What's your scholarship strategy?
If you go on Facebook or Twitter, you’re bound to see plenty of posts by discouraged students who are desperately searching for last-minute financial aid help. Many are now realizing that their high school guidance counselors and parents were right; applying for scholarships in high school should have been a priority, not an afterthought. These ‘last ditch effort’ students clearly did not have a scholarship strategy and are now faced with the tough decision of taking out student loans or walking away from their dream school. It’s very important that you have a scholarship plan in high school, but which is best? Let’s take a look at how some scholarship strategies score on our grading scale.
1. The Great Procrastinator = C
You’ve heard the old adage, ‘better late than never,’ but this really makes winning scholarships difficult. For those who procrastinate and wait until late in their senior year to find and apply for scholarships, chances are very slim that they’ll find enough money. Like many other skills, applying for scholarships takes practice and time to hone your skills; there’s a greater chance for mistakes when you wait until the last minute to apply. The students in this category also tend to gravitate to the ‘easy’ scholarships, where all they have to do is fill out a contact form and hit submit. Hope you’re lucky because you have just as good a chance at winning the lottery as you do at winning those contests. Our grade for students in this category is a ‘C’ for lack of planning and not taking the time needed to submit a quality application.
2. Tunnel Vision = B
Searching for scholarships and not leaving the tuition bill to your parents is always admirable, but this group of students may be limiting themselves. Those in the ‘Tunnel Vision’ group tend to look for programs that are only local or specific to their intended college. While it is true that there is usually less competition for local scholarship programs, they may also provide smaller awards and be more restrictive. It’s also never a good idea to put all your eggs into one basket and rely on your college to provide ample scholarships to cover your expenses. Institutional awards are highly competitive and you may be very disappointed when you are not offered one in your financial aid package. While we give these students an ‘A’ for effort (at least they are searching and applying on a regular basis), this group scores a ‘B’ for not thinking outside the box.
3. Slow & Steady Wins the Race = A+
If you fall into this category, you’re on the right path for winning scholarships! Smart scholarship hunters know to start early and to keep looking until they finish college. They schedule time every month to search and apply for scholarships, using all the resources available to help them in their quest. Not only do these students check with their guidance counselors for local awards, they research scholarship opportunities at local businesses, churches, civic groups, and their parents' employers. They also do not limit themselves by staying local and use more than one free online scholarship search service to help find additional scholarship opportunities, including institutional, regional, and national awards. By the time senior year begins, these students should be able to concentrate on their college admission applications while knowing they have put aside enough scholarship money to help cover many of their anticipated college expenses.
So, which strategy will you choose? Will you wait until senior year to finally start looking for scholarships, hoping you’ll get lucky enough to score a few, or will you follow the lead of those who start early? You’ve spent four years in high school working toward your college goal, don’t let your scholarship strategy derail your plans. In the world of scholarships, slow and steady always wins the race!