Last week, I wrote about who gets free tuition to an Ivy League school in Can You Get Free Ivy League Tuition? This week, in keeping with the same topic, I want to share some insight from a parent whose son received free tuition at Harvard.
As a reminder from my last post, Ivy League schools do not give merit-based aid. They only give need-based aid. However, it takes quite a bit of “merit” to get admitted to these schools at all. Harvard’s acceptance rate for Fall of 2016 was 5.9%. 34,285 applications were received and 2.032 students were accepted.
Shellee Howard, who runs an independent college consulting business called College Ready, was able to help her son prepare appropriately to get admitted to Harvard and get free tuition based on need. She was not a college consultant at the time her son was applying to schools. Helping him through the process is what got her interested in helping other students so she studied to become a certified college counselor.
I asked Shellee if they went into the college search process looking for free tuition. She said no, her son applied to 12 schools, over half of them Ivy League and other extremely competitive schools. Their goal was to get acceptances and then worry about the money later. She said in hindsight that was not a good plan. She went into the process as a single mom trying to make ends meet with no idea how to pay for four years of college.
I asked her what she thought got her son into Harvard. She explained that her son was second in his class at a large public high school in California. He had a 4.59 weighted GPA and decent test scores. He had good extra-curriculars: captain of the soccer team, and officer in 2 clubs. What she believes set him apart from other applicants was his community service experience. She took him to Kenya and they lived with a family there, volunteering in the local orphanage. The area was considered the worst slum in the world. They came back home and raised $3,000 to send back to the children in the orphanage. Her son wrote his admission essay about this experience and she said it was a very powerful essay.
When asked what families must do, especially if they are looking for free tuition based on merit or need for their student, she said plan and keep adjusting the plan. She recommends that families start planning before Freshman year of high school and work with a professional college consultant to put together a strategic plan.
I understand the benefits that working with a professional college consultant can bring, but I also believe that a savvy parent can do almost as well helping his or her own student with college admissions and scholarship applications. One of the drawbacks of doing this yourself is the number of hours you need to invest. I often talk in my articles about how I spent hundreds of hours getting educated in order to help my oldest daughter through the college search process. That’s what lead to me starting this website. I learned so much that I wanted to share it with others. Another of the drawbacks of counseling your own child through the college search process is that they don’t always want to listen to advice from their own parents. Often, the same advice is better received when it comes from someone else.
While high schools have guidance counselors to help students with their college search process, these counselors serve a large group of students and usually can’t devote much individual attention to each student.
For some families, it will just make the most sense to engage a professional college consultant.
As for the story of Shellee Howard’s experience helping her son earn free tuition at Harvard, she is writing a book to help other parents. She plans to publish it in April of 2017 and when I get the details, I will share it on my site.