A Step by Step Guide to Winning Scholarships

by Beverly Stewart

This article was first published in the Hockessin Community News, September 2009.

In today’s economy, the thought of adding college tuition to an increasingly tight budget is a daunting one. A quick peek at some of the nation’s most venerated colleges reveals that tuition costs have rapidly outpaced earnings.

For example, Yale’s published tuition cost is over $33,000, with room and board over $10,000 and additional expenses like books and supplies adding another $2,500 — for a total well over $45,000 per year. But my child isn’t looking for an Ivy League school, you think hopefully – maybe we’ll try a state university? Hold on a minute — the University of Delaware’s published tuition rates show that room and board, plus fees top $17,000 for an in-state student and a whopping $29,000 for out-of-state. Oh no.

With an unemployment rate hovering at 9.8% according to the U.S. Civilian Unemployment Rate Forecast and predicted to rise closer to 11% by the end of 2009, how can the average family afford college? In a word: Scholarships.

But my child isn’t a violin prodigy, math genius or a sports superstar, you may groan. The good news is that there are literally thousands of scholarships available for students of every ethic background, from every level of scholastic success, and for special talents like sports, music, community service and more. The trick is finding the right match.

In any scholarship search, organization is the key. From the thousands of scholarships available, you must be able to pare down those that apply to your student. And, fortunately, there are many online resources available to help do just that. A few of my favorites are:

http://www.scholarships.com

http://www.fastweb.com

http://www.collegeboard.com

These sites ask you to create a student profile based on grades, activities, athletics, interests, and personal data like age, sex, ethnicity — so be prepared to spend some time on this prep phase. The more detailed your responses, the more matches you’ll find. I strongly suggest using multiple resources, because not every scholarship is listed on every site.

Finished? So, now you have a file folder stuffed to overflowing with information sheets, dates, requirements and more. Get organized! I highly recommend creating an Excel spreadsheet, organized by due date, to keep you on track. Filling out a scholarship form is a moot point if you miss the deadline, so keeping on top of the process is the key. Also, many scholarships require advance work – from reading a book and then writing an essay based on the work, to procuring letters of reference (sometimes several) to writing stand-alone essays on such topics as “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” (Yes, this is a real scholarship.) But again, advance planning is necessary, so a detailed list by date is crucial.

You can also use the spreadsheet to track your progress is securing scholarships. What is your return rate and how can you improve it? I have found that the “secret” to winning scholarships is no secret at all. Most applications require personal data, often transcripts, letters of recommendation or proof of involvement in a project, but the key to getting your application to the top of the pile, is unquestionably the quality of the essay.

So, how can your student make their essay stand out? Revise, revise, revise! This is where the advance planning comes in handy. If essay is written on the day before it is due, there is no time to edit. Have your student ask a trusted teacher, mentor, parent, or tutor to read and critique. Remember, they can’t write the essay, but can certainly give constructive comments regarding word choice, grammar, and suggest important points that may have been missed.

A final word about scholarships. Beware of scams! Anyone who says that they can guarantee you a scholarship is not telling the truth. With help, you can increase your students’ chances of success by being organized, by meeting deadlines, by checking and rechecking that each element required is enclosed in the application packet, and of course, by submitting the best essay possible. But, no one can guarantee a scholarship. If any group or organization asks for a fee to submit a “guaranteed scholarship” – run!

For more information, please visit Back to Basics website at http://www.BacktoBasicsLearning.com

For 25 years, Back to Basics has been recognized as the area’s undisputed leader in one-on-one tutoring. In addition, the firm offers a unique Delaware private school for grades K-12 and a Private Business and Trade School for adults. Back to Basics is the 2010 Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.

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