College Planning for Grandparents with Dr. Andrew Riley

We all want the best for our grandchildren’s careers. And a great career starts with a great education.

But top schools turn away more than 95% of applicants. So if you want them to join a great school, the best time to prepare them is now.

Today’s guest, independent education consultant, Dr. Andrew Riley shares how to navigate the college admissions process.

In this episode, you’ll discover how to give your grandchild the best shot of landing a place in the USA’s most competitive colleges.

Listen now.

Show Highlights Include:

  • Why encouraging your freshman grandchild to volunteer at the local dog shelter helps them get into Harvard (even though they can’t apply until senior year) ([5:48])
  • A new service that gives your grandchildren the best shot at landing an Ivy League college scholarship ([6:41])
  • How to use the “going merry” database to find low-competition scholarship opportunities that other students miss ([11:12])
  • How your grandchild can 2x their chances of landing a scholarship with the “recycling” trick ([13:15])
  • 2 ways to ensure your grandchildren never have money troubles in college (for as little as $0) ([16:20])


DLP043 PC - College Planning for Grandparents with Dr. Andrew Riley



Do you want a wealthy retirement without worrying about money? Welcome to “Retire in Texas”, where you will discover how to enjoy your faith, your family, and your freedom in the state of Texas—and, now, here’s your host financial advisor, author, and all-around good Texan, Darryl Lyons.


Darryl: Hey, this is Darryl Lyons, CEO and co-founder of PAX Financial Group, and you’re listening to Retire in Texas. I appreciate you tuning in today. I have to give you the disclosures, though, that this information is generally not tax, legal, or financial advice. Visit PAXFinancialGroup.com for more information. [00:51].3]

I also want to just say that, for those that have been listening for a while, this is a little change up in our program. You’ve heard from a lot of recent retirees and that’s been really fun for me. Gosh, you’ve got to go back and listen, because there have been so many just really incredible stories, and so I wanted to change it up a little bit and I wanted to talk college planning. You think, I’m retired and I don’t need college planning. Watch what I do in this show. This is going to be fun because we’ve got an expert here. Dr. Riley is with us today. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Riley: Absolutely. Thank you.

Darryl: And we’ll hear more about his story, but if you’re a grandparent, we’re going to address how you can help your grandkids, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, so tune in and I’ll stop yapping. Thank you again for being here. Let’s tell the audience a little bit more about you. Where are you from originally?

Dr. Riley: I grew up in the flatlands of Northern Ohio, actually, a small town called Wauseon.

Darryl: Wauseon.

Dr. Riley: That’s right, yeah, right between Toledo and Indiana and the turnpike just south of Michigan. Yeah, I grew up there, went to elementary, middle and high school there, and it was a great place to grow up, sort of what you think about in the Midwest American childhood. [02:03].1]

Darryl: Yes. Yeah, that is a cool area. I have a lot of friends from that area, generally speaking. I don’t know exactly where that town is. What did your parents do? 

Dr. Riley: My mom was a nurse and my dad was in business, and they were really sensitive to my sister’s and my needs, so they didn’t have full-time first shift jobs together until I was in middle school so that there was a parent available to us more so. They were great parents, very good home training. I’m really grateful for that, yeah.

Darryl: That’s great. Yeah, that’s a blessing. Then navigate me. How did you get to San Antonio? I know there’s some stuff that happened.

Dr. Riley: Sure. Sure. After high school, after I graduated from high school, I went to Ohio State, and I went to Ohio State thinking about being a teacher, wanting to pursue education, but what that looked like was not super clear at the time. I ended up majoring in Hebrew studies at Ohio State, and at that point, I was thinking about maybe a career in ministry and the training in biblical Hebrew and biblical studies that I got in that particular department of Ohio State was good for that. [03:06].4]

Finished my bachelor’s degree, started a master’s there as well, and actually started to teach for the university as a graduate associate. Met my wife. We got married just toward the end of graduate school at Ohio State. Then I went to grad school in Cincinnati, a school called Hebrew Union College.

Darryl: Oh, wow.

Dr. Riley: At that point, the objective was to be a college professor, teaching religion, ancient Israel, Old Testament, stuff like that, and finished grad school. I worked for Xavier University in their theology department for three academic years. That was a visiting professorship that ended that I ended up at the University of Oregon for three school years. That professorship ended. At that point, I just didn’t like the instability of trying to find a permanent professorship, so I joined higher ed administration and I came to UTSA here in San Antonio.

Darryl: Okay, UTSA brought you.

Dr. Riley: Yeah. Yep. I was an academic advisor, part of a great office there at UTSA, and that was in 2016. It was what brought us here initially. [04:04].4]

Darryl: Very cool, and then you ended up at Cornerstone.

Dr. Riley: That’s right, yeah. I was at UTSA. Again, wonderful experience learning how to advise these undergraduates toward completing their undergraduate degree. What was nice about Cornerstone is I got to work with kids a lot younger, so I could–

Darryl: Tell me, what do you mean by younger?

Dr. Riley: Typically, high school students, but also a lot of exposure to middle school students as well.

Darryl: Oh, okay. All right.

Dr. Riley: Yeah, and I focused on the seniors, helping the seniors at Cornerstone exit gracefully and then enter higher education successfully, and that’s what gave me a lot of the exposure to college admissions, helping them develop good strong applications for college.

Darryl: Yeah, and for those that don’t know, there’s a pastor, his name is Pastor John Hagee. You’ve probably seen him on TV. He’s the one that really got Cornerstone Schools off the ground, and if you haven’t been to the campus, it’s in the northeast or northwest, I guess North Central San Antonio more or less, and it’s such a beautiful, magnificent campus, oh my gosh. You go there and you’re like, this is a university. [05:05].2]

Dr. Riley: Sure, sure. It’s a great, great place. Yeah.

Darryl: Yeah. Now you’re in this role where you’re, and sometimes the definitions aren’t clear, a consultant, a coach, and so if I use the definition wrong, please correct me, but a college consultant.

Dr. Riley: Sure, sure, yeah. Independent education consultant is what people like me are really known as. What I focus on, though, is college application consulting, so helping seniors with those college applications. College applications are challenging. They’re time consuming, so a person like me helps them to develop a very strong profile, their essays, their resume, what to focus on, so that they make a very good impression on the colleges that they’re applying to.

Darryl: Do people, generally, engage a college consultant higher– Would you say it again? Higher education?

Dr. Riley: Yeah, independent educational consultant.

Darryl: Okay, independent educational consultant. Do they typically engage somebody in that role as a senior, junior? When does it start? [06:04].0]

Dr. Riley: The senior, really, the very beginning of senior year is the end of the time you’d want to do that, right?

Darryl: Okay. Give me the beginning real quick.

Dr. Riley: Sure, yeah. You’re eager to meet with kids as young as freshman in high school, because if a student’s going to win admission to a selective university, they’re going to need to start that process early, developing a good strong academic profile starting freshman year, thinking about summer experiences, thinking about volunteer experiences that are all going to segue into that strong college application as a senior. Yeah, so freshman, sophomore, junior, and then the very beginning of your senior year is when you actually start the application process.

Darryl: Okay, so I’m jumping into something that I know everyone’s going to ask. How do people pay somebody like you? I mean, this is a new, relatively new service offering that’s not prevalent necessarily in the marketplace, financial advisor, accountant, but your role is different. How do people pay? Is it monthly? Is it one time per project? Is it per kid? How does that look? [07:00].0]

Dr. Riley: Yeah, that’s going to be you’ll see a variety of products. I do have an hourly consulting rate, but I also offer full packages. The senior-year evaluation is where I take a senior’s senior-year schedule, their transcript, their resume, all their standardized test scores. They answer several questions for me, and then I give them, essentially, a report that they will use to apply to colleges. That’d be a one-time fee for that.

For students that then want my coaching through the months of the college application, I would offer then that monthly coaching, which, again, goes for several months, but it’s a one-time fee.

Darryl: Okay, that makes sense. Give me an example, if you don’t mind, of somebody that you might have engaged with that we can kind of put a person behind.

Dr. Riley: Sure.

Darryl: What’s that? Is it a student that’s an exceptional student? I just want to paint a picture of the type of person that you’ve been working with.

Dr. Riley: Right, yeah. I can think of a senior, a very gifted student, very forward thinking, that student is not going to have a real hard time applying to and winning admissions to the schools that she wants to get into. That family has hired me for several consulting hours and that relationship I handle either over the phone, via email, stuff like that, and just simply coach them, answer their questions, do resume reviews, stuff like that. [08:18].7]

Darryl: But you’re in San Antonio. Are they in San Antonio?

Dr. Riley: They are in San Antonio, but my services are definitely virtual and can be really anywhere in the world.

Darryl: Yeah, okay, good, and that’s good to know, because, obviously, there’s a lot of people that listen beyond San Antonio here. You can do a lot of things virtually. Now, you did mention something that might be a necessary element of engaging with you and that’s having somebody, a motivated kid. What happens if somebody’s listening and they’re like, Yeah, that sounds good, but my grandson or my son would never see that through? What do you say to that?

Dr. Riley: That person, again, would need me to come alongside and coach them, right? That’s the parent or the grandparent, the guardian that’s really worried about the follow through of their young man applying to their different schools, and that’s where I come along and I provide, again, a timeframe, a timeline for – [09:06].5]

Darryl: Deadlines.

Dr. Riley: – deadlines, exactly, for all the stuff. “When will your essay be done? When will Draft 1 of the essay be done?” Because his essay is for admission, and scholarships require multiple drafts. “When will you have your conversation with your teachers about letters of recommendation for colleges?” I would coach that student through the entire process in partnership with the parent, with a guardian, so that they achieve their goals and the deadlines of applications.

Darryl: I want to continue to tease this out. Before I do, I want to give everyone a quick commercial.

You’re listening to Retire in Texas. You may have just tuned in. If you need to meet with a financial advisor, just text 74868 and put in “Texas”, and if you do that, too, we can connect you with Dr. Riley that way, too. Just text the number 74868, and in your text message, put in “Texas”. You’ll either meet with an advisor, but if the advisor connects with you and you want to talk to Dr. Riley, we’ll make that connection as well, so that’s an easy way for them to connect with you. [10:02].4]

Okay, we have a motivated or somewhat motivated student. A somewhat motivated student, you’re going to hold them accountable to deadlines. You’re going to walk alongside whoever paid, whoever wrote the check to get that thing going. Then, in terms of the parents, would you profile many of the clients that you would work with as busy parents, parents that are taking care of other kids or working two jobs? And they probably have the intellectual capacity to navigate this world. They probably could pull it off if they really had to, but the reality is it’s going to take some time. That learning curve is going to be steep and you’re just going to crush that learning curve. Am I framing that right?

Dr. Riley: That’s correct, yeah. Moms and dads, guardians are extremely busy. That’s for sure. That’s when I come along with whether it’s email reminders or outreach. “Look, we’re getting close to October 15 and this is one of our deadlines. How’s it going with (fill in the blank)”? your essay, your resume, etc. “Have you talked to your teachers yet about that letter of recommendation? If you have, how have you framed your request?” Stuff like that. [11:01].2]

Darryl: Okay.

Dr. Riley: Yeah, students and parents are extremely busy, so I do come along and provide that guidance to help them navigate this challenging process amidst a very, very busy season, the fall of senior year.

Darryl: What about scholarships? Are you all things for scholarships or how does that work? 

Dr. Riley: Yeah, so there are a number of scholarships search engines. The one that I always recommend that I believe in the most is called GoingMerry.com, and “going”, G-O-I-N-G, “merry”, M-E-R-R-Y, [dot] com. I believe in that because I really think that they’re keeping their database the most updated, and when I was at Cornerstone, they would send me, I don’t know, probably monthly updates on my students that had memberships, and Going Merry is free, and how many scholarship options they had. They had scores of options.

I want students to create a profile on there and then just start applying to scholarships, and the more time-consuming a scholarship is, the more they need to focus on that because those are the ones other students will not apply to. When it says you need to write an essay, 500 words on the basis of (fill the blank), that’s what students are turned off by, because they don’t want to write that essay, okay? So, they do that. They get a profile, apply for those scholarships. [12:12].0]

Then, as a senior, the student and parent need to sit down and submit the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That’s going to open this fall, as it always does, on October 1. I have a podcast as well, my College App 101 podcast. I’ll devote probably the next three episodes, they’ll drop the next three Fridays, on financial aid, financial preparation, and the FAFSA. Here again, a lot of parents are overwhelmed with that and I can provide coaching and tips on how to navigate that successfully.

Darryl: Yeah, the scholarships and FAFSA, both key elements. I thought I heard something pretty interesting there, though. The Merry website, how does that send you alerts or information? Do they just give you authorization to get that?

Dr. Riley: That was when I was in a counselor role, so I was associated with the school. In my now consulting role, I probably would not be getting those alerts, but the students would, and, again, we’re talking about 100 scholarships that they can apply for, based on their profile, whether in their profile, they’re entering things like obviously their grade, extracurriculars, gender, all that stuff, and Going Merry prescribes them scholarships to apply for. [13:16].4]

Darryl: I’ve been to the website. It’s really cool, but there’s still stuff on there that requires your [coaching]. I would need to sit down with you and say, “These are cool, but do you think we should apply for that one?” or “This is a lot of work. Is it worth it?” There’s still that element. Have you seen that before? I mean, you can just send a kid. “Hey, go to this website and get this done.” I mean, with busy parents and a kid that’s doing sports and everything else, it’s going to be hard without you just kind of– 

Dr. Riley: Without coaching, exactly. Yeah, yeah. I, definitely, will provide that coaching and encouragement, and to take advantage of those scholarship opportunities, but, again, they’ve got to follow through and apply. When they write that one essay of 500 words, there’s a good chance for the next essay, they can rework that first essay and have less work in the process of scholarship application.

Darryl: And the FAFSA is a huge hurdle, but they’ve made it easier in recent years. Am I hearing that correctly or no? [14:00].8]

Dr. Riley: The big, easy steps that’s going to be for next year. This year it has gotten easier, yes, so there’s the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which parents can use to import their IRS data, which they should do. It’s pretty quick. But, actually, next year’s FAFSA will be considerably easier and shorter, as I understand it.

Darryl: That’d be great.

Dr. Riley: The thing that parents need to remember is they fill out the FAFSA every fall for the next year, all four years. If the student is a senior right now, this October is Year 1 of four. I’m assuming the student graduates in four years.

Darryl: Yeah. Gosh, there’s so much to ask here. Obviously, this is amazing.

Dr. Riley: Sure.

Darryl: Let’s shift gears a little bit because a lot of the clients at PAX and, really, a lot of people have 529 plans.

Dr. Riley: Yep.

Darryl: We’ve talked about this. I can’t use my 529 plan for your service.

Dr. Riley: Correct.

Darryl: We kind of looked and identified that that’s not a solution, but, actually, it’s not a terribly bad thing. If finances are the hurdle to engage with you, taking a distribution out of a 529 plan and just dealing with the 10% penalty on the earnings, it’s not like insurmountable. [15:09].4]

Dr. Riley: Sure.

Darryl: Let’s say somebody wants to take out $1,000 for whatever they engage with you. Yeah, it’s going to cost a little bit more to pull it out because of the earnings penalty, but at the same time, if that’s what it takes to engage you, then that might be a solution. Now, the FAFSA—I don’t want to hold you out as a FAFSA expert. You probably are—does the 529 hurt you on the FAFSA? 

Dr. Riley: I think there could be minimal hurt, because this is a part of the family’s money.

Darryl: Total assets, yeah.

Dr. Riley: Exactly, the estimated family contribution.

Darryl: Yes, yes.

Dr. Riley: With that said, I think people still need 529s. The benefit far outweighs the detriment, just because it’s a beautiful product. It’s post-tax money you’re investing, gross tax-free like a Roth. Parents, grandparents, guardians should not let that stop them from starting a 529 early on in the life of their future college student. [16:09].7]

Darryl: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve seen a lot of schemes out there that try to circumvent the system and using creative whole life products, and it really has created a mess for some people out there.

Dr. Riley: Sure, sure.

Darryl: How would a grandparent, a grandmother, we’ll say grandmother, how can she walk alongside their grandchild as they’re starting to transition into the college years? 

Dr. Riley: Grandparents have just got such a fun role of influence in the lives of their grandkids. A forward-thinking grandmother could open that 529 in the name of their grandchild.

Darryl: That’s a good idea because that actually moves it out. I don’t want to create, but it potentially could move it out of the parents’…what do you call that? The financial…

Dr. Riley: Estimated financial contribution.

Darryl: Yeah, the EF…

Dr. Riley: C.

Darryl: EFC. I don’t think about it that much. It might move it out of the EFC into the grandparents’ name.

Dr. Riley: I would need to research that. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure.

Darryl: Yeah, I know, I know, I know. Yeah.

Dr. Riley: But, anyway, they could start that for that grandchild and make consistent contributions to it, watch that money grow over time. Of course, I think they’d keep it as a high-risk investment for many years until toward the end. [17:11].4]

Darryl: Yeah, totally.

Dr. Riley: Exactly, yeah, and then when that student starts college, they’ve got resources, financial resources. Also, grandparents can just encourage those grandkids, “Sweetheart, you’re 14 now. How many kids can you babysit this summer? How many kids can you walk? I notice a lot of dogs in your neighborhood. People will pay you to walk dogs,” and just encouraging their grandkids to be industrious, to save, save, save.

When I work with high school students, I really program them to think that “Look, you’re in high school. You are now transitioning to that era of great responsibility where you get maybe a $100 handshake for Christmas or your birthday. You save most of that and you spend a little bit of that. You’re saving it for your future college expenses.” Grandparents have a role in that conversation as well.

Darryl: That’s a great point. There’s a lot of people that are in situations where we talked about busy parents that are sending their kids to college. They’re juggling other kids. They’re juggling a couple jobs. We have clients here, it’s like, Hey, we saved all our 529 money. We’re completely wealthy. We’ve got this, we check this box. We’re good. There’s a lot of that, so I get that and that’s a blessing. But then there’s a lot of people that aren’t in that great position. [18:17].8]

It seems to me, and I didn’t think about this until we were talking, it seems to me it’s a really good investment for a grandparent to pay for your services.

Dr. Riley: Sure, absolutely.

Darryl: It takes the pressure off the parent, right? The parent’s trying to say, “Do I pay for this service or do I pay for that volleyball clinic?” There’s trade-offs there that are harder, but a grandparent paying for your service seems like a reasonable approach. Any thoughts on that?

Dr. Riley: Yeah, no, it’d be a great gift for a child. I think as well, you mentioned volleyball camp, a lot of these high school students do plan to play NCAA athletics, so they’re putting all kinds of time, money and effort into that. The chances of getting into the Ivy League is just as difficult as winning a football scholarship for the Division 1.

Darryl: Let me hear that again. The probabilities of getting into an Ivy League, getting accepted into Ivy League, Harvard or Yale, is the same probability as getting a full-ride athletic scholarship. [19:10].0]

Dr. Riley: It’s comparable, yeah.

Darryl: More or less, right?

Dr. Riley: Yeah, yeah, and these kids are putting years into preparation for the athletic piece and probably not as nearly as much time into the academic piece, you know? That’s where I come in. I’m going to coach these students on how to develop those applications so they can win admission to those schools.

By the way, 4% is Harvard’s admissions rate. MIT, 4%. Caltech, 3.9%. These are so, so competitive. It takes an extremely-talented student with a very gifted either English teacher or school counselor to guide them in that process. It’s so competitive. That’s where I come in to help them navigate those competitive waters. And even locally, the most competitive local school is Trinity. More than 10,000 seniors will apply to Trinity this fall and they’ll admit about one in three. That’s how competitive Trinity is.

Darryl: One to 3%?

Dr. Riley: One in three seniors they will admit. [20:02].7]

Darryl: Okay, gotcha, so one in three.

Dr. Riley: About 30% that will be admitted to Trinity, and Rice, the most competitive private school in Texas, 9% admissions rate.

Darryl: Is that right?

Dr. Riley: Yeah, 9%.

Darryl: Do you know UT, A&M, off the cuff?

Dr. Riley: Not off the top of my head. UT is–

Darryl: For those that are listening, I’m sorry my Tennessee friends, that’s University of Texas, not the University of Tennessee. Oftentimes, we have to get that straight when we’re together. I know they’ve become much more competitive, both schools have, and there’s so many quality schools out there that, over the years, I’ve just seen some real talent come from. I think about how we’ve hired some great people from Abilene Christian University.

Dr. Riley: Sure, sure.

Darryl: That’s not one of those big schools, but that’s been incredible. Even my alma mater, St Mary. There’s a lot of good schools out there that might be a good fit for a lot of people listening.

I know that we’re covered a lot of ground. I’m looking at my questions here and I didn’t even get to all of them. Two last questions. One, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

Dr. Riley: My website is CollegeApp101.com. [21:01].1]

Darryl: Two Ps, A-P-P.

Dr. Riley: That’s correct, yeah. They should go there. There are several ways to reach me through that website. The website, the footer of the website, has a link to my podcasts, which I mentioned. Those are also on Spotify.

Darryl: Only about seven minutes, too.

Dr. Riley: Yeah, they’re short.

Darryl: It’s good to know.

Dr. Riley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then there’s also my social media feed that’s also linked and I’m always putting stuff on social media, reminders about the SAT, ACT, and FAFSA, tips on essays, all that stuff, so they should visit that and connect with me.

Darryl: When do you do your next workshops? Do you have anything coming up?

Dr. Riley: With the FAFSA, I decided to focus that into these three episodes in my next three podcasts.

Darryl: That makes sense, yeah. Interesting.

Dr. Riley: Just so that people can listen to those, exactly, yeah, because it’s so intimidating and it can be overwhelming, so I want to provide a product that helps families with that.

Darryl: No, that’s great. One more time, “college app”, A-P-P, “101” [dot] com.

Dr. Riley: Yeah.

Darryl: Now there is something. I think there’s College 101 out there, so you’ve got to be careful, if you’re searching that. It’s “college app”, A-P-P, “101”, and then it’ll say, “Dr. Riley”, so they’re at the right place then. [22:05].5]

Dr. Riley: Correct, yes, yes.

Darryl: I did that.

Dr. Riley: Okay.

Darryl: The last question is the most important question. What is your favorite salsa?

Dr. Riley: Okay, so I love avocado-based salsas.

Darryl: Yeah.

Dr. Riley: Yeah, there’s that restaurant here locally called Torchy’s and their avocado salsa is hot, but it’s very, very delicious. I do perspire when I eat it. A little bit less perspiring salsa would be actually Taco Cabana’s salsa ranch. It’s sort of a white ranch-based salsa. It is phenomenal.

Darryl: The ranch-based salsa, is it in the little place, right in the…what do you call it?

Dr. Riley: The little buffet.

Darryl: Yeah, the buffet. I had another name, but, yeah, the little buffet area. Is it in there?

Dr. Riley: I’m pretty sure it is. Actually, a friend of mine purchased her tacos and had that as a side. I don’t remember seeing it. I’m almost positive it is, though, yes.

Darryl: Good stuff, yeah. Thank you again, Dr. Riley. This has been fun. For those that have stayed to the end of the show, thank you for that, and be sure to text “Texas” to the number 74868. That’s “Texas” to the number 74868, and a financial advisor will speak to you complimentary, no cost, no pressure. [23:11].0]

Again, I want to remind you to think different when you think long term. Have a great day.


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