saving for college

‘Tis the season—for holiday parties, shopping, and preparations. But for high school seniors, it’s also the season for finishing up their college applications. And with that in mind, the latest episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation has some help for those students working on the Columbia University application. Host Beth Heaton covers that topic, as well as soliciting some great advice on the role that leadership plays in an MBA application and also some guidance for parents getting a late start on saving for college.

Leadership in an MBA Application          

For the first segment, Beth welcomed Judith Hodara of Fortuna Admissions (and formerly at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania) to discuss how MBA admissions committees view leadership experiences in the MBA application process. Beth and Judith started by addressing why leadership is such a crucial factor in MBA admissions. It’s really the backbone of the degree, they explained. Judith noted that a business degree should really be called a “Master of Business Leadership” rather than “Administration,” and that it focuses on leading others to a common goal, preparing students for careers not just on Wall Street, but at non-profits, in the arts, and all other sectors.

Beth and Judith started by talking about when to start building a leadership profile. Students need to be focused on leadership early on in their college careers.  In the segment, Judith provided many different examples of leadership that might resonate on an MBA application: both formal leadership, such as holding an office in a campus organization, and also informal leadership opportunities, such as leading peers on a specific topic or project in an academic group, or rallying others in support of a cause. Athletics and the arts are also other venues in which students can find leadership opportunities.  The main advice that Beth and Judith detailed in their conversation was that leadership, for both college students thinking about an eventual business degree and high school students who are applying to college, comes in many different forms. It’s most important for students to be open to new opportunities and experiences to find that intersection between interest and ability, and grow leadership from that point.

College Saving for Late Starters

Switching gears for the second segment, Beth brought in guest Katie Flynn, from the website, to provide advice for parents who may not have started saving for college yet, despite the fact that their students are now in high school and approaching the college years. Katie offered hope for parents in this very common situation: it’s not too late to start!

First, Katie and Beth went over some basics: outlining the most common ways to save, from savings accounts and mutual funds to the much more beneficial tax advantage vehicles (like Roth IRAs and 529 plans). For late starters, Katie recommends the 529 plan, since the flexibility and tax benefits allow families to maximize savings. Katie and Beth went over how 529 plans work, by addressing the following questions:

  • Are there age limits/time constraints?
  • What are the tax implications?
  • How can the funds be used?
  • Will opening a 529 for a student in high school cost them financial aid?

In answering that last question, Katie and Beth reinforced that it’s NEVER a bad idea to save for college (even late in the game). The segment ended with a bit of nuts and bolts advice on how and when to withdraw funds from 529 plans to maximize tax benefits.

Columbia Supplement Help

In the third and final segment, Beth welcomed back College Coach expert, and former Barnard admissions officer, Mary Sue Youn to provide tips and strategies for tackling the extensive Columbia University application supplement. Beth and Mary Sue broke down each individual section in detail. They started with the first 5 items, which ask students to list various items. The main point that they stressed on each of these is that they really do just want a list; they are NOT looking for prose or an essay.  There are, however, two actual short essays that Beth and Mary Sue discussed, providing excellent guidance and strategies for approaching both questions. If the Columbia app is still on your (or your child’s) to-do list, this is a must listen!

And be sure to block some time in between holiday parties for the next episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, where host Sally Ganga will discuss what to do if you’ve been deferred in the early round of applications, summer programs, and the role that advising plays in holding down college costs.


Written by Julia Jones
Julia Jones is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Julia previously worked as a senior admissions officer at Brandeis University and was the director of admissions at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School.