Over a year ago, I met Leo through a non-profit outreach program, Free College Planning, Inc. I give regular no-cost college planning classes throughout Georgia. With these classes, families come away better educated and informed. I also manage to pick-up several clients along the way when families choose to hire me on an ongoing basis and want more help beyond what the no-cost sessions provide.
As you can imagine, I meet a lot of different students and their families. During a particular college planning class in February 2015, I met Leo. What stood out about Leo was that he clearly did not want to be there. I saw it in his body language and his attitude. It’s never a good sign when the parents show more of an interest in college planning than the student. I engaged Leo in casual conversation before the class. He relayed to me his displeasure in having to attend my class against his own will. I thought I made a mistake in talking to him. I remember just thinking that maybe he should leave. I’m glad he didn’t.
During my class, I could see that Leo was becoming more engaged and that I really had a shot at getting through to him. (Leo would go on to tell me that it was a few well-times jokes and my willingness to engage him during my class that encouraged him to listen) I think Leo was in a situation where I find a lot of students. He was just misinformed. He was under the impression that with his average grades, that no college would want him. After he attended my class, I completely changed his mind when he learned that there is probably a college for every student (even students with average GPAs) that is willing to work hard.
Leo’s parents made the decision to engage me in a free consultation and that is where I learned that Leo had an uphill battle facing him. Let’s dispel a couple of misconceptions right now. College planners provide a needed service for everyone, not just families of substantial wealth and for students with amazing grades and test scores. Leo and his family brought neither wealth nor exceptional grades or test scores to the table. I don’t want to go into too many details but we were dealing with a family with a challenging income base and a parent with a disability. We made arrangements to let the family pay our fee over time and at their pace with no interest.
Leo took our guidance seriously. The following semester, he gave us straight A’s and committed to our test prep program. Seeing this commitment, we decided to document his experience by recording a few podcasts together. We wanted to tell his story so that other students in his type of situation could learn from this experience. He was putting it all on the line, so I decided to do the same thing: I committed to Leo that we would find a great college at a great price that the family could manage. That would mean finding a great college below an in-state college cost. Did I over commit? Did I create an unrealistic expectation? What would happen if we shared this experience as it unfolded only to end in disappointment? What would that do to my reputation as a college planner?
So far things were looking pretty good. Out of the 7 colleges Leo applied to, he was accepted to all of them. Leo and his father visited a few of these colleges to get a better idea if these college were a good fit. He did finally zero-in on a favorite, Susquehanna University. I was concerned about placing all of our eggs in this one basket if the financial aid offer did not come through like we wanted. I encouraged Leo to keep his options open. As you can see below, the offers were great but not quite where we needed them to be. We were shooting for something closer to 10K a year for our full cost of attendance.
Just the other day, I got a text from Leo and it looks like Susquehanna came through as a result of our appeal strategy. Susquehanna offered an additional 5K grant which brought the total cost of attendance down to $11,075 per year. Keep in mind that this is a private college with a sticker price of $55,340 per year. That comes to a discount of $44,265 a year or $177,060 over 4 years. We were well below the in-state price of about 15K a year for a low EFC family. This process worked for Leo because he was willing to put in the work and keep an open mind. This is the type of experience that gets me out of bed every morning. Thank you Leo for reminding me why I love my job so much. I look forward to seeing the amazing work that you will do in college and beyond.