Private Scholarship . . . Reality Or Fairy Tale? | Luanne Lee, CCPRS

Private scholarships – we love them and hate them. We love them because they make a good story. We hate them because for most of us they are so darn elusive and time-consuming to get!

The media loves to promote stories that have happy fairy tale endings. What’s better than a student being able to win enough money in scholarships to pay for their full tuition room and board? Sounds like a fairy tale story that will get lots of clicks. But in reality, Mark Kantrowitz, former publisher of and, reports less than 20,000 students a year receive a completely free ride to college. Out of the millions of students who apply to college each year, what do you think your chances are?

At Your College Planning Coach we recommend your #1 priority should be researching and targeting colleges that want your student and are more likely to offer your student Financial Aid in the form of Grants and Merit Scholarships. According to College Board’s Trends in Education, 40% of all free aid money is given by colleges. Less than 11% comes from private grants/scholarships. That doesn’t sound like a good use of your time, does it? Spend your valuable time more efficiently. Once you’ve applied to those colleges that offer your student Grants and Merit Scholarships, put whatever time and effort you have into applying for private scholarships.

Please share the following tips with your student…..

  1. Applying for private scholarships to pay the bulk of your college bill is like taking on a part-time job. It will require you researching hundreds of scholarships and submitting applications and essays for dozens every year you are in college. The cost to attend in-state public flagship universities is over $25,000 a year, $50,000 per year for out-of-state-state universities. Most private scholarships are $1,000 or less and are only good for one year.
  2. There are plenty of free college scholarship websites. Some will do a better job of narrowing results to your qualifications while others will have outdated scholarships. Use a combination of websites to maximize your chances of finding scholarships. If they boast “No Essay Required” they may be a scholarship sweepstakes, a form of marketing and lead generation. It will be best to create a separate email for your scholarship searches.
  3. Check your high school counselor’s office, your parent’s workplace, and the local paper’s community section for local scholarships. You will have a better chance earning local scholarships. They aren’t as easy to find so not as many people will be applying for them.
  4. Most private scholarships will be for one year only. Pay attention to scholarships that are multi-year or allow you to apply and win more than once.
  5. Private scholarships must be declared to your college financial aid office. This can affect your financial aid award from federal and institutional sources being reduced.
  6. To get the most out of private scholarships, be organized, apply for as many as possible, as early as possible. Track deadlines, requirements, and recommendations in one place. Give yourself time to write the essays and also give your teachers plenty of time to write your letter of recommendations.


Every student should try to find and apply for scholarships. Just be realistic about the effort needed and the potential outcome. And remember, if you really want to make a dent finding money for college, the best time spent will be used towards targeting schools that are more likely to offer financial aid or merit scholarships. And just like the research for finding private scholarships, the earlier you start the better.


About Luanne Lee

Luanne Lee is a licensed College Planning Relief® specialist with over 20 years in business and personal financial services. Married to Jim for 40 years, she is a proud mother of two young adults, three grandchildren, 3 dogs and 2 cats and lives in Northern VA.

FAFSA Season Already? Are You Ready? | Luanne Lee, CCPRS

loudounnovdechrnobleeds2016_page_29Wait a minute. It’s not January, is it? No, its September and no, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. We usually contribute a FAFSA article every year for the January issue of Virginia Woman magazine. Why are we so early this year? Although it’s no longer “breaking news,” it was announced in the spring of last year the “New FAFSA” can now be filed starting as early as October 1st of your child’s senior year instead of January 1st as in years past. Are you ready?

Why the big change? One reason is to make the process less confusing. Let’s look at what we used to do. You would file an estimated FAFSA in January, filing the final FAFSA several months later after you have filed your taxes, and then waiting several more weeks to sync your FAFSA and your federal tax return with the IRS Data Retrieval tool to then send the FINAL confirmed data the schools wanted…are you dizzy yet??

Starting in October of 2016 you will file the “New FAFSA” with the “Prior/ Prior Year” federal tax return. Which means for the incoming college class of 2017/18 you will file your child’s FAFSA using data from your (hopefully) already filed 2015 federal tax return. You will continue to use the current asset data on the day you file the FAFSA. Side bar, make sure you have a paper trail/statements of your accounts in the event of an audit.

Since you are using a prior/prior already filed tax return, there will no longer be a 3-week delay to sync up the IRS and the FAFSA Data Retrieval Tool. You can complete all of this in one sitting and submit the FAFSA to the colleges your child is applying to. Are you ready?

The purpose of all of this is so you can find out sooner rather than later what the college is going to offer for a Financial Aid Award and whether the school will be affordable or not. Reality check: do you really think filing three months earlier is going to make that much of a difference? What you should do is to already know ahead of time what is affordable, or not, what schools will be a good fit, or not, what schools will have the major you need, or not, WAY before you file the FAFSA and WAY before your son or daughter falls in love with a school that won’t be a good fit. That way you won’t waste valuable time, effort and financial resources applying to schools you can’t afford.

Another teeny weeny little wrinkle to all of this? Will your child have their list of colleges ready by October 1st? There’s no sense in submitting a FAFSA if you don’t have the schools to submit it to. There’s no sense to submit a FAFSA to schools you aren’t ready to submit applications to since they can’t make you a Financial Aid Award without your application. Are you and your child ready?

If you are NOT ready, overwhelmed, frustrated, concerned and stressed out, we understand and are here to help. If you have a college bound senior your clock is ticking. Call us today.

Now my biggest problem is what will I write about in January!

By: Luanne Lee, CCPRS
Your College Planning Coach

The Clock is Ticking | Luanne Lee, CCPRS

LoudounMayJune2016HighResNoBleeds_Page_23Parents of HS Seniors. By now your child should have received their acceptance letters, the “thanks, but no thanks” rejection letters, or the dreaded “We’re not sure we want you until the students we offered acceptance decide to accept us or not” wait list letter! My advice? If your student received a wait list offer, print off several copies and have a family “tear it up and move on” party!! Choose a school that wants your student from the start and forget the ones that are keeping them in limbo. In 2014 UVA accepted 42 students off a 3000+ wait list. It’s NOT worth the stress or heartache!

Next, keep an eye out for the all-important Financial Aid Award offers. Some of you would have received some offer of a merit scholarship or grant with the acceptance letter. Most of you didn’t and are wondering where the Award offers are. Depending on the school, the Estimated Awards will be coming in over the next month or so. When they eventually do arrive, in your students email inbox, 99% of you will be looking at those Award letters and will start mumbling, cursing, crying, or yelling for hubby to open up a bottle of wine!

As I write this article in the 1st week of April I am already getting weekly calls, and soon it will be daily, from parents trying to make sense of what they are looking at. Yes, the award letters can be confusing and sometimes a bit vague. Once you figure out what is being offered, and what isn’t, that is when the confusion really sinks in and what prompts the calls I get.

You can’t understand why your super bright, very accomplished 4.385 GPA student, 2160 SAT score, Honor Society member, school athlete, debate team member, etc., is only being offered Stafford loans, the PLUS, which stands for Parent Loan for Undergraduate Student, or what I commonly refer to as Predatory Lending by our U.S. government, a paltry amount of Work Study, IF yes was answered for the work study question on the FAFSA, and nothing else! Where are the Scholarships and Grants?? Surely there must be a mistake?! Believe me, when I tell you it’s not a mistake the tone of the phone call quickly turns from teary upset to teary anger! Now the stress really starts as you realize what you thought you had saved for college is nowhere near enough for 1 year, never mind 4! “What do we do? Do we take out loans? Can we even qualify? How can we possibly explain to our child we can’t afford to send them to their dream school??” This is the time of year MY day finishes with some extra time with the kick boxing bag, because I’m angry, too. Why? Because so many of these heart breaking phone calls could have been averted!

If you are the parent of a HS Junior, Sophomore, Freshmen or Middle School student…YOUR clock is ticking, too! Don’t put your alarm clock on snooze for too long! Call us today so in a few years you will be calling me with tears of joy after receiving awards of acceptance and merit scholarships instead of tears of anger!!

By Luanne Lee, CCPRS

7 Most Frequently Asked College Questions | Luanne Lee, CCPRS

1. At our school’s Financial Aid Night we were told ALL we have to pay for college is our EFC. Is that true?

Short answer… NO! This is one of THE most misunderstood misconceptions (and myths) regarding EFC (Expected Family Contribution). Most schools do NOT limit your out-of-pocket costs to EFC, and many public colleges offer families NO financial aid other than government loans even when their EFC is quite low. You should learn your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) early…as in no later than your student’s first year of high school!

2. I heard it is a waste of time filing the FAFSA if you make more than $100K. True or False?

This is such a common misconception and is absolutely… FALSE! Some families earning well beyond $100K qualify for significant need-based financial aid! School selection plays a major part in this.

3. Is it true that there’s lots of financial aid for every student?

No, this is NOT accurate. Beware when colleges (and Uncle Sam) tell you there’s PLENTY of financial aid for every student. What they’re OFTEN referring to is LOANS. Always reply with the clarifying question, “How much of the financial aid you’re referring to is FREE money and how much of it is LOANS?”

4. What about Athletic Scholarships?

Athletic scholarships are highly misunderstood. First of all, only a small number of exceptionally talented high school athletes have even a CHANCE of being recruited into a Division 1 college. And for those fortunate ones who are, the vast majority will find only a partial scholarship being offered to them. Most often it doesn’t come even close to paying for tuition… not to mention room & board, books, and living expenses. Many families are disappointed when they learn of the limited funds their student athlete will receive… after a tremendous investment of time and money for their “ticket to college”!

5. My student has a 4.0 GPA. Won’t they get a full ride?

The term “full-ride scholarship” is used loosely these days, and the reality is… there are very few true “full-rides”, meaning “free college”. Some colleges use the term full-ride to imply free tuition, but NOT inclusive of room & board, books, living expenses, etc.

6. I heard if we stop claiming our child as an exemption on our taxes, they will qualify for more financial aid. True?

No. Until your son/daughter turns 24 (or gets married or has a baby or enters the military), they are considered a DEPENDENT student in the eyes of the government and the colleges. Parent income and assets must be declared on the financial aid forms.

7. What’s the difference between Early Action and Early Decision? 

There’s one BIG difference… Early Action is NON-committal, while Early Decision IS. You can apply Early Action and in the event that you’re accepted (typically by late December), you don’t need to commit until May 1st. However, if you apply Early Decision and you’re accepted, you agree to attend as well as accept the financial aid award offered. Unless money is no object you should never accept Early Decision.

It’s that time of the year AGAIN! To help prospective college prep families get ready for the dreaded application ( sooo many apps to complete) and FAFSA, we have compiled our top questions asked by parents.. To receive a total list ( up to 50 most asked questions every parent needs to know) attend one of our workshops, visit the website or call for. FREE 15 minute consultation)

By: Luanne Lee, CCPRS
Your College Planning Coach


LWMMarchApril2015small_Page_19If you walk the halls of any high school right now you will hear the familiar buzz in shouts and whispers… Dude, “I got accepted.” “Dude I got deferred.” “Dude, they REJECTED me.” “Dude…they o ered me $10K in scholarships.” You observe students walking alone and silent down the halls. They haven’t heard any news yet and don’t want to admit it to their friends. The stress level is incredibly high this time of year for high school seniors
waiting for those college acceptance letters. Yes, those college noti cations are coming in, acceptance, wait list deferrals and the dreaded, “Thank you for your interest, we are sorry to inform you…” rejection letters. If your student receives a rejection or deferral please tell them don’t take it personally.

With the Common App and the increased numbers of students applying to college these days, your student’s application is one in tens of thousands with similar grades and scores. The competition is  erce. But, let’s say your student got accepted to one of the 10 schools they applied to. Everyone in the house is giddy with excitement and relief. Johnny is going to college!!

You filed the FAFSA. Your EFC number looks awfully big and expensive. It can’t be just for 1 year, right?? BUT, since your 4.0, 2050 SAT/29 ACT score son was ACCEPTED surely there will be scholarships and grants o ered! You call the college and are told the Financial Aid AWARD letters will be coming in a few weeks.

You feel SO much better since an AWARD letter sounds very promising, right?

Fast forward several weeks to the arrival of the Award letter. You see the dollar  gures broken up in columns and at  first glance things look pretty good. You take a closer look and suddenly realize the Stafford and PLUS offerings are loans, the EFC is what you are expected to pay out of pocket for just the 1st year, you don’t see any grants offered and only a small $2000 scholarship that won’t be renewed after the 1st year. The excitement you
had when the acceptance letters came in is now tempered with concern about how to send Maddy or Scott to college after all. The stress has now moved from the halls of the high school directly to your family kitchen table.

You thought you saved enough but now you aren’t sure. You consider borrowing from retirement accounts or taking on education loans. This starts a cycle of debt for both parents and students that could be a problem for decades. Plus, this is only child #1 and you have two younger children to pay for, too.

Since the cost of attending even the a state university can be close to $100K, especially if the graduating statistics are six years instead of four, you must start both college funding and planning much earlier than ever. Finding out what it takes for your student to stand out from the rest of the applicants, selecting the right schools for your student,  nding the savings options that will help (not hinder) the Financial Aid process… all of this and more takes planning and time. College has turned into big business and will be one of the most expensive purchases for your family.

If you spend a little more time planning for college in the early years than you do on annual family vacations you will  nd you can avert many of the problems some of today’s families are experiencing and still afford to take those family vacations while the kids are in college instead of taking on a second job to help pay for it all.


Junior Year Justice…. College Prep and What Counts to get in! | Your College Planning Coach

LWMSeptOct2014-Final_Page_29One’s junior year of high school is by far the year that counts – a lot!!!! Colleges are most interested in YOU Especially if you are a Junior preparing to go to college in less than 2 years…YIKES!

Uhhh… you WILL need reference letters and more. No matter which college you apply to, schools are looking for a solid GPA and to see that you have taken the most challenging courses you could. Most colleges want to see decent SAT or ACT scores as well. Also, there is more to applying to college besides grades and scores, so being the bright college bound student I know you to be, you’ll pay extra attention to this checklist and bump your chances of getting in to a college that will be the right fit for you to accomplish your dreams!

You’re Not Late (But Don’t Procrastinate) If you haven’t begun the admissions process, you’re not so behind that should you freak out. However, you do need to get the ball rolling. Doing something, even just checking out a few college web sites, is a constructive first step. Look to compare academic requirements; find out if there are opportunities for undergraduate research; do they have intramural sports; what’s the deal on studying abroad; etc.

Here is some advice I know you will find useful:

Lay it Out Few of us like doing things where we have little or no experience. It’s hard to demonstrate competency and confidence when attempting things the first time around. Shopping for colleges isn’t so easy when you have thousands of options and aren’t sure of what you want. The quest can seem completely overwhelming. This may come as a shock to you, but not all moms and dads are skilled carpenters, electricians or plumbers. We need to sit down with a cup of coffee, read the instructions, these days we watch a YouTube video (maybe 10 times like me) before taking on the job. Then and only then will we proceed to fix the leaky faucet, change the light fixture in the bathroom, or build a bookcase for your bedroom. So, do some prep work. The more you can organize what you need before starting the college admissions process, the easier life will be. For example, select your SAT/ACT test date, then study for it. At many colleges, a few extra points can mean the difference between getting a scholarship or not. If you’re shooting for a seat at an elite college, you can also expect to complete SAT Subject Tests at the end of your junior year. If a college recommends that you take a few but doesn’t require that you do, what they really mean is that they are expecting you to take them. Then check your calendar, and make plans with your parents to visit a few colleges during the year. So you can get a sense of what’s out there, look at a broad range of types: big, small, public, private, city or country.

How Important Are After School Activities? Other than taking the most challenging courses your high school offers, it’s a good time to evaluate what you do outside the classroom. Don’t stay in activities just because you think they would look good on a resume. It’s way better if you choose one or two extracurricular activities that you’re enthusiastic and passionate about. Most colleges are looking for well-rounded students, not just the student with their nose in a book! Ultimately, you will need a plan of action and smart money moves to make those four years of college the perfect fit. Call us.703.928.9036.

By Luanne Lee, CCPRS


A Spring and Summer To Do List for College Bound High School Students

college checklistThe 2013/14 school year has been one for the books! It seemed like winter would never end and now it seems like the school year will never end! We are all ready for a nice relaxing break for the summer, but, if you are the parents of high school students who have goals for college one day we have lots to do to prepare for a successful transition from high school to college.

Grade 9:
• Meet with your guidance counselor now to choose the right courses in the fall, especially those math and AP classes the college admissions officers want to see!
• Seek summer employment or volunteer work in a field that may be related to future career interests.

Grade 10:
• Check with your guidance counselor if you should take SAT subject tests in June. Review your math skills over the summer to prepare for SAT/ACT tests in the fall.
• Spend time this summer researching private scholarship requirements and writing essays

Grade 11:
• Meet with your counselor to plan senior year courses with college and graduation requirements in mind.
• Your private scholarship search and writing essays should be a major part of your summer schedule.
• College admissions committees will be interested in how you spent your summer. Look for educational opportunities, internships and keep up your community involvement and volunteer hours.
• Schedule college visits, interviews and engage in social media with the colleges at the top of your list.
• Clean up your Facebook page and other social media platforms!
Grade 12:
• As the acceptance letters roll in make sure you stay on top of notifications, requirements and deadlines by checking into your college student portal daily.
• Continue to apply for private scholarships.
• THANK your guidance counselors and teachers who provided recommendations and guidance. Share your plans and acceptance news with them…they truly do care!

**All grades should seek summer employment, internship opportunities and volunteer work in a field that may be related to future career interests.

–  Luanne Lee, CCPRS

College Planning Starts Now: 5 Common FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 2.15.08 PMJanuary is the month that millions of families disclose their financial data to the Department of Education through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Given that the FAFSA has been called the gateway to financial aid, and considering the ever-increasing costs of college, it is imperative to minimize mistakes in completing it. Here are five common FAFSA errors to avoid.

1. Failing to Submit Because of High Income

Many times families will not complete or submit the FAFSA, believing they make too much money to qualify. Income is only one of seven factors used to determine aid eligibility; always complete the FAFSA regardless of income.

2. Waiting Too Long to Submit

A mistake many make is to wait until they have all of their financial documents in place, and taxes done, before submitting their FAFSA. Since some money is on a first-come, first-served basis, it is imperative to submit as early in January as possible with estimates of your finances (which the Department of Education fully expects).

3. Submitting Incorrect Info for Divorced Parents

In a divorce situation, whose financial information is used? It is the income and assets of the household (including step-parent info) in which the students spends the majority of their time and receives the majority of financial support.

4. Understating Income

If you contribute to a 401(k), 403(b), or any other pre-tax retirement account, you must add back any contributions in the previous year to your income for FAFSA purposes. This in effect produces a higher FAFSA income than what might be shown on your tax return.

5. Overstating Assets

Many families mistakenly include retirement assets and home equity as part of their investments or net worth, when in fact neither should be included here.

And last but not least, please be sure to complete the correct FAFSA application. Remember to complete the FAFSA for the year your student will be in college for the upcoming fall school year, NOT the school year they are currently in. This is a huge, but common mistake. Make this one and your student will receive no aid in the following Fall. Let’s start off 2014 the right way for our local businesses!

To signup for a workshop, meet one-on-one or just ask questions contact us today at: 703-928-9036 or

Luanne Lee is a licensed College Planning Relief® specialist with over 20 years in business and personal financial services. She is a proud mother of two young adults, two grandchildren, 3 dogs and 2 cats in the country near Loudoun.

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