Amanda Grow, shares seven strategies to help you become a “Scholarship Smart Parent”.
Think of seeking out scholarships and financial aid in terms of building lines of defense against skyrocketing college expenses. The full college price tag is the opponent. Learn how to protect yourself on every front.
LINE OF DEFENSE #1: FEDERAL GRANTS
Apply for federal grants to pay for college through the FAFSA system. FAFSA examines the parents’ tax returns to determine financial need. Even if you don’t plan on contributing financially to your student’s college education, FAFSA will look at your tax returns until the student is 24 years old or married. Virtually everyone should fill out FAFSA, even if they think they won’t qualify for financial assistance (FAFSA supplemented by the stimulus bill. People who wouldn’t have qualified in the past now qualify). Through FAFSA, you can also find out if your student qualifies for a federal work-study program or for student loans (which you don’t have to claim, but can have as a backup plan).
LINE OF DEFENSE #2: BOARD OF REGENTS SCHOLARSHIPS
A student must begin the pursuit of these scholarships early in their high school experiences—as early as 9th grade for the Regents scholarship and 10th for New Century. The funding for Regents or New Century Scholarships depends on funds available and the number of students who apply, so use this as only one of many lines of defense. For a list of current requirements, visit their web site (www.higheredutah.org)
LINE OF DEFENSE #3: UNIVERSITY ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIPS
The most important part of understanding University Academic Scholarships is understanding the index system, which takes the students’ ACT and GPA and gives an index score. Academic scholarship decisions are based primarily on index scores.
It is difficult to improve cumulative GPA by very much by the time the student is a junior or senior, so ACT prep should become a major priority. Investing time and energy into ACT Prep could make a significant difference in an index score.
Some universities provide an academic scholarship shaded index (example: Utah State, UVU) where a student can see where they need to be on the index to get a scholarship.
Utah Valley University
Utah State University
Set goals and incentivize your student to improve their index score. I had a mother of an ACT student I was working with tell her daughter she’d give her $1000 if she could get above a 30 on the ACT. This incentive motivated the student to make ACT prep a major priority. Her score improved from a 26 to a 31. The mother paid up, but will make the money back many times over in the scholarships her daughter will receive.
Students and parents may also visit the Financial Aid office at the University where they plan to attend to explore scholarship options specific to that school.
LINE OF DEFENSE #4: MAJOR/SPECIALTY SPECIFIC SCHOLARSHIPS
If your student has special skills in a particular area (such as leadership) or if they know what they would like to go into, you should also look for major specific scholarships. These kinds of scholarships narrow the pool of applicants to an area where your student can shine.
A good strategy for preparing for a major specific scholarship is to build a major specific “resume.” Approach extracurricular activities and community service strategically. If your student wants to be a chemistry teacher, perhaps they could design and carry out a chemistry workshop for elementary school students. If your student wants to go into business, have them show off their business organizational by heading up a school fundraiser. These kinds of things look very impressive to decision makers in the student’s future major department.
LINE OF DEFENSE #5: PRIVATE/LOCAL SCHOLARSHIPS
School counseling centers are good resources for local scholarships. Seek out and apply for everything you can. Parents’ or students’ employers are a possible good source for private scholarship money. If you don’t know if your employer offers a scholarship, just ask around. Sometimes these kinds of scholarships are not well publicized within a company. If you work for a small business that doesn’t offer a scholarship, just ask—maybe your employer will create one.
It is also strategic to register on the FASTWEB scholarship search engine (www.fastweb.com) to receive lots of information about available scholarships. You will receive a lot of email, but maybe you can get your student to sift though the scholarships and apply for the ones that pertain to them. Have them think of this work as their part time job during their senior year.
LINE OF DEFENSE #6: PARENT/GRANDPARENT SCHOLARSHIPS
This isn’t the kind of “scholarship” most parents want to hear about, but you need to make sure that your students know that any money they receive from you for college is a scholarship. You must make your expectations clear. I like to have students and parents write up a college cost contract that says “I the parent will pay X amount if you, the student, will do X.” If your student is still a few years away from college, this is a great way to incentivize work toward a scholarship. My own parents said “we will pay either room and board OR tuition.” I worked hard to get a scholarship and they stepped in to pay other expenses so I didn’t need to get a part time job my first year.
LINE OF DEFENSE #7: STUDENT LOANS
Student loans aren’t anyone’s first choice, but you need to understand them as an option. All student loans are administered on the federal level. Go through the FAFSA process to see how much money you qualify to borrow. No interest accrued until six months after graduation. The interest rate is quite low.
Amanda Clark Grow is the founder of College Fast Lane. For more information on how to help your student prepare for college go to www.collegefastlane.com