A valuable resource that addresses college financing – An interview with CEO and Founder of NextGenVest, Kelly Peeler
By Caitlin Fritz
Kelly Peeler is CEO and Founder of NextGenVest, a financial aid service with a mission to invest in the next generations’ aspirations for a college education. NextGenVest partners students with “Money Mentors” through text messaging to help with financial aid, scholarships, student loans, and more. Kelly recently had the chance to interview the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education John King (see here) and I got the chance to ask her a few questions about her work in helping to get students to college.
Caitlin: Kelly, can you tell us a little about NextGenVest?
Kelly: NextGenVest.com is the Money Mentor for every student. We help students with financial aid, scholarships, and student loans over text message, and now even Snapchat. Whether it be FAFSA help, finding match scholarships, writing appeal letters, or filling out state grant forms, NextGenVest is available for student questions, even on nights and weekends! We currently serve over 35,000 students in six major cities.
Caitlin: You mentioned, Money Mentors – who are they and how can someone get involved?
Kelly: Money Mentors are trained college students who went through the financial aid process themselves and want to help other students avoid mistakes in a relatable way. We have many Money Mentors who are first generation college students and had to navigate all financing options by themselves. Any college student in one of our major cities can apply for a semester long Money Mentor internship. If accepted, they participate in a month-long training program. We have about 300 college students from across the U.S. interning as Money Mentors, and about 70% came from those who used Money Mentors themselves. The internship is paid and they develop professional skills as well!
Caitlin: You mentioned writing appeal letters. Does this mean that students can negotiate their tuition?
Kelly: Yes! NextGenVest.com helped students negotiate $260k+ in 2016 alone. Money Mentors help students write appeal letters stating their case as to why a university should consider re-evaluating their financial aid package. It isn’t a guarantee but it is worth a try!
Caitlin: What are some of the most difficult challenges that you have seen students face today when looking to access a college education?
Kelly: The biggest challenge is not filling out the FAFSA. Students left $2.7 billion dollars unclaimed in free federal aid for which they would have qualified. Many times students will take out far too much in loans as opposed to just submitting their FAFSA which allows them access to federal aid and potentially scholarships.
Caitlin: Is it all just about that process during senior year of figuring out how to pay to college?
Kelly: Definitely not! We continue to help students to and through college. NextGenVest helps students budget for important steps such as travel to freshman orientation and Money Mentors are there to work through alternative options for emergencies such as unexpected expenses or the loss of a scholarship or aid.
Caitlin: What can schools and/or teachers do to partner with NextGenVest?
Kelly: In Philadelphia, we have teams of trained college students from Temple, Drexel and Penn who can provide 30 minute in-person workshops at schools. We have a workshop that discusses how to navigate the world of scholarships, a workshop for seniors on how to understand the financial aid package, and a workshop for juniors that helps to kick-off the college application process. Thanks to a partnership with Dominos, all workshops include free pizza! In addition, any school that provides free and reduced lunch can receive a free code for their students for a Money Mentor.
Caitlin: You seem really passionate about this work, so what inspired you to start NextGenVest?
Kelly: This is my third student-focused social enterprise that I’ve created. I’m a big believer that the number one thing holding this generation back from fulfilling their potential and dreams are student loan burdens – the average student will graduate with $37k in debt.
Kelly will be in the Philadelphia area next month, presenting at Teach For America’s Annual Education Summit: Grow in Greater Philly, February 11th at School of the Future (4021 Parkside Avenue). If you would like to reserve a college student to host a 30 minute workshop with free pizza on Scholarships 101, FAFSA 101, Understanding Your Financial Aid Package, or Kicking Off the College Process, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your preferred date, time, and school!
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