In this edition of Peachjar Extra Credit, Matthew caught up with Peg Keogh from College Aid Pro to talk about the things parents and guardians need to know when it comes to financing and paying for college. You can watch the video from this article here!
Matthew: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself Peg?
Peg: My background is actually in the financial and planning industry and like a lot of parents out there, I have twins. So when my kids hit high school, it's like, oh, we have to get our heads around this. We had been saving, but now we have to figure out what this is all about. And I was just shocked at how complicated and complex it was compared to when I was a kid. I also noticed that a lot of my friends were not looking into this and were not doing the deep dive that I was doing.
I kind of had this ‘aha!’ moment that, if I can focus on this late-stage college planning for parents combined with my financial planning, I can really impact families.
Matthew: So, when you're talking to parents and guardians, are there five things that really stand out that you share with them when they're going on this search for college?
Peg: Yes. I would say first, start early. They're going to ask you for financial information and actually, your tax information starts with the middle of sophomore year in high school and into junior year. So most parents, they're not thinking about figuring out financial aid, but I can't encourage you more to start early because it's going to cut down the stress.
The second thing is about friends and family. All the time I hear, well, I'm not going to do this, or I'm not going to do that because my sister or my neighbor told me what to do. The bottom line is, friends and family are lovely, but in this situation, it's so different.
Unless you're going to sit down with your family member and really line up your tax returns and talk about your kids and really get in the weeds and know you're exactly the same, it's just not a good source of information.
Now the third thing, and this can be very counterintuitive, is the cost of attendance.
This is the tuition, fees, room and board that we all know has been going up for decades. It's almost irrelevant because colleges are all on sale. If you understand how that works, it really glides right into my fourth point. You really need to understand what I affectionately call the crazy world of financial aid.
You need to understand where you fit. It was different for my daughter and my son because there are different kids with different resumes and different grades and test scores, so you really have to do the deep dive or get somebody to guide you through that.
The fifth point is really near and dear to my heart and that is to set expectations for your kids once you understand your affordability. Sit down with them and say, this is how much we've saved, this is how much schools are going to cost and how we're going to put all of this together.
I did it with mine and when it came down to senior year there were two schools my son really liked. One of the schools was $70,000 more. And remember our discussion? You like both schools. My son understood and was able to make a decision based on what school he wanted to attend which was also one that our family could afford.
There was no stress and no issues because we had the conversation with our kids. We set those expectations. So I really encourage parents to do that.
Matthew: What age or grade should parents and guardians really start diving into this process?
Peg: I would say ideally sophomore year. It's not really a search process because you might not be ready to start building your college list yet.
There are three key pieces you are looking at: academic, personal, and financial fit.
So we're chatting about financial fit today. So getting your head wrapped around if you are going to get any need-based aid. Certain schools might give you this and certain schools may not. Also knowing, if your child gets other kinds of aid will be a big help. Understanding this is super important because you really want to shop for college with affordability in mind.
Academic and personal fit are just as important, but ideally, it's all three. Maybe you have a lot of options at the end of senior year that are wonderful academic and personal fits but they're not affordable. Our whole mission is to help families understand that so the journey is much less stressful.
Matthew: What will parents or guardians experience when they visit your website? What are they looking at? What are they looking for? Talk to me a little bit about that resource.
Peg: We created it in a very intentional way. We know the journey that parents are on and we know the different players. There are different people taking the journey, students and their parents, but there are also independent advisors. There are different people that are doing the guiding. So you identify yourself, and then we start nailing the points for you.
My favorite place is the free resources page where we've got eBooks you can download. And they're not long. Don't worry. It's not like a three-day read. It's a quick read. Good, but just starting to get your feet wet and understand stuff. We've got a full scholarship list. We've got a bunch of stuff that you can download for free.
Our whole deal is that we're really trying to create a community that knows the journey and supports families. The website is a key part of that.
Matthew: What are some other things that College Aid Pro is doing to share with the community about your mission and how you know you can help families?
Peg: One of our biggest focuses is school districts. We've got all these parents that need to be educated. We also want to make counselors' jobs easier. We partner with different entities that are doing good work in this space. For example, one of them is Peachjar.
Peachjar has been vital for us to reach parents at school districts throughout the country. It's been great. We do a lot of free educational workshops and webinars. We just want to get the word out everywhere. We know a lot of school districts, but we don't know all of them yet. That's our goal and Peachjar has been great for that.
We want all kids to have the opportunity to get a good education. They should have the opportunity. The finances are just becoming such a hurdle for so many families, and as we discussed, colleges are on sale. So understanding the discounting is key.
For example, it's counterintuitive to say, “Hey, an in-state school for a family could be close to the same net price of attending a much more expensive school." And this is not rare, this happens, but it doesn't happen by accident.
So parents have to understand like I said earlier, their family and where they fit. Because I don't know about you Matthew, but it feels good to go shopping on sale, you know? I go shopping for everything on sale, so why not? You can find great academic institutions on sale.
Matthew: So, In other words, the financial aspect does not have to be a barrier to that access.
Peg: Sometimes parents find stuff out about schools that are on their kids list and they're like, oh, that's going to be more expensive than we can handle.
Well, maybe you go to your child and say, “You know what, if you get in here, you're going to have a little side hustle to find private scholarships.” So as I said earlier, you're setting that expectation for your kids, and then the child can sit there and say, all right, I'm on board to do that or not. They are a critical part of this process.
I've seen time after time, at the end of senior year, parents ask, “what do I do? This is not affordable.” Then you're backed into a corner at that point because you missed the opportunity to plan earlier.
Thank You College Aid Pro!
Peachjar’s mission is to unite communities and to enrich the lives of children outside the classroom. This mission is achieved by working with organizations like College Aid Pro which provides resources that help students get a great education while also being an affordable education.
We hope you learned more about the financial aid process! Be sure to visit collegeaidpro.com to learn more about how they are working to ensure every student has access to higher education and follow us on social media to stay connected with the latest Peachjar news.