It’s that time of year when colleges accept early applicants and issue out scholarships left and right. But for many parents, the process is confusing, and the paperwork can pile up.
Tameka L. Williamson, aka “The College Prep Boss,” prides herself in her work helping parents send their kids off to college for FREE!
The College For Free founder and best-selling author of Parents, Send Your Child to College for Free; Getting A Full Ride; and A Road to Success: The College Planning and Preparatory Guide, Williamson is shedding new light on how parents can aid their children through the grueling college application process.
With her sensible approach to tackling the college scholarship search process, Williamson is helping families find new forms of financial freedom and guiding academic hopefuls to all the free scholarship money available to them. Inspired by her own journey to college, Williamson combined her passion for helping others with her engineering skills to craft a guidebook that has helped students earn more than $75 million in scholarships.
“AS A FIRST-GENERATION STUDENT, I HAD TO FIND MY WAY TO COLLEGE,” WILLIAMSON TOLD BLACK ENTERPRISE. “THERE WERE SO MANY THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW. BUT MY MOM’S WISDOM TAUGHT ME TO PAVE THE WAY FOR OTHERS AND BE THE SOLUTION. SO, THAT’S WHAT I DID.”
“As an engineer, I was tasked with crafting and leading an outreach program developing youth for post-secondary success and professional development. Taking what I learned from experience and mentors, I was able to work with a team to create a guidebook. So, God paved the way, and here we are eight books later. Every book and program supports the mission of educating families on the college admissions game to do college without debt.”
Based in Atlanta, Williamson works hard to help students dodge the student loan debt crisis and attend college. It’s something that comes with understanding the “game” that has become the college application process.
“When colleges consider students for admissions and funding opportunities, they think about them in terms of R.I.S.K. Think of credit cards. Banks only issue credit cards if they trust you are a good RISK capable of paying the money back. Same with colleges, they are thinking of how likely the student they accept will stay, graduate, and become a good alum,” she explained.
The “game” is also why Williamson suggests parents get a head start on preparing kids for college and not putting it off until their junior year.
“SO, FAMILIES MUST LEARN THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT TO PLAY THE GAME TO WIN. THAT MEANS THEY MUST CREATE LOW-RISK PROFILES, STRONG BRANDS THAT ARE FUNDABLE, SEARCH FOR PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIPS CONSISTENTLY AND NOT WAIT UNTIL JUNIOR YEAR TO START PREPARING FOR COLLEGE.” WILLIAMSON SAID.
“Colleges and scholarship organizations want students who are more than grades and being honor roll students; they want students who are the total package and will yield a higher return on their investment.”
When it comes to how early a parent should start to prepare their child for college, Williamson suggests the 8th grade.
“Families approach the process by applying and getting admitted first and hoping the money follows,” she said. “That is backward, and it doesn’t work! Hope is not a strategy!”
“College admissions is a game you must learn how to play to win. Families must start the process early, consistently search for and apply to scholarships, curate funds annually that build the bank, and create affordable college options within budget.”
Challenges are always waiting around the corner—especially when making a life-altering decision like what college to attend. Williamson knows firsthand how procrastination, laziness, and even doubt can hinder a student’s college application process. That’s why she listed out some obstacles parents and students should look out for.
- Challenge #1: They expect high school counselors to do the heavy lifting. Counselors are already overwhelmed, especially during a pandemic. The average ratio of students to counselors across the country is about 350 to 1. That equates to an average of 30 mins per school year. Families must get in the trenches and put in the work to find the money for college.
- Challenge #2: Families don’t understand scholarship basics. You have need-based and merit-based funding. So, you may make too much money for a need base, but there are limitless opportunities with a merit base. These scholarships exist for everything, like hobbies, extracurricular activities, and interests. You just have to start early, as they are available as early as kindergarten, and apply consistently. Do not wait until junior and senior year of high school, Williamson says.
- The Biggest Challenge of them all is not negotiating and appealing financial aid packages. I coach my scholars on how to do this. For example, she said one of her scholars, Kayla, took her merit-based package from $680K to over $750K just by negotiating.
As families gear up for the holiday break, Williamson shares some of her college readiness tips for parents and students. After starting with her free college risk assessment on AmIAGoodRisk.com, parents can get an early idea of whether or not their student is a Good or Bad Risk.
Here are five tips Williamson suggests for college readiness.
- Invest in test prep classes. Although colleges are taking on the test-optional and test blind mantra, it’s not consistent across the board and has too many gray areas. So, in many cases, it remains a factor that higher test scores translate into more (ching-ching) scholarship money.
- Don’t wait until junior year to start preparing or planning. You want to start in 8th grade, at a minimum.
- Scrub, monitor, and manage your child’s social media accounts. Information that contradicts the college or scholarship organizations’ brand can limit their opportunities.
- Get away from the dream college trap. Having a dream college doesn’t mean the school is actually a dream fit for you. Williams teaches her scholars to look at total fit, more specifically financial fit when selecting colleges. School selection is instrumental in this process. Williamson says students should not pick a school that’s not that into them and won’t give them enough money to make it affordable. Getting admitted is one thing; getting it funded is a totally different beast.
- APPLY, APPLY, APPLY for third-party (private) scholarships! Yes, it is work, but it is necessary, she says. Depending on the college to cover 100% of the bill is a bad move that leads to student and parent debt. Start early, be consistent, and don’t give up, she affirms.