MCC Quick Tips Newsletter – December 2019

Each month McMeekan College Consulting publishes a “Quick Tips” newsletter. In it are links to articles, blogs, podcasts or other items of interest to parents, high school and college students. 

Click HERE for December 2018 newsletter.

To subscribe to the newsletter send an email from the Contact Me page with “subscribe to newsletter” in the subject line.

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MCC Quick Tips Newsletter – November 2018

Each month McMeekan College Consulting publishes a “Quick Tips” newsletter. In it are links to articles, blogs, podcasts or other items of interest to parents, high school and college students. 

Click HERE for November 2018 newsletter.

To subscribe to the newsletter send an email from the Contact Me page with “subscribe to newsletter” in the subject line.

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MCC Quick Tips Newsletter – October 2018

Each month McMeekan College Consulting publishes a “Quick Tips” newsletter. In it are links to articles, blogs, podcasts or other items of interest to parents, high school and college students. 

Click HERE for October 2018 newsletter.

To subscribe to the newsletter send an email from the Contact Me page with “subscribe to newsletter” in the subject line.

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MCC Quick Tips Newsletter – September 2018

Each month McMeekan College Consulting publishes a “Quick Tips” newsletter. In it are links to articles, blogs, podcasts or other items of interest to parents, high school and college students. 

Click HERE for September 2018 newsletter.

To subscribe to the newsletter send an email from the Contact Me page with “subscribe to newsletter” in the subject line.

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Podcast on the College Process

Cathy McMeekan (hey, that’s me!) was interviewed for a podcast by Financial Planner Angie Furubotten-LaRosee on the college search process. You an listen to it for free on iTunes. It is a two-part interview.


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Updated: Packing for College

Packing for college – a few important items to add to the list

Your student has applied to school, been admitted and is now ready to head off for orientation. This time of year retail stores are filled with back-to-school items for your college bound student. They can purchase everything from color coordinated bedding, bathroom essentials and even mini-fridges and microwaves to stock their not-so-spacious college residence hall rooms. Most universities send incoming freshman lists of what to bring with them to college and what items are better left at home. While those lists are great for making sure your student has a comfortable living space there are a few other things that will help make their college experience a success.

The essential list of what every student should take to college:

1. An open mind. Let’s face it, students enter college with the assumption that there is information they haven’t yet learned and they are going to college to remedy that situation. By opening their mind to new ideas, people and realities they will be able to take advantage of greater levels of learning. College offers opportunities to meet people from different locations, backgrounds and beliefs. It allows students to explore ways of thinking and being that are different. Go into the experience with respect, willing to listen and engage.
2. A willingness to step outside their comfort zone. The best college experiences will cause a student to stretch and grow in perhaps uncomfortable ways. It will put their ideas and beliefs to the test. It will challenge them and they will perhaps fail. Be willing to try the tough stuff and make mistakes, because in those mistakes is where learning takes place.
3. A spirit of cooperation. Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum and some of the best college memories, not to mention learning, come from those all-night study sessions, from exchanging ideas and wrestling with concepts in endless debates with your peers. Learning to work together makes for a richer college experience and is essential in the job market you will enter upon graduation.
4. A sense of gratitude. College is expensive and not everyone gets the chance to attend, nor does everyone have someone in their corner encouraging them to achieve the goal of a college education. Remember to thank those who helped you, whether they are paying for college, they offered encouragement or helped you prepare in other ways, and then make the most of your time in college.

With an attitude made up of these essential items college students will get more out of their college years than even they dreamed possible!

This article was originally posted on the now defunct

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Updated: Practical tips for sending your student off to college

This is an updated version of an article I wrote for the on sending students off to college.

High school seniors are celebrating college admission acceptances. Many of these young adults will be leaving home to attend college in the fall. This traditional ‘coming of age’ activity is approached with both excitement and trepidation by students and parents. One way to ease the anxiety on both sides is to create a plan that addresses some of the practical issues of going off to college.

Parents should set the stage early in the summer in creating a smooth transition to college by sitting down and having a discussion about expectations. These items can include:

Communications: when and how often should the parent and student talk?

Once per week is ideal, even in this age of constant connection. This way you are encouraging your student to solve his own problems, create his own resource group, and practice being an adult in the real world.

Money: who pays for what?

Make sure your student knows who is responsible to pay for college bills and incidentals, all the way down to pizza, coffee, haircuts and rides home. Give them the credit/debit card talk about responsible spending and debt if you haven’t already done so.

Grades: is there an expectation for a certain level of performance?

Are you expecting a certain GPA your student must maintain? Is there a certain major your student must have? What are the extenuating circumstances that you might foresee affecting grades? Create an action plan that your student can take if grades start to drop.

Keep informed: FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) regulations will limit the amount of information you will receive about your student unless they sign a waiver to release the information to whoever they designate.

Students at 18 are considered an adult and information will not be coming home to parents as it did in high school. The ideal situation is to trust that your student will share with you both good and bad information regarding grades, health, possible illegal activity, etc.

Social life: if you are in trouble, what do you do?

Your student needs to know that if ever they are in a serious, dangerous, or troubling situation they can contact you at any time. You need to agree on what steps they should take if this happens.

This list is just a starting point. Families should set a date to sit down and discuss. This should be a two-way conversation with both parents and student input. At the end of the discussion write it down like a contract, commit mutually by signing and all parties receive a copy. Now you have a roadmap for how you are going to navigate the transition to college.


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October is FAFSA time!

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available! For the first time, families do not need to wait until January to fill out the FAFSA, nor do they have to estimate their tax information. Besides being available three months early, the FAFSA is also using prior-prior tax information, or 2015 taxes for the 2017-2018 school year form. The neat thing for this year is that now nearly all families will be able to take advantage of the IRS Data Retrieval tool that allows you to directly migrate tax info into the FAFSA. This saves time and decreases entry errors dramatically.

What is the FAFSA? The FAFSA is a government form that almost all colleges use when determining if a student is eligible for need- based aid. The formula gives schools a family’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), which shows how much a family can absorb in college costs for the year. The EFC number doesn’t mean that is how much cash you have on hand to pay for college. A number of colleges also use either their own financial aid form or the CSS Profile in addition, which allows them to better utilize institutional aid in their financial aid awards. Check the website for each college you are applying to in order to find out what financial aid forms and deadlines they are using this year.

Who should fill out the FAFSA? Everyone intending to be in college full time in the Fall of 2017. There is no specific income cut-off point that makes families eligible for financial aid. The FAFSA form also is required if a student or parent wants to take advantage of any of the federal loan programs. If your EFC is too high to qualify for need based aid at an institution, it is still beneficial to file it in case there is a change in family circumstances during the year (job loss, death, divorce, etc.). It is much easier to update a FAFSA or contact the financial aid office of your college with updated information than it is to submit a new FAFSA during a time of crisis.

When should it be done? Colleges post their priority filing deadline on their websites, and even with the early opening date for filing the FAFSA, many colleges still have their priority dates in January and February. However, since you don’t need to wait on tax information, filing now will get your student in the financial aid queue much earlier. Some colleges will start to award financial aid packages earlier (especially those with rolling admission deadlines).

If you have questions about the FAFSA, financial aid process or financing college, the Federal Student Aid website is a wealth of good information. Also, many high schools are offering FAFSA-filing workshops at their schools during October, so check your school calendar for availability of sessions

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I’m going to college…now what?

Here are some articles I wrote around various issues when students are making the transition to college. They were originally posted on, which is no longer online. The articles on this post are Making a Successful Transition to College, Considering Greek Life, and Winning the Roommate Lottery.

Making a Successful College Transition

Originally published June 20, 2016

For the recent high school graduates moving on to college next fall, there are several things you can do to make a successful transition to college. According to Harlan Cohen, author of The Naked Roommate, identifying people you can turn to as resources and places you can go to on campus before you get there in the fall can make a huge difference. Also, realizing that college life will be a big change and to be patient with yourself in the process.

Your college success begins with your transition. How can you be successful? Cohen says to think about the three “P’s.”

People – figure out who are the 5 people in your corner (or who you want in your corner).

Places – where are your 3 places on or off campus for you to find connection, community, and support?

Patience – how much patience will it take for you to get comfortable with the uncomfortable? Impatient people panic, blame, hate, hide, run and give up. Give yourself some time and space to feel uncomfortable – others are in the same boat though they may be hiding it!

A great opportunity to help you start to find your “people” and “places” will take place during any summer registration or orientation program you attend. You will probably be both nervous and excited attending such an event, and may come out of it dazed from all the information you received. Try to make a mental note before you attend the event to keep an eye out for some people you might meet and feel like you’ve made a good connection with, or places on campus where you feel particularly comfortable (or want to explore more). After you attend the orientation or registration program, talk to you parents about some people you might have identified as resources (i.e. did you meet your faculty advisor, a peer mentor, another student in your major?) or places you thought especially spoke to you and your interests.

Considering Greek Life?

June 5, 2016

As high school students prepare to head off to college next year, many may be considering joining Greek organizations on campus. Some will be making the commitment before classes even start. Here’s some basic information about Greek life.

Not all colleges have Greek systems (fraternities and sororities) and those that do can vary in how the Greek system is run. In general, the Greek system is made up of chapters of either national or local fraternities and sororities. Most have some central theme, as their mission might be as a philanthropic, service or academic organization. All have some sort of leadership structure and even though they may have been created as an academic fraternity, they all have a component of fellowship (i.e. social life).

Some campuses have “houses” for their Greek organizations, where members can choose to live with their chapter members. Often these houses are adjacent to or even on campus. Other campuses might offer the fraternity and sorority members options for living in the residence halls on specific floors or wings of the dorms. Some do not allow Greek housing but offer chapter rooms where the groups can meet.

Most of the social fraternities and sororities get new members through a process called “rush.” It is basically an opportunity for you to check out the Greek chapters and for the members of those organizations to get to know you to see if you’d be a good fit with their group. There is either formal or informal rush, and it can happen during fall semester, spring, or both.

Some things to consider about joining a Greek organization include cost, commitments and motivation. First off, some students think that by joining a Greek organization and moving into the chapter house, they will be saving money. It is true that you could save on room and board, but most Greek chapters have national and local dues each year or semester. Most have some sort of pledge fee (that’s what they call new members). You could have weekly, monthly or semester “activity” fees, along with any other fees for special events like formal or informal dances, etc. So, don’t join a Greek organization because you think it will save you money; it won’t.

Time commitment is another big surprise for most new students. When you join a Greek organization, you will have not only your weekly chapter meeting, but as a pledge you will also have your pledge class meetings and time needed to complete the tasks set out for each pledge (including studying for your initiation test). Often you will have a big brother or sister in the organization that you will meet with, on top of whatever weekly “activities” are scheduled (think of not just parties, but if your group holds any fundraisers, events, etc. and the meetings that go into planning such things). So it’s not often just a once-a-week commitment. For this reason I encourage students not to rush until the spring semester, as it gives you time to get into the groove of being a college student and see how much time you need for studying before you commit to lots of extra mandatory hours as a Greek life member. Many campuses have moved to offering rush only in the spring just for this very reason, however there are still many colleges that have rush in the fall.

Finally we come to your reason for joining a Greek organization. What’s your interest or purpose in joining? I’d suggest you identify why you want to become involved in Greek life (or any on-campus activity). What benefits do you think you will get from it? What do you think you can contribute to the group?

Greek life can be very rewarding, but its not for every student. It’s up to you to decide if Greek life is the right fit for you.

The College Roommate Lottery

May 19, 2016

You’ve gotten into college. You’ve sent in your enrollment deposits to secure your place at your chosen school. Hopefully you have also submitted your housing application (and deposit if required) as well. Many colleges have a fairly detailed questionnaire that you need to fill out for a roommate match, others have sophisticated almost “online dating” type systems where you can check out possible roommates and connect with them prior to signing on as roomies. Want to know what living in a dorm is like? The website has some great articles on campus living.

No matter who you choose for a roommate, you need to know that it will never be smooth sailing. In a relatively confined space, under sometimes stressful conditions, people are not going to get along 100 percent of the time. If you are honest, you realize that you might have some habits that might annoy others (if you aren’t sure and have a sibling, ask them) and undoubtedly your roommates will also have their own quirks. Here’s a secret: you don’t have to be best friends with your roommate! You can have a perfectly cordial relationship but not have to be best of friends. In fact, it’s probably healthiest if your circle of friends at college is wider than just your roommates, and you spend time with others instead of hanging out only with your roomies.

Before heading off to college you might want to think about your future roommate relationships. Consider some of the issues or situations you might face, and how you could deal with them upfront to avoid or lessen conflict. While you might not necessarily create an actual contract with your new roommate, you should consider putting your thoughts on paper for a discussion with your new bunk mate. If you have a chance to connect with your roommate this summer, you might even bring up some of these issues to figure out where you both stand on things. You should also think about conflict resolution which goes more in-depth than just dealing with mundane issues that might arise. What kind of rules could you agree on in advance in terms of how you will deal with conflict and each other? Thinking about how you would want to be treated and extending that same courtesy to your roommates will help make roommate relations run more smoothly.

Good luck with the roommate hunt!


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Confused about a financial aid award

Admission to college is exciting, trying to figure out exactly what the financial aid award means is  not. For some great insight into decoding the award letter as well as links to pertinent web resources, check out my latest article Deciphering the financial aid award. This article was originally posted on the website which is no longer online.

Deciphering the Financial Aid Award

March 23, 2016

This is the season for excited high school seniors to rip open the thick envelopes (or congratulation emails) from colleges, see they have been accepted into a college and shriek with delight. Then comes the financial aid award, and often the response is less dramatic. Frankly, confusion or concern might be the most common reaction to a financial aid award. So here’s how to decode the financial aid awards and figure out just what they mean.

First you need to know what the Cost of Attendance (COA) is for the college. Most colleges have this information listed, but you should verify that the COA includes both direct costs, like tuition and fees, and indirect costs, such as room and board, books, school supplies, travel expenses, and miscellaneous items. Once the COA is determined, you can then apply the information from the financial aid award to figure out your net price, or the amount you’ll actually be paying.

The financial aid award will likely list several types of aid. The best kind of aid is the “gift aid” which includes scholarships and grants that do not need to be repaid. Scholarships and grants are either “merit” meaning that you earned them because of some level of achievement, or “need-based” meaning that the amount is based on your financial need established by the FAFSA or other financial reporting forms. The merit scholarships are usually reoccurring but may require some level of academic or activity achievement in order to maintain. Usually there is information provided as to what is needed to maintain merit awards. The need-based scholarships and grants may fluctuate each year if the family’s financial situation changes. These grants can be offered through the college, state or federal programs.

The other category of aid is self-help aid, which includes work-study and loans. Work study is a program that allows a student to work and earn the money which is then turned over to the college to pay part of the student’s bill. There can also be several types of loans included in the award letter. The federal loans include subsidized (don’t accrue interest until you leave school) or unsubsidized, PLUS (parent) loans, and Perkins loans. Federal loans are preferable over private loans as they typically have a low fixed interest rate and have repayment plans based on income levels. Some states also offer some advantageous loan programs as well.

So, now you understand the basics of what’s in the award letter. Next you need to figure out really what your out-of-pocket cost will be for the college. If the award letter doesn’t do the math for you, take the COA and subtract any of the gift aid (scholarships and grants) that don’t need to be repaid. What is left over is how much you will have pay, eventually, for one year of college. If some of that amount is off-set by loans and work-study, you still end up paying for it in the end, through working during college and after leaving school through loan repayment. You can choose to accept or decline all or parts of a financial aid award. For example, you could accept the scholarships but choose to decline the loans (or certain loans) if you have the means to figure out how to pay that portion without loans.

When comparing financial aid awards from colleges it is important to compare types of aid you receive, as well as amounts. An award from College A might look like they are giving you more money, but if they are actually giving you twice the amount in loans as College B, it could mean that the net price for College A is actually more because you will have to pay more in loans in the end.

Something to consider when viewing a financial aid award is that this award is for one year of college. What will be the cost for four years? Five or more? Will your family’s financial situation be changing in the next three years (i.e. more or less students in the family in college, projected retirement, etc.) that could change the amount and types of aid you might receive? What about the level of debt you are willing to take on? If your loans are $5000 for one year, that’s $20,000 over four years. But what if your loans are $20,000 for just the first year? Is the college worth accruing $80,000 of debt for your education there? What is the outlook for the career area you are considering post-college, if you even know at this point?

Celebrate your admissions into college but be savvy when viewing and comparing your financial aid awards!

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