It’s amazing to think that in this affluent country we live in only about 25% of the US population obtain a Bachelor’s Degree. Those that do will make about 75% more than their counterparts without a degree; they are also more likely to get married and far more likely to stay together. The economic and social advantages just continue to increase exponentially for those with higher education degrees, so really it is a no-brainer that as responsible parents we have to help our kids navigate the complex application process and set aside money for college as soon as possible.

According to Nancy Leopold of College Tracks (who will be my tv guest this week), the number of available college seats has not drastically changed in the last 20 years, meanwhile the number of applicants have skyrocketed. Many in-state schools now cost as much as $30,000 per year, and the FAFSA guidelines presume that parents will contribute towards college. The last thing you want to do is have a child go into tremendous debt as they start off life, but sadly for some there is no other option. Nancy’s organization is a local non-profit that helps kids apply for college and works with families so they understand the financial packages being offered by various schools.

Staffed with over 40 volunteers, College Tracks begins by helping high school students identify appropriate target schools, complete their essays, schedule the SATs, etc. For those whose parents have never been through the process, this is an invaluable service. As I did the interview, I had lots of flashbacks of my own college application process, and I truly appreciated more than ever all that my scholarship program did for me. The Scholars Program in New York took us on a college tour the summer before our senior year, and that is how I became acquainted with Georgetown. The Program also helped match me with internships each summer that I was in high school, so by the time I was writing my essays for college, I had a pretty nice resume and outstanding recommendation letters.

Between the Program’s coordinators and the advisors I had in boarding school, I was given an incredible fighting chance at a bright future– the only thing no one warned me about was the debt. Back then the philosophy was get into the best schools you can get into and don’t worry about the debt. Well, times have drastically changed. This is a world of few haves, and lots of have-nots. If there is one thing that Nancy makes clear is that you have to be mindful of the debt you take on– education is an amazing gift, but it comes with a huge price tag these days. If we want our kids to start the game of life off right, we need to help them prep for the application process way before their senior year, and financially plan so that they don’t start off too deep in the hole because of debt.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.