September 2019 Newsletter

The Paradox of Choice

Dear Parent(s),

Have you ever had to buy dish soap and become overwhelmed with the choices? The sheer number of options can create devastating anxiety resulting in a game of “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

There are studies, most notably by Barry Schwartz, psychology professor at Swarthmore College and author of “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” that actually show that an increase in choices actually decreases our happiness.

There are 3,026 four-year public and private not-for-profit colleges in the U.S. Of that number, 1,772 of them are degree-granting privateinstitutions. Obviously, that’s far too many for a student to become familiar with.

For a student to winnow that number down to a manageable number, it can be a Herculean task. That’s why there are dozens of college search engines on the Web. But how do you know which ones are the best for your student, and which sites will reveal the appropriate matches?

One option to narrow the field down to the best possible candidate schools is to engage the services of a qualified private college consultant. Discussions with a professional will help the student concentrate their research and save valuable time finding a good fit.

With the full cost of attendance at the more competitive private colleges approaching $80,000 per year — including room and board, books, supplies, personal expenses and travel costs — it’s important to know, well in advance of admission, what your student’s college choices are going to cost.

So, how many colleges should a student have on their list? Somewhere between 8 and 12, because everybody seems to be able to find a few that they’re happy with.

Since having the RIGHT 8-12 schools on the list is the single most important determinant of overall outcome, for the student and the parents’ finances, this stage in the college planning process is crucially important. 

Cheeks in the Seats

For colleges, like any business, the competition to attract more students whose parents can pay the most is a high priority. There are fewer high school seniors applying, and colleges can’t make money on empty seats. Trying to reverse this includes increasing marketing dollars to entice more students to apply. But, that is money that otherwise could be used for the students’ benefit.

It’s not rocket science to figure out that this impacts the amount of scholarships and grants available to students, and makes a college education less affordable for all but the most affluent families.

Parents don’t have to buy a science building or pay off college coaches to take advantage of the college admissions process. Contrary to the traditional thinking about how one makes up a list of colleges, one way to curate a targeted college list is to include your in-state public university first and leave out the so-called “reach” and “safety” schools. Reach schools will cost the most, and the so-called safety schools your student is probably overqualified to attend. The danger is wasting time, credits and money if they end up transferring because they later realize that they aren’t a good fit with their final school choice.

Instead, guide your student to concentrate on those schools that want them as much as the student wants them. If your student’s grades are in the top 20% of applicants, and standardized test scores are in the top 25%, most if not all of the private colleges that are targeted will offer tuition discounts.
It’s important for parents to understand the key financial difference between public and private colleges and universities. Public university get most of their funding from state governments, and private colleges receive theirs from private donations. Because of this, the price of an expensive private university can be the same or even less than your state’s public university.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm… But There’s a Catch

Students who apply Early Decision — a binding admissions program — often have an advantage. In exchange for the student’s early commitment, they have a better chance of being admitted. However, because your student agrees to attend if offered admission you lose the ability to compare or leverage or negotiate the financial aid offers from other schools. All things being equal, you’ll have to live with the financial aid package they offer.

However, applying Early Action — which is non-binding — doesn’t have that problem. However, EA often does not offer a better chance of getting accepted — but it provides the benefit of getting a much earlier admission decision without losing the ability to negotiate for a better aid offer.

Like most government programs, you need to have someone on your side to help you better understand this process. We are highly qualified to help you navigate the maze of rules, regulations, and policies to help you pay the least amount of money possible. 

Students of Divorced and Separated Parents

Students applying to colleges that require the CSS Profile, an incredibly financially-invasive aid form the College Board administers, that have parents who are divorced, separated, or who were never married or live apart may have more forms to complete.

Approximately 250 colleges and universities require financial aid applicants to complete a CSS Profile application. The Profile is used to determine whether your student will qualify for institutional grants and/or scholarships. Of those 250, 124 require the CSS Profile for Noncustodial Parents (NCPS). Unlike the FAFSA, which doesn’t ask for noncustodial parent information, this form can cause a student to lose quite a bit of aid.

This is because these 250 colleges believe both parents– regardless of their marital status — have a responsibility to contribute financially to their student’s education. Determining the amount of money the noncustodial parent will have to pay is difficult to know. This is because the formula is complex, and each college applies their own policies to determine what that contribution should be.

If the noncustodial parent doesn’t submit their forms, applying for financial aid can become problematic. However, colleges recognize that some noncustodial parents — for one reason or another — may refuse to cooperate, and therefore allow students to file a waiver or a petition. These forms require documentation and third-party verification of the family situation before any aid can be offered.

TIP – If a college wants the NCPS form and the noncustodial parent has a higher income and/or a large investment portfolio including real estate, the student may want to avoid applying to colleges requiring it.

SAT or SAT: That is the Question

Colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT. Students can do better on one or do equally well on both. Take advantage of practice tests that can determine which test your student is likely to do well on.

Regardless, they shouldn’t take them without some practice. Taking the test cold, without studying, is as pointless as swimming the 100-meter freestyle without ever having been in a pool.

For the vast majority of parents, paying for college is a difficult challenge. We see parents put themselves and their children into debt that they can’t afford, and even raiding their retirement accounts.

The good news is that you can survive the college years without going broke. Let us show you how you can save ON and not for college costs. Call me at 732.502.9700 to learn more!


Well, that’s it for this month.

John Tillman

P.S. If you find this newsletter helpful to you please share it with other parents like yourself!