JBP’s Mission is to help schools and families create two and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. The following comes from Reaching Higher: the Simple Strategy to Transform America’s K-12 Schools (copyright 2015 by John Baylor, available atJohnBaylorPrep.com).
A two or four-year college degree with minimal debt arms students with knowledge, skills, and financial freedom: tools for upward mobility and self-actualized lives. Put simply, one’s life chances improve with a college degree and minimal to no debt. Though some parents and college counselors may think seniors can’t do much more to improve their college choices, many still urgently need our help.
Just two years ago—late January, 2014-- I was shopping at my local grocery store. A teenage worker recognized me and introduced herself. I knew her siblings and mother but little about her, other than she was a twelfth grader and played varsity tennis. And so I asked my normal questions, “What’s the plan for college? How many colleges are you waiting to hear from? What’s the dream five, ten years from now?”
She said, “I’ll probably apply to the local community college or perhaps Wayne State.”
I knew that each of these schools could be an excellent choice at a very reasonable cost. But I also knew that neither offered women’s tennis.
So I prodded, “Do you hate tennis?”
“No, I love tennis.”
“Is there any other passion you’re planning on quitting prematurely? Are you planning on a college that won’t let you eat ice cream?”
She started to laugh, and then teared up.
It was late January, very late in the application process. Many worthy, affordable colleges have application deadlines prior to late January. Her family lived modestly, and she had three siblings. We sprung into action, applying to nine colleges—each offering rigorous educations, affordable net costs, and women’s tennis.
About two months later, three were bidding for her: Ohio Wesleyan, Earlham, and Knox College. She now plays varsity tennis at Knox College, paying a net cost of about $14,000 a year. She’ll annually earn about $5,000 herself and borrow about $5,000, (the maximum amount of annual college borrowing that I recommend). Her parents can handle the rest: about $350 a month. She is happy.
She had never learned the Mission: her ‘best fit’ college requiring minimal debt. She hadn’t learned how an extracurricular skill— if marketed well— can trigger scholarships and dramatically improve the college experience, increasing the likelihood of graduating. But even if she had, her college counselors had not given her the tools to execute the goal. She told me that her few meetings with counselors had primarily consisted of conversations confirming that she was on track to graduate from high school. Though she had received a sound education, the school’s overall mission had stopped short rather than aligned with her true interest: a meaningful college experience and a degree with minimal debt.
By focusing on kindergarten through twelfth grade, her school had done everything well, according to that measure. Yet she was on the verge of settling for the wrong college for her, undermining thirteen years of significant personal, family, and community effort and cost. Focusing on high school graduation rather than college graduation with minimal debt is like believing the score at the end of the 3rd quarter matters more than the score at the end of the game.
Though it’s already late January, please confirm that seniors have submitted their FAFSAs and CSS Profiles-- and have the right list of colleges on their list, including two financial safety schools. School counselors dramatically affect lives, helping countless young people catch dreams, yet each typically has nearly 400 students and a myriad of other tasks. These competing responsibilities contribute to our current challenge: seniors who urgently still need our help.
In a better world, some high school counselors could focus solely on college counseling or all counselors would serve no more than fifty college-bound seniors each year. Perhaps counselors could dedicate one week each January solely to meeting with all seniors to ensure every choice has been considered and every necessary strategy well executed. Until then, thank you so much for all you do-- especially to help the class of 2016 before it’s genuinely too late.