College Inside Track Focuses on Finances

College Inside Track helps families get schooled on college finances.
Jay and Lucy Benanav with their sons David, Sam and Jesse, and two daughters-in-law, Marta, left and Rachel.

When it comes to navigating the storm around financing a child’s college education, it can be like popping up an umbrella after the deluge has stopped—too little, too late.

Bill Shaffer’s daughter looked great on paper. She had a 4.0 from a charter high school, participated in a host of extra-curricular activities and had leadership experience. Conventional wisdom would peg her as a shoo-in for college scholarships.

“Unfortunately, for those families counting on their child’s 4.0 GPA to pay for a full ride, this is not true,” says Chris Wills, president of College Inside Track (CIT). “In fact, a surprising number of colleges do not give any scholarship money to students based on grades and/or test scores, otherwise known as merit aid.” Welcome to Rude Awakening Number One.

“I don’t think most parents have a full understanding of the whole financial process,” Wills says. “Most people know more about purchasing a television than they do about college.” Shaffer and his family knew enough to reach out for assistance. “Our big concern was finding a match that was affordable at a good liberal arts college,” Shaffer says, so the family turned to CIT. “They provide a lot of resources,” he says. “Jay [Benanav] was able to identify some colleges that did very well with scholarships for students like her. We didn’t want to see her get out [of college] with a huge burden of debt.”

Founder Jay Benanav explains that CIT works with students and their families to find the right college or university that fits the students’ academic, social and financial needs and abilities. “The time should be spent identifying the school that will give the kids the most money,” he says. Benanav had first-hand exposure to the process when his three sons prepared for their college endeavors. As a former Saint Paul City Council member, he’s also familiar with watching the bottom line.

CIT offers service packages and customized programs. Offerings include unlimited college and financial aid counseling, job shadow placements, premium ACT/SAT test preparation, creation of a target college list, college application support and college essay guidance. Services are also available to international, transfer and graduate students.

After helping students narrow down their college choices, Benanav says the ambiguity around what families will end up paying for college can leave too many parents and students feeling frustrated. He says a college’s “sticker price” can be confusing. “What does that mean?” he says of published costs. “What am I as a family going to pay?” he adds. “That’s the hard part.” Those posted costs don’t factor in merit scholarships, need-based financial awards and education loans, most of which aren’t revealed to families until the spring of senior year—nearly too late to switch gears and apply to other schools. “The whole system is backwards,” Benanav says.

CIT seems to be on track with its system, and it successfully helped Shaffer’s daughter. “Perfect,” is how her freshman year is going. “She’s loving her first semester.” With one daughter on her way, the Shaffers will begin the process with their second daughter. “It was a huge education, and I feel much better equipped to help my child in the application process than I was with my first child,” Shaffer says.

Three Myths About Financing College from College Inside Track

Myth #1: A great GPA equates to scholarships.

Myth #2: Colleges hold the leverage with their pricing. “(Aside from Ivy League schools and a handful of other institutions), the reality is that it is a buyer’s market and colleges need you far more than you need them.”

Myth #3: A public university is always less expensive than a private university. “Even though the ‘sticker prices’ of public universities are almost always lower than private ones, they also don’t give nearly as much free money.”