Know how the industry works

Rank, GPA, academic rigor, test scores, athletics, dance, and part-time work are many of the components that make up a high school student’s resume. As parents, we work hard to guide our students to become their best, authentic selves. We motivate with rewards, encourage hard work academically, and become good citizens.

So why does a student with a stellar resume find themselves deferred or waitlisted at their dream college? Or, receive little or no tuition assistance, scholarships, or need-based grants? The answer is, it is not always about the student.

In a previous article, pre-qualifying your college costs, we discussed how important it is for families to understand their financial capabilities before starting their college search. We do not go house shopping before we know our budget, college searching should be no different.

Equally important is knowing that higher education institutions are a business with specific needs and wants. Many are controlled by internal and external influencers and business factors. Sometimes these are in direct conflict with the consumer looking and hoping to buy (enroll).

How do these factors affect the outcome of the college planning experience?

Supply and Demand – selective institutions reported dramatic increases in their incoming applications pool during the pandemic. Increases due to amended admissions policies, heavy brand marketing, and consumer behavior. But 60K applications for 3100 enrollment seats. To overcome the disappointment of a waitlist or a denial, families need to expand their reach by including a larger pool of smaller to medium size residential colleges and universities. Their offerings, academic and personal make dreams come true.

An Institutions Financial Status – colleges and universities rely on tuition, fees, and indirect revenue from housing, athletic events, and on-campus consumer purchases. Swings in enrollment, on/off-campus, and the pandemic can result in belt-tightening, and course redirections. The financial status of an institution should always be on the radar, just like at home.

FIT – academic, personal, social, and financial are the categories that produce the answer yes. College and universities have their fit, which can mirror or be very different from a student and their family. Mastering the FIT can depend on how a student’s achievements, personal accomplishments, and authentic self, align with institutional needs.

Costs – achieving one’s educational goals within one’s financial means is the art of affordability.  Knowing how the sticker price becomes the consumer price at every college is part of the buying process. Understanding the impact of tuition assistance, scholarships, need-based, and self-help aid is essential. Knowing how and when to request more can balance the affordability equation.

Emotional Purchase – investing in one’s education is a personal and financial commitment, one of life’s biggest. Such a purchase requires the gathering of information, research, evaluation, and even consultation with a knowledgeable adviser (a shameless plug). Students should not be left to figure it out, a trend I see in my private practice that can have disastrous results. Families do not purchase $350,000 homes at a first glance, selecting a college or university should not be any different.

Planning – the high school class of 2022 is on the last leg of their journey approaching the decision-making deadline of May 1st.  High school 10th and 11th-grade students are right behind. Students and parents are encouraged to create their college plan following realistic goals and expectations while keeping a keen eye on the needs, of the student and higher education institutions.

Fairies and good luck charms – raised in an Irish household, grandparents delighted us with stories and tales. But behind every tall tale was the question, what if the luck of the wee people doesn’t work? What’s the Plan? A question this contributor asks all of his students and families. Need Plan B.

Have a question, concern, or an AHA moment, call, text [617-240-7350] or email

CALMING THE WATERS – Are you feeling a sense of college paralysis? Anxious? As a parent of four, having spent a career working with families, college, and university administrators, I understand the complexity of planning for life after high school.

Have a question, concern, or an AHA moment, call, text [617-240-7350] or email

Looking for college planning support during these uncertain times, consider Pivotal College Years. Pivotal College Years, is online college planning library of resource, offering educational information, valuable workbooks, downloadable reference documents, and resources before, during, and after college. Use PCY30Days to access the College Planning Portal for Families   Everything you need before, during, and after college in one place!