All posts by samclaug

About samclaug

Owner of a college planning business that assists students and parents through the college and grad school admissions and financial aid process. Sharon holds a MEd in Adult Education, has over 20 years of experience as a College Admissions and Financial Aid administrator. She has taught ESL, GED and Adult Basic Education.

Textbook Cost Trauma & How to Reduce Your Cost

I’m a day late with this week’s question, but I wanted to get it in as students will be dealing with purchasing textbooks for the first time with in the next few weeks and these are very handy tips.

This week’s Ask Me Anything question is about the cost of college textbooks: College textbooks are so expensive. Are there ways to help me spend less on books?

Sticker shock is a reality for college freshmen and their parents when it comes to textbook prices . A recent US News article quoted a survey by the College Board which found that on average students pay $1290 per year for textbooks.

There are a number of ways to offset the cost of textbooks. Some are long-standing options and some are a result of the digital age.

Students can search for used books at their campus store or online via Amazon, Chegg and other online textbook resellers. Before you buy a used book, consider if a new book is best for your needs. For example: A used copy of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer makes sense. But a used copy of a science or business law textbook might not be a good option. You may want to check with your professor before going the used book route.

Your college library may also have reserved copies of required textbooks available. Note that there may be limitations on taking reserved books from the library.

Digital options include renting or buying downloadable copies textbooks. At some colleges there is also the possibility of Open Educational Resources (OER) which are online textbooks that are free to use. Also check to see if your college has a booksellers discount. A number of colleges partner with, which offers students substantial discounts on e-textbooks.

You may also want to reach out to your college financial aid office, as book advances from your financial aid may be available or there may be book scholarships you can apply for.

While textbook prices may overwhelm you, there are many options available depending on your needs.


For tonight’s Ask Me Anything Thursday I’ve decided to share a situation I ran in to this week with a client.

I received a referral to a woman whose daughter is in college and will be a senior in the fall. The woman was frantic, because she just received her daughter’s fall tuition bill for over $20,000 and realized that her accountant had not filed her daughter’s FAFSA for the upcoming academic year. The daughter had lost out on a $8k (per semester) departmental scholarship based on her major , other university scholarships and some federal financial aid, as a result of this.

I walked the daughter through the FAFSA online application and reviewed her award from the previous year. I assured her and her mother that her PELL Grant and loan eligibility would not be impacted by the late filing. Any state scholarship/grant was lost and the renewal of her institutional scholarships is uncertain. Campus based financial aid, whether federal, state or institutional are awarded on a first come first served basis until the funds are fully expended.

I gave them strategies for dealing with the college bill for worst case scenarios. My hope is that this family can manage to pay the fall and spring college bills. I am going to monitor this situation with them to get them as much as I can to meet the financial aid that was awarded last year, so the young lady can graduate next Spring as planned.

This situation points out two very good lessons.

1) Apply EARLY and STAY ON TOP of your financial aid application process.

2) DO NOT have your accountant, CPA, or financial planner complete your FAFSA or CSS Profile. It is NOT their area of expertise.

In my years as a Director of Financial Aid, I could always tell when an accountant or CPA completed a FAFSA for a family, based on the errors that were made. I read the federal regs that govern the FAFSA, the state regs that govern state scholarships and grants, and kept up with changes to them. An accountant or CPA does do any of that. It’s not their job. And as this situation shows it can lead to financial disaster for the family and jeopardize the student’s ability to graduate.

College Planning: Should We Disclose a Learning Disability to the College Admissions Office

This week’s Ask Me Anything question:

Should we tell potential colleges that my child has a learning disability? This is a question I get from parents of students with learning disabilities.

I always advise students and parents to address the student’s learning disability with the Admissions Office. I realize families may fear sharing that information for fear that it would be held against the student in the admissions process. However, the student is best served by being up front about the disability.

As you know an IEP does not follow a student to college. The student and parents will need to advocate for the student. You need to know what services are available and how best the college can assist the student.

If while going through the admissions process you feel that the students is being discriminated against, you can file a complaint or seek legal advice.

Have a college planning question you would like me to

answer? Send me your question through my Facebook page HEADFORCOLLEGE

Have I Missed My Chance To Apply To College For The Fall??

I’m starting a new feature on this blog called Ask Me Anything Thursday.

Today’s Ask Me Anything Thursday question:

Is it too late now to apply to college for the fallToday’s Ask Me Anything Thursday question: is it too late now to apply to college for the fall?

No it’s not too late to apply to college for this coming fall. There are many colleges that have Rolling Admissions, which means that applications for admissions will continue to be reviewed and accepted throughout the summer and possibly into the first two weeks of the semester. State colleges, community colleges and some private colleges have rolling admissions. However, you need to be aware of a few issues..

1. You want to act quickly to provide all necessary admissions paperwork: application, official school transcripts, essays, SAT or ACT


2. You may need to complete placement testing over the summer and your testing date options may limited based to the colleges testing schedule.

3. If you need financial aid, apply ASAP. You will if eligible receive an award heavily packaged with student loans, as most grant aid has been awarded for the academic year.

4. When looking at colleges to apply to, shop local. You want to apply to colleges that won’t require a long commute. Dorm rooms Are generally all assigned to students by now, with a few exceptions.

5. While you may be accepted to a college, you may not be accepted into your chosen major, especially if it is in the health fields or one that is extremely popular. Consider a General Education/Studies or Liberal Arts major now. You can work on your Core requirements (English, Math, History, etc.)

and change your major next Spring or the fall of next year.

6. If you attend a local college this year with an eye towards transferring, taking the Core requirements will allow you transfer those credits more easily, assuming you have earned a C or better.

7. While some colleges accept Transfer student for second semester, it is generally most frequently and more easily done in the fall.

If you have college planning question you would like answered, submit it on my Facebook page HEADFORCOLLEGE by Wednesday.

Hurricane Michael & Your Financial Aid

If you are a college student receiving federal financial aid or a borrower in repayment on your federal loans and have been impacted by Hurricane Michael you may qualify for some relief. The student or the institution the student attends must be in a area designated as a disaster area.

The US Department if Education does provide students some relief with regards to documentation that is required for Verification.

If you feel you have been adversely impacted by a natural disaster, context your financial aid office. I would suggest you discuss this in relation to your FAFSA application for 2019/20, ad you could request a professional judgement review based on 2018 or 2019 income & expenses, instead of 2017.

If you are transferring to a new school, make sure to notify the school as soon as possible that you were impacted by the hurricane. The financial aid office is allowed to use professional judgement, if you were impacted by the storm.

Student loan borrowers may also qualify for relief if impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Borrowers in repayment can request forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making you monthly loan payments. You can request extensions of forbearance in 30 day increments. If you are currently in delinquent on you student loans due to a natural disaster , you may also request d forbearance. However, your forbearance will be limited to the past due amount and 30 days in the future.

Owe documents or paperwork to you loan services soon? Loan servicers are required to extend deadlines for 15 days for those impacted by Michael.

For those with Teach Grants, certification documentation deadlines and timelines for conversion of TEACH Grants to loans will be extended for 15 days.

Anyone with a Public Service Employment (PSLF), who submits payment more than 15 days after the payment due date, but within 20 days of the due date, your servicer will count that payment as an on-time payment for purposes of the PSLF program if the payment is made during the 30-day period following the date on which a federally declared major disaster was declared. 

Student loans in default or in rehabilitation should request relief. As the USED will suspend collections of a defaulted loan for 90 days. The suspension will include suspension of involuntary payments including administrative wage garnishment and Treasury offset. If you are making payments toward rehabilitation of a defaulted loan, you will be allowed to stop making payments for those 90 days. At the end of the 90 days you will either resume making your monthly payments or make a lump sum payment.

There is also relief given to colleges and universities, as a result of disaster you should know about.

The college may pay you for work study even though you are unable to perform your work study job. If you find it necessary to take a leave of absence, the request does not have to be in writing or be made prior to the beginning go of the leave of absence.

Be sure to stay in touch with your college financial aid office and refer to the USDE website for more information.

Massachusetts’ MASSTRANSFER program Saves Families Money

College costs , even at state colleges and universities, are soaring and causing students and families to worry whether they can afford a college education. The state of Massachusetts offers several programs through the MASSTRANSFER program. MassTransfer program offers three options: Gen Foundation, MASSTRANSFER A2B and MASSTRANSFER A2B +COMCOM.

With the Gen Foundation option, students enroll and complete the 28 general education foundation courses, at any Massachusetts community college, state university or University of Massachusetts campus. There are a few exceptions such as Mass Maritime and Mass College of Art. Students can save 11% of the tuition costs of a public four year degree by transferring those credits to a Mass State University or UMASS. Because students are only taking the foundation courses, no Associates degree is awarded when participating in this program. Credits are guaranteed to be accepted as transfer credits with a minimum GPA of 2.0. Admission is not guaranteed to the state four year institution.

A 28% savings can be realized when students enroll in the MASSTRANSFER A2B degree program. Students in this program attend a Massachusetts community college for two years and receive an Associate degree, then transfer to a Mass. state university or UMASS campus to complete their Bachelor’s degree.

For an even greater savings — 40%, students may choose to participate in the MASSTRANSFER A2B + COMCOM. COMCOM stands for Commonwealth Commitment. The Commonwealth Commitment requires the student to start their college career at a Mass. Community college, then transfer to a Mass. state university or UMASS campus to complete the last two years of their Bachelor Degree. MASSTRANSFER Students must attend full time and complete their bachelor degree courses in two years, while maintaining a 3.0 GPA. In return the state guarantees a freeze on all tuition and mandatory fees, a 10% rebate on tuition and fees at the end of each completed semester.

With the MASSTRANSFER A2B and MASSTRANSFER A2B +COMCOM programs students are guaranteed that their credits will transfer from the community college to the state university and UMASS as long as students achieves a GPA of 2.0+. With a GPA of 2.5+ students are guaranteed state university or UMASS admission.

Students must apply for each of these programs and complete an application and MASSTRANSFER A2B +COMCOM applicants must complete a participation agreement.

Both of these are available on-line at


If you are considering transferring colleges and are unsure of your options, need help identifying colleges that fit your needs, or have a weak academic history, contact me at to schedule a private consultation.

Pamper Your Dorm Room or College Apartment

Setting up your college dorm room or apartment can be overwhelming. If you are sharing a dorm or apartment trying to decide what to bring and who brings what can be unruly. It is advisable to reach out to your roommate over the summer before school starts to make sure you are not duplicating items unnecessarily.

Of course you will also need to find out what is available in the dorms and what is not allowed in the dorms. Most colleges will provide you with information about dorm size fridge rentals. Certain appliances may be banned, such as toaster ovens or room heaters. Common areas on your dorm floor may have a stove, small refrigerator or microwave.

When creating your list of things to bring to college break down the list in to categories such as:



Personal care (including prescriptions and OTC medications)

Clothes for fall (for the climate you will be living in)

Study/school supplies

Room essentials (lamps, waste basket, storage containers, extension cords,flashlight, batteries, & shelving)

Food and snacks

Kitchen essentials

I have found some very comprehensive dorm checklists online that you will find helpful when compiling your list of things to take to college.

Teen Vogue has a list of 97 things to take to college. Link to it here:

Her Campus has a list also:

To make sure you have what you need to prepare breakfast or a light meal or snack I recommend these Pampered Chef products, which I sell at Sharon’s Pampered Chef.

Cook breakfast
Breakfast Sandwich Maker & Ceramic Egg Cooker
Glass Storage Container & Small Batter Bowl
Snack Bar Maker & Microwave Popcorn Maker
Personal Pizza Stone & Toaster Oven Pan
Measure-All & Measuring Spoons Set
Micro Rice Cooker & MicroCooker
Utensils & Cutting Mats


To help you get your dorm room or apartment set up, I am

offering FREE SHIPPING to my followers would order from Sharon’s Pampered Chef by September 15, 2018.

Offer valid in the US only. You must email me at to claim your free shipping.1

Show’em What You Know: CLEP Exams

Getting College Credit For Your Knowledge And Experience

Adults considering college have the opportunity to receive credit for knowledge they  gained through work or study. CLEP exams are also a valuable option for home-schooled students to earn college credit and reduce the time and cost associated with a college degree. The CLEP exam is offered through the College Board just like the SAT and AP exams. This exam is offered in 33 subjects including:


  • American Literature
  • English Literature
  • French Language Level 1 and 2
  • German Language Level 1 and 2
  • Spanish Language Level 1 and 2
  • American Government
  • US History 1
  • US History 2
  • Biology
  • Calculus
  • Financial Accounting
  • Introduction to Business Law
  • Principles of Management


Registration  fee for each test is $85.  However, military personnel may take the test free of charge, if qualified for DANTES funding.  The score range is 20-80. A passing score on the CLEP tests, with the exception of the language tests, is 50. For the  French exam the recommended score is 59, while the recommended scores for German and Spanish are 60 and 63 respectively. CLEP testing centers regularly offer exams, unlike AP tests which are offered each spring. For information about the CLEP exams, test centers, practice tests and registration go to CLEP. 

Show’em What You Know: AP Exams

Getting College Credit For Your Knowledge And Experience

Whether you are a high school student or an adult considering a college degree, there are options for you to earn credit for courses and knowledge you have acquired.  The advantage to these are a shorter time in college and as a result reduced cost of your college degree.

High school students may be familiar with Advanced Placement or AP Courses. These are  advanced classes taken in high school that equate to introductory college level courses. Once students have completed the AP courses, they can then register for the individual subject matter tests. AP tests are scheduled in the spring. There are 38 subject matter tests offered by the College Board.

Here is a sample list:

  • Art History
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • French Language and Culture
  • German Language and Culture
  • Government and Politics (Comparative)
  • Government and Politics (US)
  • Psychology
  • Studio Art Drawing
  • US History
  • World History

Scoring on the AP tests range from 1-5 and colleges generally award college credit for students who score 3-5 on their individual tests. Colleges their own policies regarding the awarding of credit for AP tests. The fee per test is $94. However, if you have a financial hardship, you may qualify for a $32 Fee Reduction per test.  For more information about the AP exams, practice tests and registration go to APTEST.