Your Guide to College Scholarships
Of all the methods students can use in order to pay for college, scholarships are the most attractive. With a scholarship, students have a set amount of money to use for school, and they’re never required to pay that money back. It’s a gift, and for some students, it can mean the difference between taking out a huge loan for school and emerging from school with no debt at all.
While scholarships should certainly play a role in any student’s school planning, the competition for these pools of money can be fierce, and receiving a scholarship is far from guaranteed. The information provided here may help students understand their choices just a little better, and perhaps make better choices as a result.
A Tight Market
While most, if not all, students should plan to apply for scholarships, few might be awarded these funds, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).
Common Scholarship Providers
Lynn O’Shaughnessy, consulting director of college planning, K-12 at the University of California, San Diego Extension, suggests that private scholarships from small businesses and local charitable organizations aren’t the primary sources for most scholarships. Instead, she suggests that most awards come from larger, more conventional sources, like federal and state governments as well as the colleges themselves.
Even so, it’s advisable for all students to search for, review, and consider every last scholarship opportunity that might be available to them. Some lucky student is bound to be a recipient of each scholarship, and there’s no sense in ignoring a potential source of free funds. A good local search might involve these steps:
Visit the high school counselor’s office
Ask parents to talk to their employers
Visit websites of state or local agencies
Contact local businesses and charitable organizations
Common Scholarship Amounts
While some students believe that a scholarship should help them cover the entire amount of their college education, the amount they’re provided in a typical scholarship could leave them with a significant funding gap. Some scholarships may provide a full ride for the recipient student, but most scholarships are only awarded once, and range in amount from $100 to $10,000. Other scholarships may be distributed periodically to help meet living costs and may require verification of school-related expenses, like receipts for books or proof of rent.
This chart cheats a bit, as the tuition amounts come from 2013, while the scholarship amounts come from 2010. However, evidence suggests that scholarship amounts are growing smaller, not larger, with each year. For example, the NCAA Division I board decided to amend scholarship rates in 2011, making their awards much less generous and much harder to get. It’s a trend other institutions are following as well. The Bright Futures Scholarship in Florida, for example, underwent rule changes in 2013, and experts interviewed by local news suggested that the number of eligible students would be cut by half. It’s a serious problem, and it might make charts like this even grimmer in the future.
Making It Work
If scholarships are growing smaller, and school is becoming more expensive, it’s reasonable to expect that the competition for available funds would be fierce. By following a few simple steps, however, students can stand out from the crowd and get the funds they need for school.
- Researching the institution in advance: Understanding what sorts of values the institution promotes, and what kinds of people tend to affiliate with that organization, can allow applicants to develop targeted, tailored, effective responses to scholarship application questions.
- Poring over the instructions carefully: Skipping a detail or two could mean losing out on valuable funds.
- Find any similarities among the applications: Many may have personal statements and ask the same questions. Save time by identifying which responses can be used in more than one application.
- Taking time with each application: Rushing through questions and dashing off answers is the best way to make big mistakes. Confirm that word counts fall in the acceptable range, and that responses address all aspects of the questions.
- Asking for a second opinion: A second reader might spot spelling errors or thought loops the writer finds invisible.
All of these steps can seem tedious, but they have a huge impact on the perception of the reviewer, as demonstrated by this study in The Journal of General Psychology. The number of spelling errors that a reader identifies directly relates to their reduced perception of the ability of the writer.
Skipping the small stuff can mean seeming uninterested or just unworthy, so it pays to be careful and ask for help when needed.
Just because scholarships are hard to get, and the amounts that students receive might seem paltry compared to the amount needed for school, doesn’t mean that students won’t be able to afford school. In fact, those students who don’t get scholarships have plenty of other options to explore, including federal loans, private loans, and work-study.
If a student really wants to go to school, there’s a way to make it happen, whether or not scholarships are part of the mix.