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, the total Cost of Attendance for attending Yale in 2014-2015 was $63,250, which includes tuition ($45,800), room ($7,800), board ($6,200), and books and personal expenses ($3,450).
But my child isn’t looking at an Ivy League school, you think hopefully – maybe we’ll try a popular state university? Be prepared — the University of Delaware’s published tuition rates show that for out-of-state students, total tuition and required fees were $30,692 for 2014-2015. And, with the addition of room and board for undergraduates who choose to live and dine on campus, the total expense in the 2014–15 academic year was approximately $42,250 for out-of-state students.
With a U.S. median household income of $52,250 in 2013 (2014 income numbers for the US will be released in December of 2015), 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.
Where to find college scholarships?
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 include:
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. Use 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! Create 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 prompt.) But again, advance planning is necessary, so a detailed list by date is crucial.
The secret to winning is…
You can also use the spreadsheet to track your progress is securing scholarships. What is your return rate and how can you improve it? The “secret” to winning scholarships is really 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 an 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!
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