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Students Studying Outside


The need for better prior college planning has never been greater. Here's why we do what we do!



In 1995, my journey into wealth management took an unexpected turn when I assisted a high school senior's family with a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Realizing the widespread confusion surrounding financial aid, I delved into research, discovering the power of understanding financial aid distribution. Guided by the belief that cost efficiency hinges on college selection, I developed an application coaching process that greatly increased the chance that the investment in a college degree would result in a satisfying first job out of college and minimal debt for the student.


I have watched as the process of applying evolved from two or three paper applications to multiple online submissions, and the cost of a public university increased from $7,930 to $26,027 while the average student debt rose from $11,491 to $37,693. Simultaneously, the underemployed rate for college graduates increased from 11.5 percent to 40.2 percent.  The need for better prior college planning has never been greater. 

Portrait of Tom Leahy


About Tom Leahy

Tom is the Senior Partner of OptimumEd, an international higher education consulting firm. Over the past 23 years, he has assisted dozens of families and students.   


He is a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association, the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants

In December of 2023, Tom published the most recent edition of his college planning book "Plan for college, prepare for life - The No-Nonsense Guide to Higher Education Planning.”  You can purchase the book hereHe was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, featured in other local publications and on local television. As an expert on college admissions and financial aid, Tom has been featured on national radio and podcasts.

Tom has delivered seminars for The Governor’s School for International Studies, Richmond Community High School for the Gifted and Talented, the Chesterfield County School System’s “Very Informed Parents’ Program” (VIP). 

A graduate of the University of Florida, Tom also earned his master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. He is a retired military officer and a graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College and the Defense Information School.


Tom sat on the board of the St. Francis Medical Center Community Advisory Board, the Virginia Treatment Center for Children’s Advisory Council and the Program Committee for the Children’s Mental Health Resource Center. He was the past president of the Midlothian Youth Soccer League for six years prior to architecting its merger with the Richmond Kickers in 2010. Tom held a previous board seat with the Three Springs Foundation, Huntsville, Alabama. He is currently a member of the Midlothian-Chesterfield Kiwanis Club and the president of Beacon Tree Foundation.  


Tom and his wife Diana live in Midlothian, VA. They have four children and four grandchildren.

Portrait of Candice Suarez




Hailing from Pennsylvania, Candice Suarez is an alumna of Millersville University, holding a Bachelors Degree in English Education and a Masters of Education Degree in School Counseling. Her dedication to the helping professions unfolded during nine years as a School Counselor before transitioning to roles as a Mobile Therapist, Behavior Specialist, and ultimately, Director of Community and School Based Behavioral Health. Candice's expertise lies in counseling, supervision, and collaborative efforts with school administrators to empower students.

A lifelong learner, Candice was a regular at the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association Conference, presenting workshops on behavior analysis and her Behavioral Health program. Relocating to Richmond, she added Real Estate to her skill set, supporting families in her new Southern home. Candice, a National Certified Counselor, resides in Moseley with her husband and teenage son.

"The employment and higher education landscapes continue to change. Like shifting sand, it’s difficult for a young person to find a solid footing.  OptimumEd has changed to meet this challenge, emphasizing life coaching and career planning as a basis for determining appropriate training and education after high school."

-Candice Suarez


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