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9 TRAPS to Avoid When Hiring a College Planner

by Lawrene Bottorf

Most high schools are not equipped with the personnel to do this, and most parents have no idea where to start, or if their child will be successful at a certain college, or at all in academic higher ed.  But just as every child is different…the counselor who helped your neighbor may not be right for your family.

So beware of the following traps when shopping…Be discerning and focused.

1- The “All You Need Is…” TRAP

  1. There are several categories that “College Planners “ fall into.  Many are legitimate, and many are not.  There are financial products sales people, who see assets, and want to move them into high commission products, like insurance and annuities (High commission for THEM, low liquidity for YOU).
  2. There are College Admissions Counselors who strictly help with essays and applications.  They know nothing about what the process is to pay for college, and will likely just point you to the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid)
  3. There are financial planners, who legitimately use early stage college planning strategies as a hedge against high EFC, and stimulating cash flow, while considering the overall health of the family financial picture.
  4. There are CPA’s who are knowledgeable about tax strategies that would lower the family EFC by applying income and asset strategies.
  5. There are people who have helped their own child and some of their children’s friends with college essays and research.  This doesn’t make one a college planner, but it does make one a helpful parent.
  6. There are programs like AVID, AP/IB, Honors, and school specific Tech and Healthcare tracks…which are wonderful for the student, but don’t show one how to choose a college based on fit or funding..  They are not college admission and financial aid counselors.

2- The “Special Invitation” for large hotel ballroom events TRAP

Every Fall, companies from out of the area swoop in and have a “limited time only” offer while you are in a hotel ballroom…They send you to the back of the ballroom to schedule your “Free-No-Obligation” Consultation.  Basically, they are high pressure sales situations, and a small amount of research will show a lot of bad press about them.

3- The “Double or Triple your Aid Eligibility” TRAP

Sounds impressive…but what exactly does this mean???  If you are eligible for a Pell Grant…does it mean you will get 2 or 3 times the amount?  Does it mean if you are 50% eligible, and that is doubled, that you are 100% eligible…and eligible for what???

4-The “Free Consultation Bait and Switch” TRAP

Is it really a entry level service, or is it a service assessment and sales call?  In our industry, “free consultation” usually means the latter…consisting of a bunch of ambiguous stats and high pressure to write a check so you won’t be one of the sad people who paid too much for college.

5-The “Fake Referrals” TRAP

You’ve got to love the credibility of a testimonial like this: Joe S says: “GCF got 1000000000000 for my daughter by negotiating with Harvard”.  That is why you should be leery of testimonials without track ability.  At least if you say “Joe Bloe, parent of 2011 graduate a George Washington High School in Santa Ana”, that person is track able.  Also, a planner who has been around awhile will have a trail of success.

6- The “Too Good to be true Guarantee” TRAP

“I guarantee to increase your financial need by 10x your investment”–actual college planning website of a financial planner.  Refer to #3…what does that mean?  I take it to mean that if you paid1000 for the service, the guy will increase your “financial need” by 10000.  While that can be done sometimes…we find blanket statements like that highly misleading.  And remember Trap #1…financial planners make commission by moving money…whether or not the actual “financial need” will result in more financial aid is usually a moot point.

7- The “Years of Experience” TRAP

We meet many “Part timers” who have years of experience as a financial planner or insurance salesperson but not college planning experience.    We have seen mom’s who were active in their PTA or who volunteered to help with college essays for their local high school  If someone charges money for their service, you want to find out how long, and how many PAYING clients they have served.

8- The Deceptive Advertising TRAP

We have seen Athletic recruiting sites and financial planner sites do this frequently.  For example— “Sue P got recruited by Chapman Soccer and received 100k over 4 years.”  Chapman offers no money for athletics, and the money she got offered, while very real, came from a combination of need and merit based aid.  If we knew her academic and financial profile we could tell you the split…but the impression is that she got money for her soccer achievements.

9- The “Secrets the Evil Colleges Won’t Tell You” TRAP

Often, especially in the fall, flyers for seminars in city libraries, or rented classrooms will be mailed to the parent.  Many parents assume that the school endorses or knows about these seminars, so they attend.  Often, these seminar presenters start out by presenting an altruistic position….that  they’ve “got your back” against the evil college financial aid offices, or the conniving high school guidance counselors.  BEWARE…colleges WANT to work with students to get seats filled.  Most guidance counselors love students, but are over-run with paperwork and administrative minutia that prevents them from spending quality college guidance time with each student.

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