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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Going to College and Paying for it, a review

In her job as a financial aid consultant for the past decade, Denise Ames has met with countless college-bound students and their parents who were utterly mystified by the process of finding financial aid.  So, she founded College Common Sense and put together the Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook, a no-nonsense guide that will take you through the ins and outs of applying for need based aid, scholarships, and grants.

Denise says that even a 6-year-old can win a scholarship and she recommends her product for elementary kids on up to high school seniors.  I would recommend it for grades 9-12 and for middle schoolers with a future vision. 

What is Going to College and Paying for it (GCP)?

This program is available both as a year-long online subscription ($25) and as a physical DVD ($50 +$5 shipping).

The online edition is presented as 6 short videos, each around 15-30 minutes (approximately 2 hours all together), and accompanying pdfs:

  1. The Big Picture
  2. How Financial Aid Works
  3. All About the Free Money
  4. The System that Works
  5. You in the Process
  6. Pull it all Together

Each video covers an aspect of the process of seeking financial aid.  Denise covers topics such as

  • why everyone should fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), even if you think your income is too high to get aid
  • real world advice on things to consider when choosing a college
  • the different types of aid available:  needs-bases, merit-based, and performance-based
  • how to figure out the real COA (cost of attending) college and how this fits into whether you have need
  • the difference between aid controlled by the college and aid you are responsible for
  • how to look for scholarships
  • tips on applying for scholarships
  • a simple system for keeping it all straight (a scholarship binder)
  • the pitfalls that can cause you to lose scholarships and aid
  • encouragement
  • lots of common sense
  • and more

The pdfs contain the key points from each of the videos (it’s handy to print each one out and to have it in hand while watching its respective video, the important “notes” are all there for you) and suggested activities.  Some of those activities are very specific, like researching local organizations that might offer scholarships or figuring out the COA (cost of attending) a particular college.  And others are more general and have more to do with developing as a well-rounded person, like envisioning your perfect future or pursuing personal interests.

In addition to the pay product, College Common Sense also offers free lesson plans emailed to your inbox every week, a newsletter, links to resources (including scholarship information), and a small library of helpful videos.

How did I use GCP?

My oldest child is 12 and not really sure that he wants to go to college at this point.  After watching the first few videos, I decided that he wasn’t quite ready for the material presented there, so I chose to watch the videos on my own.  I learned a lot from these videos---more on that in a bit.

I did try to work with my son on a few of the suggested activities, mainly along the lines of exploring interests and learning more about himself and what kind of career he might want to learn more about.  He had some interest, but I still don’t have “buy in” from him.  I decided that it would be more beneficial to come back to this in another few months or so.  That’s ok, I’ve got the pdfs as an easy reference.

I’ve also watched a few of the videos available for free on the website with both him and his 9-year-old sister, including What is the “All About Me” Spiral? and  Jack Canfield’s First Principle.  Let me pause here a minute.

The First Principle video changed my daughter’s perception of her future.  Sometimes we just don’t know what’s going on in our kids’ heads until they have a sudden insight and share it with you.  She told me that she was excited about working hard to pursue her dreams---that she hadn’t realized that her choices were wide open and that she could take her future into her own hands.  I think she had been secretly dreading growing up and becoming and adult.  Not anymore.

What did I think of Going to College and Paying for it?

I like it a lot.  In fact, I wish that I had had something like this when I was a teenager and looking at colleges.  As luck would have it, I did receive a scholarship and as a result of that I avoided going into debt for my education---but there was more I could have done to make it easier on me and my family. 

Denise states towards the end of the program that part of the problem is that there is soooo much information out there that students are just overloaded with information and don’t know where to start.  Her program keeps things simple, organizes it in one spot, and breaks it down into a manageable system.  It makes it very do-able.

What really sets this program about is Denise herself.  She speaks to you in the videos in her own words.  No fancy jargon (except to explain some that you’ll come across as you go through the process).  She speaks directly to the student and she tells him that finding financial aid is his responsibility, and keeping it is also his responsibility.  And she tells him how to do that.  She emphasizes the importance of getting the best value for the money by spending time researching schools and being honest about goals and aspirations.  She talks about ways in which he can enrich his current life, not only to become a better candidate for scholarships, but to fulfill his own potential as a person.

One thing Denise says in her videos is that many of the students she meets are afraid of college because it’s the big “unknown” and she goes onto say that in a few years it will be going out into the big world that will be the scary thing and college will be old hat, like high school.  Yes, indeed, I remember being a trembling freshman…I do wish this program had existed back then.

This is definitely a worthwhile resource for high schoolers.  Middle schoolers may not get much from the information on financial aid, but I think they can benefit from the activities that center around learning who they are and how to fulfill their potential. 


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.


  1. Thank you for your perspective on this. I always love to read what you write.

    Heh, Heh... I wish we had had computers and the internet when I was in high school... I wish registering for classes was not done with a person standing with a slate over their head to indicate how many spaces were left in freshman English. I wish I hadn't had to take freshman English at 8 a.m. just to get in. I wish, I wish! :)

    Glad I can help my son be more prepared than I was!

  2. Ha, yes, technology has made a HUGE difference in our ability to acquire information and to get stuff done. We did have computers when I was in high school, or at least geeky families did. Our Commodore 64 had...wait for it...64 KILOBYTES of memory.

    I think the internet first made its appearance shortly after I graduated from college, except it was "usenet" back then. And it was green or amber or white words on a black screen, depending on your monitor.

    A lot has changed. ;)


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