I just finished recording my 7th podcast. We are following “Leo” a 2016 high school graduate here in Atlanta. I decided to share his story with all of you because Leo comes from some very interesting yet difficult circumstances. Not everyone gets a chance to work with a college planner. However, there is an unfair and inaccurate sentiment that college planners are only for the wealthy and the elite. This can scare many families away. Here is what I know: College planners like us can help in almost any family situation. I am hoping that by sharing Leo’s story, we can chip away at some of these misconceptions about college planners and our role in higher education. Let’s address some common misconceptions.
1. Money is the primary reason college is out of reach for so many. No, it’s ignorance. With all of this talk about free college, what many low-income families do not know is that college is already practically free. They just don’t know where to look. Many families with low incomes just assume higher education is out of reach. This article from U.S News and World Report explores this very topic. A college planner working with a low-income family can make a drastic difference. I take every opportunity to educate low-income families and combat the ignorance surrounding college and higher education funding. Now if your students have bad grades or just don’t want to go to college, this is a different story. I am not sure there are many programs that can make college affordable in those situations, nor do I think there should be.
2. All college planners are the same. No, college planners are not created equal. Many colleges and guidance counselors are not fans of the work that typical college planners do and actively discourage families from working with one. They paint all college planners with one broad brush stroke. Here’s an idea: not all college planners are the same. Your guidance counselors do amazing work. Even with their workload, they still manage to achieve great things. However, the help they provide with college planning will never match the focus, expertise and the resources that private full-time planners like us provide. I have spoken to several guidance counselors on this topic and there is a consensus they reach when they understand the quality and scope of the work we do: Full-time private planners like us are different and are very effective at helping families plan and pay for college. As for colleges, I think we all know why colleges don’t like how we help families save money.
3. You have college figured-out. No, you don't. Most families are just in over their heads. A recent survey by Sallie Mae really paints this picture. In addition, many colleges employ esoteric enrollment management techniques and strategies that are very good at separating families from their money. Read about enrollment management in this recent Forbes article. Sometimes the order of how you list your colleges on the FAFSA can impact your financial aid. Inside Higher Ed explains the FAFSA concept here. Colleges also pay special attention to family finances and do so many things behind the scenes that can reduce the amount of aid that a family can get. Most importantly, many families just never think about where the money is going to come from or how they will pay. Don’t believe me? Just go ask yourself and tell me if you have a plan.