What makes Afford College different from my student’s guidance counselor?

Good question! First of all, Guidance Counselors offer a wide range of support services for their students; not just college planning. However, Guidance Counselors only have a limited amount of time and must typically serve hundreds of students at a time. At Afford College, we pride ourselves on the individualized attention we are able to offer to our students and families to ensure that their college process proceeds as smoothly and successfully as possible.

I just want my student to go to the local State University. Is Afford College a good fit for me?

At Afford College, we ask families to keep an open mind from day one. Keeping an open mind means being willing to investigate all kinds of colleges all over the country; not just the state school in your backyard. If you are willing to be curious, Afford College is the place for you!

What does the CollegeBound Experience™ include?

The CollegeBound Experience™ is a holistic and comprehensive program. It includes preparation for the ACT/SAT, college essay coaching, financial guidance and expertise, financial aid forms filing, and more. Afford College is committed to providing your family with everything you need to successfully prepare for college.

Do you offer any other services?

Afford College primarily offers the CollegeBound Experience™ to the families we work with. However, we occasionally offer individual services like ACT/SAT prep and college essay coaching throughout the year.

When do you recommend families start working with you?

The earlier the better! Especially from a financial standpoint, we at Afford College can begin working with families as early as middle school to ensure that everything is in line to support the 3 Rs: Right College, Right Price, Retirement Preserved.

What kind of financial services do you offer?

Peter Lampert, the financial expert at Afford College, uses the LEAP methodology when creating financial plans for the families working with Afford College. Unlike other financial planners, Peter performs a holistic review of each family’s assets and goals and carefully crafts a long-term, flexible plan to achieve them.

I’m not sure where to start. What do you recommend?

The first step on your journey with Afford College is to take this quiz. From there, you will see where your needs and desires align with ours. Then, we can set up a time to meet and discuss the possibility of working together.

My student is already a senior. Is there anything you can do for my student?

While we at Afford College recommend that families start the college preparation process as early as middle school, we recognize that this is not always possible. Even if your student is in their senior year of high school, Afford College has the tools to enhance your student’s college planning experience.

Why aren’t there more people offering this servicE?

We’ve wondered the same thing! College planning is a complicated and nuanced process that involves many intricate steps. Due to the fact that College Planning is so challenging, many people burn out in their first few years of practice. Luckily, Afford College is composed of experts in the realm of college planning and knows what is necessary to work with families for the long term.

How do I get in touch with you?

We recommend you take the quiz before moving ahead with your college planning process. However, if you have additional questions, you can email us at info@afford.college and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Exclusive Interview with
Peter Lampert - July, 2021

How did you go from your background as a tax accountant to getting into undergraduate admissions coaching and financial planning for college?

I left a Fortune 50 company in mid-career—I jokingly say, “a company that you've never heard of called Freddie Mac.” And that was before the days of the meltdown. We were on the cutting edge of tax law inside one of the largest companies in the country, but I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, I went out and I opened a tax accounting firm and started in on some estate planning, some tax planning, and some tax compliance work. 

Pretty much the first tax season out, people started giving me, along with their tax forms, a funny little form called the FAFSA form: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It vaguely looked like an income statement and balance sheet. So, I charged them. And they were all hopeful—I call it smoking “hopium,” quite frankly, that they were going to put these forms in and get all kinds of financial assistance. And guess what? Nobody came to the front door with bags of money. And so, I kind of ruminated on that. 

Then I thought back to what happened to me in undergrad. And I said, “there's got to be a better way.” I didn’t have money for college, and my dad chose a retirement only approach: his retirement came first. So, my methodology way back then was with the military: an ROTC scholarship for undergrad and then the GI Bill. I'm an academic nerd and I went back to graduate school, and that's where I did my MBA, JD, and CPA all at once. So that got me started. 

But, you know, a lot of people don't really want to go the military route and they want to find other ways to pay for college. 

So, I'm a holistic planner, and way back in tax planningI began to connect the dots. I ended up as a Registered Investment Advisor under that umbrella. Now I run my own firm specializing in something I call economic design, which incorporates tax planning, insurance planning, annuities, investment management, and basically a higher level of financial planning. It's a bigger picture. 

And that's really where this whole college piece comes in, because college planning, it's not just, you know, find the right school and what's my list of schools going to be? And probably if I'm focused on money and most parents are and most of us even going to graduate school money, how are we going to do this? Do you focus on the least expensive? Well, you have to think about what the economics are behind that, because colleges buy talent and they'll put money on the table. So how do you access that? And that's the bigger picture. So just connect the dots. 

So that's what I do today and it's my passion. I was on a call yesterday with a young lady and her family, and they're all panicked about how to do this. And I said, you know, you've got a great daughter. It's going to work out. And I think we're going to get some very serious financial assistance for you. So just connect the dots and keep going down the process. And it's all economics. 

It seems like tuition goes up every year and exceeds the rate of inflation. Is it still worth it? Is getting a college degree, is getting a graduate degree, is getting a business degree worth the tens and ultimately, potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars that students may end up spending to go back to school?

That is the question! That is the first elephant in the room that you need to really think about. And I again, I look at the bigger picture on this. There's really two ways to slice this. 

The first way that I try to guide families to—and this is true undergraduate and graduate—is: are you creating an asset? This is business. This is the business around a student. And are you going to create an income producing asset? If so, is that worth it? As an example, doctors and dentists in particular, they're creating an asset and it's a hard skill. Lawyers do the same thing. 

So, what are you going to focus on? Is it going to create an income for you in the future? And you should think about that. I do this at the undergraduate level. I call it the “Invest in Me” approach. And I talk to students, you know, they're 16, 17, 18 years old. And what's their life going to look like? And that's a hard question for undergraduates. I get it. But these are just pragmatic choices now. I always come with the student first: what's their needs and where are they? What's on their heart? And you're beginning to reverse engineer this process. And sometimes that's hard. It's hard at the undergraduate level. Sometimes it's hard at the graduate level. Why are you doing this? And then back into that. 

So, if you want to go into art and you just want to draw, that's great. Knock yourself out. I'm going to help you do that. But just think about this: you're going to struggle to make fifteen thousand dollars a year. Is that OK? So that's one way of looking at it. 

And the other side is—especially at the undergraduate, but even graduate level schools are like this—they teach you how to think and how to learn. One of the key things, especially at the undergraduate level, is that this new generation is going to have three careers minimum. And one of those careers doesn’t even exist today. Their life is going to change. So, you're preparing them to learn to be a critical analyst and to get ready for that. I think preparing for the unknowns is invaluable. That's the approach I took with my three kids. Because as parents, we want to set our kids up for success and to be happy and take care of themselves and maybe spouses and kids in the future. Well, you're laying the foundation right now for that. 

OK, I just had a child. I'm going to start putting money away into a retirement, into an education account and then hope that I have a pile of money big enough when they're ready to turn 18 and go off to college to pay for that college education. I'll pair that with on the graduate side, people who maybe tap into their savings. They've worked for a few years. They've got a little bit of a savings account built up from working on Wall Street or wherever they worked for a few years. And now they're going to go back to school. And again, they're going to be pulling on savings, education account, whatever you want to call it. To pay for education, is that a good way to go?

Both of those are OK, but you got to look at the bigger context of this. And this is sometimes like in the book, I actually have a warning that says, “the following material might not be enjoyable for traditional financial planners.” Well, as you approach this, I'm going to use an engineering approach for this analysis. You always start with the vision. So, it's vision, strategy, tactics, and tools. And that's great. I usually find the Lego blocks of this kind of finance, or the Lego blocks of college planning, are simple. We're just putting them together in slightly different ways for different families. Those are the tools. It really starts with the end in mind and starts with the vision and strategies. 

So if you say, “OK, I'm going to put money in a 529 plan.” Cool. Well, guess what? That's a tool—that's all the way at the bottom. What's your vision that you adopted unknowingly and mistakenly with that tool? Well, because the 529 plan shows up on all the financial aid calculations, you basically adopted the vision that you're not going to get any free money from colleges. You’ve pretty much sealed the fate that they're going to have to go to an in-state, public college because of cost. 

Let's go the other way. Let's say that you're either in undergraduate or you're starting a graduate program. Cool. So, I'm now going to start paying off all of the student loans. Well, what you've done now, and this is exactly what the certified financial planners are told to do from the CFP board, is you've now siloed your money. You pay, pay, pay, pay off those debts, then you start saving for your own retirement. Well, when does your compound curve really hit? Oh, after I paid off all these loans. Well, that little compound or the benefit of compound curve is in the last five or 10 percent of that curve, you've now shortened your compound curve because you siloed your money. Now, the trick is to start your compound curve as early as you can. And if you must, you collateralize your curve to pay off loans, but you don't stop the curve. 

So those are two approaches. But it all comes back to the bigger picture. You only have one financial engine, whether you're a parent or a young person coming out of graduate school. You've got to keep that compound curve moving in the right direction for you and then bring these costs—whether you're saving for college or paying off loans—along for the ride.

Every dollar that we're paying towards student loans is not going towards growing that compound curve. But student loans are student loans, right? For some people. I mean, at the end of the day, if you decide that X, Y or Z school is a great fit for you, it's going to help get you where you need to go and you need to pay for it somehow. Are student loans OK?

Absolutely. Just like having a mortgage on a house. Is venture capital debt or investment debt OK? Yes. But it must be balanced. You can't take on too much, you can't overdo it, and you have to think about the asset that you're creating carefully, because there's nobody in the back office printing twenty dollar bills.

Which comes first: fit or price?

I always maintain there are three fits that must be balanced. There's an academic fit—or academic and program fit— a social fit and a financial fit. And you shop for all three of those at the same time. At the undergraduate level, there are three thousand fine four year institutions in the United States. Our goal always is to take three thousand and bring it down to six to ten great-fit colleges. What's a great fit? Academic, social, and financial. And out of those six to ten, I want at least four to put serious money on the table. Statistically, that's very doable when you look at the numbers. 

My rule number one is student first. That doesn't necessarily mean community college is the right thing or Harvard is the right thing. Let's put them on the list. But part of that evaluation is whether they're a financial fit for the family at the same time. So, I think all three fits generally come first, especially at the undergraduate level.

I'll give you a case study with my daughter. I was doing this for a good 10 years or so. Connecting the dots became pretty obvious to me, and then all of a sudden I've got three kids that are on their way to college and I'm just like a parent. I had decided that my kids were not going to go to Big State University where they were going to get lost. The studies are very clear that engagement at the undergraduate level pays off in spades in the future in money along with success and happiness. And I saw that, so my three kids were going to go to smaller schools. They all went to graduate school after that. 

But as an example, my middle child went to Elon University undergraduate, a really solid, good program, not a huge name, maybe a regional name, but not a national name, but a very good fit. Why? Because she could be engaged with professors. She had classes of 20 or fewer taught by full professors, and she made lifelong relationships with some of those professors. Later, she went to NYU School of Journalism, graduated number one. Now she has a national name. And then she immediately was able to leverage those relationships into contacts and a book deal that she's finishing up right now. So that's the partnership, I think, between undergraduate and graduate. And even at the graduate level, 50 percent of her tuition was paid by NYU. And NYU is pretty stingy on giving out any kind of free gift aid.

Because if a student is going to go then to the more expensive but smaller private schools, whether for undergraduate or graduate, they tend to have the higher price tags. And yet if you get enough help from scholarships and merit-based aid, what are those avenues then to drive down your actual out of pocket expenses?

You’ve got to really understand that higher education at the undergraduate and graduate level is big business. I call it CollegeBound Economics; they're sizing you up on your ability to pay and how academically attractive you are. So, if you're less able to pay and they want you, they put money on the table. They call this Enrollment Management. And many times, the enrollment managers, i.e. the admissions officers and financial aid officers, aim to pay out as little as possible while still increasing the grade point average and test scores of the entering class. 

The other side to enrollment management is what I call student positioning. So, you now must position yourself to the right college to extract as much money as possible. And that's where we start off. You start with three thousand colleges and bring them down. I don't care what your grades are, there are good choices out there for you, for both the academic fit and social fit. This is where we're honing in on the financial fit. And part of that, quite frankly, is promoting yourself. We call that marketing to the college.

How much money really is on the table if you position yourself right in terms of scholarship money, merit-based aid dollars that you don't have to pay back in loans or financial aid?

Good question. It's anywhere from nothing—because you didn't position yourself well—to a free ride.

Let’s look at an example. When you take the PSAT, that's really not for you. That's for the College Board to sell your name off to schools. Schools zero in on you, even Harvard and Stanford and the Ivies who have all the applicants they need, and they still market. Why? Because they want to increase the average academics of the entering class. And all of a sudden, you get these little things in the mail called postcards and marketing materials. And the young lady or young man gets all excited. So the love affair starts. They didn't start with 3000 and bring it down; they fell in love with one school, and now they have to figure out how to pay for it. 

And make matters worse, they’re hoping—I call that “hopium”—that the college is going to give you money. When they fill out their financial aid forms and submit them, the college now knows all about their finances and they know they have a hot prospect. How motivated are they to give away any money? Because of their econometric models of enrollment management, colleges know exactly how much money they need to give a student on average to get them to enroll. And their job is to give you as little as possible. 

How about a free ride? Let's get 100 percent. Start out by looking at the college websites; their job is to bring in students that meet their needs and their needs are all over the websites. For example, some colleges, like Rice and Texas, have a list of 90 elements that they're grading you on. And they're doing that not just to kind of figure out cool kids, but they have a values statement of what they're shopping for. So, your job now is to understand that and literally just do some market research. You look at the website, you talk to their financial aid people, you talk to the admissions person, you talk to the regional admissions person, and you literally ask, what kind of student are you looking for? They'll tell you because that's what they're shopping for. It's that simple. Then you look at your attributes and maybe if they do want that star quarterback and you're not a star quarterback and they're really serious about that, then maybe that's not a good fit. 

On the other hand, with my daughter who went into journalism, she started talking to the department heads of colleges she was applying to  and in essence nicely marketing herself by asking questions. She got a really nice email back from one department chair that said, “Well, Natalie, I hope I've answered all your questions. You are obviously a very talented and motivated young lady. I look forward to having you in my class.” 

So do you think that college wanted her? Yes. And did the Enrollment Management department put money on the table? Yes, because that's the person they wanted. I've seen students that do this get 100 percent free rides. 

So, zero to hundred percent. It's that simple. 

If a college is test optional currently, should students still submit stellar scores? And are our colleges and graduate schools still considering them when thinking about the value of the applicant?

Remember, colleges are businesses. They're “buying” students through free gift money, scholarships, grants, and tuition reductions. You need to think like an admissions and financial aid officer. What are their needs? Primarily, they want successful students that are going to do well in their environment and represent them very well. Later, as alumni, they’re investing in you to give back to them in the future in terms of reputation and money. 

So, how are you going to demonstrate to them that you are a good scholar? The best way to do that is to have a stellar transcript and strong test scores. Now, does that mean that you can get by without providing test scores? Maybe. I'm not saying you can't, especially now, but you're competing. So how are you going to stand out? It would be really nice to have a sixteen hundred S.A.T., so the more you walk away from that, the more risk you face of  not qualifying for that money. If you demonstrate you’re in the upper 25 percent of last year's entering class, I can almost guarantee you you're on track for free money.

If people are serious about lowering their out-of-pocket expenses to go back to school, ideally, it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. Is that sort of a good way to summarize it?

Without a doubt, if that college meets your needs as you define it, absolutely, 

And then if you get your heart set on only one college and apply as a small fish in that big pond and get accepted, just realize that you may not get as much financial help as you could get elsewhere. And that's ultimately the balancing act: you're weighing your own decisions on where to go and how you're going to pay for it. 

This turns the advice of guidance counselors upside down. If you're going to do an academic fit and a social fit along with a financial fit, there are no stretch schools on your list. If you have a stretch school, you are not in the upper twenty-five percent of last year's entering class. You will pay full price if you choose to go there. That's fine. Just write a check for it. And guess what happens? Your check is paying for the free money that the upper twenty-five percent is getting. You are subsidizing your classmates’ scholarships. That's how this plays out. 

Any final thoughts?

I just kind of leave you with one major point here in that college is business and regardless of where the money comes from, it's always going to be business. 

And the other thing is, especially for families, it's not a college or retirement issue. When you really look at the big picture and you reverse engineer, you can have college and retirement. It's not either/or. So just start down the path with that thought process, balance it well, and make it happen.