Is your family hustling through piles of private scholarship applications, hoping to put together some additional funding for college?
If so, you’re certainly not the only ones. Many families focus on private scholarships for high school seniors, hoping that they will win enough money to make a difference in the college budget.
Every dollar helps, but keep in mind that private scholarships are a small source of college funding. Most funding comes from the school itself. Here’s what you need to know about scholarships for your senior!
The Difference Between Need-Based and Merit-Based
Scholarships and other financial aid are broken into two basic categories. Need-based aid is for those who are financially struggling. Your need is either defined by the FAFSA or by the college itself.
On the other hand, merit-based aid is money that your child is able to get based on good grades, test scores, community service, and other achievements.
The first thing to determine as you approach college funding is whether you are going for need-based aid, merit-based aid, or both.
From there, you’ll have a better focus both for scholarships for high school seniors and for choosing a generous school.
Prestigious Schools Offer Need-Based Aid, Not Merit
If your student has high hopes of getting a major merit-based scholarship to a place like Harvard or Yale, it’s important to make sure they understand that those schools don’t offer merit-based aid.
These prestigious, highly-ranked colleges can be very generous with need-based aid. Keep in mind that they will probably determine your need on their own, using the CSS Profile and may take into account your home equity and other assets.
However, your student isn’t going to get scholarships due to high GPAs or test scores. The Ivy League doesn’t even have athletic scholarships. If a school has a low admission rate, they probably don’t offer merit scholarships.
If you’re likely to receive needs-based aid and your student is academically qualifed to apply to more selective colleges, make sure to check the list of schools that meed 100% of financial need.
Less Popular Scholarships for High School Seniors = More Success
If there’s a big name national scholarship for high school seniors that your teen is excited about, by all means, apply. But if you’re looking to maximize your student’s success, it’s best to focus on local scholarships and those that are less popular.
For instance, students often overlook scholarships that are less than $1,000, or ones that require art, poetry, or other creative submissions. It may take a bit more work to find these less-publicized awards, but your student will be more likely to win.
It Pays to Be Different
Colleges are the top source of college money. They give away this money in order to attract a wide range of students to their schools. Private scholarships are also often tightly focused. You have to fit into a specific niche that the scholarship is designed to help.
As a result, it’s very helpful to think about the ways your student can bring diversity to a school, and focus on scholarships that promote a specific interest, background, or talent that your teen has.
A student who wants to major in STEM-related subjects will have an easier time winning a scholarship to a college than someone focused on business or language. A female going into STEM will have additional opportunities.
Someone from North Dakota going to school in New York brings diversity. Someone who has a different ethnic or religious background also stands out. Musicians and artists are unique. So are those interested in social entrepreneurship or other niche programs.
Unfortunately, a student applying to the flagship in-state school nearby does not stand out and is less likely to win a scholarship from the school as a result.
Private Scholarships Can Reduce Other Aid
One of the most frustrating things about working so hard to win a variety of small private scholarships is that these awards can affect other need-based financial aid.
Most schools do not use private scholarships as part of your EFC. As a result, you can be expected to pay the same amount out-of-pocket that you would be if your student hadn’t won any scholarships. Make sure to check into the scholarship displacement policies for the schools your student is interested in.
Many schools consider private scholarships to reduce financial need. This can mean your need-based aid is lower. Schools are also required to lower the financial aid package so that the total awards don’t exceed the school’s cost of attendance by more than $300.
Generous Schools Are Your Best Bet
There’s nothing wrong with looking for private scholarships for high school seniors, but your best bet will always be finding schools that are generous with families in your situation.
Private schools are more generous with scholarships than public universities and colleges, and even though they have a higher “sticker price” you may find them more affordable than a local public school.
Interested in pinpointing the most generous schools? Take a look at our Merit Scholarship Toolkit today!
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