5 Disaster Mistakes Parents Make When Applying For College Funding – And How to Avoid Them…

Make any one of these mistakes… and it could end up costing you thousands of dollars — even tens of thousands — in lost funding for which you might have been eligible.

These mistakes are common.  Yet they shouldn’t be.  To that end, we devote this College Made Simple installment to showing you how to avoid these five common mistakes — and to make sure you get the maximum amount of money from every school to which your child applies.

MISTAKE #1: Most middle and upper-middle class parents assume they won’t be eligible for financial aid because they own a home and make over $75,000 per year.

REALITY:  Most families with incomes ranging from $50,000 – $150,000 per year who own homes are eligible for some form of financial aid. There is over $150 billion available each year from the federal government, the states, colleges and universities, and private foundations and organizations. It’s often a matter of knowing how to get your “fair share.” Unfortunately, most parents give up before they even start… and assume they won’t be eligible. This is exactly what the colleges hope you will do!  This way, they get to keep more of these funds. Don’t make this mistake! If you fall into this category, make sure you apply; you’ll probably be eligible for SOME money.

MISTAKE #2:   Focusing your time and energy on a private scholarship search instead of spending your time trying to qualify for “need-based” financial aid.

REALITY:  Private scholarships make up only roughly 3% of the money available to you to help pay for your child’s college education. The other 97% comes from the federal government, the state you live in, and the colleges and universities your child is applying to. Therefore, you are much better off spending your time and energy going after the 97%, rather than spending your time looking for the crumbs! These so-called “scholarship searches” you read about are normally scams, and a complete waste of money. Most times, these outfits charge you an arm and a leg, and fail to deliver. However, if you still insist on at least looking for some scholarships, call our offices and we will give you access to a (reputable) web site that provides a free scholarship search.

MISTAKE #3:  Assuming only minority students, athletes, and academically gifted students get financial aid.

REALITY:  Nothing could be further from the truth! “Need-based” financial aid is solely awarded based on “financial need,” which is calculated by taking the cost of attendance at a school and subtracting the family contribution (which is the minimum amount the government feels you can afford to pay based on your income and assets and your child’s income and assets). Whatever is left over after you subtract these two numbers is your “financial need” — or eligibility for financial aid at a particular school. If you haven’t noticed, this has nothing to do with a student’s ethnic background, athletic ability, or grades. It’s purely based on this simple formula:

COA (Cost Of Attendance)
– FC (Family Contribution)
= FN (Financial Need)

MISTAKE #4:  Picking colleges and universities without paying attention to where your student stands — in comparison to the rest of the student body.

REALITY:  To increase your chances of getting the best possible financial aid packages, it is imperative that you pick schools where your child lies in the top 25% of the incoming freshman class with respect to their GPA and SAT/ACT scores. Although schools give financial aid based on your calculation of “need” at their school, they will definitely give preferential packaging (i.e., more FREE money, fewer loans) to students who lie in the top 25% of the incoming class. The reason they do this is to attract the better students to their school. Use this to your advantage and if applicable, try to apply only to those schools where your child would fit into the top 25% category.

MISTAKE #5:  Assuming all schools are created equal and will be able to give you the same amounts of money.

REALITY:  All schools are not created equal and will not be able to give you the same financial aid packages. Some schools have large endowments and get a lot of money from alumni and corporations. These schools have more money to give out and are generally able to meet most or all of a student’s financial need at their school. Other schools, like state universities, get no private funds… and rely solely on state and federal funds to help fill a student’s need at their school. In many cases, these schools leave students short and give them less money than they are eligible to receive. It can actually end up costing you more to send your child to a “cheaper” school if they don’t have the money to meet your need. It is very important that you know each school’s history of giving money before you ever apply, so you’re not blown away when you get a meager financial aid package from your child’s top school choice.

To your successful college pursuit,

Scott Weingold
Publisher and Co-founder, CollegeMadeSimple.com

Contact Information:
Lisa Janasek


Don R.Vance Jr.July 13th, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I have 3 sons in high school. All have good grades and want to study in their choosen fields after high school. I am a state worker in MO. and my wife is a registared nurse for a childrens hospital. We make about 90k and have alittle money for set aside for each childs college education. I would like to know what your services cost and if the local community college for their first 2 years is a good choice?My oldest son will go to college next year(2012-fall)and I am not going to have much money to spend beyound the first 2 years. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

Cathy EbenJuly 14th, 2011 at 1:10 pm


In response to your question about the local community college, while that is always an option, you would want to have a few choices for each student. You can definitely apply to the community college, but then do some research on what schools are of interest to each of your son’s and then visit each of the campuses to see which ones they like the best. Once the offers come back, you can make an informed decision about what is the best choice for each one.

To find out information on our services and if they are a good fit for your family, please visit our website at http://www.collegemadesimple.com/college-webinar/for times of our Free College-Funding Online Video Workshop. After viewing the online workshop, you will have an opportunity to scheduled a free, no obligation phone consultation with one of our Educational Consultant that will be able to offer advice to you.

Eun YongJuly 28th, 2011 at 9:40 am

I was brought up in different country and applying for college for my children is very new to me.

I have a similar situation with Don, I have children becoming a Senior/ Junior this year. The problem is I do not have any savings or 529 plans, but I own a house.

My 1st choice is send my senior to community college :
1. closer to house.(preferred)
2. inexpensive.
3. SAT score is poor current GPA is 2.5 -3.0

but my senior child is also interested in a few colleges as well. If my senior does get accepted in one of these colleges we apply to, then will I have an EFC at all?

What do you think about my choice sending my daughter to community college?

Alicia RichardsonAugust 1st, 2011 at 8:59 am

Hi Eun,

The processes in applying for college admission and financial aid can be very confusing no matter where you were brought up. College Planning Network does offer services to assist families through these processes. As Cathy mentioned above, we have a Free College-Funding Online Video Workshop that discusses our services. After viewing the online workshop, you will have an opportunity to scheduled a free phone consultation with one of our Educational Consultants. During this consultation you will have the opportunity to find out roughly what your EFC will be and can ask specific questions related to your family’s situation. To register for the workshop, please visit our website at http://www.collegemadesimple.com/college-webinar/.

In general, yes, Community Colleges are less expensive and are good options for some students. The most important factor to consider is if your daughter plans to eventually transfer to a 4 year college, she will need to make sure her credits from the community college will also transfer. You do not want to spend several thousand dollars and possibly two years to find out that most credits will not transfer and your daughter will need to start from scratch.

KristenAugust 9th, 2011 at 8:52 am

I have 3 children, ages 16, 13, and 7. In addition to a small amount in each college fund (~$5k), I have an inheritance from my mother that was meant to go toward the kids’ educations. My question is, will that inheritance money be considered in full for my eldest child (as opposed to 1/3)? If so, is there any way I can distribute it so that each child only gets 1/3 of the total for college?

S.D. MasonAugust 10th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

My son will be a senior this school year. He has been a member of his school’s Debate team for the past 3 years, won the title of Valley Champion (locally) last year, and is going to be the team’s Captain this year. He takes Advanced Placement classes in History and English, and standard courses for math. His current GPA is about 3.2 and he scored pretty well on his SAT’s in everything but math.
When colleges look at his application and transcripts, will the fact that he has done so well in Debate help make up for the lower math grades (average is a C in standard courses)? This is the first time I’ve had to look into colleges, programs offered, and the scholarships available. How do I go about finding out which colleges offer the best scholarships in the field of Debate?

Alicia RichardsonAugust 11th, 2011 at 10:20 am

Hi Kristen,

Not only will the total amount of inheritance (if held in your name) count against your eldest child, the amount you have in 529 plans for your younger children will also be counted into your total assets. There are a few financial strategies that you may be able to utilize so the total amount will not impact the EFC equation. I recommend you sign up for a College Funding Workshop on the web and then sign up for a free consultation to discuss your full financial situation with one of our education consultants. They will be able to show you exactly how the assets in your name will affect the EFC for your students. To sign up for the workshop, please go to http://www.collegemadesimple.com/college-webinar/.

Cathy EbenAugust 11th, 2011 at 11:56 am

Hello S.D. Mason,
To answer your question about Debate on your son’s applications, it will definitely be a positive addition to his activity list. It will not cancel out his lower Math scores, but will show his strengths in the field of Debate. It would also be to his advantage to have some type of leadership role on his resume which will show colleges that his is taking on a larger role within the activity. There is no listing available of colleges that offer scholarships in Debate. You may be able to find a related scholarship at http://www.fastweb.com, which is a national compilation of merit aid offered outside of the colleges.

Jetran JacksonOctober 20th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

J.P. Jackson
My daughter is a senior in high school and desperately wants to attend Johnson & Wale in N.C. I am a teacher (who has not had a raise in 4 years) and my husband is 100% disabled due to a traumatic brain injury (post military). He also served 8 years in the military (1976-1984) and received a honorable discharge with a 10% disability. We enrolled in a 529 plan when she was 4 y.o. Now it is truly time to think about paying for college. I don’t know if my husband contributed to the education program while in the military, but we truly can not afford to send her to this private school. I don’t want her to graduate from college staring at a $100,000 plus debt. Can you point me in the right direction to see if she is eligible for any money from the military? HELP!!!

Alicia RichardsonOctober 21st, 2011 at 7:26 am


Your daughter may be eligible for money from the military; you should contact someone at Veteran’s Affairs who can look into your specific benefits. There was legislation passed that allows military veterans to pass the GI bill to their dependents, if the benefit was not previously used. There may also be money available based on your husband’s disability. In addition to possible VA benefits, you will apply for need based financial aid with the FAFSA to help offset the cost of the college. Best of luck to you and your daughter!

Trisha HoltyDecember 6th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

My son is a senior this yr and resides with me & my husband(step father) full-time. My Husband & I make about 90,000/yr. We have one other child that is 16 yrs old. My sons biological Father has nothing-no house, job etc. The biological Father of my son claims there’s part Indian heritage in his family. My husband(my son’s StepDAD) served in the military for 4yrs in 1980’s.

I’m aware that he probably wont get any financial aid based on need because were probably over the guidelines (?) & can we claim military status because of my husband and any kind of grants for native american heritage? What hoops does one jump through if any for some help? Thank you

Trisha HoltyDecember 6th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I forgot to mention my Son isn’t in any sports but does volunteer & has a current GPA of 3.5 and a 21 on his ACT (1st try) thus far. He’s taking the ACT again this weekend. He’s interested in Shawnee State Univ-with the above info is he eligible for any aid, other than loans? Thank you

Cathy EbenDecember 6th, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Given the particular circumstances that you mention, you would want to look at scholarship opportunities for college. There are multiple scholarships available on http://www.fastweb.com that are given to students across the country. Depending upon the schools that your son applies to and the cost of attendance, you may be eligible for financial aid as well. There are many criteria that go into determining financial aid and family salary is just one factor.

PJDecember 10th, 2011 at 1:06 pm


I just went through all the college price calculators for the school our child is considering. We aren’t rich and we aren’t poor, we pay our bills but don’t have much more than that. The calculators come out with numbers that say our EFC is so high that it would take $3,500 – $4,500/ mo. EXTRA cash (after taxes) to pay our “fair” share. We can’t pay that and can’t borrow that kind of money either no matter what the calculators “say.”
We have a top student on all criteria who should be in the top 1-5% of any freshman class and in the running for any major merit scholarship. BUT it looks as though our kid will not have access to the top schools because of the money, and we’ll be stretching to make the bills for something else.

CindyFebruary 7th, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Please help, I have 3 sons, Junior, Freshman & 7th grader. I did not do a 529 plan and have no money in savings. I am a registered Nurse for an insurance company making around $60,000. My Husband works for the water company making $50,000. The issue financially is that he and his father owned business in which he had to claim bankrupsy on. He also owes a lot of money to the IRS from that business that takes most of his money. How will this all look for our combined income? We will no way be able to afford extra money as we can barely afford our bills now due to his debt. How will this all be calculated?

Cathy EbenFebruary 9th, 2012 at 7:44 am

Hello Cindy,
Since you have a few challenging financial circumstances that you are working with you should know that there are some financial strategies that you may be able to utilize to help to lower your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). I recommend you sign up for a College Funding Workshop on the web, and then request a free consultation to discuss your full financial situation with one of our education consultants. They will be able to show you exactly how your circumstances will affect the EFC for your students. To sign up for the workshop, please go to http://www.collegemadesimple.com/college-webinar/.

PaulaSeptember 5th, 2012 at 9:36 pm

My son is a senior this year. His GPA is 3.4 and ACT is 29 (two time same score). I’m a single parent and have an income of $40,000 a yr. I was wondering what am I qualify for and where can I go to apply. I’m not very good with computer. So could you let me know what website I need to visit.

Jodi PolsterSeptember 14th, 2012 at 10:52 am

Hello Paula,
To apply for financial faid you will want to go to the FAFSA website, http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. You can complete the FAFSA for your son beginning January 1, 2013. You can also use the FAFSA4caster on the FAFSA website to determine your estimated family contribution (EFC) along with your eligibility for Federal Aid.

april smithFebruary 2nd, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Hi. I have a daughter that has beeb accepted to Armstrong Atlantic Coastal College. Our family of 4income is 85k. We have no money saved. She missed a large part of her 9th grade year to seizures. Since she experience d last age onset the result was her grades dropped to barely C average. Each year since she has improved greatly. Her GPA is a 2.98 for core subjects. Now that she is better how can we find her funding for college. Please help. Thanks April

Jodi PolsterFebruary 13th, 2013 at 10:52 am

Hello April Smith,
There are many different factors that determine financial aid. One suggestion would be to contact the college’s financial aid office to make them aware of your situation. I would also suggest contacting our office at 866-207-5545 to schedule a free consultation with one of our education consultants. They will be able to review your specific situation to help your family get the best financial aid package for your specific situation.

Robby KentMarch 18th, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I have a son who Has a GPA of 4.0 and he is about to take his SAT. for the first time, he does do volunteering and also has done some internships in his Junior year. The problem is our son wants to go into law, and one of the colleges he has his eye s on is George town, the other is U Pen, our income level is over 200k. Is there scholarships for these colleges, withe our income level? We will not be able to pay, because of our dept and taxes we pay! If not, what do you suggest?

Jodi PolsterMarch 20th, 2013 at 11:38 am


There are two types of financial aid awarded to students: need-based aid and merit-based aid. Need based aid is financial aid awarded to student who show a financial need at a particular school. Merit-based aid is financial aid awarded to students based solely on the student’s academics, grades and test scores. The two colleges that you have listed above, UPENN and Georgetown only aware need-based financial aid. There are many colleges that do offer merit-based scholarships so even if you do not qualify for need-based aid, you can still receive merit-based aid. If you would like some additional information about these types of colleges please contact info@collegeplanningnet.com.

VeronicaApril 26th, 2013 at 9:03 pm

My efc is at around 9380. My parents do not contribute any money to me at all. I work to pay my own schooling.

What can I do? It will be impossible for me to pay without financial aid?

Noel JohnsonMay 1st, 2013 at 5:57 am

Hi Veronica,
In this type of situation you should contact your school’s financial aid office and discuss your particular situation with a financial aid officer. At your particular school there may be other options to assist you with paying for school.
You may also want to contact our office to schedule a free consultation with one of our education consultants by contacting our office at 866 207 5545. We can review your unique situation in detail to assist you to receive the best financial aid package for your family.

erinJuly 5th, 2013 at 7:57 am

My daughter wants to attend an out of state school. She will be a senior this yr. I don’t want to sqwash her dreams but it will be expensive. Where do I go for scholarships. She has worked at Taco Bell since she was a sophomore, she is biracial. this is our first child going to school. She was in DECA this yr and went to state and got second place but first place at other meets. PLEASE help don’t know where to start. I don’t want her to be in debt like I am from school.
Thanks, Erin

Noel JohnsonJuly 10th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Hi Erin,
It is true that out of state tuition is usually much higher, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. There are many scholarships and grants available to students that your daughter may qualify for. A good place to start is by looking at the school’s she is most interested in to see what kind of grants and scholarships the school has to offer.

I would recommend scheduling a free consultation with and Education Consultant at 866 207 5545. The education consultant can discuss your family’s situation and help you to receive the best financial award package for your situation.

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