College costs have skyrocketed, transforming financial aid into a labyrinthine world parents are desperate to navigate. Enter the booming industry of consultants, offering everything from hourly advice to concierge-level hand-holding, all at a hefty price tag.
From Free to Fortune
The spectrum of services runs wide. At the free end, you’ll find government resources, nonprofits, and guides like Mark Kantrowitz’s $20 book. Then there’s the $299 web course by Ron Lieber, diving deeper into merit aid strategies.
Escalating Costs, Escalating Anxiety
But for parents willing to pay top dollar, personalized service beckons. Jeff Levy charges $150 for a 30-minute consultation, while full-year engagements with Jodi Okun can cost $950. The priciest? Multi-year concierge packages, stretching into the tens of thousands, promising a head start from freshman year.
Is It Worth It?
The debate rages. Critics like Kantrowitz argue for realistic college choices and avoiding the “chasing merit” trap. He sees value in consultants guiding families to more affordable options, potentially saving them tens of thousands.
Others see consultants as hand-holders, providing much-needed guidance in the financial aid jungle. They offer expertise, access to data-crunching software, and, most importantly, reassurance in a stressful situation.
The New Normal
One thing’s clear, the days of consultants filling out FAFSA forms are gone. The government demands parental hands on the wheel. But that doesn’t mean the industry will fade. They’ll simply adapt, offering strategies, maximizing answers, and guiding families towards colleges that offer more financial aid.
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So, What’s the Takeaway?
It’s a buyer’s beware market. Do your research, understand your needs, and compare services before investing. Remember, free resources and affordable guides exist. And ultimately, the most valuable advice might be choosing a college that fits your budget, not just your aspirations.