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A Scholarship Search Strategy for Parents

Suzanne Shaffer


It’s every parent’s dream for their student to win enough scholarship money to pay for college. Sugarplum fantasies of a full-ride scholarship dance in our heads when our children exhibit an above average aptitude in sports, academics or other talent giving us hope some college will offer to finance their entire education.

Sadly, for most of us, this doesn’t happen. I know it was certainly my dream. Although my daughter was not the beneficiary of a full-ride scholarship, she worked hard throughout high school and received some merit aid in the form of grants and scholarships from the school. We supplemented that with outside scholarships, making her education affordable.

According to EducationData.org, five million scholarships make $24 billion available to college students every year. Most parents want their student to win some of that scholarship money. Even if you can afford to pay for college, free money is always welcome.

When I talk with parents and parent groups, I hear their frustration about scholarships. Some say their student isn’t motivated to search and apply for them. Others complain their student has applied for scholarships but hasn’t won a dime. Most ask me for advice on how and where to search.

But the number one question parents ask me is, "How can I help my student search and apply for scholarships?" Their students are overwhelmed by all the other tasks related to applying to college, and adding scholarship searching to that list feels impossible.

Parents can most certainly help their students with a scholarship search strategy. This can happen during high school and continue in college since scholarships are also available to current college students.

Here are just a few ways parents can help with scholarships!

1. Help With Organization

Your student needs a system to organize the scholarship search and application process. Encourage them to set up a Google docs spreadsheet for scholarships with the name of the scholarship, requirements, due dates, and information needed for each. Don’t forget to include scholarships they might qualify for later (after high school, college, graduate school).

As you and your student find scholarships, you can add to the list that will be easily accessible to both of you. This will also help you stay on top of deadlines so you can quickly text a reminder to your student.

It's also a good idea to schedule scholarship check-ins to go over any outstanding items or completed applications ready for submission.

2. Ask Your Employer

Many businesses offer college scholarships to the children of employees. These scholarships aren’t usually publicized and often go unclaimed because employees aren’t aware of them. Always ask if there are scholarships available.

3. Contact Alumni Organizations

Local alumni organizations often offer scholarship opportunities to assist local students who are applying to their alma mater. If your student is interested in a particular college or university, have them contact the local alumni organization affiliated with that school to inquire about grants or scholarships. Many times these funds go unclaimed.

4. Ask Local Organizations

Local scholarships offer the best odds for your student. Since many have few applicants, the chances of your student winning the scholarship are increased. These may be smaller awards, but every dollar adds up. These funds can cover the costs of books or other college expenses.

Local organizations like the Lions Club, the Elks Club, the Toastmasters, your church, engineering firms and more offer scholarships to local students. With most, your student does not have to have an affiliation with the organization to apply.

5. Help With the Search

Perhaps one of the most helpful tasks parents can do is search for scholarships. With the help of your smartphone and some spare time, you can easily search for scholarships, save the links, and add them to your spreadsheet later.

Use the internet to do specific searches such as “scholarships for seniors 2022.” You can also use scholarship search sites with searchable databases that help you filter out scholarships that don’t match your student’s background or interests.

I also recommend purchasing (or borrowing from the library) The Ultimate Scholarship Book. This book lists thousands of scholarships for students. I carried it with me while my daughter was in high school and used free moments while waiting at the doctors, the DMV, and other places where I was able to sit and read to search for scholarships.

Don’t forget social media! You can search for scholarship opportunities on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Organizations and scholarship search sites post available scholarships daily and it’s easy to follow them and keep up with their activity on social media.

In addition, pay attention to the local news as they often announce scholarship winners, ask friends and family if they know of any scholarships, look on your student’s high school website, and search other local high schools online for scholarship notices.

6. Help With Reminders

Email or text your student when deadlines are approaching to remind them to submit the application on time. With so many things to do, it’s hard for students to stay on top of deadlines.

It may be helpful to keep a scholarship calendar either online, on your phone that you can share with your student, or a physical calendar updated with scholarship application due dates listed.

Most scholarship applications can be completed and submitted online, but many local scholarships still require a paper submission. Whether you submit online or in the mail, it’s important to note that in your spreadsheet and make sure your student has plenty of time to complete and submit the application at least a week before it is due. This will ensure it’s on time and arrive before the last-minute applicants.

7. Make It Easy to Apply

It makes sense to be prepared with all the required scholarship components easily available. Have these items on hand to insert in the application packet or submit online when needed:

  • Official copies of your student’s high school transcript in sealed envelopes
  • Letters of recommendation from teachers and their counselor
  • Essays that your student can reuse
  • Scholarship resume copies
  • Copies of awards and honors

Having these items readily available will make it simpler for you and your student to complete and submit applications on time, especially when you come upon a scholarship that is due soon.

8. Commit Time Each Day to Scholarships

When your student commits to time each day to work on scholarships, it breaks the scholarship process down into bite-size tasks. They might devote 30 minutes a day into specific scholarship-related tasks: searching, organizing, essay writing and applying.

Encourage your student to view this as a part-time job. Three hours working on a $1,500 scholarship, if won, would equal $500 per hour. You can’t earn that working any part-time job after school! The time they devote to this process could pay off in huge dividends.

9. Be Their Support System

It’s easy to give up when you don’t see results. The key to having a winning scholarship search strategy is perseverance. The more scholarships your student applies for, the greater their chances are of winning.

It’s time-consuming, stressful and often disappointing, but you can be a positive influence throughout the entire process. When your student doesn’t win, encourage them not to give up. Help them learn from any mistakes they might have made and improve on the next application.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.

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