College Bound? Tips for Stressed Out Parents Planning For Education Expenses

Private Ocean


Parents: I feel your pain. The college admissions bribery scandal certainly struck a nerve with many of us, particularly with parents who have worked hard over many years to plan and save for the next phase of their children’s education. Although some may not be shocked that something like this could happen, it still unnerving to see it unfold in the public eye. I would know. As a parent to two very different teenage twins on the verge of venturing off to college, I am often asked questions like, “How are you juggling all of this?” or “Did you save enough for both of them?” Or even “What are you doing to make sure your kids get into the colleges of their choice?”

My answer for most of these questions? With a little bit of stress and some professional advice.

That being said, I am fortunate enough to have the luxury in my profession to be surrounded by many incredible financial planners who have great tips for funding an education and I have no hesitation when it comes to gathering all of the information that I can. My own background also gives me a leg up, perhaps, on the latest information on tax breaks, saving options and more.

Our journey to finding the right colleges for our kids was informative to say the least – one thing we learned that helped put things into perspective was that in the United States, there are 4,360 higher education institutions[1]. Even if you cut that number in half and take the top 10%, that’s still an incredible number of colleges that are solid schools. The chances of your child getting into one of them is good. So don’t stress!

Another takeaway we learned during this process is that there’s a whole body of thought in recent years

between the value of being good test takers vs. good communicators and critical thinkers. They’re sometimes at odds with each other and requirements are rapidly changing. The ACT and SAT are standardized tests that typically have a significant weighting in the college application.

However, we’ve done quite a bit of research on schools across the country and found that increasingly, colleges realize that many kids are disadvantaged because they may come from a school that does not emphasize test-taking or they don’t have access to ACT/SAT tutoring. They realize though that the student could be very successful at their school. As a result more schools have deemphasized or have stopped requiring the ACT/SAT to apply[2].

A helpful piece of advice that we received from our counselor is that in the past, colleges looked at the variety and volume of activities on a child’s resumes. Increasingly though, schools are looking for depth and dedication rather than breadth of interest. Which brings me to my last but not least point: I cannot underemphasize the value of good school counselors, whether working at your child’s school or one you hire independently.

These are really well informed, experienced counselors with tremendous integrity. If your school doesn’t have one, hiring an outside college counselor could be an excellent college resource. My son, for instance, doesn’t have the same robust college counselor resources, so we hired an outside counselor to help him think about which schools could be a good fit, where geographically he might want to go, navigate the application process and help him think about how he wants to be in the world.

As a mom, I have big dreams for my kids, but in the end it’s what they are passionate about that gives me the most pride. I couldn’t be prouder of how hard they work and their commitment to what they care about. My advice to any parent in my situation is to gather all the information you can, hang in there, remember that you’re not alone (it really does take a village), and lastly, enjoy this amazing ride!

For any parent facing the uphill climb of education funding, I welcome you to download our Guide to College Education Planning with helpful tips on 529 vs. trusts and more.

About Sheila Schroeder

Sheila Schroeder believes that financial empowerment equals freedom. She brings together the needs of clients with the resources and expertise of the Private Ocean team. Sheila joined the firm with over 25 years of financial services experience, and believes that engaged relationships are forged through working together to create strategies and options so that clients can meet their personal and financial goals.

In her personal time, Sheila is involved with several nonprofits, in fundraising and organizational roles. She enjoys running, trying out the weekend recipes in the WSJ, reading with her amazing book club, and travel. Most of the time she also likes to hang out with her 18-year-old twins.

[1]Duffin, Erin. “College & University – Statistics & Facts.”, accessed July 3, 2019

[2]Strauss, Valerie. “A list of 180+ ranked schools that don’t require ACT or SAT scores for admissions, July 27, 2015.”