Princeton Review: A Cheaper Alternative to College Counselors

Last Updated Aug 23, 2010 5:28 PM EDT

Where can you turn if you need advice about college admissions and financial aid, but you don't The Princeton Review logohave thousands of dollars to hire an independent college counselor?

In September, The Princeton Review will launch college admissions and financial aid courses that can help families grappling with their college choices at a more reasonable price.

Before I describe what Princeton Review is offering, I want to lament the sorry state of college counseling today.

Most families rely on their high school counselors, but it's hard to get face time with these busy folks. By one measure, the ratio of students to guidance counselors at public high schools is 470:1.

Even if high school counselors weren't so frazzled, however, many of them know far less than they should about finding colleges and paying for them. Here are some of the posts that I've written about this national scandal:

High School Counselors: The Weakest Link
What High School Counselors Don't Know (But You Should)
Why High School Counselors Don't Know Much About College
Unfortunately, the cost barrier to obtaining advice beyond high school guidance counselors has been high. Some affluent families turn to independent college counselors, but many of these counselors know shockingly little about the financial considerations of selecting colleges.

How counselors can charge thousands of dollars to families without addressing finances is shocking to me. It's like a physician only examining half your body during a yearly physical.

Seeing an opportunity, the Princeton Review has stepped in to provide guidance for families on a tighter budget. The Princeton Review has created online courses on financial aid and college admission that will be respectively taught by Kal Chany, the author of Paying for College Without Going Broke, and Rob Franek, the author of The Princeton Review's yearly Best Colleges guide book.

Moving Beyond Test Prep Classes

Providing guidance to families is a natural for the Princeton Review since it is trying to expand beyond its test prep services, say Scott Kirkpatrick, who is president of the Test Preparation and Admissions Services Division of the Princeton Review.

"I'm trying to move it (Princeton Review) away from just being a test prep company," Kirkpatrick told me. "We need to become a college readiness company."

Here are some of the Princeton Review's upcoming classes:

  • Financial Aid 101: Understanding the Financial Aid Process
  • Financial Aid 201: Completing the FAFSA
  • Admissions 101: Overview of the College Admission Process
  • Admissions 201: How to Conduct an Effective College Search
Princeton Review has priced its individual classes as low as $69 and as high as $199 and it also offers packages of classes. I predict that more players in the higher-ed industry are going to aim for parents in the vast middle market, who are understandably freaking out about the college process.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also write a college blog for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.