I recently saw a question posted by “David” on one of those “Ask an expert” type sites - it was all about financial aid – and the answer to the financial aid question was only half-right. Half-baked information will get you half-baked results.

But, what struck me more was the “self-assessment” of the person writing the question. It struck me because I “see” this A LOT from students.

“David” is interested in MIT but is now considering Yale, too, because of information he came across regarding financial aid on Collegeboard.com.

Here’s how he assessed himself (and his question):

“I have straight A’s throughout my high school. I have a pretty good SAT and ACT scores. I can write a killer essay. I have been doing a few extracurricular throughout 4 years. I guess recommendation is not a big problem. So I want to have a shot at MIT.

However, when I was searching for Yale this morning, my mind starts to change a bit. So here is my question:

- Does the average financial aid package mean the total money/scholarship you’ll get for one year (two semesters)?

- If that is the case, does it mean that average students pay around $2,000 each year for their tuition (ignore room, books, and other costs first)?

- So, if I’m lucky enough, does it mean that I can get a ride to college for FREE or almost FREE?

- Let’s say that I’m REALLY lucky, and get a scholarship that worth more than the cost of my tuition, does it mean that I can even “EARN” money as a college student (if I spend less on the other costs)?”

In this one statement, I can tell a few things about David, and so will the admissions officers.

First up, he believes that “Great grades, strong SAT scores and lots of activities are enough”. Well, the THOUSANDS of students who apply to MIT and Yale also have them. So, what else do you have to offer, David?

Next: “I can write a killer essay.” David, even Hemmingway needed an editor. And, writing a decent essay in class is not the style of essay you’ll need on the application. And, as a former English teacher, I’ve met a lot of English teachers who can’t write. So, relying on them may not be the best idea, either.

Next problem: “I guess recommendation is not a big problem.” (The way this is written makes me question his ability to “write a killer essay”). Getting a good recommendation is not simply a question of asking someone to write one.

And, finally, my favorite: ”Let’s say that I’m REALLY lucky, and get a scholarship that worth more than the cost of my tuition…” again, apart from the lousy writing, this sentence screams ignorance about the colleges he is looking to attend.

Yale (and the rest of the Ivy League) and MIT (and most of the other Ivy-Type colleges) do not offer scholarships. If you have a financial aid need, they will offer you need-based aid. But they don’t offer scholarships — because they don’t have to.

David also believes he should get a scholarship, but has no clue as to how or why it would happen. How do I know? “Let’s say that I’m REALLY lucky, and get a scholarship…”

There’s a lot he doesn’t know about these colleges and about the college search, selection, application and funding process in general.

And when you don’t know what you don’t know, you end up disappointed.

David may very well have a good shot at schools like Yale and MIT; AND, there might be other colleges he isn’t even considering yet that would be even better fits for the type of student he actually is. Problem is, there’s a lot he doesn’t know (and most likely there’s a lot his parents don’t know, too).

The solution is to get help with all of this. College is a huge investment of time, effort and money – now is not the time to cut corners.

Your Smart Plan For College Assignment:

Take a moment to be really honest with yourself: do you see a bit of yourself or your student in David’s story?

Do you know how the college process really works?

Are you sure?

Outline three steps you could take right now (based on the mistakes “David” is making or to avoid the myths he’s believing) so that you don’t end up disappointed.

If you can’t list three steps, it’s time to get some help.

Author's Bio: 

Jeanmarie Keller has helped thousands of students get into colleges they love while making sure their parents save a fortune on the bill. Jeanmarie is the creator of the Smart Plan For College System which teaches her client-families how to get noticed in the admissions office, get in at the colleges right for them and how to get the money they need to help pay the bill.

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