Friday, April 18, 2008

Scholarships 101

by Luke McIlwee

So you got good grades, were active in your community, played sports and maybe even had a job through high school. That’s awesome. You got accepted to the college of your choice and now your home free right? Wrong. Getting into college is one thing, but paying for it opens up a whole new bag of tricks. Tuition fees at universities have been rising every year, so they are more expensive now then ever. This is especially true if you plan to attend a private university, which will on average cost around $40,000 a year. That’s a lot of dough! The whole financial picture of college can be very intimidating, but there is a way to lessen the load on your family when it comes to paying for your higher education. One word: Scholarships.

Here is something to consider. In the scholarship world, you could spend about two hours writing an essay and make $5,000 just like that. That’s only a mere $2,500 an hour, not too shabby. What other time in your life are you going to be making that kind of money? Considering your probably making minimum wage at your part time job, I would say not for a while. Most general scholarships will range anywhere from $500 to $40,000. As the amount increases, so does the competition, so sometimes quantity is more important than quality. If you get several small scholarships they will start adding up and making a big difference towards your college tuition. The most important thing is that you start applying for them right now, because if you don’t apply you can’t win.

But don’t you have to be the class valedictorian or have discovered a new way to detect brain cancer in order to get a scholarship? The answer is a resounding no. There are actually countless scholarships that you are eligible for right now, you just have to find them. A good place to start would be your schools counseling office which probably have scholarships for students at your school specifically. After talking to your counselor, you can begin your own scholarship search on the internet. I recommend websites like, and which have scholarship search engines that match you with scholarships based on your personal information. How cool is that? The important thing to consider here is that you should use a lot of different scholarship engines because some will have scholarships that others do not.

Staying organized is a big factor that could make or break your scholarship success. If you’re not an organized person, it’s never too late to try something new. You might even enjoy remembering where you leave things. The most important part of scholarships is to keep track of deadlines. So go to office max and get a calendar or a planner that you can use to keep track of when all those bad boys are due. Knowing the deadlines will allow you to prioritize, getting the ones that are due the soonest completed and turned in first.

Most scholarships will require some generic items that can make or break your chances of winning. These include up to three letters of reference, a resume, essays, and financial information. It’s vital that you get three letters of recommendation from both people at your school, and in your community. Usually the best way to go about this is to get one from your academic counselor, a teacher, your employer or a person who knows of your community service. Ask for these well in advance to give them enough time to complete a thorough and complete recommendation. When you ask them, include a resume and some information that you would like included in the letter and a list of the scholarships you intend to use their letter for.

Now its time to get to work on your resume and essays. Most scholarships will have slightly different rubrics for their essays, but most of the time you can have two or three essays you use for all of them. You can simply change the essays as needed in order to fit the topic. This is even truer for your resume, which will remain mostly unchanged for each scholarship. It is a good idea to have a mission or objective statement on your resume, which should be personalized for each individual scholarship. Finally, if you filled out the FAFSA you can log into your account on their website and print off a SAR which summarizes your financial situation and contains your estimated family contribution.

Finding and applying to numerous scholarships can be hectic, but in the long run it will be totally worth it. While your friends might be at the pool or going to a movie, your extra time spent on scholarships might seem a bit dull. But just keep in mind that you are setting yourself up to save a lot of money for yourself. So potentially, while they are broke in college without a car or any food you will be cruising around in your convertible and eating at five star restaurants. So keep at it slugger, good luck!

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