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Scholarship Tips for Parents

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Many families find they need additional funds to pay for college. Especially if your family does not qualify for a lot of need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships can help fill the gap.

Most college scholarship applications are limited to incoming or current college students, but if your student is younger, you can still help with some early steps.

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 have an honest conversation about true current and estimated future costs for the types of colleges your student might consider and how much you can contribute. Help your child understand the financial commitment of higher education and the dangers of taking on too much student loan debt. Then, you can discuss ways your student can contribute financially, including through scholarships.

Weigh the benefits of harder classes.

A high GPA and class rank is beneficial, but many scholarship 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.

Search early and often.

Use free online search sites beginning as early as your student’s sophomore year to 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 application time to improve the chances of earning those. Your student should continue the search as he or she approaches senior year and throughout college because new opportunities arise at different stages.

Set up a specific email account.

Help your student set up a free email account specifically for the scholarship and college application process, ideally before sitting down to take the PSAT, ACT or SAT or visiting the first college fair. 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.

Work together to brainstorm scholarship sources.

Besides online scholarship searches, your family should consider additional sources of scholarships. Employers (yours, your student’s and those of other family members, as well as local employers), churches and nonprofit organizations, community and civic groups, local companies and high schools all may offer awards in varying amounts and for a variety of qualifications. Encourage your student to apply to both smaller and less selective scholarships as well as any more competitive awards he or she may qualify for. Don’t forget to investigate scholarships offered by the colleges and academic departments your child is considering; these are often the largest awards.

Set aside time to devote to scholarships.

As your student’s schedule becomes more hectic with college applications, classwork and other activities, he or she may struggle to find the time to devote to a quality application. Help your child by designating a specific time to search for scholarships and manage applications and essays. The schedule may change in frequency as your student nears deadlines.

Help with ideas, editing and proofreading.

Help your student come up with ideas for essay responses that fit the prompt while conveying what’s most important to your child. You may recall events or activities from earlier in high school that your student has now forgotten or considers unimportant. You can also provide a fresh eye to catch errors and other problems with essays and applications. Just remember that scholarship committees are used to reading student work and will recognize an overly involved parental hand.

Consider financial aid consequences.

If your student will be eligible for need-based aid, like grants or work-study, investigate how each college treats merit awards. Some colleges will offset need-based aid with any outside scholarships; others allow a student to “stack” awards to maximize aid. If this information is not readily available in the financial aid, costs or admissions pages of the college website, contact the admissions office directly for details.

Recognize the accomplishment.

If your child earns one or more large scholarships or many smaller ones, your family may be able to significantly reduce the amount spent on college. You may want to reward your student by matching a portion of the earnings. The match money could be designated for other expenses not covered by the awards or you may leave its disposal up to your student. Regardless of the final outcome, remember that your student has put at least some and possibly a great deal of time and effort into the scholarship process. Recognize that with sincere words, a tangible reward or other gesture.


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