What is working for "Your Financial Mom” in terms of college financial planning and college readiness?
This article features an interview with Pam Horack, CFP, with Pathfinder Planning LLC, a registered investment advisor in North and South Carolina. With the firm, Pam provides financial advice for an hourly fee to young adults and families through group classes, one-on-one planning and ongoing advice. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Pam’s insight as Your Financial Mom is built off of providing conflict-free financial advice to clients since 2010. Prior to 2010, Pam was a Vice President with Bank of America Investments, Training Manager with Atlantic Assurance and Training Manager with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJDirect). As part of her current role with Pathfinder Planning LLC, she provides three planning packages titled, “College Course”, “SmartVestor” and “The Client Spot.” You can learn more about Pam Horack and Pathfinder Planning LLC at the website of www.pathfinderplanningllc.com. Last but not least, thank you Pam for your time, insight and support for working with me on the article. Please read the question and answers to learn about her perspective on college financial planning, and hope that the article provides you with an opportunity to learn more from your peers.
Question 1 (Paul Curley, Editor of the 529 Dash): What is working for you in terms of college financial planning and college readiness? How did the concept of the College Course first come about?
Answer 1 (Pam Horack, CFP, Financial Planner with Pathfinder Planning LLC): My dad always said that you learn a lot of things in school – and some of it you get from a book. This is where college-bound students find themselves these days. They are well educated, have lots of volunteer experiences, and are ready to learn. However, they are missing some practical life skills they will need as they head off to college.
A local scholarship coach I know said that she noticed how college bound students didn’t know how to do laundry or cook. The bursar at a large private college told me that students didn’t know how to write a check or pay their college bills. Several financial advisors have asked for a course to help their client’s children develop some competence around the life skills they will need to develop at college. These comments led me to believe how much a course was needed, so I created one.
I’m Going to College – Now What? is designed for high school seniors heading off to college. This online course gives them knowledge and skills to begin their new life. Each lesson guides students through a combination of video examples, web links, downloadable forms and action items to prepare them for their first year of college. And at the end, if they still have questions, they can schedule a one-hour virtual conversation with me: Your Financial Mom.
Question 2: Based on your experience, what are some key factors for successful high school seniors?
Answer 2: The keys to success aren’t taught in a book, so college is the place where young adults first start ‘adulting.’ Any time we can give our kids a leg up on everyday life skills, they will begin to succeed. No one wants to spend time in a messy, smelly dorm room – so we learn to clean and do laundry. Everyone hates the ‘Freshman 15’ – so we learn to eat well and exercise. Learning to manage money is critical, and it’s much better to start with smaller amounts and make mistakes than it is to get your first job making $50K and not knowing what taxes are or how to pay bills. Your employer will fire you if you are never on time and argue with everyone. These are the everyday life skills that build the maturity needed for success in any career.
As parents, we need to learn to let go, and let our kids fail along the way. I recently heard a parent say that they were not going to protect their (college age) kids from being an adult. They are going to let natural consequences be the teacher. I hope this course will help smooth over some of the adult scenarios they will find themselves faced with.
To help, I added Action Items at the end of each lesson so learners can put skills into action. For example, at the end of the Cooking section, I recommend that the student plan a meal, shop for the food and make dinner for their parents. Then, they can thank their parents for doing all that work over the years.
Question 3: How can product providers and states better support you?
Answer 3: I think the question really is: How can we as an industry support the next generation? We all need to help young people develop strong skills that will sustain our economy into the future. If we raise a generation that doesn’t value work or believes someone else will pay for things, then we are hurting ourselves in the long run.
We need a myriad of people to support our students: parents, politicians, employers, educators and financial advisors. This course supplements the work of these groups by including personal and financial life skills for the next generation.
Question 4: What key trends do you see in college financial planning going forward?
Answer 4: I see a more forward-looking process of planning for college ahead of time, rather than the current backward looking process of attending college and then figuring out how to pay off student loans. More financial planners are focusing on the college-bound market to help with everything from saving and investing for school to choosing cost effective colleges and majors. The more we can find a college within our budget and save ahead of time, the better our graduates will fare when they are ready to enter the workforce.
Also, not everyone needs a four year degree. I see alternative education coming back into style. Apprenticeships, paid internships, vocational school and certificates are all tried and true way of gaining the basic skills needed to successfully enter a career.
Even with these changes, I have not seen, in a coordinated way, anyone focusing on things like: what to do when you get pulled over for speeding, how to balance your checkbook, what do you do if you get ill at school, or how to properly address an email to your professor. That is what I’m looking to provide in this course.
Question 5: Are there any questions that I overlooked?
Answer 5: The purpose of college is to prepare you for a career. Employers are looking for employees who can show up for work on time, be respectful of others, and get along in a team environment. There is no class to show you how to do these, so employers look at your other experiences. I believe having a job throughout college is critical to future success.
Holding down at least a part time job shows future employers your consistency, work-ethic, and ability to take direction. Jobs help students decide what type of tasks they like (and don’t like!), get along with others, and build problem solving skills. Studies show that students with a job develop better time management skills during college. Additionally, a job gives you spending money and helps reduce the amount of loans you need. It’s a win-win all around.
My parents were very practical and working was mandatory for us. Some of my most powerful life lessons were not learned in a book, just like my dad said.
Editor’s Final Note: Thank you Pam Horack for your time and insight for this article. Also, I would like to provide a special thank you to the readers for learning from your peers, for your support and your engagement.