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Guidance Counselors Speak Out and Answer the Question: Why Do Students Fail to Get Free Money For College?

Category: General, Must Read Posts
4 comments Guidance Counselor Speaks

I had one burning question on my mind that needed to be answered. It’s probably the very same question you ask yourself over and over. Why do students fail to get free money for college? So I went to the source. I went to the people on the front lines. I wanted to know from those who deal with this issue every single day. I reached out to high school guidance counselors! They are the unsung heroes and their answers were eye opening to say the least.

The very first response was like a gut punch especially to parents who have college bound students.  Jim Mahan from Page HS, Franklin TN said,

“The mistake is being lazy.” If that wasn’t enough the harsh reality continued with this “They depend on mom and dad to foot the bill”

The next response hit my inbox and I braced for it this time,

“They don’t meet deadlines, they don’t research for scholarships soon enough, They are unwilling to complete required paperwork for some scholarships, They overlook something in the application instructions and it’s submitted incomplete”

and the kicker

“They apply to the wrong schools. If students are really concerned about scholarship money, they should apply to schools where they will be in the top tier of students applying to the school” said Angela Sawyers from Franklin HS, Franklin TN.

That last comment is the kernel of truth, the golden nugget, nirvana. It’s the essence of why students are not getting all the college money they possibly can. It’s so important I recommend you read it over several times.

I was then fortunate enough to have one of the guidance counselors attend a monthly workshop I host titled “How to Get Thousands of Dollars for College”. Leticia Varela also from Franklin HS in Franklin TN said,

“I have been doing this for over 18 years and many times, I see that students are actually not the ones taking an active role.  Many times, the parents are the ones doing the leg work and are having to pay the bill for college. Although we, as parents, need to be involved, the student has to be very, very involved.”

So far this was great information. I was pinpointing the problem. I felt like an insider, getting the scoop first hand. But I wanted to know more so I continued to ask and because guidance counselors are givers they gave more, more insight, more actionable knowledge.

Dan Winfree, Franklin HS, Franklin TN emailed and said, “I could probably help better through a phone call if you give me a number or call me.” So I called him within 60 seconds of getting his offer. I could tell he was a bit surprised at the quick response but I was hungry.

“Missing deadlines is the top reason and that’s because they start too late. It would be nice to have a place where students could go and get deadlines for each school. Students also don’t select enough colleges. They focus on one college choice and decide more options are needed far too late in the process.”

More gold!  Tiffany Littlejohn from Maplewood HS, NashvilleTN confirmed Dan’s input when she told me that,

“Students are mostly focused on one or two college choices”

Meri Kock from Hillsboro HS in NashvilleTN also gave Dan Winfree’s opinion support by reinforcing the missed deadlines theme when she said,

“Not meeting a university’s deadline for applying for scholarships.”

But she threw in another twist in this college money tale.

“In my opinion, the reason students don’t get money for college in the amount they could include failure to complete the FAFSA in a timely manner.”

Now this one I knew. Aid is first come; first serve so the later you complete the FAFSA the more likely it will be that the aid will have been awarded already. Ok but then she threw this one in and for me it was another surprise.

“Not applying for the scholarships they qualify for”

Really? Let me get this straight, they qualify for aid but don’t apply? Why is that? How is that even possible?

Not only is it possible but it’s common. It’s common for the very reason that Joy Guss from MLK Magnet in Nashville TN said,

“Public school students are often sharing one counselor for every 200-400 students. There is not enough time for counselors to focus on scholarships with case loads that high. They are focusing on students who are failing courses and just do not have time to work on scholarships with other students.”

Kristen Cantrell from La Vergne HS in La Vergne TN rounds it out by saying,

”They do not take advantage of asking the place where they are going to college. They do not call college financial aid/scholarship departments to ask about specific college aid.”

At this point I was a bit overwhelmed. I could see the problem much clearer. I knew that in order to get the most money for college a plan is needed. Too many mistakes are made that cost money.  Too much money is at stake! The takeaway is that you must develop a plan, work the plan and stick to the plan. Be persistent and pay attention to detail! Parents, you  must be involved!  You need to make sure things are getting done. Your student needs a guide through this whole process and like it or not you as the parent are it! It’s up to you to make sure that your student doesn’t fall short and miss out on the college money and resources that are available.

A special thank you goes out to all the guidance counselors that were kind enough to share their thoughts. Their insight is extremely valuable!  They painted a clear picture of why college bound students are not getting as much free money for college as possible.

Tell me which guidance counselor comment inspired you the most in the comments section below. For me, finding out that students don’t apply for scholarships they are already eligible for was somewhat shocking. Let us know what you think! The “Finding Money For College” community is here and willing to help!

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4 comments… add one
  • Monica Matthews, http://how2winscholarships.com

    BINGO! I love this article and totally agree with all the guidance counselors. It’s exactly why I wrote my ebook, “How to Win College Scholarships: A Guide for Parents in 10 Easy Steps”. Parents who are highly involved in the college search and scholarship process can play a HUGE role in helping their students win money for school. Guidance counselors simply have too many students to help each one. Thank you for sharing their thoughts!

    • Jonathan Pagano

      Thanks for the input Monica! I’d love to read your ebook!

  • Kelly Knight, MSP

    As a long time financial aid administrator, it has been my observation that students don’t get the free money that is available because they have never been taught how to look for it, or to put in the effort required to obtain it. Students go to public or private school for 13 years. Everything is done for them; books are on the shelf, lunch is in the lunch room, food, clothing and shelter have been provided for them. They simply have no idea that there is going to be a cost to college, and so they don’t know how to cover it. If we can teach our children the simple math that by spending 1 hour of their time, they may qualify for $5,000+ in PELL funding, how much farther ahead would they be? With a few hours of research and essay writing they may qualify for $1,000 in scholarships. There has been no correlation to the number of hours spent to the amount available. Let’s face it, few people make $5,000 for one hour of work, but students have the chance to do just that, if we teach them to.

    • Jonathan Pagano

      Awesome insight Kelly. This is exactly why I tell parents that they need to be involved but also need to take the reigns and make sure they know the process inside and out. Parents need to make sure they put their students in a position to get the money that is out there!