Paying for a college education is a daunting task for any family, and like finding the right college, finding the right scholarships requires time and effort. Parents can and should play an active role in helping their children secure these scholarships; students are often too busy to give the scholarship hunt the time it’s due without support. By following the five easy tips below, however, you’ll be a lot less likely to let the perfect scholarships slip by unnoticed.
- Start early and organize. Like applying to colleges, if you do your research early, you’ll find scholarships that your child will be competitive for. I advise students to research scholarships at least a year before applying. This way, students can get a head start on meeting the scholarship’s requirements or bolstering their credentials to be a competitive candidate.
- Use multiple resources to find scholarship information. There are $32 billion in scholarships available. With that in mind, the real question seems to be not whether one can secure a scholarship but whether one can find a suitable scholarship. While the internet is a helpful resource in tracking down scholarships (try fastweb.com or finaid.org), it isn’t the only resource. Ask colleagues, as well as members of philanthropic organizations, churches, and civic groups. Have your child let his guidance counselor know that he is excited about applying for scholarships. This way, when opportunities present themselves, these folks will share them with you.
- Encourage your child to apply. Unlike admissions decisions, where admissions officers are looking for students to meet certain academic and non-academic criteria, scholarship committee members are free to choose candidates whom they feel would benefit from the scholarship. So, even if you feel that your child might not be qualified, scholarship committees could potentially find something endearing in his application, essay, or interview that would make him a worthy recipient.
- Make it easy to apply. While most scholarships have deadlines at the beginning of each month, there are bound to be times when you will find a great scholarship with a deadline in just a few days. Don’t get discouraged! Instead, have the following ready to send at a moment’s notice:
- Official copies of your child’s transcript. Once your child has received his fall semester grades, have him ask his guidance counselor for at least ten copies of his high school transcript and keep them in sealed envelopes.
- Non-specific letters of recommendation from guidance counselor and teachers. Have your child ask his guidance counselor and one teacher to make ten copies of a non-specific letter of recommendation. They will usually need at least two weeks notice for this, so it’s important that your child let them know that he is applying for scholarships and may ask for these letters on short notice. Provide recommenders with self-addressed stamped envelopes so they can send these letters to organizations whenever needed.
- A strong personal statement that truly reflects you. As with college essays, students should have a template of a personal statement (not longer than a page) that reveals their unique traits. Once they have this foundation, they can easily tailor it to specific scholarship organizations.
- Commit one day a week to scholarships. Remember, a scholarship committee cannot award a scholarship if your child does not apply. Of course, it is overwhelming to complete 20 scholarship applications the day before they’re due. Like a marathon, applying for scholarships is something that takes sustained effort. I advise students to save themselves the stress of last minute applications by committing one day a week to research and apply for scholarships.
As adults, we can support our high school students through this long process simply by giving them a little push whenever they’re feeling discouraged. The effort will surely be worth it when they receive an envelope with a letter that reads, “Congratulations! The Scholarship Committee is happy to award you a scholarship!”