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087: Ann Garcia – How to Pay for College: Helping Families Choose the Right School

Ann Garcia is a certified financial planner (CFP) who’s helped thousands of families save millions of dollars on college. As a partner and independent progressive advisor, she’s known as ‘The College Financial Lady.’ Ann has been featured in The New York Times , Washington Journal, Money, U.S. News & World Report, and countless other publications and is the author of How to Pay for College .

Today, Ann joins the show to discuss if college is really still worth it, what to consider and what to ignore during the admissions process, and creative ways to utilize merit scholarships and other aid to help parents and students pay for college.

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Key Takeaways

00:50 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Ann Garcia, who joins the show to share early lessons she learned in entrepreneurship and how college planning became the core of her practice

07:16 – Is college worth it?

11:51 – Ignoring the competition that comes from college admissions

14:11 – Choosing the degree that makes sense for you

15:52 – Financial planning and parenting

23:32 – Why does the cost of college keep rising and ways to afford it

28:47 – Tools for figuring out what scholarships schools offer 31:36 – Direct Student Loans vs. other loans

33:38 – Counseling families to find the right schools

36:39 – One thing a family can do today to lead to better college options and one thing to stop doing

38:38 – The last thing Ann changed her mind about and one place Ann has visited that had a profound impact on her

40:24 – Jonathan thanks Ann for joining the show and lets listeners know where to connect with her

Tweetable Quotes

“I learned one really important money lesson. And that was that trying to evaluate my success in life based on how much money I had, and comparing that to other people, was a fool’s errand. And it was a road to not having a happy adulthood and life.” (02:23) (Ann)

“I think college is one hundred percent worth it. What’s not worth it is overextending yourself to pay for college. And so those are two different things. I would say on the ‘Worth It’ side is that a college graduate will earn, on average, one million dollars more over their lifetime than someone without a degree. And typically the unemployment rate for college graduates is about half of what it is for those without degrees.” (07:27) (Ann)

“Having a successful college experience is much more about how you go to college than where you go to college. Such things like, as a student do you feel like professors care about you? Do you have opportunities to apply classroom learning outside the classroom? Are you engaging in extracurriculars? Do you find mentors? Those are really the drivers of a successful college experience, not which college did you choose to go to.” (09:37) (Ann)

“All of the other things we do in our lives that require big sums of money, there is some consideration of affordability and return on investment. And, when it comes to college, too often those two components get thrown out the window.” (15:32) (Ann)

“I do think that there’s tremendous value in Liberal Arts degrees. There are enough of us out here in the world doing good things with Liberal Arts degrees that I think that may not be something to shy away from.” (21:38) (Ann)

“Successful college careers are about the relationships that you form. And so, to me I think more important than what’s the name on your diploma is how do students on this campus engage and make friends?” (34:40) (Ann)

Guest Resources

Ann’s Website

Ann’s LinkedIn

Ann’s Book

Ann’s Facebook

Ann’s YouTube

Mindful Money Resources

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Episode Transcription

Jonathan DeYoe: Hey, welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Ann Garcia. Ann is a certified financial planner who’s helped thousands of families save millions of dollars on college. As a partner at independent progressive advisors, she’s known as the college financial lady. That’s where I found her. She’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Money, US News, and world Report, and countless other locations. I wanted to have her on the podcast to talk about her book, how to pay for college. And welcome to the Mindful Money podcast.

Ann Garcia: Thank you so much for having me.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m excited for the conversation. This is only the second time, and I think we’re almost at a 95 ish episodes. This is only the second time I’ve actually talked to somebody specifically about college, and so I’m really glad to have it. I want a little update on some things to get started. Where do you call home, and where are you connecting from now?

Ann Garcia: So, I am currently in Chicago visiting my daughter, who is a recent debt free college graduate. Home is Portland, Oregon, and I was born and raised in the Bay area.

Jonathan DeYoe: So how long did you live in the Bay area before you moved to Portland?

Ann Garcia: Well, we’ve been in Portland for 20 years, so I lived all my life in the Bay area up until then.

Jonathan DeYoe: Okay, so when you’re growing up in the Bay area, what were the lessons you learned? Besides things are really expensive, what are the lessons you learned about money and sort of entrepreneurship?

Ann Garcia: Well, so I grew up specifically in Silicon Valley, and my dad was a management consultant to then startups that are now household names. So companies like Apple and Atari and Memorex. So I learned a ton about entrepreneurship. I learned one really important money lesson, and probably really, I can honestly say, really only one. And that was that. Trying to evaluate my success in life based on how much money I had. And comparing that to other people was a fool’s errand and was a road to not being a happy and not a happy adulthood and life, because there’s always going to be someone who has more than you. And so focusing on what’s important to them versus what’s important to you is not going to lead to a happy life. But like I said, I learned a lot about entrepreneurship through my dad’s work and through meeting a lot of the people that he worked with when I was growing up. Um, one of the lessons that really struck with me is that as the outside world see entrepreneurship as this shining moment of successful ipo and equity and whatnot, and there’s so much that happens behind the scenes, so much hard work that goes into that, typically, that’s a payoff. That was a long time in the making, and that there were a lot of. Despite what you see as a lot of success, there were a lot of failures and missteps and changes of directions typically along the way. And so if that’s the path you’re on and you’re not sure if what you’re doing is right, a, uh, phrase I heard a lot was do something, even if it’s wrong. Another phrase I heard a lot was maximize the surface area exposed to success. And I think if you combine those two, you will end up on a path that gets you to a place where you want to be.

Jonathan DeYoe: Another phrase, I don’t remember where this comes from, but you got to be willing to be lucky. For sure.

Ann Garcia: The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Jonathan DeYoe: Something like that. So can you name, like, one experience as a kid where maybe there’s parents talking about money, maybe it’s a shopping expedition, maybe it’s your first job. That sort of begins the groundwork for.

Ann Garcia: Your own money story, I would say so. I grew up, uh, the high school that I went to, and this is a conversation we always have at our high school reunions. When we started high school, it was kind of your garden variety, upper middle class California town. And by the time we graduated, it was a rich town. I mean, I had a classmate who drove a lotus to school. There were mercedes and bmws and what have you in the high school parking lot. I was the kid who didn’t have a. There were. When you have this abundance of stuff, and my family was certainly not poor by any stretch of the imagination. I wanted for absolutely nothing other than a car. But I think it was seeing this abundance and seeing not just abundance, but excess, I think, really helped me to understand what was important to me in my life and what role I wanted money to play in my life. Was I going to be chasing money for money’s sake, or was I going to be designing a life that was built around my values and priorities and using my earning power and my investing power to support that lifestyle?

Jonathan DeYoe: So I’m curious, how did I think.

Ann Garcia: When I was 16, it sounded a lot like, why don’t I have a car?

Jonathan DeYoe: I mean, we remember most what we did not have. That’s the deep memories, for sure. I’ve met tons and tons and tons of advisors. I’ve only met a couple that focus on college planning. So how did college planning become sort of the core of your practice?

Ann Garcia: So, uh, a little bit of it comes back to lessons in entrepreneurship. So when my dad started his own consulting practice, he kind of looked around and said, there’s this new thing out there called computers. And so I could be the computer consultant, because nobody else is doing that. And so he started doing that and had a very successful career as a consultant by focusing on something no one else was talking about. And I had a somewhat similar experience early in my career as an advisor, where one of the partners in the firm that I worked for came to me and said, I have a client who has questions about college, and I’m really not interested in learning about that. Do you want to figure it out? And I sort of looked at that and I said, well, I have two kids myself, so this is actually something I need to know for my own purposes, but I’ll be happy to do that because I’m guessing you’re not the only advisor who doesn’t want to learn anything about this. And so I just sort of dug in, and it took some time, ended up, over time, sort of writing down all the questions I was getting all the time so I’d have them ready as emails to send out to people in response to their questions. And one year, I made a new year’s resolution to start a blog with all of those email responses that I was always sending out and maximize the surface area exposed to success. A few months into that, there was a media request on a news list that I’m on that was about college planning, and I happened to have just written a blog post about that. And so I reached out to the reporter and sent a link to my blog where I had written about this very topic. And it was the personal finance writer for the New York Times, and he interviewed me for the article and linked to my blog, and so suddenly, I was a college blogger.

Jonathan DeYoe: Wow, that’s a great story. Good job. You got to be willing to be lucky. So I’ve been reading and hearing a lot recently about a lot of people suggesting that college, so expensive, it’s just not worth it anymore. I’ve seen the numbers. Still seems worth it to me. What do you think?

Ann Garcia: I think college is 100% worth it. What’s not worth it is overextending yourself to pay for college. And so those are two different things, I would say, on the worth it side. So a college graduate will earn, on average, a million dollars more over their lifetime than someone without a degree. And typically, the unemployment rate for college graduates is about half what it is for those without degrees. And in fact, in 2009, the height of the Great Recession, when the national unemployment rate was over 10%, a statistic came out saying that was this shocking news that the unemployment rate for college graduates had, for the first time, passed 4%. And so at a time when the national unemployment rate was over 10%, the rate for college graduates was about 4%. So there’s a tremendous amount of financial and economic stability that comes from having a college degree. But not only that, but there have been tons and tons of surveys that have shown that college graduates lead better lives. They consistently score higher in surveys about life satisfaction. Uh, there’s less type two diabetes and heart disease among college graduates. And of course, there’s socioeconomic component to that as well, but they live longer and healthier lives. College graduates are more likely to vote than those without degrees. They are also apparently better neighbors. So college graduates are more likely to not just befriend, but to also help their neighbors than those without degrees. So at my son’s graduation, the speaker said, and he was a wonderful speaker, and he said, going to college doesn’t make you a better person. It makes you better prepared to be a person in the world. But I would argue it does both, because there’s plenty of data showing that in many cases, college graduates, on average, are better people in terms of social participation, civic engagement, contribution back to the economy. So, yes, totally worth degree is absolutely, totally worth it. Now, the flip side of that is there’s also been a lot of research done on does it matter where you go to college? Because, um, the simple answer is those benefits accrue to college graduates, not to graduates of some specific subset of colleges. And, in fact, having a successful college experience is much more about how you go to college than where you go to college. So it’s things like, as a student, do you feel like professors care about you? Do you have opportunities to apply classroom learning outside in work or someplace outside the classroom? Are you engaging in extracurriculars? Do you feel like faculty and staff care about you? Do you find mentors? So those are really the drivers of a successful college experience, not which college did you choose to go to?

Jonathan DeYoe: So it’s an interesting way to sort of parse which college versus just going to college. Are there benefits to specific demographics? Are there greater benefits to specific demographics that, do women experience a, uh, better college experience than men? Are white folks better get a better experience in college than black folks? Is there anything demographically difference in terms of those outcomes that we talked about? Yes. College is great for everybody on average, but is there anything hidden in those demographics?

Ann Garcia: So I would say there’s a lot of different ways to parse that. One is there’s been a lot of research done on who actually does benefit from, going to, say, elite private schools, and that is largely people who are underrepresented in the college ecosystem as a whole. So minority students, first gen students, women, where you benefit not only from the resources that school has to make sure that you not just get in, but get through and get out the other side also, the network that environment provides. So that has been shown to be to have a disproportionate benefit for people who don’t have those resources in their own personal network.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s great. I didn’t know that. That’s great. So, as a parent, I have, um, a 19 year old that’s in college, he’s a freshman, and I’ve got a 16 year old, and my wife and I and our peer group sort of talks pretty much nonstop about which college, which we’re told the schools tell us don’t talk about the acceptance and which schools don’t talk about it, but we all talk about it. And I went to Montana State University. I think I’m pretty successful. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I didn’t even go to a third tier school. I went to a state, even Montana, not the University of Montana. I went to Montana State. I was know, not great anyway. So I have no belief that you got to go to Ivy. I just don’t have it at all. But I’m in the Bay area. My kids went to. Really?

Ann Garcia: Lots of your friends do believe that.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. And it’s really hard to fight against that. They’re all saying, oh, but we got to go. And there’s a competition. There’s a race here. So how do you convince parents that’s not necessary?

Ann Garcia: It’s tough because, and I wouldn’t say it’s even just that fixation on Ivy leagues or anything like that. The most human thing that we do as parents is want what’s best for our kids. And there’s plenty of messaging out there that says, ivy leagues are what’s best for our kids. And they may be best for some kids, but they may not be great for other kids. And there may be plenty of great alternatives, too. I mean, my kids are a perfect example. I have twins who graduated from college this spring. My daughter went to University of Chicago, which is a, uh, very exclusive, very elite, very hard to get into college, single digit acceptance rates, and everyone’s a national merit scholar and whatnot. My son went to the University of Arizona. Basically, you sign up to go to the University of Arizona. And I don’t say that as a knock on the University of Arizona. Their mission is quite different from the University of know. Both of them had a fantastic four years. I don’t think either of them would have even had a good four years if they had switched places. And they’re twins, so there’s a lot to be said for finding the right place. But the other crazy thing is, they both graduated. They both have jobs that are virtually identical. So, other than the fact that he majored in finance and she majored in computer science, so he’s working in finance and she’s working in tech, they have the same salary, they’re in the same management training type of program. They’re both working for Fortune 500 companies. If they stick around for a few years, the company will pay for their MBA. Same benefits package, same everything. So completely as close to identical outcomes as possible from two very different pathways. And I would say that much as we think about how much fun it is to post on instagram our kids college acceptance, what’s super fun, and I can tell you this, this is so much fun, is taking them off your health insurance because they got a job.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m looking forward to that. Someday. Someday. Are there specific, I mean, you spoke to. Your kids are studying tech and finance. So are there specific choices of degree that don’t make sense? And do you guide people? Hey, I know you want to understand. I studied philosophy, so I’m saying this from somebody, as somebody who studied something that isn’t as a history major.

Ann Garcia: So I’m okay.

Jonathan DeYoe: Exactly. And we’re both in finance, so that makes sense. So are there degree choices that you would not advise that don’t have the same outcomes.

Ann Garcia: First and foremost, less than 50% of students enter college with a declared major, and more than 50% of students who enter with a declared major change it over the course of four years.

Jonathan DeYoe: Uh, so 25% go in and stick with it roughly.

Ann Garcia: Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe: Wow. Did not know that.

Ann Garcia: Yeah, I was kind of surprised to hear that as well. So I don’t know that it’s necessarily degree choices or degree pathways that you want to do. I would say, though, if you are someone who is not and, um, isn’t ever going to be on a pathway to a high paying career, that should factor into your college decision. If you’re going to be a teacher, don’t go to NYU. If you’re going to be a dietitian, don’t go to NYU. And all of the other things we do in our lives that require big sums of money, there is some consideration of affordability and return on investment and college. When it comes to college, too often those two components get thrown out the window.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. And I think we’re going to get to that more specifically in a second. In most instances, college is worthy goal, but we know it has, just as it has a cost. So how can a student and the family work together to make the best decision, given that the cost is so, and it’s growing, it’s even more expensive now than it was when I went. It’s getting huge. Half a million dollars for four years. It’s ridiculous.

Ann Garcia: Yeah. Well, I think there’s two pieces to it. I mean, uh, planning for college is equal parts financial planning and parenting. So on the financial planning side, save early and save often. Best thing to do is start a 529 for your kid as soon as they’re born or as soon thereafter as you can. Even if you don’t have any money, because you’re paying for childcare and maybe taking time off of work, and somebody in your household outgrows everything they own every three weeks. 529 have huh. This great feature called the gifting page that lets you share the link with friends and family and others who might be generous with your kids and collect money from them that way. But I think the best thing you can do as soon as possible is set up a 529 and set up an automatic monthly contribution into that, because then you will have dollars that are dedicated to college. As your kid gets older, you want to be looking at, ah, what does my current savings rate translate to as far as a college budget and my ability to pay from other sources? So very few people save the full cost of college beforehand. Typically it’s a combination of savings, spending from cash flow, and potentially student loans, maybe tax credits. But what’s the pathway that we’re on? And is that pathway that’s leading to options that I’m okay with? So is this leading me to a four year residential college, private or public? Or am I on, um, a pathway to a two year school? And the reason you want to do that early, rather than waiting until senior year when your kid has fallen in love with a school, is that gives you opportunity to do the parenting piece of it. And the parenting piece of it is having conversations with your kids about what your expectations of them are, what your budget is for college. There are 4000 plus different colleges out there, and college is available at literally every price point. My son has a friend who just got her degree for free. So she did free community college for her first two years, and then she was working at Starbucks. And Starbucks has a tuition partnership program with Arizona State. And so she finished her degree through Arizona State’s online program. And guess what? Her diploma looks the same as everyone else’s from Arizona State except hers. Cost $0. Literally. So you can get a college education at any price point. You just have to make sure that the price points that you’re planning for financially are price points that are acceptable to you emotionally and intellectually. And Anna has a job, know she’s at the other side and working. And she wanted to go into a career path that she’s not going to get wealthy from. And so she didn’t want to come out of college with student loans, and instead she came out with a savings account. So having conversations with your kid about college, what’s the role of college in your family’s life? Is it an expectation, is it an option that you want to provide for them? If it’s something that’s important to you, uh, talk to them about how college has enriched your life. Talk about friends you made or things you learned or experiences that you had, so that you’re positioning it in a positive light as something that you expect will enrich their life as well, and that you want them to be excited about for their own reasons, not just because that’s what all their friends are doing. I think it’s also a good idea to talk to your kid about the fact that you’re saving for college. This is important to us, and so we are putting away money every single month to make this possible for you and to make sure that you don’t have to take on student loans or that you’re not going to have an excessive amount of student loans. When kids get into high school, and ideally in the early years of high school, one of the really important things I think is to do is to look up for your in state schools what their merit scholarships are. So most public colleges have automatic merit scholarships that they offer. And so you want to see what is the GPA my kid needs to have? Is it weighted or unweighted in order to get a scholarship so that I know, okay, my baseline college cost is this. Here’s the minimum amount that a four year residential degree is going to cost my kid. And then have those conversations with your kid, because as they’re in high school, you’re getting a clearer sense of what your budget is. And I think it’s important to have those from a perspective of goals as opposed to constraints. So a, um, goals based conversation about your budget is it’s very important to us that you’re able to get through college without student loans. And we’ve been saving diligently, so you can do that. Our budget is what it would cost for you to go to insert college name know for us. Maybe we can afford for you to go to Oregon or Oregon State. There are probably other colleges out there that you can find that would fit in that budget as well. And we will absolutely support you in doing that. So that’s a really different conversation than you have to go to Oregon or Oregon State, because that’s all we can.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, yeah. Opportunity. Not just, I want to go back to this idea of degree choice for a second. If somebody loves history or philosophy or english literature, would you say, yeah, do that? Or would you say, given the job market as we see it today, that may be nuts? Do you provide any sort of insight into that?

Ann Garcia: So this is just me voicing an opinion as opposed to me being an expert on this, but I do think that there is tremendous value in liberal arts degrees.

Jonathan DeYoe: I do too. I’m, um, with you. Absolutely.

Ann Garcia: The communications, critical thinking, all of those. There are enough of us out here in the world doing good things with liberal arts degrees that I think that need not be something to shy away from. And in fact, my daughter did a double major in classics, so she did computer science and classics as her degree. And I would say one thing that’s changed a lot in the college landscape. It is much easier to do double majors than maybe when you and I went to college. It’s much more common. And, um, in a large part because the cost is so much higher that as a parent, it’s perfectly reasonable to say, I need you to do a major in a degree in a field that could lead to a job, because your student will have opportunities to pursue that passion project, uh, alongside of it, and, like, in my daughter’s case, for her thesis. So, computer science and classics, double major. One of her classics professors was so excited about the fact that she was doing this as a double major that she put her in touch with a classicist at another university who was creating these different databases of antiquities. And so her thesis project was to create a database of gods, a searchable database of gods. So you could, for example, look for references to Ares throughout different geographies, time periods, civilizations, and whatnot.

Jonathan DeYoe: Wow. So double major, I guess, is the lesson there. So I hear that, uh, well, let me step back away from this. I think I read in your book or somewhere that the parents who can afford to pay outright, who don’t fill out a FAFSA, who aren’t participating in this, are they driving up the cost for everybody? Do you get the sense that’s I’m not trying to pick a fight, I’m not trying to create problems?

Ann Garcia: No.

Jonathan DeYoe: I happen to be lucky. I am one of those parents. And so I’m, um, wondering, what kind of damage am I causing? Is that a problem?

Ann Garcia: So I would say there’s a lot of theories about why the cost of college keeps going up, but I would say that a big reason why the cost of college keeps going up is that lots of people are willing to pay it. If you look at Stanford, Ivy leagues, the ivy plus schools, every year they turn away hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to pay $85,000 a year for their kid to attend those schools. So they have zero incentive to lower the list price. But there’s two different prices in the college world that matter. There’s the list price and the net price. So the list price is what some people choose to pay. The net price is what most people pay. So every college offers scholarships. Typically, at, uh, those top tier schools, somewhere between a quarter and a third of students are paying full price, not filing a FAFSA, not getting any kind of financial aid, not getting any scholarships, just willing and able to pay full price. The rest are getting some form of tuition discount. And last year, the average tuition discount rate was about 56%. So less than half of what’s actually charged is being paid out there. And it comes in the form of. It’s all in the form of scholarships and grants that colleges use to bring in the students that they want to enroll and where they need to fill the rest of those seats. We let so much of the college narrative be driven by the Stanfords and Harvards of the world. That’s like, you’d be lucky to get in here, and here’s what it costs. Come if you know, apply if you want, maybe you’ll get in. But the vast majority of colleges are actively trying to recruit and enroll students, and the way they do that is by discounting their tuition. So I wouldn’t say there’s not necessarily anything wrong with paying full price for college if you’re willing and able to do so. I think it’s important for families to understand that it’s not a requirement that you pay full price to go to college, and the vast majority of students do not pay the list price.

Jonathan DeYoe: So does the access to the net price, is that a function of income.

Ann Garcia: Or is that it varies by college? So there’s two big types of scholarships that colleges offer. There’s need based financial and institutional merit scholarships. So need based financial aid is you file the FAFSA, uh, and the CSS profile. If the school requires it, your calculated ability to pay is less than the cost of attendance, and the college will meet that financial need in the form of grants and scholarships. Not all colleges do that, and I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of families make, is thinking, oh, um, my expected family contribution, or what will now be called the student aid index, is really low. I can apply wherever I want and I’m going to get financial aid. Not all colleges do that. The other type of scholarship is institutional merit scholarships. And we always think of athletic scholarships. And I hear from a lot of people, we’re not poor and my kids not an athlete, so I guess we’re stuck paying full price. The good news is it’s the mathletes who clean up on the institutional merit. It is. The vast majority of merit scholarships are awarded on the basis of grades and test scores. So take the tests. You’re more likely to get big scholarships if you take the tests. The majority of them are based on grades and test scores. But there are lots and lots of other types of merit scholarships that are really just about who the college is trying to attract. You have sons? My son had a scholarship for playing video games. So that’s a real thing at, uh, a lot of colleges. But other colleges, small, private liberal arts colleges, love to be able to say they have students from all 50 states. So if you’re from a smaller state and you’re applying to one of those schools that’s maybe a couple of states over from where you are. You may be the only student from your state who’s applied there and they’re going to really want you and they’re going to express that love in the form of a scholarship. A lot of different majors have scholarships. So we have friends whose son studied meteorology and there aren’t a lot of aspiring meteorologists out there and he got lots of scholarship offers because meteorology departments are trying to recruit students. So it’s really variable what’s offered with merit scholarships. The top schools don’t offer merit scholarships. So the Ivy leagues don’t offer merit scholarships. Stanford doesn’t offer merit scholarships. Being eligible for merit scholarships elsewhere is sort of table stakes in the admissions process there, but they are very, very generous for students with financial need. So don’t let finances be a reason not to apply to those schools. Once you get out of, say, the top 20 schools in the US news rankings, then you get into the world of merit scholarships.

Jonathan DeYoe: Seriously, top 20. Once you’re to 21, you have access to merit scholarship.

Ann Garcia: Well, here’s the thing. If you’re school number 21, don’t you want to be able to say that you’re a top 20 school? If you’re school number 51, don’t you want to be a top 50 school? 101, you want to be a top hundred school. So it’s not across the board. But yeah, typically once you get out of the top 20, you can get merit scholarships. Now there are a couple of good tools for figuring out what scholarships a ah college offers, because if you’re a parent whose kid is starting to look for colleges, you’re like, okay, so where do I get the money? The first is every college is required to have a tool on its website called a net price calculator. And that is primarily for need based financial aid. But sometimes it will include merit scholarships as well. And with a net price calculator, you punch in your information and it spits out what students like you are paying in the current year to attend that college. It’s not a binding estimate, and the good news is the discounts that it shows can only include Grant A. That can include loans or work study, which are often part of a financial aid package. But that can be a really helpful tool for saying, okay, not going to bother applying here. This looks like a really good choice. Sometimes, like I said, they’ll include merit scholarships. So sometimes they’ll ask questions about GPA and test scores and then they’ll tell you about scholarships like that. You can also look up scholarships on the school’s website. Just Google the school name and incoming freshman scholarships and it’ll tell you what types of scholarships the school or some specific scholarships the school offers. The good news is the vast majority of scholarships are awarded automatically. So just applying and filing the FAFSA and the CSS profile, if it’s required, are going to get you in the pool for most of the scholarships. There’s a great website out there, too, collegedata. And it’s just collegedata.com. And you can look up on college data, you can look up a school and they have a tab called financials. And under the financials tab, it shows for students who had financial need. What percent of students with need got need based aid and what percent of their need was met, right? So it’s one thing to say we gave a grant to all of our students who had financial need, but if they’re only meeting 25% of that need, that’s not really that great of a number. So you want to look for schools that meet 100% of need if you’re a student with high need. And then in addition, it shows what percent of students who didn’t have financial need received a merit scholarship and what the average amount of that scholarship was. So really helpful information as you’re starting your college search, as your student starts coming to you with names of colleges that they’re interested in, I mean, it’s.

Jonathan DeYoe: So interesting that if you just drop a little bit out of the top tier of schools and if it doesn’t matter where you go to school, the idea that people are graduating with 30, 5100 thousand dollars of debt becomes, when you look at it this way, it becomes silly. There’s no real advantage. You don’t get a better experience. You don’t really have a better education. I imagine that Harvard and Yale and Chicago, and there’s great schools out there, Cal Berkeley even, right. That you’d have a great network when you graduate.

Ann Garcia: Go bears.

Jonathan DeYoe: Be awesome. Go bears. Right. My son’s at UCLA, so go Bruins. But in terms of spending $300,000 on college, if you don’t have it and if you borrow for it, just seems like a mistake.

Ann Garcia: Yeah. Now when you talk about student loans, I think it’s important to differentiate between the federal direct student loan and all of the rest of the loans that are out there. So students who take out the direct student loan, which is a federal loan that has a fixed interest rate, there’s a capped amount you can borrow every year, those students will graduate having taken out $27,000 of debt, and they’ll owe somewhere between 28 and $29,000, depending on interest rates and interest accrual and loan subsidies and all that, that translates to a monthly loan payment of about $325 for ten years. So if that’s the difference between going to college and not going to college, or if that’s the difference between going to a college that’s a great, great fit for you and going to one that’s maybe not a great fit that you might not get out of in four years, that’s also a great choice. It’s when you get into numbers above that that it starts to get problematic. There’s a very low default rate among students who just take out the federal direct student loan and graduate from college in four years. So that’s not the student loan debt problem. It’s the students who pile additional debt on top of that. And actually, the group with the fastest growing loan balances are parents who are taking out parent plus loans to pay for their kids to go to college. And when you think of it, a 22 year old graduating owing just under $30,000 with a lifetime of earning potential ahead of them, that’s not necessarily a terrible outcome. But a parent who’s maybe 55, when their student graduates from college and has an extra because they have three kids and they’ve done it for all of them, suddenly has basically the equivalent of a second mortgage, and they’re maybe ten years from what they’d hoped would be retirement. That is a problem.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m hearing you talk and I’m not hearing, start a 529 plan, save enough. What I’m hearing is really good choice analytics. So how much of your work is with parents on the talking them off the ledge of got to have the really high end degree, got to go to that, got to spend a lot of money, got to be okay with it, got to raid the retirement plan to do it. You’re almost like a college counselor and, uh, the college financial aid, right? I mean, so how much your job is one and how much is the.

Ann Garcia: Other, I would know. It’s definitely both. I speak with plenty of families who are in that category of, uh. It’s really important to us that our student be able to go to an Ivy League school, and we’re not going to be eligible for financial aid. So how do we do that? And if you can come up with the dollars, I can come up with the know. And if you can’t come up with the dollars. We can have a conversation about that, and we can talk about why maybe it’s not as important that they go to an Ivy League school versus that you find a school that is a great fit for them academically, socially, and financially for your family. Successful college careers are about the relationships that you form. And so to me, I think more important than what’s the name on your diploma is how do students on this campus engage and make friends? And is that how your student engages and makes friends? I mean, my son loved the anonymity of a gigantic campus where he didn’t know anyone. There were two other kids from our high school who went to University of Arizona, and he had a great time making new friends and trying new things. My daughter went to a school where kind of all you had to do was show up, and you got picked up and taken along to things. And so as long as she was willing to show up, there was something for her to do. And so I think that’s really much more important, like I said, than what name is on your diploma. And certainly if your top choice is maybe not right in the realm of your finances, there are things you can do to do that you can look for outside scholarships, but there has to be some realism there. So I worked with a family recently whose daughter was very interested in going to an out of state public school, where, of course, there were no scholarships available because it was a California school. And her in state school, she had a great offer, and the parents kind of said, that’s what we’re willing to pay. And she was really enamored with the other school. And so I sat down with her and we had a conversation about, this is how much you need to be able to find in outside scholarships if you’re going to go there. And we kind of mapped it out. And she went to her high school, college, and career center, and they pointed her to a number of scholarships that she could apply for, and she ended up getting. And, I mean, it was a big target. Our target was that she needed to find $15,000 in outside scholarships every year, which I kind of said thinking that would totally discourage her, but she took it as a challenge, and she met the challenge.

Jonathan DeYoe: It’s awesome. I love to see that. So, as we’re getting close here to the end, I want to ask, so pretend you’re talking to a junior, um, in high school and her family, right? And they’re considering their college options, and they don’t have many support resources. What is one thing that they can do today that is going to lead to a better college option. And what’s one thing that maybe they should stop doing?

Ann Garcia: So, uh, I think one thing you can do that will lead you to better options is understand what programs your state offers. So oftentimes there are great, great programs like dual enrollment where you go to your four year college, but your first two years are at a community college that’s adjacent to the college. So you’re really only paying for two years of tuition instead of four. But know what the scholarships are and how you qualify for them because maybe you’re taking a full, maybe this is a junior who wants to take a full AP or IB course load, but if she gets an unweighted 4.0 GPA, she’ll get $15,000 a year of merit scholarships. And maybe we’re not so sure that she’s going to get all A’s in those advanced classes, so she might choose to adjust her schedule a little bit. So, I mean, those are all the things that when you know what your state’s programs look like, you can come up with some good options and come up with some solutions that get you on a pathway to good college choices. But then, of course, the other really important piece of it is look at your budget, look at what you’re able to do because you may have no savings, but you may have some dollars you can come up with from out of pocket, out of spending, dialing back spending. Look at what you’re able to contribute and have that conversation with your kids so that they’re not rushing down the path of all these other options that aren’t going to work for your family, and you’re taking them at the point of having got it accepted to their dream school and crushing their dream at that point.

Jonathan DeYoe: So through every interview, we dig into the stuff, your expertise, and then at the end we come back around to the personal. So what was the last thing you changed your mind about?

Ann Garcia: The last thing I changed my mind about? I change my mind all the time. That’s rare, right? I’m staying with my daughter. I’ve changed my mind about what cleaning projects I’m going to undertake in her apartment while I’m here.

Jonathan DeYoe: She appreciates all of the cleaning projects you undertake.

Ann Garcia: I would say values don’t change, but priorities sometimes do. And so priorities around how much work I do versus spending time with my kids now that they’re both not living near me, that’s a different level of priority than it might have been a year ago.

Jonathan DeYoe: Beautiful. So is there a place that you visited that really had an impact on who you are? And what was the impact?

Ann Garcia: So, uh, the long story version of that is that when I finished high school, I was a year ahead in high school, and I decided I was going to take a year off before I went to college. And I was an exchange student in Germany for a year. And it was incredibly impactful on my life, not only living in a new culture, learning a language, meeting a whole new set of friends, but they’re people who have been part of my life forever. When I graduated from college, one of my friends helped me find a job over there. So I was able to work there for a year after college, and that got me on a career path that was just fantastic, just as a result of having that experience. And this past summer, after our kids graduated from college, we all went over to Europe and we ended up actually staying with some of my friends from there. And her kids are there are my kids age, and we just had just a really wonderful time just kind of reconnecting our families after all these.

Jonathan DeYoe: Cool. Very cool. And, um, tell people, how can they connect with you? Where do they find you?

Ann Garcia: Yeah, so my website is howtopayforcollege.com and my book is how to pay for college. And it’s available on Amazon, bookshop.org, Barnes and noble, kind of wherever you buy books, you should be able to find it. And you can also connect the way we did on Facebook. I’m the college financial lady.

Jonathan DeYoe: Thanks, Ann I really appreciate you coming on. I don’t know if you saw me. I’m here taking notes. There’s things I have a again, a freshman at UCLA. I didn’t know about some of these things, and I’m going to be looking some up and see if we can’t get them some financial aid for next year. So I want to thank you for coming on and educating us about how to get financial aid, maybe downsizing our college expectations a little bit, but expecting the same ultimate result. I very much appreciate it.

Ann Garcia: Excellent. Thank you for having me.

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