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.

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