Lies in Your Financial Aid Letter?
November 23, 2015

Ian Welham asks are there  “Lies in Your Financial Aid Letter?


In the hierarchy of obfuscation, Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Clearly, Mr. Clemens didn’t know about college financial aid letters, which are currently arriving in the mailboxes of high school seniors. To say the least, thy can be tricky.

Of course they’re not supposed to be. Colleges are supposed to play nice and follow a government standard called the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet.

In short, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is designed to make crystal clear:

  • what’s a loan (money you have to repay with interest) vs. what’s a grant (free money you don’t have to pay back)
  • the actual amount you’re expected to pay out of your own pocket
  • when a grant or scholarship is for one year vs. all four years

Presently, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is voluntary. And fewer than one third of the nation’s colleges and universities have adopted it, reports The Washington Post.

Unless and until law requires all colleges to play by Financial Aid Shopping Sheet rules, I suggest you read your financial aid letters as if Snidely Whiplash wrote them. Perhaps you might want to wear protective clothing.

Here are some sleights of hand to watch out for:

Sticker Price Shenanigans – I’ve seen financial aid award letters that leave out important costs. Or their allowance for textbooks and/or transportation is unreasonably low. Make sure to triple check all numbers provided by the college. Some will try to focus your attention on the amount of aid you will be receiving. Certainly good information to know; but just as if you’re buying a house or a car, you want an accurate number for the total cost. Otherwise, how can you know how to properly budget, and even if the college is affordable?

Mixing Loans with Grants – A loan does not decrease college costs. It increases the total cost you will pay (due to interest payments). Therefore, it does not belong in the same category as grants and scholarships. By mixing in loans with grants and scholarships, colleges give the impression that the loan is reducing the family’s costs. Some readers might even believe the loan doesn’t require repayment at all. Well, it most certainly does (and it can’t be discharged like other loans). It’s my contention that all loans should be listed separately from “free money,” and loans should include their interest rates, fees and payment schedule. On 99% of financial aid award letters, you’ll see no reference to loans requiring payback or costing extra.

Nothing but Net – What’s the difference between “net cost” and “net price?” Could be thousands of dollars. Most financial aid letters calculate net cost, while what really matters is net price. Net cost is the difference between the total cost of attendance and the total financial aid package. But since the total financial aid package includes loans — which do not reduce college costs — your actual cost of college will often be much higher than the number listed on your award letter. Net price subtracts just the free money (grants, scholarships, etc.) from the cost of attendance. It more accurately reflects the amount a family has to use from savings, income, borrowing, etc., to pay the college bill.

Watch These Grants Disappear – A diamond may be forever, but a grant is not. Many schools provide a juicy aid package for freshman year, only to take it away in subsequent years (after your student is settled in on campus). Parents are shocked when they realize they’ve fallen victim to a bait-and-switch tactic. And according to The Washington Post, “about half of all colleges practice front-loading of grants.”

The Private Scholarship Gotcha – Here’s another thing colleges forget to disclose. If your student works hard to earn a private scholarship, the college will reduce your aid package by the amount of the scholarship. In other words, if you get a $2,000 scholarship from the Rotary Club, the college will take away $2,000 of aid they originally promised. They can choose to reduce loans, or they can choose to reduce grants. Option A: If the private scholarship replaces loans, this is a good thing; your net cost goes down. Sadly, this is not as common as Option B: If the private scholarship replaces free money from the college, your student is no better off for having earned a scholarship. The university, however, is thrilled because you’ve done them a tremendous favor. They can give “your” money to another student. And it’s my experience that the colleges don’t send a thank-you note.

Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


People Disagree With Us
November 16, 2015

Ian Welham “People disagree with us.”


College planning should start with the 40-year career in mind first, then work backwards to finding appropriate majors and right-fit colleges.

Not everyone agrees. Many argue that college is our one-and-only chance in life to “find ourselves,” and that the real point of college is intellectual exploration. A valid viewpoint, certainly.

In fact, this very debate played out in a recent Wall Street Journal article (“Today’s Anxious Freshmen Declare Majors Faster Than Their Elders”). The article points out that skyrocketing tuition costs and student debt, coupled with a soft economy, has made today’s college students more career focused.

“People don’t go to college anymore to be fulfilled or to gain life perspective; they go to get a great job,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment and marketing at DePaul University in Chicago.

Indeed, at DePaul, the percentage of freshmen with undeclared majors fell from 31% to 16% over the past seven years. At Rollins College, 13% of first-year students were undeclared this year, versus 31% in 2006-07. At the University of Denver, the percentage of undeclared freshmen has declined more than 80% during the last 20 years. Today it stands at just 6%.

David Spight, the assistant dean for academic advising and career counseling at the University of Texas at Austin, cautions that freshmen may be too young to declare a major. “How do you know that you don’t want to major in anthropology, if you’ve never taken an anthropology class?” he asks.

I can’t help but wonder what my grandfather would have thought about this debate. I would love to have seen the look on his face if I ever suggested him writing a check for $200,000 for me or my sister to “find ourselves.”

I think about a friend who, back in the 1970’s, told his parents he was thinking about switching majors from engineering to liberal arts. His mother — who had never graduated high school — and his father — who never attended college — replied that they looked in the Help Wanted section and couldn’t find any job descriptions that started with “liberal arts.”

I think about our client Jim Coyle, who’s President of the Gateway Chamber of Commerce. Jim is an expert on particular areas of ancient Middle Eastern history. But he was also wise enough to earn degrees in economics. It’s his economics knowledge that he’s parlayed into a successful career. Jim is still fascinated by, and still actively studies, ancient history. But he doesn’t rely on that for his livelihood.

I don’t want readers to think I’m against intellectual exploration. College is a wonderful place to expand your mind, broaden your thinking, and explore new ideas. I’m all for learning about anthropology. But at top colleges today, each course hour costs upwards of $2,000. At that rate, a 3-credit anthropology course runs $6,000.

For $130 at, you can take an anthropology course with one of America’s foremost anthropology professors. And have enough left over to sponsor an archaeological dig.


Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


a Must-Read NY Times Article
November 11, 2015

Ian Welham gives you a must read NY Times Article


Don’t know if you saw this or not. Last week, Frank Bruni wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about college admissions.

His eloquent article is called, “How to Survive the College Admissions Madness.” In my opinion it’s a must-read — definitely worth your time. You can find it at:

The message is evergreen. But it’s especially noteworthy given the time of year, as students are starting to hear thumbs up or thumbs down from colleges.

For students who have their hopes dashed, it’s easy to feel like a failure. Mr. Bruni’s message: A yes or no from an elite college is NOT “the conclusive measure of a young person’s worth,” nor is it a harbinger of things to come.

And anyone who thinks so is missing the point.

As proof, the author looked up the undergraduate colleges of the chief executives of the top 10 corporations in the Fortune 500. Here are the schools: University of Arkansas; University of Texas; University of California, Davis; University of Nebraska; Auburn; Texas A&M; Kettering University; University of Kansas; University of Missouri, St. Louis; and Dartmouth College.

Eight out of 10 state schools.

I’d like to quote more from the article, but instead, I’ll just encourage you to read it.

For those too busy to read the article, I want you to at least see a letter included in the piece. The letter was written by a Mom and Dad from Long Island before their high school senior started hearing from colleges. Here’s their letter.

Dear Matt,

On the night before you receive your first college response, we wanted to let you know that we could not be any prouder of you than we are today. Whether or not you get accepted does not determine how proud we are of everything you have accomplished and the wonderful person you have become. That will not change based on what admissions officers decide about your future. We will celebrate with joy wherever you get accepted – and the happier you are with those responses, the happier we will be. But your worth as a person, a student and our son is not diminished or influenced in the least by what these colleges have decided.

If it does not go your way, you’ll take a different route to get where you want. There is not a single college in this country that would not be lucky to have you, and you are capable of succeeding at any of them.

We love you as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky, all the way around the world and back again – and to wherever you are headed.

Mom and Dad

The rest of the article is just as good. Here’s the link:


Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Hi, I’m Ed – What’s your major?
November 6, 2015

Ian Welham says “Hi, I’m Ed – What’s your major?”


Plymouth State University in New Hampshire offers a Health and Human Performance major that includes backpacking through the White Mountains or kayaking off the Baja coast. Students study personal relationships, philosophy and theory, as well as the administration of outdoor programs.

The University of Connecticut offers Puppet Arts as a major.

In 2010, Jordan “The Great Jordini” Goldklang became Indiana University’s first graduate majoring in magic.

At Carnegie Mellon University, you can major in playing the bagpipes.

Interesting majors, all. How practical they are, I’m not sure. At the very least, I’m guessing they’re not on the same earning scale as engineering, computer science, economics or finance, for example.

How much consideration are you giving to your child’s major? How much time has your child spent talking to his or her guidance counselor about it? I’m guessing very little. Yet if you look at college (as you should) as a 40-year decision instead of a 4-year decision…

In many ways the major you choose is more important than the college you choose.

Recently we started using a new assessment to help students find economically-sound careers and majors that are a scientific best fit. The test measures behaviors, interests, personality, needs, and stress factors. It’s remarkably accurate and reveals how you’re hard-wired — what makes you tick.

NASA, the World Bank, IBM, Procter & Gamble, and other leading companies use it to uncover an individual’s success triggers – what tasks and work environment are most likely to help an individual not just succeed, but thrive.

We’ve adapted it to help students zero in on careers that match their unique interests and talents, and give them real-world marketable skills.

And better job prospects than, say, a puppet arts major.

We’re not trying to pigeon-hole students, or pressure them to make a lifelong decision at an early age. But rather, to help them make good choices that will pay off in both college and career success.

If you’re curious to see how it works, check out the video I made at:

Stay warm,
Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Easy Scholarships
November 3, 2015

Ian Welham gives you Easy Scholarships


I recently met a student who said he needed a scholarship to be able to go to college. He asked if I could help him.

I started listing a few scholarships I knew. To each one, he shook his head. After three or four no’s I asked what the problem was.

“I don’t want to write an essay,” he declared.

His answer caught me off guard. To expect an organization or individual to give you money — thousands of dollars — and not be willing to put a few words down on paper seems a bit, I don’t know… unreasonable, perhaps?

Evidently, my thinking is a bit antediluvian. Live and learn.

So… I kept my editorial comments to myself and dutifully went looking for easy scholarships that don’t require essays. Here are a few I came across:

1.) U.S. Bank Scholarship – Each year, U.S. Bank gives away thirty-six $1,000 scholarships. Here are the requirements:

  • United States citizen
  • High school student or college undergrad

That’s it. If you can meet those requirements, there are no other qualifications required. Applications are drawn at random. Application details get released in early March at:

2.) $1,000 Weekly Scholarship – Book publisher Chegg gives away a weekly scholarship – actually several scholarships. Also available to all high school and college undergraduates. All that’s required is filling out a short form about yourself and answering an unusual question in 280 characters or less (each week it’s a different question). You can apply every week. Start at:

3.) What’s in a Name? – If your last name is Zolp, congratulations. You qualify for full tuition for 4 years at Loyola University in Chicago. If it’s Gatling, you can get up to $18,000 at NC State. You can go to Texas A&M for free if your last name is Scarpinato. If your surname is Baxendale, Hudson, Thayer, Downer or Bright, Harvard has money for you.

Speaking of scholarships, last week I wrote about a new service we’re offering that one enthusiastic parent critiqued as, “Better than a $100,000 scholarship.”

I did an audio recording explaining all about it and posted in on the website. If you missed it, you can still have a listen here:

Stay warm,
Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Better than a $100,000 Scholarship?
October 27, 2015

Ian Welham says “this is even better than getting a $100,000 scholarship.


Lots of parents have been asking about the new service I’ve been writing about the last few weeks.

Some are curious. Some are incredulous. Some say, “Will you stop teasing us and just tell us already?”

Fair enough.

I will, but…

… not before making one more pronouncement.

Actually, these words are not mine, but came from an excited father to whom I was explaining the new service.

After hearing about the benefits and how the service worked, he blurted out, “In some ways, this is even better than getting a $100,000 scholarship.”

An exaggeration? Perhaps.

But in some ways, maybe not too far off.

I certainly understand how he did the math and came to his conclusion. And obviously, I wouldn’t be involved and bringing this to your attention unless I thought it was top notch.

But better than a $100,000 scholarship?

I’ll let you decide.

Check out this interview I just posted on our website. (Even if our Dad is only half right, I’d suggest it’s still worth a few minutes of your time.)

You’ll find it here:

The interview is with our team leader, Lisa. Lisa is an accomplished educator who has worked with high school students and their parents for over 20 years. She is the brains behind The College-to-Career-Success Program (yes, that’s the official name).

As you’ll hear, Lisa is very smart and very passionate about it, because:
She knows stressed-out parents have been looking for something like this for years; and
As a Mom with 3 college-bound high school students, she designed a program exactly around what SHE was looking for herself and could not find.
Faced with the possibility of spending $200,000+ per child on college, she wanted to figure out a way to make sure her investment would be worth it. She felt that traditional college planning was too focused on the 4 years a student is in college and not on the bigger picture — what happens to them in the 40 years that follow.

What she came up with is clever kind of “college insurance.” A way to help make sure that your child:
* Attends the right-fit college & graduates on schedule
* Pursues an economically viable major
* Attracts god job offers
* Enjoys a flourishing career and a happily independent life

So that the benefits your child gains far surpass the investment you make.

Sound interesting?

Click here to listen:

Warmest Wishes,
Ian “The Professor” Welham
Ian Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Don’t go to college without this
October 22, 2015

Ian Welham says don’t go to college without this.


Do you have insurance on your home, your car, your health?

I’d be shocked if you didn’t.

People have homeowners insurance to protect against fires, floods, and other calamities. They get auto insurance to replace their car if they get in a wreck. And they buy health insurance to protect themselves from high medical costs.

What about college?

When I ask parents, “Where is your college insurance?” they look at me like I have two heads.

College these days can cost $150,000 to $250,000 per child. We spend thousands of dollars for car insurance every year, and our car is not worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, nor is it as valuable as a child’s future.

If there was such a thing as college insurance, would you want to know about it?

In the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about what happens to your child AFTER college, and the difference between the student who graduates with little opportunity and lots of debt, and the student who has companies lining up to hire them.

Why do we send our children to college in the first place?

Is it so we can put a nice bumper sticker on the car?

I hope not.

Most parents see college as an important step to adulthood. College is about more than just getting a job. But we hope that a college diploma is a launching pad for our kids. That it’s the first step in what we hope will be a happy, successful and fulfilling life.

Recently we’ve added some key new members to our team. These new members are making it possible for us to launch an exciting new service.

In short, think of it as college insurance. It’s a way for parents to:
Avoid a $200,000 mistake and get a positive return on investment on their educational dollars.
Make sure that college is going to be worth it — even before you write that first-semester check.
Help your student succeed – not just during the 4 years they’re in college – but in the 40 years to follow!
Next week I look forward to giving you the details. I’m very excited. In many ways, I think it’s the most important thing we’ve done.

Parents have been asking for something like this for years. I’m pleased to say it’s finally here.

See you next week.

Warmest Wishes,
Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


The worst sin you can commit against yourself
October 19, 2015

Ian Welham  talks about  “The worst sin you can commit against yourself.”


Today, only about one third of students who attend public universities graduate in 4 years.

Only half of students who attend private colleges graduate in 4 years.

Eight out of 10 students change their major. Many change their major 3 times, which often pushes back their graduation date. In fact, over half will require 6 or more years.

Think about that. One out of every two college students needs 6 or more years to graduate. The number one reason for delayed graduation is students switching majors or changing colleges.

Sadly the numbers get even worse after graduation. Only 27% of recent college graduates land a job related to their major.

Half of those who find work take jobs that don’t even require a college degree.

I’m talking about the anthropology major who’s waiting tables.

The English major who’s working as a temp.

Meanwhile, three out of 4 students graduate in debt. The average debt is nearly $30,000. In some parts of the country it’s much higher. Perhaps that explains why 21 million Millennials today are living with Mom and Dad, unable to support themselves.

Let me ask you: Would you make a six-figure investment in something that only works half the time and can take six years before you have an opportunity for any return on investment?

It sounds silly, right? But millions of parents do this every year.

It doesn’t have to be you.

Most parents are willing to sacrifice for the good of their kids. But with today’s sky-high tuition costs, families for the first time are questioning whether college is worth it.

Many wonder: Does it make sense to drain our savings on a bunch of maybes?

MAYBE our child will pick the right-fit college.

MAYBE he’ll choose a major that’s not a dead end.

MAYBE she’ll be one of the lucky ones to get a job and be able to pay her bills.

The stakes are high.

But what choice do we have?

How can we know for sure that college is going to be worth it even before we write that first-semester check?

Is there a way to ensure our student’s success – not just during the 4 years they’re in college – but in the 40 years to follow, as they pursue their career and life goals?

The answer is absolutely YES – but it requires a different approach. An approach that flips the traditional college planning process on its head.

Very soon, I’ll tell you all about it.

Warmest Wishes,
Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Do you have a dream for your child?
October 9, 2015

Ian Welham  “Do you have a dream for y our child.”


Do you have a child going off to college soon?

Do you ever fret about where she’ll get accepted? Do you question whether his GPA or ACT scores are competitive enough, or whether he has the right extracurricular activities? Do you ever worry about her changing majors and taking 5 or 6 years to graduate, or wonder if he’ll be able to find a job after graduation?

Sending a child to college is so stressful these days, don’t you think? From the guidance counselors to college admissions directors to the student guide leading the campus tour, they all make it sound so intimidating, right? Like the odds are heavily stacked against you and you’re never going to get in.

So what do we do? As caring parents we call in the cavalry. We hire trainers and tutors and SAT coaches and FAFSA filler-outers — all in an effort to give our kids every advantage we can.

As a parent myself, I understand how easy it is to get caught up in the college fire drill. But let’s put all the tutors and coaches and advisors on pause for a moment. And let me ask you a simple question on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

What do you want for your children’s future? What are your hopes? Do you have a dream for them?

If you’re like most parents I talk to, you want the best for your children. You want them to be happy and successful. And you’re probably a little worried about the future job market – what happens to them AFTER college.

At the same time, I can probably guess what you DON’T want for your child. You don’t want him to be on the 6-year college plan . . . you don’t want her to be loaded down with student debt . . . and you don’t want him to graduate with no job prospects and have to move back home to live in the basement.

If you have similar hopes and dreams for your student, then I have a very important message for you.

Coming soon.

Warmest Wishes,

Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor
(973) 467-0101


Your College Funding Plan for 2016
October 8, 2015

Ian Welham  on  “What’s your plan to pay for college”

Quick question for parents of seniors and juniors: What’s your plan to pay for college?

Loans? Mortgaging your house? Dipping into your retirement plan? Powerball lottery ticket?

Or, “No clue.”

There is a better way…but there’s bad news: it won’t happen all by itself.

By that I mean, don’t hold your breath waiting for your guidance counselor, accountant or financial planner to come up with a last-minute plan to save the day.

Do you ever wonder how seemingly well-off families still manage to get financial aid?

You might, and you should.

Because you’d be amazed to learn how two families, with substantially similar income, savings, and children — ages, grades, test scores — who apply to the same colleges — will receive dramatically different financial aid offers.

The Wall Street Journal put it best: It’s not how much you’ve saved, it’s WHERE you’ve saved it.

Based on what parents tell me, I would not be surprised if you were lying awake at 2:00 am tonight, wondering “How is this possible? How can identical families fare so differently? How can I make sure I get all the financial aid I deserve — and need?”

I will not be available at 2:00 am, but I can help you answer that question now.

Here’s the secret — families who plan, succeed.

But if you just sit by, thinking, “What’s the use, financial aid is not for people like me,” and let things happen to you, you’re unnecessarily hurting yourself in the wallet — and you’re affecting your child’s future.

You’ll overlook key “loopholes” in the financial aid formulas that may save you thousands. Or tens of thousands.

You’ll ignore proven and tested advice on how to apply to colleges STRATEGICALLY, instead of haphazardly or based on which schools have cool football uniforms.

Look, even if your neighbor’s cousin’s sister-in-law (you know, the one whose kid went to Princeton) told you “We got nothing!” that doesn’t mean that YOU will fare as poorly, right?

Here are some facts you should know. The average discount at private colleges is 45%. AVERAGE.

Who gets most financial aid? Families in the top quartile of income. In other words, six-figure earners. (At U Penn, for example, 93% of families making $190,000 get aid… 67% of families who make $220,000 get assistance.)

Most colleges that award merit scholarships want you to fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms.

Warmest Wishes,
Ian “The Professor” Welham
Certified College Funding Advisor


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Ian R. Welham, Certified College Planning Advisor  -  Tel: 973.467.0101