Email from a Happy Mom

Over the last 24-hours, I received a lot of great comments and some emails in reaction to this college blog post:

An Email from a Disillusioned Mom

If you haven’t read the post, I’d urge you to do so.

The email came from a mother of a very bright girl from an affluent family, who received little to no merit awards from the schools that the teenager has heard from to date. I think the teenager’s experience shows there is some randomness to the merit scholarship process, but there are ways for well-off families, who don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, to capture merit scholarships from schools.

One strategy that I failed to mention yesterday that warrants sharing is that teenagers should consider including some colleges in their final list of schools. Most students only apply to universities for a variety of reasons, including that universities are simply better known than the considerably smaller colleges. Because of that reality, colleges often have to do a better job of enticing students to their campuses by offering merit scholarships. (My son is at a college and my daughter graduated from one.)

A Mom Who Feels Like Celebrating

I happened to receive an email from a Michigan mom this morning, whose child sounds like she’s as brilliant as the daughter of the disillusioned mother from Texas. This mom’s daughter focused primarily on colleges instead of universities and has had an entirely different experience. Here is the Michigan mom’s story….
I was moved to write after reading your latest blog post, the “Email from a Disillusioned Mom”.  It was a sad story and I realized as I read it how fortunate it was that I stumbled across your blog about a year ago when my daughter was a junior.  We have had a very different outcome to our college search from the family in your post, and I have you to thank.  I have learned so much from your blog, and your College Solution book (the 1st edition).  Both have been tremendously helpful.

Applying to Liberal Arts Colleges

My daughter is a very good student, and we had enough money put aside to send her to any state university.  However, as the college search progressed, we realized that she’d be much better off at a small liberal arts college that suited her needs.  The prices were beyond what we were willing to pay, however.  I followed your advice and did in-depth research on the merit aid practices of the schools we were interested in, using the websites you’ve recommended time and again, such as CollegeData, College Results Online, etc.

My daughter did not apply to any “reach” schools, though her qualifications put her in line with the elite schools.  Instead, we looked for high-quality liberal arts colleges where she’d be in the top 25%, just as you advise.

We had fantastic results.  She applied to 2 publics – Michigan State University, Truman State (MO) University (public liberal arts college) –  and seven liberal arts colleges throughout the Midwest and in the South/Southwest. (We live in Michigan.) Just as in other stories you’ve posted in your blog, most of her friends discouraged her from applying to southern schools.  Some of their comments were hilarious!

Large Merit Awards

My daughter was accepted everywhere she applied, and had scholarship offers ranging from full-tuition from Truman State, to an average of 19-24K merit aid awards from all the LACs she applied to.  She now has it narrowed down to her top 3 choices, all in the Midwest – College of Wooster, Illinois Wesleyan University and Lawrence University.  We are very impressed with these schools and are thrilled with the opportunities she has before her.

I just can’t thank you enough for your terrific blog and your book, which led us to a wonderful set of options.  I wish that more parents had access to the information you present.  It’s been frustrating to watch our daughter’s friends make their choices based on the US News rankings, as I fear they will be very disappointed.  But for us, your advice has been proven very sound, and I wanted you to know that you have helped our family to achieve a wonderful result for our daughter.


Does anybody have any reaction to the Michigan mom’s email? If so,  please share you comments in the box below.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of the second edition of The College Solution, which is now available for preorders.


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  1. Our high school is full of high-achieving seniors strung out waiting to hear from some of the UCs this week, crushed by the number of rejections they are getting, realizing they are not going to their dream school (despite being amply qualified). I suspect many of these really unhappy seniors have better GPAs than my son, which just magnifies the problem with letting US News & World Report rankings serving as your guide. Now they’ll have 30 days to scramble and figure out which safety has to suffice. What a heartbreaker.

    Since my son sent everything into the schools in August, he knew by December where he was going (and he committed before Christmas). He’s since been accepted to the honors program (senior thesis) and the minor he wanted. He’s emailing his advisor with questions (e.g., could he be in both honors and the humanities minor?) and always had a response the same day every time. With this kind of individual attention and professor access, I think University of Puget Sound is going to do a tremendous job. But mostly, he’s incredibly happy and excited about his future. We feel really good about the finances, so we’re able to completely enjoy his happiness.

  2. Deana,

    My son is graduating from an LAC in May after four years and has had a job since January. I personally think getting a job is based on the effort put forth. We have told our kids use the career resource center (you pay for it), do internships and network, network, network. Our son started his job hunt early last fall (of his senior year). He is on Linked-In and has networked with friends/collegues of ours for advice, tips and to review his resume. When he applied for jobs he would follow-up with a phone call to see if they had any additional questions, prepared for interviews by researching the companies and always followed up an interview with a written thank you.

  3. I think that it is great that this student has had such success in finding the right college to go to! There are good colleges out there that will provide scholarships to the right students! They might not be ivy league schools, but who cares! Getting a good education doesn’t require an ivy league education. It just requires a determination to do your best as a student and learning the material necessary to successfully perform in the career you choose!

    In short, smaller colleges can provide a good education too.

  4. My thoughts are that this family took a great approach in finding the right college by not falling into the traps of U.S. News and reach schools that might not be affordable or even appropriate.
    Thus, they were able to have an open minded search for just the right school at an affordable price which will allow the truly fun part to begin instead of being crushed. Unfortunately, Disillusioned Mom is experiencing the crushing feeling and I can only imagine what her daughter is going through. Hopefully, her experience will serve as a warning to others.

  5. I am wondering what the employment statistics are for the LAC’s. I heard that the national average for college graduates who had job offers at graduation was just 24%!!!!! My daughter applied and got in to Georgia Tech where the rate (for the undergraduate management school) is 93%!!!!
    So far the merit aid she has been offered is little to none. So is it better to go into debt but get a job or to go free but be looking for a year or two after graudation????