Skip to content

How to avoid overpaying for college

If you are the parent of a college-bound teen and your family is likely to not qualify for financial aid, then there are three lessons from this most recent admissions cycle that you must know. Applying these lessons while your teen is in high school can help you avoid overpaying for college. I will give you a brief background on this current class of seniors so that you understand better how to apply these three important lessons.


What happened this year in college admissions

This recent class of seniors that I worked with started on their applications by August at the latest. The average number of applications was 8, which is similar to the national average.  A selection of colleges where my current class of students applied included:





High Point


Loyola of Chicago



Seattle Pacific


The Ohio State University

UC Berkeley

University of Michigan



My individual meetings with students occurred every 1-2 weeks, based on their application deadlines. Over a six- month period, we met about 20 times. Just as a “back of the envelope” estimate and based on my conversations with students, each senior spent about 100+ hours working on college applications!

Many of these hours occurred earlier in the fall as 80% of my seniors submitted one or two applications by an early deadline. I encourage students to consider applying Early Action (EA) to a couple colleges, which means that they will typically get an admissions decision by December. Given that there are plenty of colleges with January deadlines, if students learn a deferred or denied decision in December, then they still have time to submit additional applications. Furthermore, with EA applications, students have time to compare financial awards and weigh their college decision.

This year a few client families chose an Early Decision deadline. This option means that if the student is admitted then they must attend the college regardless of any financial aid. Therefore, if the parents do not qualify for financial aid, then the parents could be paying the full cost of attendance, i.e. $65,000+ per year for college.


What to expect next year in college admissions

If you want to pay considerably less for college and position your teen to qualify for merit scholarships then here are three key lessons:

Lesson 1: Campus visits matter

A campus visit signals to a college that your teen is interested in attending. Oftentimes, parents may not want to invest the time and money for a campus visit. However, investing $200-$500 to visit a college can have a return of $10,000+ in scholarships.  Colleges want to invest their scholarship dollars in admitting students that a) will enroll in that college and b) will contribute to the quality of life on campus.

Your teen may want to apply to a college because of their chances of being admitted. That’s all well and good but as a parent who doesn’t want to overpay for college, you also want a financial award to come with that admission letter. Investing in the campus visit can help your teen both get in and get money for college.

A campus visit was the most important factor in helping students write a compelling essay, which leads to the second lesson.


Lesson 2: Essays matter

Your teen will have essays to write for their college application and often for scholarships. A common question on many college applications is “Why this College?” Certainly, if your teen has not visited the campus, then it can be a challenge to respond to this prompt. Two of my students in this senior class were not able to do a campus visit due to athletic obligations. Their essays relied extensively on website research and these students spent considerable time working through the essays. Although the admissions decisions are not out yet for the current senior class, in the past when a student applied without a campus visit, she was admitted to the college. However, the college offered $0 in scholarships or aid. The signal from that college was “we’ll admit you but we’re not investing in you”.


In the essays that students write for college applications, the message they are conveying is “Why admit me”. It’s not always about how “good” of a writer your teen is, but how well your teen can communicate how they will contribute to campus life. That’s not always easy for a teen to communicate, but there are thousands of teens who do so every year. . . . which brings me to the third lesson.


Lesson 3: Competition is strong

Last year saw a 7% increase in the number of college freshman applications. Additionally, colleges are ramping up recruitment through social media and more ways to apply so, in turn, the volume of applications is expected to increase again. Current juniors should therefore expect that the competition for certain colleges will be stiff. When greater numbers of students are applying to the same colleges, it is more competitive.

For the remainder of high school, it’s important that your teen is positioning themselves to stand out in their applications. And as they are developing their list of colleges to consider these two questions:

Why am I special?

Why is X college a fit for me?


As a parent, you may want to answer these questions for your teen. But the answer must come from your teen. Admissions readers can easily detect any response that is not from your teen. Your teen’s genuine response to these questions can make all the difference in which colleges admit them. And . . . which colleges will offer scholarships so that you are not overpaying.


Question: How is your teen helping to pay for college? What are they doing in high school to position themselves for top dollar scholarships? Please comment below.


About This Blog

This blog is valued by busy parents of college-bound teens. The topics covered in these posts are mined from years of listening to parents talk about their dreams for their children’s education.

This blog is written from the heart… as it’s my passion and life calling!

Let’s Get Started!

What grade is your child in?

This helps us send you a downloadable,
grade-specific roadmap + relevant,
instant guidance right to your inbox.

error: Content is protected !!