Should You Engage the Services of a Professional College Planner?

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Students and their families have a huge decision to make when it comes to their college planning campaign.

Most college-bound students, while highly qualified, aren’t number one in their class, aren’t top athletes, and aren’t considered financially needy. In short, they’re from the average family.

The average family faces an increasingly complex undergraduate admissions process, often increasingly confusing technological issues, and swiftly rising costs-of-attendance. Moreover, they have less and less time to devote to their college planning campaign.

According to Mary Chao in her December 29, 2017 article, professional college planners “… help streamline the process of college admissions, acting as a coach through the process while helping with interviews, essays and seeking out colleges with the right fit that will offer financial incentives, or aiding a student in getting into a highly selective college.”

More and more families find engaging the services of a professional college planner a worthwhile investment of both time and resources, helping families save money in the long run while directing students toward “right fit” schools.

Without doubt, investment in a college education is one of the largest expenses a family will face. If there are two or more children, the investment likely will exceed the expense of a mortgage.

Professional college planners offer impartial advice regarding the admissions process, while helping find the right schools for the student. However, they will not offer written or verbal guarantees of admission, financial aid, or scholarships.

Nevertheless, engaging the services of a professional college planner may be the best decision a family can make regarding their college planning campaign.

Capturing Brilliance…with Your Application Essay

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What is your essay about?

It’s not about grades, scores, achievements…it’s about


Schools search for curious, articulate people who can think and write both coherently and intelligently.

More than 60% of schools don’t require an essay; at others, a well-written essay is a must!

Regardless of the essay topic, the real topic is you.

Your readers want a glimpse into your life, your personality, your thought process, your humor. They want to know if you can learn from your experiences.

So, here are a few basic guidelines to follow in developing a strong essay…

Analyze the essay question, carefully noting any and all requirements, especially word counts. Follow instructions verbatim.

Don’t delay; procrastination usually worsens the experience. Talk through your topic, recording your thoughts.

Demonstrate thoughtfulness. You might consider writing about not-so-successful situations where you learned about yourself.

Treat your essay like you were writing a story. Develop a strong story line through outlining your essay.

Bring to life the person revealed by your grades, scores, recommendations, and extracurriculars.

Ask trusted people to review your essay; but, don’t let them change your style or what you’re conveying. Be sure it’s coherent and grammatically correct.

To Which School Should You Apply?

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You’ve done your research…

You’ve gathered all the information you believe you’ll need…

You’re ready, willing, and able to make an informed, reasonable, and heartfelt decision, picking the right school for you…

Hold your horses, youngster!

Are you truly ready? Have you reviewed the list of potential schools from the following angles?

Will it be an informed decision?

Do you have ALL of the facts? Are you missing any information? Fill in your gaps, finding the needed information online, from publications, or from a phone conversation with a representative of the school.

Will it be a reasonable decision?

Have you actually considered your chances of acceptance at the schools in which you are most interested? While you may be confident about being admitted, do you know if you meet the admission criteria? More importantly, do you know if you’ll be able to afford those schools?

Will it be a heartfelt decision?

Are you basing your choice strictly on measurable data? Or, are you following your intuition and instincts, as well? Follow your gut! Be sure you feel good about the campus and the people there. Be sure the school is challenging and fits your personality.

Will it be the right decision?

Are you sure you’ll be happy attending any school that made your final cut? Be sure to pick 2-3 “dream” schools, provided you have a real chance of being admitted. Pick 2-3 schools that aren’t as selective as the “dream” schools, but meet much of your selection criteria. And, pick 2-3 “safe” schools, schools you know you’ll like and that will admit you.

If you carefully consider each school that made your list of final possibilities, be assured that, regardless how things transpire, you will be attending the right school for you.

Family Friendly Schools – Where are They?

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Would you be interested in finding affordable schools?

Do you have any idea how to identify “financially friendly” institutions?

Don’t focus on schools that provide the largest aid packages.

Look for schools offering the greatest reduction in the cost-of-attendance – those that meet the largest percentage of financial need, those whose graduating seniors bear the lowest amounts of student debt, and those that award the largest amounts of merit aid.

When researching schools, be sure to answer as many of these questions as possible:

  1. What percentage of students have their need fully met?
  2. What percentage of students receive gift aid, both need-based and merit-based? How much?
  3. What percentage of students received loans and work-study awards? What was the average amount of that aid?
  4. What is the average indebtedness of recent graduates?
  5. What are the number and types of non-need awards?
  6. What is the percentage of students graduating within four years?
  7. Does the school reduce gift aid after freshman year?

The closer your GPA and test scores are to the top GPAs and test scores of the most recent freshman class, the more likely you are to receive a generous aid award.  Just don’t get your heart set on any particular school.

Instead, be sure to have a number of schools to which you’d be comfortable attending. Finally, look for other factors that may impact your financial aid award. Those include:

  1. How do they handle private scholarships and grants? Will they reduce unmet need and loans, will they reduce gift aid, or will it be a combination?
  2. How large are their endowment funds? The stronger the endowment, the greater the likelihood of a generous award package.
  3. Does the school limit or eliminate student loans. Some schools do so.

In any event, if you haven’t started your family’s college planning campaign, there’s no better time than now.

Contact our Professional College Planners to schedule the first meeting of your family’s campaign!

College Rankings: What Matters Most?

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How important are college rankings?

Is the “best” school really the best one for your child?

Adding one or more of the higher ranked schools to the list of possible schools may seem an obvious move, but ranking should support determinations, not supplant them.

It takes quite a bit of effort to identify schools that will fit and the annual national school rankings provides an “easy way out.”

But, shouldn’t you wonder what led to the rankings, what qualities are valued and how they are measured?

Doesn’t a ranking assume certain qualities are more important than others (e.g., academic strength, student life)?

Don’t some rankings rely on subjective input (e.g., opinions of students, professors, and/or others) while others rely on objective data (e.g., graduation rates, size of endowments)?

Rankings can be helpful if they address what you look for in a school or if they introduce you to qualities you may not have considered.


What ranking matters most?

The most meaningful ranking is the one based on qualities you deem most important, the qualities that make a school the best fit for you!

For assistance with your family’s college planning campaign, contact our Professional College Planners to schedule one of the most important meetings you may ever have.

Comparing Schools: You be the Judge!

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Don’t rely on expert rankings or any other shortcuts.

Take your time, do your research, assess each school on its own merits and your desires and you’ll compile the list of schools right for you.

Before starting your research, brainstorm and list the features you believe are important in any school you’ll consider, such as location and size.

Rank those attributes in order of importance. Also, identify which criteria you might use in the event a tie-breaker is needed.

Research schools of interest, ranking your schools via the criteria you’ve identified. Assign points to each criteria – the more important, the higher the point value. Add up the points for each school, then rank them from most pointes to fewest.

Finally, visit schools. What looks great on paper may seem wrong during the visit.

Trust your gut!

Need help finding the best schools with the most favorable gifting formulas for your student?  Contact our Professional College Planners to schedule your meeting today!

Private Colleges & Tuition Discounts

When considering the affordability of a 4-year college education, parents and students focus rather intensely on “sticker price.” And, although those “sticker prices” are horrendously frightening, leading families to eliminate private schools that appear to be financially unavailable, the price is merely one facet of the equation on which a family should focus.

Eliminating private schools based on price alone can be a rather HUGE mistake!

According to a recent report issued by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (Yes…there seems to be an organization for everyone…), with respect to private schools:

“The share of tuition and fee revenues these schools are devoting to grants rose to its highest level ever in the 2016 to 2017academic year – 44.2% for all undergraduates and 49.1% for first-time, full-time freshmen.”

Private schools acknowledge that their published cost-of-attendance terrifies families, leading them to eliminate what may be the best school for their children from their list of possibilities.

Unfortunately, those families typically fail to understand that almost no family winds up actually paying the published price.

Private schools offer widespread discounts. This discounting means that almost all freshmen receive some kind of deal. Private schools offer discounts for a variety of reasons:

  1. Due to the Great Recession, and stagnant wages, many, many families find the published prices of private schools unaffordable.
  2. Based on demographics, private schools are competing for a declining pool of qualified candidates.
  3. The need to attract certain categories of students (i.e., very qualified and/or very wealthy).

A private school will do what it can to make the education it provides more affordable. If a private school truly wants a student, it will do everything it can to attract the student and make the price work for the family.

Do you know what private schools to approach? Do you have a plan in place that addresses how to handle your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

How to properly fund a college education may be one of your family’s most important financial decisions. Contact our Professional College Planners to begin your college planning campaign.