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Students Ask, College Counselors Answer

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This week's question from Aimee N. from Baltimore, MD asks:

I want to help my parents out with my tuition by landing as many scholarships as I can.  Where should I start, what do they usually require, and what are some crazy scholarships you know of?”

A Careful College Search Can Outweigh Scrambling For Scholarships

John Frahlich | Counseling Department Chair
The best advice I can give you on scholarships is that you should not be a senior during spring semester asking this question. Assuming you are a junior, remember that most scholarships awarded come directly from colleges and universities. It would be best for you to put your efforts into a college search that includes academic fit as well as financial fit. The stronger your credentials relative to other students on campus, the more likely you are to get merit based aid. Also examine the average financial aid package awarded and consider the amount of aid that is gift aid vs. loan. Many colleges have financial aid calculators on their websites. This can be a helpful tool. Contact the financial aid experts at colleges of interest. They are your best resource!

A good reason to choose a college major: Scholarships!

Lynette Mathews | Director
There are similarities between scholarship committee decisions and investment decisions. Typically, an investor will evaluate an organization’s track record and assess their future potential. Similarly, scholarship committees review student’s past performance as well as their plan for the future. It’s tough to make a case for a strong future plan without a college major. To take the pressure off a bit, consider it your plan ‘o the day - knowing that you can change your major and career objectives at any time. If you are looking to maximize scholarship opportunities, consider reflecting upon your interests and skills, exploring potential careers, and making your plan!

Apply for local scholarships – the odds are better.

Joanna Schultz | Director of College Counseling
There are thousands of scholarships to be found on www.finaid.org and other huge websites, and a careful perusal (if you are patient and take lots of time) can yield interesting possibilities.  My students have had the best luck, though, with scholarships on a more local scale.  Philanthropic foundations in particular cities often give a number of scholarships to local students.  Google “philanthropic  foundation, your city” and I’m sure you can find possibilities.  And check out your parents’ employers.  Companies often give scholarships selected employee children.   Good luck.

Apply to Scholarships that Describe You to a T!

Joan Casey | President
Focus on scholarships that are a strong match with your experience and interests. If you read the criteria for a scholarship and say to yourself, “That’s me” then apply. To find scholarships visit your guidance counselor, local library and search engines such as scholarships.com. Are you a male over 6’2” or a female over 5’10””? Then apply for the Tall Clubs International Scholarship. Are you a strong writer with an interest in world affairs? The American Foreign Service Association Scholarship may be right for you. Many scholarships relate to your field of study or career aspirations such as the Tylenol Scholarship for medical careers.

Are you a golf caddy? Over 6'2"?  A red head?  There's a Scholarship for That!  

Diana Hanson | Independent College Consultant
Find outside scholarships by turning your remarkable or unusual interests or traits into dollars. There are scholarships for just about everything you can think of, from hair color to country of origin—the more obscure, the fewer applicants you’ll be competing with! Scholarship search sites let you complete a profile and be matched with scholarships. Three good sites are Fastweb.com, Moolahspot.com, and Scholarships.com.  You can also do a Google search for any combination of traits and the word scholarship.  An excellent resource to help you decide what’s reputable is Finaid.org.  

Beginning the scholarship search and basic scholarship guidelines

Jennifer Evans | Counseling Department Chair
A good place to start is with your high school counseling office. Many counseling offices have a scholarship website where they post information about scholarships they receive. Also, talk to your counselor. If your counselor knows your interests, he or she may be better able to direct you to appropriate scholarships. Be sure to be thorough when completing applications and remember when applying for scholarships to meet all deadlines. If there is a portion for a counselor to complete then you should give the counselor plenty of advance notice to complete it.

Being Moneywise and Safe in Search of Scholarships

Esther Walling | College Counselor
Avoid scholarship search companies that charge money. This is generally a sure sign that it's a scam. If they say they will do everything for you, guarantee that you'll get money, ask for your credit card or bank account number, or tell you that you've been selected by a "national foundation" or you are a "finalist" in a contest you never entered, RUN FOR THE HILLS. Better yet run to the more reliable search companies that don't cost anything, Cappex, Zinch, Fastweb, Scholarshipexperts, Scholarshippoints, even College Board and ACT. You'll find more scholarships tailored to your interests and qualifications than the "pay us" companies. Don't let them tell you you can't find this information anywhere else. You just did!

Effort, creativity and persistence: key ingredients for successful scholarship applications!

Jane Klemmer | Founder
Scholarships abound, on the Internet and in resource books. However, don’t count on the easy to apply, anyone-is-eligible awards that offer large sums; your odds are better playing the lottery.  Pursue the smaller, focused scholarships even if it means writing another essay. Fewer students will apply and these can add up to significant money. Exhaust all avenues: your guidance office, free scholarship websites and even your parents’ employers. Are you particularly tall, a descendent of a confederacy veteran or interested in mortuary science?  Gender, ethnicity, talent, major, even a disability may qualify you. Some colleges net scholarships against their own grant awards so learn about your school’s policy before you start!

Give scholarship applications as much attention as college applications.

Kristen Tabun | Director of College Guidance
When conducting your scholarship search, use one of the many free clearinghouse sites available, such as fastweb.com.  While it's tempting to focus on the big-ticket scholarships, remember that those smaller scholarships add up fast and may have less students applying for them.  Most scholarships require essays, so take the time to write an individual essay for each one you apply for.  Be as thoughtful with those essays and scholarship applications as you were with your college applications and it will pay off.

How to make the most of your scholarship opportunities.

Shelly Levine | Certified Educational Planner
Your desire to partner with your parents is admirable. Begin by creating a profile with several scholarship search engines, including fastweb.com, cappex.com and collegeboard.com. Your unique qualities (including your academic and social interests, family and birth circumstances, gender, political persuasion, geographic location, sexual orientation, handedness, health, and more) will be matched to scholarships from many sources. When applying, be sure you stay within the word limit, remain on topic, be concise, adhere to all grammar and spelling rules, and if possible, be creative. Scholarship committees are looking for students who are bright, interesting and represent their mission. Best of luck!

Look locally and identify your best matches.

Kathryn Favaro | Independent College Admissions Counselor
My first tip for maximizing your scholarship search is to look locally. Visit your high school college center to get a list of local scholarships. Local scholarships have much less competition than national one's. While their dollar amount is sometimes less, the likelihood of receiving them is far higher. Also, when looking for scholarships, take some time to identify your best matches. Look for scholarships that reward your strengths. There are scholarships for almost everything including: academics, talents, interests, cultural background, religion, etc. And remember to think outside the box. I have heard of scholarships for exceptionally tall students, best duct tape prom dresses and students with specific last names

Not all scholarships require a 4.0 gpa

Maureen Lawler | College Counselor
Scholarship committees look at all sorts of factors when awarding scholarships.  Grades are an important consideration but so are other factors.  Activities, both in and out of school, are important.  Focus on the quality of the activities not the quantity.  Find a few you enjoy and get involved.  Try for a leadership position.  Many scholarships also consider service to school and community important.  Again, find a service project you enjoy and stay committed.  Essays can also be an important consideration for scholarships.  Make sure you answer the question.  Have an English teacher look it over and offer suggestions.  Always start your search early.

Organization and perseverance are key to landing scholarships. 

Lora Lewis | Founder & Educational Consultant
Take advantage of online search engines to locate scholarship opportunities that are good matches for you. Check for new scholarshipsregularly, both online and in your school counselor's office. Have an “adaptable” essay and references ready. Be sure to meet scholarship deadlines, and devote an appropriate number of hours weekly to completing applications. Scholarships may reduce the amount of financial aid (especially loans) you are eligible to receive, but are preferable because you don’t have to pay them back. If you spend an hour applying for a scholarship and receive even $250, you just made $250 for an hour's work!

Outside scholarships aren't worth it a lot of the time.

Jacqueline Murphy | Director of Admissions
Applying for local or “outside” scholarships (those independent of the college you may attend) can be very time-consuming and often yields little in the way of results.  Be very particular about the scholarships you select to submit an application.  Determine how many applicants generally apply and how many will be selected.  Will the scholarship be for your first year only or is it renewable. Do your circumstances seem to line up with the requirements for the award?  Consider all these factors as a substantial outside award may limit your institutional award, which often requires only the submission of the FAFSA.

Pay attention to details – they matter!

Roby Blust | Dean of Admissions & Enrollment Planning
Most scholarship applications require very specific application materials – often an essay is required.  And the essay most often asks a student to reply to a direct question or comment on a certain topic.  Many students take themselves out of serious scholarship consideration by simply not following directions.   The essay is too long or too short.  It strays from the desired topic.  It doesn’t display any connection to the scholarship in question.  It arrives past the stated deadline.  Put your best foot forward – pay very close attention to the details – they matter!

Practical Advice on “Winning” Scholarships for College

Myra Smith | Executive Director, Financial Aid Services
Articles about “winning” scholarships emphasize unusual awards and sources.  In fact, most scholarship and grant money is awarded by colleges. External scholarships are those funds awarded from private sources in amounts which will often augment, but not fully meet your need for assistance.  You can find out about external awards using a variety of on-line search engines, but your high school guidance office or local library is often the best place to start. You will find information about local scholarship funds and the odds are much better you will receive a local scholarship than a national award. 

Scholarships reward what a student has done—perform and they will pay

Bill Pruden | Head of Upper School, College Counselor
In looking for scholarship money, one must first distinguish between the school sponsored ones and those sponsored by outside groups or organizations. Concerning the outside sources, to avoid a scam remember the general rule: if you need to pay them, they won’t pay off for you.  Meanwhile, school sponsored scholarships are the most common form of merit scholarships.  To earn them, the best thing a student can do is maximize their academic record and test scores.  Schools will reward those efforts in part because those measureable attributes help the school enhance their profile and serve as valuable marketing data. 

Scholarships, Scholarships everywhere but none of them for me?

Christopher Kaiser | Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students
If you are feeling overwhelmed at the cost of college, remember, you are not alone.  If you do a quick search on the web you will find thousands of scholarships for nearly every reason. However the best advice begins with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  For awarding purposes, the interest from many of the scholarships is pooled together, which eliminates the need for a specific application other than the FAFSA.  Look in the catalogue of the schools you have applied to and you will often find a list of endowed scholarships.  Finally, when you go outside to look for applicable scholarships, be mindful of scams.  Go to trusted names and often begin with places you know and can research.  But when all else fails, and if you Live in Miami-Dade County in Florida maybe your Vegan Soup Recipe can get you $5000 for College.

Scholarships: easy to find, but are they worth the effort?

Craig Meister | President
Your scholarship search should start by asking anyone and everyone if they know of scholarship opportunities. Not only will you learn about previously unknown sources of money, you will also build networking skills. Many entities offer scholarships. In just the past year, my students have earned scholarships from elected officials, war veterans associations, TV stations, religious organizations, fashion companies, and political parties. Most of these scholarships required applications, essays, and interviews. While finding sources of money can be easy, there is no such thing as a free lunch! Many colleges reduce their aid packages for every scholarship you earn.

Searching For Scholarships Takes Time and The Will To Do The Work

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
Apply for as many scholarships as you can. You need to be willing to make time because there are required essays, forms to complete, deadlines to be met, and recommendations that must be sent. Fastweb.com, Finaid.org and Scholarshipexperts.com are two reliable websites where you can begin your search.  Scholarships are available from private corporations to community organizations. Students should check with the financial aid offices at their colleges of interest to see what scholarships are available through that school. Sometimes, essay prompts are similar so you may be able to reuse one strong essay.

Speak Klingon, create prom dresses from duct tape, see ghosts?

Donnamarie Hehn | Director of College Guidance
No matter what your interest or talent may be, there may be a scholarship waiting for you! Consider your strengths and interests and then check with your college counselor for national scholarship search websites for unusual scholarship opportunities. Even though some of these scholarships may seem bizarre, don’t be afraid to exercise your talents and to show off your unique interests. However, do watch out for scholarship scams. When in doubt, ask your counselor for his or her opinion. Generally, if you are asked to spend money to receive money, think “scam” and run away.

Spend time, not money for financial aid information

James Montoya | Vice President of Higher Education
There are many scams out there charging for scholarship information that is available for FREE on the internet. Avoid companies that claim they will do all the work for you, or those that guarantee scholarship money, or those who claim to have exclusive information. Instead go to a reliable source, like the College Board Website. It offers tons of free information about scholarships, loans and other ways to pay for college---www.collegeboard.org. Also, check with your parents to see if their employers offer scholarships to employee children, and with your counselor to learn about local scholarships. This all takes some effort, but it can definitely payoff.

Start early and use your imagination! Research universities and organizations.  

Rachel Smith-Vaughan | College Guidance Counselor
Scholarship committees look for a resume that demonstrates interest over your high school career with a demonstrated track record ending in leadership. They are also looking for positive outcomes due to your interest and leadership. A solid letter of recommendation also makes a difference. Fun Scholarships: Duck Tape: ’Stuck at the Prom’; Culinary Institute of America: ‘Top Turkey’; Got Milk: ’The Power of 9’; Parapsychology Foundation; SPAACSE-Galaxy Music Scholarship, etc.

The Best Source of Aid is Usually From the Colleges or the Government

Kiersten Murphy | Director
Before you spend your entire year searching, you should know that if you have been awarded financial aid by a college, outside scholarships, such as those that come from Rotary or Kiwanis, can actually reduce your aid package.  According to federal guidelines, outside scholarships are considered resources, and colleges must consider these numbers when putting together an aid package. And if you were wondering, yes, you do have to report these outside scholarships. To learn more about outside scholarships and how they impact your aid package, be sure to review websites such as finaid.org and of course, review each college’s financial aid website to review their outside scholarship policy.

Think local, and think “hook” when you’re seeking scholarships.

Pam Proctor | Author
To max out on scholarships, start with your local Dollars for Scholars (DFS), a network of community foundations with 1,200 chapters coast to coast. Local philanthropists funnel scholarship money through DFS to worthy students in their communities. Next, apply to schools that need you. Schools a little bit down the pecking order in the rankings may recruit you because of your “hook” -- a special talent or achievement that sets you apart. For example, one multicultural student with a string of science awards won a $30,000-per-year merit scholarship at a hot university in the South that wanted her diversity and scientific brainpower to bolster the student body.

Use Several Resources and think BIG!

Jill Greenbaum | Founder
Start with the mindset that you will need to think big and use several resources, books, websites, and personal connections.  In brief, winning scholarships requires insight, the right match between student and scholarship source, and attention to detail.  And, in terms of extra-ordinary scholarships, here’s a short list-there are more! For twins and more: http://www.twinstuff.com/college_scholarships.html, For the aspiring chef: www.theculinarytrust.org and For students interested in the study of language (really!): Klingon Language Institute, www.kli.org/scholarship

Want lower tuition? Look for colleges looking for you!

Stephanie Meade | Owner
Some colleges award generous scholarships or “merit aid” to entice students to bring them something they want. For example, look for private colleges far from your home that have a large percentage of students from their regions—you can contribute to campus geographic diversity. Grades and test scores above or near the top of the school’s averages (which might be lower than you expect) may bring big tuition discounts along with an acceptance letter. In some cases, merit offers reduce private college tuition to near the cost of in-state tuition at public universities, so don’t be afraid to apply!

Watch Out For Scholarship Scams

Janet Rosier | Independent College Admissions Consultant
When you search for scholarships, make sure that you are not getting scammed. Rule number one is that legitimate scholarships do not charge you money to apply. Even a nominal amount should raise a red flag. If you aren’t sure a scholarship is reputable, do a little research. If other students had bad experiences with a company, you may find that information online. The Federal Trade Commission also has very helpful information (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/scholarship/index.shtml).

You’re not crazy: You can pay for college on your own.

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
An under-represented student who wants to pay for college on your own? Crazy scholarships? Yes, they exist…there are some for kids who love to race cars, raise dogs, or whose parents work for certain companies. Start looking for next year but never pay to apply. Remember, colleges want students like you, so find the colleges that cover all of your needs. That’s crazy for your parents because they don’t need to pay anything. Also apply for scholarships that match your race, culture, legal status, and interests. They do exist. I know kids who have paid for college on their own.

Your grades might get you more help

Ruth Vedvik | Principal
Make sure, students, that you know all of the opportunities available from the schools themselves. Ask your admission counselor, check on line, check it out however you best seek out new information. Most of the scholarships that require a separate application process are for creative talent or leadership. It is late enough in the year that seniors have probably already missed out. Juniors, get ahead of the game. Know this stuff early next fall – don’t miss any deadlines. Also, look at the financial aid web pages, many schools tell you how much money they give you based on your grades and test scores…duh, apply to schools that want you (will give you $$) because you’re at the top of their academic heap or profile. If you’re grades are in the top quartile of their freshmen class you’ll likely get a half tuition scholarship at a private school.


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