This Tips for Parents article authored by Sam Lim is from a seminar they hosted for Young Scholar families. They provide advice on obtaining scholarships and college funding.
Scholarships are not just Free Money; Scholarships are Financial Investments
Scholarships are more than just free money that can be used for your student’s college tuition, room and board, books and supplies, computer costs, and any other educational costs. Rather, scholarships are an organization’s financial investment in your potential to succeed, to give back to the community, and to embody their core values.
If we think about scholarships as financial investments, that means organizations are searching for those students who stand head and shoulders above the rest. How do they determine this? They may look at grade point averages and/or test scores, but most of all, they will be looking at time. What are your students doing with their time outside of school and outside of classes? Every student across the country who is on his or her way to college will also have a GPA and a test score, so what each individual student does with his or her time outside of school is extremely important because how else will you separate yourself from other competition?
It’s important for any Scholarship Junkie to be involved in extracurricular activities they enjoy. More than just being in a club or activity though, they should strive to be a part of the leadership team so they can start developing more opportunities to lead. Of course, this not absolutely required, but it’s a good way of developing experiences within an activity that can then be well articulated in the scholarship essays. Another critical point here is quality over quantity. It’s better to get involved in activities you truly enjoy being a part of and where you can develop and grow as a leader, as a person.
Resources for Finding Scholarship Opportunities
For any Scholarship Junkie, there are at least four resources that make searching for scholarships easier. These four resources are Internet-based scholarship tools, scholarship books and lists, school offices for scholarships, and community resources.
First, the Internet offers the most scholarship opportunities through various scholarship websites and databases. A simple Google search for “scholarships” yields thousands of results. The top scholarship sites recommended by Scholarship Junkies include https://www.CollegeGreenlight.com, https://www.FastWeb.com, and https://www.Scholarships.com.
In general, most of these websites work the same way: you sign up for a free account, complete your profile as much as you can (i.e. what you want to study, where you want to go to school, what kind of activities you do, etc.), and then you’ll get a list of scholarship matches based on your profile.
Once you’ve got a list of scholarship matches, you can sift through them in any of a number of ways. You could start by sorting them by upcoming deadlines, so you look at ones that are due soon. If you use your smart phone more often than your laptop, you may also consider downloading the $0.99 app for finding scholarships called Scholly, which is available at https://myscholly.com/#scholly.
Second, scholarship books and lists also offer a long collection of scholarship opportunities. These books are often updated annually, but rather than buying them and wasting your money, you can easily borrow them from your local library. Even if the book you borrow is not the most recent edition, any edition in the past few years will likely have the same information. To double check, simply input the name of any scholarships you find into your favorite search engine. One online list of scholarships can be found at https://scholarships360.org/. They share one new scholarship per day, which you can receive with their free daily email or by checking out their blog.
Third, schools and colleges offer some scholarships that scholarship websites often do not have—local scholarships. Check with your school’s career center or counseling office for local scholarship opportunities. If your school does not offer any of these resources, check online to see if you can find a list of scholarships on your school’s website. If you still can’t find anything or even if you do, go ahead and check your rival school’s website or websites for any other schools you might know.
Finally, check with the community around you. Think of major companies and organizations that might have scholarships. Do a quick Google search and scan their websites. Oftentimes, if a company gives away scholarships, they’ll list it under their “Community Involvement” section, accessible through a link at the top, side, or bottom of the page. You want to look for keywords such as “Youth Involvement,” “Youth Development,” or “Youth Education.” Besides companies, think about religious organizations, community centers, and membership-based groups such as Lion’s Clubs or Elks Lodges that might offer scholarships.
These four resources and any other resources you can think of are all ways to cast your net wider for scholarships. These strategies are great for helping students gather scholarship opportunities, but it will depend on their application to actually turn those opportunities into scholarship success.
Tips for Writing Competitive Scholarship Essays
Part of any truly competitive scholarship application is the chance to write personal essays about who you are and why you do what you do. Those are the top two most important questions that a personal essay/statement must answer because it’s not enough to just talk about what you are doing. If we think back to the definition of scholarships as a financial investment, then this is the way in which one can show just how great of an investment they would be.
The best way, in my opinion, to show this is to write an essay. Every student applying is going to have test scores, grades, activities, jobs, leadership positions, and awards. The way to stand out is to show why exactly you did these things and how you got there. However, there is no secret formula to winning scholarship essays. They are most powerful when they tell a student’s story from that student’s voice. Hence, these strategies are merely suggestions of what may or may not work.
Most students struggle with getting started though, so the first step is to read the question out loud and identify what exactly they are looking for. One effective strategy for identifying the question is to bullet out possible examples and experiences you might be able to use to back up your answer. This bullet list of experiences has no limit, so it could be long or short. You want to identify all possible personal experiences that might help answer that question.
Next, take those bullet points and rearrange them into an order that makes sense for telling a story. This could be chronological or otherwise. The main point is to arrange the bullet points (and even cut out or add some if needed) so that they tell a common story. The first bullet point then must be transformed into an attention-grabbing introduction. Often, this can be accomplished by using vivid detail and imagery to help put the reader in your shoes.
Finally, use the resources around you to help you strengthen your essay. Have friends, teachers, counselors, family, and/or Scholarship Junkies help you take a look so you have a fresh set of eyes looking at your work. The value of having a Scholarship Junkie—someone who has already achieved scholarship success—read your essay and provide feedback can be immense and sometimes the difference between receiving a scholarship or not.
How Scholarships Can Impact Your Financial Aid Award
When a student receives an outside or private scholarship, they are required to report it to their college or university. According to federal law, a student’s resources (that is, their Estimated Family Contribution, any financial aid received, and their outside scholarships) may not exceed the estimated Cost of Attendance (COA) for their institution.
As such, any outside scholarships may be used to replace any part of the financial aid award offer. When the financial aid replaced by scholarships are loans, this works to the student’s advantage. However, when there are still outside scholarship funds available and no more loans to replace, most institutions will use the private scholarships to replace any work-study awards. After this, if there are still outside scholarship funds left, institutions may use them to replace any institutional scholarships or grants.
If a student is ever faced with this situation, there are a number of options available to him or her. First, he or she may choose to ask the scholarship organization(s) if it would be possible to defer the scholarship award(s) until a later year or even graduate school. Not all scholarship organizations will allow a deferral, but it is always worth asking. Second, if a deferral is not possible and the scholarship amount would cause the student’s resources to exceed the COA, he or she may file a Revision Request with the financial aid office to add optional expenses such as a laptop, student health insurance, or other eligible expenses. It is always best to speak directly with a financial aid officer to make sure the student can best maximize his or her scholarship awards.
Final Words of Encouragement
Scholarships are not easy win. That is no secret. It is a fact. But, students have a number of strategies for how they can make themselves more competitive than most students for these awards. No matter what happens when you apply, remember: Never underestimate your story or your ability to impact others. Each student has extraordinary gifts, and it is their job and their journey to find these gifts and use them in ways to help others. Although it may require tremendous work, college can be affordable, and through scholarships, I believe any student’s dreams can be realized.
About Samson Lim
Samson Lim is the founder of Scholarship Junkies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students find ways to afford higher education.