From the moment your teenager entered high school, you have probably been thinking about college. Where will they go? Will they be ready? How do they prepare? But what most parents really want to know is how they’ll pay for it.
No matter how much you tried to save money before this moment came, you’re faced with a huge challenge — paying thousands of dollars for a single year of education. The average annual tuition fees at a prestigious private college in the USA are $35,000 and state institutions charge around $25,000 per year.
Every parent wants to avoid borrowing from their retirement to pay for college, and the thought of saddling their student with student loan debt is not comforting. That’s why the idea of a college scholarship sounds incredibly appealing. The only problem is college scholarship opportunities won’t just fall in your lap.
To find scholarships, your student will have to commit to searching and applying. Adding a scholarship search strategy to your student’s college prep is crucial if you want them to win enough scholarships to pay for college.
Starting early and knowing where to begin is crucial for finding that free money.
What Types of Scholarships Are Available?
Contrary to what you may have heard, there are many scholarships available for every type of student. Even if your student doesn’t excel academically or fall into the top ten percent of their class doesn’t mean scholarships are out of reach. It’s worth noting that, according to a 2015 study by NerdWallet, students left 2.9 billion dollars of unclaimed college money on the table.
With a little work and commitment, your student can secure a “piece of the college scholarship pie”.
Below are the different types of aid your student can receive.
Grants are often based on financial need, and although the federal and state governments also offer grants, colleges will often offer grants to students in need.
Merit scholarships are awarded based on factors including good grades, test scores, a stellar volunteer record and essay. You can find out how much merit aid a college typically awards by searching each college’s website.
Or to make searching for merit scholarships much easier you can use our College Insights tool. The tool lets you input criteria about your student (grades, test scores, location preference, school size) and it automatically generates a list of schools likely to offer your student merit scholarships, along with the details of each scholarship (amount, due deadlines, application requirements).
These scholarships are offered by private companies and organizations and fall into many categories. The awards range from $500 to hundreds of thousands of dollars based on the individual scholarship and its requirements.
Full-ride scholarships are usually offered to the students at the top of the admissions list. The bar is set high, but if your student is one of them, they could score a scholarship that pays all their college expenses.
How do they get to the top of the applicant pool? Apply to colleges where their SAT scores and GPA are higher than other students. Check out this list of full-ride scholarships available at which schools. This list will help you find those schools.
These scholarships are automatic based on criteria including SAT score, class rank, and others. For instance, many colleges offer an automatic full-ride scholarship to National Merit finalists.
If your student is a National Merit finalist, they would be offered a full-ride scholarship and more. Here’s a list of colleges that offer scholarships to National Merit finalists.
No Essay or Easy Scholarships
Believe it or not, there are easy scholarships that don’t require essays. These range from short answers to a question to a tweet, or ask students to create videos or share their photography. They might even only have to tell a great joke!
Your student can easily find these by doing a “no essay scholarship” search on Google.
The Raise.me micro-scholarship program gives student incentives to perform well in school. The money comes from the participating colleges and is awarded upon admission.
Just note that the micro-scholarship money earned is NOT in addition to merit scholarships colleges might award. In most cases micro-scholarship money is the same as money awarded through merit scholarships.
Be aware that sites like Raise.me (and many college search sites) collect student data to use to help colleges market to students. In this case, the data collected by Raise.me is collected much earlier when students are in 9th and 10th grade.
If this is of concern to you, an alternative way to use Raise.me is to search the site for information but only submit student information prior to your student submitting their college applications.
How Does Your Student Search for a College Scholarship?
With scholarships, it’s important to know where to look. As a parent, you can keep your eyes and ears open for any scholarship opportunities. These opportunities may often appear in places you frequent daily: fast food restaurants, coffee shops, chain stores and more. In addition to these, there are six areas your student can search:
Always begin with local scholarship searches. Watch the news. Look on local high school websites. Get a list of organizations that provide scholarships at the library or from your school counselor. Find a list of local companies and inquire about scholarship opportunities they provide.
These scholarships usually have few applicants and often go unclaimed. This increases your student’s chances of winning.
[Check out our guide to finding local scholarships.]
Since your teen is probably on social media 99% of the time, it’s one of the easiest places to search for scholarships. Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter provide students with a wealth of scholarship information by performing a simple search.
Don’t forget about college prep blogs like this one, Monica Matthews’s How to Win Scholarships, Jessica Velasco’s monthly scholarship list and our list of scholarships with monthly deadlines
Ask Friends and Family
Never discount the help of friends and family, especially those with students who have already graduated and won scholarships. Ask your companies if they provide scholarships for family members.
Ask friends who are members of local organizations like Kiwanis and Elks if there are scholarships available.
Scholarship Search Engines
Scholarship search engines abound. Our scholarship search toolkit and sites like FastWeb and Cappex can help. But it’s best for you to find one you like and stick with it. Otherwise, you and your student will become inundated with emails, and sorting through all the options to find the best ones can be overwhelming.
Your student’s school counselor should have information on scholarships available for your student. Check often and ask about any new ones that might become available.
Areas of Specific Interest
Look for scholarships that are the best fit. Is your student interested in making videos and film? A budding scientist? A tech whiz? Are they fans of Star Trek or The Walking Dead?
These are just a few of the areas that students can use when doing a scholarship search.
What Does the Scholarship Application Process Involve?
Since there will be multiple applicants for each scholarship, your student’s goal is to stand out. With most applications completed online, it’s imperative to follow all instructions before submitting.
According to Monica Matthews, author of How to Win College Scholarships, students should follow these guidelines when applying for scholarships:
Maximize Essay Word Count
Students should write a quality essay without going over the word limit. They should also include personal details and completely answer the question or prompt.
Create a Personal Website
And insert the link!
Students can build a simple website for free featuring grades, academic achievements, community service involvement, and more. On the online application, the link to the website can be shared so scholarship judges can learn additional information about your student.
Print and Review
Before submitting, your student should print and review their essay. This allows them to ask others to proofread and check for errors. You can also save this hard copy in a file for future reference.
Review the Scholarship Requirements
Before submitting, your student should go over each item required for the application and make sure they are completed and submitted correctly. Missing additional documents or omitted items mean the application will not be considered.
Submit Before the Due Date
Websites have been known to crash or get overloaded, causing many applications to get lost or remain unsubmitted. Submit at least two weeks before the published due date.
How Can My Student Win More Scholarships?
Scholarships, unfortunately, do not come with a guarantee. No matter how hard the student tries to meet all requirements and write the perfect essay, they might get rejected. If that happens, don’t be disappointed. Keep trying and look for other opportunities.
However, if your student still isn’t seeing positive results, they might be committing these errors:
Applying for the Wrong Scholarships
Many students apply to scholarships that simply aren’t a good fit for them. For instance, if they are applying for a scholarship that requires community service, and your student hasn’t performed any, they will not win that money.
Before they apply, read the criteria carefully.
Applying for Scholarships That Receive Thousands of Applicants
The big scholarships, those that offer amounts like $100,00, $20,000, and $10,000, have thousands of applicants. In fact, national scholarships receive so many applicants, the competition rivals that of admissions at an elite or well-known college.
If possible, apply to the lesser-known ones with fewer applicants. Although the awards may be smaller, many small awards add up to large totals.
Submitting an Incomplete Application
Or one that doesn’t stand out.
If their application is incomplete, or doesn’t make an impression on the judges, their odds of winning will be slim. If there’s an essay requirement, make sure to proofread it for grammar and spelling errors.
Use these tips to create a winning scholarship essay: 13 Tips to Bring Your Scholarship Essay to the Next Level. For tips on how to package a winning scholarship application, get How to Win College Scholarships–A Guide for Parents and Students in 10 Easy Steps.
Applying to the Wrong Colleges
Merit scholarships from colleges are based on academic achievement and your standing in the applicant pool. If your student applies to a highly competitive college but has marginal test scores and an average GPA, odds are there are applicants with better qualifications.
The key is to apply to colleges that see them as a top applicant. These colleges will be happy to award scholarships to entice them to accept their admissions offer. Your student can research colleges on College Navigator and compare their information against the applicant statistics.
Top applicants earn top scholarships.
Giving Up Too Quickly
It’s simple. The more scholarships your student applies for, the better their chances of winning. The time they devote to searching and applying for scholarships will pay off if they leverage the odds. If they aren’t winning, keep applying using the right tactics.
Their efforts will pay off.
Applying for scholarships should be a part of every student’s college preparation, even if you can afford to pay. It’s free money, and the less you pay out of pocket the better. Not only that, your student will appreciate the cost of college more if they have some “skin in the game.”
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