Friday, March 1, 2013

Review of College Common Sense


Given that I was told from a very young age (elementary school) that if I expected to go to college (and, of course, I was expected to go to college), I would have to earn a scholarship.  You do school differently when you know that the only way you can go to college is if you find a way to pay for it! Well, I got a full ride through two BAs, an MA, and a PhD.  Clearly, I took my parents' word to heart.  Needless to say, I let my four children (all of whom will be in college at the same time) know that they will be getting through college on scholarship money.

Having said that, I never would have guessed that you can start finding scholarships as young as elementary aged! I, like most students I suspect, started thinking about scholarships sophomore or junior year of high school.  Fortunately for parents today, Denise Ames of College Common Sense knows a whole lot more about scholarships than most of the rest of us.  Even more fortunately, for a very modest fee, she is willing to share every bit of her knowledge in College Common Sense Online Video and Workbook.

What is College Common Sense?


Available as either a DVD or a one-year online subscription, each complete with a PDF workbook, College Common Sense is a series of six videos (with the six accompanying PDFs):

  1. The Big Picture
  2. How Financial Aid Works
  3. All About the Free Money
  4. The System That Works
  5. You In the Process
  6. Put it All Together

The videos themselves are not long and the PDFs provide summary notes of what is covered in the videos.  At the end, each provides students with directions for what to do based on what was learned in the section.  For example, at the end of Video/PDF 3, students are directed to brainstorm a list of possible scholarship sources (the "low-hanging fruit" as it were).  The exercises students are given depend on their ages.  While the program can be used by elementary aged children, it is high school aged children who do the most in-depth work researching and collecting grants, scholarships, and other aid.

Therese, College Common Sense, and Me

Given that Therese is only (officially) in 6th grade, I didn't expect that we would be applying for any scholarships or making any college visits at this time, and we didn't.  I did, however, have her watch some of the videos that I thought would be most useful for her.  As Ms. Ames says, it is never too soon to start thinking about how financial aid works! Again, though, Therese is not to this point in her college explorations yet, and I have been talking to her about scholarships since before she could understand what I meant.  To that end, much of the specifics of the information given (Pell Grants, FAFSAs, etc.) was too specific for her at this time, and that which was more general was that which she already knew.  She did, however, start keeping a spiral notebook as Ms. Ames suggests, and I anticipate that she will continue to write down scholarship sources as they occur to her.  While I had her do all of the upper elementary/lower middle school spiral notebook assignments suggested by Ms. Ames, this is the one that seems to have "stuck" with her.  It is the one to which she returns most often.

Although I didn't think she was ready to price colleges yet, I did have Therese fill out a worksheet on the cost of attending school.  Currently she is most interested in private, Catholic colleges which are not cheap.  She filled out a sheet for a private school here in Houston (my alma mater) as well as one for the University of Houston.  While U of H is definitely far more affordable, the University of St. Thomas has more scholarship money available, especially merit-based tuition scholarships, such as the one I received.  It is helpful for Therese to know at this young age that she can begin to aim for such a scholarship right now.  I think that Ms. Ames is very smart to have parents *and* their children begin to think about the cost of school and their various options for paying for it as early as possible.

This product is a really great one and one that is so necessary for homeschoolers who don't have access to those great fonts of information - the high school counselors.  As to whom College Common Sense would benefit most, though, I think high schoolers and their parents are the obvious answer.  Even more specifically, I would say that parents who have not themselves gone to college (and gone through some aspect of the financial aid process) can't afford not to pay the minimal fee to gain the knowledge that Ms. Ames has spent her career acquiring.  Because I spent the better part of 12 years in school on scholarship and grant money following high school, there really wasn't much in these videos that was new information (apart from the fact that there is a scholarship for six year-olds! That was a new one to me!).  However, I personally know plenty of parents who worry *a lot* about how they are going to pay for college, and this video/workbook series should go a long way toward allaying their fears.  It is hard to come away from Ms. Ames' series without feeling optimistic that college is affordable and that you will be able to pay for it.  That alone is worth the price of admission.

So What is the Price of Admission?

You have two options when it comes to purchasing this product.  Which you choose depends, I would think, on the age of your kids and how far away you are from college.  The Crew reviewed the online videos and PDFs. These are available as a one-year subscription for $25.  If you have several kids to put through college, though, or if college is still far off but you want access to this great information now, you might want to consider the DVD, which contains the same information as the online videos, but is yours permanently.  The DVD, with PDF workbook, is available for $50 +$5 shipping.  College Common Sense can be used with children of all ages in all grades.  You can decide which of your children could benefit from it most.

No matter what, in life information is power.  When you're talking about money, that's even more true.  Give yourself the informational advantage that will enable you to put all of your kids through college without bankrupting either your future or theirs.  My daughter wasn't old enough for us to put Ms. Ames information to the test yet, but there were plenty of Crew members with high schoolers who reviewed College Common Sense, so be sure to read all of the Crew reviews.


Disclaimer: I received a subscription to College Common Sense through the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  All opinions are mine and I received no other compensation.  I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

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