The average price of a state-run college is now $24,610 per year (collegedata.com), and since most students take over five years to graduate that’s a whopping $123,050 per diploma! Thankfully, tens of thousands of scholarships are available each year and many go unclaimed because students are unaware of their existence. However, the keys to success are being proactive in the search, careful in the application, and effective in the essay.
Talk to guidance counselors, financial aid officers, department heads, clubs, organizations, large corporations, civil service groups, government offices, military branches, banks, businesses, and online sources.
In other words, ask everyone you know or meet if they provide college scholarships. When researching private awards, begin with family associations such as places of employment and business connections (include grandparents). Next use the free search engines on these websites: fastweb.com, scholarships.com, chegg.com, and cappex.com.
To be more successful, students should apply for scholarships that require them to prove their merit. As I said in October’s issue of Montgomery Parents, follow directions explicitly, fill out all areas completely, proofread carefully, choose your recommender wisely, and meet the deadlines. I cannot stress these points enough.
Focus on applying for small, local scholarships; they add up and being successful is more likely. Ask the person who writes your letter of recommendation to address it to “whom it may concern” and provide several signed copies. In addition, students should create a separate email address so their mailbox isn’t flooded. Finally, continue applying for different scholarships throughout college since many of them are annual and the money can be used for books, travel, room and board, etc.
The most important component of a scholarship application is the essay. Students must respond fully to the prompt within the word limit. The majority of scholarships will require applicants to answer a personal question, solve a problem, explain why they are financially deserving, or clarify their choice of study in a particular field. Both private and institutional sponsors will ask questions such as:
- Why do you want to be a _______?
- Explain the importance of your major or interest.
- What sets you apart from others?
- Who has been your biggest influence?
- How have you contributed to your community?
- Why do you consider yourself to be a leader?
Before looking for scholarships, students should create a few stock essays they can adapt when applying. Consistent practice writing about the activities they love, why they love them, and how they improve their lives and the lives of others will not only advance their composition skills but also solidify in students’ minds goals they would like to achieve for themselves.
Many scholarship committees require interviews with the applicants, and students who present themselves well are the ones who earn the awards. First impressions are most important, so students should dress professionally, initiate handshakes, maintain good posture, sustain direct eye contact, and turn off their phones during interviews.
Consequently, students should practice their speaking skills publically. Parents can help by discussing with them possible opportunities to volunteer, teaching them how to approach potential groups, listening to practiced speeches, and simulating interviews.
Part of the interview process is demonstrating interest in the school or sponsoring organization, so students need to do some research beforehand. They should come prepared to not only answer questions, but also to ask them! However, avoid inquiring about information already addressed in the scholarship material.
Many organizations are seeking your personal information, which they can then sell to marketers. Never provide details to groups that you have not contacted! Do not pay to apply for scholarships either—reputable providers will not charge for applications, and no one can guarantee you an award. Also, avoid paying fees for someone else to search for you—no one knows your gifts and skills as well as you.
Applying for scholarships can be an overwhelming task, but the rewards are more than financial. The process can also develop a personal sense of responsibility and clarity of purpose in your children. Next month, I’ll focus on need-based aid and discuss the importance of the FAFSA.
Author’s bio: Lee Gonet is an avid learner, speaker, educator, and world traveler. She loves challenging teenagers to excel beyond what society considers possible by teaching young people to think deeply, learn intensely, and act purposefully outside the classroom box. For example, her daughter worked abroad by 16 and her son earned his Engineering Master’s by 20. Dreams do come true.