About Us

College Planners of America, Ltd. is located in Downers Grove, Illinois (in Chicago’s western suburbs). Our clients hail from 21 states and three countries. While our services include both educational and college financial planning, we are all about providing individualized support, customized to each family’s distinct needs and goals.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” with higher education. Each family has their own, particular financial situation. Every student has unique quirks, individual learning differences and a degree of motivation ranging from resistant to unstoppable. We understand adolescent depression, anxiety, and non-traditional family arrangements. There are a virtually unlimited number of money/personality/interest/family combinations. Yet, many planning services steer their students to their five or six “pet” schools. And they are usually local. That’s not customized service!

We do things differently. The College Planners of America students attend (literally) 100’s of different colleges across the country. View the current list here. We take pride in our individualized approach. It’s effective. It’s personal. And, with over 20 years of experience and thousands of satisfied students, we know customized service makes for a calm journey along the college path.

College Planners of America has helped over 1,300 families through the college admissions and financial aid process. The dedication, passion and practical experience of each of our Independent Educational Consultants have contributed to the growth of our business and the excellent outcomes we’ve helped many of our families achieve.

It is our mission to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information for students and families on every facet of the transition to college and beyond. There’s a lot to know! We help alleviate the stress and confusion associated with college planning. Plus, our families receive professional advice (and not just piecemeal council from friends or flawed online advice). If you haven’t already, subscribe to one (or more) of our social media pages. We share only the most-worthwhile college related articles and advice.

Our relationship with our families is both long term in nature and broad in scope. We work with families from the time their oldest children start high school and continuing until the youngest of their children has finished college.

Our ability to add value over time includes:

  • The filing of the annual application for financial aid (FAFSA).

  • Developing numerous cost-savings measures.

  • Assisting students in course and professor selection and degree progress.

  • Tapping into our extensive network to help students secure summer jobs and internships.

  • Helping the student to develop a strong resume and find full-time employment after college.

Micheal E. McKinnon


630-971-2300 mike@cofp.net

Mike is a native of Flora, Illinois. After attending Triton College, he continued to Arizona State University where he played football for the legendary coach, Frank Kush. Subsequently, Mike served as an assistant football coach for six years at Triton. While off the field, Mike teamed up with students and parents to help them find ways to finance their education. “My years as a student athlete and college coach taught me very quickly that no two people are the same. Each student and each parent is unique and needs to be treated that way. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to career selection and college admissions.”

After leaving higher education, Mike opened McKinnon Travel Services. His group travel business allowed him to travel to Europe and the Middle East over 100 times. Mike also became part-owner of the AAA Chicago Lions football team of the Northern States League which won the 1982 championship. In addition, Mike began to buy, restructure and sell numerous pizzerias. Furthering engaging his entrepreneurial side, Mike got involved in the long distance telecommunications industry as it was just expanding. In 1996, Mike founded College Planners of America, Ltd. He brought all his hard-earned understanding of tax law to bear for parents of college-bound students.

Mike was on the Board of Trustees of College of DuPage for 12 years, serving four years as Chairman. He is a past member of the Executive Board of the NICCP and a member of the Junior College Football Hall of Fame. He is married to the former Judy Bazelon and resides in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Mike has also been featured in Frank Bruni’s 2016 best seller, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.” In the author’s words: “A conversation with [Mike] McKinnon is an eye-opening, option-diversifying revelation.” (p. 144)

“I truly have a passion in working with students and parents. I really feel their pain in trying to navigate a system that changes constantly (and with every change there seems to be a higher cost associated with it!) Nothing beats the satisfaction I feel as I see our students succeed, growing from a teen with no direction into a young, contributing adult.”

Mark Nowak

Independent Educational Consultant College Selection & Financial Aid Specialist

630-971-2300 mark@cofp.net

Born and raised in the Chicago area, Mark first attended College of DuPage (COD) to secure his associates degree. He then headed to Elmhurst College for double majors in Marketing and Economics.

Mark’s diverse interests have led to work in publishing and the mortgage industry, plus he’s helped launch a startup. He also served as Vice Chairman for six years on COD’s Board of Trustees and has served the past seven years as Trustee for the Addison Township. As his experience in business expanded, Mark set out on a more entrepreneurial path, developing a counseling business to assist people with substance abuse issues. He offered support groups with an emphasis on self-esteem and empowerment and developed additional services whenever he found there was a need to be met.

“I saw the way my counseling clients worried, stressed and felt burdened with the prospect of paying for college. I combined my experience on the Board of Trustees at College of DuPage with my experience in the field of counseling and it naturally evolved into an interest in college planning.”

Mark’s friends consistently describe him as a passionate and caring person, driven to help others with his excellent problem-solving skills.

Mark and his wife, Kathleen, reside in Addison with their young son, Luke, and two dogs. 

John Volk

Independent Educational Consultant (IECA, NICCP, HECA)

630-971-2300 john@cofp.net

John is originally from Overland Park, Kansas. He matriculated to Purdue University where he played football and earned a degree in industrial management. From there, he earned his MBA at the University of Michigan. John entered the business world as a corporate banker for the First National Bank of Chicago. After 20 years in the finance industry, John became a home dad for his two sons for the following 10 years. In addition to helping raise his sons, John served as a coach, school volunteer, Scout leader, and in various capacities at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church. He joined College Planners over 10 years ago after being a client and seeing firsthand how families could benefit from our services. John has a gift for selecting the just-right college for his students and assisting them in developing killer essays.

John holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management degree from Purdue University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan. In addition, he is a registered CPA and a member of the Illinois CPA society. He currently is working towards his CCPS designation. He is a member of the National Institute of Certified College Planners, the Independent Educational Counselors Association and the Higher Education Consultants Association.

John and his wife Kim have two sons. Jack is an alumnus of Purdue University, having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Peter is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Christy Sharafinski

Business Development/Student Essay Editor

630-971-2300 christy@cofp.net

Born in the Chicago area, Christy was raised in south Florida and Maryland before returning to the Midwest as an adult. She received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland in graphic design. After school, Christy worked for Youth for Understanding International Exchange, helping to send high school students around the world on cultural programs.

Christy has a true passion for working with young people. Besides having six children of her own, she’s also created numerous educational classes for young people and adults, covering topics from photography to interior design to personal branding and entrepreneurship. She’s also created and hosts Pretty & Poised Teen workshops (for girls in grades 5-8) and Project Fashionista “reality” and competitive events.

Christy came to College Planners first as a client. With her three oldest children in high school, she knew that getting professional support along the road to higher education was a necessity. She found that College Planners offered more for parents and students than any other local services.

As a serial entrepreneur, Christy specializes in business development, essay writing and application completion. She loves assisting other families in saving money while they set their sons and daughters up for long-term success.

Sandi Touros

Operations Manager Essay, Resume & Cover Letter Specialist

Sandi is one of the most energetic and “can do” people you’ll ever meet! She holds an Associate’s degree from Triton College (where she first worked with Mike). She attended the University of Hawaii on a dance scholarship and completed her Bachelor’s degree in dance at Illinois State University.

After college, Sandi managed a large-group dental practice in the western suburbs of Chicago and served as Director of a not-for-profit arts program. She also put her interpersonal, organizational and administrative skills to work as a highly active school volunteer. She has worked with College Planners of America for over a dozen years and keeps the staff going in the right direction at the right times. Sandi’s outgoing and energetic ways are highly appreciated as a primary contact point for our students and parents. Sandi specializes in the application process and is sought out by many of our families for her help developing and completing essays, resumes and cover letters.

Sandi was raised in Westchester and has lived in the Glen Ellyn/Wheaton area for over 20 years, until recently moving downstate to care for her parents. She’s no longer behind the front desk at College Planners, but remains very active in all areas of the business.

She has two children: a daughter who graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a son who graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Nancy Tomashek

Business Development/Resume & Essay Review Expert

A lifelong resident of the Chicago area, Nancy received her degree in Computer Science from North Central College. She worked for over a dozen years as a paralegal, an accounts manager and in customer service with young people. Nancy’s enthusiasm and genuine heart come through to everyone with whom she works.

Nancy is married with three children. Her first-born attends the University of Missouri (a Journalism major). Her middle child is at Florida’s Ringling College of Art & Design (for Computer Animation). And Nancy’s youngest attends The University of Alabama (for Chemical Engineering).

Nancy deeply enjoys working with young adults, helping them to develop their passions and guiding them into lucrative, satisfying careers. She applies her great eye for detail to every part of the admissions process. Both parents and students appreciate Nancy’s high professional standards and her expertise with college applications and FAFSA preparation. When reflecting on her experience with College Planners, Nancy most appreciates that she’s part of a team that assists families not only in choosing the right college for their child, but also assisting the parents with navigating the financial maze associated with the whole college process. Plus she loves that our business model is one of ongoing support for students and families from high school through college, internships and into that first “real” job.


  • Addison Trail High School

  • Aurora Central Catholic High School

  • Aurora Christian High School

  • Barrington High School

  • Bartlett High School

  • Batavia High School

  • Benet Academy

  • Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School

  • Brother Rice High School Chicago

  • Crystal Lake High School

  • Downers North High School

  • Downers South High School

  • Elgin Academy

  • Fenwick High School

  • Frankfort High School

  • Fremd High School

  • Geneva High School

  • Glenbard East High School

  • Glenbard North High School

  • Glenbard South High School

  • Glenbard West High School

  • Gordon Tech High School

  • Guerin Preparatory High School

  • Hales Franciscan High School



  • Hinckley-Big Rock High School

  • Hinsdale Adventist Academy

  • Hinsdale Central High School

  • Hinsdale South High School

  • IC Catholic Prep

  • Illinois Math & Science Academy

  • Immaculate Conception High School

  • Indian Creek High School

  • Jacobs High School

  • John Hersey High School

  • Joliet Catholic Academy

  • LaGrange High School

  • Lake Forest Academy

  • Lake Park Community High School

  • Lake Park High School

  • Lemont High School

  • East Leyden High School

  • West Leyden High School

  • Libertyville High School

  • Lisle High School

  • Lockport Township High School

  • Luther North College Prep

  • Maine East High School

  • Maine North High School



  • Maine South High School

  • Maine West High School

  • Marist High School

  • Marmion Academy

  • Metea Valley High School

  • Montini Catholic High School

  • Mount Carmel High School

  • Naperville Central High School

  • Naperville North High School

  • Nazareth Academy

  • New Trier Township High School

  • Notre Dame High School College Prep

  • Oak Grove High School

  • Oak Park & River Forest High School

  • Oswego High School

  • Paletine High School

  • Plainfield Central High School

  • Plainfield North High School

  • Plainfield South High School

  • Plano High School

  • Providence Catholic High School

  • Proviso East High School

  • Proviso West High School

  • Rosary High School

  • Sandwich High School

  • Schaumburg High School



  • St. Charles East High School

  • St. Charles North High School

  • St. Edward Central Catholic High School

  • St. Francis High School

  • St. Ignatius College Preparatory School

  • St. Joseph High School

  • St. Laurence High School

  • St. Patrick High School

  • St. Rita of Cascia High School

  • St. Viator High School

  • Stevenson High School

  • Sycamore High School

  • The Chicago Academy for the Arts

  • The Latin School of Chicago

  • Timothy Christian High School

  • Timothy Christian High School

  • Tinley Park High School

  • Trinity High School

  • University of Chicago Lab School

  • Walther Lutheran High School

  • Waubonsie Valley High School

  • West Chicago Community High School

  • Westmont High School

  • Wheaton Academy


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Monday10:00AM - 8:00PM
Tuesday10:00AM - 8:00PM
Wednesday10:00AM - 8:00PM
Thursday11:00AM - 9:00PM
Friday10:00AM - 5:00PM
Saturday8:00AM - 4:00PM

Sunday by appointment only.