Your financial aid questions answered – part 3


Over the last few weeks, I have been receiving several questions from parents and students about financial aid. Many of the questions were about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which I addressed in part 2 of this series, but an even greater number of questions were submitted about scholarships. Many students voiced their concerns about the pressure they feel from their parents to locate scholarships and win awards. I got the impression that these students felt like they were drifting in the ocean without any way of staying afloat. Fortunately, they were not alone in their fears, as I received several similar questions. Here are some of the most common concerns students shared regarding the scholarship process.

Where do I find Scholarships?

Many students still seem lost about how to start their scholarship search process. Most students live online, so it may seem easy to simply conduct a Google or Bing search, but that may be part of the problem. With so much information out there, students may be confused about where to start and who to trust. As a general rule of thumb, the following are great resources for finding scholarships:

♦ Free Online Scholarship Search Services – Look for FREE scholarship services that require more than your contact information. Why? The more information a student provides about his/her academics, intended major, skills, and interests means less time digging and more time applying. By spending 10-15 minutes upfront, students can save time later.  Who wants to waste hours sorting through scholarships that don’t match their needs?

♦ Guidance Counselor – Most guidance counselors have a scholarship book or online directory of local scholarship programs that students may be eligible to receive. Students should stop by early in the fall to get a list of awards, checking back frequently for any additional awards that may become available.

♦ Employers –Many corporate employers offer programs to full-time employees and their families, so parents should check with their human resources department to find out if any awards are available. Students who work should also check with their employers to see if there are any tuition reimbursement programs or scholarships offered.

♦ Community Organizations – Students who volunteer often neglect to ask if there are any available grants and scholarships through the organizations where they volunteer. Some groups/organizations not only provide scholarships specifically to their members and volunteers, but also to members of the community who receive their services.

Students should also check with their prospective colleges and state education websites for additional scholarship opportunities.

Are students over 21 eligible for scholarships too?

Yes! Students often make the mistake of thinking that scholarships are only for high school seniors, but there are programs for students of any age. Many providers offer scholarship programs for high school students, but many also provide awards for undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students. Even those who did not enroll in college directly from high school will find scholarship programs specifically for non-traditional and adult students.

How can I make my scholarship essay stand out?

This is a very common question, especially for those who may not enjoy writing very much. Here are a few tips and tricks students can use to help make their essays stand out.

♦ Pick a Great Topic – Students will have better success by choosing topics they are familiar with or have an interest in exploring. It’s easier to keep someone else’s interest when the writer is passionate and shows an interest too. For open essays, it’s generally a good idea to stay away from topics that are religious or political in nature.

♦ Make it Personal – A great way to grab a reader’s attention is to draw him/her in with a personal story. Students who can put a ‘face’ on their essay will have more success and keep the scholarship committee engaged.

♦ Review for Errors – It’s never a good idea for a student to submit his/her first draft. After writing the essay, students should put it aside for a day or two before reading it again. Once the student feels the essay is complete, it should be given to one or two other people for review. Simple grammatical errors can send an essay to the ‘no’ pile in a flash.

♦ Stay Within the Guidelines – Students should review all scholarship guidelines prior to submitting their essay, making sure it is within the required word count, font size and has sufficiently answered the essay prompt.

What expenses do scholarships cover?

It depends on the restrictions imposed by the scholarship provider, but in general, scholarship funds may be used for tuition, fees, books and other educational expenses. Some scholarship programs also provide funding for housing and study abroad opportunities. Most scholarship awards will be disbursed directly to the college’s financial aid office, so students expecting to use the money for new clothes, food or a trip to Cancun may be out of luck. If there are additional funds available and the student receives a check, he/she may be liable for taxes if the funds are not used for qualified education expenses.

If you have any questions or concerns about scholarships and other college financial aid, please feel free to post your questions in our comment section or on our Facebook wall. Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 2, too!

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