FULL DISCLOSURE: It's tempting to write about what I bring to the table, to suggest that I'm your go-to guy for getting your child into the right college. I may be just the advisor you're looking for, but as you read on, I'm not the college advisor you may want.
Is the reality of college planning worrisome and complicated? I've "been there, done that" with my two sons, so hang in there with me as we get through this important post.
As you begin your research, you're up against a tsunami of information with no guidelines, with plenty of misinformed and contrary opinions from friends and neighbors. It's daunting enough to find the right-fit colleges, never mind knowing where to start the whole college search process.
Well, there's good news: Finding the right college advisor with the right perspective and lots of experience can easily start an engaging relationship - all without fancy plans or complications - all with the benefit of reducing your stress through a confusing process.
Let’s walk through what you need to know right now in this very blog post in order to find the right college advisor. When I'm done you'll know exactly how to choose the right person with the right outlook and the experience you need.
1. Determine your most pressing need. Is it having a college financial advisor to show you how to pay less for college? Is it a college admission advisor who knows what colleges to pick with a viable way to determine what major to choose? Or is it a combination of both?
College planning advisors who specialize only in college financing raise legitimate suspicions. These people are usually insurance and annuity sales people whose total focus is selling you an insurance product. It’s parent-focused, not student-focused.
They will suggest you move your assets - like the equity in your home - into a whole-life insurance policy or into an annuity of some kind to increase your chances for more financial aid. It’s a highly risky and complicated proposition, and I never recommend such financial vehicles because they represent a conflict of interest for me (read: Buy this insurance policy and I get a big commission).
Websites of this type usually have a mission statement that reads like this:
“Our goal is to examine ways in which a family can lower their education costs by providing an assessment of the parents’ financial profile and identifying areas of potential savings in college costs by increasing their eligibility for financial aid.”
You’ll notice there is no mention of the student. It’s all about the money. A viable alternative I recommend is...
Work with a financial planner (not an advisor) who can put college into a retirement context. Why? Because college is a huge speed-bump along the way to retirement, and a financial planner with experience in college financing can be a big help.
Your objective, as I suggested in a LinkedIn article, is to have one expert working to reduce your college costs and one to find the right-fit college for your child. Two experts instead of one; you can have your very own "dream team."
2. The focus of the college planning advisor is the student. This person doesn’t suggest what you ought to do with your money. They are concentrating on getting your child into the right-fit college based on viable ways of determining your child’s college major. This person is very helpful in finding the right schools, particularly for parents who are not so concerned about costs. Their concerns are totally focused on making reasonably certain that their child ends up in the right school with the right major.
The admission expert’s website will have a mission statement that reads like this:
“Our goal is to help each student maximize his or her chances of success through services focused on their personal desires, goals, individual strengths, and accomplishments.”
I’m partial toward this one because the focus is on the student where it belongs. Everything leading up to college is all about the student. Every discussion about college planning is about the student. But there’s a very significant “the big picture” difference in a mission statement that I haven’t seen anywhere else:
“I show high school students how to become successful for the rest of their lives by providing proven strategies that admit them to the right-fit college, the same strategies that make them successful for a life-time.”
This statement is way more than getting a student into the right college with the right major that the parents can afford. It’s also about how to succeed in life, with valuable life-lessons that are learned and nurtured during the college search process. The mission statement I just quoted is mine.
You knew this was coming, right? You don't need to take my word for it. Better to watch my clents tell you. But I do suggest this Google approach:
3. Google the termcollege advisor. Start visiting websites that fit your requirements. Are they about getting into the right college, affording it, or both? Look for the company’s mission statement, which is usually found on the Homepage of the website.
Now you know how to get started, what to look for and perhaps you appreciate what perspective will best work for your child.
My strategy has proven to give the student a far greater advantage in the admissions office because colleges place a premium on who you are, which is not easily recognized on a list of extracurricular activities, test scores, or application essays.
The greatest life-lesson your child will learn from working with me: Who you are will always triumph over what you know. Even in the admissions office.