For most families, cost plays a significant role in the college search process. Thankfully, there are many resources available to assist with making this important investment.
Scholarships are one great way to offset the cost of attending college. Millions of scholarships are available to students willing to look for and pursue them, and there is, quite literally, something for everyone. Is your student passionate about cats? There’s a scholarship for that. Blessed with height? Don’t miss this opportunity. Planning how to survive the impending zombie apocalypse? Get help attending college before the end comes.
“College is one of the largest investments you will make over the course of your lifetime, so putting the extra effort into finding ways to offset the costs is time well spent,” Illinois State Associate Director of Admissions and Scholarships Debbie Lamb said. “Whether you receive a $100 or $1,000 scholarship, your return on investment is there.”
Scholarships, unlike need-based financial aid, are typically awarded based on merit—grades, achievements, activities, and interests. They vary in amount and desired qualifications, with many organizations looking to reward or encourage certain characteristics, behaviors, or career paths.
Your student can find scholarships offered directly through the schools they apply to, with awards often distributed by the university itself as well as through particular departments or organizations associated with the institution, like alumni groups.
Crystal Grzeslo, a communication major at Illinois State, was a recipient of the school’s University Scholarship, an award designed to recognize academic achievement as well as first-generation and/or underrepresented status.
“I was one of those people who if I didn’t get a scholarship, I wasn’t going to go to college,” Grzeslo said. “I tried to find scholarships anywhere. I did so much research.”
There are also countless opportunities to find scholarships from independent private organizations across the country or from local groups in your own community.
How does my student find scholarships?
- Look far: Start at a college’s financial aid website, but don’t stop there. Casting a wide net makes it more likely that your student will be awarded some scholarship dollars. There are many free, reputable online search engines like College Board, Scholarships.com, and Fastweb designed to help discover available funds.“Keep in mind you should never have to pay an organization to conduct a scholarship search for you,” Lamb said. “Be leery of any source which asks for a fee for services. You can do the research yourself free of charge.”
- Look near: Focus locally as well. There is often money to be earned from professional or community organizations, social clubs, and employers. These often have a smaller pool of applicants and, therefore, increased odds of being selected. High school counselors or community college financial aid offices can help you find scholarship opportunities within your own community.
- Be organized: As your student searches for scholarships, encourage him or her to build a list of awards that fit his or her achievements and interests. That helps ensure time and energy isn’t wasted applying for awards for which your student won’t be eligible or will have little shot of winning. Also, take note of application instructions and deadlines. A missed date or unanswered question could easily disqualify him or her from eligibility.
- Don’t procrastinate: Don’t wait until a college decision is made to pursue scholarships. Encourage your student to begin the scholarship search process at about the same time as the college application process. The best time is the first semester of his or her senior year in high school. More time means more care put into the scholarship search and more manageable deadlines. In addition, more extensive scholarship research may give you a better picture of which schools are affordable for your family.
- Don’t stop: Rejection can be hard, but continuing the search even after failing to win a scholarship is critical to maximizing awards. In addition, while some scholarships renew each year, others do not. Continuing the search into and throughout college allows your student to not just earn scholarship support entering school but during his or her time there.
Destinee Guice, a public relations major at Illinois State University, didn’t initially earn any awards when entering college, but by being an active member of the campus community she built a scholarship-worthy resume. She was caught by surprise when, after speaking on a student panel during an event, she was contacted by a member of the Financial Aid office.
“One of the Financial Aid officers was on the panel also and listened to me speak. I was not aware of that until she contacted me,” Guice said. “She said she heard me speak about my campus involvement and was really pleased with that, and offered me the Country Financial Scholarship.”
“My advice: I would just say to get involved,” she said. “Step outside your comfort zone.”
There are many opportunities for students to earn money for college. A little time and effort are all it takes for your student to start discovering available avenues to make college more affordable.
You can start by checking out the scholarships Illinois State University has to offer.
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