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COVID-19 and Scholarship Money for College

Suzanne Shaffer


COVID-19 has impacted not only the financial well-being of many American families but also the financial status of many of the country’s colleges and universities.

Colleges are struggling financially due to the partial refunds issued on tuition and room and board this past spring and the challenges and uncertainty around classes resuming in the fall — which is predicted to inspire large numbers of students to delay college or take a break from their studies (reducing tuition revenue).

Does this mean that, just as your student and family need scholarships dollars more than ever, there are none to be found? Not at all.

But it helps to understand the current landscape and pivot your scholarship-seeking strategy if needed. If your student has yet to commit to a school for fall, they should assess and compare financial aid offers. Students of all years can research and apply for outside scholarships.

College Scholarship Outlook

Institutional scholarships (money given by the school that does not need to be paid back) are often a substantial part of a student’s financial aid package. These need-based and merit scholarships are funded in part by large endowments that may have lost significant value because of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal stimulus packages should provide some relief, but many colleges are being forced to redirect funds originally earmarked for scholarships and financial aid to cover basic services. Here are just a few schools that have made scholarship adjustments:

  • University of Arizona: New graduate students who did not commit to attending in the fall may find that their funding offers have been withdrawn, although their admission offers are still intact. As of now, students who had already accepted their offers will find that their funding is still in place.
  • Louisiana State University: The school’s Presidential Aid Scholarships have been reduced, and many students may lose access to anticipated on-campus jobs and research opportunities.

On the other hand, some colleges are deferring fall tuition payment due dates until next spring or even later, while others are working with local and state agencies to find new ways to support their students:

  • Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina: Students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools will receive an annual $10,000 scholarship to attend the university.
  • Universities in Kansas: The State offered $50,000 in scholarships to 20 high school students through its “Surprise A Senior” contest.
  • Southern New Hampshire University: SNHU is offering one-year full tuition "Innovation Scholarships" for incoming freshmen who will live on campus while taking classes online. The university has also declared a goal of bringing down campus tuition to $10,000 per year by 2021.

Estimates from the American Council on Education forecast that enrollments for the next academic year will drop by 15%, including a 25% decline in the number of international students. Schools have lost revenue and are eager for students to commit and return to college in the fall. Since colleges need students, while some had to cut scholarship offers, others may increase awards to attract students who are still undecided. Current students may receive incentives to return to campus and wait-listed students could be enticed with scholarship funds. Scholarships that were originally based on test scores may become test-optional.

Colleges may also seek to use scholarship money to draw students who have previously declined admission and committed to another college. Last September, the National Association of College Admissions Counseling settled an antitrust lawsuit with the Department of Justice, thereby allowing colleges to recruit students who had already committed to attend another institution by awarding them more money. Previously, the association’s ethics code prohibited this kind of poaching. The competition for enrollment could see more colleges using this tactic.

As colleges and universities continue to announce plans for fall, you should be able to research adjustments to tuition and scholarships on the school’s website. If your student is enrolled at a school, the school should communicate this information directly to them and to you, the parent.

Outside Scholarships

Students should consider using the summer months to search for outside scholarships to supplement their college funding. James W. Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars, said, “There’s a sort of ‘reset’ on the entire higher education system this year…which could present an opportunity for scholarship seekers.” Many scholarships with March and April deadlines were extended into the summer.

Start by searching for “Scholarships with Extended Deadlines” — insert your city or state as well. Scholarship committees are still accepting applications and it’s a good time to apply using the extended deadlines.

Encourage your student to use these proven strategies to search for outside scholarships:

  • Find your niche — Brainstorm ways you might fit scholarship criteria: abilities, goals, geographic location, college major, career interest, hobbies, volunteer activities and more. Search for scholarships in all these categories. Here is a guide to scholarships specifically for women.
  • Look beyond the obvious — Don’t just search using online search engines. Search locally. Look within your state. Ask family and friends. Listen to the news. Pay attention to local bulletin boards and businesses.
  • Create a spreadsheet and stay organized — Once you have found the best scholarship fits, make a spreadsheet listing the names, websites, deadlines and requirements of each. Use a new, separate email address for your scholarship search with folders to keep track of communication.
  • Take the time to apply — Spend the appropriate time working on each application, making sure you meet all the criteria and have completed all the requirements. Have someone proofread all essays and double check before submitting.

To learn how to craft a winning scholarship application, read How to Apply for and WIN Scholarships.

To help you get started with your outside scholarship search, here is a sampling of five scholarships to apply for this summer:

Solar Action Alliance Scholarship

Students must be (or planning to be) a full-time student at an accredited college or university with a 3.2 GPA or higher and submit a 500–1000 word essay answering this question: What excites you most about the future of solar? The award is $1000 and the deadline for submission is July 1, 2020.

The Savor Summer College Scholarship

Students must be a high school sophomore, junior or senior (2019–2020 school year) with a 3.0 GPA or higher and a U.S. citizen. Submit an essay of 500 words or less answering the question: How are you planning on using your summer vacation? The award is $500 and the deadline for submission is July 1, 2020.

Altec Design Scholarship

Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited college or university for fall 2020 and must complete an essay of no more than 1000 words answering this question: How do you foresee the internet changing your chosen career in the next 20 years? The award is $750 and the deadline for submission is July 15, 2020.

Jared Jeffery Davis Scholarship

Students must be 2020 high school graduates accepted to an accredited college or university, or current college students entering their sophomore, junior or senior year. Submit an essay of 700–800 words answering this question: What is your best solution to the student loan debt crisis? The award is $1000 and deadline for submission is August 1, 2020.

Cyrus Artisan Rugs Scholarship Grant

Applicants must be a high school graduate or current college student pursuing an interior design degree. Students must be in good academic standing and submit an original essay of 500 words or less on a topic related to the rug industry. Alternatively, the applicant could discuss why they should receive the Cyrus Artisan Rugs Scholarship grant. The award is $500 and the deadline for submission is February 28, 2021.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been highlighted on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College and TeenLife online and she has written for Smart College Visit, College Focus, Noodle Education and Road2College. Her articles have also been featured in print in TeenLife, UniversityParent and CollegiateParent publications.
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