Vicki Beam: Families rely on college planners

Vicki L. Beam

College admissions across the country came under scrutiny last week when it came to light that families who had hired Rick Singer may have crossed the line in a cheating and bribery scandal.

Many are outraged to find out that coaches, proctors for test locations and other individuals may have been paid off to accept students that may not have been, on their own merit, accepted to prestigious colleges. The parents involved in the cases appeared to work with Rick Singer in insuring that their children would be admitted.

While the details in this case continue to come out, many families across the country are working with professionals to help their students find the college that is the best fit at an affordable price for them. Each year more than 2 million students go through the college admissions process to attend more than 3,000 colleges. Many of these families work with college planners who are hard working, ethical and want to help create better futures for kids heading off to school and the parents they leave behind.

With the dramatic increase in the cost of college, many families simply can’t afford to attempt this important and expensive process on their own.

For many families, hiring financial professionals is a routine part of their lives. People hire CPAs or accountants to do their taxes, attorneys to draft wills and legal documents, insurance agents to protect their property and lives, and financial advisers to help manage their money. However, it is only very recently that families have considered hiring a financial professional to help with their students’ college.

For many, it will be the most expensive time of their lives and, if not handled properly, could have an impact on their financial goals and their retirement.

There are many areas where a college planner can provide value. A thorough review of the family’s finances will identify financial aid opportunities, tax savings strategies, cash flow improvements and most importantly, identify the amount of income and assets that a family can afford to pledge to help pay for college. These individuals work with families to provide a structured approach designed to save time, money and frustration. They provide a logical approach to the process with identifiable deliverables.

Interviewing the student is another key part of the process. Involving the student in all aspects of college planning, specifically the financial components, is a key to success. It is important for the student to understand that college selection, from a financial perspective, is also a critical part of a successful plan. This message often is received much better when not coming from Mom and/or Dad.

College selection should involve the entire family and should be considered from a variety of angles: cost, likelihood of employment, average length of time to obtain a degree and “fit” for student academically as well as socially.

A student should consider head, heart and hand during the selection process.

— Head: Logically, will the college provide what the student needs to obtain their chosen career?

— Heart: Does the student love the college, insuring that they will be happy there?

— Hand: Consider holding a calculator. Can the family afford the college?

The number of ways that hiring someone who does college planning for a living can help a family (which may go through the process only once or twice) is endless. If it’s not helping your family avoid the costly transferring of schools or majors, or the dreaded 5th or 6th year of school, it might be as simple as getting through the process with little stress and the confidence in knowing that you have completed the task like an experienced veteran.

College planners all charge differently, and each has his or her own process. Finding someone who has a logical process with clear deliverables is important. Successful college planners will be able to articulate their fee to you and, more importantly, share with you the value you will receive from paying that fee and working with them.

Take advantage of Michigan College Planning’s College Planning workshop to learn more about the application process and how to become what colleges want. Visit or locations and dates. The workshops are informative and include steps you can take right now to assure you understand the cost of attendance and how you can afford college. If you are unable to attend a workshop, feel free to call Michigan College Planning with your questions.

Vicki L. Beam is a college planner at Michigan College Planning located in Traverse City. She encourages questions and comments about future columns. Contact Michigan College Planning at (231)947-0203, by email at and at

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