The Class 101 College Planning Franchise Story
A stockbroker discovers untapped market to help families save money on college tuition
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs shape their passion for helping others into a lucrative business venture. Class 101 Founder and CEO Tom Pabin was at a crossroads in the late 1990s. His parents, grandparents and godparents had all passed away, and although he liked his job as a financial advisor, he didn’t love it. He wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he wanted to help people. He was doing neither in his 9-to-5 career. “Although I liked being a stockbroker, you could give the absolute right advice for a family and still be wrong. I didn’t want to be in a business where something else controlled my destiny.”
It was Tom’s volunteer efforts that eventually led him to found Class 101.
As a volunteer youth minister, he discovered that he really enjoyed working with, and helping guide, young people.
“There was a single mom in my youth ministry whose daughter was a junior in high school. She approached me about helping her daughter with the college application process,” Tom says. “She and I would meet every week there at a restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, and talk about college preparation. She began bringing her friends, and the next thing I knew I had 30 kids I was working with on a regular basis.”
Tom realized there was a critical need for professional college planning services. In Kentucky alone there are 296 high schools.
Class 101’s rapid growth illustrates need for college planning
Tom launched his college planning business out of his two-bedroom apartment and soon began networking within the Lexington community. He joined his local BNI business networking group, which is still a very integral part of Class 101 networking, and his client base soon grew large enough to move his workspace from his apartment to office space in Lexington.
Word spread rapidly about his business as more and more satisfied customers referred Tom to friends and family. His first client, the young woman from his youth ministry days, had a successful college career at Bellarmine University, a private four-year Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. Tom also helped her younger brother get into the perfect college at the perfect price.
“I started out as a youth minister who helped these first few kids on the side, and then the business absolutely snowballed,” Tom says. “The next thing you know, I was helping kids and their families in Lexington and beyond. Then we started getting clients in other states. At our 10-year Class 101 company anniversary, clients in different countries led me to see the real potential for franchising.”
In October 1998, Tom began working in the Louisville, Kentucky, area. Business grew, and Class 101’s second location was opened in Louisville in 1999. In 2000, Class 101 expanded outside the Bluegrass State, working with students in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. Today he and his staff work in their second Lexington office location after outgrowing the first home office. The Class 101 headquarters is filled with college brochures, and bulletin boards are covered with graduation announcements from former clients — all successful graduates or on their way to becoming successful college graduates.
Class 101 continued rapid expansion. After hitting the 1,000-student milestone, Tom began the franchising process in 2007. In 2008 the first official Class 101 franchise office opened its doors in Louisville. In 2016 the company expanded to North Carolina with a Wilmington location with goals to open 100 total franchise locations by 2020.
Own a rewarding business with a bright future
Class 101 has grown from one youth minister donating his time to help a student and her single mom navigate the difficult college application process to a system that helps thousands of high school students find the perfect college for the perfect price.
“The average kid applying to college applies to two or three, but Class 101 students apply to at least seven or eight. It’s about having options for college. Why go to a school because you have to? The college never makes the student; the student makes the college,” Tom says.
Every fall, several million students head off to colleges and universities nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and their options can be overwhelming, with more than 4,000 colleges and universities. Each and every one of those high school seniors represents a potential Class 101 client. We meet a growing demand for personalized college counseling that helps families save money.
At the core of the Class 101 company culture is a true passion for helping kids. Tom speaks about his business with undeniable enthusiasm, and that culture permeates the Class 101 franchisee team. “Our number one criteria for choosing a franchisee in our company is, ‘Do they have a heart for helping kids?’ ” Tom says. “They have to want to help kids. They have to want to make a difference. And that’s what we do.”