Paying for College-Scholarships

This time of year, I often get messages via social media from parents asking for tips on where their students can find scholarships. The majority of scholarships most students receive come from the colleges themselves. Scholarships are more of a marketing tool or an incentive to get students to enroll than actual financial aid. Some colleges need to give aid to attract students, some don’t. There are outside scholarships but they take work and are rare. Here are some tips for maximizing scholarship opportunities.

Start early–strong grades and test scores (even with test optional schools) help in the scholarship process. That means starting as a freshmen getting the best grades possible. It means doing some test prep to ensure SAT or ACT scores are strong. Both College Board (SAT) and ACT offer free test prep. And while many schools are test-optional (don’t require SAT or ACT) we are still seeing many top students submit scores to competitive colleges.

Getting involved also helps. Organizations like Key Club (Kiwanis), National Student Government Association, Robotics–give scholarships. Some of these awards are given at a local level, some at a state level and some national–typically for winning a competition. Attending these organizations meetings and conferences is helpful. Read the newsletters or visit the website to find details on their scholarships. Ask the teacher or staff advisor if they know of available scholarships through the organization. Please note these are often one time awards of small amounts, not an award you get each year of college.

Talk to your high school counselor about awards available at your high school and in your community. Many times at senior awards night, several scholarships are given to students. They may be a $500 award for being the top senior spanish student. They may be from the local Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Masons, or other organization. Some may take an application, some may be decided by school staff and faculty. This again is a reason to get involved. Its also a reason to meet with your school counselor regularly (they will know you and think of you when they need to find students for these awards).

There are many scholarship search engines like, or even just doing a google search like “scholarships for women in STEM careers”. But these scholarships are small and take work. Every year you read a story in the media of a student who applied to hundreds of these, won dozens and is paying their tuition through many $1000 and $500 scholarships. If you are willing to do the work, it could be worth it.

Check with your parent’s employers. Many companies have foundations or scholarships for their employees’ children. If your parents or family are involved in a church, community organization (like rotary), a fraternity or sorority, or other club there may be scholarships. Typically they can be found on the organization’s website under community or charitable partnerships. Or ask your parents to check with human resources.

Many employers also often scholarships or tuition programs to their student employees including Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, McDonalds and more. If typically need to be employed as a senior in high school and meet their criteria. Talk to your manager or human resources office for more information.

Most scholarships open in the fall of the senior year and have a deadline. Explore as a sophomore or junior to learn what is out there, what’s required, when is the deadline and how do you apply. Make a list and keep the url addresses so you can easily access your senior year.

To get the most money from schools, you need to be among the strongest applicants in the pool. If you are applying to Harvard–they don’t give much merit (they don’t have to) and everyone is a great applicant. If you are applying to a college that doesn’t have a brand name, you can often get more aid. A secondary benefit is these schools also make applying to graduate school/law school/med school easier–being one of the top students means faculty will get to know you and remember you as such (verses having a class of uber achievers). Those professors will write great letters of recommendation. The environment isn’t typically cut throat making it easier to get good grades. Its also easy to get involved and lead organizations. Faculty know alumni to help connect you to internships and jobs. If merit and cost are a factor for you, you might want to save those brand names for graduate school.

To see how your stats line up to the applicant pool, you can look at the school’s common data set. You can google this and look at the admissions section. Or you can use college board’s website, click search, type in the school name and click the admissions tag. You will see the admission stats for the last admitted class.

If you need help developing a list of schools that will include more merit scholarships, Coffman Consulting can help

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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