NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – 17-year old Zach Williams studies his high school work diligently in pursuit of his dream.  “I’d like to go to the Air Force Academy, go into the military and be a pilot,” Williams said.

But Zach’s dad had been battling health issues.  “It virtually wiped our savings account just to pay for medical bills and survive,” said Don Williams, Zach’s father. “And there went Zach’s college money.”

The Williams attended a college planning seminar and found out they aren’t alone.  “A lot of parents in the audience were saying, ‘Oh no! I didn’t do that! I wish I had done that! Do you think i can go back and do it now?’,” said Stephanie Williams, Zach’s mother.

“In this economy, we’ve had families who did put money away for school but it all got wiped out,” said college planner Kevin Campbell of College Planning Authority.

The Williams turned to Campbell for help. Campbell has saved families more than $100,000 over a four year college plan by finding grants and financial assistance while minimizing costly college loans.

Campbell has three tips to maximize your college dollars:

First, apply to at least six schools.  “Keep in mind financial aid is used to entice a student to a school,” Campbell said.  “If you don’t have schools competing against one another you’re going to have next to nothing in scholarships,” said Don Williams.

Next, financial planning. The sooner the better.  “They and their parents need to start on this now,” Stephanie Williams said. “There are things you can do now that can help.”

And third: Standardized admission tests. Don’t just aim for the school’s minimum for acceptance and take them more than once.  “1800 may be the level to get in,” Campbell said. “But if you want scholarship money you need to be well above that. And thats one of the things students fail to realize. So, those standardized test scores are huge. They are some of the best money a student will ever earn.”

One other piece of advice Campbell offers: Apply to private schools.  He said private schools have far more money to offer in financial aid than universities, especially in the current sluggish economy.