This is an exciting time of year for high school seniors and their families. After 13 years of schooling, graduation looms on the horizon and there’s finally a light at the end of the academic tunnel. Of course, at the end of that tunnel lies a whole new world of adventure – and a whole lot of questions. For high school seniors who have made the choice to continue on to a college or university, acceptance letters have already started rolling in and important choices must be made. For parents, however, there remains one of the biggest questions of all – how to pay for college. Even with a college savings fund, the rising costs of higher education have left many parents scrambling to make the numbers work. And that’s where scholarships can prove to be invaluable.
Many of us associate scholarships with high academic performance or sports, criteria that may or may not apply to our children. However, even for “average” students, there are thousands of scholarships out with millions of dollars in funds available to help pay for college. If you’re a veteran of the college-readiness game, i.e., you’ve already sent a child off to school, you may have already started the scholarship application process. This is a good thing as many scholarships have deadlines starting as early as January or February. If this is your first time going through the process, however, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed and unsure of where to even start the process.
Getting Started: Find available scholarships
From national funds to local organizations like Rotary clubs and government organizations, scholarships are, truly, everywhere. In addition to general scholarship funds, there are also a number of scholarships available in specific categories such as academic merit, financial need, leadership, ethnicity, intended career path, and much more. Keep in mind that scholarships are also available for trade and vocational schools, so even if your child is not looking at four-year institutions, there are still options.
The first step, of course, is to identify the scholarships that are most applicable to your child’s academic standing, interests, and overall needs. To help you narrow down the options, there are a number of online search engines that allow you to identify scholarships by searching your own criteria or filing out a student profile. To get you started, here are a few places to look:
College Board – Scholarship Search
College Funding Group (includes Virginia/Richmond area-specific scholarships)
GRASP (include national, state, and local scholarships)
TFS (Tuition Funding Sources) Scholarships
Step Two: Identify deadlines
The bad news is that unless your child applied for early decision or early acceptance, by the time your child has received their regular acceptance letter, many scholarships have already passed their application deadline. But that doesn’t mean all the doors are closed. Thankfully, because of the wide variety of scholarships available, the deadlines for applications can vary greatly. This means that even if you’ve missed some deadlines, there are still opportunities out there to supplement college funding.
Finally: Create a list of scholarships and due dates and start applying.
Once you’ve narrowed down the types of scholarships your child is suited for, you can start identifying deadlines and prioritize the applications accordingly. Be sure to create a schedule and stick to it, setting aside a specific time just for the purpose of applying.
Here are some tips for the application process:
- Apply as early (and as often) as possible
- Apply for scholarships in a wide range of categories, even if it seems like a long shot
- Have easy access to academic transcripts
- Include letters of recommendation from trusted sources
- Apply for scholarships even if they have a lower monetary value – small amounts can add up quickly!
- Don’t avoid essays. Writing essays may seem like a lot of work after completing college applications and in the midst of senior year schoolwork, but remember that essays can be repurposed. Don’t hesitate to re-use essays for multiple scholarships as long as edits are made to meet any specific guidelines listed in the application.
Paying for college can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With a little extra planning, a bit of extra work, and the right resources, scholarships can provide thousands of dollars that will help your child turn their academic and professional goals into a reality.
For more college advice, including college savings, getting ready for college, and other general college resources, be sure to check out the following Richmond Mom resource guides:
College Planning 101: A Guide for High School Seniors and Their Parents
College Savings Resource Guide
10 Money Tips Every College Freshman (and Their Parents) Should Know