Monday, January 12, 2009

Land Yourself Money for School

If you are (or have) a high school student looking toward a college education, you’re probably wondering how tuition will be paid for. Sure, there are academic scholarships for great grades, and you can always cross your fingers that you’ll get one.

But academic scholarships don't always cover everything, and not everyone can get one since there are only so many out there. The great news is that you don’t have to rely solely on academic scholarships to pay for college—there are other scholarships to be found.

Many corporations, companies, and even individuals sponsor scholarships of all stripes that look for things besides good grades. Bottom line: There really is no excuse to not get the education you need.

Many of these groups award a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so one scholarship alone won't be enough to pay for all of college. What to do? Apply for lots of them!

Students who apply for several dozen small scholarships can often receive enough funding to pay for all of their college experience—including tuition, fees, boarding, and books. Sometimes the money is paid directly to the school for whatever it's intended for, and other times a check is cut to student.

Amazingly, much of this scholarship money is unclaimed each year, mostly because students don’t even know it exists.

Plan Ahead
In a best-case scenario, students should start thinking about the kinds of information they’ll eventually use on scholarship applications around ninth or tenth grade, even though they won’t be applying for another year or two.

Be involved in school programs, leadership opportunities, school clubs, extracurricular activities, service organizations, honor societies, and more. Note any awards you’ve received and all of your major accomplishments.

Make a list of all of them—they’re the kinds of things scholarship committees look for.

Then expound on them: the more specific, the better. “Participated in a Sub-for-Santa event” won’t hold nearly as much weight as details like: “Spent 45 hours coordinating 15 high school students in a Sub-for-Santa drive, raising $2,400.”

Note that church callings for youth (such as Teachers quorum president or Mia Maid first counselor) can be included in your list, but they need to be phrased in such a way that a scholarship committee (who likely will not be LDS) will know what it means and what the job involved.

Not many scholarship committees will know what a "Mia Maid" is or what a "Teacher" president does. Describe the calling in actions. For example, “For ten months, acted as president of church girls’ group consisting of eight young women ages 14 to 15. Helped plan and carry-out weekly activities that included life skills and community service.”

Note anything about you that might be scholarship specific, such as the geographic area you live in, gender or race, and career goals or interests.

Most scholarships ask for letters of recommendation. To make each scholarship’s deadline, be sure to ask for letters (from teachers, employers, or other adults who know you well) well advance so they have plenty of time to get them back to you before each application is due.

Create Reusable Materials
Many scholarships ask for similar items. You can reuse many of the things you collect and write, including essays. Make lots of copies of your transcripts and test scores. Same goes for letters of recommendation you receive, so you can use them with a number of applications.

While you must tailor your application to each specific scholarship, reusing what you can will save you a lot of time, especially if you’re applying for a large number of scholarships.

Personal Themes and Examples
You’ll need to describe yourself in various ways on applications. Think back to your academic, work, church, and extracurricular activities. Find patterns there, and then use those patterns to describe yourself.

Come up with at least three themes. Possible themes include your interests (athletics, science, music, etc.), service to the community, leadership, your ethnic identity, your unique talents, and so on.

After you’ve picked three themes, expand them with powerful specifics. Write three solid examples of your actions and/or accomplishments within each theme, being as specific as possible. Use your list of activities and awards to create the themes and examples.

Find the Scholarships
  • Start local and work your way out. Ask around at local organizations, such as businesses, radio stations, rotary clubs, etc. Spread the word through family and friends; they may be aware of a scholarship offered by an employer or through another little-known avenue.
  • Talk to your school counseling office. They may have binders filled with scholarship information, and they can often point you toward other resources.
  • Search published scholarship directories. You can find many of them at bookstores and at your local library, such as How to Go to College for Almost Free by Ben Kaplan.
  • Search the Internet. Do a search for, “Scholarship Search Engine,” and you’ll find many great sites (such as and where you can search for scholarships using criteria that fit you.

A word of caution: Never pay a website or a person to hunt down scholarships for you. Reputable businesses don’t do that, and you’ll be out more money than they’ll ever give you, regardless of their promises.

This is the time of year students need to be thinking about scholarships and paying for college after graduation. Get ahead of the game and claim some of the money for yourself! It takes time and effort, but the rewards of a college education—one that’s paid for—are priceless.

Return to the Neighborhood.

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