There’s something almost magical about hunting for scholarships. When you find scholarship listings and start adding up the numbers, it evokes the feeling of winning the lottery: $10,000 for writing an Isaac Newton essay or $2,500 for listing community service projects. It’s all very alluring, but don’t let the potential sums distract you from the realities of gaining scholarships. Playing the scholarship game requires a plan, a bit of self-knowledge, and a firm grasp of reality.
Scholarships represent a nice source of money for college. The best aspect of scholarships is they’re like grants; they don’t have to be repaid. Be aware, however, that some schools, especially the most selective, might deduct scholarship winnings from grants offered. Such possibilities make it essential to do a bit of investigation before you go on your scholarship hunt. Know the colleges you’re applying to and how they handle financial aid issues. Some of this might be gleaned from College Navigator’s financial aid section; some from the school’s website, but the real facts come by asking the admissions office directly or, better still, from a scholarship student in the previous year’s class.
Next, it’s a good idea to have a general understanding of what type of scholarships are available. There are school specific scholarships. Don’t hesitate to apply for these while you’re in the application stage; if you wait till after your application is sent in, you’ll be too late. Then there are slews of private scholarships from companies, private donors, and a rash of others, which reward students for everything from academics and leadership to heritage and hobbies, to having the last name of Brown. There are also scholarships awarded for essays and research. These are the broad range of scholarship categories most students consider. (Note, athletic scholarships are a category unto themselves requiring a separate column altogether.) This mish mash of potential sources of college scholarships immediately brings up the question of where and how can you find and obtain scholarships.
School specific scholarships that are merit-based can be found at a new website www.meritaid.com; naturally, it’s always a good idea to search for scholarships at the website of each school of interest. The criteria for school specific scholarships run the gamut from academic performance to talent. Your chances improve, in many cases, if you apply with a strong transcript and test scores. Additionally, when applying, find out if the scholarship is renewable annually.
Many scholarships are offered to help students achieve their goals. Consequently, you need to consider and review your own goals, take an inventory of your skills and accomplishments, and clearly consider your background. In particular think about your church, family, and even your physical characteristics (believe it or not, there are scholarships for everything from being a twin, to being taller than 6’1”).
The best place to start your scholarship search is in your high school counseling office (it usually is the first place scholarship notifications are received and posted.) Others include the employers of your parents, or relatives, churches, service organizations (such as the Chamber of Commerce or Kiwanis Club), and on-line sites. Probably the best known on-line sites are Fast Web (www.fastweb.com), Financial Aid (www.finaid.com), and College Scholarships (www.collegescholarships.org). Fast Web alone will supply you with a steady stream of prospective scholarship leads once you’re registered. Lastly, there is a cardinal rule in the pursuit and selection of scholarships: never pay a fee for applying.
The trick is to find a set of scholarships that have potential, pull together your resources (essays, personal references, transcripts), and make sure you present yourself appropriately (have a decent email address, and hide your Facebook and Myspace profiles from public view). For an impactful scholarship effort, applying for 20 or more scholarships is a good idea; after all, once you assemble all the necessary resources, you want to use them to greatest effect. Gaining scholarships is hard work, planning, and effort. A systematic approach, as with most things, brings the best prospects for success.