With tuition prices on a steady incline, now more than ever, students should take advantage of every opportunity for free money to help cover costs.
The price of in-state tuition at four-year public universities rose nearly $400 this fall, an increase of nearly 5%, to an average to $8,655. The cost of room-and-board increased to $17,860 for students living on campus to $17,860.
Scholarships are available year round for students of all ages, but high school juniors and seniors should be searching for opportunities now since many scholarship program applications are due in the fall, according to Marianne Ragins, president of The Scholarship Workshop LLC.
“When they apply, they have no idea what they will win and most award notifications don’t come in until February, March or later,” she says. “By then, if they want to apply for more scholarships, the scholarship award amounts have started to get smaller and the scholarships with available deadlines have started to dwindle.”
Busy students may be less than enthusiastic about spending additional time and effort applying, but it’s crucial to incorporate scholarships into the college prep routine, says Shaan Patel, director of SAT Programs at Veritas Prep.
“Although all of this work will seem tedious, the scholarship checks that result often make it worthwhile--I applied for 100 scholarships during my senior year of high school, won approximately 20, which totaled $237,000 to go to college,” he says.
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To bridge any financial gaps and make college more affordable, here are expert tips on how students can increase their chances of landing a scholarship.
How to Find Scholarships
Experts admit that finding scholarships takes a lot of time and research.
Lori Grandstaff, co-founder of ScholarshipExperts.com, recommends using reputable, up-to-date online resources, such as the College Board and Fastweb, that offer accurate profile matching techniques to quickly find relevant scholarships.
“Students should check with the financial aid offices/websites for the colleges they attend [or are interested in], their guidance counselors or academic advisors, their employers, their parents’ employers, and local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, clubs, churches, civic groups, etc.” she says.
Students should also consider their interests and demographics when seeking out opportunities, says Nicholas Tynes, director of College Quest at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund.
“Often scholarship competitions are narrowed along racial, ethnic, income, or even religious considerations,” he says. “Students are encouraged to use everything at their disposal when competing for funds.”
It’s imperative to get organized and create a system to keep track of deadlines.
“Some students respond more to visually-stimulating displays and may enjoy better success staying on top of their planning with a multicolored calendar,” says Tynes. “It may sound trite, but details like this play a much more significant role than most people realize.”
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, Ragins suggests students log the deadline date for every applicable scholarship and give themselves as much time as possible for customizing standard essays and putting their application package together (completing the app, required essay, getting recommendations, proofreading, etc.)
National scholarships often bring in thousands of applications and Patel recommends students look for more-local opportunities to lessen the competition.
“It really is a numbers game,” he says. “However, local scholarships offered by your school, a local organization, or to students only in your city or state will almost always have many less applicants.”
But don’t rule out national scholarships completely. Patel says many national scholarships have certain quota awards that they must give to a particular state or city.
“Students living in academically less competitive states (ex. Nevada) have an advantage in these situations,” he says.
Go the Extra Mile
Rather than filling out applications on auto-pilot, Tynes explains students can make their own case and increase their chances of winning by submitting quality work.
“Be deliberate, thoughtful and passionate in your responses, clearly stating why you, more than countless others applying for the same scholarship, are more deserving.”
Students intent on winning awards would be smart to do the extra work--applicants not willing to write essays or gather letters of recommendation and transcripts will be far less successful, says Grandstaff.
“Students who take the time to complete each part of the scholarship application have a better shot at winning than those who don’t fully submit the required items, and there are typically fewer applicants to scholarship programs requiring these extra steps, so chances of winning are greater.”