The cost of attending college is a big worry for families when their child is looking at applying to various schools. To address this concern, Jeannie Burlowski spoke with College Talks & More hosts Hanna and Cari about various strategies parents can utilize to decrease the cost of college. Jeannie Burlowski is a full time academic strategist and speaker. Her writing provides parents a clear step by step checklist so they can set their kids up to succeed brilliantly in college and graduate debt free and go on to a career they excel at and love. She is the author of Launch: How to Get Your Kids Through College Debt-Free and Into Jobs They Love Afterwards.
The sections of your book that I read that pertain to my current situation, I found very informative. College is very expensive and that can be stressful for parents and students alike. Having a clear plan on how to be debt free after college, I think is really awesome.
Jeannie, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your college and professional background?
I have been an academic strategist for twenty five years. I’ve been helping students apply to highly competitive law schools, medical schools, graduate schools, business schools, MD, and PhD programs. During my discussions with my clients, I learned a lot about college debt and paying for college, and I put all of this information into a book.
Why did you decide to become an academic strategist?
I worked in test preparation many years ago, and I was helping students get ready for the MCAT for medical school, the LSAT for law school, and the GMAT for business school. The students started asking me for help with their medical school applications and their law school applications. Since I was an LSAT test instructor, I knew how to structure arguments really well. I began to sit with my students of medical school applications, and I helped them strengthen their arguments. And then my students started getting into medical school, law school, and graduate school. I then decided to transition into working as an academic strategist full time.
Do families need to hire a college consultant?
I don’t think so, but some people get them because it seems easier to have somebody that’s engaged in the process with them. I understand about people wanting to have some kind of a guide, some kind of a friend along the journey that makes sure that they don’t forget anything. I wrote my book as a more cost-effective solution to college consulting, and it helps families save money during their college application process.
You work with students ages 12 through 26. Why is it so important to start the process so young?
Professionally, I don’t really work too much with the younger students. I’m pretty busy taking care of medical school applicants and graduate school applicants, people applying to PhD programs. My writing and my speaking is aimed at parents and it’s parents of kids ages 12 to 26. In my book, I start at giving advice for parents of seventh and eighth graders, because that’s where you can start saving money for college. For example, you can start utilizing the CLEP exams. CLEP stands for college level examination program. You can walk into a college or university and sign up your child to take a CLEP exam. If your child passes the exam, they can get college credit for that subject. Then, after passing multiple CLEP exams, and your child applies to college, they can potentially have a college semester already paid for. That’s a big cost savings. There is no upper or lower age limit on taking CLEP exams. It’s ideal to sign up for a CLEP exam after your child finishes a middle school or high school course on the particular subject, such as U.S. History
For students who are looking to go onto graduate school, what costs savings strategies do you have for them and their parents?
There is one new strategy for saving money on graduate school that I have just became aware of. I’ve recently become aware of a book that’s written by Jason White, and it’s titled The Medical Loophole: The Ultimate Guide to Medical-based Financial Aid. In this book, he talks about how people can get federal funding to get college and grad school, law school, medical school, business school partially paid for because of having medical ailments. And it can be medical ailments that are as mild as allergies or asthma. I think it’s a great idea for anyone.
Your book ends after the summer of your 12th grade year. What if a child is already in college, will your book still help their parents?
The book is mainly for parents of kids ages 12 to 18. But, there are some parents who buy Launch when their kids are in college. And it’s for this main reason: the government wants to provide some financial aid money for people who are struggling to pay for college. And the way that you access that money is you fill out the FAFSA financial aid form, a free application for federal student aid. The form should be filled out, because it puts the family in line for 600 different state programs and federal programs. In addition to free money and financial aid, the FAFSA form application also opens up the best rates for student loans with the best repayment plans.
There’s also a section in Launch where I talk about appealing your financial aid award. It’s possible to make an appeal where you go into the financial aid office and say, “We really have not been awarded enough to be able to meet our need.” In the book, I coach you on exactly what to say when you go into that meeting, so you can try to convince the financial aid office that you should have more money to help to pay for college.
My book also helps students attending college, because I coach people on how to do career assessments. And what’s happening is students who take these career assessments are able to land on a career goal. The career goals are based on the student’s natural strengths, based on what they love to do and what they are naturally interested in. It is based on how you get energy and solve problems. Having a career goal also gives you a destination to work toward while in college, and it will help you save money.
You mentioned the FAFSA, what are some costly mistakes that can be made with that?
The FAFSA financial aid application is a free application for federal student aid. It’s completely free to fill it out. You should never pay anybody for help filling it out. It’s not a very complicated form, but if you have questions about it while you’re filling it out, you could accidentally put down some things that would hurt you. When it comes to this FAFSA form, and this is really for United States citizens, it doesn’t matter your income level. With the FAFSA form, they’re trying to get a sense of what the parental assets are. The FAFSA form only asks for certain assets. For example, they will not ask you about the value of your house, the house that you live in every day. They don’t ask about the value of that house. If you accidentally put the value of the house on the FAFSA form, you’re going to look way wealthier than you actually are. And you’re going to reduce the amount of aid that your student receives. That’s one example of a costly mistake that can occur when filling out the FAFSA.
Why would your local state university not be your child’s best option financially?
Some parents think that by sending their child to a local state university, they will save money, but that’s not necessarily the case. And they send their child to the local state university, even though the school might not be the best fit for their child. The problem with state universities is that that they are so full. A student might sign up for a class, but they won’t be able to get in due to the class being full. If this happens a lot, and the student can’t get the credits they need, they won’t be graduating on time. A problem with some state universities is that their graduation rate is low. This means that the majority of their students don’t graduate in four years. The faster that you can graduate college, the more money you will save. Your college costs increase if a student doesn’t graduate in four years. Students who take six years to graduate find that their student financial aid runs out after four years. They are then stuck putting college tuition payments onto a credit card.
Simply looking at the sticker price of a school is not the best way to choose what college to attend. There are some private schools that choose to look only at an applicant’s FAFSA financial aid form. These schools can be a gold mine, because they’re going to make decisions about handing out aid to your family based on a limited amount of information. Sometimes these private schools are very well endowed. This means they have free money to hand out to attract students to go to their school. Many students have been utterly shocked that they were able to go to a nice private school, very full service, eat really well, and graduate in four years. And they ended up paying less than they would have at the state university.
What if parents don’t qualify for financial aid? What advice would you give them?
First off, don’t disregard filling out the FASA form, because you assume that you will not qualify for financial aid. It’s an easy and simple for to fill out, and it won’t take you much time. Fill it out, and see if you qualify for something. If you fill out the form, and you really didn’t qualify for anything, there’s a lot of strategies that I write about in my book that don’t require prior savings, loans, or scholarships. Here is one example: find a company that offers tuition reimbursement and work there part-time while you are attending college. Of course, you’ll have the benefit of earning a paycheck, but the company will also help pay for your college education.
There’s a woman that I quote in chapter 14 of Launch. She said she went to work for a Starbucks, and the company was very good to her. She got flexible hours, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and she got a paycheck. Her tuition check went straight to paying for her college. She said with that, and a couple of other resources, she was able to graduate school with no student loans hanging over her head. Chapter 14 of Launch is where you will find a list of companies that offer tuition reimbursement.
What is the difference between a dream school and a dream life?
The emphasis tends to be when students are looking at applying to college, that they want to get accepted into their dream college. We shouldn’t be so interested in these kids getting into a dream school. What we want to focus on is a much longer view. We want them to have a dream life. And the dream life is one where you walk across the college graduation stage, you are debt free, you are ready to take a nice vacation, and then step into a job that you excel at and love. The view needs to be more long term, about what your finances will look like after graduation and getting into a job that’s a good fit for you.
In chapter 4 of Launch, you discuss making a contract with your eighth grader. What is this contract you make with your child, and why is it important?
I say to make a contract with your child when they are in eighth grade, because a thirteen year old is very impressionable. What you tell them will stick with them. The contract I write about is you sit your child down, maybe make a nice meal, and say to them, “We want to make some promises to you. And we’d like to ask you to make some promises to us. You are welcome to live here in our house, rent free after your high school graduation on one condition: If you are enrolled in and you’re making sufficient progress through a full time academic or job training program.” This motivates the child to start thinking about their future, and it provides some leverage to the parents if their child decides when they are older to just lay on the couch all day.
In chapter 14, you discuss making your college list and how to go about that. Why is that so important?
Kids who are in tenth or eleventh grade know that there are thousands of college or universities out there, and they feel anxious about knowing which ones to apply to. So what I propose in Chapter 14 is that parents take some of the stress off their children by narrowing the college list for them. Let’s take this massive ocean of possibilities and let’s reduce it down to a size of a nice warm Olympic sized swimming pool. The child still has choices, but it’s not so overwhelming. I walk parents through making this list in Chapter 14. I show them which colleges they can eliminate, such as eliminating colleges that are not going to take any of your child’s CLEP credits. I show them which colleges to keep on the list. Making a list helps the child focus on a more manageable amount of colleges and universities to apply to.
How do you land a job you’ll love after you graduate college?
The number one step towards getting a great job after you graduate is to have prepared for that job early on. You want to clarify the bullseye on the target before you take aim and shoot, and you want to take the career assessments I recommend in chapter 13. You want to get the classwork done, do some job shadowing, volunteering in your field, and part time work so that when you put together your resume, you have something to put on it. And when you start stepping out for interviews, you have something to talk about.
Will you be writing another book?
I do have a second book that’s written, but it’s not published. It piggy backs off of Launch: How to Get Your Kids Through College Debt Free and Into Jobs They Love Afterward. The second book is called Fly: The Six Things You Absolutely Must Do to Be Brilliant in College and Get a Job You Love Afterward.
Do you have any other advice you would want to give our listeners today?
Yes, I do. Try to be frugal and try to be careful with money, because every dollar you save today is a dollar that you could invest and get great good out of later. One of the things I recommend is I want students to be selling their textbooks back. There is no need to be taking textbooks and putting them in cardboard boxes in your basement if you’re done with the class. Students can sell back their textbooks at the end of every semester and enjoy a little bit of extra cash.
Please support the author, Jeannie Burlowski, by purchasing her book Launch: How to Get Your Kids Through College Debt-Free and Into Jobs They Love Afterward.
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