College Search: Should You Get Help or Do It Yourself?

A college search is a journey of discovery for your kids. Hiring a private college counselor deprives them of that, and costs you money that should go toward education savings. Work with your child using this do-it-yourself guide on finding an ideal college.

Many private counseling services claim they can save you money and find the right school for your student. I’m always a skeptic primarily because the journey of exploring options and making decision is a valuable lesson that can last a lifetime. Besides, the counseling firm often looks at the same resources you have access to.

Having gone through this with two of my own children, and being on the inside as a financial planner, I suggest you skip hiring a counselor and save yourself the fees and probably other hidden commissions.

There are two search phases, in order of priority: career search and college search. Start in the junior year of high school, or even the freshman year.

Career search phase

This comes first, if your students are not sure about what they are interested in. It is common. How would they know what kind of jobs and careers are out there? They’re only teens, with scant life experiences.

One great resource to help students see what types of jobs may fit their interests and personalities is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (no obligation to the military is involved in taking it).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is another useful government site. Your children can get detailed information about a job such as wages, work environment and how to get training.

College search phase

Plenty of online resources exist to help your student find colleges with programs in their area of interest. The College Board, which administers the SATs, has one. Once you narrow down the schools, you can contact their regional college representatives. Each admissions office often has someone nearby, usually a graduate, who can give you insights and suggestions about that college.

Determine what’s affordable. Use the College Affordability and Transparency Center to get a better idea of what tuition and fees are. You can also go directly to a college’s website and type “cost of attendance” in the search box.

Talk with the career counselors at your youngster’s high school during freshman year. The counselors can tell you what qualifications different schools require, such as types of classes your student should take in high school to have a competitive application. Don’t wait until the last year to attend the programs your high school career counseling center have.

Find all you need to know about Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at Student Aid. Before each January, use the FAFSA4caster to estimate their eligibility for student aid for the next school year. There are proper ways to maximize aid eligibility.

Try Googling for scholarships, many for ethnicities (often as little as one-eighth) and academic study. The National Merit Program offers many scholarships for good Preliminary SAT (PSAT) scores. Most colleges have their own scholarships and grants, too.

The process of college search is important for the students. Private consulting services do not add much value to what they should do as a part of soul searching endeavors. Use free resources already available to you, and save your money for what you really need it for – tuition.

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Written by Larry R. Frank Sr., CFP, is a Registered Investment Adviser (California) in Roseville, Calif. He is the author of the book, Wealth Odyssey. He has an MBA with a finance concentration and B.S. cum laude in physics with which he views the world of money dynamically. He has peer-reviewed research published in the Journal of Financial Planning.

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