I am often asked to share some of the resources I've found and lessons learned while helping my daughters find scholarships for college. Here are my notes from the process I have used. I hope it is helpful to you.
It is important to begin this process with the understanding that finding enough scholarships to get your child through college is hard work. There is not one website to go to that will meet all of your needs. For me, it has become the equivalent of a part time job.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. My daughters, who were blessed to be able to graduate debt free, went to a small private college. The tuition was far greater than that of a state college or university. It was the only school we considered, and the only school to which they applied. It is the only college with which we have any experience.
Most of us do not think about looking for scholarships until our child's junior or senior year of high school. The process of successfully finding college scholarships is one that really needs to begin much earlier. In fact, the groundwork needs to be laid as young as possible. Here is what I have learned:
Good grades = money for college
High SAT Scores = money for college
Extra-curricular Activities = money for college
Good Writing Skills = money for college
Students are rewarded for a job well done. Colleges have substantial academic scholarships. The better the student's grades, the higher the reward. Many private scholarships are based upon academic achievement, as well. Keeping the GPA (grade point average) up and being part of the National Honor Society will move the student closer to financial assistance.
High SAT Scores
This goes hand-in-hand with good grades. Academic scholarships are often higher based on the GPA and SAT scores. There are some private scholarships that ask for these scores. There is a new SAT test out that is supposed to be more relevant to what the students are actually learning. If you have old study materials from an older child, you will want to replace those with the current study guides. It might be worth having your child attend an SAT prep class, meet with a tutor, or use the many on-line study guides.
Schools and companies that give private scholarships want to see that a student is well-rounded and contributing to society through volunteer work. They want to see participation in team or group activities, as well as leadership positions within those groups.
Good Writing Skills
Colleges and private scholarships require writing essays with the application. The more compelling the essay, the more likely the student will find success. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and the ability to use descriptive words are all a must. In fact, many scholarship applications warn the applicant to be careful about the quality of the essay. How are these skills developed? The first step is reading. Read to your child. Let them see you reading books. Read books as a family. Listen to audio books. Help them to love books – so much so, that when they enter a library or bookstore, they gasp at the possibilities that lie before them.
How to Begin
For each of my children, I set up a "college box". In the boxes I put everything I could think of to have on hand to get them into college and to work on scholarships to pay for it. Here is how I categorized each box:
I. Supporting Documents
In this section, I have folders for:
Correspondence with the college
Documents needed for the college (vaccinations for health office)
Copies of any awards the student has received
Transcripts (official and copies)
Official transcripts are in envelopes marked with school's seal
(These must remain sealed – do not open!)
Return address stickers for mailing scholarships (with student's name)
Documents showing community service
Resume – create a document that shows
Education to date
Skills (music, photography, foreign language, etc.)
Wallet-size photo (some scholarships ask for one)
II. Scholarships to Complete
This is where the student's support team (Mom?) reports for duty. I spend many hours a week searching for scholarships. When I find one that my child qualifies for, I create a folder, print out the requirements, and only give her the information about the essay she needs to write. When she returns the essay to me, I submit the application for her. I see this as a team effort. While I'm entering her contact data and uploading her essay, she can be working on those good grades and writing essays for the next scholarship. It helps us accomplish more in less time if we work together. I don't write the essays for my children, I simply do the secretarial work. Make sure you note the due date on the scholarship, and have it in well before that date.
III. Scholarships Completed and Waiting for a Response
This helps me keep track of which scholarships she has submitted.
IV. Scholarships Received
A folder of celebration! Some scholarships are renewable each year. Use this section to keep track of those. Often report cards, letters, or proof of continued enrollment are required to keep the scholarship coming each semester. Don't miss those deadlines!
V. Scholarships Declined
This helps me know where we should no longer focus our attention and move on.
VI. Letters of Recommendation
Find several adults who would be willing to write letters for your child. I used five people. Teachers, employers, pastors, volunteer coordinators, and coaches would all be perfect for this. Some scholarship applications require an original letter of recommendation, rather than a copy. I ask the letter writers to give me 15 copies of their letter. They seal it in an envelope and sign their name across the seal. If any applications require an original letter, I use one of these. If not, I send a copy.
VII. Envelopes/Post-It Notes/Pens/stamps
I like to have all of my supplies in one place. I have the average size business envelopes, as well as 9"x12" envelopes. Most scholarship applications are now on line, but one of the big ones that we actually won required about 15 pages to be mailed in. The large envelopes were perfect, and it really helped to have them on hand.
What Kind of Money is Available for College?
Student Loans – I recommend avoiding these, as it only saddles the student with debt after graduation
Scholarships – Awarded through applications and essays by schools and private organizations. These do not need to be paid back.
Grants – Awarded through the government, schools and private organizations. These do not need to be paid back.
Work Study – these are jobs offered through the school to students who qualify based on a certain financial level. They money earned working at these jobs goes directly to the school to cover tuition. Some jobs are on campus, some are at local companies.
Money your child can save through jobs, gifts, etc.
I strongly encourage your child working to help with school. An education that one works hard to attain is one that is most appreciated.
Where to Find the Scholarships
There is no simple answer to this question. Look everywhere. Here are some suggestions:
File FAFSA in January/February of your student's senior year. This is the federal database that all colleges use to determine a student's financial needs and government awards. In California, the state Cal Grant and the federal Pell Grant are awarded from the information you provide on this site.
See your high school counselor. They often have a list of scholarships available.
Meet with the financial aid department at the colleges you wish to attend. Beyond the academic scholarship, your child may qualify for a music or athletic scholarship, or a department scholarship (science, communications, etc.)
Do the parents' employers offer scholarships?
Is your child a:
disabled (or child of a disabled person)
child of someone serving in the military
child of a police officer or fire fighter
(These all have special scholarships)
Check with your Chamber of Commerce to see if they know what local organizations offer scholarships. Local VFW and American Legion chapters often have annual awards.
Check the websites of major corporations to see if they offer any.
I highly recommend the following books. They are inspiring, have good insight, give great suggestions on writing essays and submitting applications, and have lists of places to look for scholarships. When you purchase these books, you get access to the author's updated online information, as well:
How to Go to College Almost for Free by Ben Kaplan
The Scholarship Scouting Report by Ben Kaplan
These websites have a great many scholarships to research:
Follow rabbit trails. I have found they often lead to new sites and new ideas.
Companies and schools who offer scholarships may look at your child's online presence. What are they putting on social media? Are they presenting themselves as someone schools or companies want to invest in?
Do not pay to enter a scholarship. Legitimate scholarships do not ask for money.
Another way to reduce the cost of a college education is to reduce the number of classes one needs to take prior to entering the four year college or university. Locally, The Master's College and College of the Canyons offer courses for high school students that will also count as college units. Online courses will accomplish the same goal. You can contact those schools for more information.
Ultimately, I believe if a family works as a team, and the student is willing to work hard, a good college education is attainable.
Permission to share this information is granted as long as it is shared without charge with the following attribution:
Copyright 2016, Kathy Mack, All rights reserved