While a lot of parents and students know that scholarships are an excellent way to ensure a student has a shot at graduating from college debt free, many people aren’t sure where to get started with scholarships.
Everything from where your child should begin their search to how to vet scholarship opportunities to how to complete an application properly can initially feel like a mystery, especially if your student has never finished one before.
While every scholarship is different, there are certain similarities about the process of locating and applying for awards that can help you get started with scholarships.
Here are some tips that are especially relevant for those who are just starting their journey into exploring scholarships.
Prepare for Success
While scholarships all have different requirements, there are certain things your student can do to help them set themselves up for success as they get started with scholarships.
Everything from maintaining a strong GPA, participating in school clubs, volunteering, and working can be beneficial, as they help your child stand out from the crowd by showing they are a well-rounded and dedicated individual.
Plus, some organizations, like the National Honor Society and even part-time employers, offer scholarships exclusively to their members or workers. By getting involved, your child may be able to apply for an award that doesn’t have a lot of competition or automatically qualify for no-strings-attached assistance.
For more information, check out these articles:
- 9 Practical Ways Young Students Can Prepare for Scholarships Now
- 4 Part-Time Jobs That Offer Tuition Reimbursement
Ask Financial Aid Office or Guidance Counselors About Scholarships
One of the easiest resources to access when it comes to finding out information about reputable scholarships is college financial aid offices and high school guidance counselors.
These academic professionals have usually been working in their fields for a significant amount of time and typically have the inside scoop on a range of scholarship opportunities.
If your student knows where they will be going to college, the financial aid office is a particularly valuable resource, as they have information about any institutional awards (those limited to students going to that particular school) for which your child may qualify. These generally have less competition than certain well-known national scholarships, so your student’s odds of receiving an award may be higher.
Guidance counselors are usually well-connected in the local community, making it easier to identify local scholarships, and generally keep tabs on national-level awards too. They can be a great point of contact for high school students who haven’t selected a college yet, so it’s worth having your child coordinate some time with them.
Get Started with Scholarships Online
The internet is a great resource when you are trying to locate scholarships or submit applications. Nearly every major organization that offers an award will have the details online, and likely accept applications electronically.
However, you do need to make sure your child is careful when they get started with scholarships online, as not all of the sources are reputable and some organizations that state they offer a scholarship are actually hosting something more akin to a sweepstakes, making them not worth your child’s time in the vast majority of cases.
Generally, legitimate scholarships will have very similar basic requirements. For example, they’ll frequently ask for an essay (written or video), portfolio, or similar demonstration of your student’s skills. They may also request transcripts, especially if the scholarship is merit-based, proof of acceptance to a college, or other formal documentation.
Before your child submits any information as they get started with scholarships, it’s wise to do a little research on the organization to determine whether it is legitimate. There are scams out there, so a bit of care today can save your student a serious headache down the road.
To help your child assess a particular scholarship, here are two articles worth reviewing as the get started with scholarships:
As your child begins researching scholarships, make sure that they explore options with big and small awards. While a $500 may not seem like much in comparison to tuition, every award counts. Plus, your child can win multiple scholarships, so numerous small wins can add up to real tuition savings!
When to Get Started with Scholarships
Another big question many people have is “When should my child get started with scholarships?”
The easy answer is NOW, as the sooner they begin, the higher the likelihood that they will receive some awards, possibly allowing them to graduate debt free.
To put it simply, here is what we say:
- Sophomores in high school – start preparing for scholarships, building resume and involvements
- Juniors in high school – begin applying for scholarships NOW because senior year will be extremely busy as-is
- Seniors in high school – focus on applying for scholarships as early as the summer before and apply all the way through summer until college begins. (Yes.. there are deadlines that early and late!)
- College students – focus on applying over holiday breaks and apply all 4 years in college
If you are looking for more guidance on what your child should be doing now, here are some great articles on the subject:
- 3 Scholarship Seasons & When Your Child Should Be Applying
- 6 Reasons Students Should Apply for Scholarships Right Now
While younger students may think they have plenty of time to get started with scholarships, this really is a thing where the sooner they start, the better off they’ll be. So, making it a priority today can pay off big in the future.
Discuss the Alternative With Your Child
If your child is reluctant to begin because they think using student loans for college is an easy solution to their cash flow problem, it’s important to remind them of the burden they create. If you want more information about the potential drawbacks of student loans, check out:
And here are some sobering stats on student loan debt, including the fact that there are 44.2 million Americans with student loan debt.
Calculating the total cost of college (the TRUE cost of college, including books, gas, parking tickets, housing, food, etc.) with your child and then plugging the estimate into a student loan calculator can usually motivate them to apply.
Want to take it a step further? Calculate what their disposable income will be once they graduate and then deduct the student loan from it to show how little they will have left if they borrow that much. While we don’t want to unnecessarily scare any students, these are realistic assumptions and may help your child realize the consequences of student debt.
Critical Documents Your Child May Need for Scholarships
While not every scholarship asks for the same information, there are certain documents that should be kept handy in case they do. For example, family income information (such as what is found on your federal tax return) can be crucial if your child applies for need-based scholarships. Some scholarships may ask for FAFSA results. If that’s the case, here is the Department of Education’s list of documents you will need for FAFSA:
- FSA ID
- Social Security Number
- Drivers License Number
- 2016 Tax Records
- Records of untaxed income
- Records of assets (money)
- List(s) of the schools your student is interested in attending
For scholarships that ask about the student’s previous accomplishment, typically your child will find an option for attaching scanned documents to their application. This makes it critical that you save any awards they receive so they can be added to their applications as they get started with scholarships.
Sign Up for The Scholarship System Free Training
There is tons of helpful information to help you get started with scholarships. Just take it one step at a time.
If you and your child would like to learn more about our process when it comes to securing scholarships, including:
· My favorite places to find scholarships
· How I reached 6-figures in scholarships with my largest one only being $7,500
· What types of funding to AVOID
· And so much more…
…then sign up for my free college scholarship webinar. It’s a great way to learn about the process and how to identify opportunities that can help your student avoid debt while pursuing their education.