At a recent college fair, I encountered several students who decided that searching for scholarships was a complete waste of their time. I was amazed! Intrigued, I asked students why they had such a lack of enthusiasm for free college money, only to find that many had bought into those old scholarship myths that just won’t go away. Even some of the parents chimed in with excuses, which were all based on complete falsehoods. I’m not sure why these myths were first created. Maybe they were a way to dissuade students from applying for scholarships or maybe they just sounded like good excuses for slacking off. In either case, it’s time for them to vanish like old Halloween candy. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the top 10 scholarship myths that seem to be circulating these days.
1. Only Minority Students Win Scholarships
FACT: This is totally untrue. I know it may seem like a disproportionate amount of programs are available for African American and Hispanic students, but Caucasian students actually win more awards. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, white students receive 76 percent of institutional merit scholarships and are 40 percent more likely to win private scholarships.
2. You have to be an Honor Student or an Athlete
FACT: Although there are merit-based and athletic scholarships available, there are many scholarship programs that are based on your choice of major, volunteer work, and creative abilities. You can also receive awards from employers, churches, and other organizations; having straight As or being the star quarterback is not a requirement for most scholarship programs. There's even a scholarship specifically for students who don't have a stellar grade point average - A GPA Isn't Everything Scholarship.
3. Only Low-Income Students Qualify
FACT: See my comments above! Although there are some programs based on your ability to pay, there are plenty of other scholarship programs that do not even consider your family’s income. Even if you do not qualify for federal assistance (FAFSA), do not miss your opportunity to receive funding through private scholarship programs.
4. If I Win, I’ll Lose My Other Financial Aid
FACT: Maybe. You typically cannot receive more financial aid than the school has estimated it will cost for you to attend, so colleges may reduce the amount of your award package to compensate for any free money you may have won. But each school has its own policy for handling outside scholarships and determining how they affect the awarding of grants, loans and institutional scholarships. For example, let’s say a college will meet your need by offering an award package that includes a $5,500 Pell Grant, a $5,000 institutional scholarship, and another $5,000 in federal student loans. If you win a $2,500 scholarship from an outside source, the college policy may require a reduction of $2,500 in your institutional scholarship award, or it may work to your advantage by requiring a $2,500 reduction in your loan amount, so you end up borrowing less to pay for school. You still receive the same amount of money ($15,500) to cover your expenses, but could walk away with less student loan debt, depending on the policy. Check with your college financial aid office to review the outside scholarship policy and get a better understanding of how your outside scholarships may affect your financial aid package.
5. Only Seniors Should Apply for Scholarships
FACT: Wrong! If you have waited until your senior year of high school, you are already behind. Many scholarship providers offer awards for students as young as 13 (some even younger!), so the earlier you start your search the better. If you do win a scholarship prior to your senior year, the funds will typically be disbursed once you register for college. Taking the time to begin your search earlier can really help alleviate some of the stress you will have during your senior year.
6. I’m Too Old for Scholarships
FACT: Not true! Although the majority of scholarships are targeted to high school and undergraduate students (13-22), many programs are available to non-traditional students and/or adult learners. Whether you are returning for another degree or simply starting your college journey a little late in life, there are plenty of scholarship programs for everyone!
7. Too Many People Apply
FACT: This is not always the case. Here's the thing about scholarships: the less work required, the more people apply. If you simply have to complete a contact form and hit ‘submit,’ you may very well be competing with thousands of other applicants. To increase your odds of winning, look into programs with multiple essays or those with high word counts. Programs with smaller awards ($500 or less) also tend to be snubbed by students. More effort = less competition!
8. If I Have a Perfect GPA, I’ll be Offered a Full-Ride
FACT: Probably not. Although there are full-ride scholarships available, there aren’t enough for every stellar student. In fact, less than 20,000 students each year (about 0.3% of those attending college) will earn a full-ride scholarship. It may seem unfair that you spent all that time studying and working for that perfect 4.0 only to find out it’s still not good enough to get a full-ride to college, but honestly, it’s not realistic for most students to expect to receive this type of scholarship.
9. Thousands of Scholarship Go Unclaimed
FACT: Sometimes. Scholarship providers do not create programs so they can hide money from students; they want to give money away, but some scholarships do go unclaimed each year. Many of those that are unclaimed have such narrow criteria that very few students are even eligible to apply. It can be years or even decades before those awards may have an eligible applicant. In other cases, a suitable candidate may not have applied, so the provider chose not to offer the award. There have also been cases where a winner was chosen, but the student turned down the award.
10. Scholarship Aren’t Worth the Effort
FACT: Crazy! If someone offered you a part-time job for $50 an hour, would you take it? Of course you would! That is how you should view applying for scholarships – as a part-time job. If you spend 20 hours searching and applying for scholarships, and win just one $1,000 scholarship, you just earned $50 an hour for your efforts. Do the math – scholarships are definitely worth your time!
There really is no ‘trick’ to winning one of these ‘treats,’ you just have to put in the time and believe in yourself. Be sure to use a free online scholarship search service, such as ScholarshipExperts.com, to help you identify the scholarships you are eligible for and then start applying. Remember, if you don’t submit any applications, you won’t have a chance to win free money for college!
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