Greetings Families,

This is the second in my series on Financial Aid and Scholarships related to College Admissions.


All families have many questions about financial aid and paying for college including:
  • Is our family eligible for financial aid?
  • When and how do we apply for financial aid and what’s a FAFSA or CSS Profile?
  • What Scholarships are available?
  • Under what circumstances should we consider a private college in lieu of our state’s public universities-?(especially if you’ve participated in your state’s college planning 529 plan such as the Florida’s Pre-Pay program.)
  • How does early college planning increase chances of college acceptance and finding internal scholarships?
I’ll answer all these questions and we’ll explore how financial aid is an essential part of forming your balanced list of colleges. Early academic planning can be invaluable to positioning each student to realize educational goals that are affordable.


Every family faces unique financial circumstances and we factor those into the choices of where to apply and enroll.
If you’re ineligible for financial aid (determined by each college’s review of your completed FAFSA), the investment of a college education takes on more importance given the substantial cost. Given the economic uncertainty many families are enduring throughout the pandemic, it’s been difficult to imagine the cost of higher education. This past enrollment cycle, more of my seniors than ever — despite outstanding acceptances to highly selective programs in private out-of-state colleges to which they applied –instead decided to enroll in their financial (less selective) safety or a less costly public university.
It is important to have a very honest family conversation about affordability BEFORE the college application process begins. Yes, there’s always employment and medical unforeseen changes– yet, know your budget before you begin your college applications and understand WHICH CAMPUSES are more likely to offer scholarships to “bid” on your student. Let’s talk about all of this!
Rising Seniors are currently shaping their balanced short list. Our seniors will be applying for financial aid during the late fall of 2021 based on the parents’ 2020 tax return and the income reported during that year. If your financial circumstances changed during 2021, please reach out to discuss how to alert colleges of this change. I’ll also discuss this issue again in fall 2021 in more detail.
Whether your family is financially secure or facing serious challenges– the cost of a four-year undergraduate degree is a significant investment. Sadly, the more selective universities with stronger educational programs are the same price as less selective programs. The cost of running a university doesn’t change much – and it’s the quality of an education isn’t reflected in the price tag. That said, this newsletter informs you about how to understand that the price tag isn’t always what you are going to pay. Today, I’ll help you to understand how to access scholarships and financial aid to reduce the stress that results from mis-information and yes, being an easy target for “scholarship and financial aid scamsters!”
THERE ARE MANY CAMPUSES PROVIDING an EXCELLENT EDUCATION offering deep discounts on tuition given your “admissions profile”.

PRIVATE vs. PUBLIC – Pre-funding in state plans?

As my rising seniors are working to research majors and colleges- -they will soon have finalized their lists of colleges for the 2021-22 college application season. One of the questions most often raised is whether a student should be applying to private colleges if a family has participated in their state’s pre-paid tuition plan?  The short answer to the question is that there are many outstanding universities offering both financial need-based and merit based assistance. Colleges want you!
Universities provide inviting “discounts” on tuition. So don’t have tunnel vision nor rule out private universities before you know if your student would be a likely candidate for merit-based aid.
*** You do NOT receive money from “FAFSA”. This common misconception needs to be addressed straight away. The FAFSA is a federal form – linked to your IRS account. When you complete the form, your student aid report (SAR) will generate your estimated family contribution(EFC) . Colleges use that number as a guide to determining the package you receive.
This algorithm is explained in detailed in this lengthy government publication here and I’ll address this technical content towards the end of this detailed newsletter.


As an experienced university faculty and admissions committee member, let’s begin with a discussion of how colleges determine your financial aid award and some tips to increase your chances of receiving financial aid and scholarships.
The Common App and Financial Aid:
If you’re a rising senior ’22 you’ll be completing your Common App 2021-22 this fall. There’s a question asking if you want to be considered for financial aid. Please indicate “yes” to the question on the Common App regarding “need based aid” – there is no impact on your admissions- we refer to this as “need blind admissions” .


Financial assistance can originate with the college or from a third party (federal/state governments or private scholarships). Need Based Financial aid is awarded directly from the college based on your demonstrated financial need as determined by your FAFSA Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).  Details follow below.
A number of privately funded merit-based scholarships are also need-based, including the prestigious QUESTBRIDGE  full scholarship for students with demonstrated financial need and outstanding academic achievements. Low income families are encouraged to explore Questbridge. Applications begin during the Junior year!!
Merit Based Aid – These awards are based on a competitive review of the student’s academics, extracurriculars, competitions, athletics, community service, etc. The awards are unrelated to financial need (or lack thereof). Merit aid is awarded by colleges and also by private scholarship funds.
  • There are scholarships for a variety of majors and these are VERY competitive.
  • Ron Brown Scholarship is an example of a private scholarship.
  • Some competitive colleges offering full-rides include Penn State, Miami, Boston, Washington University, Emory, Vanderbilt, Northeastern, Drexel
  • The chances of receiving a lucrative scholarship increase with higher GPA and demonstrated research/competition in your intended field of study. This is just one of the reasons why I encourage students in 8th-10th grades to focus on setting their educational goals early and taking steps to realize these goals. Earning a 4.0 GPA is impressive but insufficient to earn prestigious merit based awards! Scholarships are given to students with impressive accomplishments both within and outside the classroom. DO YOU HAVE A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PLAN?
  • Private colleges will offset  and reduce some or all of any grants awarded by the amount of external scholarships received.


It pays to be a “stellar” (Interesting) student!!
Let’s be crystal clear. While admissions is need-blind, once admitted, if you are eligible for financial aid (Cost of Attendance less your Estimated Family Contribution -COA-EFC= Unmet Need), institutional financial aid can be in the form of grants, work-study, student loans and parent loans.
The mix of that aid is subject to negotiation. I’ve seen financial aid award letters including $60k of grants where the same student receives a package of $50k in parent and student loans at another university!! What does this tell you about how attractive a college finds your student? What does this tell you about how to target and select colleges?
If you want more money– your admissions strategy is to be the top end of the applicant pool. e.g. If your student has a 3.6 GPA, you’ll receive more grant money at colleges that seek out students with a 3.3 GPA. There’s no differences in Ivy League schools- aid packages are fairly consistent across-the-board and every accepted applicant is stellar.
Again, have the conversation before you apply. If you aren’t eligible for aid or the partial aid you’ll likely receive based on EFC estimates isn’t acceptable- don’t apply to a college you cannot afford. It’s heartbreaking to hear of a student’s acceptance to a highly selective program only to have to decline the offer. Parents should understand what these models reveal and if this isn’t affordable- discuss this with your teen before application season begins.


Your unmet need is certainly subject to negotiation depending on a number of factors that relate to the strength of the student’s profile, gender, selected major, location to name a few.
The stronger your admissions portfolio and in particular your common application essay(s) where you clearly demonstrate how you will contribute to the institution and show “informed interest”, if you’re eligible for aid, the greater are your chances of receiving an award letter with more grants and less allocated to your unmet need in the amount of student loans.
It is heartbreaking to receive a well-earned acceptance letter only to open the financial award letter and see LOANS rather than grants.  Loans are what public universities offer.
KEY POINT!!  Please begin your Educational and College Admissions Planning EARLY in High School. Setting goals and building your strategic plan to allow each young adult to explore emerging academic interests and leverage personal interests will set you apart from tens of thousands of equally qualified and seamingly identical applicants.   College Planning- Don’t Leave It to “CHANCE” ,but begin your planning early.


  • Are there “financial safeties”? The short answer is YES!!
Many families make the mistake of concluding they aren’t eligible for financial aid and/or don’t bother to work with a professional to help understand and apply for and appeal financial aid award letters. My clients have been successful appealing their financial aid awards – that process of appeal occurs in the spring of the senior year AFTER you’re accepted.
Even if you aren’t eligible for financial aid- I want to talk also about the process of “discounting”. Many universities offer substantial amounts of “merit-based” scholarships- or “discounting” when they are interested in YOU.
MISTAKE TO AVOID: The Florida (and other state) Pre-Pay trap: Don’t limit yourself to in-state public institutions because you participated in Florida Prepay. Your financial circumstances may actually favor out-of-state private college attendance. You are encouraged to schedule a meeting to discuss how we shape your balanced college list when it comes to paying for college. If you’re eligible for financial aid – then it may be less pricey to attend a private university than pay within-state public tuition. Public universities don’t have much in the way of financial aid to disperse.
As for receiving financial assistance from an out-of-state public university – you should assume there is little to no assistance. Very few public universities will offer any substantial financial assistance to out-of-state residents that would create a comparable financial offset to your own within-state public university. That said, we do know that some public universities are among the finest educational experiences within the US.
Your educational aspirations are important in integrating financial costs into the larger picture of selecting a college to attend.
Many (not all, and certainly not the Ivy League) Universities want to attract you to attend their campus by offering lucrative merit scholarships.  Based on your academic and extracurricular record– there is quite a sum of merit-based assistance for targeted students. A 4.0 and 1550+ SAT are awesome but insufficient to receive a merit package at an Ivy League or highly selective university that focuses exclusively on need-based vs merit based assistance. You essay and extracurriculars determine if you are one of the students earning a merit scholarship. All applicants for prestigious scholarships have awesome GPA and test scores. That’s why I’m always pushing the idea of “finding joy/finding a passion” and getting involved in those exact joyful experiences throughout high school.



Please give me a call if you are uncertain on what to do next regarding SAT/ACT, AP exams or even your summer plans.  Connect with online college advisor Bonnie Rabin, PhD
Juniors ’22 – We’ll soon be starting our  Writers Block Workshop — this year online!  Please reach out to get scheduled for your one-on-one appointments .  I know you miss your normally packed extracurricular schedule and you had huge summer plans– the silver lining- with steady focus and determination-, we can finish your college essays and college applications well before school resumes. I’m eager to get you pumped and ready for college apps and keep you on schedule and on task. With the fall uncertain- let’s make the best of this situation.

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Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D.

Educational and College Admissions Consultant
Professor Emeritus  – Cornell Alumni Rep

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I invite you to schedule an online college counseling session with me to begin your college major research, shape your balanced list of colleges and being your Common Application process and college essays.

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