An Angry Mom Rails Against Elite Colleges

I am sharing with you today an angry comment sent to me from an physician in a Southern state whose daughter will be heading to college in the fall.

The mother is furious because not a single school gave her extremely bright child a single scholarship.

I decided that her provocative note was worth sharing.  Maybe you will agree with some or all of what this mom had to say. I suspect most of you will find some of her comments offensive.

In my next post, I’ll share my own thoughts about what this mom had to say. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Please share any thoughts in the comment box below this post.

An Angry Physician’s Email

Here is the mother’s note:

Smart kids with smart parents are penalized.

Duke U.

Duke U.

My daughter is a National Merit finalist and presidential scholar nominee. She earned a 35 on her ACT and a 2370 on her SAT. She is a straight A with many multiple AP classes all with highest scores of 5. She played soccer & piano and was a multiple golden key art winner. She is an artistic and academic genius with outstanding essays and teacher/counselor recommendations.

My daughter got accepted to every school to which she applied: University of Chicago, Duke, Washington University in St. Louis… to name a few.


The schools expect the parents to cover 100% of the cost. Both parents are medical doctors who saved $168,000 for college since child was born. We were told to cover the remaining amount from our own retirement accounts!

Merit alone is not rewarded in this country. Smart financial planning and saving is penalized. She would have gone free anywhere if her parents had been dumb sloths.

What is hardest to swallow as her mother is that my taxes pay for less hardworking kids with far less merit to go to these schools for free. And these very kids love to brag about their “scholarships.”

Take home message:  any kid who gets “scholarships” money is very likely to not be amongst the brightest kids in the country nor from families who planned and saved for the future.

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119 Responses to An Angry Mom Rails Against Elite Colleges

  1. Allie March 27, 2015 at 4:13 am #

    I entirely agree that her last comment is offensive. And as a high school senior who just got waitlisted from her first choice yesterday, that woman’s daughter’s perfection is already pissing me off. But it is entirely true about the financial aid. My parents saved for me for college since I was a kid. My dad was unemployed for the past few years and now works as an adjunct professor, and my mom has a part time job as a genetic councelor. So yeah they’re smart, but we don’t make enough income to support four children, especially because we are paying for my brother to be in college already. And our tax return looks high because we had to liquidate savings in order to buy normal things like food. And yeah, I got zero on my FAFSA. I can pay for college but I have two younger sisters who don’t have the savings I do at all. So now I get to decide between a school that is academically great or the school that will give me a free ride for being a national merit finalist. Which is not an academically good school. So. She’s not entirely wrong. Bitchy, though. And honestly her daughter could have gone to a less elite school and been given a lot of merit scholarships.

  2. Christina Pratt February 28, 2015 at 1:33 am #

    I understand the frustration, to a point. Elite colleges are expensive, most colleges are expensive. To insinuate that a “B” student has parents who are dumb sloths or that those students don’t work hard is insulting and elitist. While her child may have been born with a natural propensity for academics, her socio-economic status also afforded her early opportunities to hone that talent. Maybe she should have looked at many of the excellent privates that could afford to be generous. Perhaps applied to many of the available scholarships? The expected parent contribution does not always fit the realities of our financial profiles, I get that, but she is FAR better off than most, and depending on what the daughter is majoring in, the extra cost of those elite schools, may or may not be worth the price tag.

    • Heather Kovalick March 22, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more, well said!

  3. Joni Cobb February 18, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

    some of the parents here reference partial merit schools…(I understand the list of full rides for NFM and no merit – but is there a list for those that fall in 50-100% scholarships for NMF?)

  4. Mary February 11, 2015 at 2:30 am #

    My husband and I came from very modest beginnings. We were refugees who came to the US as children. We live on a single income and have managed to save enough for all 3 of our children to attend Ivy League priced schools (1.2 Million). We did it through hard work and sacrifice. Living in an affluent neighborhood (average income over $300K) I see so much waste and parents who complain of the cost of education. Think of all the trips, luxury handbags, leased cars, and private school tuition money spent. I was singularly focused on saving enough for my kids to go anywhere that they wanted provided they were accepted. I was never caught up in the fancy cars, labels and material things. Two physicians and you can’t afford top tier university tuition? Too bad. You didn’t plan well enough. You think others are mooching and that’s what you want for yourselves even though you have a high income. You let the money slip through your hands.

  5. Mr Tom February 3, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

    How about ROTC? Every one of US News’ top 20 National Universities participates in the ROTC program of at least one of the military branches. An ROTC scholarship covers 100% of tuition/fees and provides a textbook allowance and monthly stipend. There are also the nation’s five Service Academies, which are totally free. Of course, one must be willing to give five years in service to our country as a military officer upon graduation. The starting salary of an officer is $2,934.30 a month, plus allowances for food and housing. By the fourth year of service, salary is $5,219.40 a month.

    Lynn, ROTC and the Service Academies are mentioned a few times in your blog (mainly in reader comments). With the shrinking percentage of Americans who have served in the military, I think it would be good to more fully explain these programs.

  6. Kathryn January 23, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    It is not true that less intelligent/accomplished students are more likely to get scholarships. Your problem is that you and your child did not plan out the college application process properly. The schools your daughter applied to are known to supply little to no merit-based scholarship money to any applicant, and this information is easily accessible on the web.

    I am a 2011 National Merit Finalist. I also scored exactly 2370 on my SAT, just like your daughter. I had a perfect 4.0 GPA in high school, perfect letters of recommendation, was a valedictorian, had an administrative position in my school’s branch of National Honor Society, was multiyear president of the Pre-Med club, won multiple golden keys, was the president of the school’s Academic Team and led the team to win the state competition, and won several national fine art competitions while in high school. I was accepted to all of the colleges I applied to, and I received full tuition scholarships from every single one of them. However, there is one big difference between myself and your daughter: I chose the schools I applied for based on the quality of the neuroscience and applied math programs they offered (my chosen majors) AND based on the scholarships they offered for National Merit Scholars. Your daughter chose schools based on how famous their names were regardless of the program quality or scholarship types available.

    It’s unfortunate that your daughter did not receive scholarship money because I’m sure she’s an incredible student, but the reason it happened is because you did not do your research. No amount of entitlement on your part will change the fact that you did not plan the spread of schools she applied to wisely, and it is immature and petty to claim that if your daughter did not receive scholarships then no other students deserve scholarships either.

    • Heather Kovalick March 22, 2015 at 11:01 pm #


  7. Kelley January 5, 2015 at 12:03 am #

    We are so sad that this is so true. This is our 3rd child to get ready for college. My husband and I both work hard and I teach 1st grade. If we were wealthy I would not be teaching at this time. Our son made a 31 on ACT and is a straight A student at The Baylor School, taking all honors and AP classes. He would love to play football. He has been accepted at Davidson. vanderbilt, Alabama, etc but will not be able to attend because his mom and dad are married and both work hard…… We have no savings at this time due to paving bright futures for our children. Disappointedly our son will attend a state school that we can afford as he does not choose to take out those kind of loans. Our seri ated family contribution was more than 30% of our income. We have been told that if I did not work we could get some scholarship money or if we were divorced. It is so sad that there are no rewards to exceptional students if their parents stayed married and both work..these kids will come out owing a lot of money. If children have lazy parents that may even choose not to work, these kids, no matter if they are as smart, can go to school for free and come out debt free….We don’t understand!,

    • Cal Wahine January 26, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

      Kelley, I’d just like to clarify a misconception it appears you have… I too am an elementary school teacher — moderate income. Unlike you, I am a single mother and I have recently become incensed to learn that our non-cutodial parent’s (high) income will be factored into our “estimated family contribution” at the top private colleges — the exact colleges that cover “demonstrated need.” So in other words, even though the non-custodial parent will not be paying for college, his income will disqualify us for any financial aid based on the CSS Profile application. In my case, we are penalized for not being married. Your hostility is misdirected.

  8. Roadrunner December 24, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    My child is in the same situation. Not only high scores but also valedictorian. Father recently died. Based on my income we are under poverty level BUT I own our modest home and have some very modest savings for old age. We set up a college savings accounts about 10 years ago. Literally a week before filling out the financial forms child had a trust set up and life insurance money (not exorbitant amount) deposited. Shortly after he got admitted to his college of choice, no financial aid or merit scholarship was offered. The four year would literally drain his savings and trust and that is before masters degree or medical school. I was speechless. Growing up in a country where college is free if you are above the target score set by the school I somewhat expected that hard work will pay back. I called financial aid and talked to two different people and was told plainly that as I own my house, have savings and child has some assets we won’t qualify for financial aid until we drain the family’s assets dry. Merit scholarship? Forget it. This child is excelling in everything he touches, involved in community, more than 200 hours of volunteer work, involved in music… I too feel like we are penalized because we lived modestly and planned.

    • Question January 14, 2015 at 1:32 am #

      I do agree to some extent. It’s unfair that good students who have middle class families can be discriminated against in some scholarship processes. I, for one, couldn’t apply for the GATES scholarship because of who of my parents income, despite the fact my sister’s in college. It’s unfair
      However, there are some flaws in her argument.
      1. ELITE schools- as before, her daughter is obviously an elite, and (no offense) an elite school wouldn’t pay to have a child with more than capable parents attend their college. (I mean come on, doctors) They would pay for an elite student with not much money to go to their school to offer them a chance that others have. Universities have a set amount of money they give, and I’m not trying to offend, but it’s stupid to assume that your child is the only good child out there. I’m just stating the facts. University of Chicago is the “Ivy League” of the Midwest, but her daughter was the basic form of what they accept, elites. And not every student gets paid to go there.
      2. One thing quite offensive is how she assumes that students with less merit go to these schools with scholarships, so I will clarify how stupid that point is. ^^^ Actually I already did.
      3. I understand her anger, I understand every parent’s anger. Why should a good child be penalized because of their parents success? But in a way, it’s a rhetorical question. Not every parent is successful, and her letter is insensitive to situations that may have happened and her fallacy is that she uses ONE experience (hers) without thinking it out to generalize that people with scholarships might not be the smartest.

      She also has to consider the type of college.

  9. Paula DeLaiarro December 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    What I find most interesting about the mother’s post is that the 3 schools she mentioned DO award merit scholarships, in some cases up to full tuition, room and board. Here’s the data: Duke gives merit to 14% of freshmen; average award is about $11K; Washington University: 14%, $10,700; U of Chicago: 17%, $12K. Consideration for some of the awards is based strictly on the student’s Common Application (no extra application). Which brings up an important point: Students need to allot adequate time to produce a top notch application! They need to write an engaging essay, and write responses to other required prompts that indicate that they have done their research on the school AND that they are a reflective, passionate, articulate applicant. But in the end, applicants and parents should realize that there are no guarantees when it comes to merit awards at these schools.

  10. Paul B. November 14, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Honestly, I see that many people don’t like this parent’s comments. I don’t understand why. What she says makes perfect sense. Please understand that she is stressed and wants the best for her daughter.

    Another way of stating what she is saying is that upper middle class students are being shut out of name-brand colleges and universities. This is a problem that has been coming for a long time. It’s alarming and makes me very scared at what the future of our country has in store for everyone.

    Because she has net worth and has worked hard to get there does not make her bad. In the US we often tell our underprivileged that if they work hard enough, they will be very successful in life. Then, once we reach the status of “successful” we are somehow guilty of something. Doesn’t really make any sense.

    In my case, I donate to charity. I coach several youth travel teams (and used to coach rec ones). I run athletic programs and spend tremendous amounts of time doing it. I give and give and continue to give.

    My wife and I don’t do quite as well as her. We have a similar issue where no name-brand institution is giving scholarships. My daughter, who has worked really hard and has done remarkably academically, is involved in all kindss of afterschool activities (including the leadership ones) and also does varsity sports will end up going to an overcrowded state school and that is not fair to her.

    Have I saved for her college? Well, honestly I have enough in my bank accounts (not investments) to cover 4 years of any US school. That doesn’t mean however that I will spend it on that (and it doesn’t mean I am bad or greedy). It comes down to ROI. How do I justify spending $250k+ on an education that will net exactly what a state school will except the quality of the education isn’t as good? (believe me I went to a 3rd tier school and I have hired ivy league graduates who report to me)

    Upper Middle Class is what I am. I am proud of myself and my family for getting here. We worked hard to do it and spent countless hours studying and working at our jobs. We made good decisions along the way. We were lucky? No, we made our luck.

    Honestly, the only scholarships that should exist are academic scholarships. Other sources of free money are not scholarships, they are charity. That’s what the academic means.

    There will be more people upset with my post than the mom above.

    Sorry, as you may probably have figured out, I lean extremely right because I believe in people relying on themselves first.

    • Melissa December 17, 2014 at 2:48 am #

      Paul, her daughter wasn’t shut out. She just wasn’t given a free pass. Maybe I disagree with the idea of merit based. Who cares if she can play the piano? She is from an upper middle class family. She’s a dime a dozen. Now, if she was raised in the ghetto and had those accomplishments, I’d be giving her some more kudos. There are barriers to attainment for low income persons other than the elitist arguments that they aren’t smart enough, or that they don’t work hard enough. They don’t have piano lessons or art classes to hone skills. That’s the problem with your argument you see. “We” might say that if you work hard enough, you can be successful, but, the reality is far different. The vast majority of the underprivileged do not succeed, and the only sure way to wealth is to be born into it. Do your homework and look at the statistics.

      • Eric Mateer December 29, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

        These are not kids. They are adults. Why is 1 adult treated different from another? We are not talking children / minors. You are saying people that save for retirement and college should pay more than people who do not. The fact is an adult who is living on their own with limited or no parent support, is under 24, and not on parent’s taxes must still list their parents income and savings.

        A major public college in our state pays based on need 52% of all students to attend there. That means the other 48% pays double so the first half can attend. Yes, State taxes pay for some of that. The point is funny since I am fairly sure the parents or people in the ecomonic status of the parents of the 48% pay the lion share of taxes also.

    • Question January 14, 2015 at 1:37 am #

      “The problem gets worse the more selective the school is. At elite law schools like Yale and Harvard Law, 60% of the incoming students tend to come from the top 10% of the socioeconomic spectrum” No one’s being shut out. Plus it’s called financial need for a reason.

  11. Louise November 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    I must say. These kids work hard, to be where they want to be, my son included.
    My son’s father refuses to pay for college period.
    His stepfather and I don’t make a hell of alot, but we’re not uncomfortable either. I just let my son know that he needs to go where he’ll be happy and not worry about the money. I’ll figure it out. I am proud of him. I understand parents getting angry, but sometimes you have to look beyond the money. He looked into, and applied for, many scholarships. We discussed funding and our plan, and he is in his second year. Made all A’s and B’s his first year. This year he received less aid than last year, but we’re handling it. It’s ok to rant, but you really need to look into your options before going off the deep end.

    • Eric Mateer December 29, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

      The queston again is simple. Is the government treating 1 adult different from another? It requires colleges to treat 1 adult different than another adult based on their parents. I don’t see it as a question of desire. I see it as people being treated equally. I don’t see why an adult whose parents are poor should be treated different from adults whose parents are not. Keep in mind rich is a family income over 70K.

  12. Anna October 31, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    First and foremost, if this woman were my physician I’d find a new one and fast! To be so narrow minded and self serving I would have to wonder if she really had my health at best interest.
    She needs to get her head out of her arse and should have done her homework instead of EXPECTING to have received a generous amount.
    Thank you everyone for speaking up and EDUCATING this woman, however she’s probably someone whom always believes their correct and everyone else is wrong. Hopefully her daughter will not become a carbon copy of her mother.

    • Nick November 5, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

      If you were smart, even a somewhat wealthy family like yours could qualify for financial aid. Did you understand that home equity, retirement accounts, and annuities don’t count as assets? Pay off the mortgage with your money if you knew anything about the process of financial aid.

      Also, people who qualify for financial aid are NOT necessarily as dumb as you think. In fact, most middle class people have to actually work for opportunities like what your daughter has.

  13. Joesam October 11, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    You don’t understand. Merit aid is for the wealthy, not the intellectual. Elite schools heap merit aid on the children of future donor parents and intentionally gap the middle and lower tier income earners so they don’t use institutional resources. Merit aid at elites is a bribe for future returns.

    • Bria October 13, 2014 at 4:45 am #

      I am currently a high school senior in a low-income family. Of course, I am not an adult, and do not have to deal with such financial matters, so I won’t touch that subject. However, I would like like to respond to the remark that “any kid who gets ‘scholarships’ money is very likely to not be amongst the brightest kids in the country nor from families who planned and saved for the future.” I am truly sorry that you and your daughter have been put in this unfortunate predicament. But I am downright offended that you have grouped all students qualifying for such financial aid from colleges as “less hard-working” with parents that are less responsible.
      My mother is in no way irresponsible; she has raised my sisters and I to always reach out first potential in school. Financial matters have become hard for us due to health problems. I may not have made test scores quite as high as your daughter, but I am a straight A student, involved in several musical activities, taking several IB courses, and ranked in the top 1% of my class. I have, indeed, worked very hard to get to where I am in the hopes of receiving financial aid from colleges because I desperately need it. I agree that some underacheiving students in the past have received aid that should have gone to more deserving students, but please do not assume that all students needing aid are not as bright or ambitious. I hope to utilize any aid I receive to better the futures of myself and others, not to simply take advantage of it.

  14. Mark August 13, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    Counterargument: Imagine if they DIDNT give poor and underachieving kids who only get 3.9’s scholarships. There would certainly be more hooligans running amuck. Fact is, it should be each man for their own. There should be no status quo on how scholarship money is divvied. All the money should be based on academics, extracurriculars and drive. Therefore, the top top top students in the country get it all, and the rest of us are poor schmucks who will have to take out exorbitant loans. I know you can’t see society past the tip of your own nose, but physicians would be out of jobs without people. 99% of this planet doesn’t not consist of people with doctorates making 100K plus a year. Lets just say spreading money out makes things interesting and the fact that your daughter got nothing for scholarships is interesting. She obviously wasn’t the valedictorian. Would you tell the valedictorian’s mom that your daughter deserves a scholarship over her? No. There will always be someone better.

  15. Suzanne Shaffer June 17, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    This is why it’s so important to apply to the “right” colleges, and not the ones with the big names. If they had done their research and applied to colleges who offer non-need based aid, there might have been a different outcome.

  16. Diane June 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    Hi Lynn – I googled Coronat Sholarships from Syracuse University and your message came up. I read your message and some (admittedly not all) of the responses and wanted to write you.

    I completely understand your frustration and disappointment. We too have a daughter very similar to yours. She applied to many schools and was accepted at all. But, when she applied to Syracuse, unbeknownst to us, they offer a “Coronat Scholarship which includes tuition for all four years, study abroad included and many, many other benefits. You need to be invited to submit for the scholarship (which our daughter was) and go through a process to receive it, which she did and she was awarded the scholarship. It is worth $160,000. We still need to pay room and board.

    She then was torn between Cornell where she was offered a position in their Industrial labor relations program which is $43,000 per year as opposed to $60,000. She finally decided that Syracuse was best for her (whew!). She told my husband if she went to Cornell she would be investing in them but if she goes to Syracuse, they are investing in her.

    We truly got lucky that Syracuse recognized our daughter as a great student and committed to community service, otherwise, we would never have known about their scholarship.

    Because of this situation, I wonder if other universities offer such scholarship but you need to be invited to apply? It sounds like you have a wonderful, dedicated child who will do well wherever she goes. Best of luck to her!

  17. oxa June 5, 2014 at 7:22 am #

    The mom’s email is offensive on many levels. For one thing, the subjective description of her daughter’s overinflated talents makes me smile. While she has solid credentials, she is by no means “brilliant,” nor she is a “genius.” I always smile when parents brag about their kids’ talents, because in the eyes of the admissions at elite colleges, this girl is simply quite average. Why is this mom thinking that her average daughter is entitled to merit aid if every other kid in her class has the same talents and even more?

    This girl can surely get a free ride at a non-elite college, because for those colleges she would be considered “outstanding.” But for the elite colleges she is only worthy of admission, but she is not considered extraordinary in any way. For one thing, I know she is not an outstanding athlete, otherwise she would have gotten a free ride… :) Her athletic skills are not at the Olympic level, so there is nothing to reward. Did she invent anti-cancer treatment at the age of 12? Nope. So, there is nothing to reward. Was her novel art displayed at the Met when she was 7 years old? No? So, there is nothing to reward. Average American kid (considering her privileged background), nothing more.

    She is good at taking tests, but so are other students.

    Parents, wake up! Tens of thousands of other kids “play soccer” and “piano”…really…

    • YHG October 22, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

      Totally agree. I have a very smart and hard-working daughter in a NJ high school of one of the best school districts. Every year seeing other twenty five to thirty “top graduates” who got 2400 at SAT, and 4.7 and above at GPA plus many outstanding titles and rewards from all kinds of clubs and national competitions….(you name them,) but still always a few of them can’t get into top colleges, we become very realistic.

      My daughter hates that we describe her as “extremely smart” or “excellent”, because that is just not true at all when you really get to know those who got admitted into the very best school (of course via merit, not legacy.)

      I must say the college admission system we have here is still a very fair one which is trying hard to balance some destined social injustice, so that those who are very hard-working or very talented are able to be offered some chances even though they don’t have fancy family background to get discovered early. If higher education can not be an engine for social mobility in today’s America, then there will be very little social mobility in our country.

  18. Marshall June 3, 2014 at 3:06 am #

    I think the terminology used should be advantage.

    Instead of gloating how your child achieved certain scores, realize there are other students who don’t have the advantage of a well funded school district.

    Other students don’t have the advantage of private tutors.

    Or the advantage of test preparation classes.

    Or even the advantage of parents who could guide them through the college application process.

    And let’s not forget about the advantage of visiting colleges.

    And while we are keeping it real some kids don’t have the advantage of a computer at home to do school work, or research colleges.

    So when these students don’t have the advantage of a college fund, trust fund or even a nurturing environment let’s put it all in prospective when some try to claim these students don’t work hard. These are some of the hardest workers and most driven to be successful.

  19. global nomad May 27, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Bill, you neglected to mention that cost of living continues to increase for everyone while there’s been 30 years of stagnation in salaries for the bulk of the American public. When the top 20% of wage earners control 85% of the wealth in this country, I don’t think that this extra ‘tax’ of high income earners paying more for college is a big deal. The big deal is that they are now feeling some of the pain of having to make ends meet the way most people in the world struggle to do daily. Hopefully tomorrows leaders won’t come from the same old places so that we can create a better model for educating our youth from pre-k through university.

  20. Bill Starnes May 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    The fact that the high income folks pay much closer to the sticker prices than those of less income, is just another “Tax”. Two areas of our economy are rising in price: higher ed and medical and those of high income are required to pick up much more of the bill. In the case of higher ed, this is a huge additional “tax” (yes, I know it is not a tax in the traditional sense).

  21. Marise May 17, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    My daughter is as gifted as your daughter. She applied to all the elite schools and didn’t get in. I can’t help but wonder if it is because we don’t make the kind of money you do. There is no “big money” coming from us for annual funds and other fundraising activities. I don’t believe it is a level playing field out there for Smart Students and Elite colleges…you need so much more than brains and extracurriculars. You should be thrilled your daughter got accepted.
    We are thrilled that our daughter chose to go to her flagship state school, not “an elite” but a school that offered her a full tuition merit scholarship. If you wanted merit money, you should have applied to schools that offer it and aren’t so elite.

  22. SC May 16, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    I, too, am a physician and my daughter’s profile is similar to the original blogger’s child. We live in San Diego, high COL but our income exceeds the qualifying level for any need based aid. We have saved about $120,000 for college funds, we have another child who is a freshman in high school. Of course my daughter applied to many prestigious elite private schools that students of her caliber apply in high numbers. We insisted she apply to the UCs even though none fit the profile of her ideal college (size 5000-9000). The counselor recommended a few second tier schools, all of which gave her half to full scholarships. She finally chose to attend UC Berkeley – and loves every aspect of the school. It is not an Ivy, but the academic caliber is very high – as she puts it, many are Ivy rejects who are every bit as talented as those who are accepted to Ivie. We are happy because she is not far away and we can afford the tuition $30K (including R&B – less than half price of the private prestigious universities she was accepted) and can continue saving for our younger child. Even though we pay full fees, we feel we are getting a small reward for our years of state tax contribution.
    The UC no longer use affirmative action in admission policy, so students are admitted based heavily on merit.

    Think about the flagship public universities in your state – many are highly ranked and definitely affordable for in state students from upper middle income group. With a child closer to home, you save on travel costs as well.

  23. Mary Patno May 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    While I did not read all the posts, I found Ken’s reply (early in the responses) to be the most succinct and poignant.

    Ken: I believe that school’s diverting aid to those in most need of it is actually the correct moral choice. Further, it seems to me that the “elite” schools do not need my child, but may want my money.

    Yes, cry me a river, for the ranting physician, whose daughter applied to the most elite schools with a history for little to no merit, and then did not get any merit scholarships. This women did not do her homework for if she had she would know the outcome was in the ‘crystal ball’. And clearly she is unaware of the incredibly poor acceptance rate for anything but the wealthiest students at these elite institutions. I would concur that the elite schools do not need the student but they want the money. She should be grateful she is in a position to provide a wonderful opportunity for her daughter.
    I know so many very bright, high scoring, high achieving students that have received remarkable merit aid to very good, prestigious schools (just not ivies). They cast a wide net when applying and came up with very good results.
    College costs are at an unprecedented level and I would suspect there will be no slow down. In essence, rich or poor or anywhere in the middle, we are all facing the same dilemma: ‘how to make college affordable’.
    I participated in Lynn and Michelle’s class and it was extremely helpful, providing valuable resources for finding the best college match for the student and the money.
    I would suggest the ranting physician do the same.

  24. DIane May 14, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    This is an interesting post and brings up all kinds of emotions. My daughter is a sophomore and her college fund is a priority rather than furniture, house accessories etc.
    My husband and i do not make a lot of money, however we have paid off our home and will have 6 figures in her college fund. We have only 1 child so my situation certainly is different than others. I’m very proud of what we’ve done, but we did this by being sensible. Just because we have it doesn’t mean we are comfortable or want to pay all for an undergrad degree. At the same time i am resentful for families who have houses in foreclosures or have saved no money, and as a result will receive lots of financial aid while we have to budget to make the money last as long as possible. I think this is just a natural reaction. True we could choose state schools and it’s our choice, but i hate the fact that she would miss an opportunity to go to a “match” school because of finances, while others with less prepared families will have many more school options.

  25. mike May 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Got one better! We have triplets and our income is middle class & below. No assistance. We have tried to save. Our kids made great grades. My daughter is afraid that she will not be able to attend the school she wants, but I we are still hoping something will give. My kids are going to 3 different colleges as of now. I don’t know if that makes it worse when trying to apply for scholarship assistance. I do know this much, there are people whose parents make a lot more than my wife and and are receiving assistance. I just hope that my family doesn’t struggle to much. This whole college admission thing whether it is private or public college is just a mess,

  26. global nomad May 5, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    We had a daughter accepted to Stanford last year who received 22,000k in need-based aid. Northwestern offered 14,000. Our income is between 150 and 200 K a year (putting us right within the top 20% of earners, or the cusp of middle-upper middle class according to stats I’ve read). As you can see, even the schools committing to meeting the full financial need of students vary widely in the amount they’re willing to give .We had another daughter who applied to colleges this year. She’s also an exceptional student, leader, athlete, albeit with lower SAT’s and GPA than her sister. I believe that with the schools that were not need-blind, the fact that her EFC was only $20K (40K divided by the 2 kids) led some of these very good, “second-tier” liberal arts colleges to reject her. She has not received any aid, but we’re committed to taking out a loan for her because we would not have let her apply to any place we weren’t willing to send her.
    The “angry Mom” should acknowledge the advantages she provided her child by having saved and earned enough to send her daughter where she wants to go. There are many, many more kids, through no fault of their own, who will not go to elite colleges or the place of their choice because they won’t get in due to not being financially viable to the school, or they will get in but won’t go because their families can’t afford the loans. Thank goodness for schools like Stanford, who don’t even charge tuition to students from families making under 100k a year. Merit aid at schools that only accept 5-8% of their very qualified applicants is a ridiculous concept, don’t you think? Just getting into these schools is the reward, and thankfully, the need-based aid policy ensures that these kids are provided with a multi-layered learning environment that provides perspectives beyond the ivy towers.

  27. mike May 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    I know and agree, life is unfair. I am not expecting anyone to take care of my family but my wife and I. But the government and the “SYSTEM” has said for years if you apply yourself and are a human being of character there is no reason you cannot get assistance through college.
    I also know of some students who are entering college that could care less. It is something for them to abide their time while receiving assistance. I hate to say it but it will never change!

  28. RD May 1, 2014 at 1:21 am #

    There are much worser scenarios! we’ve twin kids with great stats/resume, all APs with 5, and resume, with state and national awards in speech & debate, etc., etc., with a heart of gold, who didn’t even get into all of the 9 out of 11 private schools of their choice! Let alone, scholarship or aid! We just fell into the .02 % of the people!
    Money comes and goes. But, (under-grad) college experience is a one time opportunity and experience in life. Having had enough of public school system, and not even think of tuition, because that’s the only thing we can give them (even at the cost of taking loan, single income, etc)., ready to drown in debt, just to get into top schools (not even ivies) & land up with these results! And especially, it feels so sad when kids not even half as smart, zero ECs got in the same schools! That hurts…life is unfair!

  29. Heather April 29, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    I agree with Alice. I have just received my last “no” from elite LAC about our family qualifying for “need” based financial aid. My children are 4 years apart, so our having just finished paying for one college education does not come into play since they are not in college at the same time. My 18 year old daughter is frustrated because she too took all honors and AP classes, sports, leadership and we do not qualify for any “need”. She said she could have “enjoyed” high school more and have had the same choices she has now. Plus, I ran the net price calculators which said we would qualify. I never would have suggested the schools if I did not think we would qualify for some aid. This sounds ridiculous when I say we can afford $40,000 a year, which is a lot of money, but no help with the additional $20,000. We explained to her the consequences of taking out a total of $80,000 in loans to attend either of these schools. She will be attending a wonderful LAC that awarded her merit aid, but she would have loved to attended either of the “elite” LAC which had programs she was interested in. I know her work ethic will make her a success wherever she is, but this has been a very disheartening experience. I wish there never was the opportunity to run a net price calculator so she would not get her hopes up. With her older sister there was no net price calculator so she applied only to schools that awarded merit aid since I assumed we would not qualify for need based aid. All her acceptances were accompanied with merit aid making the colleges affordable at $30,000 and it was a fun and exciting time choosing. This go around has been gut wrenching. We are not wealthy. We have been in the same home for 20 years, my car is 13 years old. We saved for each child since they were born and are proud to send them to college, but just a little break would have been nice. Thanks for letting voice my frustrations and move on. I really do love the college she chose and they are excited to have her which is a good feeling. Thank you Lynn for this blog which I have now followed since its inception. Without you my girls would not have had the choices they did.

  30. Mike Thrasher April 29, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    Actually I take the physician’s side on this one. Their family took the responsibility to save money for their child’s college. Their child obviously has been an outstanding student and her scores prove that. Now she cannot get any assistance. I applaud their efforts and having the guts to complain. If you ever had to apply for scholarship assistance in this country it is a never ending job. FAFSA is a time consuming joke. It is like everything else, after you have given them everything but the kitchen sink their only response is you make to much or there is no money available.

  31. Alice April 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    I agree my daughter is not able to go to the better elite school that would be a perfect fir for her goals. It baffles the mind of common sense to tell her they want her parents to use up all their savings. These are savings that will be needed for bills and our retirement since we have no retirement plan due to past hard times. We have all cried foul and tearscalling it unfair. She said why did she study so hard to get the excellent grardes in Honors and AP classes, do all that volunteer work ,play year round sports, just to be denied her fair share. The system of deciding who goes and who does not cannot be based on the present system of giving scolarships based on the wrong biased factors

  32. Mel April 27, 2014 at 3:59 am #

    Just study Kiplingers for stats on which schools give the most merit aid. Simple really. No course required.

  33. Ann April 25, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    I’ve learned after going through the college selection process twice now that smart kids with affluent parents are “A Dime a Dozen”. If you want tuition discounts than your children must apply to schools that offer them. Parents need to decide if they want to pay full price or not. Do you live within your means? Do you buy a fancy new car or a sensible one? Do you make sensible financial choices? Do you want to tell people your child is at an Ivy League school or some other highly recognizable name school: Do you care what people think? Do you pick a respectable region school that offered a generous 80% discount or the Pubic Ivy that every knows in VA with no discount?????
    The answer will be different for every family.

  34. David April 24, 2014 at 5:57 am #

    My Suggestion,
    Take off a year, do the Peace Corps. Then apply in the fall with the same information. She doesn’t have to do anything but apply. Then, the family can take what they learned from the past, and find a better program, and also, the service she did will push her to the top of the list, AND just maybe, she will learn about the world, take a different view of college and life, and be better for it. They have the money (and I’m not trying to sound arrogant) so the best life education would be to have their daughter learn their lessons, and learn about herself. Hasn’t anybody tried this before – Europeans always take a year between high school and college. Why not here?

    • Eric Mateer December 29, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

      That won’t help. Students must include parent icome until 24 in most cases

  35. helen April 23, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Lynn, I would suggest that in the future, you post the most recent comments at the top, not at the bottom. I’ve been following this on-line discussion with great interest, but it does get tiresome to have to scroll down so far to read the newest comments. Many websites let the reader choose the configuration they prefer — maybe I just missed that here. If so, I apologize.

    More importantly, although your approach to funding college is one way to address the problem, I do think you should advise your readers that for those of us in the sour spot -ineligible for need based aid and unable to afford about $60,000/year – there is another way: American students can matriculate at world-class universities overseas (for example, McGill University and the Univeristy of British Columbia in Canada and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland) and pay a fraction of what a comparable American university would charge.

  36. s April 23, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    I also forgot to add: No, my uncle didn’t go to one of your precious Ivy League colleges.

  37. s April 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

    Oh, I also forgot to add that immigrants aren’t “dumb sloths.” During the World Wars, refugees picked up several languages, had to grow their own food, etc.

  38. s April 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    Not all kids from poor families are unintelligent or lazy. My uncle had immigrant parents, was expected to watch over his six younger siblings, and when they accidently got hurt, was hit or punished (and no, neither he, nor his siblings, got free scholarships; he was the only one to go to college out of all of his siblings because his parents only had enough money for him to attend.) and majored in Electrical Engineering, which is not as easy a major as liberal arts.

    So, earning over 6 figures, he saved for his childrens’ college education, without complaint or expecting his children to be given free rides or discounts because he knew how priveledged his life, and their lives, already were.

    Gosh, I really miss my uncle; what a rare person he was, especially compared to other wealthy earners.

  39. Amy April 18, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    My daughter is similar to the angry physician’s daughter – a National Merit Finalist with high scores, APs and a trained classical musician. Since there was no way we could afford a huge price tag to college, we made sure she applied to places where she would be eligible for merit aid. There are so many! (She ended up with a full scholarship to USC in LA – we are so happy and grateful.) Luckily I had taken Lynn’s workshops so I was attuned to which colleges give merit aid and which don’t, and could help direct my daughter’s search.

    This is the sentence in the physician’s letter that gets to me: “She would have gone free anywhere if her parents had been dumb sloths.” I hear some variation of this view repeated in my neighborhood a lot. People get angry that there’s a cut off at our elite high school – that (for example) some but not all the smart kids don’t get in UCLA. They love to say that those same kids who didn’t get in would have gotten in UCLA if they went to a less competitive (and lower economic level) school in another part of town. As if those kids would be exactly the same in that other environment and would have learned the same things and had the same opportunities. Those kids who didn’t get in UCLA mostly got in other fantastic places like UCSD, UC Davis, UCSB.

    Why can’t we middle class families realize how good we have it and be grateful for all the opportunities our children have?

  40. Emily April 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Any family with $168,000 in college savings, some disposable income and the means to support the passions of a brilliant daughter, has to feel very, very lucky — blessed — in our world. I hope that a year from now, this bitter mom will see her happy college frosh, look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

  41. Susan April 17, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    I was disturbed by Lynn calling so many colleges “stingy” in her blog post. The real problem is that tuition is so high, there is just not enough money for aid. Schools that provide merit aid are usually doing it to raise their ranking in US News, by attracting students with high test scores and grades. That merit money often goes to families who don’t need it – there is no financial test involved – and therefore takes money from students who are from families of more modest backgrounds or the poor. In my view, merit aid should never be given without connecting it to a financial aid evaluation – and that is what the colleges you listed do – they don’t waste money on families who don’t need it. And while I agree that they could take more Pell-grant students, many are trying to spread their aid so that the class is not made of up just rich and Pell students, but they provide aid to the group in between who also need it – families that make too much to deserve a Pell grant, but too little to afford a pricey college. There are also schools on that list which are need-blind and have a no-loan policy, which means that once they accept students based solely on the admissions application, the schools provide aid instead of loans wherever funds are needed (although this is in the context of the financial aid analysis, which is often not as generous as families would like). That is hardly stingy. Those schools spend huge amounts of money on aid. The real problem of the rich colleges, in my mind, is not that they are stingy, but that they don’t spend enough time trying to find more poor and middle class students who are highly talented but attending more obscure high schools.

    • Mike April 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

      Your suggestion that merit aid should never be given without connecting it to a finacial aid evaluation sounds nice, but could never be applied for the majority of private schools. That would result in that population of “families that make too much to deserve a Pell grant, but too little to afford a pricey college” all heading for state schools. And let’s face it, that population is huge these days. This would have a detrimental effect on both the non “elite” private institutions as well as the public institutions, who would no longer be able to admit as many marginal low income students. I believe there is a huge day of reckoning coming, as the demographics will be turning against the colleges and on-line college options begin to proliferate. The landscape will look much different 10 years from now.

  42. Melissa April 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm #


    I wanted to respond to your post because you seem to get to the heart of what the schools are doing and why. Yes schools are trying to reach out to those students who have the ability, but not the money. If you do research on say Columbia or Princeton, check out the amount of money they get from other sources (not tuition) and I think you will realize that Princeton needs each students tuition about as much as Bill Gates needs me to buy one more copy of Word. Ivy’s do need to let in a certain number of the well deserving, rich kids into their schools and they will continue to do so, but they are trying to look more global and culturally responsive to the needs of the non elite. It is “in” now. So they have carved out some slots for the “dumb sloths” as the angry mom put it and she is mad. It is like getting mad because somebody crashed your party. If you really want your kids education paid for then go to a school that offers merit money-that simple. But this mom wants her cake and she wants to eat it too. But as I said earlier I do see her perspective, but she has to take the good with the bad of being a high income earner. Like my mom always said, “nobody said like was fair”.

    • Jim April 18, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

      Melissa, a comment if I may. I think the problem starts when everyone immediately goes to the Ivies and starts the comparison there. Let’s take the Ivies and similar schools out of the equation. And let’s not talk about “privilege” because it does carry a pejorative connotation that is not true.

      Instead let’s start by looking at the FAFSA which everyone can relate to. Anyone who has run it can easily see that the definition of “high earner” as far as colleges are concerned actually starts pretty low, even below the median income. So I’d say the vast majority of those commenting are much, much further away from the top 2% than some comments would appear.

      So let’s look at those true middle class families, who cannot afford the full freight on their own. And yet who also do not get the need based aid because in our mixed up world, middle class is somehow “wealthy.” They are the ones frustrated because they don’t get aid, yet watch those who have less merit, but more “need” do.

      If you really want an eye opener, look at the statistics from some of the lower down colleges that 90% of students attend — those with high percentages of need based aid also have lower GPA/SAT/ACT scores, lower 6 year graduation rates, and higher default rates. That tends to indicate a higher percentage getting need based aid in spite of not being academically prepared for college than those who are academically prepared. I know this isn’t a popular statement, but we need to have this discussion on where the limited aid should go.

  43. Melissa April 17, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    I do have empathy for this mother “to an extent” however my son is a junior right now and we have visited several Ivy’s. His numbers are about what her daughters are less about 100 on the SAT, but everything else the same, except that he is already in college Calculus 2. Anyway based off of our income (and I would say we are upper middle class) all of these Ivy’s will be affordable (about 10K a year). My point is, if your child gets accepted into an exclusive school and you are being asked to pay 100% then you must have a great income and should feel blessed. I do understand the frustration of this mother, however assuming the rest of us, whom are getting aid for our children are less deserving because we did not save or were lazy is unfair. Not all of us had parents who put us through school nor did we have jobs that could support all of our needs plus saving for college. Ivy’s are starting to figure out that all smart kids aren’t rich and they want the best and brightest, so they are willing to pay for them.
    P.S. My son will probably get into one of these Ivy’s and he will be the first college graduate on his father’s side of the family. His dream is to be a doctor like this angry mother. I am so grateful that his abilities can afford him the opportunity to go to an exclusive school and that he is not held back because his mother is a teacher and his dad works on computers, meaning we are not wealthy.

  44. Bruce April 16, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    The parents should have taken your “Cutting the Cost of College” online course. I did and learned that the “elite” schools give very little merit aid in general. It’s all documented in the college’s Common Data Set. Consequently, the chances that their daughter would receive a scholarship were very slim to begin with. It almost sounds like the parents were mad they didn’t win the lottery.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 16, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks Bruce!

      Lynn O.

  45. Phoebe April 16, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    What is hardest for *me* to swallow is listening to adults who lead privileged lives whine like spoiled, entitled children. Yes, college is expensive. I imagine paying for it is even more daunting for the vast majority of Americans who make less than this family likely does. This woman’s daughter is no more “deserving” than many others out there. She is not entitled to financial assistance of any kind.

    Also, it is truly unnerving when a physician reveals such lack of compassion for the “poor, dumb sloths” of the world.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 16, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

      Hi Phoebe,

      I was stunned by the physician’s views of other students who received aid. Wow.

      Lynn O.

    • Erik April 17, 2014 at 2:30 am #

      It’s unfortunate that you have chosen to turn what could be a valuable discussion into typical class warfare. How do you know the Angry Mom and her family live a “privileged” life? I’m sure Med School was a breeze. Establishing a practice or working 16-hour shifts as an Intern in a hospital was probably a walk in the park. Your “privilege’ comment was just a bad as her “sloth” comment.

      Seems to me that most of these comments miss the point of her email – “Merit alone is not rewarded in this country”. While I do not agree with several of her statements, I believe she has a point on this related to “top schools”.

      You want to have a real discussion, here’s the topic – “should top schools allocate an overwhelming majority of their available funds to Need vs Merit?” That is a discussion worth having. It seems to me the Angry Mom does not like the reality that top schools tilt a significant majority of their aid to Need vs Merit. Based on your posts, I’m assuming you support that allocation.

      I don’t know the exact numbers, but it’s clear that these institutions have set a priority to provide Need-based aid to deserving students who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend vs providing Merit to more students solely based on high achievement in HS. What’s not clear is this – are the schools doing this based on some deep institutional altruism or simply because they can? Probably a bit of both. Yes, they have a genuine desire to provide greater access to a more diverse student population and … yes, they don’t need to provide Merit because enough parents who don’t qualify for Need will pay full freight.

      I wonder what would happen if the “full freight” parents stopped paying “full freight”?

      • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 17, 2014 at 5:16 am #

        Hi Erik,

        Actually, merit scholarships should really be called tuition discounts. Schools provide tuition discounts (scholarships) to students to attract them to their campuses. Without out them, schools would be in big trouble. Eighty seven percent of students receive tuition discounts from schools. It would be best if people stopped calling this money scholarships. Where exactly is the merit when almost everyone receives these discounts?

        Lynn O’Shaughnessy

        • Erik April 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

          I agree with you to a point, but certainly not when it comes to “top colleges” depending on how you define that group. A quick look at Fin Aid/Merit data from a few of these school’s CDS shows the following:

          Harvard – 64% of students receive Need-based Aid, 0% receive Merit
          Stanford – 49% Need, 0% Merit
          Yale – 50% Need, 0% Merit
          Duke – 47% Need, of the 53% with no Need 7% received Merit, 4% of all incoming Freshman
          Vandy – 53% Need, 21% of no Need students received Merit
          Northwestern – 47% Need, 8% of no Need received Merit, 4% of all Frosh
          WUSTL – 41% Need, 24% of no Need students received Merit, 14% of all Frosh
          Lehigh – 41% Need, 8% of no Need students received Merit, 5% of all Frosh
          Williams – 53% Need, 0% Merit
          Wash & Lee – 45% Need, 8% of No Need students received Merit
          Richmond – 41% Need, 11% of No Need received Merit

          I tried to pull schools from different tiers of the “top school” rankings to see if the #’s change the further you get from the perceived top.

          The students who received Merit $$ at these schools, if they offer any, beat big odds and the awards were definitely based on their achievement. I don’t think in these cases they received a discount.

          As I stated on an earlier post, I think the relevant question is “should these schools feel a need/obligation to offer more students pure Merit-based money as opposed to focusing the majority of their available funds on meetinng Need.

          I do agree that the further you go down the prevailing rankings, the more schools offer Merit that is, in many cases, a discount to attract students. Although even in those cases, academic achievement positively affects the discount. I know you do a great job of helping families understand those opportunities and how to maximize them. I have an older son getting ready to graduate (in 4 years!) from a respected but certainly not top school. He had very average HS stats and yet did receive what was categorized as Merit money from the school.

          I just look at the example numbers above and I think it is unfortunate that the highhest ranked schools don’t provide more pure Merit for high achievement. I’m not sure that the lack of Merit availability is a good thing in the long run for the system. I understand that shifting more $$$ to Merit vs Need has detrimental impact on the goals of providing Need-based Aid. And, ultimately, I think that is where the debate is … and the source of Angry Mom’s original frustration.

      • Phoebe April 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm #

        Erik, it a false equivalency to equate the term “poor dumb sloth” with “privileged.” “Privileged” is not an insult, it is an objective description of one’s circumstances relative to others, and it certainly applies to anyone with the intelligence and wherewithal to become a physician, and the earning potential associated with that profession. I consider myself, with my graduate degree and fairly respectable earnings, to be relatively privileged as well. Nevertheless, I fully support efforts to subsidize the education of children from families of more limited means.

        • Erik April 18, 2014 at 1:57 am #

          Phoebe, the definition of “privileged” is:

          1. belonging to a class that enjoys special privileges; favored
          2. entitled to privilege
          3. restricted to a select group

          The Prince of England is privileged. A trust fund kid is priivileged. Someone that earned an MD, assuming they are not the Price of England or a trust fund kid, is not privileged. If an MD or anyone else has become prosperous, it is likely they worked hard, not that they were given things because they are privileged.

          The idea that the parents of a kid who gets accepted to one or more of these “top schools” while not qualifying for Need-based aid is privileged is downright intellectually dishonest. Most of these parents are middle or upper middle class and paying full freight to send their kids to one of these schools is going to be a huge challenge no matter how “privileged” you think they are.

          • Phoebe April 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

            Having grown up ~truly~ middle class in a largely working class area, I can’t agree that middle class families are typically paying full freight at top schools. Middle class families, who fall statistically somewhere “in the middle” or around the median of the income distribution, qualify for financial aid at any of these schools. (Whether or not they actually receive any is another question, depending on the generosity & wealth of the school.) The median dual earner family income is $67k. Of course, incomes and COL are higher in higher COL areas. In Manhattan, e.g., with it’s very high COL, middle class a family would need to earn about $166k to equal that same purchasing power. But even so, note that this family, too, will qualify for (and receive) significant financial aid at, say, Harvard. Families who don’t qualify for financial aid at these top schools are making more than ~$250k. That amount of income places them in the top 2% of households. That’s not middle class by anyone’s definition.

            I also can’t agree that the definition of “privilege” comprises only those who live off trust funds and excludes anyone who works for a living, but I think this is quibbling about semantics. Clearly “privilege” denotes something specific to you. To me, it is simply a word that indicates one’s relative advantages in society. Having significant purchasing power is, IMO, a real advantage. Perhaps you would be bothered less if I had used the word “advantaged?” Regardless, I was not in any way suggesting that the angry mom was not a hard worker. That said, I vehemently disagree with the notion that high-earners necessarily work harder than lower-income people.

            Most of us think we work hard for our money, and few of us like to part with it. Virtually every parent I know views the prospect of paying for college with something like horror. The fact remains that people with higher incomes generally have more options available to them. They have more ability to save, to borrow, to pay out of pocket. And they may be “advantaged” in that they are more likely to be highly educated themselves and therefore to be more savvy about applying for college and financial aid. They have better access to high-quality secondary education for their kids. They can afford extra curricular activities. Their kids don’t need to get jobs in order to make ends meet. The list of advantages is very long. This is why I am supportive of a model that focuses on providing opportunities for relatively disadvantaged students, as opposed to further greasing the skids for already advantaged students (among whom I count my own children).

            I also can’t imagine much good coming from a switch from financial aid to merit aid at top schools. There is already a veritable arms race among many students and parents jockeying for entry into these schools. Do we really want the Harvards and MITs of the world deciding which among their 2000 valedictorians are the most meritorious? I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

            Of course, the real issue is the actual COST of college. We likely wouldn’t be having this conversation at all if increases in the cost of college over the last 20 years had kept pace with inflation.

          • Erik April 18, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

            Phoebe – I think we’ve nested this discussion to the point where I can’t respond directly to your response :) No matter.

            I think you bring up some very good points. I believe your use of the term “advantaged” is on point and, at least personally, a lot easier to swallow than “privileged”. My wife and I, as with many posters on here, have been in a position to provide advantages, if we choose to, in our sons’ pursuit of an education. Many others aren’t in that position. Won’t argue with you that at all.

            I would also not suggest that high-earners work harder than lower earners – just as I cringe when I see many people refuse to acknowledge how hard most high-earners work.

            I’m curious about the income level you stated as the ceiling for receiving Need-based aid. My personal observation is that, even for families with two in college, the number was significantly lower to qualify.

            Just one comment back on the idea of “advantage” as it relates to our kids. Just because we have the ability to provide our kids with advantages doesn’t mean we do because sometimes we don’t think that is in their best interests in the long-term. Even though we could have chosen to go a different route – my sons attended a good, but not great public school. They participated in very demanding sports that required 15-20 hours a week of their effort almost year round. We never helped them with homework – probably couldn’t if I wanted to. When they were ready to take the SAT and ACT we didn’t send them to expensive prep courses – I bought them a prep book for $19.99 and said “here you go, read it”. And they worked full-time jobs during the Summers. I’m sure many other parents have taken the same approach.

            So all that is to say, I feel like whatever they have accomplished has been primarily on their own effort and merit, not any particular advantages we gave them. I suppose that is why I get so hung up on the idea.

            I think your best point was the idea of 2000 valedictorians fighting over who is most meritorious. Had to chuckle at that. I suppose that is exactly what the insanity of trying to gain admission to Stanford, Harvard, et al has become.

            I fully support the idea that deserving, qualidied kids of limited means deserve a chance at a good education. If I didn’t I would be a hypocrite because meritocracy is all about individuals gaining opportunities because of their merit, not their social standing or anything else. But I honestly still struggle with the idea that a Kid from family A pays one amount while another Kid from family B pays a different amount and yet another kid from family C pays yet another amount AND that the amount they pay has nothing to do with their aptitude, qualifications, achievements, etc. And that’s where I think these top schools are at now.

            You’re probably right – the escalating cost is driving most of this craziness. Very thankful I have one graduating in May and will only be writing checks for one next year. Thanks for your perspective.

          • Phoebe April 18, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

            Erik, I could be wrong about the ceiling needed to qualify for aid generally. That is the number I found while playing with Harvard’s net price calculator. They are obviously the most generous with aid, so I’m sure that’s the best case scenario.

            I suspect we agree more than not, and especially on the advantages we’ve chosen to provide for our own kids. Your kids’ experience sounds similar to that of my own kids. My eldest is still in high school, so I have years of college tuition ahead of me. Perhaps I won’t feel so magnanimous in a few years, lol.

          • Maverick Adebola May 6, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

            Here we go with the myth of meritocracy. Eric, I did not have parents who were up wringing their hands trying to help me pay for college. I had to go it alone and do the best with what I had. What you don’t seem to understand is that if you have more than the average that makes you privileged! If you have less than the average that makes you underprivileged! If most people do not have college educations and you do, you guessed it, you’re privileged!

            Being a doctor is a big privilege. Hard work goes into it of course but it is definitely a privilege. I struggled on my own to get to and through college. I graduated from a high school where less than 40% of people went to college. I got my first job at 14 and worked through high school and college. I rocked the SATs, APs was National Honor Society president, volleyball captain and successfully lobbied for the expansion of APs at my underfunded school. I was accepted to a number of Ivies (including Harvard) and top 30 universities. Whether or not my parents paid for college and helped me through admissions I still enjoyed privileges. I graduated from an elite college with honors, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellow and research publications. I will be starting medical school at a top ivy this summer funded by both merit and need based money to be, you guessed it, a privileged physician! So here’s the kicker: you’re kid is definitely privileged!

            You think Harvard plucks broke kids with zero merit from the gutter to attend just so they can provide need based money? Or how can you say “a Kid from family A pays one amount while another Kid from family B pays a different amount and yet another kid from family C pays yet another amount AND that the amount they pay has nothing to do with their aptitude, qualifications, achievements, etc. And that’s where I think these top schools are at now.” How the heck do you think they got in without aptitude, qualifications, achievements? Most elite schools have need-BLIND admissions. Which means nothing but the stats got those kids in. Which in and of itself is not based truly on merit so much as ‘could you go to a good school that taught you everything you needed to know to get here?’, and increasingly ‘could your parents afford private tutors and coaches for you to get you here?’ There is an issue of merit at the top schools but it isn’t from the poorer students. If anything they have the MOST merit because they got in on nothing but their brains, THEN needed money to stay.

            The reason America consistently ranks depressingly low in education, life expectancy and other markers of high development for a nation is the extreme selfishness and ignorance that flourishes here. The ‘if it doesn’t directly benefit me it shouldn’t exist’ philosophy. I had need and I also had a lot of merit, others may have had more need and less merit or more merit and more need. I’m not so self absorbed and selfish to rail against the world because of my undergrad loans when the fact that I got an elite education is an significant privilege. It’s okay that my best friend went to the same elite school and graduated with no loans because of full financial aid and scholarships. It’s also okay that my other friend also has no loans because his parents could pay for it all. I wish the system favored me more but I’m not going to begrudge others help! Let’s be decent human beings and see the world beyond a checkbook and the ‘gimme’ urge we should all put aside past kindergarten.

  46. Erik April 16, 2014 at 3:41 am #

    If the mom was surprised her daughter didn’t receive any merit from those schools she just wasn’t paying attention to the financial equation of those schools. The Top 50-75 don’t give much merit. It’s possible, but not likely even for very qualified kids. All one needs to do is look at the Common Data Set info for each school to see how tough it is to get merit.

    The reality is … if you do not qualify for need-based aid at these schools … you will more than likely be expected to pay fulll freight … and if you choose to do so … you will in fact be subsidizing the education of others who could not afford to pay their own way. You can get mad about it, you can argue the morality of it, but it is not likely to change anytime soon.

    We chose to pay full freight for our son to attend a Top 50 vs other schools he was accepted at and received scholarship money. It was our choice to make the investment and as he winds up his Freshman year, we are very happy with the decision we made.

  47. Nuri Delen April 16, 2014 at 1:17 am #

    I see that many responses in this page is missing the point. The applied schools do have merit but to a very few. Yes Un of Chicago has merit schoalrship and so does Duke and WUSTL. The family is not ignorant. They knew that there are a few merits available. Their mistake, or hope depending on the point of view, was thinking that the student will surely get one of those merits…

  48. K April 15, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    Previous commenter Laura nailed it. Families must conduct some serious due diligence in the college application and admissions process. The more research done by families before it’s time to submit applications, the better the admissions outcome and financial aid packages should be. A few campus visits and reading college brochures is not enough research. Families need to be tearing apart the Common Data Set info for each college, seeing how their student’s profile matches a college and how likely the college would offer them merit aid, and digging into plenty of other public details online to create a good college search strategy.

    My National Merit Finalist kid received annual merit aid offers in the range of $15-22k from at least 12 colleges because we strategized on the best approach to this process. All of them offered her merit aid, not just a couple of them. The merit money really is out there but you have to do some work and purposely seek it out. She didn’t bother applying to colleges known for giving little to no merit aid. From our research, we knew that as a NMF, she could’ve attended Bama, ASU (Barrett), Univ of Oklahoma and a couple other places totally for free or for very minimal cost. Instead, she opted for a private Midwestern liberal arts college 1000 miles from home where she’s thriving in an incredibly strong program for her major.

    With the previous comment that “non-savers should not be “rewarded” with merit aid”, this is a total misunderstanding about merit aid. Need-based aid is awarded according to a college’s perception of a student’s need after seeing the family’s financial info but merit aid is awarded without regard to family finances. Merit aid is often awarded before a college even knows what a student’s financial situation is. This is the money a college decides to offer a student after reading their application and deciding they want to throw some money at that student to lure them to their campus. Think of it as a discounted tuition price your student has earned with their hard work in high school and/or unique abilities.

  49. Ellen April 15, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    Pity the regular average B-B+ kids who don’t have stats that would get them merit aid. Those are the students and families who really have to pay attention to true cost. For them there are no retirement plans to even consider drawing from or savings, as they are often hand-to-mouth family budgets scraping by to be able to afford to live here in California.
    The bar for “need” is so low that they are caught in the gap and have little alternatives; certainly nothing near being able to cover 100% of tuition.
    Their kids once would have walked onto a Cal State or UC campus when seats were plentiful. Not so today, and I’m sure a similar pattern is at work in other states too.
    Sadly, in Oregon, most residents go to community college and do not transfer to four-year university because their schools are priced too high and residents can’t afford UO, OSU, PSU, etc. Now that those three schools are allowed to separate themselves from the state funding mechanism you can expect tuitions to rise, to help lower costs for residents. Bad news for California students looking to go to UC Eugene (University of Oregon) or CSU Corvalis (Oregon State) big draws for kids here.
    Learned of this during an event I attended in Oregon with family. Apparently the legislature has granted it; I’d long heard whispers that UO wanted to go private…seems they’ve done that and the other two schools too.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 15, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

      Hi Ellen,

      That’s depressing to hear what is going on in Oregon. I didn’t know about that development. I do know that state flagships are increasingly going after smart, rich students and becoming more like private universities all the time.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  50. MYOS April 15, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    I empathize with the mother to a certain extent: why don’t all these schools see her daughter for the spectacular student and person she is, and reward her with a scholarship?
    Where I don’t empathize is that… it’s not personal. These schools just DON’T give merit scholarships.
    I don’t know where the daughter hopes to attend, but as a NMF she can still apply to ASU Barrett and Alabama’s Honors and get a scholarship.
    I don’t think that’s the problem though: the mother expected schools that don’t provide merit aid… to provide some. If a school’s financial aid is need-based rather than meri-based, then there are no scholarships. Her daughter won’t get it, nor will any other kid whose stats are higher or lower. At these colleges, a kid who doesn’t have need doesn’t get need-based aid. It seems simple to me so I’m astounded a parent who’s attended college discovered that so late in the game.
    If a scholarship mattered, either financially or for pride, then it was important to apply and compete for them keeping in mind that : Cornelius at Vanderbilt, Johnson at Washington&Lee, Cincinnatus at UC, Buntrock at St Olaf, Bellingrath at Rhodes, Coronat at Syracuse (trying to cover various regions :p)
    – just to name a few that are not based on need at all, but an application, an essay competition, an interview, etc. There are some at truly excellent universities all over the country.
    I feel bad for the kid, too, because she’s not first gen, it’s not like her parents are immigrants who don’t know the US culture or barely graduated high school, she probably attended a good school, so she had a reasonable expectation she could count on both her guidance counselor and her parents to provide her with good advice. Yet both failed, not just in explaining or understanding the basic difference between need-based aid and merit aid, but just in running the Net Price Calculator. Granted those aren’t always accurate but it sounds as if the mother had not run the NPC on any website, and was flabbergasted by the financial aid results.
    If the mother truly doesn’t understand the difference between need-based aid (which the universities she named provide) and merit-based aid, and had never run a Net Price Calculator, I understand why she got angry: she must have been mystified as to what had happened…
    (I guess it makese Ms.O’Shaughnessy’s course all the more important, because I truly didn’t expect a college-educated parent wouldn’t know these two basic facts. How many parents must be pulling their hair out right now if that misconception is common…)

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 15, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

      Hi MYOS,

      You’d be surprised how many affluent families don’t understand which schools give merit scholarships and which don’t. The fact that you know how the game works puts you in the minority!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      • Lisa May 16, 2014 at 10:33 am #

        How do you figure out which schools offer merit based scholarships as we are about to embark on the college search again? We are in a similar situation as many of the other responders. AGI around $200 but live in an expensive NYC suburb. Our son is a top student. We live modestly. We’ve gone through the process twice and our second child did get some merit $ but we weren’t specifically targeting schools we knew gave merit $. Where do we start to figure out the right schools that offer merit ?

  51. Pam April 15, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    I do agree with most of the responders and Lynn here – clearly if this family knew they needed to rely on any merit aid they should have picked a different set of schools! If both parents are medical doctors and have already saved $168k then they should easily be able to cash flow the remaining funds. Think abundance … not scarcity. How fortunate they are to be able to send their “artistic and academic genius” daughter to a college of her choosing!

    My daughter graduating HS is in a slightly different situation as she plans to undertake a very unique and specific major that not all schools offer. In fact there are only a select few schools that students can graduate from and actually get jobs in this field. That list of schools dictated where she applied to. Some of them are “elite” institutions, and some are not. She was accepted to 6 of the 9 programs she applied to. The 2-3 “elite” schools gave her a lower amount of merit/financial aid, whereas the other “non-elite” 3-4 schools were quite generous. That was very telling, and predicable!! AND we anticipated that ahead of time and made our financial plan accordingly.

    I do sympathize with the angry mom in that it does feel as if we middle class saver parents are penalized to some degree. I have a sibling who also has a child graduating HS this year and attending college in the fall. My sibling has been quite reckless with her financial life and as such has NO money saved for her children’s education. Meanwhile she has been a stay-at-home mom, drives a nice car, lives in a nice home, gets regular manicures, yada yada yada, etc…. You get the picture…. However with a few scholarships and help from grandparents her child will go to college for FREE. On the other hand I will combine savings, scholarship funds, and cash flow from my current job to pay for the majority of my daughter’s education at one of the “elite” schools so she doesn’t have to graduate with too much (or any) debt.

    There has to be a more equitable way of distributing merit funds. Non-savers should not be “rewarded” with merit or need-based aid unless there are mitigating circumstances (ex: serious family health crisis that depleted savings, etc..). Let those parents look their children in the eye and tell them that their lifestyle was more important than their children’s education.

    There are all kinds of feelings of entitlement going on here. On the part of the angry mom who feels her “artistic and academic genius” is entitled to scholarship money. And on the part of non-savers who feel they are entitled to a certain lifestyle and don’t have to disrupt that to plan for their children’s education – and their children are no doubt also “artistic and academic geniuses” who are entitled to scholarship aid too.

    • Phoebe April 16, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

      I would argue that part of the problem is a mindset that perceives two medical doctors as “middle class.”

      As noted below, “merit” aid has nothing to do with saving or not saving. It is awarded to students of merit, as determined by the college in question. Apparently, the good doctor’s daughter, though clearly very accomplished, did not eclipse other students who were accepted to the schools she applied to. If she had, she would have been offered some of the (very little) merit aid offered by those schools.

      “Financial” aid, OTOH, does have something to do with saving or not saving, but it actually has much, much less to do with it than most people assume. Financial aid is based mostly on household income. People who earn relatively high incomes do not get financial aid even if they have NOTHING saved. People who earn relatively low incomes often get financial aid even if they have saved a fair amount.The angry mom is not being “punished” for saving. She and her spouse likely make too much money to qualify for any financial aid, regardless of savings. Based just on the limited information she has provided, I will guess that this family has a household income exceeding $200,000, placing them well above the 90th percentile of US households. Does anyone believe that financial aid should be given to families such as this?

      • Dale April 17, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

        My daughter who attends WUSTL, one of the schools mentioned by the mother got substantial merit aid. My daughter like hers had high stats.. 2300+ SAT, several AP with 4 and 5, NMF and several leadership positions. At my daughter’s school however, you have to apply for one or more or several scholarships that offer merit aids. Our family income will put us in that 90th percentile of US households; we had about $50K saved for her for college. My daughter was admitted to Yale and UChicago among others. She chose to attend WUSTL because that was where she saw herself more than anywhere else and because as a family, we care about educational quality not prestige. And there is absolutely no reason why families in the 90th percentile should not be offered financial aid, if their situation so dictates. $200,000 in Charlotte, NC is not $200,000 in New York City.

        • Phoebe April 17, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

          You don’t have to tell me that $200k doesn’t go that far in certain areas. I live in one of the highest COL areas in the US, so my own family’s HHI of $210k sure doesn’t feel like wealth. OTOH, we are still well off compared to many others even in our city. And my children are certainly advantaged relative to many others, here and across the US. (Which is why the charge of “class warfare” that may have been directed at me on the other thread is rather ironic.)

          Our EFC is about $45k, so our eldest would qualify for financial aid at a place like Harvard. But that EFC feels far enough beyond our reach that we’ve discouraged our child from applying to schools that don’t offer merit aid. Like you, I care far more about quality–and affordability!–than I do about prestige.

      • LT April 19, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

        I am a stay-at-home mom. Our AGI is right at $200K and we have saved about $170,000 for our oldest daughter. I have considered going back to work now that my kids are older, but it would just make our EFC even more ridiculous than it already is. I would basically be working for nothing. We have 2 more kids to put through college and they we are behind in their college funds.Tuition+room&board at the University of Chicago where my daughter would love to attend costs $68,000/yr. With expected yearly tuition increases of 3-5% /yr. We are now at $300,000 for the total cost of tuition for only one child. A $200,000 salary after taxes, especially in a state like California where your are stripped 9% of your salary off the bat and then another 30% for federal taxes doesn’t leave you much. It is extremely EXPENSIVE living in California. We are frugal savers. 90% of my clothes are from Target clearance rack and Marshalls. My husband will not buy a pair of shoes over $30. We drive a 18 year old car and just replaced a 10 yr old minivan recently with a Prius to save on gas (it’s over $4.00/ gallon her in San Diego). We are expected to subsidize our PUBLIC schools for basics like science, PE , art and Technology classes at a suggested donation of $800 per student. I used to do it, but I think it’s just a band-aid fix. That’s another topic. Houses in SD average $500,000 for maybe 1800 sf. To live in a school district with a good reputuation, if you want to be in a single family home, expect to pay at least $700,000. So , $200/yr does not equate wealthy. It is frustrating that our hard earned money go to taxes which go to other families who qualify for FAFSA yet we receive nothing. As for UCHicago, to subsidize the remaining $100-$130K is just crazy. May I suggest to angry mom, to talk to the financial aid office despite your numbers. Have your daughter talk to the admissions counselor as well, and they might be able to help her with merit-based aid. It’s hard to pass up a school like UChicago, but we might just have to despite our 2 decades of living below our means.

        • Phoebe April 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

          LT, you are assuming I know not of what I speak, but in fact I know. I really do know. My husband and I have an AGI of just under $200k, although that requires both of us working full-time. I live in a suburb of Washington, DC, where the median home price per square foot is $431. I live in a 1,800 square foot home (actually 1200 with a finished basement) that was built in 1937. We own two cars that are 10 and 7 years old, our children go to public schools, I too shop at Target.

          So do I think living on $200k in this area is living large? No I don’t; we certainly are not “wealthy,” but we still live more comfortably than the vast majority of Americans do. I don’t feel at all frustrated by our tax burden, since I strongly believe that those taxes as the price of living in a civilized society (and in fact I look at other developed countries with higher tax burdens and think many of them look more civilized than ours does).

          We have not saved enough money to send our kids to the University of Chicago or its ilk, nor are we willing to borrow (or cosign to allow our children to borrow) the amount necessary for them to attend. So our children will be attending one of our state’s public universities or will be looking for merit aid from the “second-tier” schools that offer it. I don’t weep for them or for anyone else who can’t afford Chicago. There are plenty of schools that provide a solid education at an affordable price. I know my kids will do fine, and I’m sure yours will, too.

          • Phoebe April 25, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

            ^^sorry, that should say AGI just *over* $200k.

  52. Kerry S April 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    I must be missing something. My son applied at 13 schools. All the applications, both Common App and others were completed in the fall. Of the 13, he was accepted at 10, wait-listed at one, and the other 2 were “reach” schools. However, none of the 13 knew much of anything about my financial situation. I didn’t do the FAFSA until the second week of January. My son was offered merit scholarships of as much as 29k per year. The school he eventually chose offered $20,100 per year. It is a public university. He doesn’t have near the stats as the letter writer, 29 ACT, but 4.0 GPA, captain of basketball team and baseball team, though will not be playing sports in college (STEM major). What I don’t get, unless you are applying after November, is how the schools even know what your financial circumstances are. Seems like merit money is available from a number of schools, if applied for early enough.

    • Amy B. April 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      Exactly. One of the schools that offered my son a full-tuition merit scholarship did so in December after the Early Action round. We didn’t file the FAFSA or the CSS profiles until January. So they had no idea what our financial situation was. The offer was strictly on merit.

  53. Amy B. April 15, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Um, I beg to differ with this mother’s assertion that “any kid who gets ‘scholarships’ money is very likely to not be amongst the brightest kids in the country nor from families who planned and saved for the future.” My son has stats that are very similar to her daughter’s–35 ACT, straight A student, multiple APs with all 5s, several national awards, numerous extracurriculars, glowing recommendations from his teachers (including one that called him the school’s “Leonardo DaVinci” and “a true polymath.”) However, in contrast to that mother, WE were extremely strategic in compiling our son’s college list and made it a point to target schools where he would have a better-than-decent shot at getting merit scholarships. He applied to 10 schools. Accepted at 7. Of those 7, he received hefty merit scholarships from all but one. Now he is weighing his offers from those six schools–two of which are full-tuition scholarships. I find it offensive that this mother would claim that kids who get merit money are not as bright as her daughter. Apparently, in fact, we are even smarter. Because we figured out how to work the system to our advantage instead of just expecting elite colleges to scramble over themselves to recognize our genius child.

    • CBL April 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

      It may also be a male vs. female thing. I’ve heard girls don’t get as many merit scholarships. There are more girls than boys attending college, that’s a fact.

      I’ve heard this is also a problem for chinese students, they have to be smarter (have better stats) than white students to get in to elite colleges. I would imagine merit scholarships for orientals would be similarly constrained.

    • Maddy April 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      would you mind sharing where he applied and was accepted?

  54. Mike April 15, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    This family clearly didn’t do their homework in deciding which schools to apply to. My son has nowhere near the credentials of this young lady and he received some offers ranging from $13,000 to $20,000 per year from some good (not elite) schools such as Loyola Uneiversity Maryland and Fairfield University. Ultimately, he choose to attend the University of Connecticut because the prospect of graduating debt free appeals to him. We have saved enough for him to do that, but not enough to get him through the private schools without taking on some student loans. From the outset, we told him our retirement and the house were off limits. In other words we would not cut back on our retirement savings and we would not borrow against the value of our home. Also, we would not be co-signing on any debt. His only option was the unsubsidized loans that were offered. As much as I would have liked to see him at one of the smaller Catholic schools, he made the right choice.
    I do feel for this angry mom however. there will be students attending these private schools for less than we will be spending at UConn. My son will not be going to one of these schools because we couldn’t sufficiently close the gap to what UConn costs. We could have targeted lesser quality private schools but we felt UConn provided a better alternative. Let’s face it, for families who make more than $150,000 per year, but not enough to write the $60,000 annual check, the concept of a reach school simply does not exist.

  55. Susan Lyon April 15, 2014 at 3:44 am #

    We see this again and again in our community. Truly spectacular teens, like this mother’s daughter, apply to 10-15 name-brand schools, get into 3-5 and don’t get a nickel in aid. Sadly the fix is very simple: Apply to a different set of schools.

    Both of our sons were accepted to every school they applied to and only our current high school senior had one school offer nothing: Kenyon College, which had a record year for applicants.

    Every other school offered from $10,500 to $44,000 per year in merit scholarships. In fact, that really high, outlier number came from Denison University (part of Colleges that Change Lives), which gives 20 National Merit Finalists that sum every year. If only this mom had considered having her daughter apply there! If he commits there this month, he can save most of his funds for graduate school.

    And these small schools that many people haven’t heard about end up being pretty damn amazing. Our older son is a sophomore at University of Puget Sound and has had incredible opportunities there, including recently getting his own environmental research proposal for this summer funded with living expenses. His research, not a professor’s. And that’s aside from the merit aid he was awarded for the regular school year. The biggest problem he has in college is selecting from all the terrific opportunities Puget Sound makes available to students.

    Both of our sons went through an admissions process that left them happy and even more confident, ready to start college with enthusiasm. (And yes, I took all Lynn’s advice before we started the process and it was key to this outcome.)

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 15, 2014 at 4:29 am #


      You are the poster mom for how to conduct a college search that will lead to wonderful schools whose prices won’t endanger the parents’ retirement plans!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • JR Vazquez April 27, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

      I think parents don’t get the fact that the college admissions process should be like any relationship they would have with a person; it should be a two-sided exchange. If parents keep applying to “Brand Name” colleges rather than searching for the real “gem” colleges that offer value, they will find the relationships they enter into are one-sided. Consequently, they shouldn’t complain when other students find more balanced relationships with non-brand name colleges.

      Yes, our financial aid system could be better. However, finding a college that wants your student as much as your student wants them makes a difference when it comes to merit aid. Complaining about it will do nothing; you have to play the game.

    • Nina Walsh September 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

      Hi Susan Lyon,

      Would you share the names of the other colleges to which your sons applied for admission and the amount of merit aid which they received at each? I have a daughter who is in the process of applying to colleges and she is unlikely to get financial aid (though we’ll apply!!) but needs some merit aid. She is also a top student who originally had her sights set on the top name LACs which do not provide any merit aid.. She is now re-focusing on the top LACs that give merit aid. Thanks!!!

  56. *m* April 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    As the parent of a college student with another child a year away, I understand this mother’s financial frustration. But she is off the mark when she says “my taxes pay for less hardworking kids with far less merit to go to these schools for free.” The schools she names are private institutions that are not supported by her taxes.

    I don’t know where this family lives, but I suspect that if the daughter were to attend their state university, which IS supported by their tax dollars, she would very likely receive a merit scholarship. Indeed, this is why a growing number of fine students I know have chosen to stay in-state, accepting generous merit offers and planning to perhaps attend a bigger ‘name’ institution for grad school.

    • CBL April 16, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

      Actually, you are wrong about the taxes – the schools she named, although private, have been granted tax-exempt status by the federal government and so they receive a subsidy, the benefit of not paying taxes, plus being able to solicit tax-exempt contributions and providing tax breaks to their donors, and that’s all funded by those of us who do pay taxes. In other words, we are all picking up some of their tax burden. And think about it, these schools she named are certainly making money and imagine the revenue the federal government could generate if they removed that tax exempt status from these wealthy institutions.

      Also, consider federal pell grants which again are paid for by all taxpayers, that’s like $30-40 billion per year.

      Bottom line, if you pay taxes, you are paying college costs for somebody else’s kids.

  57. Jim April 14, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    I have to agree with this mother. While we are not doctors and therefore do not have the same financial resources, nevertheless we are in the same boat. In our case our daughter applied and was accepted to a good state school and received some aid, but far less than the cost of attendance.

    I have become very disillusioned about the ability of middle class parents to send their children to good, solid schools (not Ivies) but instead have to chose 3rd/4th tier quality because that’s all they can afford or who offers something.

  58. Laura April 14, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Unfortunately for this family, the daughter applied to the exact wrong schools (judging by the school names that were provided) if she was expecting to get merit scholarships. There are probably hundreds of schools that would have given merit aid to this girl, but if that’s what the family was expecting, they should have done their due diligence. It comes down to choosing between prestige (which she got) and merit aid (which she did not).

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 14, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

      Hi Laura,

      You are absolutely right! If you are a smart, wealthy student, you can aim for the most prestigious schools (little to no money) or aim for the other 99% of schools (merit aid).

      This, by the way, is one of the topics that I discuss in depth in my online course — Cutting the Cost of College — that starts on Wednesday. It’s not too late to check out the class:

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  59. Erog April 14, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

    I am on the front lines of college admissions as a high school teacher at a magnet school for sciences. Rarely do we see a student that receives no merit aid. Based on the profile the mother provided, I am very surprised she did not even get a token amount of merit aid. It is called merit aid, not financial aid. Scholarships are for scholars and she sounds like a scholar.

    It is hard to evaluate this situation without more information. I have questions. How old are the parents? What is their household income? Did they have substantial loans from medical school that they had to pay off? Someone wrote above that they do have $42,000/year. Is it a hardship for them to come up with another $20,000 each year? Just because they are doctors does not necessarily mean that they are high earners. Are there other children to educate? Are there special circumstances?

    That said, what really offends me is that the schools told them to use their retirement savings. Unless they are over 59 1/2, that money is not available without a penalty. We have three children to educate. Our in-state schools are all +$30,000/year. We are middle income earners. 90% of our assets are in our home and retirement savings. We will only be 49 when our children start college. That is not a viable option for us.

    “If college was more affordable, many of these arguments would go away. It is just too expensive, even for higher earners.” I am quoting Jean Rowley from the first comment because her statement is so simple and profound. College is not affordable for middle class families.

    I think the mother’s final comments are unkind but I see why she is angry that her daughter did not get merit aid.

    • Maddy April 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

      Actually you can withdrawal from IRA’s without penalty for higher education expenses. Not saying it is desireable to do, but it is an exception to the penalty rule. As is medical expenses over 10% of AGI, and there are few others.

  60. Nuri Delen April 14, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

    obviously this family applied to the schools that they had applied in the hopes that they get one of the very few scholarships that these schools still give. It is also clear that the student had a fair chance to apply and get admitted one of the ivies. Probably student did not apply to ivy knowing that ivy do not give any merit based scholarship. I am sure the family and the physician is rightly thinking that if they had known they were going to pay full they would let their student apply to other schools and perhaps ivies….But in any event 168K is a good start:)

  61. Anne April 14, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    I also agree that there is not enough merit money available. We are not rich by any means, my husband and I are both Postal workers. Our daughter graduated high school with a 4.0, played Varsity Softball, played violin in the orchestra, was in several plays, clubs, and earned a Silver Award in Girl Scouts. Why work so hard and receive next to nothing in return? She was lucky enough to be chosen for an RA position, partly because she is very responsible, and has received straight A’s her first three semesters of college. Because of the Affordable Care Act she has had the number of hours that she works the front desk cut. This is very frustrating because we carry her on our health insurance.

  62. Janet April 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Lots of questions here:

    I have heard that applications must be in by November 1st (even for regular decision) to be considered for the best merit money at most colleges. Is that true?

    A family with 168,000 in college savings has 42,000 per year to spend. Surely they could (should!) have found a financial safety school for that price?

    Finally, everyone who doesn’t get the financial aid they deserve seems absolutely convinced that there are lots of much less worthy students out there getting a free ride. Is that really true?

  63. Greg April 14, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    It is a shame that no merit money was available. I’m assuming from the date of the post that the daughter applied via regular decision. Quite possibly an ED or EA might have helped the financial picture. Demonstrated interest in a particular institution might also have increased the possibility of merit scholarship. With a goodly portion of available monies going to early applicants, legacies, athletes, etc, this family may have made the wrong decision about their time of application. To state that merit is not rewarded in this country is a fallacy. My daughter, a sophomore at the top LAC in Virginia, received an extremely generous merit scholarship. Her profile was just slightly below the poster’s daughter, minus the art proficiency. The difference being that my daughter took the advice of admissions officers and applied ED. It has all worked out perfectly! For the record, we are not in the “sloth” category by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 14, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

      Hi Greg,

      In this case, I think the fact that the teenager applied to schools that offer little merit aid is the issue. That said, according to the most recent records available, Duke did offer 50 large scholarships for wealthy students, but that represents a small percentage of students.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  64. Amy Davis April 14, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    I have empathy with this poster as well. It does seem that merit aid should be rewarded based on merit alone, not the parent’s financial ability to contribute to their college education. However, because her daughter did apply to elite schools, I’m guessing most of the applicants that were admitted had impressive high school records like her daughter. My question is, would other schools reward merit to a student like this that they are overlooking? State flagship schools? Or other private colleges?

    I’m hoping your answer is yes, because I have two high achieving daughters headed to college soon, and we don’t expect much from FAFSA due to our income as well. It is a bit depressing, and I do relate to the poster’s comments that smart financial planning and saving seems like a penalty nowadays.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 14, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

      Hi Amy,

      Yes, there are plenty of schools that provide merit scholarships to smart students. The vast majority of schools do provide them. In fact, 87% of private colleges provide merit awards. The most elite schools don’t because of supply and demand. They are blessed with an overabundance of applicants who can and will eagerly pay full price to attend. I’ll share more on this subject when I write my next post!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  65. Ken April 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm #

    My child’s “profile,” as well as my child’s admissions (and lack of proffered aid) mirror the author’s quite closely. But I do not view this as a penalty. I believe that school’s diverting aid to those in most need of it is actually the correct moral choice. Further, it seems to me that the “elite” schools do not need my child, but may want my money, so to the extent my responsible planning coupled with good fortune effected her admissions, it was not a penalty but an advantage.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 14, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

      Thanks Ken for your perspective! You hit on something that I plan to discuss in my next post. Elite schools receive an overabundance of high-income applicants so they can turn away teenagers whose parents balk at paying full price. These schools do tend to provide excellent financial aid to students who need it, but these institutions are largely dedicated to educating the nation’s most privileged teenagers.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • Phoebe April 16, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

      I could not agree more, Ken. This childish tantrum, frankly, makes me feel a little ill.

      • Maverick Adebola May 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

        This mother’s email was an extraordinarily childish rant. She is immature and ignorant in her view point that there are these ‘less deserving others her tax money is carrying along’. If she knew anything and did any research she would know that institutional scholarships come from school endowments NOT taxes. It is no one’s fault but and her family’s that they did not have the foresight to pay attention to what sort of financial support the school’s could/would provide. Or apply to external scholarships. She cannot blame her lack of planning in one respect on mythological money grubbing, scholarship flaunting lazy students. What I load of garbage. Someone should send them a guide on how to Google information about scholarships. It’s that simple!

        My older sister was a National Merit Scholar. She got a grand total of three questions wrong on the SATs for a 1570/1600, 4.0 GPA, athletic, trilingual and simply brilliant in every way. Our parent’s are well educated and higher earning but neither saved for our college expenses nor helped us through the process. We are also immigrants so figuring out the admissions process and how to pay for college was on us. Does this angry mother have compassion to people who work harder and do just as well/better than her daughter but do not have parent’s like her who have almost 200K set aside? Cry me a river. She will have to come up with what? 15K a year without scholarships? Even that is a stretch because unless she and her husband make 200K or more the elite schools will still provide some financial aid.

        My sister planned for her education because that is what you do! She knew which schools provided full scholarships and relentlessly pursued them. She graduated from high school at 16 and turned down Yale to go full ride to University of Southern California off their Trustee Scholarship. USC gave only 3 her year and you better believe she had the the most merit and the highest stats. One of the other people to receive it had a family friend on the selection board and the other’s family helped endow a USC scholarship. I did not plan quite as well as her but turned down Harvard for Tufts University which will careful maneuvering and merit funds ended up costing me $65,000 in loans. Once again careful planning! I’m just out of college and careful planning has already reduced that amount to $49,000.

        Lynn you published a list of 23 schools that do not offer merit scholarships on a companion post to this one. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it is somewhat inaccurate. Columbia University for one can and does offer merit scholarships even for graduate students. I have one! Once again from paying attention to what is out there and doing the best I can with my circumstances and high level of achievement.

        This Mom-ster doesn’t care about merit or fairness she is just self absorbed and selfish for believing that if scholarships don’t fall at her daughter’s feet (when they clearly didn’t plan well enough) the system must be unfair.

  66. Jean Rowley April 14, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    I admittedly have empathy with this post. There should be more merit aid for students with good academic credentials, regardless of their parents’ circumstances. It is a personal choice on how many children you have, your career pursuits, etc. FAFSA doesn’t take into account added expenses due to cost of living of where you live, helping elderly parents financially, etc.

    If college was more affordable, many of these arguments would go away. It is just too expensive, even for higher earners.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

      Thanks Jean for your comment. I suspect many parents on my blog can relate to this mother because a lot of my visitors are affluent parents who have invested a lot of money into their children’s educatiton and they want the best for them.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • Equally Disgusted Parent May 15, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      I fully understand the emotions of this mother. What is even worse, is the situation where your child, no matter how academically advanced, does not get merit aid, while their peers in school whose scores and rankings are below theirs, receive massive aid because of the color of their skin. This happened to my child. A child she grew up with since the first day of kindergarten(in an affluent suburb) received the largest possible merit aid, despite academics, because of some African ancestry. This is not a situation where a poor or equally gifted child receives money because of “diversity”. This is a situation where an equally affluent child and less gifted child receives “merit aid’ to entice them to a school to bring a certain skin color to the school.

      The pathetic truth is, private colleges want wealthy students and they must play the diversity game to keep receiving federal aid. So, they will bend over backwards to fill their classes with “diversity” but kindly send the bill for those students to those they perceive to be wealthy Caucasians. We passed on ALL private schools for that very reason. If everyone else who was expected to pay full freight to subsidize other childen did the same, this system would be forced to end.

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