If You Need Financial Aid For College, Start Your FAFSA and CSS Profiles Now!

In order to receive financial aid for college, students must submit the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile. While all public and private colleges use the FAFSA, about 400 private colleges also require the CSS Profile. After you complete these online reports, the FAFSA and CSS Profile will send Student Aid Reports (SARs) to each of your colleges. You can start this process as early as October 1st and the sooner the better. Colleges won't give you a financial aid awards letter until they have received the FAFSA and/or the Profile.  They need this financial information before they make recommendations about what the parents and students could afford to pay for college.

You don't need a CPA to complete these forms, but they can be tricky.  Here are some tips to make it easier for you.


This application is online and everyone completes the same form. Billions of dollars are available in federal aid and Pell grants. This application is free.

1.  FAFSA Application Form (click on "start here")

2.  FAFSA Hotline: (800) 433-3243

3.  FAFSA Email:

4.  FAFSA Worksheet (to see what questions you'll be answering)

5.  FAFSA YouTube Videos 

6.  FAFSA Financial Aid Toolkit

7.  FAFSA Tips to Avoid Common Errors

CSS Profile:

This application form is individualized based on the colleges that you are applying to and how you answer the questions.  The information is used to determine how much the college will give in aid from their college funds, not federal funds. There is a nominal fee to file the CSS Profile plus a small fee for every college.

1.  CSS Profile Application Form

2.  CSS Profile (List of Colleges)

3.  CSS Profile Hotline: (844) 202-0524

Get started on this right away -- even if you haven't received your W4s or financial records. Remember, the sooner they have your information, the sooner each college will be able to make financial aid offers.

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Online Bachelor's Degree From An Ivy League College?

Finally, an ivy-league college will offer the first online bachelor’s degree!  The University of Pennysylvania (UPenn) will open an online program for undergraduates studying liberal arts starting fall 2019.  This is a game changer; and I believe it will be instrumental in making sure that a quality elite education can be had by everyone.  While the tuition is about $1000 less per course for the online classes, this is the beginning of a movement to keep education affordable.

UPenn is expecting about 500 students to enroll in their first online bachelor’s degree program next fall.  Of these students, they speculate that the students will be adults ages 25+. When students can continue to live at home in their home states and receive an ivy-league diploma, we’re going to see a shift in what it costs to get that coveted degree. 

With tuition at elite colleges exceeding $70,000 per year, parents really can’t afford to pay for college and prepare for their retirement anymore.  I’m hopeful that colleges realize that they need to start reducing tuition, offering online courses, and preparing students for the work force. Maybe UPenn is leading the way to encourage both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in college education.



Do We Need Liberal Arts Graduates?

If you aren’t a STEM genius and worry that you won’t ever have a good paying job, a new study says that more employers are seeking college grads with liberal arts degrees. Finally! First of all, can you imagine a world with only STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) people?  Umm, no!  Who would do the communicating, marketing, writing, and education (just to name a few jobs)?  The good news is that employers are recognizing how they really do need employees who can communicate, lead, and problem solve – in other words, people with degrees in humanities, social sciences and interdisciplinary programs.

The fear that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics would eliminate humans from the non-STEM portion of the job market has been tamed as employers realize that the integration of “human” and technical skills are necessary for future jobs.  While this is encouraging for those not interested in STEM careers, colleges need to redesign liberal arts curriculum so that it prepares students with the multitude of skills they will need in their careers. Colleges need to help students translate what they are learning into specific skills for the ever-changing labor market.

Liberal arts graduates earn on average $55,000, which is $20,000 more per year than high school graduates.  Those liberal arts students who get advanced degrees, earn on average $75,000 per year.  While these students don’t earn as much as STEM grads, the good news is that the gap is closing and liberal arts graduates aren’t destined to be baristas forever.



ProjectMerit Can Be The Key To College Admissions

One of the best things a high school student can do to improve their chances of getting into their top colleges is to do a project.  With grade inflation making a 4.0 (or 5.0) GPA commonplace, students need to do something to stand out.  It used to be that playing a sport and an instrument would be enough.  Then volunteering for a charity or shadowing a professional would help beat the college admissions game.  But today, colleges are looking for students who delve into and stick with something that fascinates them.  Colleges want dynamic students who might design innovative devices, solve climate change, or find medical cures.

Top colleges admissions committees aren’t impressed that students take 16 AP classes or compete in 3 sports. Yup! They don’t believe students who claim to be president of 4 school clubs and members of 10 others. It’s not about quantity, but about the quality of the activity.  Colleges want to see students explore ideas and pursue them.  They’re looking for students who start their very own project – not begrudgingly do something that is assigned by a teacher, required by a club, or completed by their parent. 

Check out projects that give students the edge in the college admissions process.

By brainstorming about doing a project, students explore areas of interest.  Then they carve out their niches and do something substantial. I’ve just published the 3rd edition of Beat the College Admissions Game with ProjectMerit to walk students through the entire process of doing ProjectMerit.  These projects will help build confidence and open the doors to colleges and scholarships!


Trump Administration Wants To Protect Sexual Predators on Campus

In a time when women are stepping up and speaking out, our Education Secretary Betsy DeVos just proposed to “protect” students accused of sexual misconduct while undermining victims’ rights. Seriously? One step forward, two steps backwards.

DeVos just released a proposal to add due process protections for accused students. Rather than stepping up protections for victims of sexual assault or misconduct, she is pushing policy that better protects the accused sexual predator.  Remember Brock Turner?  He’s the Stanford student who was convicted of 3 counts of felony sexual assault back in 2016.  Because the court believed that a harsh prison sentence would “ruin his life,” he got off with just 3 months of jail time.  When did we start worrying more about the perpetrators than the victims? 

This proposal also requires that colleges be responsible for investigating misconduct that occurs within the colleges’ own programs and not in off-campus college activities or events. If a victim confides in a person who is not the “proper official on campus,” the college will not be responsible for investigating the case.  Wow! The colleges will be allowed to set their own evidentiary standard for discovering these findings, and what’s worse, they could cross examine victims – the reason so many victims of assault don’t speak out against their perpetrators in the first place.

So colleges have less responsibility to protect and investigate their students, and victims will face scrutiny for standing up for their rights. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Devos and President Trump were “trying to take another step toward sweeping the scourge of sexual assault under the rug.”



The Bias In Letters Of Recommendation

There are 4 ways to get better letters of recommendations

College-bound seniors request letters of recommendation from 2 teachers and their guidance counselor every fall creating angst and stress for those “lucky” recipients.  Some teachers have to write upwards of 200 letters of recommendation and counselors even more. That means they are writing these letters after school, on weekends, and during the holidays – and they don’t get paid to write them!

Students who attend elite college-preparatory schools have a clear advantage because the teachers have pressure from parents and stakeholders to give each student the edge needed to get into selective colleges.  Many of these teachers and counselors request that students and parents complete surveys and write short answers to several questions so that they can write comprehensive letters of recommendation. 

But students who attend large public high schools don’t have the same privileges.  Their teachers often use form letters to pump out hundreds of letters in an afternoon.  When they’re underpaid and not compensated for the hours required to complete these forms and write these letters, the student generally receives less glowing and personalized recommendations.

There are 4 ways to get better letters of recommendations:

  1. Create a complete resume listing all of your activities and accomplishments since 9th grade.
  2. Write a cover letter that describes your goals for college (major) and why you have selected these colleges.
  3. Give the teacher and counselor at least 4 weeks to complete these letters.
  4. Thank the teachers and show your appreciation by being kind and respectful.

If you put in just as much time to help your teachers and counselor as they do to write your letters of recommendation, you’ll get the best results.


Socioeconomic Status Beats Academic Achievement In The Game Of Life

Attending a high school with wealthy students has more influence on both education and life successes than attending a high school with high achievers.  A recent study by University of Tubingen and University of Illinois Urbana Champagne indicates that high socioeconomic status correlates to a lifetime of academic and career success.  Students do better if the other students are average academic achievers rather than high achievers.  Hmm. 

So go to school with rich kids who are B students? Obviously networking is a given with wealthy connections, but average students?  Maybe it’s because competing against overachievers may be debilitating whereas competing against average students creates a healthy and doable challenge.  Either way, the rich get richer, and sadly, the poor remain poor.



Stanford and Princeton Drop Writing Requirement for SATs/ACTs

After Harvard and Yale announced that they were dropping the writing requirement for both SATs and ACTs, Stanford and Princeton followed suit.  Now only 23 colleges in the US require the writing portion of these exams for admission.  Good news for students!

Many colleges are now requiring students to submit graded writing samples – an essay that they turned in for English or history assignments with comments and grades from their teachers.  Others state that they “strongly recommend” submitting the writing scores, even if they are not “required.”

While critics claim that the writing test doesn’t judge whether a student will be able to write college-level essays, I think that there should be some sort of evaluation to determine if a student can write well enough to succeed in college.  We all know that the essays students write for their college applications are heavily edited by teachers, tutors, and parents.  Students who submit graded essays may be tempted to use friends’ essays and teachers may receive requests from students to “grade” essays that they’ve written (and received a lot of help on) specifically for college applications.  My concern is that taken out of a proctored testing environment, colleges will have to wade through a sea of papers to determine which essays were truly written by the student.


Early Decision vs Regular Decision

Put aside the Suburban Legends (tips from parents in the parking lot) about how not applying Early Decision ruins your chances of getting into your #1 college. Colleges feed this frenzy and parents just lap up the fear and hysteria. Choose just one college to apply Early Decision (binding), a few more for Early Action (non-binding), and the rest Regular. 

Senior year for most students is a time of discovery.  They’re still young – just 17 years old – and they’re exploring career options and colleges.  Forcing them to make a decision on which colleges to apply Early Decision as early as September of their senior year is ridiculous.  It would be better if the seniors could choose to make these decisions in April or May of their senior year when they’re much more mature and ready to make these huge decisions but it’s not convenient to the colleges. 

When you choose to apply Early Decision, colleges have little incentive to offer generous scholarship packages because you’ve already paid your deposit and you’re committed for 4 years.  The Early Decision option benefits the colleges as it improves their rankings and gets them off the hook for scholarship dollars.


Secure a Place at a UC with TAG!

Feeling insecure about applying to a UC because you don’t have a perfect GPA or SAT/ACT scores? 

Applying to UCs during your senior year of high school – along with 100,000 other students – can be daunting. 

Consider transferring from a community college with a Transfer Agreement Guarantee (TAG). Yup! 

This is much easier, less expensive, and it’s guaranteed!

Here’s how to do it:


  1. Enroll as a full-time student in a California community college after high school.
  2. Complete 30 UC-transferable units (2 semesters) to apply for TAG (by Sep 30th of your sophomore year)
    1. English and Math courses (needs to be completed by end of spring semester freshman year)
    2. Can apply to only 1 UC for TAG
      1. UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz
  3. Meet minimum GPA requirements for your major (check with your preferred UC)
  4. Need to complete required preparation for your major (by end of spring semester sophomore year)
  5. Complete 60 UC-transferable units (by end of spring semester sophomore year)
  6. Be in good standing at the community college
    1. No Ds, Fs, or No Passes (okay if the course was repeated and received a C- or better)
    2. No more than 2 withdrawals in major preparation courses
    3. By spring semester of sophomore year, on more than 1 unrepeated grade with a D, F, or No Pass
  7. Apply for UC transfer application (by Nov 30th of your sophomore year)
    1. UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz