College Pete

Buying and Selling in Today’s Bilion Dollar College Market

Buying and Selling in Today’s Bilion Dollar College Market

As the ‘thick envelopes’ begin to pour in, Decision Day looms large for our 2013 seniors.   Between now and May 1st (when deposits are due),  multiple offers will be weighed, appealed, and then weighed again.  The good news – at least from the early returns I’ve seen –when the dust settles, the vast majority of our students will have been admitted to and received considerable financial inducement to attend one of their top choices.  But this doesn’t happen by accident.

College is business. Big business. There is a college market with millions of truly precious buyers and sellers and literally billions at stake.  At its most basic level, it works like this:  just before 11th grade, when the heavy academic lifting begins for your student in earnest, you are the buyer.  The colleges are selling – hence the mounds of  literature with bucolic landscapes and shiny, eager faces of every race and ethnicity arriving daily in your mailbox.  Sales pieces.   This blissfull period lasts until about June of 11th grade, when the tables turn abruptly, and for a brief, but very stressful few months, you (or more specifically, your child) becomes the seller.  His sales piece:  the college application.   Yours: the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile.

And then — around now, mid-February — the tables turn once again.   An offer is made in the form of an acceptance letter.  If your student has chosen the right institutions, demonstrated sufficient interest, value and/or need to them, her letter should contain additional inducements (in the form of tuition discounts – scholarships, grants, etc.) to entice you.  You, as the buyer once again, have the opportunity to review this offer and, contrary to what many believe, you can do one of three things with it.  Accept. Reject. Or Appeal (which is more commonly known outside of academia as negotiate, and the nuances of which I will be discussing in next week’s article and at my NSU workshop on the 27th).

That’s the simple explanation of how this market works. Sometimes you’re the buyer with all the leverage… and sometimes you’re selling.  Knowing when, how and at what price to buy and sell can make all the difference.  Because in reality,  shopping for college — which includes not just where you get in, but what price you’ll pay–is still a very ‘personal’ process, managed by real people on both ends who are moved by emotion and subtleties that are not reflected in scores, GPA class rank, or even family finances.  What separates two seemingly identical students on paper (and the subsequent offers each is given) are often intangibles like the student’s demonstrated interest in a school, expressed career aspirations, potential contributions on campus, their ability to move the needle on the school’s competitiveness, etc.

If your goal is to ‘buy’ a great educational fit for your child at the lowest price point available, and theirs is to accept a great student for their class, sold at the highest price point possible, you have to time this market right.   When, you ask?  How about when your child is in utero?   Ok, I kid (it’s Friday).  In truth, I like to start working with families when the oldest child is in the second semester of 10th grade.   This allows us enough time to develop an admissions strategy that aligns the student’s academic needs, abilities and interests, career aspirations and co-curricular experiences… with a family’s financial objectives and needs.

This year, nearly every competitive college saw an uptick in applicants.  In a crowded field, the importance of niche positioning cannot be underestimated.    What I mean is that instead of defensively submitting more applications to ‘cover your bases’, even if  technology makes it enticing to do so,  it’s far more efficient for your student to build a targeted list of 8-10 schools that you know in advance will consider your demonstrated financial need, find value in your student (be it academically, socially or even geographically), and meet your student’s academic and social desires… and then focus your family’s energies on demonstrating those things to those schools.   (And the time to do this is before your student falls in love with one of the shiny faces on the brochures in your mailbox).

Parting thoughts:

  • Go for depth over breadth in selecting schools to target
  • Look beyond the obvious to identify great schools where you’ll be able to leverage your student’s strengths (note: did you know that geographic diversity, academic pursuit and even gender can be a source of value at the right schools?)
  • Have an integrated admissions strategy that is driven by both the scholarly and the financial by the time your student is in 11th grade.

If your child is in high school and you’re not sure where to start, I suggest you come to one of my free classes.  I’m teaching one at Nova Southeastern University on Feb 27th.  I’ll be discussing the whole process, and I’ll be handing out a list of 60-odd schools that claim to meet 100% of demonstrated need.  I’ll also give a few honorable mentions to schools whose generosity has surpassed my expectations this year.

To be clear, there is no charge to attend the workshop next week.  However, if you don’t go, it could cost you and your family thousands in lost financial assistance.  The time to take action is NOW, and not when your child is in 12th grade and it could be too late.  Click here to register.


P.S. Please feel free to forward this post to a friend, neighbor or family member with college-bound high school students.  They’ll thank you for it.


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