Learning about scholarships and conducting an effective search can be a challenging exercise. With all of the information on the Internet and in those massive scholarship books, it is easy to be overwhelmed and not know where to start. Last time, I wrote part 1 of this two-part series with five scholarship secrets that every parent should know, and today I’ll wrap up with four more (and a bonus) that are just as important as the others.
Look Outward. Most of the discussion last time focused on the scholarships offered by your chosen college or university. Those are generally the best foundation on which to build your scholarship search. In addition, there are thousands of scholarships worth billions of dollars available for the taking. Some of these are very competitive, some have few applicants. As you begin your outward look, consider groups or social organizations that you or your child are involved in and your employer or your child’s employer first. Move on to affinity-based offerings linked to race, gender, your child’s major, where you live, a specific handicap or disability, military service, and others. There’s a lot of work to do in this phase of the search but there are a lot of scholarships to be had.
Don’t Overlook The Small Stuff. It’s easy to think that you’ll aim for the big scholarships, and those are certainly worth applying for. But, don’t limit your search to just those. A plethora of $250, $500, and $1,000 one-time scholarships are out there which can add up quickly. Go crazy in applying for these small awards. It’s the difference between hunting elephants and hunting rabbits. Elephants rarely come along, but rabbits are everywhere. While you can feast on an elephant, if you miss them you’re going to go hungry.
Take That Test Again. The entrance exam, either the ACT or SAT, is a critical component of the admissions and scholarship selection process. If the scores from the first round are not what you might have hoped for, you are not stuck with those results. You may retake the exam as many times as you choose to pay for, and your college will take your highest score into consideration. My recommendation is to take the exam three times, as outlined in my post titled Entrance Exams. To prepare, take some practice exams to understand the types of questions being asked and to get a feel for how much time is allotted to each section. Also, get some help. There are companies and tutors that will help you prepare for the exam, and if you can bump your score by a few points then you might get over that hurdle to receive a merit scholarship. That would be money well spent.
You Are Responsible For Your Results. Related to one of the earlier secrets, scholarships don’t just show up at your doorstep. Neither your child’s guidance counselor nor their high school teachers will be sending in scholarship applications for you. The search and application process is tedious and time consuming as most scholarships have different qualification criteria, application requirements, and deadlines. Waiting till the last minute to begin applying is the worst approach to the scholarship search as you’ll simply be overwhelmed. The best way to go about this is to begin early, plan out your process, and do some of the work each week.
BONUS SECRET – Scholarships Aren’t The Only Option. If your scholarship coffers come up short, don’t despair. College is still affordable without savings, scholarships, or student loans. While it takes some effort, your son or daughter can work and pay as they go. If there aren’t funds to start today, then take a year off, work, and save up money to start. Maybe the first two years can be spent at a local community college. Either way, lack of scholarships does not spell the end of your college career. I have a post on the reality of working your way through college, and Zac Bissonnette has an excellent book, Debt Free U, on this topic which you can pick up by clicking on my Amazon affiliate link above at no extra cost to you.
That’s it! Ten little secrets – lots to do but little to remember. Scholarships are there for the taking, and for parents and students who are intentional about the process using these steps the harvest can be plentiful.
Application Question – Are you and your child spending enough time on scholarship searches? Could you retake the entrance exam and improve your score? Have you begun to talk about a contingency plan? Share your thoughts below.