How Can a 4-Year Plan Save You Thousands?

Why is it that parents carefully plan out what schools, classes, and extracurricular activities for their children until they graduate high school, but they don’t plan out courses, internships, research and projects for college?  Sounds ridiculous when considering the cost -- $80,000-$250,000 – of a bachelor’s degree. Parents, and students, should carefully map out a plan for their four years in college before they move out so they make the most of this incredible opportunity.

Instead, parents send their kids off to college carefully checking off items like extra-long bed sheets, shower slippers, and laptops.  They expect the college to help their children navigate the college course selection process on their own. The advisors at college help students select classes for the upcoming term and loosely guide them as they choose courses that satisfy general ed (GE) and major requirements.  So what’s wrong with this? 

By selecting classes each term – instead of looking at the big picture,  students don’t consider upper division courses that they’ll take later that may have several prerequisite courses that should be taken during freshmen or sophomore years.  That means that when they’re juniors or seniors, they won’t be able to take some of the more interesting courses in their major because they won’t have time to take the prerequisite courses before their graduation.  In other words, without careful planning, students don’t get to take advantage of the many courses and programs that are offered at that wonderful college that their parents are giving up their retirement savings for.

Before heading off to college, students who create 4-year plans that include GEs and lower-division, upper division, and elective courses for their majors are more likely to take the interesting classes and double dip (take classes that satisfy more than one requirement).  What does that mean? These students graduate in 4 years, instead of 5 or 6!

By choosing majors, GEs, all courses and electives BEFORE students head off to college, they’re more likely to get the courses they need and take advantage of research, internships, and paid jobs. That’s why we help students create these 4-year plans for students right after high school graduation.  This ensures that parents avoid unnecessary college expenses and that their children move on to higher ed or a career sooner rather than later.

College Tuition Costs are Crushing Families

With college tuition costing over a quarter of a million dollars, parents are desperate to find funds. Originally, federal Parent PLUS programs were designed for middle-class parents to bridge the gap between selling assets and paying off loans. In other words, these parents just needed time to liquidate money they already had.  But today, many parents are borrowing money that they’ll never be able to pay down.

A new report finds that more than 60% of borrowers in 2015-2016 exceeded their expected family contribution (EFC).  This same report finds that Republican proposals to cap parent lending at $12,500 annually wouldn't address over-borrowing from lower income families trying to give their children a college education. While it might seem smart to stop families from borrowing money they will never be able to repay, not allowing families to give their children access to higher education will only perpetuate their poverty.

How can colleges around the world offer free tuition to all of their students, when our public and private colleges are charging exorbitant tuition? This isn’t sustainable. We need to rethink higher education.  Maybe we’re heading towards a college experience that might be comprised of an affordable mix of online classes, credit by examination, and on-site courses.


2019 California American Mothers Gala

It’s official – I’m the 2019 California Mother of the Year! My platform will be two-fold: (1) Set up FREE childcare in the home; and (2) Start projects for teens to get into college (ethically!). We’ve created a new website: where we’ll share tips, blogs, podcasts, and deals. For the first time ever, we’re going to host a TEDx event for American Mothers (California) to share their parenting/education ideas. I’m thrilled; this is going to be an exciting year!

I attended the gala in Southern California last weekend where I met fascinating women at all levels of this incredible organization. These dynamic women have powerful stories (some enlightening, others tragic) that inspired them to start non-profit organizations, write books, create podcasts and blogs, and more. We’ll be featuring these women on our website, so keep checking back to see what’s new.  I’m heading to Washington, DC for the national American Mothers convention next week!

Susan Tatsui-D'Arcy Honored as 2019 California Mother of Year

It’s official – Susan Tatsui-D’Arcy is the 2019 California Mother of the Year! Her platform will be two-fold: (1) Set up FREE childcare in the home; and (2) Start projects for teens to get into college (ethically!). She’s building a new website: where she’ll share tips, podcasts, and blogs. For the first time ever, she’s planning to host a TEDx event for American Mothers (California) to share their parenting/education ideas. This is going to be an exciting year!

Last weekend, California American Mothers hosted a lovely gala in La Canada Flintridge (southern California). Lauraine Clark moderated the event. Isabella Torrez won the 5th Grade Essay Contest and read her sweet poem “What my Mother Means to Me.” Mary Zakrasek won the Distinguished Service “Francis Eleanor Smith” Award and Sharon Brown won the Humanitarian Service Award. Joy Burkhard won the California Mother of Achievement Award. California Honor Mother Awards went to Susan Graham, Jessica Relph, Chanelle Neilson, and Aalia Lanius. These dynamic women have powerful stories (some enlightening, others tragic) that inspired them to start non-profit organizations, write books, create podcasts and blogs, and more. She’ll be featuring these women on the new website, so keep checking back to see what’s new. 

As the guest speaker, Dr. Greggory De Vore shared fascinating stories about his incredible career in fetal medicine and how he’s worked hard to improve the outcomes of complicated pregnancies and premature babies. Dorothy De Vore, 2007 California Mother of the Year and American Mothers Board Member, received the American Mothers, Inc. Lifetime Membership Award. We’re thrilled that Dorothy will continue to be part of the California American Mothers and national American Mothers organizations.

Confused About the Actual Cost of Attending Your #1 College?

Confused by the financial aid award letters that you kids are receiving from the colleges?  You’re not alone.  30% of colleges do not give parents the correct net price to attend – leaving out the costs of textbooks or other costly expenses.

Colleges are supposed to provide a “Net-Price Calculator” so you can determine what your actual costs will be to attend each college.  But, these calculators are often buried on the college websites. Many colleges don’t include the full costs of attendance – making parents take out additional loans to bridge the gap. 

If you can’t find the Net-Price Calculator on your college’s website, go to  Simply enter the college name and click on “Show Results.” You’ll see the actual costs to attend the college.  Learn more by checking out this short video:

And if you’re still confused, call the financial aid department to ask questions.  That way, you’ll be able to choose the perfect college that you can afford!

60% of Students Graduate College Within 8 Years

For students at either community colleges or 4-year universities, a new study reports that 60% graduate within 8 years. This is just appalling. First of all, when people go to college, their lives are on hold because it’s difficult to hold a full-time job, start a family, or save money. So spreading a 4-year bachelor’s degree to 8 years is a waste of time, which results in 40% drop out rate.

The problem is that these students don’t have a plan when they start.  College counselors help them select their courses for just one term (quarter or semester) but they don’t help layout a 4-year plan to make sure they’re on the right path.

After surviving 12 years of elementary, middle and high school with specific tracks for college prep, college students often flounder once they start college.  Some dabble in the general education courses required for graduation and take a few lower-division courses for their possible majors. When students are weak in math or English, they may have to take several courses just to get into a college-level course that is required for graduation.  Without seeing the big picture and understanding why they are taking each of their courses, these students can lose sight of their goal: to get that coveted bachelor’s degree.

When students lay out their 4-year college plan BEFORE they start college, they understand the importance of taking specific prerequisites and they know how to find courses that satisfy multiple requirements.  This saves both time and money. These students work harder to complete their courses and they take extra steps to get into courses with waiting lists because they understand the consequences of not getting in.

The students I work with who organize their 4-year plans, graduate in 4 years. Besides ensuring that they will in fact get their degrees, they learn how to work with the system to do it more efficiently so they save between $12,000 - $75,000. These students also take advantage of the many unique programs that their colleges offer by adding internships, research, and study abroad programs before they leave home!


VIDEO: Eva Prakash TEDxMeritAcademy Talk

In August, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Eva Prakash was a featured speaker, and her TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“Why Diversity Matters for the Future of Artificial Intelligence”
The world is in a period of revolutionary digital transformation that is driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning. But as AI’s uses become more widespread, an important question arises: who will be building these technologies? Currently, there is a diversity crisis in engineering – women and people of color make up only a small percentage of computer scientists, and their numbers appear to be even lower in the AI field. What are the implications if this massively important technology is fundamentally biased? And what can we do to bridge the gap?

About Eva Prakash : Eva Prakash is a rising senior and an advocate of diversity in artificial intelligence. She is the founder and CEO of Girl 2.0, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in California that is dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by providing free computer science education to girls and other underrepresented minorities in STEM. The organization is focused on debunking the myth that coding is only for “white guys in hoodies” by rebranding what it means to be a computer scientist. Currently, Eva is a student researcher in computational biology at Stanford University, where she works on the interpretability of machine learning models for genomics.


Step Back, Helicopter Moms!

Moms who hover over their children are Helicopter Moms. They’re worried that their children might get hurt so they constantly make sure that there environment is void of sharp corners or opportunities to put their kids at risk. These moms consider themselves to be superior to other types of mothers because they are always fussing over protective layers of clothing and gear for sports.

Children of Helicopter Moms might wear multiple layers of sweaters and jackets so they will be warm. When playing sports, they’ll be the player wearing every form of protective gear available. And if the flu is going around the school, this child will be wearing a mask and downing Vitamin C every few hours, and then they’ll be on their way to the ER to get antibiotics.

Helicopter Moms don’t stop worrying at high school graduation.  They’re the moms who make excuses for their college kids by requesting retakes on exams, or call in sick to their adult children’s employers. Yup, I can only image how they get entangled in their marriages and grandparenting.

The result of helicopter parenting is that these children aren’t prepared to make decisions on their own. This can lead to insecurity and often depression. So rather than hover over your child, let them experience some risks and manage their own consequences. A Helicopter Mom will never step back far enough to ever be accused of neglect or endangering their children. Just reel it in a bit so your children can experiment and grow. 


Teen Who Survived Homelessness Gets Into 17 Colleges

Amidst the college scandal debacle, it’s refreshing to hear that a young teen who was in and out of homelessness has been accepted to 17 colleges! He will be the first person in his family to go to college. Using the application fee waivers, he applied to 20 colleges.

Love to see this type of determination from a bright young man and the support from a mother who encouraged him to study and to position himself to break the poverty cycle. Kudos to the mom, too!


30 Million Words by Kindergarten

We know that reading to our children encourages them to read and explore ideas. Educators have been encouraging parents to read to their children for decades.  And we know that educated and wealthier parents try to make it a ritual – at bedtime if not more often – to read piles of books to our kids. There’s evidence that children from low-income homes have heard about 30 million LESS WORDS than kids from middle or upper income families. Here is just another example of how poverty negatively affects children and sets them back in the academic world.

If parents read 5 books per day to their children, these kids will be exposed to 30 million words when they enter kindergarten.  They’re more likely to be prepared to start school, read at their grade level, and be success in academics. Many low-income children don’t have access to books and may have been exposed to under 5,000 words (compared to 30 million!). Groups are donating books to underprivileged children to give them a head start. If you have books on your children’ bookshelves that they no longer read, consider donating them to women’s shelters, clubs, and other organizations.