4 ways colleges can prep you for Valentine’s Day

Cliché: A labor of love.    
POCS Reality: College can help you prep for a lovely Valentine’s Day.     

Every Feb 14 is a celebration of love. Whether you are a born romantic or don’t know where to begin, college can help you prepare for a lovely Valentine’s Day.

According to holidayinsights.com

The roots of Valentine’s Day goes back to ancient times, when people paid honor to the Roman God of Fertility. This was known as the Feast of Lupercalia, and was celebrated even then on February 14th.

Here are four ways college can prep you for Feb 14:

  1. Look good, feel good One reason colleges are so costly is their amenities-especially the sports kind. If you are not on a team but want to stay fit, check out a college gym or pool for Intramural sports, exercise classes and personal exercise equipment use. Memberships and day passes may be available for both students and the public.
  2. Let your inner poet out Take a college poetry course and commit a couple of romantic poems to memory to recite at the appropriate time. Take a creative writing class so you can make your own thoughtful cards and letters.
  3. Dine fine on a budget Many colleges have a wide choice of fast food eateries along with a cafeteria. Why not order take-out and plate it yourself for a romantic meal at home.
  4. Do something special Colleges host a wide variety of entertainment options including art exhibitions, plays, movies and concerts. Check out the campus events calendar and attend your favorite with your beau.

Some activities and facilities are only for enrolled students and others are open to the public. Check prices because many events are free, low cost or have reduced rates for students, senior citizens, alumni, staff/faculty.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Who said studying the humanities wasn’t practical? Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

College Goal Sunday

Cliché: Help is on the way.    
POCS Reality: College Goal Sunday helps the college-bound file FAFSA for financial aid.    

Attention college-bound: If you need help to fill out your FAFSA for financial aid to help pay for college, College Goal Sunday is coming to your area. The national event is staffed with financial aid volunteers ready to answer your questions and help you complete and submit your 2012-13 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Under FAFSA, colleges award eligible students federal grants, student loans and a job through the Federal Work-Study program. States may require FAFSA before students can submit an application for their state financial aid program. Colleges can use other forms or just use FAFSA to determine awards from their own institutional funds. Check with your state and college for FAFSA filing deadlines.

College Goal Sunday is held in 40 states and the District of Columbia. It started in Indiana to help students and families complete financial aid forms, focusing on low-income, first-generation families.

Applicants will need to bring some important information to complete their FAFSA:

  • Social Security Number for yourself, and parents if providing parent info
  • Driver’s license, if any
  • Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • W-2 forms
  • 2011 federal tax returns for yourself (and spouse if married), and parents if providing parent info
  • Records of 2011 untaxed income including Social Security benefits, welfare benefits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), veteran benefits for yourself, and parents if providing parent info
  • Bank statements
  • Current business and investment mortgage info, business and farm records, stock and bond investment records, for yourself, and parents if providing parent info
  • FAFSA PIN to use as an electronic signature for yourself, and parents if providing parent info. Apply for one in advance at the U.S. Department of Education PIN Web site.

You can estimate how much financial aid you may receive and your expected family contribution (EFC) to college costs at FAFSA4caster.

To preview the types of questions you will be asked, go to the FAFSA on the WebWorksheet or look at the paper FAFSA

Gather your documents necessary to complete the FAFSA and mark your calendar to attend College Goal Sunday.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: If you need money to pay for college, file your FAFSA yourself or with help.

College scandals and success stories

Cliché: Ups and downs.    
POCS Reality: The college-bound should stay current because education news is constantly changing.


Scandal, success story, scandal, success story. Welcome to extreme college news 2012 for the good, the bad and the ugly: 

False data and college rankings Claremont McKenna College submitted false SAT scores used in computing college rankings to publications including U.S. News & World Report. The responsible administrator has reportedly resigned. Claremont McKenna is ranked #9 for National Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

According to The New York Times, “Iona College in New Rochelle, north of New York City, acknowledged last fall that its employees had lied for years not only about test scores, but also about graduation rates, freshman retention, student-faculty ratio, acceptance rates and alumni giving.” Iona College is ranked #30 Regional Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

College endowment returns swell The Wall Street Journal Market Watch reports 2011 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments found “College endowments returned an average of 19.2% (after fees) for the year ended June 30, 2011.” Harvard University heads the list of its The 25 largest college endowments.

Mistaken college admission offers Vassar College, ranked #14 for National Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, accepted then rejected 76 early admission applicants. Similar errors have occurred at other colleges, too.

Recent college grad wins $25,000 Adelphi University grad who studied film entered and won Chevrolet’s Route 66 ad contest. The commercial is slated to air during Super Bowl XLVI. Adelphi is ranked #152 National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

SAT cheating scandal There have been at least 20 arrests of SAT test takers and test hirers on Long Island, New York and the NY Senate Higher Education Committee is holding hearings to address test security and cheating penalties. Because of the large amount of fees involved in the scam ($1,500-$3,500), new legislation may provide penalties for parent involvement as accomplices.

Intel competition awards scholarships Among this year’s winners for their science research projects is a homeless college-bound high school senior from Long Island, New York. In addition to being an Intel Science Talent Search semifinalist, she is awarded a $50,000 scholarship from AT&T Aspire program on the Ellen DeGeneres show.  

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Whoa – we are only 34 days into 2012. Education news is a wild ride for the college-bound. Take a deep breath and stay focused on your part in the college process.

5 reasons why your 2nd choice college may be the BEST choice

Cliché: Second to none. 
POCS Reality: After careful consideration, students may find their 2nd or 3rd choice college is really the best fit.

If you didn’t get into your first choice college or you got in but can’t afford to pay the bill, it may be the best thing that could have happened to you. Your 2nd or 3rd choice college may be the right fit after all.

Don’t do this: Students and parents sometimes measure self-worth by college acceptance or rejection. Don’t fall into that trap. Schools seeking diversity cannot accept all qualified applicants from the same school, geographic area or ethnicity. Rejection is not personal.

Or this: Attending a college you can’t afford is a terrible financial start for a new career. It will bring huge debt that can prevent an enjoyable lifestyle.

Do this: Whether you received a college rejection or can’t afford to attend, give yourself a brief period to grieve your disappointment and then stop stressing about what might have been and start smiling about what will be.

And this: Here are 5 reasons why your 2nd or 3rd choice college might be your BEST choice:

  1. Make more informed decisions. Many times 1st college choices are based on emotional responses. Now you can research your other options calmly and rationally, focusing on how they can help you achieve your educational goals. You can concentrate on details like what classes constitute a major, internship possibilities and activity/club popularity while keeping an eye on the big picture via college retention and graduation stats.
  2. Go where you are wanted. It’s always nice to be wanted and that’s what you’ll be when you attend a college that sends you an acceptance letter. In addition, the school may show its appreciation by offering generous financial aid awards like free money institutional grants you do not have to pay back, an honors program with perks like first chance for course registration or another special program that features trips and activities.
  3. Luxury of second thoughts. Between the fall and the spring, many students change their minds about what they want from a college education. After a semester of new high school courses and constant college discussions with parents, teachers and peers, your original college requirements (type, size, location), academic choices (area of study, majors, minors, internships) and cultural opportunities (activities, clubs, events) may no longer be the right fit. Take advantage of the opportunity to re-evaluate what you want and how you will achieve it.
  4. Save money. Attending a 2nd or 3rd choice school that is substantially less costly can save students thousands. Apply your savings to your out-of-school future knowing you don’t have huge loans to pay back. The extra funds can also go towards grad school, a new apartment or help you relocate after job searching.
  5. Get a second chance. Most students fall in love with the school they attend. That could be based on the professors, the students, the programs, the activities or the location. On the off chance things don’t work out despite doing well academically, you can reapply to your 1st choice college, highlighting your new accomplishments. It’s an effective strategy to gain academic strength you originally lacked to bolster your future admission chances to your 1st choice school. Transferring can be your back-up plan.

Visit my colleague Suzanne Shaffer (Parents Countdown to College Coach) for 5 reasons to take another look at your 2nd choice colleges. Suzanne is a college prep expert and online college-bound “coach” helping parents navigate the college maze with the proper tools/resources including a FREE parent tips newsletter.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Blessings in disguise come when you least expect it. The key to success is how you deal with disappointments and handle a challenge. As far as college choice is concerned, there are over 4,000 colleges and more than one can help you achieve your college and beyond dreams. Don’t be surprised if your 2nd choice college turns out to be your BEST choice.

Colleges sponsor free and low cost fun

Cliché: Have fun.
POCS Reality: Students and the public can take a break and enjoy the fun activities and events your local college sponsors.

Adelphi University Outdoor Sculpture Biennial 2010 - 2012


Looking for some free or low cost fun? Go to the calendar page of a local college. Schools sponsor events and activities for students and many are open to the public.

If you’ve finished filing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to help pay for college, you may be ready to relax and reward yourself. Would you like to take in a show, enjoy a concert, learn something at a lecture, view an art exhibit or cheer on a sports team?

Don’t forget to check out campus architecture and landscaping. There may be opportunities to stroll or hike through gardens, arboretums or bird sanctuaries. See if you can spot treasures like outdoor sculptures or specimen trees.

From opera to ballet, from theatre to recitals, from athletics to workshops, colleges can sponsor a wealth of entertainment choices.

Read more:

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Colleges are more than a place that educates students. They are a vibrant cultural marketplace offering free and low cost events for its students and the public. Go ahead and find some fun!

FAFSA help on Twitter

Cliché: Inside information.
POCS Reality: FAFSA help was available on a Department of Education twitter chat.

Financial aid met social media yesterday as applicants entered their tweet questions in 140 characters or less using #AskFAFSA.

Martha Kanter, the Under Secretary of Education, hosted an hour-long twitter chat about the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and tweeted the answers.

Here are some of her tweet highlights:

  • There’s NO income cut-off for federal student aid. Everyone should fill out the FAFSA.
  • You can submit a FAFSA before you file your taxes. Select “will file” then use income estimates & correct your FAFSA later.
  • To access your SAR (Student Aid Report) after submitting your FAFSA, login, click View Processed Information & enter your PIN. More details.
  • For information about your state’s financial aid program, check your state’s website
  • In order to receive federal student aid you must be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen. But you should check with your school’s #financialaid office. They can help you explore your options. But you should check with your school’s #financialaid office. They can help you explore your options.
  • If the student answers no to all questions here she’s a dependent student & must provide parent info.
  • Students should file FAFSA every year they want aid because you never know how your circumstances might change or what new financial aid might become available.
  • Federal Pell Grant eligibility is based on many things: income, cost of attendance @ your school & more.
  • The FAFSA is available in Spanish.
  • Grandparents are not considered parents on the FAFSA unless they have legally adopted you.
  • The IRS data retrieval will be available Feb. 1. Change “will file” to “already completed” in your FAFSA.
  • Your answer to the marital status question should reflect your marital status at the time you sign the FAFSA.
  • Federal student aid can be used to cover summer tuition if you have remaining eligibility for the academic year.
  • If you have questions along the way, the FAFSA’s Help section has a lot of great info.

The twitter chat also gave Under Sec. of Ed. Kanter ideas for future consideration such as creating a FAFSA video tutorial in Spanish and adding a FAQ section for the IRS Data Retireval tool.

It also provided an opportunity to give info about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Read more:

When should students file FAFSA? File FAFSA ASAP

Why students should file FAFSA? 15 FAFSA FACTS

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Who said social media is impersonal? What a wonderful opportunity to get info directly from Under Sec. of Ed. Kanter. Too bad not all questions were answered but  lucky tweeps got their FAFSA help on Twitter.

What’s in your college autobiography?

Cliché: Actions speak louder than words.     
POCS Reality College-bound, in college or out of college, your choices lay the foundation for your future success.


If you were reading your autobiography, would you, the main character, be a coaster or a catalyst in your life story? Whether you are out of college, in college or college-bound, your answer describes your life’s path.

Life is not all about smooth sailing. There are rough seas, too. Does adversity stop you in your tracks or spur you on to success? Will you take full advantage of the opportunities ahead or sit back and enjoy the ride?

Last night, 18-year-old Samantha Garvey, a Long Island semifinalist in the Intel science competition, attended President Barak Obama’s State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C. She’s a homeless teen who continued her studies despite her family’s financial troubles stemming from a car accident that injured both of her parents. Garvey accepted the invitation to attend extended by her congressman, Rep. Steve Israel. She also met with top administration science advisors and other officials.

Garvey’s story is a lesson on self-motivation.

Read more:

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Whether you are choosing a college, choosing college courses, or choosing a career path, will you react or act? The choice is yours.

How college libraries help students graduate

Cliché: Help out.     
POCS Reality: College libraries can help students graduate.


You filed your FAFSA, applied for scholarships, and are planning how to pay for college but once you’re in, will you leave with a diploma?

Besides money to pay for college, what major factor helps students graduate? It’s bigger than a breadbox, often taken for granted, and is the campus knowledge keeper. If you answered the college library, you are right and here are 7 reasons why:

1. Free academic resources College libraries store or can obtain information upon request for any topic students are researching. Classics, recently released studies and rare book collections can be viewed for the asking to help students ace their papers and exams. Can’t find want you want? Ask a librarian for help.

2. Study compatible Students seeking a quiet refuge or study group meeting space can often find a comfortable spot in a study carol, comfortable chair or private room. Explore your library for the best spots and policies for reserving rooms.

3. Special events/exhibitions Check your college library’s calendar for art, music, photography and literary collections that are ongoing or upcoming. Speakers, readings, panel discussions, seminars, workshops, performances and special gatherings may be hosted.

4. Bargains Before you shell out big bucks for a book you want to purchase for your home library, browse a book sale.

5. $ search Information about finding and applying for scholarships, internships, jobs and starting your own business can supplement the college Financial Aid or Job Placement Offices’ assistance.

6. Eye candy Inside and outside, libraries can be beautiful structures. Check out the architecture and decor of these 25 most beautiful college libraries and spend some time with yours.

7. Fun Sometimes you just want a break from studying and want to read a good book for fun. Borrow your choice and relax.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: It is up to students to take full advantage of college libraries to help them focus on their studies and graduate on time. College libraries are a must see on a collegecation (college visit + family vacay) and ask about the exhibitions/events open to the public.

EFC- What is it, why it’s important, and the catch

Cliché: As I expected.   
POCS Reality: The federal government calculates the student’s expected  family contribution to college costs.


Do you know what your EFC is? Without it, colleges can’t determine eligibility for many financial aid programs.

What is EFC

EFC stands for Expected Family Contribution. That’s the number the federal government calculates by applying a formula to the data submitted by a student on his FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

A student’s EFC is a measure of his family’s financial strength. The higher the number, the more the family can afford to contribute to college costs.

Why EFC is important

Colleges use the EFC to determine financial aid awards based on financial need. EFC is subtracted from the college’s cost of attendance (COA). The resulting number is the student’s financial need. As college costs rise, COA and EFC concern families at all income levels.

The catch

Many colleges do not meet 100% of student need. Colleges may include all forms of financial aid as meeting need. That means student loans that must be paid back or a job from the Federal Work-Study program may be awarded along with free money grants that do not have to be paid back. Out-of-pocket costs are increased when 100% of need is not met or is met by aid that must be paid back or earned. The more free money students receive, the better the financial aid award.

Beyond EFC

Some colleges use other formulas based on other financial aid forms to determine eligibility for institutional aid. States also have different formulas for their state financial aid programs. To maximize eligibility, file all forms the college requires and answer any requests for additional info as early as possible and before deadlines.

Read more: File FAFSA ASAPWhat you need to file a FAFSA

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Find out your college’s financial aid polices for meeting student need. When admitted, compare financial aid awards carefully to calculate your out-of-pocket costs. Use POCSmom’s charts that also include costs of borrowing. Students can appeal financial aid awards and demonstrate why they are inadequate, given their special financial circumstances that may not be reflected by their EFC.

What you need to file a FAFSA

Cliché: Pave the way.    
POCS Reality: The college-bound can prepare for financial success.


If you are college-bound, you are going to want to file a FAFSA. After you get your financial aid award, you may even do a happy dance. That’s because filing a FAFSA provides eligible students with grants, loans and a job from the Federal Work-Study program. FAFSA is a pre-requisite for state financial aid programs, many colleges require it for institutional awards and some private outside scholarships want it to verify need.

There are 3 major reasons why families dread filing FAFSA:

  1. It’s complicated Recent changes make filling the FAFSA much easier. If you file online like most do, there are helpful tips and pop-up explanations. There’s a plethora of free info in libraries and online but consider the source before relying on any advice.
  2. It’s time consuming Many of the questions are biographical and should be a snap to answer. For the financial questions, having your documents at your finger tips can provide quick access to answers.
  3. Doubt eligibility Skyrocketing college costs concern families at all income levels and even the affluent can receive financial aid. Some financial aid is based on financial need and some is based on merit (student’s talent- academic, artistic, musical, athletic, leadership abilities). Colleges can give institutional awards to discount their tuition and encourage students they want to attend. However, they may want to see the FAFSA, first.

Now, don’t you want to file your 2012-13 FAFSA? Before you put on your dancing shoes, here’s what you need to get started:


  • Social Security number
  • driver’s license number (if any)
  • 2011 W-2 forms and other records of money earned
  • 2011 federal income tax returns (or estimates based on last year’s)
  • 2011 untaxed income records
  • Business and investment records except for small businesses 
  • Current bank statements and investment records
  • alien registration number (if you are not a U.S.citizen)
  • For online filers (see below filing help) a Federal Student Aid PIN
  • Dependent students need their parents’ info, too

Filing help

  • Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243 hearing-impaired TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.
  • Email the Federal Student Aid Information Center  FederalStudentAidCustomerService@ed.gov.
  • Online filers can get a PIN before or during FAFSA filing to sign and make corrections electronically.
  • Use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your eligibility for federal student aid.
  • For online filers, there’s a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to preview questions.
  • The IRS Data Retrieval Tool is available beginning February 1, 2012 to online filers who have completed their 2011 IRS tax return. They will be able to use FAFSA on the Web to electronically view their tax information and transfer it into the FAFSA.

Read more: File FAFSA ASAP, 10 Reasons not to file a FAFSA, 15 FAFSA FACTS

Get more: Sign up for POCSmom’s free, new for 2012, monthly College Prep Insights newsletter. January issue is all about getting $$$ for college.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: The best FAFSA prep is previewing the questions before filing your FAFSA.