Outside Scholarships 101: What I Learned Searching Scholarships for my High School Senior
by Kathy de Jong, Independent Educational Consultant
Your child has been accepted to colleges (what a relief!), and received financial aid packages. Perhaps, like many students and families, you’d like more financial help to make that dream college more affordable. I’ve helped my high school senior get a jump-start the scholarship process, and here’s what I’ve learned about outside scholarships (not merit or need-based aid offered by the college) and the search process. With this information, I hope you can evaluate the outside scholarship potential for your student/family.
- There is a scholarship for just about anything. Skill/Talent, Ethnicity, Disability/Illness, State, Hobby, Course of Study, Profession, Organization, Language, Grades/Test Scores, Physical Features, Financial Need, Heritage, Religion, Age, Gender, Sexual Orientation, etc. So, there is probably a scholarship out there for everyone.
- However, most scholarships require an applicant to meet multiple requirements. For instance, “Scholarship A” requires applicants to meet eight criteria. So even if you meet six of the criteria for that scholarship, if you don’t live in Idaho and have Samoan ethnicity, you’re out. Scholarship criteria can be that specific. If you don’t meet ALL of the requirements – this is probably not the place to spend your efforts because somebody else certainly will.
- Finding scholarships is hard work. Quite literally, it could take 30, 50, 100 hours or more – depending on how dedicated you are to the process and results. That’s the time just to do the search: partly because of the complexity of the criteria and partly because a good scholarship search will require many sites and resources. When parents ask me how they can assist a student in preparation for college, this is toward the top of the list.
- Scholarships are not just for high school seniors and rising college freshmen. Scholarships are available for students from grade school through graduate/professional study. If you are serious about receiving free money, think about it as a multi-year part-time job.
- Scholarship applications are equally time-consuming. While the scholarship search could be a parent’s part-time job, completing the application and required essays are equally time-consuming for the student. It’s not a 5 or 10-minute process. Some scholarship applications are as detailed as a college application with required elements such as essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, financial statements and interviews. It’s best to evaluate your chances of scholarship success and return on investment (time) before embarking on such scholarships.
- There may be limits to the value of outside scholarships. Colleges require that outside scholarships be reported. Generally speaking, scholarships can be used to replace loans and work-study, but after that, scholarship money may, in some cases, be used to reduce the institution’s need-based financial aid package, so any additional scholarship money may not help reduce the family’s financial burden. Also, any scholarship money that is applied toward anything other than tuition, books, supplies, and equipment required by the college will be counted as student taxable income for that year and affect the Estimated Family Contribution calculation in 2 years. It’s best to contact the college of choice to see how they apply outside scholarship money before committing a great deal of time to scholarship searches and applications.
- Not all outside scholarships are renewable. In fact, most are not. So if you think you’ve got the first year of college covered with the help of outside scholarships, be very careful to consider how you will go about paying for years 2-4. Remember that part of it being a multi-year part-time job?
- If it is a renewable scholarship, a student may have to meet requirements to keep it. Many scholarships require a student to take 12 credit hours of courses each semester (full-time status), keep a minimum GPA, and other requirements such as attend or participate in specific activities. Slacking is not an option when you accept renewable scholarships.
Outside scholarships can reduce college costs, but it is important to understand how a particular college will apply the scholarships, to what extent you will get a return on your (your student’s) time and energy investment, and what dedication will be required to find the needed assistance each year. Finally, make sure your child understands his/her commitments to the scholarship process before extending the family financially with the assumption that scholarships will make a college affordable.
In Part II of this scholarship series, I’ll cover how to go about the search for outside scholarships. In Part III, I’ll cover tips on how to be efficient with scholarship search and applications to increase your return on the time investment.
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