One of the biggest concerns I hear from students when applying to college is “How will I pay for school?” It was certainly what I thought about the most when I was in high school. It is an interesting dilemma because there is such a large pool of money that is reserved for scholarships, but a few questions remain: “When do I start applying?,” “How do I apply?,” “Where can I find scholarships?,” and “What if I don’t get enough money?” All of these questions are valid, and the answer I give my students is to first utilize the resources given to them.
“When do I start?” As soon as you can! There are plenty of organizations and competitions that provide scholarships to students well before senior year, such as science fairs, local organizations and businesses. Some schools can provide small funds for students with outstanding records. However, many students don’t begin the scholarship application process until their senior year, which is perfectly fine. As soon as senior year begins and you step out of summer vacation mode and back into school life, you can begin your scholarship search.
“Where can I find scholarships?” Almost anywhere! There are several scholarship databases available to students. At my school, the counseling team uses the summer to update an open Google Sheet with scholarships, their deadlines, and links to the applications. Along with this Google Sheet are links to a few popular scholarship databases that our seniors find are easy to use. Going Merry is a very popular scholarship website because it shows a visual marker of the scholarships a student has applied to and tracks the potential amount of money that could be awarded from completed applications. Along with this website, there are several links to the local scholarships that apply to our students specifically. Throughout the year, there is a lot of interest in these local scholarships. In preparation for completing those applications, I advise students to check out the requirements and prepare the necessary materials so that when the applications open, they only have to upload their completed materials and submit. There are also links to specific university scholarship pages, which account for most of the scholarships earned at my school. It is important that these scholarships are listed as they are often tied to a completed application for admission. I advise students to plan their application submissions accordingly so that they don’t miss the deadline that includes scholarships.
“How do I apply?” Before applying to every scholarship they see, I encourage my students to sort through the scholarships they are qualified for and keep a list or notebook of the names and general requirements of each scholarship. As I mentioned earlier, Going Merry helps with tracking completed scholarships but it also matches seniors with scholarships. It is also important to know the requirements of each scholarship, especially those with very specific needs, like volunteer hours, financial need situations, etc. For many scholarships, students will need to prepare an essay. The advice I give my students is to write a general essay and then tweak that essay to fit the prompts of other scholarships. A popular way to apply to many university-specific scholarships is simply to apply to the school. Many schools are using admission applications to consider students for scholarships, too. I think this is one of the best ways, because it takes some pressure off of students to complete numerous applications by a certain deadline.
“What if I don’t get enough money?” This is a tough question to answer because financial aid packages and scholarship decisions don’t necessarily come out at the same time, especially when private scholarship organizations are involved. In case a student doesn’t get their full tuition and fees paid through scholarships, I tell them to first wait on their financial aid from FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This could potentially lessen the amount due significantly. I also let them know that they can continue applying for scholarships. The opportunities don’t disappear just because you’ve enrolled in a school. We check private and university-specific scholarships that they are eligible for as current college students in advance so that once they have started their first year, thay have the opportunity to receive more money. The last resort is a loan. I stress to my students to make loans the final option for paying for college so that they can minimize the amount of money that will need to be paid back after graduation.
Addressing these concerns early on can mean the difference between going into debt or attending college for as close to free as possible. The latter is the goal and the first step in that direction is to ask for help. Once you have a full arsenal of scholarship resources from a college adviser and set a sustainable pace for completing scholarships, it becomes easier and the potential for reward skyrockets.
Adviser Perspective written by Abraham Howell