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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "college"

Local Community Foundation currently offering 40-plus scholarships totaling $140,000

Westlake Legal Group scholarships-feature-Prostock-studio Local Community Foundation currently offering 40-plus scholarships totaling $140,000 university Tuition school scholarships Higher Education High School Seniors high school High Education Finances Education college
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Incoming college students can use all the help they can get with tuition payments, room and board costs and additional miscellaneous expenses.

For students in Caroline County, Fredericksburg, King George County, Spotsylvania County and Stafford County, The Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region is ready to help. The local foundation is currently accepting applications for nearly $140,000 in scholarships through Sunday, March 1

The applications are open to high school seniors that are planning to attend two-year or four-year universities or colleges, vocational schools or career technical schools. Scholarships vary in criteria, such as specific schools or counties, athletic or musical pursuits, as well as particular fields of study. There is no limit to the amount of scholarships students can apply for through the foundation. 

In 2019, the foundation awarded 53 students a total of $150,000. High school seniors can apply here, and get to know more about The Community Foundation’s goals of bettering the vitality and well-being of the Rappahannock River region. 

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Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Simon Youth Foundation launches application period for scholarship program

Westlake Legal Group graduation Simon Youth Foundation launches application period for scholarship program university simon youth foundation shopping scholarships scholarship applications leesburg premium outlets Higher Education high school Fashion Centre at Pentagon City Education college
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If you live in Northern Virginia, then you’ve shopped at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and Leesburg Premium Outlets more than onceit’s just a given. And now, to thank loyal shoppers and Northern Virginia locals, the Simon Youth Foundation (SYF) is awarding scholarships to local high schoolers.

Simon Youth Community Scholarships are awarded in every community in the nation that is home to a Simon Mall, Mills or Premium Outlets center, including Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and Leesburg Premium Outlets.

Seniors graduating in 2020 have until Wednesday, Feb. 19 to apply to the scholarship, which will award a one-time, $1,500 scholarship to recipients, which can be applied to tuition at an accredited college, university, vocational or technical school. Students applying must be high school seniors and live in the surrounding communities of Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and Leesburg Premium Outlets.

Applicants will be evaluated based on academics, financial need, their written essays, work experience, extracurriculars and community involvement. Recipients will be notified in May.

Want to support the scholarship? Shoppers at Simon malls can purchase a SYF Visa Simon gift card. One dollar from each sale of a gift card directly funds the foundation’s scholarship and graduation programs. In addition, shoppers can opt to donate leftover gift card balance to SYF as well.

Find the application at syf.org/scholarships.

For more news on local scholarships, subscribe to our Education e-newsletter.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Virginia ranks as the sixth-most educated state in America, according to WalletHub

Westlake Legal Group 00-virginia-ranks-as-6th-most-educated-state-in-america Virginia ranks as the sixth-most educated state in America, according to WalletHub wallethub Virginia university public school News & Updates Most Educated grad school gender gap educational reports Education college Bachelor's Degrees Associate's Degrees
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It’s no secret that living and working near the nation’s capital attracts highly educated individuals from all over the country. Whether they’re fresh out of grad school or looking to climb the ranks in the later years of their career, it’s a place filled with opportunity, potential and very smart people. 

Because of that, as well as highly ranked colleges and universities in the region, strong education systems and more, Virginia has ranked as the sixth-most educated state in the country, according to WalletHub

WalletHub, a financial media brand that conducts studies regularly on quality of life around the country, released its list of the most- and least-educated states across the country on Jan. 20. In the study, the company analyzed a variety of factors that influence education, from school quality and overall achievement, to gaps between genders and races. 

Aside from being the sixth-most educated state, falling only behind Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut, Virginia ranked ninth in associate degree holders (or college-experienced adults), sixth for bachelor’s degree holders and fourth in graduate and professional degree holders. 

Virginia did rank first in one category: Gender Gap Educational Attainment. This key factor measured the difference between the population of female bachelor’s degree holders and male bachelor’s degree holders, and marks Virginia as the top state for having the smallest gap between men and women’s education on the bachelor’s degree level.

To find out where other states ranked, check out WalletHub’s interactive map and full report here.

Whether you have a first grader in elementary school or a freshman in college, there’s always something to stay updated on when it comes to education in Virginia. Stay in the know when you subscribe to our Education newsletter.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Here’s one local expert’s take on senioritis in NoVA

Westlake Legal Group graduation Here’s one local expert’s take on senioritis in NoVA university tips teens seniors senioritis senior year Motivation High School Seniors high school counselor graduation expert tips Engagement Education counselors counselor college advice
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The second semester of senior year for Northern Virginia high schools is officially in full swing. 

While for some, college acceptance letters are still on their way, the majority of teens in the region have heard from at least one school on their list. And while that’s exciting, it also means you may start to see your once-motivated, academically inclined child behave differently than they ever has before. 

Don’t worry, it’s normal. Yet sometimes, senioritis can go a little too far, leading to a missed final project, or maybe even overused absences. 

If you’ve noticed a case of senioritis with your child, Susan Chiarolanzio, the director of college counseling and the senior class dean at Flint Hill School in Oakton, has you covered. Here, she shares her experience with the ebbing of motivation and how you can help from home. 

Talk to me about senioritis in general. What exactly does it consist of and when do you see students participate in these behaviors?
It can happen at different times, and it seems to be dependent on the class’ personality. Last year, for example, I felt like our kids were affected in October, but it typically starts at the beginning of the last semester, when everyone is very aware that time is coming to an end due to announcements, updates and us constantly saying, “It’s the last one.” Also culturally, here in our area, for however long their family has chosen to make the college process the priority, everything is, “Do this so you can get in to college. Do that so you can get accepted,” and they’ve done all that, so in their minds they are done. They ask what they need to keep working for. 

I think the way it exhibits itself is they are late to classes when they never have been, the lower-priority assignments get turned in late or not at all, they don’t maybe put in the same amount of time as they would have with big projects. Sometimes it can be pretty significant, and it has a negative affect on their ability. A lot of students have found themselves in a hole where they missed too many days of school or skipped too many assignments and when that happens, it’s really hard to get back on track. 

Are there specific aspects of curriculum or the school day in general where you see kids continuing to stay interested?
I do think a lot of it is teacher dependent. If they’ve developed a good relationship with specific teachers, students will care. Here at Flint Hill, our seniors are done with classes around May 1 and then they do a senior project for the whole month of May. So right now, they are planning that, and I think in their mind, that’s a real-world experience that they are excited about. There aren’t too many restraints and some of them do career-related things, whereas some do things they’ve never done and probably won’t do again, like work in a bakery. It just gives them some motivation, which really helps us. Universally, seniors are often beyond the requirements for graduating so they got to choose electives in the first place, and I think those tend to keep students pretty engaged. 

When you notice a student falling into the senior slump, what do you do to combat that?
Honestly, forcing them to stick to requirements doesn’t always work. But there are still the normal consequences involved for second semester seniors, so we keep those in place. One of the things we try to do preemptively is host a session with the seniors in the winter where we give them a mock letter from a real college in the area saying, “You haven’t maintained your performance and we are thinking of taking your acceptance away.” We ask the students to defend themselves and explain why they should still be admitted. It’s a way to show them that there are conditions colleges expect you to stick to, and a lot of good conversation comes in. 

Also, when someone starts to really flip, it’s important that a lot of different adults can step in and motivate them. We remind them that they can do better by reiterating our belief in them. 

How can parents continue to motivate their child, despite receiving those acceptance letters?
Encouraging parents to continue to maintain the accountability of the kids is really important. It’s a difficult balance for parents because they hear how they have to increase their kids’ independence before college, yet they still have to keep some control academically. Parents can have conversations about maintaining academic standing, yet easing up on a curfew or maybe give other freedoms to get the entire family prepared for what’s to come.

Want more education tips, news and stories? Subscribe to our Education e-newsletter.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Here’s how to set up a college savings plan for your child

Westlake Legal Group college-savings-plan-feautre-blacksalmon Here’s how to set up a college savings plan for your child Virginia 529 university universities Savings public college private education private college money Family Education College Savings college children Budget
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There’s no getting around it: College is expensive. 

There’s tuition (in state and out of state), room and board, textbooks, additional fees … you get the point. For some local residents who have children enrolled in private school, paying out of pocket for these costs won’t come as a surprise, but for those helping their soon-to-be adult children make the transition into college life from public school, this could be one of the biggest financial endeavors you face as a family. 

With the start of a new year and (potentially) the need for a new family budget, we spoke with two local financial advisers about everything you need to know in order to start saving for your child’s education—the right way. 

Travis Russell, CFP, is a principal and client adviser from Glassman Wealth Services, and Brett Bernstein is the CEO and co-founder of XML Financial Group. Both have shared their knowledge and experience in the highlights below. 

First things first, what options do readers have in terms of saving for college?

TR: The two most common savings options for children are the college 529 savings plans and the Uniform Transfers to Minor Act (UTMA) accounts.

The Virginia 529 college savings plan is the more popular option, and generally the type of account we recommend individuals use for college savings. While individuals from any state can open a Virginia 529 account, the owner must be a Virginia resident to receive a tax deduction. Individuals can receive a Virginia state tax deduction equal to the lesser of their contribution or $4,000 per account. Individuals over 70 can receive an unlimited state tax deduction based on their contributions, which can be a great savings opportunity for grandparents. Additionally, the growth on the assets within the account is withdrawn tax-free if the assets are used for qualified education expenses.

On the other hand, UTMA accounts are taxable accounts, meaning annual dividends and interest are subject to tax, and the assets within the account must be distributed to the child upon reaching age 21 in most states. Many parents are not comfortable with 21-year-old children having complete control of the money, and we see that as the primary drawback for these types of accounts. The benefit of the UTMA account is additional flexibility to use the money for purposes other than education. 

BB: Another way is prepaid, for example at the University of Maryland, where you pay for the education up front and in advance. But we tend to avoid suggesting those because, long story short, a lot of the prepaid plans don’t have to give you as much money as the plan earns. The nice thing about it is you know your child is going to go to the state school, but that doesn’t mean the investment was worth it in the long run. 

Out of all of the college savings options, which do you find to be the most effective?

TR: The 529 account is likely the best savings option for individuals in Virginia. Virginia 529 options can be opened online or through American Funds with the help of a financial adviser. Both platforms provide extensive investment options, and, if utilizing American Funds, we recommend utilizing the lowest cost share class available. The account can be used to fund all qualified educational expenses for college—both undergraduate and graduate programs. Additionally, 529s can now be used to fund tuition costs for private K through 12th grade educational programs, up to $10,000 per child per year.

BB: The Virginia 529 plan for college and other educational expenses is the best one. 

Other than simply having money set aside for your children to go to college, what are the benefits of saving money for tuition and fees in the future?

TR: The real benefit of saving for your children while they’re young is the potential tax-free growth within a 529 account. As the kids grow older and college grows closer, there is less time for the assets to grow, so it’s important to save early. The compound growth can be significant if saving starts at a young age.

BB: The power of compounding is invaluable. When kids get into the college years, it’s sometimes the biggest expenditure years for parents, especially if you have multiple kids. And with the cost of schools now, you could have a $40,000, $50,000 or even $80,0000 tuition per year. Parents could have to refinance their homes, take out an equity line or put the child into debt. But if you start early and do your planning, you could avoid that. The first question I always ask is, “What’s your goal?” If someone would rather have retirement goals and do what they can afford to do, that’s fine. Or maybe they do what they can do to make sure their child has no debt, that works too.  

What should readers know about setting themselves up to save, even if it’s not thousands of dollars each year?

TR: Like most savings strategies, there is nothing wrong with starting small and gradually increasing the savings amount. Starting with $50 or $100 per month adds up over time. 

BB: Nothing’s too small, the power of compounding is very powerful, and every situation is different. It’s about doing the best that you can for savings. Most people are never going to be able to put away enough to cover it all (tuition, room and board, expenses, etc.). When we do planning, I show parents the numbers. A lot of parents will estimate their child’s college costs and say, “Let’s say $50,000.” In today’s dollars (and with tuition increases in the future), the plan will show you that you would probably need to be saving $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Most people can’t do that, but if you take the approach of doing the best that you can and then supplement (with loans, cash at-hand, etc.) when the time comes, at least you’re not coming in empty-handed. 

Lastly, what is the best way to start talking to your children about the financial responsibility of college?
TR: Whether it’s college savings or finances in general, early conversations about savings, investments, budgeting and more can be extremely impactful as the kids become young adults. Opening up Roth IRA accounts with earnings from high school jobs, using websites like Mint to track spending, teaching kids about philanthropy or even adding them as an authorized credit card user to teach them about credit can be great lessons prior to heading off to college.

Want more education content sent straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters. 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Here’s how to set up a college savings plan for your child

Westlake Legal Group college-savings-plan-feautre-blacksalmon Here’s how to set up a college savings plan for your child Virginia 529 university universities Savings public college private education private college money Family Education College Savings college children Budget
© blacksalmon / stock.adobe.com

There’s no getting around it: College is expensive. 

There’s tuition (in state and out of state), room and board, textbooks, additional fees … you get the point. For some local residents who have children enrolled in private school, paying out of pocket for these costs won’t come as a surprise, but for those helping their soon-to-be adult children make the transition into college life from public school, this could be one of the biggest financial endeavors you face as a family. 

With the start of a new year and (potentially) the need for a new family budget, we spoke with two local financial advisers about everything you need to know in order to start saving for your child’s education—the right way. 

Travis Russell, CFP, is a principal and client adviser from Glassman Wealth Services, and Brett Bernstein is the CEO and co-founder of XML Financial Group. Both have shared their knowledge and experience in the highlights below. 

First things first, what options do readers have in terms of saving for college?

TR: The two most common savings options for children are the college 529 savings plans and the Uniform Transfers to Minor Act (UTMA) accounts.

The Virginia 529 college savings plan is the more popular option, and generally the type of account we recommend individuals use for college savings. While individuals from any state can open a Virginia 529 account, the owner must be a Virginia resident to receive a tax deduction. Individuals can receive a Virginia state tax deduction equal to the lesser of their contribution or $4,000 per account. Individuals over 70 can receive an unlimited state tax deduction based on their contributions, which can be a great savings opportunity for grandparents. Additionally, the growth on the assets within the account is withdrawn tax-free if the assets are used for qualified education expenses.

On the other hand, UTMA accounts are taxable accounts, meaning annual dividends and interest are subject to tax, and the assets within the account must be distributed to the child upon reaching age 21 in most states. Many parents are not comfortable with 21-year-old children having complete control of the money, and we see that as the primary drawback for these types of accounts. The benefit of the UTMA account is additional flexibility to use the money for purposes other than education. 

BB: Another way is prepaid, for example at the University of Maryland, where you pay for the education up front and in advance. But we tend to avoid suggesting those because, long story short, a lot of the prepaid plans don’t have to give you as much money as the plan earns. The nice thing about it is you know your child is going to go to the state school, but that doesn’t mean the investment was worth it in the long run. 

Out of all of the college savings options, which do you find to be the most effective?

TR: The 529 account is likely the best savings option for individuals in Virginia. Virginia 529 options can be opened online or through American Funds with the help of a financial adviser. Both platforms provide extensive investment options, and, if utilizing American Funds, we recommend utilizing the lowest cost share class available. The account can be used to fund all qualified educational expenses for college—both undergraduate and graduate programs. Additionally, 529s can now be used to fund tuition costs for private K through 12th grade educational programs, up to $10,000 per child per year.

BB: The Virginia 529 plan for college and other educational expenses is the best one. 

Other than simply having money set aside for your children to go to college, what are the benefits of saving money for tuition and fees in the future?

TR: The real benefit of saving for your children while they’re young is the potential tax-free growth within a 529 account. As the kids grow older and college grows closer, there is less time for the assets to grow, so it’s important to save early. The compound growth can be significant if saving starts at a young age.

BB: The power of compounding is invaluable. When kids get into the college years, it’s sometimes the biggest expenditure years for parents, especially if you have multiple kids. And with the cost of schools now, you could have a $40,000, $50,000 or even $80,0000 tuition per year. Parents could have to refinance their homes, take out an equity line or put the child into debt. But if you start early and do your planning, you could avoid that. The first question I always ask is, “What’s your goal?” If someone would rather have retirement goals and do what they can afford to do, that’s fine. Or maybe they do what they can do to make sure their child has no debt, that works too.  

What should readers know about setting themselves up to save, even if it’s not thousands of dollars each year?

TR: Like most savings strategies, there is nothing wrong with starting small and gradually increasing the savings amount. Starting with $50 or $100 per month adds up over time. 

BB: Nothing’s too small, the power of compounding is very powerful, and every situation is different. It’s about doing the best that you can for savings. Most people are never going to be able to put away enough to cover it all (tuition, room and board, expenses, etc.). When we do planning, I show parents the numbers. A lot of parents will estimate their child’s college costs and say, “Let’s say $50,000.” In today’s dollars (and with tuition increases in the future), the plan will show you that you would probably need to be saving $1,500 to $2,000 a month. Most people can’t do that, but if you take the approach of doing the best that you can and then supplement (with loans, cash at-hand, etc.) when the time comes, at least you’re not coming in empty-handed. 

Lastly, what is the best way to start talking to your children about the financial responsibility of college?
TR: Whether it’s college savings or finances in general, early conversations about savings, investments, budgeting and more can be extremely impactful as the kids become young adults. Opening up Roth IRA accounts with earnings from high school jobs, using websites like Mint to track spending, teaching kids about philanthropy or even adding them as an authorized credit card user to teach them about credit can be great lessons prior to heading off to college.

Want more education content sent straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters. 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Find your crew with these sorority alumnae groups in NoVA

Westlake Legal Group sorority-feature Find your crew with these sorority alumnae groups in NoVA Washington volunteer university sorority Greek Organizations Greek Life Education DC college
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Northern Virginia is home to thousands of college graduates. In fact, Fairfax County’s population alone has over 60% with a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

In turn, that means NoVA is also home to hundreds, if not thousands, of sorority and fraternity alumni. If you’ve been looking for an extension of your college tribe right here in the DMV, you might find them here, with help from this guide to local and national Greek life alumnae groups in the region. 

For more local education content, subscribe to our weekly newsletters. 

Alpha Delta Pi
The Northern Virginia chapter of ADPi gathers for brunches and philanthropic causes across the Northern Virginia region. Plus, the group’s online network is a place for sisters to participate as alumnae without having to commute into the nation’s capital for DC-based alumnae events. // Contact through Facebook

Alpha Pi
The Northern Virginia alumnae chapter of Alpha Pi was established in 1955, and has since donated more than $30,000 to local causes through philanthropic initiatives. Local sisters, whether newly graduated or well into retirement, can join this active group through social events or local initiatives. // Contact president@alphaphi-va.org

Alpha Sigma Alpha
As a group dedicated to developing women of poise and purpose, Alpha Sigma Alpha continues to do so years after graduation by helping local members continue to grow with the support of their sisters. // Contact asanovaalumnae@gmail.com

Alpha Sigma Tau
The Alpha Sigma Tau Northern Virginia chapter was established in 1948, and sisters of all ages are welcome to join. The chapter’s local philanthropic efforts differ each year but continue to make a longstanding impact on the NoVA community. // Contact astnorthernvirginia@gmail.com

Alpha Xi Delta
A strong, growing organization in the Northern Virginia area, the Alpha Xi Delta chapter works with local college chapters and keeps a busy schedule. The alumnae association actively supports Autism Speaks, Alpha Xi Delta’s philanthropy, and fields local initiatives every year. // Contact though website

Chi Omega
Membership to Chi Omega offers lifelong friendships, campus and community involvement and an infinite amount of opportunities for growth inside and outside of the organization, even years after leaving one’s campus. // Contact chiomeganova@gmail.com

Delta Gamma Fraternity
The Northern Virginia Delta Gamma Chapter began in 1953 as a home for Delta Gamma members from across the country who have settled in NoVA and its surrounding areas. The group continues to gather for social and philanthropic activities on a rolling basis and is proud of its members, ranging from newly-graduated individuals to women who have earned their 50-year membership pins. // Contact novadgpresident@gmail.com

Delta Sigma Theta
The Fairfax County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta remains committed to the traditions of sisterhood, scholarship and service of the sorority, and seeks to make a difference in the lives of Fairfax County residents through volunteer advocacy, public service and social action. // Fairfax County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority: P.O. Box 221224, Chantilly; info@fcacdst.org

Delta Zeta
With sisters from Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland, this metro-focused group has sisters of all ages from near and far. The club was established in 1991 and participates in all kinds of events, from ice cream socials to bowling night events. // Contact through Facebook

Delta Delta Delta
Washington, DC’s chapter of Tri Delta was chartered in 1910 and has grown ever since. To this day, the group has hosted countless bridge parties, fashion shows, fundraisers and even published its own cookbooks. The alumnae organization is proud to have held a “Meet the Members” and “Founders’ Day,” event every year, and looks forward to welcoming more members for years to come. // Contact membership@dcmetrotridelta.org 

Gamma Phi Beta
For sisters in the Washington, DC and Northern Virginia area, the Gamma Phi Beta alumnae chapter hosts several local philanthropic and social events. The majority of the local events are held along the WMATA’s Orange and Silver Lines for convenience. // Contact gpbnorthernvaalum@gmail.com

Kappa Alpha Theta
The Northern Virginia alumnae group for Kappa Alpha Theta is full of individuals from the region who are newly graduated, all the way to 50-year members. Events include monthly happy hours, Founders Day events and more, all taking place in both Prince William County and Arlington County. // Contact theta@novatheta.org

Kappa Kappa Gamma
The Northern Virginia Alumnae Association of Kappa Kappa Gamma began in 1948, and  has been serving the community and the sorority’s members ever since. With a long, rich history of local activities and events, the group prides itself on a longstanding presence in the community. // Contact novakappa@gmail.com

Phi Mu
The Washington, DC Alumnae Chapter of Phi Mu started in July of 1955 by six members. The group expanded to include Northern Virginia later on, gathering alumnae from Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria and Falls Church. Today, it continues its mission to provide sisters with opportunities to host events and activities based on age, interest and location. // Contact northernvirginiaphimu@gmail.com

Pi Beta Phi
The Northern Virginia Alumnae Club of Pi Beta Phi was founded in 1951, gathering graduates and members from the Arlington and Alexandria areas. The club currently has more than 200 local members from over 85 collegiate chapters, from all walks of life. Stay up to date with monthly meetings and philanthropic initiatives, here. // Contact nvacpresident@gmail.com

Sigma Kappa
The National Capital Region Sigma Kappa group was established in 2012 and supports the collegiate chapters at both The George Washington University and the University of Maryland. The goal of the association is to continue to promote the Sigma Kappa values and sisterhood across the DC region. // Contact through website 

Sigma Sigma Sigma
Tri Sigma’s Northern Virginia chapter was founded in 1954 and is made up of all ages, from newly-graduated members to Golden Violets. The group covers the span of NoVA, from Woodbridge to Arlington to Winchester, and promotes professional opportunities for all is members.  // Contact trisigmanova@gmail.com

Zeta Tau Alpha
The Northern Virginia chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha was established to create and foster long-lasting friendships through the foundation of the sisterhood. The group is an active participant in local philanthropic initiatives, especially pertaining to breast cancer, the organization’s national philanthropic partner. // Contact NOVAofZTA@gmail.com 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Here’s how to find the right college experience for you

Westlake Legal Group college-campus Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
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In high school, when JonDavid Nichols stepped onto the William & Mary campus in Williamsburg, he knew it was the place for him.

“It was my top selection because whenever I walked onto campus, I immediately had ‘the feeling’ that people talk about when making a college decision,” says Nichols. “The campus was stunning, the student body was welcoming and passionate, and the programs were extensive and exciting.”

But things didn’t go as planned.

Nichols had applied early decision to William & Mary as a high school student and was rejected, a result he says “devastated” him.

He ended up going to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, in the fall of 2016, but found the campus climate and learning mindset did not meet his needs.

“The student body was much less open to outside perspectives than I was anticipating,” he says, and thus he made the decision to transfer, reapplying—and this time being admitted—to his first-choice school.

He’s now in his senior year at William & Mary, majoring in government and marketing.
For a student, transferring can feel overwhelming, but, it’s not uncommon at all. It turns out, a large portion of those students heading off to college with their new school’s bumper sticker proudly displayed on their car, find that the school wasn’t exactly the right fit.

A 2015 report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that 37.2% of college students changed schools at least once within six years, and of these, 45% changed their institution more than once.

It’s with those types of statistics in mind that college counselors and other school officials work with students to help them navigate the college application process.

Westlake Legal Group teacher-and-students-at-desk Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling at Flint Hill School in Oakton, advises college-bound students. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Figuring out what you want

Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling at Flint Hill School in Oakton is intimately familiar with the college application process both professionally and personally. She has worked in Flint Hill’s college counseling office for 21 years and in September 2019, her second daughter began her freshman year at Syracuse University.

“I’ve seen the process evolve over time,” says Chiarolanzio. “Everybody from the chairman of the board down really wants kids to find the best schools for them. We help them focus on where they can be successful—how they learn, what the best setting is for them. We assess what works for them and encourage them to expand on that.”

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more education-centered content, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Heather Deardorff, director of college counseling at The Potomac School  in McLean, advises students to consider their non-negotiables, the things they absolutely must have in a college. For some, it might be an urban setting. For others, a Greek system, or lack thereof. Some might want a small student-to-teacher ratio, while another might require a journalism program or an intramural badminton team.

“You have to get to know a student before you can sit down, ask their preferences and reel off a list,” she says.

Braden Peterson, director of student services at Langley High School in McLean, emphasizes that not only is it vital for the counselors to get to know the students, but the students to know themselves. “If you want to find the best fit you have to figure out who you are, and our students are trying to bypass that work,” he says. “They want to try to fit into what the college wants from them, rather than find the school that best fits them. It doesn’t start with finding the college, it starts with understanding who you are. Students aren’t taking time to be aware of what impacts them and what they really like, they’re just trying to keep up with their neighbors.”

Deardorff and her two colleagues have the students fill out detailed preferences worksheets with questions that range from academics to social life to class size. They are focused, she says, on helping students find the school that is right for them, not necessarily the “top” school.

“We really try to not rely so much on college rankings, and casting a wide net,” Deardorff says.

Westlake Legal Group students-and-teacher-at-computer Here’s how to find the right college experience for you teachers Students high school guidance counselor Family Education collegiate experience college applications college applying
Heather Deardorff, director of college counseling at The Potomac School in McLean, helps students find the right fit for college. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

A two-way street

Concurrently, having the best grades will not guarantee a student’s admission into a top school. Admissions counselors at several area schools, including George Mason University and William & Mary, describe the process as “holistic,” taking into account factors such as course rigor, test scores, letters of recommendation, essay and extracurriculars, along with transcripts.

“All of those things are very important to be able to glean if the student is the right fit,” says Melissa Bevacqua, director of undergraduate admissions at GMU. “We make some assumptions, of course, but based on all that is how we determine if the student is going to be a good match at Mason.”

“No decision is based on a singular element. We use all of the information available to us to make what, in many cases, are difficult decisions,” says Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission at William & Mary. “We’re fortunate enough to have a strong enough applicant pool where it isn’t a matter of choosing between a student with an outstanding academic record or a student who can contribute from a student community and extracurricular perspective. Rather, we hope to find students who have demonstrated previous success and potential to thrive both as a student and as an engaged member of the community.”

While the bulk of the college search and application process takes place between junior and senior years, some high schools encourage students to be conscientious of the college process much earlier.

“The college admissions process really starts freshman year,” says Miriam Buono, associate head of school for operations at Oakcrest School in Vienna. “It’s good for them to get a good sense of the trajectory. We sit down with the parents and the girls to get them to think about where they see themselves, what their interests are.”

The extended process, says Buono, helps students know themselves better so they can make a more informed choice that is best tailored to their needs.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure for young people to succeed,” she says. “There’s a trend of anxiety. We try to tell our students to look at themselves honestly to learn who they are. By the time they’re getting to the formal college admissions process they have a sense of who they are, the virtues they’re trying to work on, so approaching college is more of an informed choice rather than throwing things at a dartboard.”

Elysse Catino, college and career counselor at Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, encourages families to think not only about the school environment that will best serve the student, but where the student can also make a contribution.

“A student can do really well and thrive on many campuses,” she says, “but [it’s best] if they’re able to do research and find a school that is not only going to help them grow, but where the student can really help the school community.”

Students and families at Trinity School at Meadow View in Falls Church are also introduced to the college guidance process beginning in the ninth grade, says director of college guidance Randy Lovdahl.

The curriculum gives teachers and administrators the opportunity to be well-acquainted with students and families.

“We know the students quite well by the time they are applying to college because we’ve taught them, in most cases, for six years,” says Lovdahl. “We generally have a good feel for their strengths.”

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Maher Kanwal. (Photo by Christin Boggs Peyper)

Get to know the campus

Maher Kanwal, a Potomac native who now lives in Arlington, had a similar experience. She applied to the University of Maryland at College Park as a high school senior, but wasn’t accepted, so she decided to attend Penn State. While Kanwal liked the school spirit of Penn State, the cost was daunting and she found Pennsylvania to be too far from home. She was accepted to Maryland upon reapplication and made the change.

Kanwal advises applicants, especially those applying to be first-year students, to visit campuses and have conversations with students beyond those who work in the admissions office.

“Talk to people who are students there,” she says. “Stop someone who isn’t a tour guide and talk to someone who isn’t trying to persuade you to go.”

Taking the time to visit campuses whenever possible is something both Deardorff and Chiarolanzio encourage families to do. Deardorff even takes it a step further: Have fun with the visits.

“I wish more families could enjoy the process,” she says. “Especially for the families of rising seniors, spending time traveling to colleges, on the campus visits and in the debriefing afterward is one of the last times they may have real, quality time with each other. I wish they could slow down and enjoy the experience, maybe visiting fun local places near the colleges or, simply, talking in the car or over lunch.”

Those fun, local places near the college can be essential. After all, Chiarolanzio points out: The student will be living in that town or city for four years. They need to be able to make a life there.

Part of that life often includes on-campus residences. Buono says she encourages her students—who are coming from a single-sex environment—to consider their housing-related needs. For example, do they require a school with an all-female dormitory?

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Susan Chiarolanzio, director of college counseling, at Flint Hill. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Look for lifelines

She also urges them to look for what she calls lifelines.

“Lifelines can be family nearby, enrichment centers, a church or temple they would affiliate with,” she says. “A lifeline can be a sibling at the school. She noted that her own children went to the same college and would attend church together on Sunday. A lifeline can also be an alum of one’s high school alma mater. “We encourage [our students] to look for Oakcrest alumni,” Buono continues. “They get there, they have their fellow Oakies who can help them make friends.”

When Kanwal transferred to College Park from Penn State in her sophomore year, she had two lifelines of sorts. The first was her roommates—she shared an apartment with three other transfer students and appreciated that sense of common ground. Kanwal had also pledged a sorority at Penn State and was able to join the same sisterhood at Maryland. While she only remained a member for a year, she says she was able to make several friends.

However, Kanwal encourages new students, and especially transfer students, to not rely only on the comfort of lifelines.

“The hardest part was putting myself out there,” she says. “I wanted to immerse myself fully. I went up to people when I felt uncomfortable, I put myself out there. In the end, it pays off, you make a connection with someone you went out of your way to become friendly with.”

Fairfax native Emma Powers echoed Kanwal’s sentiment. Powers transferred from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to the University of Virginia where her boyfriend at the time was attending.

“Having my boyfriend there was great because I had a group of friends to jump into, but I didn’t want to rely on that,” Powers says. “If you want to feel at home somewhere you have to feel like you created it yourself.”

Indeed, while some students might thrive better with a lifeline—a soft place to fall—others need to fly without a net, so to speak.

Deardorff recalls one student applied to almost all liberal arts colleges, mostly in New England rural areas, but ended up choosing Columbia University in New York City “because it scared her a lot,” says Deardorff. “She had never lived in a city, she knew it would be chaotic and messy. She hadn’t identified those things as what she wanted, but she ended up realizing that would be more of a growth experience.”

But even a safe choice—or a dream school—doesn’t always work out as planned, and often not for negative reasons.

Powers and Kanwal are both proof that the decision to transfer is not always about having a bad experience or making the “wrong” choice. Plenty of factors can come into play.

Powers made the decision to leave UNC Wilmington, where she’d been very happy, and move to UVA, where she felt like there might be more opportunity.

“It wasn’t until college that I really started loving academics and learning,” says Powers, who graduated from UVA in 2013. “I was doing creative writing and decided to double major in psychology. Then I learned about cognitive science at UVA, and that was a perfect fit for me. The name recognition value was a factor. It was nice to have the prestige of a public Ivy.”

Encouraged by a psychology professor who noted in a lecture that people are more likely to regret the decisions they don’t make than the ones they do, Powers decided to take the leap. “I thought I was going to stay [in Wilmington] until the day I accepted [UVA’s offer].”

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Hope Breen. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

Exploring alternate options

For some students, beginning at one school and finishing at another as a planned course of action makes sense.

In some instances, an immediate transition from high school to college might not be the way to go. For other students, a gap year to work or travel might be preferable. Others might fare best attending another school, such as Northern Virginia Community College, which might be less challenging, less costly or closer to home, before transferring to another college or university via a guaranteed admission programs.

William & Mary has a guaranteed admissions agreement with the Virginia Community Colleges system for students who fulfill certain requirements, including completion of a transfer-oriented associate degree and a minimum GPA of 3.6 prior to submitting the application. UVA offers a similar agreement for students who complete their associate’s degree in good standing at any of the VCCS schools, as does GMU.

Hope Breen transferred to GMU in January 2018 after earning her associate’s degree in hospitality management from Monroe Community College in her hometown of Rochester, New York, in 2016. Going back to school was a challenge, she says, albeit a worthwhile one. While her major-specific credits transferred, her liberal arts ones did not. The social mindset also struck her as different.

“Going to a community college, you know that your time with your friends is on a deadline,” she says. “Every semester I was losing friends to new colleges and gaining new friends who were deciding to go back to school. There was a constant ebb and flow. It seems like people [at four-year colleges] make their friends freshman year and don’t open or close their circles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a totally different mindset. It doesn’t seem that people at a four-year university see the value in meeting people that they won’t be friends with for very long. I feel like I am finally settling into my friend group, but I graduate in December. I love Mason but it was frustrating taking so long to find my own personal groove.”

The right fit

Ultimately, choosing a college is going to be about finding that personal groove—socially, academically, extracurricularly—and each student is going to have different needs when it comes to finding the place they fit best.

“My hope is always that the student is the one that is leading the charge,” says Deardorff. “My hope for these young people going through this rite of passage is that they know themselves pretty well and they can be introspective about who they are and what they need, and that they don’t have to have it all figured out.”

Keeping a healthy perspective is also important for students when going through this fraught time. Nichols, now at William & Mary, says even though he had to transfer to find his right fit, he’d still advise other students: Don’t worry so much.

“Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice,” he says. “It is easy to get caught up in the idea that your college decision is the biggest decision of your young adult life and that if you choose the wrong one, you’ve messed everything up. That’s not true. The reality is that there are probably several, if not dozens, of schools across the country where you could be happy and content. If you make the wrong choice, and you aren’t as happy as you thought you’d be, it’s not the end of the world.”

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Local tech culture inspires future changes at George Mason University

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George Mason University’s Arlington Campus (Photo by Creative Services – George Mason University)

It’s hard not to see the changes the local tech industry is making on the Northern Virginia region.

The upcoming arrival of Amazon’s HQ2 has led to the first of many “Amazon Career Days”, gathering thousands of local applicants; Virginia Tech has announced a new $1 billion “innovation” campus just two miles from Amazon’s future location; and a 2017 piece in The Washington Post made a  strong case that the Dulles tech corridor is a strong Silicon Valley alternative in coming years.

To further ride the wave of tech-inspired changes in the region, George Mason University has announced its own changes and upgrades.

The changes include a plan for an addition to the school’s Virginia Square campus in Arlington, where the university has its sights set on creating a home for the Institute of Digital InnovAtion (IDIA), an extension of Mason’s School of Computing, as well as a home for the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, a statewide program meant to promote the collaboration of Virginia’s cybersecurity researchers. It is also moving forward on offering a new cloud computing degree for future students.

Co-working spaces for small and large companies, of which George Mason is calling “corporate innovation labs,” are part of the property’s plan to mimic other innovation districts across the United States, as well as the destruction of the 66-year-old Kann’s Department Store structure that will be replaced by a 400,000-square-foot building for students and local professionals to share.

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George Mason University is the second school to receive cash from Virginia’s Tech Talent Pipeline, an earmarking sum of money meant for schools looking to educate a new generation in hopes they will be hired by tech companies after graduation, such as Amazon. The $125 million in funding George Mason is receiving from the state will be bolstered further by private funding.

In order to better understand what developments are being solidified by the university, we spoke with Deborah Crawford, vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Impact, about what these changes mean for future university students and tech-inspired education in the region. Highlights from our conversation are below.

Can you explain what steps GMU is currently taking to develop the tech-inspired campus in Arlington?
We will add new mixed-use facilities to our Arlington campus to enhance innovation capacity on the R-B corridor. Our work is inspired by the concept of innovation districts–geographic locations that nurture and support the growth of advanced industries through the co-location of key assets such as world-class R&D portfolios, a rich mix of corporate and public sector entities, including start-ups that might become the Amazons of the future and, most importantly, world-class talent. And Mason is in the business of producing world-class talent and R&D.

We’re working now on finalizing our plans for these new facilities to begin construction in the next few years. We’re engaged in this planning with not only our own academic stakeholders, but also some of our partners in the region because innovation place-making is a team sport. We want our corporate and public sector partners to co-locate with us, allowing innovators and creatives in those organizations to interact on a daily basis with our faculty and students.

With the development of the Institute of Digital InnovAtion as an extension of Mason’s School of computing, is the goal to have all of the tech and computer-focused students only on the Arlington campus?
No. The development of digital competencies and know-how essential to success in our increasingly digital world is a commitment we make to all of our students. And they wouldn’t all fit on our Arlington campus! In fact, the majority of our undergraduate students will remain on our Fairfax and SciTech campuses, including students majoring in tech fields like computer science, computer game design, cloud computing and so on.

Our Arlington campus innovation initiative will largely house graduate programs—M.S. and Ph.D. programs, including our tech programs, but also complementary programs already housed there such as our law, public policy, M.F.A. and M.B.A. programs.

Co-working spaces and mixed-use spaces have been mentioned for the campus’ improvements. Can you explain specifically what types of spaces you’re looking to develop in Arlington?
We know that innovation place-making requires the creation of lively pedestrian and streetscapes; we know that convening and collaboration spaces and programs are essential to bring people and organizations together to create new innovation opportunities; we know that the spaces we create should support the residents in our local communities. So maker-spaces and a variety of co-working spaces are important. Incubator and accelerator programs for small high-growth businesses are also key.

What other ideas are you taking from innovation districts across the country in order to set this campus apart?
We are thinking about the differentiated strengths we bring to the table, and how they align with those of our partners. This is a digital economy initiative, and so we know that the facilities we create will need to provide our stakeholders with access to state-of-the-art digital infrastructure, like advanced networks, shared digital test beds and direct access to both R&D and talent.

Can you talk a bit about the cloud computing degree and how the development is coming along on that?
We have been working with regional employers, including Amazon Web Services, to define our cloud computing degree requirements just as we did for our cybersecurity degree program. Both of these programs are ADVANCE pathways. They are designed specifically to articulate with programs at NOVA and other community colleges so that students interested in tech careers who begin their higher education journey in community college can complete their four-year degrees at Mason.

Why is this tech-inspired development necessary for Northern Virginia? And why is George Mason University the school that needs to be a fellow driving force?
We need to both grow and diversify our digital economy, building on a very strong base of excellence in tech already developed to support a largely federal market.  Our Arlington initiative is designed to do just that.

And at George Mason University, we are Northern Virginia’s research university, and we’ve grown up with the region’s tech industry. We’re excellent, we’re innovative, we’re committed partners and we’re here to stay. What more can I say?

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GMU Science and Technology Campus sets plans for expansion

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GMU Science and Technology Campus. (Photo courtesy of George Mason University)

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university, and in the coming years, the Science and Technology Campus in Manassas will become even bigger, according to the director of administration and operations for the campus, Ron Carmichael.

The expansion will bring two new academic buildings, four-degree completion programs and housing for undergraduates, as well as a possible town center. All of the changes are part of the university’s five- to eight-year strategic goal of more than tripling the current 1,000 full-time student population to about 3,550, according to Carmichael.

“There’s space in Prince William for this project,” says Carmichael. “Most of our programs will relate to physical science, engineering, IT, and we will continue to have recreation health and tourism, too, to make it a full-service campus.”

There are currently eight buildings on the Science and Technology Campus, including three research facilities, two academic buildings, one student housing facility for graduate students, a recreation and fitness center, and a performing arts center. According to Carmichael, building additional classrooms and research labs will help attract undergraduate students to the various programs offered at this GMU campus. 

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One of the two future academic buildings, which will be a 100,000-square-foot site consisting primarily of teaching labs, is currently in the design phase, with a completion date of spring 2023. Carmichael and his team have plans to discuss the addition of a second building, titled Academic VIII, in the spring of 2020, which will include additional classrooms and teaching labs within 200,000 square feet of space. 

With more room for learning, there is an opportunity to bring four-year degree completion programs for undergraduates on campus, according to Carmichael. As of now, forensic science will be the first program to be implemented, followed by one or two others that will focus on education in a similar field. Plus, there will be space for undergraduates to live on campus by 2023, according to Carmichael. 

A critical piece of the project, according to Carmichael, is the completion of a town center, which the staff at GMU is hoping to see approved and developed within the next six to eight months.  

“If we are going to bring four-year programs on campus, then we need a hub for student amenities,” Carmichael explains. “We need coffee shops, laundry and quick-stops, all the things students depend on at a four-year campus. We might also see some active adult housing grow in the area, which would help provide more support toward the campus.”

In recent months, George Mason University started considering the addition of a state-of-the-art, specialty medical school that would admit 40 to 45 students for the starting year, if approved. Carmichael says the university is currently in the “fact-finding stage,” with plans to meet with a number of health providers in the area to gauge interest and see if the investment is worth it. 

“This would be the campus where it would happen,” says Carmichael of the Science and Technology Campus. “We should know within the next 12 months if that’s a reality or not. But it’s really just exciting to think eight years down the road, we might have a new town center, new programs and continue the high level of research we are currently involved in.”

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