Dear Reader,

Right now, countless 12th graders and their families are huddled together pouring through college acceptances, comparing final financial aid offers, and weighing prestige, price, and life after college (hopefully one free of debilitating student loan debt).  All this in anticipation of  next week’s DECISION DAY….May 1… the day college deposits are due.   I hope they’re happy with their choices and excited about embarking on this new chapter.  Unfortunately, I know that’s not the case for far too many.

Just yesterday, I read a story in which the author described his decision:  ‘ I’m choosing between one very expensive option and another obsenely expensive one.’   And those of you who have been readers for some years now (by the way, why are you still reading and not taking action?) will recall this email that Jill received a couple years back.  It was from a distraught father (neither a subscriber, nor a client) from somewhere in the Northeast.  He had just been denied additional aid from his daughter’s dream school, a very selective school that she had clearly worked her butt off in high school to get into, and he had to tell her that he couldn’t afford to pay for it.   “I have a daughter freaking out at home… The price of a college education now is comical and… the struggling middle class get screwed.  This financial formula that FASCA (sic) figures… is a joke. They decide that going into huge debt seems to be the American way.  This country is going into the crapper.”  There was more, but you get the gist.  Jill was so worried about him that she reached out to his wife (remember, strangers to us from a different state) as an objective ear to rant to; because by the time he found us, there was little else we could do to help.

Naturally, I was disturbed for all of the usual reasons, but I’m actually more upset by the way similar stories continue to get reported…without offering any real insights into how the process works, and more importantly how to make the process work so that your decision day is a happy one.  The prevailing narrative — that all ‘typical’ college-bound students will wind up with a choice between an education that is merely ‘very’ expensive’ or one that is’obscenely so’… and that their parents will wrestle with  similarly onerous trade-offs, like paying for college or retiring someday, or leveraging their life instead of  disappointing their progeny–  is FALSE!     Or at least it doesn’t HAVE to be true.  I can point to hundreds of  ‘typical’  South Florida families who learned the actual way college works today,  who planned deliberately and realistically, and have had decidedly ‘atypical’ results.  From this year’s class alone:

– Goin’ to Cornell with close to a $40,000 tuition discount
– Will call Ann Arbor (Michigan) home this Fall with $31,000 in grants/scholarships
– Heading to Emory with more than $30,000
– Wash U $33k; Richmond – $39k, University of Chicago – $44k;
– Tulane, UM, High Point, Marist, American, GWU, Georgetown, Duke, BU, Case Western, Notre Dame, Cal Tech (BIG this year), Vanderbilt…  All gave five-figure somethings.   I am still compiling my results and will be publishing them (the college funding faves and the schools that made the dislist with disappointments) after the May 1 deadline.

But for now, you should understand that close to 2/3 of first-time, full-time undergraduates will recieve some type of grant (that’s free money) in the form of ‘discounts’ in 2013.  And  what’s really interesting is this… of those ‘discounts’, about 70 percent will be awarded to students who demonstrated financial needwhich means that 30 percent of that money will be given away to students who were able to  demonstrate value (not need) to the institution.

So while it might be ‘sexy’ to write stories about crazy, unchecked tuition prices, student loan rip-offs and scholarship scams; it’s diverting attention (and therefore, effort) from the actual way college works today, and more importantly, how regular families can make it work for them.  Let’s not forget that every year thousands of families leave millions on the table (in 2010, 22,000 Florida families who would have gotten something, left $24 million in the school’s coffers).  I contrast it to many of the families with whom I’ve had the honor to work with… They knew well in advance what to do and what to expect… and as such, have both their pocket books and their peace-of-mind intact today!

Given all the noise, I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you’re confused and hesitant… and are even beginning to ask yourself what was previously an unaskable question: whether college is worth it?  And so, though I realize this is already long,  I wanted to leave anyone who is ‘on the clock’ and still on the fence, with some practical, real-world ideas about what you can do today to make your future decision day a happy one.

– My first advice is to change the question.  It’s not whether college is worth the cost,  it’s what can I do today to  Make College Worth The Cost!  The right college at the right price is most definitely worth the investment. Even when national unemployment was at its worst, it was only 4.5% (full employment) for college graduates 25 and over!  And in the aggregate, college graduates still out-earn non-graduates by about $1.2 million over the course of a lifetime.

– College is within your reach, but you have to have the foresight to consider Affordability BEFORE the admissions process begins in earnest — your funding plan should be in place well before your child enters 12th grade and should be integrated with your child’s admissions strategy to include one or several of the following components:

  • the state and federal financial aid system,
  • need-based institutional endowments (yes, this is for six-figureincome families, too),
  • merit-based tuition inducements — and not just for top students, special skills athletes, etc — there are GREAT schools that may not make this year’s US News best dressed list, but offer 4 year graduation rates and a great education with dollars to give to students that ‘complete their class’ – find them!;
  • the tax code (there are ways to pay for college with pre-tax dollars that can save high income families several thousands of dollars

– Don’t let your children treat College like it’s 13th grade!  Too many students enter college without a plan, without a vision for their academic or professional future, like a rudderless ship tossed around without direction.  The investment is more worthwhile if students bring a sense of commitment to the campus. The 4 year vacation (or 5+ years) with football and basketball season tickets is the wrong formula for a positive college ROI.  That’s why this is a ‘family’ process – it’s not just about the student, and not just about the money.

To find and get into the right college at the right price, you have to plan early and you have to have a family-centric and integrated admissions strategy that considers: how much financial need you’ll be able to demonstrate; which colleges are likely to meet that need; where your student might have leverage (value); and how to demonstrate that value to the ‘recruiters’ of those schools!   I know that it’s not easy to sort through all of the noise, but it is worthwhile!  And there are some great resources, people and tools out there to help you.  The best  time to start is right now (the earlier the better).  And the best way to start is to determine where your student might want to go and compare that list with schools they are likely to get into at the head of the class… and then, determine how much those colleges ‘cost’ versus how much you’re actually going to have to pay to go there!  Those are two very different numbers, and I discuss both at my free workshops.  The next and last two on the calendar are May 14 in Pembroke Pines and May 15 in Pinecrest (South Miami).  Click here to get more info and to register.

Dedicated to Keeping Your Mind Peaceful and Your Pocketbook in Your Pocket,

Peter

P.S. Please feel free to forward this post to everyone with college-bound students… they’ll be grateful, I promise.

Recent Posts