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Brad Baldridge is a late-stage college planning specialist. He helps parents of high school students plan and pay for college using strategies such as merit aid, need based aid, tax planning, savings and investing for college, negotiating with colleges, scholarships and loans.
Over the past 10 years Brad has directly helped hundreds of families plan and pay for college. He has provided in-depth college plans resulting in increased financial aid, scholarships, identification of the right schools at the right price, and better loans.
Brad’s expertise is featured weekly on his podcast, Taming The High Cost of College. Since 2013 Brad and his expert guests have explored and shared great information related to college planning. Brad received his Bachelors of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin Platteville in 1990.
On Today’s episode Brad gives parents advice on how to better manage their child’s college education.
Did you know? Brad built a specialty in college planning.
What do families do wrong with college planning? They start too late! The key to start early enough.
Did you know? College will cost you between 10 and 70K per year or more!
Brad’s words of wisdom: Do it on purpose instead of by accident. So if you go to college, figure out where you plan to go and what the plan will be when you get there. Don’t just show up at college, get good grades and think it’s all going to work out for you.
Make sure to go back and listen to episode #31, my interview with Celeste Horton about Creative Ways to Pay for College
For more information, visit: Prepped and Polished.com.
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What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast about Helping Families Tame the High Cost of College? Do you have any questions for Brad Baldridge and Alexis Avila?
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By Rosie Colosi, Essay Expert, Prepped & Polished, LLC
You brush past the curtain as you walk onstage, the floorboards creaking as your nervous feet propel you forward. You feel the heat of the spotlight as it hits your face. Your throat dries and your palms sweat as you prepare to sing. You open your mouth and…and…
If you are applying to a theater program, this scenario probably strikes excitement instead of fear in your heart. You yearn for a life upon the wicked stage and desperately hope to gain admission to a top-notch program that will equip you for a successful career in NY or LA.
But before you see your name in lights, you need to see your name on an acceptance letter.
You must go through the regular college application process, score well on your tests, and complete a performance audition. And of course, you must write an essay convincing the admissions committee that you are the next Kristin Chenoweth or Norbert Leo Butz.
Hate writing? No problem! Here’s the pot of gold at the end of Finian’s rainbow: The audition skills you have acquired on your theatrical journey will help you in your essay writing process. Read on…
1. Pick the right song
If you’re an alto, you wouldn’t sing “My White Knight” from Music Man for an audition. If you’re a tall leading man, you wouldn’t sing “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. You would choose a song that suits your voice, personality, and appearance. Do the same thing with your essay. Pick a topic that is important to you, that means something, that tells the reader who you are. You know how voice coaches are always telling you to “sing what you love”? Well, write what you love. It’s that simple.
2. Practice, practice, practice
You would never audition for a lead in the play after listening to your audition song once, right? You’d listen to the song, find the sheet music, sing it in your room, and maybe even rehearse in front of a coach or friend. Incorporate those good habits into your writing process. Don’t submit an essay you typed in a hurry one afternoon. Allow ample time to write, revise, edit, adjust…then share with a writing coach, a trusted friend, or a supportive teacher. Outside perspectives will help perfect your ideas.
3. Hit all the right notes
It’s every performer’s worst nightmare: prepping to sing a glorious, operatic high note…but a clunker comes out of your mouth instead. To prevent that, we aim to sing right in the center of the note, we set specific breathing patterns, count note values—and all of that’s even before we add emotion. Similarly, the mechanics of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure must be on point in your essay. Misspelling a word in your first sentence can be as detrimental as singing that clunker, so do your homework on your writing mechanics—don’t just rely on spell check.
4. Be confident
You might shout to the rooftops that you’re best singer that ever lived. Or you might downplay your talent to strangers. Find some middle ground between these two extremes. Your essay should tell your dream college that you’re pretty awesome, but bragging will rub the panel the wrong way. It’s a fine, fine line between Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut (I’m not being crude; it’s an Avenue Q reference!), so balance confidence with humility.
5. Keep breathing
You can’t sing unless you breathe. And you certainly can’t write unless you breathe. The college application process can get hugely stressful and overwhelming, but hyperventilating never helped anyone. A little dose of butterflies in your stomach can be a good thing for performers, and you may get similarly excited and scared about college, but channel that energy into your work. Do a few breathing exercises from your voice lessons before you sit down to write. Seriously. Some extra lip trills never hurt anyone…and they might even help you write your way into Carnegie Mellon.
Rosie Colosi, college essay expert and creator of Write With Rosie, earned an M.A. in English Lit from Boston College and a B.A. in English Lit from SUNY Geneseo. She has written 12 nonfiction books for Scholastic Inc., and she has performed on stages from Alaska to Athens. Most recently, she played Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes in New York City.
Are you applying to theater schools? How is your theater program essay coming along?
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By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
Imagine you’ve made your college football team. Years of practice in high school and grueling summer training paid off, and you get the chance to play—even to start. When you step out onto the field though, you listen halfheartedly to the quarterback’s calls, sprint just enough to avoid breaking a sweat, and steer clear of tackles.
This may sound absurd. Who would work so hard to make a team, and then disengage, once on it?
But the truth is, getting accepted to college is much like making a team and it is not uncommon for students to apply the same unenergetic approach to learning, once in the classroom. Perhaps this is because the opposite approach—an intentional, intellectually curious one—also takes hard work and practice.
When you get to college, be it this fall or in a few years, you’ll have a chance to take as much from your experience as your discipline will allow—and to stand out from among your peers in the process.
One of the best ways to achieve this is to think actively about what you’re reading when you’re doing work for a particular class. Read it aloud, if that helps, or break up the reading by tackling half a chapter and then asking yourself, “Why should I care about what I just learned?” Or, “How does this information advance what I knew about the topic?”
Chances are, if you can articulate the importance or novelty of the topic you’re studying, you are grasping the bigger picture. And if you are grasping the bigger picture, all the little details—the anecdotes in the chapters you’re reading, or the ones your professor will bring up in the classroom—will “stick.” You’ll be able to recall them later because they support an idea that’s familiar to you.
This kind of engaged participation is particularly key in the classroom; while your classmates may be tempted to snooze after a late night in the library, or text, if you can be disciplined enough to focus on the professor’s lecture, you’ll make your life much easier—and stand out. (I’ve personally had professors approach me and acknowledge that my attentiveness was noticed and appreciated.)
The more engaged you are in the classroom, the less you’ll have to fret about studying. That’s because staying engaged is a sure way to know what material the professor’s most excited about, including some of the deeper, more nuanced points that are likely to be incorporated on a test.
While your college classmates try to answer questions with filler material when in a pinch, you will be positioned to answer test questions directly, and again, to incorporate the subtleties that attention to the lecture revealed.
It takes effort to sit up straight, to hang onto a professor’s (most) every word, and to avoid distractions, but the benefits are a better relationship with that professor, a better grasp of the material, and more efficient studying. Though it could take time, you will also achieve recognition by your classmates as a leader.
Being engaged doesn’t apply merely to homework, reading, classroom presence and test taking. Students who stand apart also pay special attention to the notes and feedback professors take the time to write on their papers and projects. It might seem like extra effort to keep those materials and to take the time—amid all else you have on the go during college—to “study” those pieces, but adding them to your study repertoire will help you identify your weak spots, to avoid them going forward. In this way, you can make progress without the professor having had to call you out on your repeat errors, a process which can be discouraging.
As you go through all this, remember the instruction that ties it all together, the glue in the engaged student’s skeleton: Ask questions when you don’t understand. Whether it’s a professor or a teaching assistant, or even an older student pursuing the same major, find someone you can sit with and pepper with questions. And stand ready to do the same for the younger students who will follow you. Not only is this process important for an engaged collegiate experience; it’s one you’ll see over and over again in every aspect—investing, home maintenance, parenthood—of life.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. Meagan is the Science Press Package Director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
What other ways can you engage in college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
The college experience is rich in choices. You could be a double major or pursue two minors. After class, you could go to soccer practice, drama club, debate team, or band. You might study abroad one semester—or maybe even two. You could also have a boyfriend or girlfriend on campus, begin mentoring younger students, or spend a lot of time with older ones, just hanging out.
What do all of these different activities hold in common?
They’ll command your attention—and a lot of it.
In fact, it could be pretty easy to graduate just having enjoyed the college experience—and even having excelled at it—without looking beyond, to the next chapter, to contemplate the application of college to your life.
Contemplating what college will mean for you in your mid-twenties, thirties, and beyond might be an idea that seems fairly hazy right now (after all, many of you reading this blog are just doing the hard work to get into college—a major feat in itself). So I’ve thought of five questions you could ask yourself throughout the course of your college career—from day one ‘til your last—to help make this thought process relevant now.
Here we go:
1) What industries are booming now, and which ones are saturated?
Forbes Magazine is a great source for information like this. A quick look at the fastest growing industries may reveal some, like manufacturing or cattle ranching, for example, that you’ve never considered. But these businesses—like most—require communicators, leaders, technicians, and people of all kinds to think outside the box and keep them connected and stable. You wouldn’t need a background in manufacturing or cattle ranching to make a significant contribution. You would need a strong set of skills in one of the abovementioned fields and awareness that these industries are hungry.
It’s equally important to know which industries aren’t as open to job applicants. If you’re planning to pursue one, contemplate what skills to develop to set yourself apart.
2) What are three different types of jobs people who pursued my major have done, or are doing?
Get to know some of those people. Ask if you might email or call them from time to time to understand how what they learned in college is helping them in their current role. Ask them what gaps they had in their learning. Maybe you could take one of the classes they wished they’d taken.
3) What is my elevator pitch?
Can you explain your interests and strengths—and even how you want to apply them to your tentative career goals—in the time it’d take you to ride the elevator a few floors?
You’ll often need to present a similar pitch in job interviews, but more importantly, stating your intentions for your career aloud forces you to clarify them in your own mind. Thoughts that floated around comfortably in your head may come across as phony once spoken.
Sometimes the results of this exercise are surprising, particularly if you let people who know you well weigh in on what you say.
4) Where is the nearest business that’d let me shadow for a day?
Even if you don’t yet know what line of work you’d like to pursue, just getting out of the classroom and into a working environment offers important lessons, including the roles communication skills and thinking ahead play in successfully managing people. You might also learn about new cross-industry technologies that businesses are using—and hope their employees will walk in the door knowing.
Check out a previous post, here, for more details on the values of shadowing: The Importance of Internships & Work Experiences While in High School
5) What are my friends thinking of doing after college?
Though this question could make your friends a little uneasy, it’s ok to ask it. For starters, you’re all most likely in the same boat, especially in the first year or two—without a clear cut vision of just what you’ll do with your college degree. Secondly, hearing your friends think through the process of how they will apply what they will learn may give you some ideas.
Lots of people talk about questions to ask before you get to college—and these are important questions to consider. You want to find a good fit for your four-year journey.
But I propose staying just as inquisitive during your collegiate experience. Doing a little each week so you get comfortable with the hard parts.
Evaluating your efforts regularly as you make your way to graduation will mean you’re not nervous when you get there. You’ll be able to celebrate both the closing of that chapter, and the beginning of the next.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
What other questions should you ask yourself while at college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
It’s December, and if you’re a high school senior, you might be beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. This is the time of year when the college application process is winding down. All the work you’ve done—taking AP courses, studying for the SATs, visiting campuses, applying for financial aid, writing personal statements—is done. Now all you have to do is wait for that acceptance letter, right?
Well, not exactly…
There is something missing from the list above—a subtler effort that could easily be overlooked after the essays are written and scores are in. I’m talking about mental preparation. After all, high school—the place you’ve spent the last few years—is very different from college. Taking some time to anticipate that transition and develop a good attitude will put you heads above the rest as you embark on your college journey.
Consider this, for example: in high school, your parents, teachers and even guidance counselor may have checked in on you to see how your work was going. It probably just seemed like a natural part of the high school process. It also meant that any problems you might have had in a particular class couldn’t grow too big; they were spotted first—and you were helped to overcome them and navigate to success. You may have received affirmation regularly, too, as part of this process.
In college, you’ll be living on your own. In this setting, you’ll be expected to look after yourself—and your work. Your professors may have 20 students per class, or 200. Though it is their responsibility to teach and even inspire you, they cannot look after you individually, nor ensure you pass. They may not also be able to give you the feedback you are used to receiving unless you seek them out (at office hours, for example).
In college then, it is very much up to you to chart your course, and the efforts you make—choices about how much to study, when to seek help, and how creative to get with your projects and assignments—will determine your success. This is both a liberating and exciting prospect, and one that will test your responsibility. To understand its real-life implications better, you might touch base with friends currently in college and ask how they are approaching their day-to-day workload.
Here’s another thought to consider as you prepare for the transition to college: you may have to study more than you did in high school to get the same grades. A lot of young people think about college as an exciting new experience ripe with opportunities for socializing and meeting friends; this is absolutely true, but be prepared for the fact that you could have less free time than you did in high school. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t have time to take part in every mixer or event on the quad. There will be plenty more; trust me.
Speaking of free time, just as you’ll have less supervision in your academic life, you’ll also have less of it in your time outside of class. Nobody will be stopping you from joining 8 clubs, opting not to proofread your paper, forgoing office hours (or class), or making Wednesday night the first night of your weekend. Much of this is true even if you live at home while attending college. I suggest trying to develop some routines—and keeping some basic ideas in mind. As simple as these may sound, they’re key to helping you stay healthy and productive.
1) Eat three times a day.
Let’s face it: the “freshman 15” happens. You’re going to be surrounded by a lot of food at college (at my school, the food was ranked 3rd best in the nation!)
Alternatively, you may feel pressure to look a certain way—tempted to skip a meal or two. Here’s the truth: you cannot think, let alone study, if you do not eat. And thinking and studying is what college is all about! Plus, if you hit three squares, your metabolism will be firing on all cylinders! So make time for meals. (Eating at the college cafeteria is also a great time to meet people.)
2) Join clubs. But don’t overbook yourself.
One of the most exciting aspects of college is the different array of activities available. (My freshman year, apart from cross country and track, I did dance, wrote for the school newspaper, joined the Skeptical Chemists, and participated in a service fraternity. It was a blast; I felt like I was getting to know so many of my strengths, but in the end, with school and sports, it was a lot. I backed down to two extracurricular activities and dug into those with a passion. I still met loads of people and felt a satisfying balance between academics and outside activities).
3) Find your professors’ offices.
Put their office hour schedule in your phone, and check in now and then. And definitely check in if you’re feeling foggy about your work. Professors aren’t just teachers; they are life-long friends and advisors. I still correspond with many of mine today. That time at office hours was a great place to get to know them.
4) Prepare to be a roommate.
It may be trying at times; you could have a roommate who doesn’t share much in common with you (including a sleep schedule)—or dorm members who think your room is the best place to hang into the wee hours of the night.
Few experiences challenge your people skills and personal development more than living with a roommate. Think about how you’ve handled compromise in past (you’ll likely have to do it again with the person sharing your room). Prepare to do it in this situation, and don’t be discouraged when the need to compromise arises; it’s part of the college experience. (And you’ll certainly encounter people with whom you have differences later in life, including possibly your spouse!)
5) Find a quiet study place.
This may or may NOT be your dorm room.
6) If you feel peer pressure, you won’t be alone.
This is common on college campuses. And as cliché as it sounds, if something feels really wrong to you, don’t do it. Opportunities will abound for you to get out there, explore, and find your niche.
Amid it all, keep this in mind, college is perhaps most exhilarating in the sense that every day you’re there, you are shaping your future; every class you choose and club you attend is building your knowledge and your network. Because you are in the driver’s seat, you need to step back and think “big picture” now and then. It’s your job to ask yourself if your approach is leading you in a direction, towards a career, where you want to go. And while there’s a lot riding on the way you spend your time, I wholeheartedly believe you can have a great time—socialize, go out, take part in Greek life—and still be on top of your academics.
As you gear up for college then, recognize that it will feel very different because it is very different. Make the conscious decision now to keep your head on your shoulders and to be mindful of how your choices could shape not just your week, but your life. In the end, I guarantee it’ll lower your stress level during your first year, and mean you have had a really rich experience by the time you collect your degree.
How did you get yourself mentally ready for college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
A tour guide in a bright t-shirt walking backwards, nimbly navigating libraries, gyms, and sprawling lawns; this is the image I conjure when I remember my own visits to college campuses.
If you are a junior or senior, you’ve probably been on several such visits, with more in the queue. How much time do you spend, on average, preparing for these?
If your answer is, “I review the school’s website, talk to others who went there, and get to know its core curriculum requirements,” that’s a good start. But you could be doing more—additional preparation that would make you standout to busy college admissions counselors and advisors you might meet.
Let’s face it; admissions counselors and advisors meet dozens of potential students a year. In the end, those who will stand out to them are very likely those that reflect a passion—and can tell a coherent story about how they arrived at that passion. To maximize your opportunity to discuss this meaty and memorable topic during the brief interviews you might have, or during university functions for prospective students, try to avoid asking questions you could know the answer to simply by studying the school’s website (or course catalog). Questions like whether you have to take SAT II subject tests or four years of a foreign language; the school’s average SAT score; majors, minors, or concentrations offered; and information about study abroad programs.
Taking time to study the information above will mean you won’t have to spend time asking questions about these topics—and can instead focus on more qualitative queries that burrow more deeply into what it’s like to be a student the school. Here’s an example: “How has the head of the biology department’s emphasis on science majors understanding how scientific study results are perceived in the world at large influenced the number of science majors who are adding English/media courses to their curriculum. And/or how has it influenced the possibility for students to pursue independent majors with a science communication-related focus?”
Answers to qualitative questions like these can be different every time, depending on the college staff person you ask.
Not only should you be ready to ask thoughtful questions; you should be ready to answer them, too. College staff may ask prospective students, directly, “Why do you want to attend this school?” If you’ve not yet articulated the answer—but just had warm, fuzzy feeling about the place, or if you like it because your parents both attended—you might want to take some time to think about the features of the institution that have really captured your imagination.
College staff may also ask about your interests—books you have read, or thoughts you have on particular topics in the news. Each question gives you a chance to speak to your interests. In turn, it gives the person asking it a chance to get a sense of who you are. The opportunity to interact in this way can be missed when you spend your brief college visit simply asking the basic questions—about course curriculum, etc.—outlined above.
If you are thinking, “This sounds good, but I’m still fleshing out who I am, and I’m not quite sure how I’d answer these questions,” that’s ok. There are numerous opportunities to pursue interests complementary to (and beyond) your current course curriculum in order to identify areas in which you are passionate.
Do you play high school tennis? After your season is over (because undoubtedly, you won’t have much extra time during the season), consider teaching tennis to local youth. This would not only provide a way for you to engage with your community—an activity sure to impress college admissions staff, and one they like to see students in college continue—it’d offer you a chance to see how you do in a coaching (or leadership) role. Colleges look for leaders among those they accept.
Maybe there is a field about which you already feel excited, like politics. Dig deeper! If talking about tax cuts fires you up, contact your local Congressman and see if that person would be open to you shadowing, or providing write-ups for a local political blog. If you love literature and find you have an appetite for it that extends beyond the courses currently available at high school, investigate courses available at your local community college; they typically offer high school enrichment classes. Colleges love to see high school students taking steps like this, to get real world experience, feed their brains and get ahead!
If you’re still working to provide answers to the kinds of thoughtful questions college admission staff may ask—about how you’ve become who you are and what you want to contribute to the world—consider how you use your free time. Options abound for self-discovery.
Not only will the activities you pursue help you determine where your interests are really rooted—which is critical as you decide upon a career—they will also make for memorable stories when it comes to sharing your narrative with college admissions staff. To stand out in their minds, make sure your own interests first stand out in yours.
What are some good questions to ask admissions officers? Will you ask thoughtful questions on your next school visit?
By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
When applying to college, you’re likely to hear about “the importance of being well-rounded.” It seems to be common knowledge that colleges look for students who’ve shown interest not only in school work, but in other pursuits, like sports, theater, music, or volunteering. Y
The reasoning is clear. These endeavors challenge you in different ways than classwork does and help you develop sensibilities separate from those you can hone as a student. For my part, I know that four years on the high school cross-country, swim and track teams taught me that even the hardest workouts—the ones that exhausted me physically and taunted me, “you can’t finish!”—were doable; I felt more confident at critical moments, like job interviews, as a result. Hours of practicing the violin, meanwhile, slowly grew in me a reserve of patience developed nowhere else; that came in handy when big school research projects required my long commitment. And I remember my theater classmates, whose work on the stage translated to confidence in public speaking, which I greatly admired.
Colleges want bodies of students who reflect these qualities: determination, confidence, patience. So as you work hard in the classroom (which is indeed critical), remember that the work you are doing elsewhere—as a Scout, volunteer, or lacrosse player—is shaping you, too. Take a moment to reflect on the way in which these activities are impacting how you approach the world; could you sum it up in a sentence?
Deviating slightly, I heard an interesting discussion recently, with respect to what colleges seek as they evaluate student candidates. Though colleges want “well-rounded” classrooms, they do not want well-rounded applicants; that is, students who are “jacks-of-all trades” and masters of none. The advice stemming from this discussion was to focus on a specific extracurricular about which you are passionate in order to reflect your investment in it. (We often do this naturally anyway.)
But focusing on one area—putting all eggs in one basket—is still not the goal; rather, the remaining advice was to layer your passion in diverse ways that guide you toward a greater understanding of it. (For example, if your passion were water color, find a way to explore that interest in your local community, perhaps by leading a class at a local retirement home. Do you like to teach? If your passion were Spanish, get involved in translating websites for local businesses who require Spanish webpages. Do you enjoy applying your skills in the business world?)
Simply put, these kinds of effort in an area you love separate you from the next student.
As you work hard now, in high school, you are likely already taking steps to stand out. This is just another to consider; what’s great, too, is that it involves more deeply pursuing that which you enjoy.
And don’t worry; if you haven’t found your “passion” yet, pursue what you appreciate, whatever that may be. Your motivation for investing time in such activities will fall out naturally when it comes time to articulate who you are in a college admissions essays (or in the world beyond). And all the while, you’ll be cultivating aspects of your character that you will call on for the rest of your life!
Is it more important for students to be well-rounded or to be a master of one craft? Do colleges look at both?
Get Prepped & Polished and Ready for College Seminar!
Instructor: Alexis Avila
The college application process can be stressful for both students and parents.
Get updated, organized, and ready for the college admissions process.
Some of the things you will learn include:
How to best prepare yourself for college during Junior and Senior Year of High School.
When to take standardized tests and how to best prepare for them.
What to do during a college campus visit.
Parents and students are welcome.
Alexis Avila Founder/President of Prepped & Polished discusses whether or not you should submit a college application youtube video.
Yes: If you want to fill in a hole or elaborate about something on your application.
Yes: If you want to highlight your personality.
No: If you said everything that needs to be said on your application.
No: If you are a shoe-in for that college.
Would you submit a college application video? What would you feature in a college application YouTube video?
Alexis Avila Founder/President of Prepped & Polished suggests healthy ways for parents to stay in touch with their college-bound child.
Do: Schedule a weekly phone call and stick to it.
Don’t: Rely on Facebook and Twitter.
Do you find the phone call the best way to stay in touch? How do you keep in touch with your college-age child?