This story was originally published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC 101) group. It has been edited for clarity and flow.
I’m hoping that the information included here helps other families save money for, and on, a college education.
As a single mom and a teacher, we needed college to be affordable. I’m happy to say that my daughter will be heading to school this month with a great financial package.
A little about her high school years: she had high stats (34 ACT) but her GPA was lower (4.08 weighted) as a result of a major health crisis during freshman/sophomore year when she missed a lot of school. Of her nine AP classes, she scored all 4s and 5s, plus one 3.
A Bright Future
My daughter will be attending a liberal arts school out East (the best and largest Classics program in the nation). We’ll be paying around $8,000 a year for a school that charges $74,000 per year. No loans. So, when my daughter starts graduate school, she’ll have a healthy 529 (in her grandparents’ account). Yes, the biggest money she received was a combined merit and financial aid package of $53,000 per year. The scholarships and tips I share below helped to close that gap.
If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes, please move on.
How We Did It
When she was five years old, my daughter and I started participating in paid medical studies at a local university. Any money that we earned went into a savings account. Most of the money she received from her grandparents and great-grandparents went into this account as well. When the account hit $2,000, we opened a CD at the best rate we could find. Each time the CD matured, we rolled new money earned into a new CD. At some point, paid studies began issuing gift cards or prepaid cards. I put the money equivalent into that account and spent the gift cards. I also put any rebates into that account (every year that I order new contacts I receive a healthy rebate, for instance).
When she was entering sixth grade, my daughter decided that she wanted to help others. Only four months into starting her volunteer work, her elementary-school counselor nominated her for a Kohl’s Cares Scholarship. She won $1,000! (That was the last year Kohl’s gave away scholarships.)
Inspired, I began to do research into scholarships for elementary and middle school children. There are more than you might think. For kids who volunteer, I recommend:
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards (includes a paid trip as well as $1,000/up to $6,000), and The Carson Scholars Fund ($1,000–based on academics as well as volunteerism). There are others for more artistic kids (Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and The Doodle for Google Competition).
In addition, there are lots of local awards and prizes that kids who volunteer can receive…and there just aren’t that many kids who apply. So listen for them on the radio, and watch for them on Facebook. Some are monetary awards ($50-1,000) and most include press opportunities which are helpful when you’re trying to win other awards. For those of you unsure of the time involved to apply, most of these are not intense–they include short essays or videos, and often these local awards need an adult nominator, so the student isn’t writing dozens of essays.
All of the money earned from these scholarships went into her savings account and was eventually rolled into a CD.
Tips: Applying for Scholarships
Three years ago I purchased The Ultimate Scholarship Book. It has lots of good information. I did my part by organizing scholarships according to the month they were due.
One year ago I rechecked the due dates at least two months ahead of each.
One month ahead of each of those, I gave my daughter the list of scholarships with approaching due dates. There were a few that she did not apply for (time constraints, or lack of interest), but she did apply for most. Once she had a few good essays written she reused them, tweaking them appropriately for each scholarship.
In total, she applied for around a dozen national scholarships, and maybe eight or ten local. She actually had bigger money success with national scholarships. But YMMV. Unfortunately, many students don’t take the time to apply for national scholarships because they think too many other kids will apply.
Consider These Scholarships During 12th Grade
Here are some of the national scholarships that my daughter won:
Equitable Excellence: $25,000. This money can be paid out in whatever way you prefer over four years of college. They have LOTS of winners and the amount of the awards varies.
National Honor Society: $3,200. There are hundreds of awards ranging from $3,200 to $25,000.
Specifically for students with disabilities:
The Susanna and Lucy DeLaurentis Charitable Foundation Memorial Scholarships: $1,000, and Lime Connect: $1,000.
Specifically for students who’ve volunteered:
Invisalign Changemakers: This is a cash prize, rather than a scholarship, but $5,000 was deposited into her account, and we’re using it towards college expenses. It had less than 800 applicants with 100 winners (so the odds are good). Note: This award covers a big age range: 13-21 years old.
In the end, my daughter has earned $50,500 in private scholarships, with about $43,000 of that awarded over the past year.*
Anyway, I hope that this information helps at least one family looking for scholarships.
*According to Shannon “many scholarships were given directly to her [daughter], and are going toward books, laptop, etc. We were able to divide the money so for the next four years it will go toward her loans first with what was left reducing what we owe by a couple thousand. We spoke with the financial aid office twice to make sure we did all we could so it did not affect her aid. They were great to work with!”
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