students.  To be competitive, colleges are offering scholarships to attract those top-notch students from abroad.

At public colleges, there’s been a bit of a backlash from in-state families because legislatures and constituents want public colleges to cater to the taxpayers who finance these institutions.  Makes sense. So some public colleges offer modest non-need based scholarships to students they hope will matriculate to their colleges.  These students receive scholarship dollars to offset the out-of-state tuition fees, but they rarely ever get a full ride (all tuition and housing fees).  That’s reserved for well-deserving in-state students!

Private colleges, on the other hand, have more leeway to offer scholarships because their institutions don’t rely on public funds from taxpayers. So they don’t deal with politics the way public colleges do.  If the college really wants a particular student, they now offer scholarships – even full rides – to sweeten the offer.  That’s just like they do to entice American students to attend their colleges. 

By giving scholarships to international students, it helps create a more global community of students who learn to work together as they prepare to solve major issues that we face as a civilization.  

Why You Should Stop Using Antibacterial Soaps!

Back in 2009, Natalie Kassel, one of my ProjectMERIT students, organized a campaign to get local public schools to stop using triclosan in schools.  She had conducted an experiment to prove that regular soap kills just as many germs as antibacterial soap.  After reaching out to every school in the county, she successfully banned triclosan and protected thousands of students.  Her project, WASHUP (Worthless Antibacterial Soap Harms Us Permanently) brought attention to this problem almost a decade ago.

Today, eight years later, researchers have found that triclosan interferes with hormones and reproductive systems.  Yup!  And what’s worse?  Triclosan is found in most Americans! It pollutes the environment and it harms our bodies.  What’s alarming is that it is in many personal care items (lotions, shampoos, conditioners, toothpaste, and soaps), as well as clothing (underwear, sports apparel, sweatshirts, dresses, wet suits, and shoes).  For a complete list of items, check here!

Don't Ignore the PSAT!

It can help with college scholarships and admissions.  Here’s how:

Everyone thinks the PSAT is just a preliminary “SAT” that colleges don’t see, and subsequently, they neither prep for it nor take it seriously.  BIG MISTAKE!  The PSAT is actually also the NMSQT, National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which is the only way you can qualify to be a National Merit Scholar. Out of the 1.5 million students who take the PSAT each year, 34,000 students are commended and 16,000 become semifinalists.  Of these 16,000 semifinalists, 15,000 go on to become Merit Scholars.  These scholars win $2,500 scholarships or corporate/college scholarship awards.  And this is just for taking the PSAT!  Easy peasy.

Being recognized as a recipient of the Merit Scholarship Award is highly regarded by college admissions committees.  When my daughter Nicole won this award, she received a full-scholarship offering from colleges that she didn’t even apply to!  Colleges get ahold of these Merit Scholars and actively pursue them as they recruit students each year.  

My recommendation: Take PSAT practice tests so you become familiar with the test process.  Work on improving your scores by completing each section within the given time allotment.  Review math concepts that you may have forgotten over the summer.  READ, READ, READ.  The best way to improve the tricky reading comprehension and grammar sections is to simply read every day.

You can start taking the PSAT in 9th grade.  Your “real” PSAT score is calculated in 11th grade, so by starting early, you get 2 chances to prepare.  Just think -- this is probably one of the easiest scholarships to apply for -- No essays! No interviews!.  And if you score in the top 4%, colleges will be knocking on your door!

Grade Inflation is Real...

...and how it will affect your child’s college admissions is alarming.

We all hear about grade inflation – when teachers give A’s to average students – and we look the other way, especially when our kids benefit from them, right?  I’ve heard about teachers giving students a full-letter grade bump just for showing up to take the standardized tests at school each year. Others give students 10 points for bringing in snacks or class supplies.  What’s worst of all are teachers who offer so much extra credit that students don’t do their work or study for tests because they know that one way or another, they can pull their terrible grades up to A’s by the end of the semester.  None of this builds character or prepares students for college.

Grade inflation hurts the students.

Yup!  Because so many schools are inflating grades – especially in white, affluent schools—colleges can’t rely on grade point averages (GPAs) to assess whether or not the students will be successful in their colleges.  So when colleges can’t rely on the students’ grades, they revert to the SATs and ACTs.  After all, college-bound students take the exact same test in a proctored classroom on the same day across the country.  If we’re comparing apples to apples, this may seem more reliable than GPAs. 

But SATs and ACTs don’t determine which students will be our next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Testing reading comprehension, grammar, math and science skills in a timed, multiple-choice format does not weed out students who would do poorly in college. Instead, students who do well on standardized tests today are those who can afford private SAT/ACT tutoring and spend years preparing for these tests.

Both the inflated GPA at wealthy white schools and high SAT/ACT scores due to expensive prep programs give these affluent students an unfair advantage.  They aren’t better equipped to succeed in college; they’re simply able to afford to attend schools that give away A’s and spend many hours under the expensive supervision of SAT/ACT coaches.

The good news is that college admissions officers receive school profiles that list GPAs and demographics so they know which schools inflate grades.  And colleges that require personal statements, essays, letters of recommendation and interviews use an eclectic approach to selecting their incoming classes.  When a student stands out because they’ve done a project or something remarkable, colleges notice. 


Tips on Borrowing Money for your Kid's College Degree

So you got your kid into college – and it’s a great college – and the financial reality smacks you in the head when you get your first college bill.  Yikes!  Unless you have the funds to pay for your child’s college safely tucked away under your mattress, you’re going to need money fast. 

Be careful when looking at loans.  They’re not all the same and the rules have changed.  Check out many options before signing any contracts.  I read this great article in Money Magazine (August 2017).

Federal Plus Loans (fixed APR: 8%)
Plus loans are the easiest to get – even with bad credit (except bankruptcy).  Be careful how much you actually borrow because it’s easy to take more than you really need and then set yourself up for difficulty in repaying the loan later.

Private Loans (fixed APR: starting at 5.4% and up)
Private loan lenders seek clients with good credit history.  So if you have excellent credit, you’ll probably get a great deal at a low APR.  But if your credit is less than stellar, you may end up paying upwards of 12%!  Yikes!

Home Equity (fixed APR: starting at 5.4% and up)
By using your home (that you own) as collateral, you can qualify for good loans at low APR.  But, be careful of hidden costs – make sure your quotes include all costs such as appraisal fees.  Because your home is probably one of your biggest investments, make sure you have enough funds to cover your retirement, kids’ weddings, and other expenses in the future.

Remember, education loans are almost impossible to escape – even in bankruptcy – so only borrow what you actually need.  

Why Do Colleges Keep Their Admissions Protocol Secret?

As a college advisor, I wonder why selective colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Stanford keep “trade secrets” about how they choose their freshmen class each year. Students and parents strive to see the formula that colleges use to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. 

In the book, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton? author Jerome Karabel exposed how the Ivy League was more interested in sustaining aristocracy than shaping young minds. They routinely rejected women, Jews, blacks, and others, and they even changed admissions criteria so their legacy and elite students would get in before the super bright Jews and Asians.

Sadly, it’s still going on today.  Princeton just filed a “reverse Freedom of Information Act” lawsuit against the Dept. of Education and the Office of Civil Rights to prevent their “trade secrets” on admissions decisions from becoming public information. Hmm. I wonder what they’re hiding?

Every year, I see amazing students get passed up by legacy students (students whose parents attended the same colleges and donated lots of money) with substandard grades, average SAT/ACT scores, and no projects.  If colleges were transparent about admissions decisions, I believe that more students would be admitted based on merit and not family name, wealth, and ethnicity. 


Why TEDx Rejected Our Initial Application

We were rejected when we first applied to host a TEDx event.  Yup.  Actually, we were rejected twice because they considered our topics “too focused on climate change.”

To solve the problem, while we didn’t reduce our numbers of speakers who offered solutions to climate change, we did invite other interesting speakers to offer more diversity.  But isn’t climate change the single most important crisis we face today? If we don’t reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and stop warming up the planet, our permafrost in the artic will begin to melt, and then we’ll face problems that we probably will not be able to fix. 

In other words, if we don’t find solutions now, all of the other issues will be moot. Check out this interesting article by New York, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

TEDxMeritAcademy Success!

Our TEDxMeritAcademy debut at the Rio Theatre was a huge success!

With 9 dynamic speakers, 1 music video, and 2 TED pre-recorded speakers, we introduced innovative solutions to climate change, overpopulation, and plastic up-cycling, as well as exploring black holes in the universe and contemplating racism in America. 

We’ll post our TEDx videos soon to share these ideas worth spreading!

Be Smart When Buying A Used Car

Even though it can save you thousands of dollars, buying a used car can be stressful. 

I always wonder why the car is being sold because I don’t want to buy someone’s lemon! I just found this handy online tool that checks to see if there are any recalls on the car you’re considering buying.  By submitting the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), you’ll find out if the car is missing any safety recalls over the past 15 years.

Keep this handy for the next time you need to buy a used car, or check your current cars to make sure you didn’t miss a safety recall on the cars you drive today.


Who Wears the Cyber Pants In Your Family?

I am shocked when I hear about parents giving their children “privacy” and “personal rights” when it comes to their social media interactions and passwords.  Children, and even teens, don’t have the maturity to make good decisions on their own, and can become victims of cyber prowlers. When kids know their parents are actively involved and looking at their social media posts, they’ll stay out of trouble.  And parents should know all of their children’s passwords and check their accounts to protect them from fraudulent activities.

Parents, you are NOT your children’s best friends.  Plain and simple: you are their parents.  By keeping all of their passwords in a safe and secure location, you’ll be a great resource to them when they forget the passwords.  And, most importantly, you can check their accounts periodically and talk to them about their activities.  Be a part of their lives – both at home and in cyberspace.