Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: College Common Sense


With two high schoolers in my homeschool, this review was very timely!! 
I would like to tell you about the "Going To College and Paying For It Online Video and Workbook" which is a program published by College Common Sense. Through the Schoolhouse Review Crew I had the privilege to receive access to the online version of the program, and be able to go through it with my family.

Denise Ames is a Financial Aid Consultant who has 10 years in the industry, helping students get through the college financial aid process. I have never met her, but after reading through all the materials on her website, she seems very passionate about helping families, especially homeschoolers, to navigate the college process and be able to get into college with the least amount of expense possible. You definitely get the sense that she cares.
The website has several different options available. Not only does Denise conduct free parent workshops near her home in Texas, but she also has free videos on Youtube, free weekly email lesson plans and a newsletter that you can sign up for, as well as a ton of good, helpful information on her website. While her program has assignments and information geared for all school ages (K-12), I feel that high school students would most benefit from it. I think parents of younger children should definitely be familiar with the topics and information presented, though.
The product I was given to review is available for purchase on the website. I received the online version, which normally sells for $25 for one year's worth of access. There is also an option of buying the DVD version with a workbook, which is $55, including shipping.
The online version comes with the workbook pages included as pdf files, so you can download and print it yourself.

The approach of this program is that the earlier that parents start preparing for and navigating the college process, the easier it will be. In the program, she advocates starting with your elementary aged children and includes some simple activities that they can complete. Of course, the main focus is geared towards high schoolers generally though, particularly juniors and seniors. There is a lot of activities for them, including setting up a scholarship binder, and filling out FAFSA paperwork.

I have been receiving at least a month's worth of free lessons in addition to the paid version of the videos and worksheets. I think they are very informative. They tend to be a bit wordy, and if you have a high schooler who wants to read through something quickly and get to the 'meat' of the assignment, they probably will find it a bit boring.

I also think it's a stretch to use for younger children. I have two high schoolers to review this with, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to go through it with them, but I really didn't even involve my middle school/elementary school age children, because it really was just too much information for them at this time.

That being said, I think it's wise to homeschool with the big picture in view, even though probably college prep is not on most elementary/middle school homeschool agendas. As a parent it's wise to start familiarizing yourself with the process, so you can see what direction you want to go in, as you plan out your curriculums with your younger children.
Also, as Denise pointed out, many scholarships are based on activities, service, and recognition of the child's 'growing up years' and not just what they did in their Senior Year. She even told about one scholarship that children as young as age 6 can apply for, to start saving up for their college expenses. So in that sense, I think it is good for the parent to be familiar and aware of this information.
Personally, in our family, we started this college application and scholarship process early, because of the timeline of the course of study that Heather was applying for. Since the Physician Assistant programs all have early deadlines for applying, we actually began looking into visiting the colleges and filling out paperwork during her Junior year - last year. I was pretty much in the dark and didn't have a navigator to get us through the process, but I do like 'investigating' so I spent a lot of time perusing college websites, asking questions, and reading everything I could get my hands on about the college application process and scholarships, so I could best guide Heather through it.
I found that most of the information on the College Common Sense videos was not new to me, because it is things that I learned 'on my own' as I spent time reading over the past year. I wish I would have had it a year ago! It probably would have cut my time in half. That being said, there is enough information on here, between the videos, worksheets, and free materials, that I think it is a good value and worthy investment for a parent who feels very overwhelmed by the process, or is navigating it with their firstborn, for the very first time.
The six video/worksheets sets on the paid subscription side of the website cover the following topics:
  1. The Big Picture (A great overview with suggested timelines)
  2. How Financial Aid Works (A very good explanation of different types of aid available, the difference between grants and loans, etc.)
  3. All About the Free Money (scholarship info)
  4. The System That Works (practical organization)
  5. You In the Process (emphasizes 'ownership' on the part of the student)
  6. Pulling It All Together (motivational!)
I had my two high schoolers watch the videos, and one point they brought up is that the videos are too low key. The screen switches back and forth between printed screen shots, and the instructor giving a monologue lesson. For a generation that is used to quick graphics and modern media, they found it difficult to watch.
The format of the videos is a monologue, and each one lasts about 20 minutes. There are six video lessons. Also, the worksheets are very plain Word documents. They give the information, and list an assignment for the student to do concerning it. There are really no graphics, illustrations, or attention grabbers. If you have a motivated student who doesn't care about those things, then they should be fine with it, but if you have a reluctant student you might find it difficult to get them interested in this program.
I think we will definitely use a variation of her scholarship binder with Laura. It's a great idea, and I could see how being that organized would have really helped Heather with her scholarship applications. That is probably the best idea we walked away from this program with. Other than that, while this program wasn't a huge help here in our family, I'm sure it would be a help to first time college seekers, or those who find the process very overwhelming, especially for the relatively low cost of the program.
Here is a sample of one of Denise's Youtube videos:
If you would like to read what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of College Common Sense, please click the banner below:
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the College Common Sense online videos and worksheets through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed are my own, or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations.

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