I would like to know how colleges consider outside scholarships. I have been accepted under  early decision and am currently applying for various other scholarships and grants. Just wondering if the money I get from outside will chip away my parents contribution, work study or the grant that the college is giving me. Thanks a lot.

You may not be thanking me after this answer. If you are awarded a $10,000 scholarship for an outside source for college, colleges treat that money just like you had saved it and had intended on using it for college. Your financial aid package is based on need, and if you have $10,000 from some other source, you’re not going to need it from the college.

You see, if it cost $20,000 a year to attend Blah University, your need may be assessed at $12,000 based on your complete financial picture. This doesn’t mean that the school is going to give you $12,000 in aid and you can add that to other sources you find. If you find other money, the school is going to reassess your need and make you a lower offer.

The good news is that outside scholarships may be considerably higher than what the school is offering. Just be smart about applying for scholarships. There are  too many scams out there. When in doubt, discuss this matter with the financial aid office at the school. Once accepted, most schools would really like to make it possible for you to attend. It’s a business. Treat it like such.

I am an upcoming senior and am starting to receive applications for college. Some of the schools have an option to waive the application fee, which is sometimes as much as $100. If I am not approved, what will the school do with my application? Do they throw it out, send it back, or call me and let me know they need the money before they will even process it?

As you might expect, every school has a different policy regarding waiver of the application fee. Typically, to qualify, you need to submit some kind of proof of need, perhaps a letter from your high school. Your request will then be considered, and you will be notified as to whether it has been approved. Your application will most likely sit until the fee is received if you are not approved. However, I would encourage you to understand the specific policy of the schools to which you are applying, and if that information can’t be obtained through their application packets, you should contact each school directly for clarification.

When should a student begin sending in applications for scholarships. Should she wait until after being accepted somewhere, or should she begin beforehand?

Scholarships have different requirements. If it were a scholarship, for example, through your place of worship, the requirements would be quite different than if it were a scholarship offered at the college you hoped to attend. The best answer I can give is to get an application and follow the rules to the letter.

P.S. Some colleges automatically apply you via your application to the scholarships for which you would qualify as a matter of routine.

I have twin daughters entering college this fall. Both girls have been accepted at excellent private universities withannual tuition and fees at these universities of around $25,000 per year. We are a middle class family with some savings, but not remotely enough to finance $50,000 per year for two children. What are our chances of receiving enough financial aid to allow our daughters to go to school?

Well, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, but the fact that you have two kids in college at the same time does factor into how much financial aid you’ll be getting. If you have applied for financial aid, then each college will respond with a package. However, if either school is not need-based, then you could find yourself with some hefty expenses from one or both schools. And as financial aid often includes loans and work study, you may also end up with significant debt. Sounds discouraging, I know, but you’ll just have to wait and see what the financial aid offers are. Hopefully, your daughters have fall-back, less expensive college choices if needed.

My nephew is a senior in high school who very much wants to go to Duke University. He scored 800 on his math SATs, 97th percentile in German (he was an exchange student there) and is also a tennis champion. Because he will be the third child in the family to be attending college next year his parents assume he will have to go to a state school. He is such a bright well-rounded student, I am encouraging him to apply to Duke. What would his chances be of ever getting enough financial aid to enable him to attend?

Whether your nephew wants to attend Duke or another highly selective school, he should not consider finances too much in the decision as to whether to apply. You seem to be confusing academic ability and financial aid, and the two are often not related. It is true that academic ability is a major factor in scholarship selection. But Duke and many other schools offer need blind admissions, meaning that they select on the basis of ability, not financial need.

That your nephews parents are paying other for siblings to attend college does alter their financial picture, but if anything, it makes it easier for them to qualify for additional aid, not harder. Any expense his parents have is factored into the financial aid question to determine the students true need.

As I’ve said before, scholarships are only one part of the financial aid package. The other parts include grants, loans, and work-study. Duke, like many schools feels that if a person is qualified to attend, their financial situation should not stand in the way. Thus, if your nephew can demonstrate need, and has the academic credentials to gain acceptance, he should be able to work it out such that he can afford to attend. And then there’s always the stories about students who get so much financial aid at private schools, that it actually ends up cheaper than public schools. The only way to know for sure is to go through the process.

When you participate in a work-study program, do you see any of the money you make or does it all go directly to pay your college expenses?

The money is paid to you. You are basically an employee of the college or university and receive a pay check as you would from any employer. Of course, the financial aid office is aware of your earnings (because in all likelihood, they arranged the job fo r you and found the money to pay you) and so these amounts are expected to offset your college expense. For example, if tuition is $10,000, your financial aid package may include $2,000 in work-study, $3,000 in grants/loans, and maybe a $500 scholarship . The college thus views your having received $5,500 in financial aid. If you choose to spend your $2,000 earnings on something else, well, so be it.

What’s the chance that I will be able to get a scholarship? I come from a middle class family and my grades and activities are pretty good. Does how much money your family has really lower my chances?

This is an involved and confusing subject, but here’s some stuff you may not know: There are three basic kinds of financial aid, that is, money someone provides to you to go to college. First, there are loans, often provided by the college you’re attending or through some state or federal program. Loans have to be paid back too. Second, there is work-study. The college you’re attending basically gives you a job and applies your earnings to your college bill. Finally, there are grants and scholarships, sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two.

Scholarships are generally based on merit, that is, great grades, winning the science fair or the Miss America contest, or something along those lines. Every school will have a host of scholarships unique to that school, and some scholarships are unique to specific departments or programs within that school. But there are also general scholarships (like the Miss America gig) not associated with any particular school that you can win and take with you.

As for how much money your family has, it’s all relative. If you’re going to a school that cost $20,000 a year, you may be needier than if the tuition, etc. is only $3,000 a year. Some scholarships are need based meaning that if you don’t need the m oney, even if you win the scholarship, you may not get the money. Others give you the money no matter what.

The bottom line here is that you really need to investigate all options. The bookstore is filled with books on how to pay for college. And by all means, contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you’re interested in applying to see what’s available. Their job is to make it possible for you to pay for it all.