Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shaping your essay-writing environment



Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Tim Taylor

Many people underestimate the importance of environment when it comes to writing a great set of essays for college or graduate school. They figure, "I'll just squeeze this in when I can ... after all, what difference does it make when I do it, as long as I do it?"  Actually, it can make a huge difference!  How effective your writing sessions are, and how many new ideas you're able to come up with, is deeply impacted by the way you prepare for and spend your precious writing time.  So, since we're all writing veterans here at Forster-Thomas, we wanted to share a couple of our best tips with you.


Everyone has an optimal time of day for writing.  For some, it's the morning. For others, the evening. But you'll know you've hit your 'sweet spot' when your mind is at its clearest, and least distractable. This is the time when most of your best ideas are going to come.
Shut off distractions. Even one notification or alarm can take up to fifteen minutes to recover from. You'll get the work done a lot more quickly if you shut off all your dings, dongs and bleeps until you're done with the difficult work of crafting your first draft.
Create a pattern. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky, the muse isn't going to show up the first time you come calling for her. It often takes a few days of marinating on the problem, trying approaches that don't work, and fumbling with your own memories, before you're able to hit on the opening that 'feels right'.  So instead of setting aside a block of time on one day, set aside a little time, even a half-hour or an hour, over several days. Get used to getting into a writing mode.
Forgive mistakes. Writer-brain and editor-brain are two very different creatures.  You're going to be a lot happier with your results if you shut off editor-brain for awhile. You'll know him when you hear him, he's the one who second-guesses and nit-picks every idea you come up with. The problem with editor-brain early in the process is that it prevents you from completing a thought and seeing where it takes you. Even if the beginning isn't promising, the day's explorations may uncover a few gems. So just start where you start, and go where you go, and worry about cleaning everything up later.


So there you have it!  A few simple, practical tips to make writing easier.  Of course, if you're still having trouble, you can always give us a call -- but then, you were already planning to do that, weren't you?

 

 

By Ben Feuer and College Choice

We all know that it’s a good idea, fiscally speaking, to attend a quality college and graduate school – but how good of an idea is it, exactly?  The chart above tells the tale in full.  But one of the many hurdles you’re going to have to leap is the completion of the dreaded FAFSA – federal application for student aid.  But don’t despair -- the FAFSA’s bark is much worse than its bite, and we’re here to offer a step-by-step guide, with props to our good friends at College Choice.

Is the FAFSA Need or Merit-Based?  Many colleges and graduate programs offer merit-based scholarships, but not through the FAFSA. It is strictly need-based – the key factors are your family’s income, assets and the cost of tuition at your chosen school(s).

What form does FAFSA aid take?  It’ll be a blend of loans, which you’ll need to pay back, and grants/scholarships, which you keep.  You may also qualify for work-study, low-wage jobs offered by the school and its partners, but even if you don’t, you can always just … you know … find a job …

How do I know if I qualify for the FAFSA?  Just go to this webpage.  You’ll need last year’s tax docs, a pay stub, your banking information, and about half an hour.

Darn, I don’t qualify.  Fill it out anyway -- many colleges, foundations, and state scholarship organizations use the FAFSA to distribute money and determine scholarship funding. Plus, filling out the FAFSA qualifies you for low-cost federal student loans of at least $5,500 per year!

What if I don’t know how much my school is going to cost?  Pick the most expensive school on your list and base your calculations on that.  If you don’t know how much your target school costs, use College Navigator to figure it out.

How do I apply for FAFSA?  You can apply to FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov, on the telephone at 1-800-433-3243, or by paper application (available on the FAFSA website). The FAFSA application becomes available October 1st and closes June 30th the following year.  You’ll need your Social Security number or alien registration number, your driver’s license number (optional), your tax records, lists of untaxed income like child support and veteran’s benefits, asset records and lists of schools. This data retrieval tool may help you.

What kind of assets will show up on a FAFSA application?  Here’s what does have to be reported: CDs, stocks, bank and brokerage accounts, bonds, mutual funds, college savings plans, trust funds, real estate, and money market accounts.

Here’s what doesn’t have to be reported: home equity, qualified retirement plans (pensions, annuities, IRAs, 401(k)s, and any similar accounts), and estate-related assets (boats, furniture, fine art, etc.).

How can I get more money from FAFSA?  Plan ahead and apply early, when more aid is available – on October 1 if possible.  Move or spend as many qualified assets as possible well before applying.  If your life circumstances change after your application (a relative is hospitalized, someone gets fired), appeal, politely and humbly. Don’t be ashamed of or afraid to disclose your parent’s occupational status or level of education – as far as FAFSA is concerned, do not know = no.