The total average cost of higher education now exceeds $240,000 per child at private four-year colleges.¹ There are several ways students and their families can fund the increasingly expensive college experience. Starting early with a comprehensive savings plan2 and, later, setting realistic expectations based on academic level, future career goals, and budget sets a solid foundation. Most people have a good idea about what they should do in these areas, even if they don’t necessarily follow-through with action.
Source: College Board, 2023
That said, one of the areas of uncertainty we often get asked by our clients – where they are unsure of how to even begin – is how students can find college scholarships to help families defray higher education costs. Navigating the world of college scholarships can be a formidable task. For many, it seems a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Luckily, the internet has centralized the scholarship search process. There are also some helpful tactics that can help you identify rocks to turn over for scholarships others might have missed. Here’s a comprehensive guide on the subject.
One of the keys to securing scholarships is to start the search process early. Rising high school sophomores should begin looking into scholarship opportunities as this will provide ample time to understand the requirements and deadlines. Starting early allows students to tailor their high school experience to meet the criteria of desired scholarships, whether that means bolstering community service hours, taking on leadership roles, or improving academic standing.
Understand the Types of Scholarships
Scholarships come in various forms, and understanding these can help in targeting the right opportunities:
- Merit-based scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement, artistic abilities, athletic prowess, or other talents
- Need-based scholarships take into account a student’s financial situation
- Student-specific scholarships may be designed for applicants from certain backgrounds, identities, or with specific life circumstances
- Career-specific scholarships are offered to students planning to pursue a certain field of study or career path
- College-specific scholarships are provided by the college or university itself to incoming students based on various criteria
Use a Multi-Pronged Approach
There is no one-size-fits-all method to finding scholarships, so students should use multiple strategies. The best place to start is via online scholarship databases. Numerous websites and databases are dedicated to scholarship listings. These include:
Leveraging these databases has a number of advantages. First, they allow you to create profiles and match them with scholarships that fit your qualifications. This will help you winnow down your search to make sure you are spending time on realistic possibilities that match your skills, interests, and goals. These databases also have filtering tools that allow you to easily organize high-priority opportunities as well as deadlines and requirements. Finally, seeing multiple scholarships in one place will allow you to quickly scan different topics, allowing you to re-use all or parts of your essays and applications, saving you valuable time, and ultimately allowing you to apply more frequently.
In addition to the databases, you will want to tap into resources both at your high school and at the colleges to which you are thinking about applying. High school guidance counselors have a wealth of knowledge about local and national scholarship opportunities. They can provide information about less-publicized scholarships that might have less competition.
The financial aid offices at colleges offer resources for their specific scholarships and can also inform students about external opportunities. Especially in light of the rising number of college applications students now submit (up 30% since 2019-2020, according to data from the Common App),3 colleges want to know that you have a strong interest in attending their school. They are more likely to extend an offer – and scholarship aid – if you express a strong desire to attend early and often.
Outside of school, look to community organizations for possible funding. Local businesses, community groups, churches, and non-profit organizations often offer scholarships for local students. While these are usually lower in value (usually in the $500-$1500 range) these can be less competitive due to their limited applicant pool. Similarly, professional associations related to a field of study may offer scholarships to encourage students to enter that field. Ask teachers or employers for direction, here. Often, local firms view these programs both as good community outreach and good business practice, since it can put potential future hires into their applicant pipeline.
12 Tips For College Scholarship Search Success
1. Tailor Your Search
When looking for scholarships, tailor your search to your strengths, interests, and background. Applying for scholarships that align closely with your profile increases your chances of success.
2. Organize Your Scholarship Search
Keeping your scholarship search organized is essential. Create a spreadsheet or database to track:
- Scholarship names
- Application components (essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts)
- Status of application (not started, in progress, submitted, won, or denied)
3. Crafting a Strong Application
When applying for scholarships, make each application as compelling as possible. You’re trying to stand out from the crowd, not blend in. If you have a unique story to tell, here’s your opportunity to relay it.
4. Follow Directions Carefully
Make sure to follow all the instructions for the scholarship application! Missing documents or not adhering to guidelines can disqualify you.
5. Write an Outstanding Essay
Scholarship essays are your opportunity to stand out. Tailor each essay to the scholarship and be personal, specific, and truthful.
6. Letters of Recommendation
Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your qualifications. Provide them with your resume and information about the scholarship to help them write a more compelling letter.
7. Polish Your Resume
Some scholarships require a resume. Make sure it is updated, well-organized, and highlights your achievements.
8. Meet Deadlines
Missed deadlines are one of the main reasons applications are not considered. Aim to submit scholarship applications well before the due date.
9. Apply Widely but Wisely
While it’s good to apply for numerous scholarships, be strategic. Focus on those where you meet all the criteria and spend time crafting a tailored application.
10. Follow Up
After submitting a scholarship application, if you haven’t heard back by the decision date, it’s appropriate to follow up with the organization to inquire about the status of your application.
11. Be Persistent and Learn from the Process
Applying for scholarships is a numbers game, and rejection is part of the process. Be persistent, learn from any feedback, and continue to refine your approach.
12. Protect Your Personal Information
Beware of scholarship scams. Legitimate scholarships will never ask for a fee to apply. Protect your personal information and be cautious of offers that seem too good to be true.
Finding and applying for scholarships can be a demanding but rewarding process. With a strategic approach and diligent effort, students can uncover numerous opportunities to help fund their college education. It’s not just about lessening the financial burden—it’s also about recognizing a student’s hard work, achievements, and potential. By employing a meticulous and organized strategy, the pursuit of scholarships can indeed become a fruitful part of the college preparation journey.
Interested in learning more about how Magellan Financial can help you save for college? Contact our team of Financial Advisors, today!