Got a Senior? It’s essay time!


if you have a rising senior your know you’re life is about to get busy! College and scholarship applications are coming up and your can’t rely on your high school counselor to take the lead. Why? Most don’t have the training or expertise in this area. So what do you do?


re College app ESSAYS:: Here is a step by step approach.


Most seniors, 3.8 GPA kids, can’t write worth squat when it comes to college essays. They’re down right awful. Teens are taught to NOT use the word “I” in their writing, but this/these essays do. For some reason that one issue throws everything else they’ve been taught about writing out the window (organization, thesis, topic sentence, transitions, etc.) When I say they suck, I’m not kidding. You can’t pay me enough to edit these essays. (And people have tried.)

First rule about the college essay is to NOT read the essay prompts. First decide what you want them to know...

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What is Scholarship Displacement and Why Should You Care?

50% of student who are awarded private scholarships experience scholarship displacement  

Scholarship displacement is when something your teen has been offered (awarded) by their college is taken away, dollar for dollar, because your teen has brought in additional scholarships. The premise is that, You no longer have the same "need."

(1) Most colleges will not remove/displace a merit scholarship, but some do, because in their calculations, the college's money/scholarship are the LAST dollars to fill your college cost bucket. You must read the financial aid and scholarship pages carefully.

Most of the time, what is removed with scholarship displacement goes something like this.:

In each example, let's say the student won a local scholarship for $6000.

(2) 62% of schools reduce institutional grants.
If the college is offering a need based discounted dollar amount, they will reduce that amount by the amount of your scholarship. If the college grant/discount is $20,000 then...

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Parent in FB group: “99% of scholarships are scams. That’s what we found.”

No, 99% are not scams. You simply haven’t been taught how to do the search without being placed on their email list or having your email sold or used by “partners.” (And for others, your teen either applied to the wrong scholarships or didn’t know how to win them.)

There are 1.8 million scholarships totaling 23 billion dollars given away each year.

There are a few that are “sweepstakes drawings”. They are not scams as they are actually giving away $1000 per month. But because they only require name and email (and maybe a one sentence “essay”) the only way they can give away that much $ is to sell the list of applicant emails. It’s in the small print. I don’t recommend these.

The largest scholarship in one bucket is from the college your teen chooses to attend.

Private scholarships are literally everywhere-grocery stores, libraries, banks, fast food restaurants, hardware stores, electric coops, athletic shoe stores,...

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Summer Programs! But does it matter?

Summer Programs! But does it matter?

A lot of people (parents especially) have a lot of anxiety over their teen's summer activities. So let's cut to the chase.

Summer does matter. Period. 

Everything your teen does from the moment they step out of 8th grade, counts. The summer between the 8th and 9th grades is considered the 9th-grade summer; between 9th and 10th is the 10th-grade summer, and so on. 

Your job is to track what your teen does during those non-academic times of the year. But it doesn't have to be difficult to do so. It could be that it's in your online Google calendar or you've taken photos that are still on your phone. That's good enough until it's time to put together your teen's "high school to college resume" to help your teen remember for college and scholarship applications.

But what exactly should your teens be doing during those summers? How important is it?

If you realize that the school year is rather full of academics and afterschool...

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Where to Start?

If you are new to the college application and merit scholarship "game", being on social media or searching the internet can be more than confusing. ‍ The truth is, a lot of "information" is just wrong. At the very least it's outdated and useless.

Where to start depends a little on what grade level your kids are in, and what your family’s goals are. I have families on my email list whose oldest kids are age 8, whose kids are high school freshmen, and those who are seniors and up. But here’s the overall how to get started if merit scholarships are the goal.

(1) Decide how much you as the parent will/won’t or can/can’t contribute financially for college. Include what you are willing to cosign for.

Have that conversation with your teen as early as high school freshman year, so they understand fully that the responsibility of getting the grades and test scores for college acceptance and scholarships is up to them.

(2) There are thousands of colleges...

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Wait! Scholarships may be taxable income?!

It's not something we tend to think about while our teens apply for and win scholarships. But it is something you should at least be aware of. When your teen has college scholarships, then in January of your teen's college years they will receive a 1098-T from their college. (It may not be mailed to your kid. It might only be found in the school's tax documents section of their college financial portal. So be sure to look.) 

It's not a complicated thing. But here's the gist of it. (READ THE REST HERE.)

(NOTE: This information is for educational purposes only. Consult with your financial advisor or CPA for how you should handle your specific circumstances.)

Usually, scholarships that cover "qualified educational costs" are not taxable. But your opinion and that of the federal government of what qualifies may be different. Generally only course-related expenses such as tuition and fees, but it can include other items such as books, and equipment needed. 

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Scholarship taken away?


 Yep. Scholarships can be taken away. And it happens more often than people know. There are several reasons this can happen.:

*.  The one you are likely familiar with is when your teen doesn't live up to their end of the bargain. There are always "strings attached" to the merit scholarship offered by the college, especially when it is recurring for 8 semesters, such as maintaining a minimum GPA and passing a minimum number of credit hours each semester. So read the details carefully when that award letter arrives. But also know the "what if" scenario. (I'll save that for another note.)

But THAT is the easy one. You know it. (Or should.) And hopefully, you will see it coming before the hammer falls, maybe even in time to do something about it.


There are other reasons why your teen can lose scholarships, and many come before they step foot in their first college class.

Several possible scenarios can trigger the possible loss of scholarship...

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College Essays Don't Have to Be Scary! (But Most of them Suck.)


Writing the college or scholarship essay doesn’t have to be scary.

(For parents of seniors who have not hit the “submit” button yet, and parents of sophomores and juniors who don’t want to screw this up 365 days from now.)

Writing the personal essay for college apps, or a scholarship, doesn’t have to be scary. Your teen is writing about themselves. The topic is true to your teen, an experience they have had.

I don’t usually review essays that are not from my Cracking the Code to Free College (CCFC) clients. (My CCFC clients have training on winning essays and they know what a winning essay reads like.) But I’ve done a few reviews for non-clients this year, and unfortunately, it was not pretty.

This is hard to say but, for the vast majority, what was initially submitted to me, sucked.

As a parent, it’s difficult to help your teen with this aspect of the application process because what they choose to write about should be personal to...

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How to compare colleges?

How to compare colleges? 

A mom asked how to get organized when comparing colleges? 

Literally just use  an Excel/Numbers spreadsheet that is free on your computer.

I list in the first column, the things that are important to our family (location, cost of attendance, does it have the activity my teen wants, whatever else).

The other columns are the names of the schools and then you check the boxes down in each column for each school.

I also used it to add


date my kid applied,

Date of response,

Other things that needed to get sent either by us or but he high school,

Scholarship or financial aid offered


-Once my teen had the list narrowed down to the “few”, the others were deleted from the page.

-Then once the ONE was decided on, that was the only college on the page and

The new columns are added for each semester of that college,

The rows (now instead of location and if they offered the college major) now we’re “amount of...

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Free Application Week 2023


College applications can be pricey when you add it all up.
Here is a list of states that offer free college applications during a certain week. 

Alabama Oct. 17–21

Colorado Oct. 17–19

Delaware hosts a variety of College Application Month events

In Idaho, contact your student's high school to see if they have a "Next Steps" Month event planned.

In Illinois, contact your student's high school to see if they have a College Changes Everything Month event planned

Indiana's College Application Week took place Sept. 26–30, but some Indiana schools offer free applications to in-state students year-round, and free FAFSA virtual workshops will be held throughout the fall. Visit Learn More Indiana.

Maryland's virtual College Application Campaign runs from Oct. 1–Nov. 12.

The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities is hosting special visits (including virtual) in October, and students can apply for free at any time during October.

The University...

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