by Our Friends At  Strategies for College

A financial planner asked us recently why our Friends at Strategies for College created the College Search GamePLAN teaching platform for college search, admissions and funding.Our long time colleague, Tom McGrath had this image in his library, and it provided a clear answer…

We are like the grizzly old guy trying desperately to stop that woodpecker making more and more holes and sinking the ark with all its passengers. In our case we are trying to help students and families achieve a successful college career while preventing them sinking in an ocean of debt. The reason old Noah’s having such a hard time swatting that bird is that it is so fast and attacks so many different areas (as you can see). And that is what we confront when providing guidance and planning to families with college bound students, and to financial planners who are responsible for helping families protect their assets.

The college search and financing process creates many challenges and problems. Here are just some of the main ones:

College – Total Cost of Attendance (TCOA)

College affordability is an ever increasing challenge.  Our database now shows 99 schools with a total cost of attendance of $50,000+ per year (and some closer to 60K). There were 8 schools at that level in 2009.

If you are a parent of an elementary or middle school student, what do you think you will be facing a few years from now? Or do you not want to think about it (remember the ostrich with its head in the sand?)?  And if you are a professional with clients that have college bound children, how will you help them confront this financial challenge?  And don’t believe for a moment that there are many schools with much lower costs. Today, very few are in the lower $20,000 range.

Not understanding academic competition

Even excellent students can find themselves on the margins of acceptance at many colleges, and not just because of fierce academic competition. The odds are stacked against them.  Take a look at the following example:

Harvard, Princeton and Yale, certainly three of the most highly selective universities announced that they received a combined 89,345 applications for a paltry 4,286 “open” seats, which implies that only 4.7% of those applicants will enter the Class of 2015.

4.7% is pretty skimpy (it would seem) but, in reality, even this number is inflated.  The fact is that after those schools have accepted their legacy students, international, minority, geographic, athletes, musicians, etc., there are probably fewer than the 4,286 “real” open seats available for the “average” qualified student.

And don’t think for a second that this process is limited to those three icons.  Many excellent students are limiting their opportunities by applying for early admission and/or applying only to their “dream school” (or just going through the motions with regard to back-up applications) …

The result: Many experience the deep disappointment of rejection or being waitlisted (which is pretty close to rejection).  There are many excellent “best fit” colleges out there. You just have to know how to search and identify them.

Flawed college search

Following on from the last topic …

Too many students are choosing a college before understanding their financial options. This is a recipe for disaster – putting families in situations where financial offers from some highly visible colleges, make attending their student’s “Dream School” a financial nightmare. The myth of “Choose first, pay later” is just that, a myth. It’s imperative for families to learn what their financial options are.  Make sure you have a sound financial strategy in place before beginning the college search.

College drop outs/transfers/late graduation

We have all heard this proverb: “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”

According to which study you read, first year college drop out/transfer rates hover around the 28-33% mark or even higher.  Average graduation rates range from 5 to 6 years (for a four year degree).  With annual college costs ranging from $25,000 to $50,000+, the financial impact is immense.

What leads to transfers, drop outs and late graduation?

A whole range of factors come into play here. But the core lies in lack of planning and lack of awareness of how the college admissions process works.  The frequent result is typically a large financial hole filled with monetary and personal “costs” as well as a number of non-transferable credits left “on the table.”

College Debt

Total student loan debt in the U.S. is expected to reach $1 trillion in 2011. That’s more than the nation’s total credit-card debt.

The college graduates of today, who used loans to pay for college, will graduate with an average of nearly $24,000 in federal direct loans. That’s not even touching upon those who got into the private loan market or parental debt.  See the scary trends compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics here.

Not understanding the college search process

We are only scratching the surface here.  When we drill down deeper into the process, there are many challenges, obstacles and distractions that derail the quest for the right school.

Clearly thought out planning for college with cost, debt, “best fit”, academics and timely graduation is essential. And NOW is the time to start!

Our College Search GamePLAN program guides families (and professionals that have clients with college bound students) through this process in detail, step by step.  We offer a 7-day free trial so you can give it a test drive. Just click here.

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