One parent asked me these questions, maybe these will answer your questions. - J.D.

How long have you been doing this business?

I started the business in August 2007, I am registered on the BBB and was registered with the Cave Creek chamber of commerce. I have successfully passed and received a certificate from the National Association of Certified College Planners (NACFA). In addition I have IACET credits/certificate from College Board. I have been in the community since 1998 and helped various community groups, athletic volunteer etc.

What did you do before this?

Prior to this I was working at Chaparral High School in the IT department. I had several "student aids" over the years and am still friends with a handful of them. While working there I saw a need to help these kids. The typical high school guidance counselor deals with 600 to 800 kids per year that leaves very little time for any type of counsel. The high school guidance counselor’s job is to get the kid out of high school not necessarily to get the kid into college. All high school guidance counselors are overworked. I am not competition to them I am an extending arm and complement what they do.

How does that qualify you to be an expert on financial aid?

I limit the number of clients that I take on each class year to about 60. For two reasons, one is I am a bit lazy and don't want to work with 300, 400 or more kids second and foremost is so that I can give personal attention to each student (and family). As a result, I have placed kids in colleges all across the US, from Ivies to schools that are not household names but still great academic colleges but more importantly a great fit for the student. To answer this question what makes me an expert: experience, certification and my love for the kids and the industry. *On a side note, I devour everything and anything that has to do with college planning. I have read dozens and dozens of books, attended seminars across the US and have even been invited to speak at college planning seminars in Miami FL, San Diego CA, and Detroit to name a few. I have been interviewed by local and national radio, TV and other publications. I am currently working with a handful of college planners in California, Texas, Florida and a few other states, collaborating and putting together a franchise plan that we intend on rolling out across the US. (this project is taking much longer than anticipated.) Plus the four books that I have written on topics such as financial aid, student positioning and athletic recruitment.

How many clients have you had over the number of years in business?

2,500 +-

Did you have any clients that were unhappy, if so why?

Yes, they thought that I was a magic pill that magically scholarships would appear. There are three entities at work here 1. Myself, and there are specific things that I do. 2. The parents, there are specific things that the parents must do and 3. The student, there are specific things that the student must do. If the student (or the parent) is unwilling to follow my suggestions and unwilling to put in the work, the results will be minimal or nil.

My happy clients are ones who have listened to me, and followed through with my suggestions.

What is the average awarded scholarship or the success rate of receiving an award?

I don’t have an average. Any company who quotes or promises an average is probably inflating their numbers. I have had students who received zero in scholarship aid and others who have attained the coveted full ride scholarship and everything in between. In 2014 100% of my students received a scholarship/grant.

Are the awards usually continuous over the 4 years based on some criteria or are they one time?

The awards that I help students attain are “renewable” as long as the minimum requirements are met for renewal. Renewal is usually contingent on a minimum college GPA. If the award is based on talent such as art, music, athletics, and as long as the student remains in that program (with a minimum GPA) it should be renewable.

What has been the least awarded amount and what was the sticker price of the college per semester?

Here is an interesting question but it is incomplete. When I counsel students, I recommend that students apply to 8 to 10 colleges. If a student applies to too few colleges then the student is not being competitive. If the student applies to the wrong types of colleges they may not even be admitted or they may be admitted with no scholarships. There are a handful of colleges that have the attitude “If you want to come to our college you will pay”.

So, many students apply to these brand-name colleges and end up with $100,000 to $250,000 in debt because they thought that this prestigious college would open the doors to success. The key is to find a college that the student fits, that is comfortable to them. Students who find a “fit” college will be more likely to stay in college and graduate.

Some of my students, who applied to 8 or more colleges, have been admitted to some and some of these colleges have offered a terrible scholarship package and the others great scholarship packages.

This is the case with one of my students, Lynn. Lynn applied to 7 colleges, 5 admitted her, two of the 5 did not offer her anything or offered a small scholarship package. Two offered a ½ tuition scholarship and the other offered her a full tuition scholarship. Dad’s out of pocket cost is $5,000 per year for that private college which has a sticker price of $45,000 a year. The out of pocket cost for the in state college would have been more than the private college.

Plus I have another student who is attending one of the in state schools and it is less expensive for him to live on campus than it would be to live at home. This families cost is $2,000 per year.

Each student and each situation is different and must be strategically handled uniquely.

Did the price/scholarship include room and board?

Whenever I am looking at colleges and the cost, I always look at the COA (Cost of Attendance for one year) the total cost of attendance, (tuition, room/board, meal ticket, lab fees, books, travel cost, misc.) If a family does not look at this total number they could find themselves scrambling last minute to cover the rest.

What has been the most awarded amount and what was the sticker price of the college per semester?

My biggest single scholarship to date is 100% of everything covered for 4 years (except for a little spending money and maybe an airline ticket home.) The value of this scholarship is $225,000 over four years.

Did the price include room and board?


What is considered a "good" college?

Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. have perpetuated the image that their school is the top college. This is all subjective. In reality, these “top” colleges or brand-name colleges have done excellent marketing their name.

A good college is one where the student will receive the education that he/she wants with the major they want to study and one where they feel comfortable. Those students who find “fit” colleges will remain in college and will graduate.

Most colleges require students to live on campus the freshman and sometimes sophomore years. Not because they want your money but because they want students to plug into the college system, join clubs, make friends and enjoy college life. Students who plug into the college system and make friends tend to stay in college and graduate.

For my own daughter, I wouldn’t call her shy because if someone else initiates the conversation she will converse back and develop a friendship. Her first semester in college, two thousand miles from home was rough. She struggled with making friends, adjusting to college life and just overall homesickness. Before she started college, her goal (which we planted) was to graduate in four years. During winter break she came home and was rejuvenated by family and local friends. Begrudgingly she went back to college and the best thing happened. She arrived on campus on a Sunday. Monday was a national holiday and school was to start the following Tuesday. Well, that Sunday, the greater Seattle area was hit with the biggest snowstorm they had seen in the last two or more decades (2011). The entire town was shut down. Half the kids were stuck on campus and the other half could not get on to the campus. The school administration postponed the start of the next semester by a week. During this week, my daughter was thrust into a situation beyond her control. As a result, she was almost forced to meet new students. And they had a blast. They were chased by campus security for sledding down the snowy covered hills with cafeteria trays, snow ball fights and just good old fashioned fun. This would not have happened had she lived off campus or at home. She started her second semester with a bunch of new friends and a renewed joy for college.

In her second year, with a group of new friends and old ones, she is thriving in the college system. Yes there are still challenges, however the prize of the degree is in sight.

Some time between starting the freshman year and the first semester of the sophomore year, everything just clicks. This happens at different times based on the student. The key is to go out there and make an effort to make some friends. Join a club or two, go to the different events, bingo night, the ice cream social etc.

What is the 4 year success rate of the kids you've helped, and/or does their success depend on your help or not?

I am not sure what you are asking here. Success in what? Are you referring to graduating in 4 years, or 4 years of scholarships?

Tom enlisted my services back in 2008. He has three kids. His oldest daughter graduated college (spring 2012) from a top college in New York City. Because of my counsel and direction she was offered $19,000 a year in scholarships. Her brothers are now in college, they were offered $44,000 each per year in scholarships and have received this scholarship/grant each year.

The dad was ecstatic when his sons were offered these incredible packages.

This family will receive a total of $570,000 in scholarships.

The reason why there is a big difference in scholarships between the older sister and the two brothers is I had more time to work with the younger brothers than the oldest sister. This family hired me in November of her senior year of high school. Had we had more time to work with her, the sky is the limit.

Nancy and her family hired me in October 2009. I worked with their oldest daughter and she was admitted to a private college in Oregon. She was offered $25,650 in scholarship per year to attend this $38,000 a year college. In her sophomore year, she was offered the same scholarship plus room/board, which dropped the net cost down to $4,000 per year. Her brother was also admitted to the same college also on scholarship. He was offered $25,415 in scholarships. With the work study program, this families net cost for their second student is $4,000. For a total $8,000 a year this family is sending two kids to a private college. And the youngest sibling still has several years before she graduates high school. I am anticipating great things for the youngest of this family.

Are there other companies that do what you do?

Yes and no. There are other college planning firms both nationally and locally. Some firms focus only on being admitted to colleges (usually gear the student for Ivy type colleges). Some focus solely on need based aid and try and push families to purchase financial products. In fact there is one particular firm that interviews families over the phone and if they don’t have a net worth of X and have X in liquid assets, they will not work with that family because that firm makes huge commissions selling financial products. There are some financial planners who call themselves college planners, when in reality they make financial recommendations for huge commissions.

I will look at your financial situation and make recommendation and in some cases it is prudent to shelter funds and in others, the cost to do it versus the benefit doesn't add up. I do have a financial license to sell some financial products but I am not a financial planner. If you want to know the best 401k or IRA go talk to someone else. If you want to know what assets count against you and which assets can be sheltered from the financial formula so that we can maximize need based aid, then talk with me.

Some firms are based only on improving SAT/ACT scores. I have partnered up with Dr. Kuni Beasley based out of Texas who is the nation’s leading test expert. He teaches 6th and 7th graders how to “beat the test” and in many cases these 6th and 7th graders score higher than most high school seniors.

What I look at is maximizing scholarship in both merit and need based.

Now, merit is a funny word. It means more than just grades and test scores. It can also mean talent, leadership, diversity, etc. For Tom and his family, one portion of the scholarship package was offered in a “geographic diversity grant”. Colleges are looking to build well-rounded student bodies. When the college identifies a specific student who fits a missing or under represented need, then they will do whatever they can to recruit that student. Identifying the right types of colleges is critical in the college admissions game. Hand in hand with properly marketing and promoting the student to the right types of college increases the probability of scholarships.

A family should NOT hire me if either the parents or student will not be coachable, not listen to my guiding counsel and not follow through on my suggestions.

If a student and parent will be coachable, will listen to my guiding counsel and will follow through on my suggestions and is willing to put in the work, then the sky is the limit.

For example, I was talking with one of my students, Emily. We looked at her list of colleges and looked at her SAT scores. Based on my findings, she would have received $10,000 in scholarships based on her test scores alone. However, if she retook the SAT and bumped her score by 30 points (that is just a couple more questions correct) her scholarship package would increase to $18,000. So she reviewed Dr. Beasley’s prep material and took the test again and increased her scores and qualified for the bigger scholarship.

Other students I have made suggestions, "look at this college because they offer the programs that you want and they have good scholarship packages" (based on my experience with these colleges) or "don’t apply to that school because they have a huge drug problem" or "don’t apply to that school because the crime rates are horrific" or "don’t apply to this school because their scholarship packages have not been good."

There is a lot that goes into the preparation, planning and packaging of students. I was working with two sisters class of 2013. Both are very different. After talking with them for over an hour we came up with a game plan to help each of them stand out in their own unique way. Many kids undervalue their achievements or think that what they have done is something colleges would not be interested in hearing.

Colleges are looking for individually unique students. The key is to develop that over a period of time and present it in the application, in the essay and tie it all together in one neat package.

Another student I am working with is Kayla. When mom and Kayla came to my office, she was originally only going to apply only to Northern Arizona University. I am happy to report she has been admitted to Emory, Western University, Ohio, Chapman, Georgia, Brandeis, Massachusetts and NAU. She never would have even looked at any of these colleges because the parents felt they were out of reach financially. We guided her in creating her essay and then made suggestions and corrections to perfect her essay and application. Her top scholarship was for over $52,000 per year. Mom’s out of pocket cost $5,000 for all four years.

My very appropriate slogan is “Maximize Scholarships and Maximize Potential”. This I do. I am very good at it. I love the kids.

What college did you attend?

I am a Biola University alumni. Biola is in La Mirada California about 30 minutes from Disney Land and Knotts Berry Farm. In fact one of my college jobs was working as a costumed character at the amusement theme park Knotts Berry Farm.

Thank you very much for answering my questions. I know your time is important and I appreciate you taking time to answer these. -LM


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