Dan Preston - Searching for scholarships
During her senior year at McMinnville High School, Stephanie Arciga spent a lot of time in the high school career center. She wanted financial help to go to college. She applied for nearly 20 scholarships: local, regional and national.
Today, she is a first-year student at Linfield College. She received six awards totaling $10,000, enabling her to attend the prestigious private college in her hometown. She received additional financial aid from the college itself.
Like Stephanie Arciga, you need a solid plan and a commitment to follow it through. Here are some ideas.
Know the basics. Many scholarships for college are merit-based. You earn them by meeting certain standards set by the awarding agency. Merit scholarships might be awarded on academic achievement or on a combination of academics and a special talent, trait or interest. Some are based on financial need.
Scholarships are gifts. You do not repay them. They are offered by colleges, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and professional and social organizations.
Some scholarships cover the costs of a significant portion of your education for multiple years, while others might pay several hundred dollars or more of the costs for one year. Either way, if you meet the qualifications, you should apply, as scholarships are a great way to pay fewer out-of-pocket expenses, which may allow you to borrow less in student loans.
Think close to home first, then state and regional, then national. Scholarships offered by the college(s) you are considering attending are the first place to check. Ask colleges how to apply for their scholarships. Some offer awards based on the application form, while others require an additional form. Some are tied to a specific talent such as music, acting, speech or athletics. Check admission and financial aid web pages, and also find out whether the academic department of your intended major offers anything.
Next, you should look to your high school, local foundations, business and civic groups, your parent’s employer(s) and your church. For Oregonians, the Oregon Student Access Commission website, www.oregonstudentaid.gov/scholarships.aspx, is a must-see because a number of scholarships are managed at this central site and one application allows you to apply for multiple scholarships. The OSAC scholarship process has a 5 p.m. deadline on March 1, 2013. Not a minute later!
Finally, national scholarship databases such as Fastweb.com, Scholarships.com, the College Board and Cappex might be possible sources.
Watch out for scams. You should never have to pay to apply for a scholarship. Something is not right if you are asked to pay an application fee, if student loan fees must be paid in advance of the application, if you must pay for information about a scholarship, if winning an award is guaranteed, or if you are told that billions of dollars go unclaimed and an agency will tap into them on your behalf. If it sounds too good to be true, ask your high school counselor or college financial aid office to help verify the claim. You should have free access to sources of aid that help pay for your education.
Check application deadlines and requirements. It is a competitive process to apply for and receive scholarships, and it’s crucial to examine the application deadlines and other requirements. We noted the OSAC deadline above, but other scholarships are awarded on different time-lines. Keep searching!
Once you identify a scholarship to pursue, make sure you understand the application process and stay ahead of the deadlines. Give written references plenty of time to complete a letter or evaluation. Allow your high school office time to process your transcript request.
“I always made sure to ask ahead of time for recommendation letters, and had my official transcripts on hand just in case,” Arciga said.
Don’t just start the application, complete it! Arciga said it took time and effort to receive $10,000 in scholarships. “The process to get these scholarships was simply determination and persistence.”
Once you have put in the work to start an application, make sure to follow through on all requirements. You may not receive any reminders from the scholarship source.
Ask how winning a scholarship affects other student aid. Winning a scholarship can affect other student aid. If you win an award from the college, staff will know how it affects other aid options. Due to federal and state laws regarding grants, work and loans, colleges are required to account for all scholarship funds you receive. All aid added together can’t be more than what it costs to attend school, and the financial aid office will have to work out the details with you.
Questions? Make sure to ask someone — your high school counselor, someone at the college — or check online resources.
Guest writer Dan Preston is vice president for enrollment management at Linfield College, where he has worked since graduating from Linfield in 1983. He has a son and a daughter in college. He enjoys golf, reading, following the Seattle Seahawks and traveling with his wife, Jayne.