As college-bound high school students finalize their lists and begin the application process, many parents may be asking themselves, “where’s the money for college?” One of the places that parents start their search for extra money for college is on scholarship websites. There are numerous websites to choose from and I especially like collegexpress.com for its variety of options. As parents are looking, they may find that “wow, we could have been applying for these scholarships a long time ago.” And yes, that’s true because many scholarship applications are available for students as early as 13 years old. So, parents in fact, shouldn’t wait until junior or senior year to start asking “where’s the money?”

When I’m counseling students each year, I don’t want families to leave any money on the table. Occasionally, students will apply to these “lottery” scholarships. (I refer to them with this term because of the low chances of “winning” the scholarships.) When you look at the fine print text of the instructions, you will read that the chances of winning are often based on the number of submissions. These scholarships are indeed quite competitive. Even for a prestigious scholarship like the Coca-Cola Scholarship, there are thousands of students with strong ACT/SAT scores and perfect GPAs.

Instead of putting all your eggs in the outside scholarship basket, students should consider scholarships directly from colleges. That’s where the really big money for college is found. For example, my students have received scholarship awards ranging from $40,000 to $300,00. These scholarships came directly from the colleges.

How my students earned big scholarships
Colleges are recruiting students that will contribute to their campus community in a myriad of ways. Here are 5 examples of the merit scholarships that my students have received and what they did to earn these awards:

CASE STUDY 1: Scholarship for fine and visual arts – To obtain these awards, students submitted a portfolio as part of the application process. Much of their portfolio preparation was completed during the summer before senior year. Also, I encouraged them to attend a National Portfolio Day as a way to get feedback on their portfolio before they submitted it to colleges. Students took advantage of the National Portfolio Day to learn about potential colleges that they wanted to visit as well. The subsequent campus visit reinforced their interest in the colleges and further helped with securing the scholarship awards.

CASE STUDY 2: Scholarships to travel abroad – There are a number of scholarships offered by colleges that are posted on their websites and listed in my firm’s online portal. My students have applied for a number of these scholarships. Several of them have been for travel funds to study abroad. Students submitted an essay discussing how they would benefit from traveling abroad as part of the application process. In most cases, these were short essays, which I think are harder to write!claremont colleges

CASE STUDY 3: Scholarships to do research with faculty mentors – There are several colleges that seek students who are interested in research. (One of the colleges that I found particularly advanced in its research scholarship offerings is Clark University.) My students who received these scholarships had all demonstrated their interest in research through summer experiences. The summer experiences included working in a laboratory, conducting research through a formal summer program offered at a university, and continuing a project with a high school teacher.

CASE STUDY 4: $100K+ scholarships –  These awards went to students who expressed interest in a specific department or program featured at that college. Students wrote about their interests in the supplemental essays and also each had demonstrated interest in that particular area through a summer experience. The department interests ranged from business to natural sciences to engineering. Several colleges required essays for a particular named scholarship and a few offered invitation-only interviews. Colleges are seeking different types of students and will offer scholarships to attract THAT student.

CASE STUDY 5: Scholarships for being MALE – I don’t know how else to say it but there’s been a trend over the years where my male students get awarded more money. This is the only common attribute that I’ve found . . . some of them didn’t even have the strongest GPA or high school resume. (Go figure, right?) A college admissions officer from a well-known Florida university even stated at a professional conference that:

“We gather all the applications from males first, review their credentials, award scholarships, send their offers and wait on their response. Then we look at the female application pool. . . . Frankly, we need more males on our campuses.”

Yes. . . I was shocked to hear this too. However, the fact that more females are enrolling in college means that a number of campuses have more females. Colleges that seek to reach a 50/50 gender balance will continue to award these scholarships.

OK . . . tell me what you’re thinking now? What have you been doing to find more money for college?

Author: Pamela E

Dr. Pamela has helped thousands of teens attend the college of their choice. She brings her 25 years experience in education to assist families, schools, and employers with college selection, admissions, financial aid, and more. Dr. Pamela holds a PhD from Stanford School of Education, and an MBA from Dartmouth.

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