Our College Planning Approach

If you were to search online for “College Advisor,” “College Consultant” or “College Finance Consultant,” you’d find several million (!) results per term.  Whom do you trust?

There are at least three different types of people who go into the college consulting field:  Ex-teachers/guidance counselors who are looking for a way to kill time post-retirement, parents who go through the process with their own children, then realize “Hey, I could charge people for this service based on all I’ve learned,”  and become “certified” by some online entity you’ve never heard of, and insurance agents looking to sell policies and make commissions.  
Regardless of the advisor’s background and certifications, understand that this is a cottage industry and there is very little in the way of regulations and ethical standards to govern it.

What do you do?

I urge you to perform your due diligence – don’t be lazy and let yourself be swayed by a string of certifying initials after a name. In fact, a certification may be evidence that the college consultant is going to employ the same strategies and tactics as all of her other colleagues!  In effect, she will cookie-cutter your child’s application and essay so it looks the same as other children using similarly-certified consultants!  Don’t expect your child to stand out if you make this mistake.

Do your research and then listen to – and trust – your gut.  Here are some suggested areas to look into:

  • Written testimonials from “real” people – first name, last name (as opposed to initials only – those just don’t seem real to me, how about you?) describing their experience are imprimaturs of quality and legitimacy.  I prefer detailed testimonials – they give descriptive proof from objective sources.  I’d much rather listen to someone else brag about the college consultant than him brag about himself!
  • Word of mouth is a better source.  If you receive a recommendation from a friend, family member or other source you know and trust – which can personally vouch for the advisor – that should carry significant weight in terms of how you evaluate the college consultant.

To be clear, however, your referral source and testimonials may have had different financial needs, a different type of child or other factors that do not match up directly with your particular situation.  In other words, the EXACT advice that works for one child or family may not work for YOUR child and family.

But at least you’ll have a sense of whether you can trust the college consultant, and an idea of how he does things, his philosophy, and so forth.

You can derive a strong sense of whether the college consultant will be a good fit from looking at how he communicates with the outside world – what information he puts out online and in print or online.  

Does he give free or low cost information – books, emails, videos – that not only promotes his services, but also reveals valuable information that teaches, not “teases?” In other words, can you eliminate a chunk of risk and “try before you buy?”

If he’s going to help you market your child to colleges, how effectively does he market his OWN services?  Does he have a bland, generic website with stock photos and clip art, full of clichés written by some website designer?  Look at the consultant’s materials critically, from a marketing perspective, and see what they tell you between the lines about how he would help your child stand out.

If he is going to help your child write an essay, what do you know about HIS writing style – have you ever read a word or sentence that he’s authored?  Is it clear, easy to read and compelling?  

Or is it full of clichéd, meandering, run-on sentences – or other “red flags” that don’t tell you much, if anything, about why you should choose his services over another option?

Here’s another factor that you may disagree with – how accessible is she? If you call her, will she pick up the phone as if she’s got nothing else to do?

It’s great to be accessible, but if someone is too available, you have to wonder whether there’s a reason for it. Top attorneys and doctors are hardly ever available the same day.    Would you rather eat at a restaurant that’s the talk of the town and takes two weeks’ notice to get a reservation, or an empty, dirty dive where the waiters stand outside, begging you to come in?

Last, what about the college consultant’s personality – is it a good fit with your?  Your child?  If you’re serious, humorless people, don’t work with someone who’s casual and cracks jokes, for the love of all things holy!

If you have babied your child from birth all the way through high school, but end up with a college consultant who strongly feels that this is a STUDENT – not parent – dominated process, how well do you think you’re going to get along with him if you’re unwilling to cut the apron strings ? (When I conduct student interviews, this is one of my red flags, incidentally.)  

We treat the transition from high school to college as a growing up process.  If you think this sounds like it will be hard on your child, just wait until he gets to college!  Professors don’t give multiple reminders about assignments or listen to excuses about why a paper was late.

Remember, you will be trusting this advisor during one of the most emotional periods of your child’s – and your – lives.  It’s a major plus if your child can relate to your college consultant and that you both personally find him easy to get along with.  It’s more stressful – and a big fat bummer – if you do not!