Guest author Kristina Ellis lost her father to cancer when she was seven years old. After his death, her family fell below poverty level and struggled through years of emotional and financial turmoil. On the first day of high school, Kristina’s mom informed her that she could not financially support her after graduation; she needed to find her own way to pay for college. As a student with decent grades and average test scores, Kristina realized that she was going to have to sell herself to scholarship committees if she wanted to stand out. That’s when she devised the plan that led to her receiving several of the most selective and prestigious scholarships and grants that paid for 100% of her education at a Top 20 university. Find out more at KristinaEllis.com.
“You have four years to figure out what you’re doing with your life, because you’re on your own financially after graduation.”
When my mom delivered that news on my first day of high school, I initially thought it was some sort of mean joke. But it wasn’t. She went on to explain that she was telling me this out of love and because she believed in me. As a single mother who was barely scraping by, my mom knew that spending an extra $50,000 per year for my brother and me to attend college was not an option.
I wasn’t a perfect student. I wasn’t the star athlete. But my mom lit a fire within me, inspiring me to work hard and figure out how I could pay for my own education. Because of her encouragement, I was able to win $500,000 in scholarships for college and graduate debt-free.
Winning scholarship money isn’t an impossible feat, even for average students. Over $3 billion in scholarship money is given away each year. With the right plan and strategy, you can help your son or daughter lay claim to enough of that cash to cover their schooling. But first, students need a roadmap, giving them a clear vision of the road ahead. To help your students develop their roadmap, start by asking the right questions:
What is your financial situation?
Many high schoolers assume their families will have the money to pay for a college education, when in reality, most students end up with far more financial obligation than they ever imagined. Help your student understand the realities he or she will face upon entering college. Be honest and open with him or her so that together you can build a custom plan for affording the dream.
What are their scholarship goals?
Look at the costs of a few colleges your student aspires to attend. Then discuss how much of the costs he or she would he responsible for. Help your student understand the long-term benefits of winning scholarships, such as being able to attend a college of choice, avoiding the debt of loans, and working fewer hours at a part-time job. Encourage your student to set scholarship goals that he or she will be motivated to achieve.
When will they apply for scholarships?
Lay out a timeline for your student to follow. More than 90% of college scholarship seekers don’t actively pursue scholarship success until their senior year of high school. Yet preparation before their senior year can make an enormous difference.
What are they going to do to stand out from other applicants?
My mom’s prompt my freshman year allowed me four years to build a resume that stood out from other scholarship applicants. Talk to your students about what they want their scholarship applications to communicate. Then strategize about their extracurricular participation so that they will enjoy what they’re doing even as they develop a resume that reflects their winning qualities.
Parents, you know your student better than anyone else, and you want him or her to succeed more than anyone else. I encourage you to sit down with your son or daughter and do what my mom did with me: have a real conversation about the future and how you can make college dreams a reality. Let your teenager know that you believe in his or her potential for success and you are there to offer support throughout the scholarship process. The extra encouragement your student gets from you can make all the difference on the road to winning scholarships. Together, you can make it happen!