05/04/2012 11:56 am ET Updated Jul 04, 2012

Mompreneurs: Helping Parents Plan For College

Jodi Okun was ready to get back to working after raising her kids who had left for college. She strategically thought about what she enjoys doing and then made a plan to build a business based around her passions.

When my daughter was a senior in high school in 2007, I began to search my soul to figure out what do in my third act. As she was planning her move to college on the east coast, I was looking down the anxious path of empty nest syndrome. My son, who was a senior in college at the time, was also graduating in 2008. Having raised both kids as a stay-at-home mom, it was time for me to make a move. I started by talking with a close friend of mine and we broke down all the attributes that best described me. I love education, especially post-secondary, and my passion is finance. Putting all three together, I decided to take a class at UCLA about college financial aid. The instructor of my class was Maureen McRae. She was, and is currently, the Financial Aid Director at Occidental College and one great teacher. After completing the class, I felt a connection, so I called Maureen and asked if we could meet for coffee.

Jodi told Maureen about her background of moving to California from Chicago to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising where she received an Associate of Arts Degree in Fashion Merchandising. Next, Jodi just straight out asked Maureen if she would hire her and teach her everything she knows about financial aid.

On top of that, Jodi told Maureen that while working there, she would be starting a company of her own. Maureen liked the idea, but told Jodi that in order to work in post-secondary, education you need to have a post-secondary degree. She continued to help Jodi design her path to earn a Bachelors degree in Business from the University of Redlands in 2011.

Jodi's goal for her own business down the road was to work with parents to open up educational possibilities for their children that they never dreamed possible due to the perceived high costs of college. Jodi explains,

By helping parents use and manage college financial aid strategies -- from scholarships to work/study jobs to student loans -- I would work to make it feasible for children to receive the best education possible, regardless of cost.

Maureen continued to support Jodi's plan and while attending University of Redlands, Jodi began work at Occidental in their financial aid office shadowing Maureen closely and soaking up everything she could about her new industry. After one year of mentoring, Maureen hired Jodi as a seasonal financial aid consultant to help analyze continuing and prospective students.

While working at Occidental, I launched my company, College Financial Aid Advisors in 2008 with five clients and a whole new outlook. Each year, I went back and worked at Occidental as a seasonal consultant and continued growing my business. I'm a passionate financial aid consultant who helps make college more affordable. I work closely with parents and families of students to successfully navigate the financial aid process. My exclusive confidential and personal service not only helps identify grants, loans and scholarships available to students, but also submits the multitude of forms associated with obtaining them. This year, my company helped over 75 families and we have been a valued resource to many more through social media.

Last year, Jodi incorporated a large social media component to her business that includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and a popular Twitter Chat #CollegeCash on Thursday nights at 7:00 pm PST.

In addition to social media, Jodi is senior partner in a recently launched app, called the CollegeBound App. It's a free app to help eliminate the college stress by providing both students and parents with useful, every day and up-to-the minute information on and about the entire college process.

The Rewarding Part :

My most memorable student in the past four years lived with his grandfather in a legal guardianship for most of his life. His brother and mother lived in another town and he very rarely saw them. His grandfather came to me and explained how amazing his grandson was and how he wanted to give him the opportunity of college but had no idea where to start or how he could afford it. I began to work with the student and grandfather the summer of his senior year in 2010. We created a financial aid timeline and began to work closely together to make his dream come true. The student studied hard, had great grades, took his SAT, worked hard on his applications, and kept close contact with his school counselor. We met often to make sure he was on track with all his financial aid applications. I am proud to say he was accepted into many of his top choice schools and committed to University of California San Diego. Together we worked closely with the University explaining his unique financial situation with his grandfather as the legal guardian. UCSD has an outstanding admissions and financial aid staff and worked closely with my student to help complete the long financial aid process.

Jodi acknowledges that as a parent herself,

I know that next to buying a house, planning for college expenses is one of the biggest financial projects that parents and their children undertake. Four years of college costs tens of thousands of dollars, and it is increasingly easy to break into the hundreds-of-thousands dollars range, especially for advanced degrees. I continue to help students find a way to attend the college or university he or she has dreamed about and earned the right to attend.

Jodi Demystifies Myths About College:

Myth #1: I am not going to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because my parents make too much money. I won't qualify for aid.
Truth: There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. There are many other factors beside income to determine financial aid eligibility, which include family size, kids in college and age of older parent.

Myth #2: I am not going to fill out the FAFSA because only kids with good grades get financial aid.
Truth: A high grade point average may help a students get into college, but most federal aid programs do not take a student's grades into consideration. Students need to have satisfactory academic progress for federal student aid to help complete their education.

Myth # 3: I am not going to fill out the FAFSA because you have to be a minority to get financial aid.
Truth: Funds from the federal student aid programs are awarded for financial need, not on race. FAFSA doesn't even collect this information on the application.

Myth # 4: I am not going to fill out the FAFSA because the form is too complicated.
Truth: The FAFSA is the only way to get federal aid. There are instructions for every question and their customer service is outstanding. This year, they implemented a new Live Chat so every applicant can get on line help.

Myth # 5: My family can't afford private school tuition.
Truth: Don't rule out the college of your dreams just because of sticker price. If the college has higher tuition, students can often get more financial aid to help. If the student meets academic and extracurricular needs, go ahead and apply and make your decision when the financial aid letters arrive.

"For me, helping students and families open the doors to their future is the most rewarding opportunity. As I continue to help many non-profit organizations like Operation Jumpstart and Pathways of Independence I am able to give students the ability to have the education that I have found so valuable for their generation today. To help eliminate financial boundaries for all students we can help continue to educate the next generations to come."

Jodi built her business from scratch one small step at a time. Her strategic planning and hard work paid off. She knew that in the long run, having work that brought her joy would be the best way to spend her "empty nest" days.