National Scholarship Month
Did you know that November is National Scholarship Month? According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the average tuition discount for the 2022-2023 school year was 56.2% for first-year, first-time undergraduates. Typically, students with stronger academic profiles than the average student at a school will receive merit aid unless they are highly selective (reject more than 70% of their applicants). Several colleges offer no merit scholarships to students, and dozens only give a handful of awards to the most qualified candidates each year. If you are looking for merit scholarships, you must structure your college list appropriately- applying to less selective colleges and places where you are in the top 25% of admitted students.
Many colleges will automatically award merit scholarships to qualified candidates when they apply, while others require a separate application, either before or after a student applies. Be sure to check the terms of your award to determine if it is one-time or renewable. Renewable awards often require students to maintain a certain GPA or stay in a specific program.
However, many students are still interested in outside scholarships and always ask for recommendations on finding them. Before putting in the work, check your school's policy on outside awards. Many colleges participate in scholarship displacement, where they will actually lower your financial aid package if you bring in outside scholarships. For example, Emory University states: "Because the combined total of all financial aid you receive cannot exceed what you are eligible for or your cost to attend Emory, external scholarships will impact the amount of federal, state, and institutional aid you can receive. You must notify us in writing if you will be receiving any external scholarship so that we can adjust your financial aid package if needed." Additionally, many awards do not come out until after you have to commit to a college. While you can still apply those awards to your college of choice, you shouldn't bank on them when making your college decision. If you are interested in applying for outside awards, here are a few of my top tips to maximize your scholarship awards.
Get Organized: I recommend that students create a spreadsheet with the following information: Name of Scholarship, URL, Criteria, Award Amount, and Deadline. You will then be able to prioritize scholarships based on the due date and see if there are any overlaps (like three scholarships that require the same essay). I also recommend putting scholarships that would apply to you in the future (for example, awards go to high school seniors, but you are only a junior) since some organizations have scholarship opportunities each year. Going Merry can also help with the organization piece. After you complete your profile, you can see which scholarships you are matched with and what, if any, have similar criteria. You can also see an estimate of how long they anticipate the application will take and filter by the deadline.
Start early: Many places offer scholarships to high school students of any age. One example is Raise.Me, which will award "micro-scholarships" for students who take certain courses, earn high grades or participate in extracurricular activities. These "awards" are for one of Raise's 250+ partners, aiming to expose students to colleges from an early age. Basically, the schools they partner with will guarantee that you will get at least X amount of money from that specific college when you are admitted to the school. I think it's an excellent place for early high schoolers to start seeing what kinds of options are available and as a way to ensure you are applying to financial fits from the start.
Put in the work: I've found that many scholarships are almost like a lottery or sweepstakes. Students put in their name and email address for a chance to win $1000. While this doesn't take long, it also doesn't usually generate a return on your investment since it's all based on luck. You also typically will get bombarded with emails, so if you choose to apply to these types of scholarships, be prepared and maybe create a separate email account. Applications that require a bit more work (like an essay or a video) will typically have fewer people applying, therefore increasing your odds.
Think locally: Like the previous tip, you want to decrease your applicant pool. The best way to do that is to apply for scholarships that are more local to you. When I was a school counselor, we had several organizations that gave out a scholarship to a student from our school. Sometimes, we only had 2 or 3 students apply, which is great odds. I've seen law firms, credit unions, and even utility companies offer scholarships. Students, ask your parents if their employers have a scholarship program or talk with your company. Check out your local Elk's Club, American Legion, school club, or community organization. You can also think about the unique populations you are a part of. Maybe you are Jewish or part of the LGBTQ+ community. You may have an unusual hobby like papermaking or bowling. You might be a first-generation college student or raised by a single parent. Take some time and find out what makes you who you are. You can also find scholarships available to students from your state here.
Check social media: I find a lot of scholarship opportunities on X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Follow relevant hashtags, join scholarship groups (or have your parents join if you aren't on Facebook), and "like" different high school counseling offices and college counselors. You may be surprised by what you can find.
While I've linked to many great websites throughout this post, here are a few recommendations. Most of these websites have the same scholarships, so check out a few and pick the platform you like best :)
JLV College Counseling: Every Saturday, she posts a list of scholarships with upcoming deadlines on her blog.
Searching for scholarships is time-consuming, so just be prepared. Start early, build a well-balanced college list that will meet your needs, and take it one step at a time. Treat it like a job, don't get discouraged, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions.