This is the time of year where so many high school seniors are waking-up to the fact that it's time to start planning for college. I will never forget last year when a student called me 20 minutes after his high school graduation ceremony in order to start his college plan!

The reality is that life keeps us busy and that many families find themselves unprepared. The most common thing I see is when families start the college plan when it is late in the game. The average family I meet has less than 1-half year of college costs saved and 2-3 college educations to pay for on the horizon.

I have lost count of all of the families I meet with their students in the 9th-10th grade. They all tell me the same thing: "We're early, so why should we work with you?"  Ironically, it's these same families that rush-in years later, desperate for an appointment when their student is now 2-3 months away from graduation. I actually have to make room for these "coming-out-of-the-woodwork" clients every Nov and Dec each year. It's sad, but very true.

I also had another family that was unhappy with their college plan. You see, they were your typical "do-it-yourselfers." They wanted to do the college plan themselves at the urging of relatives and the guidance counselor at school. I will always remember how upset the parents were when they didn't get the financial aid and into the colleges they were hoping for. They asked me if they could "do it over." What do you think my answer was?

If you made it this far, I will share with you the top 5 signs that should clue you in that maybe you're not ready for college and that you should find help.

1. You are following advice from everyone except the experts. I find it amazing at how many families take critical college advice from their neighbors and friends. These sources, though well-meaning, are ultimately limited in their sample size and do not have the benefit of years of research to make solid recommendations. I actually had a family turn me down because their brother told them that I was "too good to be true." When I asked what he did for a living, I was told that he was a contractor. He must also be an amazing college planner too.

2.  You have no idea how you are going to pay for college. I know this sounds a little silly, but I always ask families that I meet, "how are you going to pay for college?" The most common answer I get? "I have no idea." I also have other families say that they are going to "cash flow" college. Good luck with that. Imagine cash flowing 3 educations over a span of 11 years. Even for high-income earners, that's hard. Do the math and see what 3-4K a month for 11 years feels like and the toll it takes on your other financial goals. Other families try to make it happen by chasing a rate of return on an investment. Good luck with that.

3. You are picking colleges based on sticker price, or you think the in-state option (Hope Scholarship) is the cheapest way to go. I run into this myth all the time and it amazes me how persistent it is. Colleges have a "sticker price" and a "net price." The truth is that many of your "expensive" private schools can end-up costing the same or less than many public school options. You have to know where to look!

4. Your student doesn't know what they want to be when they grow-up. I meet so many students senior year that have no idea what their intended career choice is. When your student is more knowledgable about a football team than the job placement rate at a college, you are in trouble. I meet so many students that want to go to a "big school." Good luck with that. Try learning in an auditorium filled with 300 other students.

5. You think your student is going to finish a 4 year degree in 4 years. On average, parents get this right about 25% of the time. Do you really think the other 75% thought it would take 6 years to finish? Of course not. Find out the college's 4-year grad rate and ask yourself if you feel lucky with those odds. Parents get this wrong 75% of the time. I have seen colleges with a 10% grad rate and colleges with rates in the 90th percentile. Do not underestimate how bad some colleges are with this. Despite the thousands of dollars you pour into a college, these colleges do not guarantee graduation at all.

Need help? I know a decent college planner.




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