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Parents, Plan Ahead for Scholarships

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Although most college scholarship applications are limited to incoming or current college students, you can help your younger student take several steps now to prepare for scholarship applications later.

Encourage a variety of experiences.

Scholarship committees often look for a range of activities, including extracurriculars, volunteerism and leadership, when selecting award recipients. An applicant with a variety of experiences will also qualify for more scholarships from more organizations. Help your student look for opportunities to become involved and take on leadership roles.

Discuss the financial realities.

Depending on your student's age, you may not need to get into specifics, but talk about the cost of college and how your family will pay for it to convey the importance of scholarship funds. Help your child understand the financial commitment of higher education and the dangers of taking on too much student loan debt. Also be clear about your role in assisting with college costs.

Weigh the benefits of harder classes.

A high GPA and class rank is beneficial, but many committees also consider the difficulty of high school classes. Achieving a B in a more advanced class may be better than an A in the easier alternative. Help your student plan out classes through the end of high school to ensure they are able to enroll in the classes they need to qualify for scholarships.

Set up a specific email account.

Before your student first sits down to take the PSAT, ACT or SAT or visits a college fair, help him or her set up a free email account specifically for the scholarship and college application process. Select a straightforward address, such as an initial and name combination, that can be provided to colleges and scholarship providers. As your student starts to receive communications, you and your child can set up an increasingly frequent schedule for checking mail at that address and dealing with a growing list of to-dos.

Conduct an initial scholarship search.

Try out a few free scholarship search sites, like Iowa College Access Network's scholarship database, and see how your student's current and future qualifications line up with scholarship criteria. If there are some particularly appealing opportunities, investigate what you and your student can do between now and senior year to improve the chances of earning those.

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