OK, so you are looking for a way to minimize debt, get a great education, and forego the full time job while in school? Sounds pretty difficult with the ever-rising costs of tuition, an antiquated student loan system, and fierce competition. But there is good news – scholarships are not a thing of the past or a trite suggestion to be ignored. As I frequently tell my students, “There’s money under the rocks, you just have to turn enough of them over.”
Whether you are a high school college and career counselor, a financial aid advisor, a parent looking to help your child get through school, or a student, I have a couple of tips, tricks, and resources to help you flip over the rocks.
1. Time is money
I had a student come in the other day looking to get some information about his financial aid package. He and his mom wanted to know what his award looked like, how that compared to the estimated cost of attendance, and what else they should be asking. I proceeded to give them my standard scholarships spiel, in which I mention the ROI of scholarships – if you spend 10 hours applying to 30 scholarships and you have a 13% success rate, that means you may end up with about four of those scholarships. (Mind you, these need to be real and not sham offers to count as one of the 30.) Let’s say you make out with $1,700 from those four. That means that you’ve made at least $17 an hour for your efforts and you didn’t get yelled at or spilled on or called into work when it was inconvenient. Those odds are better than being a barista if we’re talking about ROI. Not to mention you get to put the one on your CV or resume as honors. Time is one of the most valuable assets you have, I suggest using it to flip rocks.
2. Look local
The absolute best place to look for scholarships is in your own backyard. Not literally maybe, but local businesses, community groups, and individuals often prefer to fund their own hometown heroes. Kiwanis, the Rotary Club, your local Target or Fred Meyer grocer, or even religious organizations are great places to start. The pool of applicants will likely be smaller, giving you significantly better odds of being selected.
3. Know thyself
People want to pay for other people to get an education; they usually have just a few stipulations for what kind of person they want to cover. Are you a non-traditional female coming back to school to finish your degree? You are a hot commodity! A person of color with an excellent GPA? You’re going to need a personal assistant to help you schedule all those interviews. Not sure what your strengths are? Do a little research by looking through some scholarship databases like Scholarships.com and Fastweb.com. You can create free profiles and they will help match you to scholarships they think you might qualify for. Just a pro tip: Never pay to apply for a scholarship.
4. Never give up
When you’re on application #30 and you still haven’t heard anything (except those two form letter rejections) it might be tempting to think you’re on a fool’s errand. But there are a few things to keep in mind at that point: 1) You’ve had lots of practice which can only be a help if it’s been quality practice; 2) Your odds keep getting better with every application you complete (if you’re being targeted in your approach); and 3) Victory is reserved for those who actually make it to the finish line. I tell students all the time that applying for scholarships is a part time job. I should know. I paid for my undergraduate degree with scholarships and working part time. I earned over $30,000 in scholarships over four years – and that was just for my undergrad degree. It can be done. Also keep in mind that paying for college is a marathon, not a sprint, and every dollar you earn or win that goes toward your tuition and fees is one less dollar you have to borrow and pay interest on.
5. Start early, apply often
If you or the student you’re reading this for is in high school, there’s no time like the present to start. Good grades and sustained involvement (and progressive leadership experience) in a few extracurricular activities are foundational to a good scholarship application for the high school student. That is not to say that students with a less than 3.0 GPA should hang up their hat and shuffle off to their plan B, C, or D school. There are lots of scholarships with major considerations for need, personal obstacles, and other criteria, but as much as is possible, the student should demonstrate initiative and a will to succeed. If you aren’t in high school, don’t despair – another key tip is to apply throughout the year. Many students make the mistake of assuming that all scholarship applications happen right before the school year begins or just in November when priority deadlines are coming up. While it is important to do your research to know when big opportunities are on the horizon, you should look for scholarships and apply all year round.
Hopefully these tips have given you a new perspective and renewed drive to go after the money that’s out there specifically to finance individuals’ educations. I hate seeing students saddled with debt that will take them years to repay after they graduate and scholarships are such a great way to reduce or eliminate that burden altogether.
Now it’s your turn – any other tips on how to help students find and win scholarships? What has worked for you or your student(s)?