Saturday, November 02, 2013

13 Effective College Scholarship Strategies

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November is National Scholarship Month. College tuition costs outpace the cost of inflation.  Students can spend anywhere from $10,000 to $60,000 per year.  The first two years of college are the most expensive. College costs will include your intended major, size of the school, location, school environment, college expenses, financial aid available, sports/extra-curricular activities, and type of school.  Find ways to reduce expenses such as buying used books or consider off-campus housing to save money and use student loans as a last resort.

Don’t let tuition costs discourage you from going to college.  Saving money before starting college will help defray expenses. Save a portion of money earned at summer jobs for upcoming college expenses.

Some factors to consider when looking at college: your intended major, the size of the school - number of students and classes; location of school - how close to home; school environment - urban, rural, city; college expenses, financial aid offered, sports and extra-curricular activities, and the type of school.

Don’t make assumptions. Talk with your parents early on about college tuition and expenses. Determine: if your parents will pay, if you will pay, cost of books, supplies, laptop, printer, etc., cost of meal plan and snacks, clothing costs, credit card bills, health insurance and unexpected expenses.

Reminder that even though you are accepted it does not mean that you have housing on campus. Obtaining housing is a separate application process with fees and deadlines. You get 1 out of every 10 scholarships you apply for so you have to apply for at least 50 scholarships to ensure you have enough money to cover tuition cost, so apply, apply, apply. 

There are several types of scholarships such as: merit Scholarships which are based on GPA, SAT/ACT scores, etc.; need-Based Scholarships which are based on financial need only; athletic Scholarships which are usually given to star athletes by universities to recruit them for the athletic teams; school-Based Individual Scholarships where  you can apply directly to the scholarship or may be accepted automatically; and full or Partial Scholarships that cover the cost of books, tuition, room and board, and books. Partial scholarships cover part of the tuition, books or just room and board.

Scholarships are free and don’t require an application fee.  Beware of scholarship scams. Verify a company’s history with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org or ask for references. Here are 13 tips when applying for college scholarships:

  1. Research. You can find scholarships online at sites such as fastweb.com or scholarships.com. You can also find scholarships at your state government’s website, your state or local city council, your school counselor or prospective college financial aid office. Start your research as soon as you get your final SAT scores. You can do searches on the internet such as College Board, in the library, local and national organizations, your state government, the school you plan to attend and companies.
  2. Develop a plan.  Determine what your interests are, you major, and at least 5 different schools you would like to attend, weigh the benefits of attending each.
  3. Get Help. Talk to your parents, school counselor and current college students who received scholarships and ask for pointers on how they obtained scholarships.
  4. Community Service.  If you don’t have at least a 3.0 GPA you may not be eligible for scholarships based solely on GPA but you can still be considered if you have at least 1 to 2 years of community service including any leadership role.
  5. Expand your horizons.  Everyone will be applying for scholarships, apply for scholarships that you feel you will have a good chance of getting, i.e. scholarships where you meet all the requirements.
  6. Be on time. Submit all required paperwork several months before deadline. Due to the economy and cutbacks in financial aid more students are competing for a smaller pool of financial aid.
  7. Follow the rules.  Adhere to all the guidelines for the scholarship, don’t add anything extra.  Ask several people to read over your applications and essays.  Ensure all information is accurate and make a copy of each application for your records.  
  8.  Read. Read all the scholarship requirements and instructions to make sure you're eligible before you send in your application. Provide all required information, but don't supply information that was not requested, you could be disqualified.
  9. Required Documents. Reporting correct sections from your tax return, i.e. confusing line 57 with line 63 on form 1040. Ensure tax status, student status and filings are correct.  Remember to sign all required documents. Including additional paperwork with the form as needed.
  10. Complete. Complete all fields on the application. If a question doesn't apply, state that on the application instead of leaving it blank.  Provide additional supporting documentation, such as recommendation letters, transcripts, awards won, recognition letters for community service or other work, and essays.
  11. Organization. Proofread the entire application. Check for misspelled words or grammatical errors. Present information in a neat organized manner and print legibly. Make at least two copies of all the forms before you fill them out. Use the copies as working drafts while preparing application packet to reduce errors or typos. Transfer all error-free information to the actual application.
  12. Essay. Write your essay that captures your personality and explains your interest in the school, reason for asking for money, why the school should choose you, and your future goals after college.
  13. Deliver. Make sure you scholarship package is presentable, no strike-through marks or use of white-outs or run-on sentences. Send in your application packet at least two weeks prior to the deadline to ensure proper delivery.  Include your name, address and SSN (if required) on all your application materials to provide easier tracking if any page gets lost during processing. Keep a copy of the final application package in case the original gets lost during processing.

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