As college went back in session this fall, a story by Chris Taylor of Reuters news service bemoaned a sobering statistic. There appears to be a scholarship shortage developing in America. Long hailed as the last free money source for college education, the number and amount of merit-based scholarships awarded seems to be on the decline. If this is true, and the trend continues, this spells troubles for prospective college students and their families. But let’s take a look at the report, and the data, and see what this really means.
Taylor cited statistics from the report titled “How America Pays For College 2012″ commissioned by Sallie Mae. From Taylor’s article, he states “The percentage of students reporting winning scholarships dropped markedly, to 35 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, from 45 percent the year before…” In the report on page 18, one could interpret this because the table shows that from 2011 to 2012 the use of scholarships dropped from 45% to 35%. That’s a subtle difference in wording – Taylor states it in terms of those winning scholarships but the report states it as those using scholarships.
One might argue that they are the same. After all, if someone wins a scholarship, why wouldn’t they use it? I can think of a couple of reasons. First, what if the student was awarded multiple scholarships from competing schools? They can only choose one, so those other scholarships go unused although they were won. Another reason might be that the total scholarship award isn’t enough to compel a student to go to college, so they don’t enroll anywhere. Finally, other programs, such as employer reimbursement or GI Bill benefits, may reduce or eliminate the need or eligibility for scholarship money.
Taylor goes on in his report to point out some meaty data that reflects the declining availability from state and government-based scholarships. Some programs have been reduced or cut altogether. For example, several states like Georgia and Florida are tightening the rules on their lottery-based scholarship programs. And Michigan has eliminated a program altogether that provided up to $4,000 per year to qualifying students. States can simply no longer afford to fund these programs as they face looming budgetary issues. But nothing in the report indicates that colleges are reducing their scholarship awards or changing the criteria to earn those scholarships.
In light of this information, how should parents and students respond? In short, I don’t think any of my advice changes. Here are my best tips to maximize your child’s scholarship chances, taken from the posts:
- Start early. Waiting till the junior year is no time to begin thinking about scholarships. Preparation begins today.
- Know the deadline. All scholarships have a deadline for application. Miss it and you’re sure not to get that scholarship.
- Understand merit scholarships. In most cases, grade point average and entrance exam score are the only two criteria used. Aim to maximize both.
- Follow the application process. You’d hate to miss out on a scholarship due to a technicality.
- Look everywhere. The best summer job a student can have is to seek and apply for as many scholarships as possible.
- Score high. Improve your award with a great score on your entrance exam. If necessary, take it two or three times.
- Take charge. Don’t rely on guidance counselors, colleges, or anyone else to do your scholarship legwork.
One last bit of advice is to check out this information for yourself. This kind of article that Taylor writes, though well-intentioned, can scare parents and students into a doomsday scenario where the only solution they see is to get student loans. Don’t rely on me or any other source to interpret data for you. Find out the truth and make your own objective decisions. I think there are plenty of scholarship opportunities still available today. Not everyone will earn a scholarship, but taking the steps listed above will greatly improve your chances of success.