It's getting harder and harder for families to cover the cost of college today, but families can make the cost more manageable by understanding how to be an educated consumer. Ideally, we want to try and find as much money as possible from outside sources to help lower the cost. Scholarships or “gift aid” are free money for college based on your student’s qualifications–their need, talents, traits, or interests. The giver of the scholarship determines what qualifications are required to receive their money.
Step #1 - Have the College Money Talk
If you haven’t already done so, you need to have the “College Money Talk” with your student so they understand the ways to pay for college and just how important scholarships are to cutting the cost, and minimizing student loans. As parents, we don’t always teach personal finance to our young adults, yet we are asking them to make one of the largest buying decisions of their lives at the age of 18. Scholarships are one piece of the college funding puzzle that they can 100% have an impact on.
Step #2 - Have a scholarship search game plan
Finding free money for college will take some investigation on your part, but thanks to the internet and other resources you can find your solution. But you must have a game plan. You can’t control how many scholarships you will be awarded, but you can control how many you apply for. In our experience, the hard part isn’t finding scholarships to apply for, it’s motivating your high school senior to apply for them on time! This is totally understandable based on how much work can go into applying for college these days. Work with your student to set a realistic goal of applying for at least 6 to 8 scholarships that are a good match.
Step #3 - Start Local
When beginning your scholarship search start locally. By far, the easiest place to start is your high school guidance counselor. They have the inside track on applicable scholarships for you, particularly the smaller local scholarships which aren’t usually posted online but that can really add up. Local community groups are also a great resource for finding scholarships. Search those groups you and your family are part of. Churches, employers, clubs, and societies are all looking to help students attain their college dreams and want to help financially.
Step #4 - Pick the right colleges
We want to make a special mention here about colleges and the merit money they award to students. Many colleges award merit aid to students who meet certain academic criteria based primarily on grade point averages and test scores. Colleges are looking for the best students, and they are prepared to provide scholarship money to get them. So choosing schools where your student will be in the top 25% of the incoming class academically is important to getting the most aid possible. This is why building your school list is such a critical piece to lowering your costs as much as possible.
Remember, you don’t want to rule out schools based on the sticker price alone, i.e. the price you can find on a school's website. Remember that the sticker price of a college is completely irrelevant. It is all about your “net price” to attend after financial aid is awarded.
Where do you search online for “Free Money”?
When it comes to finding ways to pay for college, the internet can be your friend. Searching online for scholarships and ways to pay for college can be time consuming, but it can be worth your while and several search websites are very helpful. A few to consider:
College Board’s Big Future
Beware of any search engines wanting to charge you money for their services or that won’t protect your personal information. Many search engines out there are looking to sell your personal information, so be careful to read those privacy rights before signing up.
Apply for scholarships early on. You don’t have to wait until your senior year.
Be aware of scholarship deadlines. They vary throughout the year. Remember early is better!
Don’t discount small dollar awards. They may have fewer applicants.
Don’t discount those scholarships that require a little extra effort. Again, they may have fewer applicants because of the extra requirements to win them.
Apply for as many as you can to improve your chances…minimum of 6 to 8.
Search and apply for scholarships every year while you’re in college, not just the freshmen year.
Finding ways to pay for college through scholarships can be a valuable piece of your paying for college puzzle. Have questions about how to find more scholarships or lower your costs of college? We are here to help answer them for you. Schedule a call with us today to discuss your unique planning needs.
Mike Bink, AAMS®, CCFS®
Mike works with families to simplify the college funding process and is widely recognized as an expert in college planning. He is passionate about empowering families to become informed consumers of higher education so that they don't pay a penny more for college than they absolutely have to.