Sunday, October 7, 2018

Ten Tips on Getting Great College Scholarships

Each year on October 1st, the FAFSA website opens for applications for the following school year. Those letters stand for Federal Application for Student Aid.  So, if you currently have a senior in high school, you should  be filing out this application right now!   

I will say a heartfelt Ughhhh… to this lengthy and confusing application.  But, after a pot of strong coffee, at least two hours of your time, and a nearly continuous round of sighing, you emerge with a pretty good idea of how much of a PELL Grant your student can expect to receive for their next year of college.  PELL grants are government grants for higher education, which do not need to be repaid.  They are based on your income and savings, and your student's income and savings.  Your student's savings are more heavily weighted than yours. 

While, it's great to get money from the government to help with college, I gotta be honest and tell you that this money isn't going to pay all the bills associated with higher education.  

College Without Debt

Living under the median is scary when it comes to wanting our children to achieve at least a four year post-high school degree.  Let's face it, we all want our children to do better than we did.  We don't want to see them struggle, like we are.  Often, just putting food on the table, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their back are life's top priorities.  College seems like a pipe-dream, reserved for the wealthy.  The only alternative appears to be burdening ourselves or our students with massive amounts of student loans.   

I am here today to tell you that college without debt IS a possibility for your children and your family!  My oldest son has won over $40,000 in scholarships and is on track to graduate with no student debt.   We will have contributed just $1000 a year to his higher education.  Today, I'd like to share with you ten things that he did to apply for and win scholarships.  

1.  ACT or SAT

Top scores on the ACT or SAT are important. Just 1 or 2 points can make a difference of several thousand dollars of scholarships. My son took the ACT twice in order to get the score that he wanted. It is not a terribly expensive test to re-take. 

Check with the colleges that your student is interested in attending.  Many scholarships from universities are tied to ACT or SAT scores.  Each school should have a list of amounts and the minimum ACT or SAT score needed to be considered for each scholarship. 

 ACT/SAT Prep Classes:  If your local high school or college offers an SAT/ACT prep class, take it! They give you tips on how to take the test and sample exams. This class will cost you under $100 at a local community college.

2.  A Well-Rounded Student

Scholarship committees are looking for more than good grades. They want well-rounded students, who have perhaps balanced a part-time job with academics and been involved in community activities.

3.  Show your student’s passion

Show the committee your child's passions in tangible ways. My son has always loved history and cares about preserving artifacts for future generations. But, straight A's in history mean more when you put your time into it! My son sought out and was offered a 1 year internship with our local historical society when he was 15. They trained him on cataloguing artifacts and using their on-line data base. He was also a re-enactor for local historical events. Both of these activities told the scholarship committee something about his character and love of history.

4.  Community Positions

Involvement in leadership positions. Do they lead a Bible study for young people, volunteer for Girl Scouts or 4H? List anything that shows your teen has sought out opportunities to impact the lives of others in a positive direction. Scholarship committees also like to see students who have invested their efforts over a period of time.  

The "why" is sometimes as important as the "what".  So, if your student tutored low-income students for four years because he or she saw the impact of poverty on how those students performed in school and desperately wanted to make a difference in their lives, THAT'S what you want the scholarship committee to know! 

Before you ever begin filling out scholarship applications, have your student practice summing up their involvement in as few words as possible, without leaving out any details.  Dialogue with them about adjectives and "feeling" words, which will convey their heart and their motivations, without taking up extra space.  Believe me, most applications give you very little word count to tell the committee who you are.  You have to come up with ways to make your student stand out from the pack - using a few insightful and impactful words!  

5.  Finding Scholarship opportunities.

Sign up with on-line scholarship services. Fastweb is legit - others are not. WATCH OUT for scams! There are a million of them out there! Before you sign up, Google them for reviews. Set up a separate e-mail address for these services to send information to. Be sure that both you and your teen have the password if you will be helping in the search. We did something on Google like: jamescollege2014 or something like that. Otherwise, your in-box will be inundated with offers and information from colleges.

Check with your high school guidance office. They should have lists of scholarship purveyors and also local scholarships.

Talk to friends, neighbors, work associates, and fellow parishioners.  Sometimes great scholarships are found by word-of-mouth.

6.  Even Small Amounts Add Up

Don't let small amounts freak you out. It will most likely take a combination of smaller scholarships to put your teen through school. If they qualify for a scholarship, they should fill out the application. 

7.  Exceptional Writing Skills

Be sure your teen has exceptional writing skills! If they need help in this area it is totally worth the cost to hire a tutor for a few lessons or enrolling them in a local community college for English 110. Competition for scholarships is fierce and every single word choice counts. No entry should be submitted until it has been double and triple checked for accuracy and proper syntax. Have them read it out loud to you. They will find errors and awkward phrasing more easily than reading it silently. 

8.  Read Applications Carefully

 Before they submit their scholarship application, they need to CAREFULLY check to be certain they have included every single item that is requested. If answers are even one word more than the allowable limit, they will be denied entry into the competition. If even one item is missing from the scholarship packet, same thing.  Watch those deadlines!  If your student's application arrives even one day late, they are going to put that entry into the circular file and it will not be considered!  

9.  Get recommendations! 

A lot of scholarships ask for 2 or 3 recommendations.  Have your student think about friends, mentors, and instructors who would be willing to give them a personal recommendation.  Most of the time that person will need to log onto a server and submit that recommendation themselves.  But, sometimes the student can simply include the recommendations with his or her application.  Have three people write and sign an undated recommendation and then e-mail it to your student as a PDF attachment . Your student can make a copy of these recommendations and include them with scholarship applications.  My son always sent a text or e-mail to these friends and colleagues whenever he used them for a new scholarship application.  That way, if the scholarship committee contacted them, they would not be surprised or taken off guard.

10.  Keep it organized!

Have your student keep a spreadsheet of scholarships they are interested in applying for with columns for deadline, name of scholarship, items to include in the application, and a column to check off when they are finished with each element. 

Keep a hard-copy! Print off the spreadsheet, all applications, transcripts, and professional and personal recommendations.  You can make notations in red pen on the hard copy to keep track of any additional thoughts.  If your computer crashes, you don't want all your hard work to be lost!   

BONUS TIP:  Community College

 Consider starting out at community college. They are a quarter of the cost of a traditional 4 year college and, just like their counterparts, offer fantastic scholarships.   

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