TOS Crew Review: College Common Sense

Who else has a kid planning ahead for a college education in the near future? If this describes you, read on!  collegecommonsenselogo_zpsdcf7f2c2Company Information: As a college financial aid counselor for ten years, Denise Ames has got the inside scoop on how to pay those ginormous college bills without putting yourself (or your student) in debt. College Common Sense is the product of her years of experience, distilled into a practical, doable plan. I don't know about you, but for a single income pastor's family, I've often wondered how we are ever going to manage all those bills. Aside from the gifts we have received from my parents, we don't have the luxury of saving a little every month. This review came at a great time, especially as Janna is now well into her junior year of high school, with the end in sight. What can we do? 

Collegecommonsenseworkbook_zps945e70aaProduct Reviewed: Enter Denise's "Going to College and Paying For It" online video and workbook. This online program consists of six videos totalling to about 2 hours of content, plus a corresponding PDF workbook with activities to complete. 

Price: $25 for 12 months of online access to the program. If you foresee yourself needing it again in the future, you can purchase the videos on a DVD for a one-time cost of $50 (plus $5 shipping and handling).

Age Range: elementary through high school. Of course, if your children are younger, this program will be mostly for you (though apparently if you are really savvy, your six-year-old can start earning scholarships!). The older your children are, the more they will need to be involved in the process of exploring their interests, looking into potential schools and applying for scholarships.

Parental Preparation: The first thing I did was to sign up for Denise's free monthly newsletter and lesson plans (these are two different lists and will result in two separate mailings). The newsletter is, of course, once a month while the lesson plans are sent once a week. Even though this review is not about the emails, I will have to say that they are chock-full of tips and help. It is well worth the cost of sharing your email address.

The next thing after logging on with your user name and password, you will be taken to the video section of the site. What I did was downloaded all the handouts (workbook) onto my iPad. She recommends printing them out, but I opted for this instead.

Lastly, I opened up my first email and first workbook PDF lesson, then wrote out the suggested assignments and projects in one big list, trying to consolidate and combine things so we wouldn't have to look in two different places or miss a step.

How We Used It:

With the workbook in hand, Janna and I began to work through all the videos. Each is about 20-30 minutes long. The workbook was a great guide for us to track along with the video. Occasionally, I would pause the video to comment or ask my daughter what she thought.

One other thing we did was watched the five YouTube videos on the "Services" page. These are meant to supplement the program and describe how to create a scholarship binder and All About Me spiral notebook, both of which are referenced in the videos. Janna and I went out to Staples to buy what we needed for the binder, which was fun in itself. After all, a pretty binder is so much easier to look at and utilize, right? While we were at it, I purchased what we needed for Matthew as well, and I plan to get him started on it during our summer break.

Janna also signed up for the scholarship search data base and began weeding through it. Using Denise's guidelines, she was able to find a few good scholarships we liked, as well as learned about how to detect fraudulent scholarships. With this in mind, she has started working on one that is due next month.

We are by no means finished, but our goal is keep plugging away and working through our list!

What We Liked:

  • The emphasis that puts the responsibility for evaluating, applying to and funding their college education into the student's hands.
  • The videos were full of encouragement, with a "You can do this!" attitude.
  • Learning how to think through a scholarship opportunity wisely.
  • The scholarship binder system is so simple, yet if applied faithfully, can help you to really earn your college tuition.
  • The explanation of the FAFSA was very clear and helped me to understand the process.
  • I felt like Denise was personally counseling us through the process. Her manner is gentle, patient and encouraging.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the newsletters and lesson plans are excellent.
  • The video segment on writing good scholarship essays was the most helpful for us.
  • There is so much information out there and it was great to have everything in one place, broken down into easy-to-understand pieces.
  • The reminder that going to college is an opportunity for our students to do something useful and good with their lives. This is one message I think our kids need to hear more often.

Although Janna is a junior this year and technically she would be applying for colleges this fall, we are leaning heavily towards taking a "gap year" off and applying the following school year. We are still not 100% sure on this, but the videos gave us a great big picture view of what we will need to do. She has been inundated with college brochures and emails, and the process that Denise outlines is helping us to evaluate the various options she has.

What We Didn't Like:

There is a lot of information to sort through, and it is easy to get overwhelmed or confused. I found it much easier to list out the steps we would need to do in a list and then tackle them one at a time. I usually like to watch everything first without taking notes. My plan is to go back and watch them again. That is definitely going to be necessary. One time through isn't going to cut it.

If you're really particular about it, the graphics for the videos did seem a little "old school." However, for us it didn't detract from the content.

Overall Summary:

As a homeschooling parent, one of my jobs will be "college guidance counselor" as well. This series was an excellent, simple, doable way to help my daughter evaluate the options she has, as well as to know what dates to keep in mind, how to earn some tuition via scholarships, and where to look for them. Personally, I think I may end up purchasing the DVD, as it is going to be many years down the line before Jonathan will get to this stage. Plus I think we are going to need to refer to this every year and it will be helpful to just have a hard copy of it. It is a lot easier than trying to keep up a subscription.

All in all, a great value, especially if it ends up helping you to cover all your tuition!

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