Our College-Prep Expert Interview series gives parents and students an opportunity to meet an expert who can help them on their college-bound journey. We ask each expert how they got into the business of college-prep, why their work is so important and to share their biggest tips and tricks!

Expert: Suzanne Shaffer

Company: Parents Countdown to College Coach

Location: Dallas, Texas

Catchphrase: Preparation prevents panic.

Why we interviewed Suzanne: She helps parents navigate the college maze by providing expert help and encouragement. Suzanne is the definition of a college-prep expert – she has been in the business for many years and has some great advice and insight to provide any family on the college-bound journey!

How long have you been working in the college-prep world?

Professionally since 2006; but personally with my own children and others since 1999.

How did you get into this work?

My daughter wanted to attend college. I myself had never been. So I did the leg work, learned about applying and scholarships, and helped her get into her dream college. This was before the widespread use of the internet. I spend many hours at the library.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your experience?

There is help available everywhere. All you have to do is know where to look and ask. Never assume you know the answer—go to the experts and don’t listen to other parent advice.

Why is your work so important?

I have a passion for helping parents like myself. Parents who can’t afford an expensive college counselor. Parents who, like me, are helping their students get into their dream college.

Who is your typical client?

Parents of college-bound teens seeking answers to all sorts of college prep questions.

What have you found your clients struggle with the most?

Understanding how financial aid works, how colleges dole out the money, and how to muddle through all the forms and documents required in the college application process.

What is the most important piece of advice you give them?

Always file the FAFSA and make scholarships a priority. Don’t let your student graduate with debt. Have the money talk early before senior year and determine what you can/will pay.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share with families on the college-bound journey?

Use social media to ask expert advice. Don’t be afraid to ask them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. They are more than willing to help and are happy to share their expertise.

What is your favorite college-prep resource?

First, it’s my Parent Crash Course. This walks parents through the entire process from freshman year to the first year of college. After that, I love college prep blogs. They offer good advice and guidance for parents.

What is one thing that makes what you do unique?

I’m a do-it-yourself parent. I help parents who can’t afford expensive college counseling. I was one of them and I know how hard it is to justify paying thousands of dollars when you’re struggling to save for tuition.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?

I like spending time with my grandchildren. They keep me young.

Anything else we should know?

Be a wise consumer. Weed through all the information and make a financial decision that best fits your family. With all the resources available, there is no reason to walk through this process uninformed.