All parents know their children are special, but a large number may incorrectly assume that their smart and talented offspring will win scholarships for college.

AllianceBernstein Investments (NYSE:AB), an asset management firm in New York, released a pair of surveys Monday comparing the attitudes of parents who have children they plan to send to college with the views of college financial aid administrators.

Nearly three-quarters of parents surveyed said they think their children are "special or unique" enough to win a scholarship. About 87% assume that their children will receive scholarships or grants to defray the cost of college.

Compare that optimistic outlook with the views of college financial aid administrators, 92% of whom say parents overestimate the amount of scholarship and grant money their children will receive. About two-thirds said there is less scholarship and grant money available to the average family today.

Many financial aid administrators said parents have a false sense of security that their child's chosen college will help them pay the costs of their child's education.

How to realistically get your child to college
Maybe Johnny will win that full-tuition football scholarship to his dream university, but parents should remember that Johnny's competing with millions of other talented students for a limited pool of scholarships.

These surveys show that parents need more than optimism. They need a strategy to make sure they can pay Johnny's college costs just in case the college scholarship board doesn't recognize his "special or unique" talents.

Uncle Sam might not be quite as generous with the college grants these days, but luckily, the federal and state governments have given parents some college savings tools. With this handy-dandy chart, parents can start learning the personality quirks of different savings accounts and prepaid tuition plans.

Calculating Johnny's future college costs is enough to give any parent a minor heart attack, but don't let that paralyze you. Saving something, and starting early, can give Johnny a big head start and maybe prevent him from leaving college with both a diploma and debt.

For related Foolishness:

AllianceBernstein is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Take the newsletter for a 30-day free trial.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback.