Guest post by Nell Stranburg of Your College Advisor LLC

What would you say if I told you I have a student, Caitlin, who received $471,000 worth of scholarships from seven colleges and her best combined SAT score was 1230/1600?  She earned more scholarship money than the National Merit Finalist I worked with this year.  How did she do it?

Many students believe they must cure cancer, have a 4.6 GPA, and belong to every club at their school to get scholarship money for college.  This is not true.  There are many colleges that give merit aid to students, but the student must be desirable to the college.

Being desirable means the student will be a good addition to the campus; but more importantly, the student will accept the offer of admission given by the college.  Colleges see their report card as the position they receive from the US News and World Report rankings.  One of the biggest components is the yield, or the number of offers of admission that are accepted.

When families are looking for scholarship monies I tell them it is the school that chooses them, not they who choose the school.  What I mean by that is the family needs to listen to a college consultant knowledgeable in college financial aid methods who can direct the student to colleges that are generous with merit aid and the student must be in the top 25% of the applicant pool.

Caitlin met these criteria did everything I asked her to do.  What did I ask her to do?

1.  Demonstrate interest

The smaller private schools have more merit aid to dispense and they are driven by demonstrated interest of a student.  This means a student must visit the campus at least once and go on the official tour.  An email thank you sent to the admission counselor and anyone else who helped you during the visit is important.

Caitlin sent an email thank you at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday to one college president after seeing him at a special junior visitation weekend.  Within 20 minutes she had a reply and the financial aid office was cc’d.  Do you think her email made a difference in the offer she was given?

2.  Be open to suggestions from your college consultant

A college consultant can give you a list of schools where you may be eligible for significant scholarship money.   Do not dismiss schools you are not familiar with since there are 2600 colleges and you probably only know a handful of them.  Caitlin accepted my suggestions, researched each school, gave me feedback, and was willing to investigate schools.

3.  Develop a relationship with your admissions counselors

To increase your odds of receiving that money you need to form a relationship with your admission counselor through email and personal visits. Your goal is to have the admission counselor receive your application and say, “I can’t wait to read this application after getting to know him through email and his visit.”  Think about your chances of receiving a hefty scholarship if that is the counselor’s attitude versus seeing your name for the first time on your application.

4.  Start building a strong record freshman year

Remember that each year in high school is important in building your record.  Make the best grades you can in the classes that challenge you, make a difference in your community—whether school or city, and plan ahead.  Colleges look at your high school involvement as an indicator of your college involvement, so give them a reason to choose you and pay you to come to their college.

Caitlin wasn’t a valedictorian, but she was in the top 10% of her class.  Her SAT scores and activities were above average, but not the best I’ve seen, yet she earned almost half a million dollars in scholarship offers.  Make earning scholarships your top priority, work with a knowledgeable consultant, and follow these tips and you may find yourself is a situation similar to Caitlin’s.


Where did Caitlin apply?

  • Agnes Scott
  • Eckerd
  • Florida Gulf Coast University
  • Oglethorpe
  • Rollins
  • University of North Florida
  • Wesleyan College (GA)
  • Florida State
  • Jacksonville University
  • Flagler


Nell Stranburg, founder of Your College Advisor LLC, works with students in the Tallahassee, Florida area.  For more information, visit her website at