TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Important Dates for Seniors and Juniors

Let’s talk about the FAFSA for seniors and the PSAT for juniors!

The FAFSA is a free application for Federal student aid. Most colleges use the information from the FAFSA to determine the financial aid amount each student will receive. The Pell Grant, Federal loan amounts, and work study qualification is determined by the financial information provided by the family on the FAFSA. In years past, this form was not filled out until January of a student’s senior year. That has changed, and now October 1st is the first day of the students’ senior year that the form can be filled out. The parent(s) and the students each have an ID they use to sign in so that the form can be completed. They cannot share the same user name and password.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE: There is no penalty if you fill out the form at a later time but, because there are certain scholarships that are awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis (and certain funds are limited), you will want your senior students’ FAFSA completed on October 1st or soon after. The FAFSA will ask for income from the previous year. If you are filling out the FAFSA this academic year, you will report your family’s income from 2018.

WARNING: There is an option to have the IRS import the information from your tax return and, although this makes filling out the form easier to do, you may want to input your information manually if you rolled over an IRA, bought or sold stocks, or had a job change.

The FAFSA determines your EFC (expected family contribution). The EFC is an index number the colleges use to determine how much financial aid your student is entitled to receive. It is used to determine Pell Grant amounts, work study opportunities, and subsidized loan amounts.

Even if you do not plan to accept any Federal funds or take out loans, most colleges use the information provided by the FAFSA (the EFC) when awarding financial aid and, for that reason, the FAFSA needs to be filled out. There are one or two colleges that are an exception to this expectation.

In addition to filling out the FAFSA during your students’ senior year, you will want your students to begin applying to their top colleges of choice. Some colleges offer opportunities that are only offered during the students’ senior year of high school. Bryan College hosts a scholarship event each semester for qualified seniors who have been accepted to Bryan College. Each participant has an academic interview and receives another $1,000 to $3,000 based on that interview. At one of the events an essay contest is included and one winner receives four years of tuition. There are state grants in Tennessee that seniors may be awarded, if qualified, but knowing about and applying for at least one of those awards early in the senior year is advised. Check with the colleges to which your students are applying, and find out about the grants offered in your state early in your students’ senior year (or before) so that you do not miss out on any of the opportunities that are time sensitive.

For juniors, you will want them to take the PSAT because the scores from that test determine National Merit Scholarships (NMS). Even a semi-finalist will receive four years of tuition at Bryan College. The test is offered in October and it is a very affordable test. Students in 9th and 10th grades can take the PSAT (if they can find a location that allows their participation), but the scores will not be counted towards the NMS. Two changes have taken place this year. Because of COVID, and the resulting protocols, homeschooled students are having a difficult time finding a location where their students can take the PSAT. Before you are too discouraged, the College Board has added a January PSAT date! If your students cannot take the test in October or January, then they can take the SAT and use a code to have that test count as the PSAT. The NMS is determined state by state, according to the number of students taking the test in each state. Students with disabilities may be eligible for accommodations, but the time it takes to process a request is lengthy, so plan ahead.

Although, not as time sensitive as the PSAT, juniors should begin narrowing down their college choices in order to plan visits to the campus and to find out what will be required for admission. They will also want to find out if their colleges of choice have time sensitive scholarship opportunities, if scholarships stack, if the college requires a college exam score for admission, or if they are test optional. The CLT is a newer college exam that over 200 Christian colleges accept. Because the CLT is an online test, this test has been offered virtually during the time when COVID protocols shut down both the SAT and the ACT. For this reason there are more colleges, including secular colleges, accepting scores from the CLT. Bryan College is test optional at this time. Students are being accepted and awarded scholarships based on their GPA, instead of a test score. Test optional does not mean test blind. If your students have a test score that will qualify them for more scholarship awards than their GPA, then submit the test score.

Seniors, get the FAFSA filled out and apply to top college choices. Juniors, find a location to take the PSAT and begin narrowing down your college choices. Your college planning experience will go better if you are prepared ahead to take advantage of available opportunities and requirements.

If What You Believe About Money Turns Out Not to Be True, When Would You Want to Know?

If what you believe about money isn’t true, when would you want to know? I first heard that question from Don Blanton, the founder of PEM life. Most of us would want to know right away if a belief we held was not, in fact, true. Many of us have been taught a thing or two about money that may not be true! 

Mr. Blanton has worked to educate more than 20,000 financial advisors in his nearly 30 year career as president and founder of MoneyTrax Inc., and still maintains a successful personal practice as a financial advisor today. The core concepts, tools, and principles which he has developed to teach and train financial services professionals are now being made available through PEM LIFE curricula in an effort to extend financial literacy.  Many families spend quite a bit of time and money on their students’ education yet many students graduate with little to no understanding of how to manage the money they will earn. 

It is amazing that society puts so much emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic, but excludes a need for practical lessons on personal finance.  This class, available as a three hour dual enrollment class with Bryan College, or as a stand alone class without college credit, is now available to homeschooling families. This class is life-changing.

student with moneyIn sharing my personal experience with you, you may be surprised at the lessons I learned through this course. It is certainly different than the advice I had received from several Christian money management programs.

So, what is it that we have we been taught to believe that may not be true? Most of us have been led to believe that taking out loans should be avoided and that we should pay cash for everything when possible. We have been taught that we should pay off our loans, including mortgages, as soon as possible. We have been taught that having and using credit cards should be avoided. That’s the advice we have heard for many years. My husband and I were introduced to Don Blanton and the PEM class via my son (who was taking the class at Bryan College) right before we were to close on one house and purchase another. My son encouraged me to read the chapter on mortgages and my mind was blown. Mr. Blanton suggests that it might be preferable to take out a 30 year mortgage with a lower down payment rather than using cash on hand for the purchase. What? Don’t invest all the money from one home to another? Don’t go for the lowest loan amount possible? Don’t try and pay off the mortgage sooner rather than later? After reading the chapter I was almost convinced, but not quite  — so I called Mr. Blanton and, after asking me a few questions about our situation, he convinced us that it would be wiser to have a higher mortgage amount at a low interest rate so that we would have access to cash for investment, emergencies, ministries, etc.  Of course this decision was based on our ability to handle the mortgage payments. That was a year ago. We heeded his advice and have no regrets. We are currently refinancing at a lower interest rate and our monthly payments will be reduced by over $100 each month. We will leave the table with more cash. Do not interpret this as a condemnation on those who choose not to take out loans. Everyone needs to decide what is best in light of their finances and the options available.

We have been led to believe that if we take out a loan, then we are in debt. That is not necessarily true. Debt, as defined by Don Blanton, is when you have an obligation to pay with money that is yet to be earned. That is debt. Taking out a loan does not put you in debt unless you borrow more than you have. You may finance a new car at a low interest rate even though you have enough cash to be able to buy it outright. In that case you have a loan, but you are not in debt. Make sense? You are not having to make payments with future earnings. 

Debt is an obligation to pay with money that is yet to be earned. It may take a little time to wrap your head around that. It did for me. When talking to Mr. Blanton about my hesitation to finance any purchase, he pointed out that we finance many expenses, not just those that require a loan. We pay monthly for our electric, wifi, gas, phone, and similar products and services. Those expenses are financed. We do not ask to pay up front in order to avoid a monthly payment, do we? Another lesson your student will learn in this class is that there are always additional costs associated with material possessions. A house is never truly ‘paid off’ because you will always have upkeep, insurance bills, and taxes to pay. Even when a car is purchased for cash or paid off, there are always additional transportation costs including upkeep, repairs, insurance and more.

spencer-davis-hi1Iq4x_ldM-unsplashLet’s talk about credit cards. Some money management programs suggest one should never get a credit card and that cash only should be used. Currently, that is turning out to be a problem since the pandemic has created situations where cash is not accepted for certain purchases. Credit cards are not, in and of themselves, an evil thing. Credit cards are a tool that many use for convenience, in order to earn points or get cash back, have purchases insured, or to simplify bookkeeping. When credit cards are procured without annual fees and paid off monthly, they offer many advantages to the card holder. Wisely using credit cards builds credit scores and having a credit card enables the card holder to be able to rent cars.  One of my daughters uses a particular credit card to earn a free vacation annually. Another daughter was glad her husband used a credit card to rent a car when in Ireland because, when they had a flat tire, the repair was covered by the card.  Even though credit cards can be beneficial to those who use them wisely, not everyone should have a credit card. Many people, especially teens, do not handle credit cards wisely and they end up owing more than they can afford (putting them in debt), and the late fees and interest charged for non-payment rack up. Is there a danger in having credit cards? Yes! Just like there is danger in driving a car. One does not get behind the wheel of a car (hopefully) until licensed, insured and prepared to drive. Credit cards in the hands of an irresponsible person is a recipe for disaster. 

avery-evans-RJQE64NmC_o-unsplashEnrolling your students in this introduction to personal finance is a great first step in making sure they are ready for independent living. If your student takes the class as a dual enrollment class then they will be in an online class with other students. If you purchase the homeschool version, great care has been taken to provide everything you need to easily and successfully deliver the course material. From interactive lessons and resources which will challenge students, to the tutorials and coaching designed to assist instructors, all of the hard work has been done for you. The course practically teaches itself, and you’ll surely find that your students won’t be the only ones learning!

One of the best features of this course is the interactive visual model that Mr. Blanton has created for this course which allows the student to observe what actually happens to their money. This visual is called the Personal Economic Model (PEM). It shows the students exactly what happens to their money, depending on the choices they make. There are investments and savings that may defer taxes, but all money is taxed at some point. (Another belief dispelled is that there is no such thing as tax free earnings.) The visual model includes several tanks that represent money earned, money spent, money invested, and money saved. When students fully understand the financial lessons taught in this class they will be well prepared for life after high school. There is both a biblical and a secular version available. The price is amazing considering the students will have access to many tools and calculators that cost financial advisors a lot more.  There are 15 core units, 64 individual lessons, 30 financial calculators, and hours of video instruction.

PEMStudents who have completed the 10th grade with a 3.0 GPA can take this class online with Bryan College, for college credit. If you live outside of Tennessee, a $200 scholarship is available, making the three hour class only $300. For Tennessee students, the DE grant will pay for the class if it’s one of the first two classes taken by the student. After the DE grant is used, a $200 scholarship will be offered to Tennessee students as well. The cost of materials is only $75. If you would like to have your student apply to Bryan College as a DE student, use the code bryanhss to waive the application fee.

Students who want to take the class without college credit, or who do not yet qualify for dual enrollment, may take the class at home with a substantial savings. The course is priced at $199 and that includes the materials fee, but if you use this introductory offer code, Intro50, you can save $50 making this course only $149. Parents will appreciate how little work they will have to do with this course. 

Take a look at the PEM website. There are a couple of videos worth watching. If you have any questions, let me know and I can put you in touch with Don Blanton, the founder of PEM Life. If what we believe about money isn’t true, the sooner we find out, the better. 

Choosing Curriculum: A Guide to Planning for Elementary, Middle and High School Students

Whether you are new to homeschooling or you have been homeschooling for a while with students moving up to another level, this article will provide guidelines to consider when making plans for your students.

Although the suggestions I make in this article are general and eclectic, it may be worth your while to take a look at the multiple styles and methods of homeschooling. You may be surprised at the many choices and philosophies available for your consideration. There is no right or wrong choice. You may try out one style only to discover it is not the best fit for your family. In the end, you may find the best plan is to pick and choose from various styles in order to design a plan that works for you and your family.  Two books that will encourage you in your homeschooling journey are Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah McKenzie and Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

For elementary students, keep it simple and keep it fun. Creating a love of learning is the key to raising students who are academically successful. Do not worry about curriculum. It is available for your use, but you have done well teaching your children from birth to age 5 without curriculum, so if you want to continue in the same manner, jerry-wang-0qmXPnZKeLU-unsplashgo for it! The freedom and flexibility of homeschooling allows you to plan your students’ experiences around their learning style and their interests. If you do purchase a curriculum and it is not working the way you envisioned, feel free to set it aside, sell it, or give it away. Do not become enslaved to curriculum. If you feel a need to make purchases then purchase Legos, critical thinking games, a globe and maps, and fun items that inspire the imagination. During the younger years, a huge emphasis should be placed on reading aloud, enjoying nature, having discussions, and playing games. Go on fieldtrips. Visit museums, science centers, and zoos. Oftentimes, the cost of an annual family membership is not much more than the cost of a one-day visit, and many zoos and museums have reciprocal memberships! Involve your children in meal planning and grocery shopping. Reach out to your community and volunteer for opportunities to serve that allow your children to participate. Encourage your students to ask questions, and then guide them towards learning how to find the answers to their questions. No one can know everything, but students who learn how to find the answers to their questions become independent learners, allowing parents the luxury of not worrying about whether their students will succeed academically, or be left behind. Look for an upcoming article with specifics on how to encourage inquisitiveness and how to teach your students to find answers from reliable resources! When you have a few minutes, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on How Schools Kill Creativity.

MIDDLE SCHOOL

Although planning for middle school is not quite as important as the high school years, parents should begin getting serious about their students’ academic studies. During the elementary years you have, hopefully, instilled in your children a love of learning as well as having equipped them with the ability to find answers to their questions. The middle school years are challenging because of the physiological changes that start taking place and those changes often result in undesired attitudes surfacing. Expediting an academic plan may be fraught with the need to address character issues. Be sure you address the character issues. If you need to set aside academics in order to restore relationships or repair damage done by students who are acting out, do so. Do not be afraid to have non-negotiable parental mandates, but explain to your students the reasoning behind the decisions and alex-michaelsen-4jcZiXH63fM-unsplashdirections you pursue. They do not have to understand or agree with your decisions, but your students should be required to respond respectfully to you (and to others).

In addition to teaching your students how to answer questions, middle school is a great time to encourage students to question answers, but to do so respectfully. (Are you seeing a correlation to middle school and character issues?) If you have already lived through the middle school years you may chuckle at the advice to encourage your students to question answers because that tends to be natural for middle school students. They tend to question everything, particularly rules and expectations set forth by parents. Avoid answering with, “Because I said so,” if possible. You will gain respect if you take the time to share your heart and, even if your students are not mature enough to understand or agree with your explanation, they are apt to be less frustrated than they would be otherwise. Now that character issues have been addressed, let’s talk about subjects to cover.

Math: During middle school make sure your students have a firm understanding of basic math facts so that they will be adequately prepared to be introduced to algebra and geometry in high school. Being able to multiple mentally, whether by memorizing the times table or using another method to achieve that result, is imperative. Knowing how to divide without using a calculator is also important. Understanding percentages and fractions is equally important to having a firm foundation for higher level math classes.

English: In high school your student should begin writing essays so while in middle school introduce your students to simple writing assignments such as book reports, short stories, testimonies, and more. Continue to read aloud, but assign great literature to be read by your students as well. You may find your students are willing to read more if they are allowed to read the biographies found in the juvenile section of the library. Rather than reading one biography that is over 200-300 pages long, your student can read five or six, or more, biographies that are of much shorter length. There are many resources for literature-driven curriculum.

History: I was that student who thought history was the most boring subject on the planet until I began homeschooling my students and discovered historical fiction! Reading books that brought history to life led me to have a deep love for history! Introduce your students to history through literature or through unit studies! For American history, the House of Winslow series is very historically accurate. If your students are reading biographies, then chances are they may want to further pursue information about the period of history being covered by the biography they are reading. With one of my sons (who loves history), we went through the Timetables of History (a chronological record of history from the beginning of written records) and when something sparked further interest, we looked up videos and articles pertaining to that event. For those looking for a literature-based history curriculum, TruthQuest may be just what you need.

Science: Because your student will be taking biology and chemistry in high school, the middle school years should include an introduction to basic science that includes life, earth, and physical science. If you are going for a more literature based approach, include biographies of great scientists. One of my favorite books to read aloud is Carry On Mr. Bowditch. Books about George Washington Carver were enjoyed as well. As far as text books go, many families choose to use Apologias books for science.

Electives: In addition to the basics, you may choose to add in any number of electives from physical education to music, foreign language, leadership, religions and worldviews, shop, cooking, or anything else that particularly interests your students.

group of people sitting on stairs

HIGH SCHOOL

Now is definitely the time to make specific plans for your students. Although you will have some flexibility, in order to ensure that your students are adequately prepared for life after high school, it is important to plan ahead. Be sure you prepare your students for college, whether they think they need college, or not. It is better to be prepared and not need it, than vice versa. I wrote an blog post that will help you avoid eight common mistakes that homeschooling parents make. If your students have no idea what they want to pursue after high school, help them discover their gifts, talents, and passions. Narrow down top college choices so you can find out what is expected from those colleges as far as admission requirements, transcript expectations, and scholarship potential. Feel free to download The Journey, a free e-resource that will help you plan ahead.

Transcripts: Although most states have suggested guidelines for high school graduation, there are no set-in-stone laws, so you have the freedom to plan according to what’s best for your student. The expectation is that a four-year high school transcript will include 22 to 24 credits. Most states expect a student to take at least 3 math classes, 3 or 4 English classes,  3 science classes (with at least 2 labs), 3 social studies, ½ credit for personal finance, 1 or 2 physical education credits, 2 foreign language credits, and the remainder as electives. Some states are more rigorous while others are more flexible but, again, these are guidelines and not mandates. Be aware that as flexible as you are allowed to be from a homeschooling point-of-view, you may find particular colleges have requirements that your student must fulfill in order to attend that college. For this reason, narrowing down college choices is vital to planning the courses for your students. Some homeschooling families have their students take a 5th year of high school and, believe it or not, colleges will accept a 5 year transcript from homeschooled students.

Curriculum: When I began homeschooling (in the 1980s) our curriculum choices were very limited. That is not the case today. There are online programs that are totally free (Easy Peasy and Kahn Academy are two programs often recommended) and there are many programs that can be purchased. There are textbooks available for every subject imaginable and there are products galore for the students who prefer learning without textbooks whether that is with CDs, videos, or with real books.

Course Selection: It is presumed that your student will take English, math, science, and social studies. Most state guidelines suggest two years of the same foreign language, although there are colleges that do not have that requirement. If you know what major your student will pursue, you can better plan which courses to choose. For instance, students who plan to become engineers should take as many math and science classes as possible while in high school. If your students show a particular interest in a subject, then have them take classes pertaining to that subject in order to confirm or refute that interest. If your students have no idea what they want to do after high school, then provide a well-rounded high school experience while trying to nail down a plan for after high school. My next article will include suggestions for helping your children discover their gifts, interests, and passions.

Beyond the Basics: Although we have all been conditioned to believe that including the classes mentioned above are sufficient for a proper education, I would like to suggest that there are classes worth considering that are equally (if not more) important to a well rounded education. Taking classes in current events, speech and debate, apologetics, logic, entrepreneurship and personal finance are classes that will help prepare your students for life after high school whether that includes college, or not. One of my regrets is not having my students involved in debate clubs until the 5th child (of 9) was in high school.  Once I became aware of the skills gained being involved in a debate club (there are at least three Christian homeschool debate leagues), my students were required to participate in a debate club for at least one year.

Books:  To help plan for the high school years read Celebrate Highschool: Finish with Excellence and More Than Credits: Skills Highschoolers Need for Life both written by Cheryl Bastain.

Test Prep. Because COVID has disrupted the ability for colleges to require test scores for admission and scholarships, many colleges are now test-optional. Whether these colleges will remain test-optional is yet to be known. Before COVID, the highest scholarships were awarded to students with high test scores (ACT, SAT and/or CLT). For that reason, spending time and money on your students so that they could adequately prepare for these tests and, taking the tests multiple times in order to raise their scores, was essential to families needing scholarships for their students (and, to be honest, most of us need all the financial help we can get). At this time, GPAs are being used by test-optional colleges when test scores are not available. For that reason, your students should be encouraged to achieve high grades even if that means repeating classes with poor grades.

Dual Enrollment. Taking college-level classes is a win/win for students who are ready and able to pass college-level classes. Not only will your students receive both high school and college credit, but one college class is usually counted as a full high school credit, meaning your students will earn a year’s worth of high school credit in one semester. This will either allow your student to graduate early or to continue taking college classes during high school. Dual enrollment is free in several states, discounted in some states and, oftentimes, discounted by the college. Bryan College offers dual enrollment classes on line four times a year with a $200 scholarship for out-of-state students and, for Tennessee students, the same scholarship is offered once the state DE grant is used. In fact, a Tennessee student can take 30 credit hours with Bryan College for as little as $600 if the student uses the DE grant, the school scholarship and the HOPE. As wonderful as the dual enrollment opportunity is for high school students, it is not without dangers.

As you make plans for your students’ academic future, take comfort in knowing that you have both the freedom and the flexibility to make adjustments as needed in order to improve your students’ homeschooling experience. There is no black-and-white, or right-or-wrong way to do this. Plan, pray, talk to friends, and research options and everything will eventually come together!

Matt and able at graduation

Introduction to Personal Finance: A Must for Every Teen

Copy of Copy of StheD_OrientationDon Blanton, co-author of the book Personal Economic Model, has designed a three hour college course that will help students understand everything they need to know about the financial world. Using visuals that are interactive, this course takes you from questioning, “Why work?” to helping your student plan wisely to lead a productive and responsible life from high school graduation to retirement (and past retirement age for those who do not choose to retire).

Luke Morris, who has taught this class on campus for Bryan College, has more to say about the class in a short video here.

This Introduction to Finance is different from most financial programs in that the course includes access to a variety of financial calculators designed by Blanton, a test to help the student discover their strengths and weaknesses, and the acknowledgement that a wisely used credit card and certain loans are not always a bad thing (he also explains how students can do this correctly).

Many  homeschooling families include financial classes in their students’ high school schedule yet most of the classes available do not include college credit! After students complete their sophomore year of high school, as long as they have earned a 3.0 GPA or higher, they can dual enroll with Bryan College and take on-line classes four times a year (fall, spring, and two summer sessions) with a $200 scholarship per class! (For Tennessee residents the scholarship does not apply until the TN DE grant is used.) Earning college credit while taking a class that prepares a student for life after high school is a win/win!

This course includes videos, access to financial calculators and software, discussion forums, assignments, quizzes and tests. Dual enrolled students with Bryan College need not be on the computer at a specific time of the day, allowing each student to determine their own schedule as long as assignments are completed on time.

Donald L. Blanton is the owner and president of MoneyTrax, Inc., a company dedicated to the development of innovative communication tools for professionals in the financial services industry. MoneyTrax, Inc., was founded in 1994, and has gained national recognition for its unique and easy-to-use client-centered financial software through the Circle of Wealth® System. Don is a nationally sought-after seminar speaker, addressing the top financial planners in the country who utilize his unique communication style and tools to work with their individual clients.

Out-of-state students receive a $200 scholarship per class. Tennessee students receive the same scholarship once the DE grant is used. Connect with Bryan College’s Dual Enrollment to find out more! If you would like a code to waive the application fee for dual enrollment, email me at pat.wesolowski@bryan.edu