Becoming Debt Free in 2009

March 31, 2009

Tips for Getting Scholarships (Part 3)

Filed under: Scholarships — ambercouric @ 9:14 am

Here you go.  The final part of all I know about scholarships.

Areas three and four are extra curricular activities and volunteer work.

I remember when I was in high school a teacher told me to participate in the activities that I love not to participate in everything.    Perfect advice.  This is even more relevant today.  Colleges are looking for students that show a real passion for something.  We have found that three or four real extra curricular activities with leadership positions in some of those works out well.   We try to focus on one sport, one instrument, one academic and one service club.  This way everything is covered.  Being a member of 20 clubs but not participating really doesn’t help with scholarships.  Being able to show that you were truly committed to the clubs you were involved with is much better.  It is important for a student to be willing to step up and be the organizer of the big fund raiser, work to make ALL – State band, editor of the newspaper or yearbook.  Show leadership.

The final area is charity.  Most of the scholarships we have been involved with have a community/ volunteer component that they look for when deciding the recipient.  This is the area that sets you apart from the other 25 kids who have the same GPA and SAT scores.  I have found that once a student makes it past the first round for scholarships this is the area that is the deciding factor.  I truly believe that the scholarship that Kennedy just received came down to this.  He has two areas that he spends a lot of volunteer time.  These two areas speak of a student’s character and that is what schools are looking for.

To put this in perspective, there is a college forum that I visit quite often.  Announcements came out last week for their tops scholarships.  I think all of the kids that post that won the scholarship had  more than 400 hours of volunteer service.  Many had started some project that involved the school or community.

Hope some of these tips help.

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March 29, 2009

The Saddest Thing I’ve Seen

Filed under: Uncategorized — ambercouric @ 12:37 pm

This is one of the saddest stories I’ve seen in a long time.  Lady was dead for more than a year before anyone realized it.

We live in the historic district and have several neighbors that are 80-90 years old.   We are usually in daily contact with them.  Especially the ones with children out of state.

March 28, 2009

I’m Freaking Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — ambercouric @ 9:08 am

To use Kennedy’s comment – “Mom, you need to stop freaking out”.  It is finally sinking in that he may actually leave and go to boarding school.  I am totally overwhelmed.  Both emotionally and financially.  I’ve tried to calculate the extra expenses and it runs into the thousands.

I’ll be back later today or sometime this weekend after I have calmed down.

March 25, 2009

Tips for Getting Scholarships (Part 2)

Filed under: Scholarships — ambercouric @ 8:56 am
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Course Selection and Grades  (GPA)

What I know about this is limited to information from 8 schools.  Both private and public.  If there is a particular school that you are interested in call the admissions office and ask how GPA is calculated.

All students have a high school GPA.  This is the average grade of all classes taken during high school (sometimes includes high school classes taken in junior high).  Many schools also have a weighted factor for honors or AP classes.    The GPA calculated by the college may be very different from the high school GPA. 

The universities that my son applied to had this formula.  They take the core courses ( you can find the course requirements on each college website) and use only the grades for those courses to determine if you have a high enough GPA  to meet their standards.  My nephew was an average student and had a mediocre GPA.  His parents decided to put him in PE classes to pull up his GPA.  His high school GPA was up but the college GPA didn’t change.   Colleges are more interested in grades from academic courses and also the level of those courses. 

Choosing course levels – rule of thumb here is to choose the class that gives you the best GPA outcome.  For example, taking a Calculus class that is honors and is weighted 4 for an A or taking an AP Calculus class that is weighted 5 for an A.  It seems like it would be better to take the AP class.  But if your child is not the strongest math student an A is honors Calculus is better than a C in AP Calculus.  But a B in AP Calculus is weighted the same as an A in honors Calculus  so you should take the more advanced AP class. 

Since the above is now clear as mud I’ll go on to discuss other classes.  Colleges are looking for academics.  There is an exception.  A passion class.  For example, if you child is a talented musician it is fine that they have four credits for band.  Same for art.  But to have the minimum academic courses and lots of PE or basket weaving, home economics, etc. basically tells the school that you were only interested in getting what you had to have.  You didn’t take enough of the classes that would challenge you.

Public high schools some times are horrible for getting students in the right classes.  Each year I had to go to the guidance counselor and redo Ashby’s schedule.  One year in particular they had him scheduled for English, AP Statistics, 2 study halls, 1 PE, Yearbook, Creative Writing, and SAT prep.  I had to have the scheduled changed to AP English, AP Statistics, Biology 101 (college credit class), Biology 202 (college credit class), AP US History, and one study hall.  There were less classes overall because some required two periods.  This seems like a heavy load but knowing my child I knew that it was not to much for him.  Make sure you help your child arrange his classes.

Students can get into good schools only taking the minimum required classes but in most cases they won’t be the ones getting the scholarships.

Tomorrow I will post about extra curricular activities.

March 24, 2009

Tips for Getting Scholarships

Filed under: Scholarships — ambercouric @ 10:06 am
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DISCLAIMER – I am not an expert.  I have done tons of research for my family and some of our friends.  I have read lots of books and talked to admissions counselors.   My husband and I both attended college on full scholarships.  My husband’s scholarship came from the company his father worked for.  My scholarship was merit based from the school I attended.  My older son is currently in college also attending on full scholarship.  And per my post yesterday Kennedy is going to boarding school on full scholarship.  That sums up my expertise.

Now for the real tips.  There are four areas that I feel contribute heavily to obtaining scholarships.

Standardized Tests – Area 1

My children take the SAT.   I also tutor for the SAT so I’m sure that plays a roll in their high scores.  The most important thing in scoring high on these tests is to understand the tests long before you take it.

There are a couple of videos that we use. The New SAT Math and The New Critical Reading & Writing both of these are by Goldhil Entertainment (2005) and aren’t really new anymore but have great tips.   We rent these from the library.  They are simple and a little hard to sit through (a bit silly) but as I said they have great tips.  I believe the SAT is about strategies and these DVDs include lots.  It is important to watch these before you  take practice tests and then again a couple of weeks before the first time you sit for the actual test.

SAT practice tests.  The only book I recommend is the College Board The Official SAT Study Guide.  This book includes 10 real SAT tests.  I have found that other companies that make study guides for the SAT have tests that are much easier and don’t give a true sense of the actual test (just my opinion). 

Get a list of the most used SAT words and a list of SAT prefixes.  You can find these online by doing a search.  Here is a Quizlet game that can be played online. Here is a list with definitions from the Washington Post.  Of course, these lists don’t have all the words but are a great starting place.  We have made a family game out of learning new words.

Our SAT study schedule.  We start about 3 months before the test.  The first month we work one SAT test a week.  During the first month none of the tests are timed.  The sections are worked in whatever order the child wants to work them.  The thing is that each week a complete test has to be worked and check usually only completing two sections a day.   Any questions that are wrong we go over at the end of the week.  There are detailed explanations for each answer.  We do this with the first 4 of the 10 practice tests.  Week 5 a complete test is completed.  We do this on a Saturday morning.  Starting at the regular SAT starting time.  We take only the breaks allowed during a regular test.  This lets you know where your child stands as far as the real test and gives you key areas to target for improvement.  For the next four weeks we work parts of tests.   SAVE the last test for a final complete practice test.  At this point we are timing each section although we are not working them in any particular order.    We spend time on areas that were problem areas during our practice test.  Week 10 watch the videos again just in case there is a small detail or tip that was missed.  Then on Saturday sit  for another complete test.  By the time this schedule is complete the student is completely familiar with the test.  So on test day the anxiety is so much less.  Also, the student knows if there is a certain type of question that he just doesn’t get and can skip it.   I am always amazed at kids who walk into these tests and have no idea that they have to pretty much sit for nearly four hours.

This is getting long so maybe I should do each area as a different post.  If you have specific questions about the SAT please ask and I’ll try to answer.

The next post will cover GPA and Course Selection.

March 23, 2009

The Big Announcement

Filed under: Budget,Kids,School Expenses — ambercouric @ 8:41 am

If you have been reading for a while you know that we have been trying to cut our monthly expenses.  Someone asked what we would do with the money and I was just a little vague in saying maybe pay off the house early.

Well things have really changed.  Remember this post when Kennedy out of the blue decided he wanted to go to boarding school?    He was absolutely determined to make it work.    He has received scholarship offers from two schools.  FULL SCHOLARSHIPS.  That amounts to about $160,000 over the next four years.   I am both pleased and  terrified at the same time.  I can’t imagine him being gone for weeks on end.  Of course, he has planned to use Skype each day so I can see him.  I don’t even know what Skype is but I guess I will learn.

This will also change things for us financially.   The money we were trying to cut would be for plane tickets and other costs associated with boarding school.   Maybe my blog will change to Debtfree with boarding school expenses.

We haven’t sent back our forms yet so there is still time for him to change his mind but I doubt that will happen. 

I know I should be happy but I am a bit sad too.  I know this is the opportunity of  a lifetime.  One that many kids would love to have.

March 22, 2009

Mystery Shopping Advice

Filed under: Uncategorized — ambercouric @ 1:06 pm

I am considering looking for companies that hire mystery shoppers.  I don’t  know anything about this so would appreciate any information.  Good companies.  Companies to stay away from. 

I’m not really looking into this to make money. More to be able to try a few products or places to eat for free.

I would love to hear from you if you have any info.  Feel free to reply here or to e-mail me.

March 18, 2009

College Scholarship

Filed under: Kids — ambercouric @ 11:07 am

Things are kinda crazy today.  Seems like I have at least 1,000 things to do.  I just wanted to make a quick post and say that Kennedy received his first college scholarship yesterday.  The scholarship is for $1,000.  I know it isn’t a large amount but he is still in junior high and only 14. 

I am so proud of him.

March 16, 2009

Keeping the lawn service

Filed under: Budget,Journey to Debt Freedom,Weekly Budget Cuts — ambercouric @ 8:16 am
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Over the last few months we have been looking to cut expenses.  There are several reasons to cut expenses 1) husband had to take a pay cut 2) the uncertainty of the economy 3) prices on everything seem to be going up 4) A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT later this week ( I hope).

In our discussions we had decided to cut our beloved lawn service.  The service we use is a small town business.  The owner and two workers.  These guys all work hard and do a beautiful job.  I hadn’t mentioned to the owner that we were considering stopping the service.  But when I talked to him I could tell that quite a few of his customers had to cut his service from there expenses.

So we looked at the reasons to keep the service.  1) I don’t have to worry with the yard. 2) They do excellent work above and beyond what we actually pay. 3) There are three people that depend on people like me to keep my lawn service.

Saving money is important but helping others during these crazy times is a little more important to me right now.

March 11, 2009

Foreclosure Court

Filed under: Financial Thoughts — ambercouric @ 9:18 am
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I watched a little Court TV  the other day when they were showing Foreclosure Court in Florida.  Listening to the people talk to the judge made me feel bad for them.  Many had tried talking to the lenders and just couldn’t get anywhere.  There were several people that really seemed to put everything they had into making this work out.

Then they started showing people that didn’t seem to make any effort – one lady in particular said she was a title agent and she made her payments for two years and then her business went down.  She didn’t want the house she just wanted the judge to let her stay in the house for 6 more months for free until she could more with her husband to another state (he was there already).   EXCUSE ME but wouldn’t we all like to live FREE for six months?  Oh yeah, the judge gave her 60 days.

Another lady lived in a house with her elderly father and adult child.  She had to move within 30 days.  She hadn’t paid her mortgage in 18 months ( I think).  Now she had always had a job and her father was old enough to get SS.  She has lived rent free for 18 months.  She said she had NO money to move.  Exactly what was she doing with money for the mortgage for 18 months?  You know the original amount that she had agreed to pay.  I think I would have been saving that money because EVENTUALLY I would have to move.

Now I understand that some of these mortgages shot up several hundred dollars per month.  But if they stopped paying their mortgage what were they doing with the “amount they could afford”.  Where is all that money?

For those who lost a job or had a death in the family I understand not having any money.  But for those whose mortgages increased and they stopped paying what are they doing with all that money they are “saving”.

This mortgage crisis is a CRISIS but the home owner is not completely blameless.  I also know that there is another whole side to this but many of the people actually in Foreclosure Court seemed to expect the judge not foreclose on a property they lived in rent free for many months.

I do realize there are legitimate reasons to have a house foreclosed.  I understand many people are doing all they can to hang on to their homes.  Hopefully, the cases they showed on Court TV are the exception to the rule and not the norm.

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