Although it may have PR and image problems, College Admissions Assistance isn't a scam -- as some people believe after they've attended the free seminar. Ultimately, CAA is offering a service that some people are willing to pay for. Some may find those services helpful, while others might find the payments are a financial burden considering all of the other costs involved with college.
If you don't mind shelling out a couple of thousand dollars for guidance, CAA might well be a good option for your family. But CAA certainly isn't the only organization that provides a roadmap for navigating the complexities of college admissions.
High school guidance counselors and college financial aid experts at individual schools are good planning resources. However, depending on the school you attend, they're often overburdened with massive workloads and they may offer only generic advice. There are also plenty of private contractors and companies who will help you plan for a fee.
Before relying on overly broad advice or spending a lot of money, first use some free resources to educate yourself on the extent of the admissions process. The Federal Consumer Information Center links to many helpful resources. Online, you'll also find free information about direct loans and education funding.
The Internet is full of other useful college resources. Fastweb.com is a good place to search for scholarships, grants and general admissions information. The College Board and College View sites offer step-by-step action plans for students who need a roadmap of admissions processes. Their college application calendars will help ensure you don't miss any important admissions deadlines.
You can chat with others about CAA or any number of other college-related subjects on College Confidential. The U.S. Department of Education will help you find the right college and you can use online, virtual tours to see campuses without leaving your home.
Companies providing college admissions counseling services may try to convince you that there's almost too much online information, and that sorting through all of it is too difficult. Other private, for-profit counselors argue that it might take you several years to get your mind around the information you find on the Web.
Your decision depends on your time and financial resources. You may decide that a company such as CAA works for your budget and skill level. But if you're pressed for cash like many students, doing the legwork of researching your own college preparations is a good idea -- and the research and problem-solving skills you put to use will prepare you for college, too.
For more information on financial aid and other related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.