I started this company almost 11 months ago and I am wrapping-up my first year with Game Theory College Planners. Looking back, I think we did OK. Actually, I think we did better than OK. Sure, there were some growing pains and challenges working with a high volume of families and students, but that is a great problem to have. Looking back this year, I really thought about some of my challenges. These were my top 3.
1. People are always unsure of you. This is such a new field in a very specific niche. When you research all of the different types of independent consultants that specialize in college, you get a mixed bag at best. I've come across a few that do not do our field any justice and make all of our lives, as college planners, that much harder. Articles on the internet such as this one from Kim Clark on CNN Money is a prime example of the wrong types of planners that are out there. Kim, I appreciate what you are doing, but you are hurting a lot of honest planners in your wake. Why not do a story on one of them? I know a story like that wouldn't generate many mouse clicks, but you would be doing a lot of families a huge service by giving them a more balanced view of our profession.
2. Guidance counselors hate us. I think guidance counselors are great. They do so much with so many students on their plate. There are many guidance counselors that care and make a huge difference in the lives of so many students. But why the negativity towards college planners? What's wrong with making a living giving families advice that they are not getting elsewhere? I had a guidance counselor insist that one of my students obtain a guarantee in writing that I should pay for his college education if I failed to find the right school at the right price. I can't think of any profession that would make any type of guarantee. All we can do is our best. I just got off the phone with that student yesterday and I am happy to report that he was given an offer to his first choice college that was nothing short of amazing. I'd love nothing more than to form an alliance with any guidance team so we can both work together and put the students first.
3. Sometimes families do not listen. I am sure this happens in a lot of different professions. You just have some clients that do not like the research or the process. It seems like they would rather get advice from a neighbor or a family member or the first person they run into that subscribes to their flawed belief system. But for some strange reason these families hired me anyway. I had 3 families this year take their college plan in a completely different direction. The result? Disaster. One family is paying $47K a year for a mediocre out-of-state college. Apparently, that college's football team is worth it. Another family decided to pay $65K a year for a private college because they care more about a brand-name college than one that is a better fit for their student. Another family chose to "stay closer to home" and go to an public in-state college that will probably not challenge their student academically. The problem with these families is that they will probably point the finger at me instead of themselves for their poor results. This really doesn't happen very frequently, but it sure gets my goat when it does.
What can I do differently next year? Can I change the perception that guidance counselors have? Can I slowly get my name out there to more families and let them know that there are, in fact, good college planners? How can I keep families from taking the wrong turn when they have enlisted my help? I may not have the answers today, but I won't stop trying.