Are Financial Aid Consultants Helpful

Our school hosted a financial aid consultant’s webinar and the consultant offered a free hour. It felt a little bit like how you “win” a free lunch and then a financial consultant tries to bring you in as a client, but I will admit we’re a bit intimidated by the financial aid process we’re facing for 2024 and wondering if these services might be helpful. Does anyone have thoughts/experience? TIA!

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I think you might learn just as much here on CC. Ask questions, read about experiences (both at the schools you are looking at and just in general). If you have a very complicated financial situation, you might need a lot of help but most people just work through the FAFSA and CSS (if necessary), and figure out the difference between need based aid and merit aid.

And most learn that college is very expensive!


Depends on your situation

You might google net price calculator and fill one in for a top school like Harvard and see if you qualify for any.

They could be helpful if you need a sounding board. But depending on your situation, you may not need one.

In that case, this website could help you.

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We had a financial aid ‘expert’ at my kids HS also. Most of the stuff she talked about was good info if you had done no investigation on your own. There were also a few good tips mixed in. But I thought she gave some bad advice to the crowd saying that the timing of filling out the FAFSA was not urgent. While it’s true that the FAFSA deadline is something like june 30, there are school-specific deadlines to consider. Also, FAFSA student work study money runs out. It’s first come, first served.


The ones in my area are either self-serving sales people or just not that well informed/unhelpful.

I would suggest an outside perspective for a really complicated situation- child had a settlement or an insurance payout for an injury, child is healthy now but might need further surgeries, expenses, nursing care down the road so the assets need to be preserved. Child lost a parent, life insurance proceeds are in a trust so can’t be accessed until the kid is 25 but needs some of the money now for college. Etc.

For most people- a job, “normal” assets for your income level, etc. a consultant just can’t be that helpful- because there’s not much you can do by the time your kid is in HS!


I’m skeptical that there’s much they can help you with but a free hour should be enough to cover everything you need to know to optimize need based aid. Which makes me wonder how they’re making their money if not by suggesting unnecessary product like life insurance and annuities…

If they can help identify merit opportunities that might be worth a small amount of money.

But I think you can figure most of it out yourself. Perhaps something like Ron Lieber’s recent book would be a good start, then come back here with any questions

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But we don’t know if the parent has need. Hence I suggested an NPC.

Many people think they qualify until they realize they don’t.

So running a few NPCs to see to me would be the first step.


The financial aid presenter at our high school also gave out some very inaccurate info. She really led parents to believe that their financial need would be met everywhere. No way would I have worked with her.

Ask your questions here. Maybe you will get the answers you are looking for as well as links to helpful information.


I completely agree—that’s a great suggestion.


We also don’t know if the net price calculators will be accurate for this family. Plus their kid isn’t starting college until 2024…so really the NPC NOW would be an estimate only as financial aid policies do change.

Re: accuracy…

  1. Are the parents divorced?
  2. Do the parents own a business or are they self employed?
  3. Does the family own real estate in addition to their primary residence?

If NO to all of these, then the NPCs will be more accurate. If yes to any…the NPCs tend to be off.

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Re: 2, I’ve read here on CC that NPCs can be inaccurate for business owners. I haven’t found that to be the case at all. In real life all the business owners
I know, more than a dozen at this point, felt the NPC was pretty accurate at most schools. Most of the NPCs claim to be accurate about 90% of the time for business owners.

Obviously, the realtor writing off everything in his life as a business expense is less likely to get an accurate read than an s corp owner/employee following all the rules. My experience is mostly with the latter type.


I guess what I’m getting at is - certain people - Cornell told me if you had a million in assets, you are getting zip. Everywhere. NO clue if that’s true - but what what they told me, etc.

W&L showed 88% of people in my income range got merit. My daughter didn’t. It said - based on average assets. I asked - what are average assets and they said two times your salary. That would have been less than $400K in assets.

We just don’t know.

If OP could give some sense of their situation - we’d know if we’re working with a merit or need seeker…or both :slight_smile:

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I think the other aspect is are people filling out the short form that a lot of colleges offer on their financial aid landing page? Or the long NPC. I think not everyone will recognize that the quickie snapshot may not be accurate at all; you’ve got to just sit down and do the long form.

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It’s not true.

The more robust the questions are on the NPC, the more likely they are to be accurate.

We don’t know what colleges this student wants. There is no question that SOME colleges add back in deductions taken by business owners for IRS tax purposes that are added back in as income for financial aid purposes.

Some net price calculators don’t even ask about second properties. The equity in these are assets.

I’m just saying…this poster has to consider everything.

If they have regular w-2 reported income, and simple assets, the NPCs will be more accurate.

But even with that…the NPCs will soon be set for students starting in 2023…not 2024.

The 2024-2025 financial aid forms will use 2022 income information. The year is only half done.

Re: $1 million in assets…if a student qualifies for the simplified needs test, they don’t report assets at all on the FAFSA. So for schools that use only the FAFSA, those schools would never know the student family has these assets.


No - this was high end - the two I spoke with were Cornell - my daughter wanted to apply but I told her we weren’t applying anywhere that was out of dad’s defined budget - i.e. anywhere where merit aid wasn’t possible.

So I called and talked to a counselor and she told me if you had one million in assets, no one would give you a nickel because schools expect you to invest in your child.

And W&L uses the - you get with average assets which they don’t define but they told to me as two times salary.

Most schools, even with a salary test - such as tuition is free if your income is under $60K, have the little disclaimer. That’s because you might have a student whose folks are wealthy - but don’t have a salary.

And that’s what the CSS is for.

But again - we have no idea anything about the person who asked the question - and I can see someone needing hand holding if their situation is complex. Most won’t be.

But I can also see someone not knowing about the fine world of merit aid - which can fill in a lot of holes. And that’s where a board like this can especially help far more than a counselor.


Well…her use of “no one” isn’t accurate.

But schools using the CSS Profile…like Cornell…there is no Simplified Needs Test or auto $0 EFC…so everything is reported…everything.

I’m learning from others it’s not the case. We didn’t apply because there was no way to get merit. Same with Gtown.

We did W&L due to the Johnson - and the free app - and she didn’t get the Johnson nor the Weinstein which she was considered for. So we were full pay - but I called because I was jazzed (pedigree seeker) and asked - if 88% of people in my income bucket get merit at $38K on average, why not us - and she explained - again, assets.

Oh well. In the end, OP can get help - but OP needs to open up on specifics - so hopefully they’ll be back.

I’m sure like any financial advisor, there are good and not good - and I would certainly get recommendations before I would put trust with someone.

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Also be leary of financial aid consultants who try to sell you any financial products. These are not necessary…and usually don’t affect your getting need based or merit aid at all.

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