With today's out-of-control college costs, parents are looking for ways to pay for college education without exhausting their retirement savings. Since colleges are banking on inexperienced parents, a little lesson in “how the college game is played” will help you avoid paying more for college than is necessary.
“The College Game” is More Than Academics
It is not true, as most parents assume, that only the best academic students get college scholarships and aid. Colleges are often seeking students who have a special talent or unusual life story. One of my students, Eric, offers a great example.
With a 2.9 GPA Eric's father was worried that community college would be Eric's only option. He came to me because he wanted to understand what his son's options really were.
One of Eric's overlooked strengths was his skill and adeptness when it came to his younger brother with autism. This became a centerpiece to the message we designed as part of Eric's college game plan. It helped set him apart. When combined with the right list of colleges, it proved very effective in the admissions office – AND the financial aid office.
Eric ultimately applied to six colleges, was accepted at 5 – and, to the delight of his dad, was offered scholarships ranging from $8,000 to as much as $20,000 at three of the five colleges he was offered acceptance.
Eric's dad was able to reduce his college costs without reducing Eric's college choices. All because they had a game plan that put them on the same playing field as the colleges they were applying to.
So take some time to identify your child's particular gifts and strengths. Think about the special circumstances that make your child stand out. And help your child play to those strengths in the application process!
How Do You Play and Win the College Game?
You need to understand what is happening in the college admissions process now -- rather than rely on a plan that worked five, fifteen or forty years ago.
Here are some tips to a winning game plan:
- Know Where You Are. The good news is there are colleges who want you and money to be had, no matter what your situation. In order to get that spot in the freshman class and money for the bill, get clear on your particular situation so that you can choose the appropriate strategy. Ask questions and read whatever you can. Challenge all of the assumptions you are bringing to the process. Find out everything you can about how the college admissions and financial aid process works in this day and age.
- Focus In On Colleges Right For You. Falling in love with colleges that don't have the programs you want and need, or the scholarships to offer you, is a royal waste of your time. For example, just because you know of someone -- a cousin, a neighbor -- who is offered a great package at one school, that doesn't mean the offer will be the same for your family.
- Jump Through The Financial Aid Hoops. A big reason many families don't get offered scholarships and money to help with the college bill is that they miss a key step: they don't ask for the money. Some get frustrated and never complete the forms that ask for the money. Some complete them, but unknowingly make seemingly simple mistakes that leave money on the table. Ask for help and take the time to apply for aid, even if you assume you won't be eligible.
Set aside some time to focus on outlining your college game plan so that you can start taking back some control. If you're not sure how to do that, then consider getting help. Remember, the colleges are banking on you NOT knowing how the college game is played. After all, this isn't just about getting your student into any college – it also has to be a college where he or she will be successful, thrive and get that degree.
So, create a college game plan, take the field and play the college game to win!