I can count on one hand the number of families I’ve met who are not at all worried about paying for college. College affordability is a huge concern for most families, and the solution is not to cross your fingers, hope Bernie Sanders gets elected, and enacts free college tuition before your kid graduates high school. One thing that often surprises families is that the vast majority of money available for college – we’re talking 90-95% - comes from the colleges themselves. There are exceptions like the Gates Millennium Scholars or the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, but most outside scholarships are a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. This can certainly be helpful, but it would take a lot of outside scholarships to add up to a year’s tuition. In contrast, colleges have enormous financial resources to share with students in the form of merit scholarships and grants.
The best way to get those scholarships starts well before you actually submit your applications. Colleges practice what’s called “preferential packaging” meaning they can offer more free money (like merit aid) to students they are especially interested in. Colleges are more likely to offer merit scholarships to students who are a good academic and personal fit. These are students who are at or above the academic profile of other applicants (like those safety schools I mentioned before). It also means clearly articulating how and why you would be a valuable member of their community. Building a thoughtful college list, including a good number of target and safety schools, can maximize your chances of receiving substantial financial aid. Independent counselors are excellent resources for guiding students through a conscientious search process and identifying those good-fit target and safety schools.
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