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Get Ready for FAFSA Season!Guest Contributor
The number one question parents and students ask when they contemplate college is, “How are we going to pay for it?”
Even if you were diligent and saved for higher education, tuition costs are constantly on the rise. Did you know the average annual tuition (not including room and board) at a private college or university is $35,000 per year? State institutions are also costly, with tuition rates around $25,000 per year. This creates a challenge for most families.
In order to avoid borrowing or taking money from your retirement, your student can apply for and win scholarships to help pay for college. Although many parents and students believe applying for scholarships is a waste of their time, nothing could be further from the truth.
It does, however, require a serious time commitment from your student.
There are scholarships available for every student from grade school to graduate school. Most students begin searching during high school and neglect to continue applying during college. By doing this, they are leaving free money on the table which could lead to excessive borrowing and additional student loan debt.
When searching for scholarships, it’s crucial to know where to look. Parents can help by listening and watching for scholarship opportunities. There are smartphone apps like Scholly that allow you to search while waiting in the car for your student (which I used to spend quite a bit of time doing). Once you find a scholarship that would be a good match for your student, share it with them via text or email.
In addition to using online sources, keep your eyes open for scholarship opportunities posted at fast food restaurants, coffee shops, chain store registers and local bulletin boards.
Here are five more ways your student can search:
Some scholarship applications take little effort, such as no-essay scholarships, while others require creative submissions like videos, artwork or photography. Most, however, have an essay as the main component.
Writing an essay that stands out and impresses the reader is key to winning the scholarship. Be smart and read some winning essays, especially if your student can find ones for the scholarship they’re interested in.
In addition, follow these steps:
Your student should be prepared to write multiple drafts, so remember to leave time for that.
Print a list of every element required for completion of the scholarship application. Create a checklist and verify that you have followed every instruction listed in the scholarship guidelines. A missing component is a sure rejection.
You are presenting your best self through these submissions, so check and double-check your essay and supplemental materials. It’s critical that you do not miss the deadline. In fact, if possible submit the application at least two weeks before the deadline.
Your student’s application must stand out. Recommendations, if required, should be stellar. Choose the people who write these recommendations carefully.
If there are no instructions about not including additional elements (newspaper clippings, awards, etc.), include them; and if submitting online, include a link to a personal website (for example, look at www.wix.com) created to highlight accomplishments. It’s all about marketing yourself to the scholarship committee.
Applying for scholarships is not easy. Your student may apply and get rejected. If that happens, don’t be discouraged. But if your student keeps trying without seeing positive results, they might be making these mistakes:
It's important to be aware of fraudsters prepared to take advantage of unsuspecting students and their families. Learn more about how to spot and avoid scholarship scams >
First, it’s free money that will never have to be repaid.
Second, your student will have a greater appreciation for the sacrifice required to finance their education and this will motivate them to strive to be academically successful.
Lastly, it pays better than any minimum wage job — a $1,000 scholarship that took four hours to complete paid $250 an hour!