by Nancy Shonamon
In my line of work as a private school educator, obtaining scholarships for students to go to college is at the forefront of a parent’s mind. After paying thousands of dollars for a private education, the question always lingers, “how do I pay for college?” However, you don’t have to be a parent of a private school student to have this same question frequent your thoughts as well. With the costs of higher education escalating at a rapid rate, successfully navigating the waters of college scholarships becomes even more critical. Listed below are key ideas to keep in mind as you venture into the world of scholarships.
IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START
Just like you would plan your budget to accommodate buying a car or a house, planning for college expenses needs to begin early. Not everyone has a wealthy relative that is willing to step up and pay the college bill for a student. Making a plan may involve opening a bank account when a child is young. It may involve setting aside money monthly into a college fund. Maybe selling a property or downsizing your home. The important thing to remember is to start today. Once you begin searching, it is surprising to find scholarship opportunities for students as young as 10 years old. It is also important for families to have a financial plan to at least pay for a portion of a student’s college education out of their own pockets. Receiving a scholarship is wonderful, but in reality, only a small percentage of students get that coveted “full ride”. So get started early.
GET TO KNOW YOUR GUIDANCE COUNSELOR
Not all students can realistically expect their guidance counselor to know them by name. In school environments where graduating classes number in the hundreds, it can be a common experience to meet your guidance counselor once or twice during your high school career. Be intentional about having conversations with your guidance counselor about your plans and goals for the future. As the counselor receives information about scholarship opportunities, those conversations will come to mind which gives the counselor an opportunity to share potential scholarships that align with your personal journey. Getting to know the counselor can be done in a variety of ways. Make a family appointment to discuss goals. Frequent the guidance counselor’s office regularly to check out resources. Volunteer to assist in the guidance counseling office. In some cases, families have found attending a private school during the high school days reduces the size of the graduating class which can often naturally allow a guidance counselor to give more personalized attention to students who are seeking scholarships.
BUILD A STUDENT RÉSUMÉ
Just like in an individual builds a résumé in the adult working environment, building an impressive student résumé plays a major role in obtaining college scholarships. I often encourage students to find a way to stand out among their peers. This could involve volunteering in an area that is related to your career goals. Get involved in school organizations. Better yet, work toward obtaining a leadership position in the organization or club. Students who work hard on their academics look more attractive on a résumé when their GPA or numeric averages stand out among their peers. Don’t be afraid to take challenging courses, start a business, enter contests, or get a job. All of these highlights on a student résumé increase the attractiveness to scholarship decision makers.
LEARN ABOUT SCHOLARSHIPS
Every college website provides information about scholarships in relation to ACT/SAT test scores, class ranking, and gpa’s. This is typically the source of first round of scholarship awards. Investing in your daily coursework and test prep activities can produce big dividends for students. Another strong resource for scholarship information is search engines. Sites like Fastweb.com, scholarships.com, mycollegeoptions.org, etc. typically allow a student to create a profile. These sites then search for potential scholarship matches and send an email the student when a match has been found. College Board and the ACT websites host valuable information for students on the journey towards post-secondary education. The key is to personally embrace the journey by actively spending time obtaining information.
Once you dive in and begin to apply for scholarships, it is critical to find an organization system that works for you. Many find it valuable to create a spreadsheet reflecting due dates, dates of applications, deadlines, contact information, award notifications, etc. With this information detailed in a single location, students can be more successful in consistently providing information in a timely manner for potential scholarships. It has been said searching for scholarships can be a full time job. Today’s students are busy with academics, activities, work, and social events. Being organized is a dynamic factor in the scholarship search journey.
Researching the organization offering the scholarship and keeping notes on their mission assist students in tailoring their application and essays toward a targeted purpose thus increasing chances of being selected for scholarship awards. Using an attractive voice in writing essays, producing applications and paperwork free of grammatical errors, and presenting information succinctly and professionally increases a student’s chance to earn scholarship awards.
Don’t forget to check out local resources in your community. Students often find churches, local business, community organizations or VFW’s offer fabulous scholarship opportunities. It can be even more effective to find leaders in your community that are connected to your targeted career goals and approach them with requests for scholarship funds or sponsorships and internships. Some of your best resources for college scholarships are in your own neighborhood.
DON’T GIVE UP
A final word of advice is to never give up. Navigating the waters of the scholarship search can be tiresome at times. However, with focused effort, creative thought, strong organization and planning, students can find post secondary education is obtainable and affordable. Thousands of dollars in available scholarship money goes unclaimed each year. What if that was a direct result of a student not taking the time to write a simple essay or making a phone call to a local business. That money is waiting to be awarded to someone. Why can’t that someone be you?
Nancy Shonamon is an Administrator at Nazarene Christian Academy in Crowley, Texas.