We got Your Secrets Right Here. Book Review: College Secrets by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

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This book is written by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox. She is the Author of several books, including Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom 2nd Edition, The Millionaire Kids Club: Penny Power and College Secrets for Teens: Money Saving Ideas for the Pre-College Years. You can find her site at AskTheMoneyCoach.com.

Right off the bat, I would recommend this book, but not every aspect of it pertains to high income earners. If you are like me and getting ready to send your first child to college in the near future, this book is an excellent overview. The book covers a lot of the financial pitfalls associated with attending college. It was a quick read and gave a lot of information about how financial aid works. It also shows a behind the scenes views of how colleges work financially.

The author gives her story about undergraduate and grad school in the introduction. Her personal experience helped her try to make a better way for her daughter during the college process.

I really like that she values college but doesn’t accept what she calls the “whatever it takes” mentality to paying for college. She wants parents and students to both be financially conscientious when deciding on and paying for higher education.



Her second chapter titled “16 Tuition Busting Strategies that all Student Must Know” was quite helpful. Even though you could find this information elsewhere, two particular strategies were interesting to me.

One involved playing with fire so to speak. If a student applies to a college very late, like July or August, she could hope that a spot opens late because another student enrolled and then had a last minute change of heart.

This could potentially land a student her dream school but she should have a backup plan if this high-risk strategy doesn’t work out. It would be interesting to see exactly how many students really get in like this. I don’t even know that it is very helpful when you consider all the other potential factors that could make this strategy more expensive than planning ahead.

For example, if you are just making housing arrangements a month before school starts, chances are you would have the least desirable and most expensive housing left because all the other high-value and low-cost places have been snatched up by the other students. Though, It could be a small price to pay in finding higher cost housing for the first year and then have the opportunity to plan ahead for the following years and still be at the “dream” school.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Another aspect I would never have thought of for school was to go overseas. There are several foreign countries that provide free or very cheap education for Americans. Some people think that a U.S. education is automatically superior when it comes to colleges. That might not be the case. Looking at global rankings and seeing where an international college stacks up could mean a quality education with a less expensive overall cost. 

Personally, I would think degrees such as some business and politics degrees earned abroad could be superior to American degrees. As far as I could find, the quality of the college superseded its location.

Another helpful theme in the book was explaining the different financial strategies for in-state versus out of state schools. There are plenty of ways to pay in-state rates for out of state schools. 

Playing Dirty

She also highlights the dirty tricks that colleges play with their fees. If a college can think of a fee, they will likely charge that fee.

I don’t remember that being as big a concern for me when I was attending college, but I can understand this practice becoming more and more common with colleges. Everyone highlights the ridiculous increases in tuition costs. That is always at the forefront of the media. I’m sure colleges are looking for more politically correct ways to increase revenue. If they can tell the media and parents that tuition cost only increased a small percentage but make it up with more fees, that gives them a more favorable public perception.

She gives tips on room, board, books, and supplies. There wasn’t anything too groundbreaking here. It was good to just go over the topic and get a nice overview. You could probably figure out a lot of this on your own, but I find looking at a list helps me from missing things later. 


Hidden Costs

The second part of the book is titled Hidden Costs.

This title scared me initially, but the majority of the recommendations were rooted in sound financial practices that everyone should be doing, especially our kids early in their financial careers.

Budgeting, minimizing big costs like rent, food, clothing, utilities, and entertainment are the core of her recommendations. She does an excellent job of highlighting these areas and more. The book tailors them to the needs of a college student and her parents.


Show me the Money

The third part consists of financial aid strategies.

Khalfani-Cox does a great job of going over the basics of financial aid applications and the FAFSA and CSS forms.

A lot of the topics in this section are tailored to need-based aid and won’t apply to high earners. You can skip most of them. It might be a good idea to read it once just to know what is out there regardless of income. Depending on your income and the number of students you will be supporting at any one time these strategies could be beneficial.

One section that was particularly relevant to high income professionals was the scholarship section.

Like most things in life, these areas are becoming more and more competitive. The author really stresses the importance of treating scholarships applications like a job. It is hard work but could be very worth the effort.

Yeah or Nay

Overall I recommend this book to any parent that has a student in junior high or high school. Even if you are too late and have some students in college, this could be beneficial to reduce college costs going forward.

I want to thank all of my readers. I recently crossed the 100 subscriber mark. To celebrate I sent my copy of “College Secrets: How to Save Money, Cut College Costs and Graduate Debt Free” to my 100th subscriber. Hopefully, he enjoys it and passes it along to another parent once he’s done. 

I plan on doing this from time to time, especially with book reviews. If you know any authors that write books relevant to other high income parents, I would love to hear your suggestions. Does anyone else know some more “College Secrets?”


Tom is a doctor, husband and father of five with a passion for parenting and finance. When he isn't skateboarding, riding BMX, or jumping on the trampoline with his kids, he is reading and writing about personal finance. He helps high income parents educate and mentor their kids to become financially, emotionally, and intellectually self sufficient.

5 Responses to “We got Your Secrets Right Here. Book Review: College Secrets by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

  • Dood, el Farbe
    7 months ago

    Tom, thanks for the book review; we have one starting college this fall and by her senior year we’ll have 3 of 4 in college at the same time, so I’m hoping this book might have some nuggets for us to mine.

    As for “If a college can think of a fee, they will likely charge that fee. I don’t remember that being as big a concern for me when I was attending college”, I recall heavy fees at my in-state U for my undergraduate engineering program that were absent for the regular liberal arts or math/bio majors.

    Earlier this week I happened to check tuition at my alma mater and was surprised to see that they had jacked tuition itself for the ChE program ($19K per year vs. $12K for a general liberal arts degree), and charged thousands in additional “fees” for the engineers.

    So it seems you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    • That is outrageous. I wonder how the University justifies that. Is there a lot more lab work and supplies for engineering that go along with the degree?
      I can’t believe it would cost over 50% more to educate an engineering student versus a liberal arts student.
      The cynic in my thinks that engineering students are likely to have higher salaries when graduating so the university thinks they can pay more for their degree.
      I bet very few parents are like you look into the different colleges and see the financial differences.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Tom @ HIP

  • Dood, el Farbe
    7 months ago

    My initial thoughts were (1) equipment and (2) salary structure of the professors.

    Think about how expensive the NMR (er, “MRI” – can’t go scaring the patients by using the word “nuclear”) or other imaging equipment is in a hospital. Training in engineering, particularly chemical engineering, but also MatSE, NucE, AE, uses a lot of multi-million dollar pieces of equipment, both high-tech and industrial.

    Re salaries, although I think this is overshadowed by the equipment issue, salaries for PhD engineering professors is a lot higher than for, say, English lit, sociology, or history profs. A quick lookup at my UG shows a lot more of the engineering profs pushing or beating 200K, while the profs in the fuzzy stuff rarely were over 150K for full prof and often under 100K for associate prof. Apparently (from the article below) B-school and computer science profs also command a higher salary.

    Check this recent article from Pew.

    One of the sections that caught my eye was the question of whether some of these universities are hiding the ball somewhat as it comes to increased costs.

    Officials at universities that have differential tuition say their more expensive programs are as popular as ever. And as Wolniak’s research team found, information about higher tuition and additional fees isn’t always clearly communicated, so that students and parents might not know about it.

    The six graduate students on his research team, who scoured university websites for tuition information, frequently reached different conclusions for the same university. Sometimes notice of a program fee would show up in the footnotes of a PDF file on the bursar’s office website. Some universities only provide cost information by credit hour.

    “Things should not be this opaque,” Wolniak said.”

    • That pewtrust.org article was very interesting. Thanks for recommending it. The part that was really interesting was that students could take classes for cheaper when declared for one major and then switch at the last minute.
      I could understand if a class is more expensive because the professors command greater salaries or there are a lot of technical components that cost a great deal of money. To charge a student more for the same class just because his/her major is EE vs humanities is terrible. I don’t know how schools could get away with that for long. Like the article says and from the research I have found, the schools do a good job of hiding their fees or just making them very difficult to show.
      It’s no better than medical costs.
      The fact that some universities have gone to a straight cost model per hour may make them more attractive to students if this trend of charging more depending on the major continues.
      I always enjoy your comments.

      Tom @ HIP

      • Dood, el Farbe
        7 months ago

        Thanks Tom. I saw that comment about going undeclared but taking classes in the more expensive major (to save costs), then switching to that major later.

        While the young man who mentioned that is clearly closer to the situation (at Iowa) than I am, I doubt how much overall savings this would represent. A lot of the classes one would need for the yet-to-be-declared major are either going to be limited to those who’ve declared the major, or tough to get slotted into because those declared have earlier access to enrollment.

        But still, charging class-specific tuition based on costs would be fairer and eliminate the ability to game the system.

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