“A Consultant Told Us NOT to Apply For Scholarships…”?!

Actual Email I Received From a Mom

In June of 2016 I received this email from a mom:

“Jeannie, I’ve been to 3 of your classes and love hearing you as well as reading your information. I value your opinion.

We have recently met with a person who we could pay to help our daughter navigate sophomore through senior year with FAFSAs, scholarships, choosing schools, etc.

I asked many informed questions because of the information you have taught me. Overall, he agreed with your stance on many things. However, he did say that applying for many scholarships early (i.e. middle school and early high school) can hurt the student’s chance of getting money from the institute they wish to attend. (Jeannie’s emphasis.) He said that he finds schools for students based on their interests/skills/location, but also who will give them the most financial aid. His take was that trying early for scholarships uses up a lot of time with little success, (Jeannie’s emphasis) and any that are won must be reported, thus decreasing financial scholarships/offers from the school of their choice later. (Jeannie’s emphasis.)

I am curious about this since we have been gearing up for searching/writing scholarship applications before late high school. We have not hired this person as of yet and would love any comment/advice you can give in regards to this point of view.”

apply for scholarships

Here’s my reply to this mom:

“JoAnn, thank you for reaching out to me about this. If you do hire and work with this person, please keep in touch with me and let me know how it goes and how happy you are! I don’t do this kind of consulting myself, so I am always looking for high-quality people to refer out to.

It’s difficult for me to comment on this situation because I don’t know the person, but I can tell you this.

Colleges have a limited amount of money to give out to their incoming students.

They usually take this precious money and use it to attract high-quality students that they believe will enrich their freshman class and make college a better experience for others. If your child is a high-quality applicant, colleges may tell her: “We would love to have you here! If you come, we will give you $20,000 extra to help pay your tuition.”

In my mind I can’t imagine the meeting at the college where a committee says:

“Well, this is really an outstanding high-quality applicant and we would normally extend her some merit aid, but look—she already found and applied for six scholarships and has $30,000 in scholarship money already set up for herself—let’s definitely not try to recruit her.”

It seems to me that being a go-getter and finding scholarships on your own would be a further feather in your cap and yet another reason for them to love you and want you to come to their school.

Now keep in mind I don’t know this man and so I’m not in a great position to fully evaluate his advice.

For all I know, he could know more about the subject than I do. But here is my thought: he seems to be assuming that colleges are going to give out money to students based on their financial need. The students are poor, they have little money to pay, they didn’t get scholarships, so the college gives them money?

I could be wrong, but I have not heard of many incidents of that happening.

It seems like poor people with no money are a dime a dozen – and if the college were going to do that they would be flooded with applicants who would like a generous handout despite having not done anything special to pursue it.

My understanding is that colleges don’t hand out a lot of money to people because of their financial need. They hand out free money based on merit.

I think we need to keep the consultant’s profit motive in mind here.

If you are a consultant, it is always easier to sell your services by telling people that they will not have to do any special work on their own – rather than by telling people that they will have to work hard to do things like finding and applying for scholarships. I don’t know whether this is entering into this consultant’s mind or not, but it is something to think about.

There is a way to find out for free which colleges hand out merit aid. You don’t need a consultant for that.

You can go to collegedata.com, locate the “Quick College Finder,” type in any college name you want, and instantly see whether or not that college gives out merit aid.

There are some colleges that will take a student’s scholarship money and use it to reduce the free aid the student was going to get, rather than using it to reduce the student’s future student loan burden.

This is a dirty trick. There are many, many colleges that don’t do this. Ask whether this is a college’s policy before your child applies there. If it is, apply elsewhere.

Here’s the upshot on what I think about this. 

I say, we probably shouldn’t depend on colleges to fully meet anybody’s financial need. They simply aren’t doing that these days. Massive numbers of families are shocked when they see their “financial aid award letter” and realize how little money is being provided for them and how much must come out of their own pockets.

Putting all your eggs in that basket could end up being a great great disappointment.

Instead, I think it’s better to get proactive ahead of time about getting private parties to pay for college by awarding you scholarships. If this man is not seeing students have much luck getting scholarships, he may not have a fantastic way of writing the scholarship essays like you do — now that you’ve had a class from me on the subject. : – )

I say, go ahead and apply for bunches of scholarships using the best, most convincing, most powerful essay you can. Better to have the money in your hand now than to count on some mythical gift coming in from a college later.

Best wishes!

~ Jeannie Burlowski

Below, learn the fastest, easiest way to fill out large numbers of scholarship applications.

Take my 3-hour video class MAKE THEM SAY WOW: How to Write One Brilliant Scholarship Application Essay and Use it Over and Over Again

[Video Class] MAKE THEM SAY “WOW!” Application Essay Writing

For more help, read these posts I’ve written on finding and applying for scholarships. There’s a ton of good information in here:

Top 10 Ways to Help Your Kid Rake In More College Scholarships

Looking for Scholarships to Apply For? Here are 1.5 Million of Them

Want More College Scholarships? GPA Matters Less Than You Think.

Have you heard?

Exciting FAFSA changes may apply to you in 2022–2023 and beyond. Be the first to learn about them when you subscribe here.

Learn every way possible to keep college costs down without getting scholarships.

Getting scholarships is a relatively small part of the picture when it comes to getting kids through college debt-free. There are many, many other strategies that parents can use that can end up being easier and more effective—even if they can’t save up a penny.

Learn about all the debt-free college strategies that have nothing to do with scholarships in this book:

You can get 10-minute, fast-paced video instruction on how to use this book most efficiently at bit.ly/easylaunchinstructions.

You can see more than 90 reviews of it on Amazon at:


(Tell your friends.)

You can see the “Top 9 Questions Parents Are Asking Me About LAUNCH,” here.

Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.

And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.

Do you have friends who are parenting kids ages 12–22?

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What about you? What are your thoughts on these topics?

If you work in college admissions or financial aid and you could give us some additional insight on this subject, I would love to hear from you! Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.

Who is Jeannie Burlowski?

Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, author, speaker, and podcast host. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.

Jeannie also helps students apply to law, medical, business, and grad school at her website GetIntoMedSchool.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JBurlowski.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

7 thoughts on ““A Consultant Told Us NOT to Apply For Scholarships…”?!

  1. Hi Jeannie!

    I have a personal experience to share. This happened 20 years ago, but maybe the process hasn’t changed. I hope I remember all the details. When I applied for and was accepted at Wheaton College in IL, I was presented with a financial aid package that included some funds that were basically “given” to me to cover tuition based on my financial situation. Sometime after I was given the financial aid package but before my freshman year began, I won a $500 scholarship for academic excellence. I was excited to apply that to the amount that I would need to pay out-of-pocket… but it didn’t work that way. Instead, the financial aid package was adjusted based on the scholarship, and the school simply gave me less. So my out-of-pocket stayed the same! It was fairly demoralizing for me, which is probably why I still remember it.

    Perhaps, if this family is in a position to receive a lot of aid based on their low income, they would experience this catch-22.

    • Thank you for sharing this story! What you’ve related is one reason we tell parents this: “When you’re visiting college campuses, ask the admissions office: ‘If my child gets a private scholarship, that’ll be used to offset her loans, right? You won’t use that scholarship money to reduce her free grant money, right?'” If the answer is not what you want to hear, you might want to have your child apply elsewhere.

      I’m very sad to hear that this happened at a place like Wheaton. If I’d have known you then, I’d have suggested that you appeal this decision up to some higher authorities. Thank you again for your comment!

  2. Hey Jeannie!
    I love your posts about choosing colleges, I am a Junior in high school and I’m looking into studying in Ireland or the United Kingdom because of the supposed low cost of attendance. Do you think this is a good idea? Or do you think state-side colleges are worth the cost?
    Thanks so much!

    • Josh, I’m so glad to have you reading my writing! You are right to be hesitant about this. You don’t want future employers saying: “Ireland?!?! What was that education like?!?” when looking at your resume.

      When choosing ANY college, the key is: “Will the education there actually prepare me for what I want to do someday?” You can’t know that until you have a sense of what you want to do some day. Career clarification is your first step. If assessments show that you’d make an awesome pediatrician, then you job shadow pediatricians and say to them: “Will I be able to get into US med school with an undergraduate degree from the UK– or from Ireland?” This is how you make logical decisions.

      For info on the career clarification I recommend, look at this post: https://jeannieburlowski.com/2016/05/23/help-our-daughter-is-failing-college-shes-dropping-out/

      Hey, do you get my email newsletter? When my book comes out I will be able to give you a ton more creative ideas for how to keep college costs down than going overseas. : – )

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