The College Solution: Our Fantastic Evening with Lynn O’Shaughnessy

We attended one the best events about college finance and planning last night at Santa Cruz High School.

Steven Shapiro (who I met with privately) had told me I needed to go and he was right. Lynn O’Shaughnessy was amazing. While Katie started to wear out, I think I could have stayed for another two hours. The information was that good and her speaking style was fantastic.

I’ll do my best to share the highlights – which is to say those things that I took notes on. I think it’s safe to say subscribing to her blog and buying her book The College Solution are two good bets. I believe almost everything I heard is in her blog or book in one way or another.

The big takeaways:

Know your kid. Think carefully about what colleges will work best for your child. Big schools aren’t personal and don’t necessarily guarantee and education. Smaller schools are focused on teaching, have smaller class sizes and more access to instructors.

Financial aid is accessible for nearly everyone. You just have to know how to be a good consumer. I believe this is where her book/blog can really help. She has so many insights on how to approach aid. Oh yeah, and those sports scholarships everyone thinks exist, the really don’t. 2%. That’s how many kids get sports scholarships. But there are a ton of schools that give merit-based aid.

Where you go to school doesn’t determine career success. She cited studies that compared Ivy League kids with non-Ivy League and the biggest predictor of success is the nature of the child, not where they went to school. Duh. It also doesn’t affect grad school. Here’s her write up from a study on where kids who go to Harvard Law did their undergrad work.
She spit out a ton of websites that can help you figure out costs, search colleges, even help kids figure out how they rank against their peers and their chances of getting into specific colleges. I found this blog post from Lynn that lists most of what she shared with us. She’s screened the (apparently there are tons more) and she likes the ones she’s listed and spells out her caveats.
She recommended two more books:
Colleges that Change Lives which talks about the value of smaller schools. It was interesting to hear her talk about this because I went to USC for one semester as a freshman in 1980 and I HATED it. I was so miserable. I was lost in a sea of students with no access to my professors, teaching assistants that barely spoke English and no personal experience at all. I transferred to UC Davis where I fell in love with school, my major was small and intimate (Rhetoric) and even my minor in Psych which was much larger, was still close and inviting. Big schools can really be a challenge for a kid who needs to feel like they belong.

Students’ Guide to Colleges. She really likes this book because the kids actually write up the reviews and provide insight on how things really work, the nature of the professors and much more.

Okay – that’s the big picture. Happy to answer questions if you have them. I feel like we can do this now. There’s a lot of research to do to find the right schools with the right financial aid packages but at least now I know how to “play the game.”

UPDATE: this infographic just came out summarizing student loan debt in the US. Very interesting.