Guess what my number one question was this month? Scholarships! Paying for college is no joke, even if you have savings in the bank. The average college student takes 5 years and 8 months to graduate from college these days. I don’t know about you, but I was only saving for four years—the money just doesn’t go as far.
Since I can’t magically fill your bank account, I’ve collected a bunch of resources that you can use to begin—or turbo-charge—your scholarship search. Remember that finding and applying for scholarships can begin long before winter of senior year and does not end at graduation. Yes, there are fewer scholarship opportunities for students in grades 9-11 and those past senior year, but the well is not dry. Keep searching!
The first thing your student should do is approach local businesses and organizations. Local scholarship are likely much less competitive than those on the major scholarship search sites, simply because not so many people know about them. Search for” [your town] + scholarship.” Be sure to check at both parents’ employers and any community organizations they may belong to. (Grandparents, too!) Of course, if you’re working, check out the opportunities at your own job or community group. BK Scholars and McDonalds/RHMC give out millions of dollars in scholarships each year, and in some cases, you don’t even have to work there to be eligible!
Reviews.com has gone through an extensive review process and ranked the 17 best scholarship search sites, as well as giving a very thorough overview of the scholarship process. The scholarship review at US News is less in depth, but adds some other great resources, including JLV College Consulting. Jessica Velasco at JLV was a classmate of mine in the UCLA College Counseling Certificate program; she’s fabulous. US News encourages checking with your high school counseling or student services office as they often get notification of local and national scholarship opportunities. Be sure to check the counseling offices at other local high schools, too!
Once you’ve used a scholarship site and found a number of scholarships you’re willing to apply for, be sure to read this two-part article from Georgia Tech about scholarship selection. Just like with colleges, there’s no point spending time to apply to a program that does not fit you. Author Chaffee Viets is discussing institutional scholarships specifically, but the selection process is the same for outside scholarships.
Finally, keep in mind that the majority of your scholarship money is going to come from the college where you eventually enroll. This is why choosing your college is so important. Here’s a terrific post from the Princeton Review, showing which schools’ merit scholarships have a bias toward a particular entrance exam: ACT or SAT. Very important information for you juniors who are just beginning to build your list!
For more information on the scholarship process, sign up for my free webinar “Paying for College: Grants and Scholarships.” I’ll be presenting live on February 21 at 6:30 Eastern/3:30 Pacific. One lucky viewer will get a fabulous door prize! Visit https://www.yourcollegeyourway.com/register.html to register.
Other ways to show you don’t care: submitting right at the deadline (or even late), accidentally naming the wrong school in your essay (i.e. telling Lehigh you’ve always wanted to go to Penn). It used to be that not listing the school first on your FAFSA signaled lesser interest but the FAFSA reporting form was recently changed so it no longer sends your complete list of schools to each school. Thank goodness.
Whether you decide to stay on the waitlist is up to you. If Penn is your first choice, I wouldn’t bother with the others. Even for students who are waitlisted at their first choice, I counsel them to find the best fit college that accepted them and move on. Sitting on the waitlist just drags out the process even longer (often through the summer) and very few students get off the list anyway. Here are some ideas for what you can do if you decide to stay on the waitlist.
There are five huge changes to college admissions for the Class of 2017.
1. Standardized testing--as you probably already know, the SAT has completely revised their test, not just the questions but the whole format. For example, students no longer lose 1/4 point for wrong answers (often call the guessing penalty). So guess away! The ACT has changed significantly in the last year as well, but they did it kind of undercover. You now will have a "paired passage" as one of the four reading passages, where you not only have to demonstrate comprehension, but also the ability to compare and contrast the passages and their perspectives. The ACT writing test has been completely revamped. Instead of a five-paragraph persuasive essay, students are now asked to evaluate three different perspectives on an issue, determine their own perspective on the issue and then write a persuasive essay comparing and contrasting all of them. It sounds more difficult, but actually the new essay is considerably more formulaic, so I think it's easier.
2. Test prep--Free or almost free test prep is now available for both the ACT (in partnership with Kaplan) and SAT (in partnership with Khan Academy) to anyone who is willing to put in the work. This is huge.
3. Applications--There's a new application on the scene: the Coalition App. This application complements the Common App and the Universal App. Most of the Coalition members will continue to accept the Common App and Universal App and, since this application is new, there are bound to be some bugs in it this year. Learn more about it at Coalition for Access & Affordability.
4. Common Application--The Common App has changed their policy to allow students not in their senior year of high school to begin working on their applications at any time. They used to purge all data on August 1. Now, if you've registered as something other than a graduating senior, your data will stay in your account. This is pretty great because it means that you can begin your applications before August 1, when you may have more time to work at it little-by-little.
5. Financial Aid--The federal government is changing their process for determining financial aid eligibility. For the Class of 2016, students had to apply to colleges in the fall, then wait until February or March for their parents to complete their prior year (2015) taxes before they could file the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Schools provide net price calculators to help applicants see how much they are likely to have to pay for each individual school, but filling them out is a tedious process. Now the government has moved to a prior-prior year standard. That means that the 2015 taxes can be used to determine federal student aid eligibility starting in October of 2016 for the 2017-2018 school year. This change effects all students who have to fill out the FAFSA, but benefits the Class of 2017 the most, because they will be the first class in history to know what their expected family contribution will be BEFORE they choose which schools to apply to. No more shooting for the moon and then finding out later that you can't afford it.
Keep your eyes and ears open as these changes are implemented over the summer. It's going to be a great application cycle!
This answer was originally published on Quora on May 7, 2016. Follow me on Quora for more great content!
It's financial aid time! As financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz points out: “Students who file the FAFSA in January, February or March receive more than twice as much grant funding, on average, as students who file the FAFSA later in the aid application cycle.” Thus it's important that you start planning to fill out the FAFSA asap. Unfortunately, the financial aid process is riddled with acronyms. This is an attempt to help you sort through them.
CSS PROFILE: The PROFILE is a service of the College Board and is used to college family financial information in addition to the FAFSA.
DRT: The Data Retrieval Tool, or DRT, is a web-based tool that allows you to retrieve your tax information from your current income tax statement, rather than working from hard copies of your tax return. The DRT comes online February 1 and is available to be used to file or correct your FAFSA about two weeks after you have filed your taxes. Watch the “IRS Data Retrieval Tool” video for more info.
EFC: The Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is a number you receive based on the information you reported on the FAFSA. This number is a score, not a dollar amount, although, like a dollar amount, the smaller the number the more aid you are likely to receive.
FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is available in hard-copy or in an interactive application on the web. It is free to file; don’t let anyone try to charge you to file FAFSA.
SAR: The SAR (“Sar”) is the Student Aid Report. You should receive your SAR a week or two after filing the FAFSA electronically. It will recap all the info you filed and will list your EFC, or expected family contribution.
See part 2 for definitions of various kinds of financial aid.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
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