Helping Students Get Into Top Schools and Pay Less
Check out the interview below with Chelsea Watkins, founder of College Application Training. Her company has a variety of services to aid in the college planning process.
What was the genesis for your company? At what point did you say, hey this could be a great business?
I have been in the college preparation industry for over 20 years, starting with teaching SAT prep for The Princeton Review. I was working for other companies helping students with the application process, while developing my own methods and content. I also saw first-hand how many families were practically going bankrupt trying to pay for college. My father, who is a financial planner, introduced me to the college funding process and at that point was the genesis of my company. Basically, our goal is to help the students get accepted to their top choice schools and pay the least amount. Our mission is to help families build their net worth, while achieving the dream of a college application.
How long did it take you from idea to execution?
Once I decided to start my own company, because of my prior experience and content, I had the framework up and running within a few months.
What was your biggest challenge in putting together the materials for your webinars and books?
The final 10%. Getting the final details right so they were ready to be published and recorded was the most difficult. Also, making sure that the video coaching for my online courses were completed without any technical difficulties.
What is the most optimum grade for students/families to start working with you?
Many families don’t think they need to start thinking about this process until their child is a junior. It’s actually better if you start as a freshman or sophomore in high school – that way both the students and the parents can approach the process from a proactive position, as opposed to a reactive one. Students have time to improve and/or change course and parents have time to build a solid financial plan prior to having their every financial move dissected by the colleges. Having said that, we can help families at all stages in the process. On the financial side, it’s never too early to start planning – I have my son’s college funding plan already in place and he’s 3!
What is the biggest misconception that parents have about financial aid and the application process?
That it’s easy and they can do it themselves. This is a huge process that will affect the rest of everyone’s lives – the student on the academic side and the parent on the financial side. Families who try to do it all themselves are both missing incredible opportunities and opening themselves up to potentially a lot of pain – because making a mistake, even unknowingly, can be very costly.
What are some of the most common mistakes students make when applying to college?
Not knowing what the financial aid situation is at a school before applying – how much aid do they give, do they give merit scholarships, etc. Applying to colleges that are not a good match for them. I’m also attaching my report, 5 Mistakes that Will Kill Your College Application.
How do your services work? Is it in person, strictly online? How much time would a student expect to spend on the Personal Statement Bootcamp?
Depending on the client and where they are location, it is a combination of in person and online or completely online. Living in LA, where traffic is always a nightmare, I tell clients that if they want, no one has to go anywhere. For the Personal Statement Bootcamp – it takes about 4 hours to get to a working first draft. Then it takes 3-5 revisions to get to the final draft.
At what age should students start making the transition to using social media as a marketing tool for colleges?
Students should be aware that anything they post on social media could potentially be seen – no matter how long ago they posted it. So they should be extremely mindful of what they post at all times. In terms of specifically using social media as a marketing tool for college admission, probably as a freshman or sophomore in high school.
How far back do colleges look in a student’s profile?
Every college has their own process, so it’s best to assume that they can see everything.
How can families who may not be able to afford yours services get help?
Our non-profit arm, College will be Achievable Together, works to provide services to families who may not be able to afford our services. I do free individual application and financial consulting, as well as teach at local non-profits, such as the Bresee Foundation. We also give away access to our online course, College Application Mastery Program, to deserving families.
If parents could do only one thing during the college planning process, what would be the most important thing to do?
Create a solid financial plan that works with the rules of the financial aid system. With a little advanced planning and education, most families can afford to pay for whatever school their child wants to attend. What usually happens is that the parents either have not made a financial plan, or have taken advice from someone who does not understand the rules of the financial aid system, so they end up with a huge college bill that they cannot pay. The parent is then faced with an agonizing decision: pay for the child’s dream school and ruin their financial dreams, or tell the child they cannot attend their dream school, ruining their child’s academic dreams. The sad part is that this type of agony can be avoided – if only parents knew how to do it.
I highly recommend that families check out my free College Financial Planning workshops. I hold them monthly at the Westchester Community Center. For more info: www.upay4college.com
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