Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Tag: College

Saying No to College Competition

Confucius may have said it first, but I remember the following quote best from The Brady Bunch Movie in which Mike Brady tells his children, “And as a wise man once said, 'wherever you go....there you are.'” (see 0:33)

Parents of high schoolers may have a hard time embracing this little tidbit when it comes to preparing their kids for college, when so many forces tell us that where you attend college is the most important decision you and your child well ever make.  It's hard not to get stuck in idea of achieving at all costs.  Case in point: while volunteering last week at Feed My Starving Children, I sat next to two women of high school sophomores and heard them discuss their kids’ impending college searches, and phrases like “ACT practice test,” “hire a tutor” and “a good college resume-builder” peppered their conversation.  I got the feeling that while packing food for the starving was all well and good, adding an entry for next year’s college applications was even better. 

They’re not alone.  The race to college is a national phenomenon that for many begins in the toddler years and lets up only with an acceptance letter from Harvard. 

Last March, Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post authored an excellent article about “the parenting arms race.”  In it, she highlights the story of Wilma Bowers, whose daughter was sneered at by fellow classmates after applying to James Madison University – a fine school by all accounts, but in the community of McLean, Virginia, anything short of Ivy League or Stanford is considered “settling.” (if you have time, read the comments section of this article as well – enlightening stuff).

This idea isn’t confined to hyper-competitive parents and their children.  A very down-to-earth friend of mine told me her son waffled a bit about attending a university in Colorado because part of him felt like he hadn’t pushed himself to get into a more highly-ranked school, and one of my own daughters has made similar comments.

But it’s important to consider the wisdom of Confucius and Mike Brady.  After all, you take yourself with you wherever you go, and if you’re a person who’s going to succeed (however that’s defined), you will succeed regardless of the school you attend.  Sure, going to college is important for many people, but where you go to school?  Not so much, even if you do happen to consider earnings the best measure of success.  According to a study by Stacy Dale, it’s the level of school a student is accepted to, and not where the student ends up going, that best determines future financial success.  And today’s CEOs of major U.S. corporations come from a more diverse group of schools than in the past, when graduation from an Ivy League school was more of a prerequisite.

A recent phrase that's been used recently is "authentic success," but it's really just common sense: do something you love, treat others as you want to treated, and give back.  This is nothing new.  

When my kids were two years old, I wrote the song "Head Start."

You go and visit your neighbors with kids
And brag about what yours just did
And hope her milestones measure up
Life's one big competition

Even then, I could sense that it would be very easy to fall in the hyper-competitive trap.  Fifteen years later, I hope I've dodged that bullet more often than not.

Revisiting College Planning

About a year ago I blogged about college costs and how the increasing rate of tuition has been a game changer for our teens as they approach college.

One of the guys I mentioned in that blog, Frank Palmasani, has a new book: Right College, Right Price. Here's the cool part - it's on sale as an eBook for a dollar.  Not too shabby.  True, a large reason this book is so cheap is because it's a self-advertisement for Palmasani's Financial Fit (TM) Affordability Program, which currently costs $49 for a year's use.  But after purchasing the book yesterday and finishing it in about three hours, I can say that it's a great read and hugely beneficial regardless of whether you buy into the full program.  I may do some of my own calculations with Excel for the time being, but in about a year, I could see ponying up the money for the program.

Palmasani spoke at my daughters' high school last year, and I was impressed with his approach to finding the right college because it was so logical, but as the exploding student debt crisis in the US illustrates, sometimes logic needs to be learned.  Palmasani's approach?  Find out what your family can afford to pay for college first and then focus your search on those institutions whose net costs fall within your budget. Obvious, right?  But until recently, it was nearly impossible to figure out what the net cost to your family would be.  That is, not until March or April of your child's senior year, when she was already gaga about attending her dream school.  

With the advent of Net Price Calculators that are now required for all colleges and universities (thank you congress and GW - apparently things CAN get done in Washington from time to time), you can now plan in advance and avoid taking trips to universities that aren't within your budget, and more importantly, avoid the heartache that comes with one of two very bad choices: 1) telling your child she has to go someplace else; or 2) take out mountains of debt to pay for her dream college.  Clearly, option two has been the preferred method for parents in the US as of late.  It's time to change that strategy.

This isn't to say that your child shouldn't aim high if he wants to.  Depending on your income, it's quite likely that an Ivy League education will cost less than your premier state school.  How will you know how much aid you qualify for?  It's not an exact science, but the FAFSA Forecaster might be a good place to start.  You can input your income and assets, and then change the numbers if you want to determine how, say, paying down your house more quickly or investing more money into your retirement account might affect your eligibility for loans.

Frank Palmasani has loads of advice regarding loans, scholarship searches, strategies your should be wary of, and the risks associate with various decisions.  Most importantly for me, the book gives a great summary of the entire college search process so that I have a better idea of what lies ahead.  I'm actually excited, because I feel that regardless of how my children do in school or how much my wife and I can help them with costs, there are plenty of opportunities for our kids.  And now, thanks to so many helpful online tools (and a good book), there are plenty of opportunites for parents to make the process more palitable.


Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved