How to Increase Your Child's Odds of Winning a Scholarship
No doubt about it, college is expensive. And taking on large amounts of student loan debt can damper a student's (and parent's) finances for many years after graduation. Scholarships are a viable solution to helping foot the pricey bill of a degree, but many students and parents view scholarships like a mythical, magical solution that is unattainable.
While that's not necessarily true, it is difficult to score a good one. Popular scholarships are overwhelmed with thousands of applicants, while the unclaimed scholarships are so specific that only a handful of college students qualify.
While it is important to be realistic about the scholarship search before you begin. Rarely do students land a full-ride scholarship or get all of their expenses covered through scholarships. However, don't let this discourage you or your child from applying. Even a $1,000 to $5,000 scholarship can be highly beneficial towards school costs. Here are some tips on increasing your child's chances of winning a scholarship.
1. Get to Know the College Counselor
Your child's college counselor will be the best person to ask about scholarships. Many times local businesses will contact your college counselor directly and even ask them to select the student for them. A college counselor can be an important key to getting access to lesser known scholarships, but they will want students to be respectful of their time and efforts.
Similarly, the financial aid director at a community or junior college, or a university, can help connect you to aid after you have been accepted to the school.
2. Go Local
An Internet search of available scholarships will quickly show you thousands of scholarships available all over the world. However, every other student who is researching scholarships is going to have access to the same information. Many times local scholarships increase your chances of winning college money.
Make a list of all the services and companies your family uses. Ask each business if they have any available scholarships. Many credit unions, libraries, dentists, and even used car dealerships offer local scholarships because giving out scholarships can provide them a tax break and gain them media coverage.
Communities will also pull businesses together and collect scholarship money, so check with your City of Commerce office for details. For example, Culver City, California collected $144,000 from local businesses and awarded 142 students scholarships in June 2015.
3. Look Towards Employers
If your teen has a part-time position, have them inquire with the company about available scholarships. You might be surprised to find out that many companies offer their part-time employees college scholarships or college reimbursement. Fast food companies such as McDonald's, Chick-Fil-A, and Burger King are just a few places that have scholarships available for employees. Starbucks, Publix, and UPS all have college reimbursement programs in place for employees that have been with the company for a specific amount of time.
If your child is currently unemployed, securing a part-time job with a company that allows for tuition reimbursement can save them over $1,000 each year they work there and attend school.
4. Treat Scholarship Applications Like a Job
Applying for college scholarships is no easy feat. Students should treat it like a part-time job. Applications and essays should be filled out carefully and specifically adhering to each scholarship's requirements. Avoid recycling essays and answers for scholarships, since this can result in sloppy applications that do not win money. Instead, personalize the application as much as possible for each scholarship.
5. Don't Ignore Small Scholarships
Many applicants will steer clear of scholarships with small award amounts and only apply for scholarships that are $1,000 or more. The truth is that it doesn't matter how you get the money for college, as long as you get it. If a scholarship is only worth $100–$200, look at what is required. An application and short essay can easily be completed within an hour or two, and winning the scholarship would be equivalent to earning $50–$100 per hour.
6. Make a List Before You Start
Before you begin searching scholarships and filling out applications, sit down and brainstorm. Make a list of everything that might attract scholarship boards. Is your child a first-generation college student? Perhaps your student has lost a parent, volunteered, or has participated in interesting hobbies, such as bagpiping or 4-H.
A list will help you quickly fill out applications, and it will also help you search for more specific scholarships.
When I was a high school senior, I earned $1,500 in scholarships and $500 in tuition reimbursement. It definitely was not enough money to send me to any college or pay for all of the expenses, but it was helpful all the same. Even though I applied to several scholarships online, my scholarships came from a local used auto business and a donor through the community college. Both were secured with the help of my college counselor. My part-time position at Starbucks earned me a $500 in tuition reimbursement, and I would have earned even more if I had been more diligent with applying each year.
The money for college is out there; go get it.
Have you or your child ever won a college scholarship? Share your experience.
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