If you’re looking for a new car or trying to find a builder to put an addition on your home, shopping around for the best price or possibly playing off the competing proposals to lower costs usually follows without question. On the other hand, when it comes to the institutions that provide the secondary education needed to succeed in today’s world, families often end up leaving themselves in a large financial hole by exempting their search from the basic premise of Business 101.
“Most people don’t view colleges as a business and that’s the problem, they are a business, says Neal Schwartz, franchisee of College Assistance Plus in Mount Kisco, New York. Something that’s definitely worth considering, since it’s not unusual for a single year of college to run between $20,000 and $55,000.
Approached by CAPlus with his solid standing in the target market as owner/franchisee of a Tutoring Club, Mr. Schwartz had some previous personal experience in the college search through his daughters foray to get into the college of her choice. In digging a bit deeper into FAFSA forms and the financial aid process, he and his wife got a better deal than they originally thought they could. But he likens doing it yourself to the standard limits that any individual has in doing something like selling their own home or approaching April 15th without a good accountant.
“You could go online and do a lot of things today, and it may work but there’s a great chance in won’t,” he says. Additionally, how do you know whether you got a good or great financial package when the numbers you are comparing aren’t nearly as large as the average that particular school has historically given?
In the case of families who choose to go it alone, they are essentially faced with a form that takes no prisoners. “It wears you down, and in the end,” he says, “people just give in.” It is also not uncommon to have families overstate their income especially when a divorce is involved.
Unfortunately, a lot of financial advisors who take on the process and the FAFSA form, the likelihood has them stopping well short of what’s needed. “We’re going to tell you how to fill out the form,” he says they counsel, “and I learned from CAPlus that it’s not really about the form.”
For instance, every college has a discounted price somewhere on hand but it really makes no business sense for the college to let the customer know those exact numbers.
The mystery aside, business basics straight forwardly dictate that raising demand (and receiving aid) works best when students bring supply in the form of good grades. Schools want to have student s that can achieve significant levels of acclamation, he says, and in turn reveal someday, “‘Oh, I happened to go to school at XYZ University.'”
For the college, in a business sense, it obviously works best when a desirable student comes in with their hearts set and the check book open. What leverage do you have by declaring an unconditional allegiance through early decision, he says, and then turning around with, but only if you give me some money, he adds.
In contrast, that’s the mind set and public stance that he and CAPlus looks to steer families away from. Nonetheless, CAP begins by taking a separate survey from students on the academic side and parents – with an added eye on the finances. “We build a list off of that, and as we are building a list of colleges and universities, we’re not ignoring the financials,” he says.
The list gets augmented with the help of a database of 2,500 schools that hones families in on other schools that equate to the student’s needs and hopefully cuts nicely into a potential mountain of student loans. In following, the theory of supply and demand becomes more pronounced in practice as the number of accepting schools increases. Families can then approach those schools with a leverage that naturally comes of having other options on the table.
On the other hand, he cautions that CAPlus is not for everyone, based on the all important SAT/ACT scores or GPA. Nonetheless, if parents are willing to go into it with the lower leverage that lower grades bring, it’s still possible that CAP can make a difference.
Schools have certain quotas they are trying to fill, such as comprising a student body that is representative of all 50 states. Otherwise, he says, sometimes they are just looking for someone to fill a spot in the band or need a spirited cheerleader on the sidelines. CAP’s database can give families the best chance to tie together academics, extracurricular activities and interests into a great academic fit at a reduced financial cost.
And the upfront fee carries a student through completion of their degree. Relevant because finances can change or higher grades can provoke the possibility of more aid. Otherwise, CAPlus changes a landscape that mostly eyes only how you’re going to pay for the astronomical cost of college. “The Approach of CAP is let’s make your son or daughter fit to the right place, and if we do that, you might be able to reduce the cost,” he concludes.
Rich Monetti interview of Neal Schwartz