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6 Steps Students Should Take Before Choosing a School

Choosing education after high school is a significant undertaking that has financial implications on the rest of a student’s life.

Here are six steps your clients’ students can take while they’re still in high school to make the optimal choice for themselves.

1.) Do Research

Student Loan Hero reports that doing research should include talking to current students and alumni, finding out what the average salaries of graduates in the desired program are, and finding out about things that matter specifically to that student (for example, Greek life, volunteer organizations, study abroad programs, etc.).

U.S. News & World Report noted in an article, “How to Avoid Dropping Out of College,” that students should also research retention rates at their top choices, specifically for their demographic.

2.) Make a List of Top Choices

Students should have a short list of all the schools they would want to go to. Even if they do get into their dream school, it doesn’t mean their dream school will give them a good aid package. The second choice may be the best financial decision.

3.) Visit the Top Choices

Have the family schedule campus visits for all the student’s top choices to see if the culture is a good fit. It’s important to get a feel for a school before making a financial commitment to it.

4.) Do the Math

Crunch the numbers of the aid package for each school the student is accepted to. It might be that a private institution, though it costs more, is offering the student more merit-based aid and less loan “aid” in the financial aid package. Also, don’t forget to factor in loan amounts to determine the ROI on each individual school.

5.) Work With the Numbers and Plan

Negotiate with the financial aid office. Have the student apply for merit-based and affinity group scholarships. Have them figure in what family aid or 529 plan funds they have at their disposal.

“Students and families really do need to sit down and do that long-range financial planning and be very deliberate about that, because it’s four years—it’s a significant investment,” Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman College in Georgia, said in the U.S. News & World Report article.

6.) Be On Top of It

Don’t procrastinate. It’s only January, but the time to start planning is now.

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the FPA Next Generation Planner. She also edits the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, which is why Sebestian, the greatest college mascot of all time, makes an appearance in this post’s image.

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Leveraging Tech to Build Efficiency in Your Work

Have you ever wanted to find a quick-fix way to create more efficiency in your business? Advisers often try to use different business “hacks” to maximize their efficiency and create a scalable practice, but the truth is that using different productivity hacks likely isn’t the way to make strides in your business.

Instead, focus on learning a few key pieces of tech and how to leverage them in your business. Let’s go over a few not-so-obvious systems that can help you improve productivity.

Scheduling Software

Sometimes advisers I speak with love their scheduling software, while others reject the idea of using one in their practice. It’s a little intimidating to let clients and prospects book whenever they want.

However, high-quality software offers a lot more than simply giving your clients access to your calendar. Scheduling software gives you the flexibility to set up automated email or text reminders and confirmations to clients and prospects for upcoming meetings. Depending on the software, you may also be able to schedule automated meeting follow-ups. Plus, a good scheduling tool will help you to set up boundaries to protect your calendar. You can organize it to only book certain types of calls at different times, or during specific weeks during a given month.

Personally, I recommend Calendly as a scheduling tool. It’s the easiest system to integrate into your practice and is incredibly user-friendly. Additionally, the company continually rolls out new features, like metrics and reporting or round-robin scheduling for teams.


You may think that a customer relationship management system, or CRM, is an obvious tool in your tech stack, but many advisers aren’t using their CRM to its full potential. Your CRM likely has reporting capabilities beyond what you’re currently using. Monthly reports on what prospect opportunities you lost or won, or the number of prospect meetings you average per quarter, are two common examples.

Many different CRMs are available for advisers. I prefer Wealthbox and Redtail. In fact, they’re the only two systems I consistently recommend for advisers. Each of these systems has robust capabilities and are specifically designed with advisers in mind. They also have a number of integrations, making it easy to integrate them into your existing tech stack and processes.

Email Marketing System

Most advisers have an email marketing system—even if they’re not using it consistently (yet)! Email marketing systems are often thought to be a prospecting-only tool to help you grow your business. Although I do recommend that advisers set up their email marketing system to offer free downloads or lead generation pieces, and use them to send out newsletters and nurture emails to grow business, that’s not all these systems can do for you.

How much easier would your life as a business owner be if you were able to engage in one-to-many communication? Rather than emailing each client individually about open enrollment or tax season, you can construct emails in your email marketing system to go out to a specifically tagged list of your clients.

Wondering what system to use? MailChimp’s free version is solid for beginner RIAs, but if you’re ready to level up, check out ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign or Constant Contact. These systems have more advanced ways to tag your contacts and communicate to individual segments on your list.


VPN service helps you to keep your clients’ information safe and your Wi-Fi connection secure when you’re working in a public place.

VPNs are perfect for travel, working in a coworking space or even a home office in your apartment complex. I feel that VPNs are an integral part of any adviser’s tech stack. When you’re helping clients with their finances, you need a protected way to keep their information secure. I recommend Private Internet Access® VPN service. You pay an annual fee and the system can sync to multiple computers.

Password Manager

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten locked out of your online accounts because you couldn’t remember your password.

We’ve all been there!

However, as a business owner, you can’t be in a situation with a client where you can’t log into a key account because you can’t remember your password. The best way to navigate this problem is to use a password manager in your practice.

These systems save your logins and can even update your password periodically to ensure they stay complex and secure. You can also use them to share login information among team members or with contract workers. Some systems even have the option to have shared folders that contain specific passwords you want to be shared, while keeping others private.

In my own business, I use LastPass, but if you want to look for other options you can check out 1Password and Dashlane.

Voice-to-Text Systems

As an adviser, you’re on the go a lot. Whether you’re rushing to meetings or trying to manage follow-up preparation after meeting with a prospect, you need a better way to summarize meetings and write notes to yourself and your team.

Whether you use Copytalk or Mobile Assistant, or any of the other voice-to-text systems available, these tools can save you a ton of time on jotting notes down or sending follow-up reminders. Some CRMs even offer voice-to-text options to make your processes a little bit more streamlined. In my own business, I leverage my CRM’s voice-to-text option in an application on my phone.

The No. 1 Tool You Need

I’ve saved the best for last. Zapier is the No. 1 tool you need to have in your back pocket as an adviser and business owner. Zapier helps you to connect and integrate different systems to make them “talk” to each other. You can use Zapier to eliminate manual steps within your business processes and streamline your work.

Charesse Hagan

Charesse Hagan helps financial planners work smarter, grow their firms and offer exceptional services to their clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is an operations consultant at Charesse J. Hagan, LLC, and an FPA Coaches Corner coach for technology and operations. Find more resources from Hagan here. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

See a new article by Charesse Hagan in the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” Download your copy of the whitepaper here.  

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Adapt Your Career to the Changing Landscape

Career planning is a giant subject. Often it starts with the question: “What do I want to do with my career in the future?” The FPA and SEI research paper “Advisory Firms in 2030: The Innovation Imperative” focuses on a very different question. It asks, “Will my career still exist in the future?”

The answer is entirely dependent on how professionals and firms adapt to the changing landscape. Adapting to change is the key.

Writing the Top Performer’s Guide to Change led me deeply into change research. It’s there that the secret to adapting to change emerged. This secret is the single best career advice for our changing landscape, and here it is: develop resilience.

This is extremely simple, but not easy. Fortunately, research psychologists discovered people who are keenly adept at resilience. They call these people “thrivers.” They also uncovered the unique factors that made thrivers excel far beyond their peers. Thrivers practice three fundamental disciplines that build resilience and deliver success. Here they are:

1.) Discipline Your Mind

The resilience research is overwhelmingly clear; your mental frame determines your future. Successful thrivers maintain a discipline of optimistic realism. They look reality squarely in the face then make a realistic assessment of the situation and focus on the positive opportunity.

Develop optimistic realism in three steps:

  • Ask yourself: “What’s true?” and “Where is my opportunity?”
  • Make a personal mission statement from both answers.
  • Push the mental repeat button on your mission statement daily.

This technique directly immunizes against the common mental traps that kill positive resilience. It’s natural and normal for people to struggle with four poisonous perceptions. Catching them before they take hold is important. Be on the lookout for thoughts and feelings that make the situation seem:

  • Permanent: Things appear like they’re never going to change for the better. You’re on a seemingly endless road of struggle.
  • Personal: You feel like the epicenter of the problem. This often appears as a feeling of inadequacy.
  • Pervasive: The negative circumstance bleeds into a pessimism about life in general.
  • Powerless: Your confidence in making a positive impact is greatly reduced. You feel largely powerless in the situation.

Most people struggle with some or all of these pessimistic perceptions during times of transition. Humans don’t like change. It interrupts stability and security. Feeling pessimistic is the normal path. Thrivers learned to resist and disciplined themselves to overcome this natural human tendency. We can do the same. Immunize yourself with the mental discipline of a realistic and positive mission statement. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

2.) Focus on Your Strengths

Thrivers also have a habit of focusing on their strengths. In case you think that thrivers might have it easy, let me provide some context. Thrivers were studied specifically because they had positively overcome massive challenges including criminal violence, domestic abuse, war trauma and the like. Despite massive hits, thrivers zeroed in on strengths rather than losses.

A great technique to articulate and emphasize your strengths is to make the following three lists:

  • I Am: List all your intrinsic strengths, the characteristics, qualities and personality traits that help you achieve. There is great power in remembering and leveraging your natural gifts.
  • I Can: List all the skills, abilities and achievements you’ve acquired over the years, both professional and personal. You can deploy your accumulated experience across multiple new opportunities.
  • I Have: List all the resources available to you. Resources come in many forms, tangible and intangible. Don’t forget to include all the people who are willing and able to help you.

After you develop the lists of I am, I can and I have strengths, you’ll feel much more optimistic. Then use those lists to develop a game plan to employ your strengths to your best advantage. Revisit the lists often. They’re a tremendous confidence booster.

3.) Don’t Go It Alone

One of the most striking things about the thriver research is that no thrivers achieved alone. Every thriver intentionally developed and relied on supporters and advocates. They did a great deal of individual work to achieve and recognized their need for help. The mavericks and lone wolfs did not succeed. It takes a great deal of humility and courage to ask for help. Thrivers had that courage and it paid off.

The FPA and SEI research paper focuses on the need for innovation, in other words, the need for change. Embrace change and achieve success with positive and flexible resilience.


A business psychology and productivity coach, Barbara Kay serves clients through coaching, consulting and speaking on growth, productivity, teams, relationships, change, women and leadership. Kay speaks at conferences, builds custom workshops, consults on growth and coaches professionals nationwide. As a Woman Business Enterprise, Barbara Kay Coaching is a certified diverse supplier. She is a coach in the FPA Coaches Corner.

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Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” Download your copy of the whitepaper here.