You recently read a story in the news about a college grad who fully funded his education with scholarships. This story gets you excited. Maybe your child can graduate college with no debt simply by applying for scholarships. Millions of dollars in scholarships each year go unfunded, you hear. The wheels start spinning. Yes! This is the solution to your problems!
Then your skeptical side kicks in. Is it really possible to fund an entire education with scholarships? Your child is a good student, but he isn't valedictorian. Maybe it isn't worth the time or the effort. You don't feel like arguing with your teen about why it is a good investment of time. You quickly move on and decide not to bother.
Does this scenario sound familiar? College planning - particularly paying for college - puts students and parents on a psychological seesaw that makes it hard to propel us into action. It's both nerve wracking and exciting.
So, what is the truth about scholarships?
While it is possible to fund an an entire college education with scholarships, it is highly unlikely. Even the most brilliant and dedicated student will have a hard time replicating that scenario in real life. But that doesn't mean scholarship searches are a waste of your and your student's time.
Even small scholarships move the needle. Any penny that can help you pay for college and reduce the amount you need to borrow for school (and pay back with interest) is a penny worth searching for.
If you want reduce your college borrowing, here are 5 scholarship search mistakes you won't want to make.
1. Conducting your whole search in a day.
Your student may be used to procrastinating with school work and writing a term paper in a single night. Treating your scholarship search like a typical school assignment is not likely going to yield the results you are hoping for.
The wise choice: Set aside a few hours a week to searching for scholarships over the course of a few months and put thought and time into the application process.
2. Not bothering with local scholarships.
The wise choice: Local scholarships have far fewer competitors. The probability of you receiving a scholarship that has only 50 applicants vs. 50,000 is much better. Focus your search on small, local scholarships. They are much more attainable and a great investment of your time.
3. Thinking it is all about academics.
So maybe your child is a B student. That may not win her any full rides to your state flagship university, but that doesn't mean there aren't scholarships out there for her. Scholarships are often awarded to students for other qualities. Awards may be given to students involved in community service, that have a life long passion for bowling or fishing, or simply those who are financially needy.
The wise choice: Don't make assumptions about what kinds of scholarships are out there. Look for yourself and see how widely qualifications vary by program. There are scholarships out there for just about every type of student.
4. Limiting your search to online.
Did you know your guidance office is one of the best places to find scholarships? Many scholarships come from guidance nominations, so be sure to let your counselor know you are interested in doing what it takes to get free money for school.
In addition to the school counselor office, make sure to ask around about scholarships. Don't be shy. Have your parents see if their employer has a scholarship program for children of employees, ask family friends if they know of any good opportunities. Don't limit yourself and you may find some good local opportunities that very few folks know about.
The wise choice: Search online, yes, but also ask everyone you know about other scholarship opportunities. Talk to your guidance counselor, check the bulletin board at your local library, and talk about your scholarship search to pretty much everyone you know.
5. Paying a service to find you scholarships.
There are so many free resources available to help you find scholarships. Paying a service is never a good idea. These are usually scams and often don't result in any free money for college. The only way to find scholarships for college is to put in the legwork yourself.
The wise choice: Never pay a service to find you scholarships. Just don't.
College is expensive. Students are borrowing on average over $35,000 for their college educations and any amount you can get to reduce the total debt you take on is worthwhile. Want free money for college? Remember to make your scholarship search a research project, search everywhere (not just on the web), use your best attributes to your advantage, and make local scholarship hunting a big part of your search.
Happy college planning!