Before College: Begin Your Search for Scholarships by Spring of Your Student’s High School Junior Year

Hey, parents of high school juniors! Remember that old saying, “The early bird gets the worm!” It’s especially true for college scholarship searches. That’s why you and your juniors should begin your searches during the first quarter the new year!

Most scholarship providers don’t want to receive applications from students until their high school senior years. Nevertheless, if you’re well organized, beginning your search by the end of March has advantages. Identify scholarships for which your students appear to be good matches, record their application deadlines on your calendars, and be ready to apply for them shortly before their deadlines.

Where to Look

Have your students start in their high school counselors’ offices, looking through scholarship binders, folders, or database maintained there. Your students should keep going back there weekly to look for new scholarship notices.

Next, look locally. Many businesses, churches, civic groups, community foundations, labor unions, and similar organizations offer scholarships to local students — and their notices about what they offer don’t always reach high school counselors.

Finally, look nationally. Use reputable websites such as Big Future by College Board, FastWeb, and — search engines that don’t charge fees and that sell students’ personal information to marketers only if students “opt in” to that practice.

Speaking of fees, never pay a fee for help in identifying and/or applying for scholarships! Far too many of these “services” are scams and rip-offs, taking your money and giving you guidance you can get for free from high school counselors and college financial aid administrators.

What to Look For

While many scholarships are awarded on the bases of grades and test scores, a significant number of scholarships are awarded for other reasons.

Many providers want to help students who remind them of their younger selves in terms of career interests and community, employment history, extracurricular, or leadership activities. So look for scholarships whose eligibility criteria match up well with your students’ experiences and interests.

Students generally must complete scholarship applications with essays and “resumes” describing themselves. So if your students haven’t already done so, have them start compiling resumes similar to what you would build for a job search; resumes with clear career objectives and chronological listings of all they’ve done while in high school. Then, when it’s time, they can easily transfer this information onto scholarship applications.

When to Stop Looking

Different providers publicize their scholarships at different times, so a single search won’t do. Students who land the most scholarships routinely conduct searches right up until college graduation.

What Are You Waiting For?

Search early, keep searching, and submit timely, well-prepared applications. Yes, this’ll take a lot of time. But remember, scholarships are “free” money for college. If you invest 100 hours over the next 12 months and win $5,000 in scholarships, that amounts to “earnings” of $50 an hour. Where else can high school students achieve earnings like that?

Next Wednesday’s post will provide additional information on the financial aid scams and rip-offs you want to avoid.

Special COVID-19 Bulletin # 14: Federal Student Loan Relief Extended Through January

Yesterday the U.S. Education Department (ED) announced the extension of the forbearance on all student loans held by the federal government. This means that, through January 31, 2021:

  • Interest isn’t being charged on your loans;
  • You’re not required to make payments on your loans, although you may do so if you wish; and
  • If you would have been required make payments on your loans, January will be another month that counts toward the months you need to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, forgiveness under the federal income-driven repayment plans, and loan rehabilitation agreements — whether you choose to make payments or not.

Remember that “loans held by the federal government” means all loans borrowed under the:

  • Federal Direct Loan Program (FDLP);
  • Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), if the banks or other lenders that once owned them transferred ownership to ED; and
  • Federal Perkins Loan Program, if the postsecondary schools that once owned them transferred ownership to ED.

This extension may lead to an even longer forbearance — something in which President-Elect Biden and congressional Democrats are interested due to the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Keep following the College Affordability Solutions website for more news about this forbearance in the future.

Before College: College Affordability Is About Fit As Well As Finances

Last week we discussed financial issues to check out when comparatively shopping for schools at which your children will pursue postsecondary learning. Today we focus on an equally important issue — shopping for institutions that are good “fits” for your students.

Yes, dollars and cents are important. But they’re not the only thing to take into consideration. Even if the net price of School A is somewhat higher than School B, it would still be good to select School A if it better conforms to student needs.

Students attending institutions that don’t fit their needs is are more likely to suffer emotional distress, which often causes poor academic performance. Even if they don’t flunk out, they’ll face three choices:

  • Transfer: If you’re lucky, new institutions will accept all courses your students successfully completed at their prior schools. But transfers frequently must retake at least some of those courses. This inflates their costs, because they pay twice for the same classes and because they may need extra academic terms — and the expenses that go along with those terms — to complete them.
  • Persist: Students unhappy with their colleges can always tough it out and remain their until graduation. But this often generates extra costs for support services (counselors, tutors, etc.). It may also lead to some terms during which it all becomes too much and they “stop out” — again, increasing costs by lengthening time to degree. Either way, unhappy persistence can affect grades and/or graduate school test scores, limiting the ability to get admitted to such schools and/or to receive assistantships and fellowships to help them pay for them.
  • Drop Out: Students mismatched with colleges or universities may throw up their hands and simply drop out. Results? A substantial financial investment is lost. Educational loans still must be repaid, but without increased earning power that accompanies postsecondary degrees. And even if they return to college a few years later, scholarships initially awarded to them won’t be there, causing increased reliance on debt to pay costs that rise in excess of inflation almost every year.

Fortunately, you know your students’ ambitions, passions, turn-ons, and turn-offs. Take these into account during campus visits and frank conversations with trusted friends already at various schools as you consider:

  • Campus Characteristics: Do your students need small church-related liberal arts schools, or campuses in small towns or rural areas, or would they flourish at large, diverse universities or in the midst of big cities? Would they fit better in vibrant on-campus communities or be OK at commuter schools where most classmates go home every night and weekend?
  • Class Characteristics: Is it important for your students to have small classes versus large lectures and clinics?
  • Student Body Characteristics: Would they be compatible with other students who are conservative or liberal or of one or the other gender? Do they want to associate with fellow students from diverse ethic and racial groups?
  • Campus Locations: Should they attend colleges close to or far from home and family?

In short, don’t ignore how much postsecondary affordability and success are related to fit as well as finances!

College Affordability Solutions also evaluates your student’s financial aid offers, determine the net costs, and identify funding gaps your student will incur at institutions making those offers. Email to arrange free consultations if we can help.