The scholarship search can be intimidating. The most popular online scholarships searches, like FastWeb, force you to wade through thousands of worthless scholarships. They are not worthless because they are scams, rather they are worthless because they are not personalized. In fact, in my five years working in Higher Ed I have never met ANYONE who has won a scholarship through FastWeb. Obviously people do win these scholarships, but the chance of you winning a scholarship found through FastWeb is very low.
I highly recommend searching locally for your scholarships. I have written in length about the benefits of this in the past. Your chances of winning increase drastically when the applicant pool drops from thousands of students to less than 50 for most local scholarships.
Once you have gathered a list of scholarships that you wish to apply for, you have to start the actual application process. This process can also be intimidating, but it does not have to do.
How to Dominate Scholarship Applications
I have compiled a list of the top 8 ways to dominate your scholarship applications and ensure that you maximize your chances of winning as many scholarships as you apply for.
- Start early!! Almost every scholarship has a deadline and many scholarships give priority to applications submitted early.
- Compile a list of accomplishments, awards, professional experience, education credentials, and volunteer organizations. Having this list handy will save you many hours during the application process since nearly every application will ask for this information.
- Be aggressive! Scholarships are designed to reward deserving and persistent students who are willing to “do what it takes” to further their education. A scholarship committee is not impressed by a “less than your best” effort.
- Identify and contact at least three people who would be willing to write an impressive recommendation letter on your behalf.
- Apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible.
- Follow up! Don’t let your scholarship application slip through the cracks. Scholarship committees will also appreciate the dedication you show in your future endeavors.
- Be organized! This is great time to improve your organizational skills. Make sure to keep track of all deadlines, signatures, recommendation letters, and any necessary follow-up questions from a scholarship organization.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of applying for scholarships. After all, a successful scholarship search could land you with a free ride and money to spare!
The Bottom Line
Searching and applying for scholarships is not easy. If it were, everyone would have a full-ride to college.
FastWeb likes to say that there are millions of dollars in unused scholarships each year. I don’t believe this, but I do know that there are many scholarships which do not receive many quality applications and are forced to award their money to a less than stellar student. This is where you have an opportunity to swoop in, submit an impressive application, and win a scholarship over your classmates.
Following the above 8 tips will give you your best chance of conducting a scholarship search that is sue to land you some funds to help pay for college.
This is a guest post from: Jenny Lang is an author, wife, homeschooling mother, investor, and pennypincher extraordinaire. She writes about smart financial living at the Frugal Guru Guide. Keep an eye out for her upcoming book, the Frugal Guru’s Guide to Everything Auto. Find her on Google Plus
My sophomore year of college, I became introduced to ballroom dance and was instantly obsessed. I worked like crazy and placed well, but by the next year, it became obvious that I needed private lessons to reach the next level. These would cost me $60 an hour, which is no joke for a college student. I was making my way through college with 50% scholarships, 30% parental contributions, and 20% paying my way, and any additional expenses would need to be covered by me, personally.
I was already working two jobs. My first was at a fast food restaurant making below current minimum wage (even adjusted for inflation) 12 hours every Saturday. I was also working about six hours a week making slightly more as a “computer lab assistant,” which basically meant that I kept students from coming into the open-access computer labs and stealing or damaging the equipment. The advantage to the second job was that I was essentially being paid for doing homework. But I needed something that made way more money on a per-hour basis than either of these jobs.
I had already become a better dancer than any of the “professionals” at the local chain dance studio. (The bar was very low—they averaged six weeks of training.) In fact, among all professionals in the community, only two independent dancers were still better than me. I thought, why not use my dance skills to make a profit?
First I had to find a location, the closer to the university the better. I checked out several possibilities, from a VW hall to a YWCA, but eventually the place with the best floors and per-hour price with good room availability ended up being a community center. For $12/hour, I could have the floor.
I set my rate through research. The local chain studio charged $65 for an hour of private lessons, one group lesson, and one party, and they had to be purchased in packages. The two good individual instructors charged $35 and $55 per hour.
It was the start of the spring semester, so I decided that wedding couples were my easiest target. They are willing to pay, they have a short timeframe with definite goals, and they were the easiest demographic to hit without going into the world of professional/amateur competitions. They were also not being targeted at all by the other professionals, who really weren’t interested in teaching them. I set $30/hour as my rate. Given the location, my skill at the time, and the funds available to most wedding couples, that was an attractive but not too bargain-basement rate, and I could clear $18 per hour that way. I also decided to have two approaches—the fully choreographed routine and the simple “here’s the basic and two other steps and here’s a dip at the end” approach. I’d feel the couple out and see if they had the time, willingness, and money for the first, which would give the full fairytale effect, or whether they mostly wanted something to do during the first dance and not humiliate themselves. The first would take six to twelve lessons, depending on song length and ability—the second would take only four to six. So that was a total value of $120 to $360 per couple.
I made a website using my university for free hosting (which was much more expensive back then). I put up some content and contact information, changing my cell phone message to sound like a business. I designed and made flyers for $50 and put them on every free bulletin board in the university. Then I paid to have my flyer included in the local wedding exposition’s freebie bags. I also put the word out with one of my coaches, who had more people approach him than he cared to teach.
The result was that I made back my investment in three weeks and was able to teach enough couples that I could cover my weekly lesson with a bit left over for the rest of the semester. If I’d had more time, I could have taught more, as there was an ample market, but most of the couples wanted to practice early in the evening on weekdays, when I had very limited time with upcoming homework, as I was carrying a very heavy load of classes. It didn’t replace either the fast food job, which was during the day on Saturday, or the computer lab job, which, as I had said, was paid homework. I was leaving the area when I graduated, too, and it wasn’t the kind of job I could take with me, so there was no reason to kill myself to make it as large as possible, either.
But aside from the lessons and spending money, the job taught me that it was possible to “shoestring” a business with very little investment and that there were plenty of money-making opportunities out there if you think strategically. It also taught me about the limitations of essentially doing work for hire, in which what I get paid is a function of how many hours I work.
Now I’m starting a new business—my forth, if you count all my side gigs–and looking for true growth opportunities.
Editor’s Note: I asked Jenny to write this story because I think it is a great example of how you can hustle during college and help to pay your way, or to pay for something you love to do (ie. dance lessons!) In fact, Jenny is still hustling as a busy mom of three and an entrepreneur!
Too often we get caught up on applying for scholarships and resort to taking out student loans, when there are far better options. You can start a business as Jenny did, or you can sell unwanted furniture, re-sell used textbooks, become an affiliate product manager, sell ad space on your car, or a host of other ideas. The more you are willing to hustle, the better off your financial future will be!
Searching for scholarships can lead to a frustrating mess of results.
More often than not, you are sorting through scholarships that are outdated and ones that you don’t even qualify for. When you are trying to find legitimate scholarship opportunities to apply, this can be incredibly frustrating. I often compare this to searching for a job in a difficult economy. You are trying to find a means to support yourself financially, and you are getting a little desperate because time is running by quickly and your hopes and dreams are on the line.
The good news is that there are ways to make the scholarship search a bit more efficient and effective
The best scholarship search tip that I have is to start searching for scholarship locally. Every high school guidance counselor has a book full of scholarships notices that have been sent to their school. Many of these guidance offices post these notices on their website. Even if you do not attend that high school, these guidance counselors are often more than willing to share information with you about scholarships in the community.
Local scholarships are much more attainable because of the number of applicants, and the relevance of the student to the scholarship organization. For example, if a student lives in the same town where he applies for a scholarship from a local organization, it is very likely that the scholarship committee who reviews his application will be able to relate to the student. Members of the committee may know of organizations that the student has volunteered at, they may know the school the applicant attended, they will most likely know of the college that the student has applied to, and who knows, they might even know the student’s family.
Also, most local scholarships are only intended for a local applicant pool. This limits the number of applicants and guarantees a local student will win the scholarship. Simple math will tell you that if there are only 30 applicants for one scholarship you have a much higher percentage chance of winning than if you apply for a nationally competitive scholarship with thousands of applicants.
Local scholarship awards are also nothing to scoff at. We are not talking about piddly $250 awards. Most local organizations give a minimum of $1000, and often this is a recurring award. For example, when I was applying for scholarships I won an award from a local non-profit that only provided scholarships to students from my high school. The award was $3000 for 4 years. This was a huge boost towards paying for my college and one of the largest single scholarships I received. All from local resources!
Many local scholarships also have additional benefits like banquet dinners in your honor, achievement awards, articles in the local paper, and billboards with your face on them. Even if you don’t enjoy that…your parents and family sure will!
The Bottom Line
There is no one right way to search for scholarships. My advice would be to start local, then expand your search once you have exhausted your local scholarships. My hunch is that you will find much more success by staying at home rather than going abroad.
Most media outlets would agree that we have officially risen out of the “Great Recession” and we are now on the road to recovery. However, with unemployments rates still sky high and jobs still difficult to come by, many of us are still feeling the effects of the stagnant economy of the last few years.
One glimmer of hope for the rising costs of tuition, is that the struggling economy has caused a few colleges and universities to broaden their financial aid programs. Tope tier universities such as Cornell and Harvard have instituted new Financial Aid initiatives aimed at further assisting families in the low-middle income section.
Cornell Financial Aid officers describe this new initiative which has eliminated the parental contribution (which is used to calculate your expected family contribution) if your parents make between $60,000 and $100,000. This means that your EFC number would only be based on the student’s income which will greatly increase a student’s financial need.
This adjustment is only applicable to campus based scholarships and grants however. Try as they might, Cornell (or no other college) can alter the Federal Financial Aid formula. So this new calculation by Cornell would not apply towards Federal Pell Grants, Subsidized Direct Stafford Loans, or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.
Harvard University has drastically lowered the cost of tuition for all families making less than $180,000. All told, more than 90% of american families will qualify for financial aid at Harvard University. Harvard has the largest endowment of any college or university in the United States at over $30 BILLION. They have almost double the endowment of the second college on the list; Yale University with $19 Billion.
I don’t anticipate that Harvard will feel the impact of this change too much, however it is a great sign that colleges and universities are making moves to help their education be more accessible and affordable.
The Bottom Line
So you can see how many of the top universities across the country are allowing more and more students to access their educational services. With the economy continuing to struggle in recovery, I would predict that even more universities will implement sweeping financial aid reforms in order to continue to attract top talent.
As I wrote yesterday, Georgia Tech just started an online master of computer science degree and is offering the entire advanced degree for $7000. Programs like this one, and the changes in financial aid policies are all encouraging signs that the future of education is still bright, and will continue to make college affordable and accessible for all students.
I have been wondering how long it would take for this to happen!
The Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing announced today that it will offer the first professional Online Master of Science degree
in computer science (OMS CS) that can be earned completely through the “massive online” format. The degree will be provided in collaboration with online education leader Udacity Inc. and AT&T. All OMS CS course content will be delivered via the massive open online course (MOOC) format, with enhanced support services for students enrolled in the degree program. Those students also will pay a fraction of the cost of traditional on-campus master’s programs; total tuition for the program is initially expected to be below $7,000. A pilot program, partly supported by a generous gift from AT&T, will begin in the next academic year. Initial enrollment will be limited to a few hundred students recruited from AT&T and Georgia Tech corporate affiliates. Enrollment is expected to expand gradually over the next three years.
Georgia Tech is a very reputable school of technology, and this is a giant leap forward in terms of the cost of a Master’s degree, and the format in which that degree is offered. I was actually doing research for a post on “Why Online Programs Are So Expensive” when I stumbled across this news release. It made my heart happy.
We have all bemoaned the high cost of education and wondered how we could work to lower that cost and make education more accessible. This is an excellent step towards that goal.
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
The curriculum of this entire program will be delivered through the massive open online course format. As many other colleges have done, Georgia Tech offers these open course online for anyone to access for free. The students who are enrolled in this Master’s program will simply have access to additional support service and actually earn a degree from the curriculum.
Allowing anyone to access this course curriculum is a wonderful way of getting back to the roots of education in my opinion. This places the focus back on teaching and learning and away from profit generation that we see so rampant among online programs.
This also gives you and I the opportunity to access the exact same curriculum that the students at Georgia Tech will be accessing. You could essentially earn a Master of Science in computer science (without the degree to prove it) online for free, by participating in these courses.
A Trend for the Future?
I think this trend will continue well into the future. In fact, I think this may BE the future of education. The Internet has revolutionized every other aspect of our society, why not allow it to permeate and revolutionize the way we view education as well?
Would you participate in a MOOC and earn an online degree in this format? Would you access these classes for free even if you were not trying to earn an online degree?
As a former Financial Aid Officer at a college I have become intimately familiar with the dangers of waiting until the last-minute to submit a FAFSA. Most people are not aware that as of January 1st, 2013, students are able to submit their 2013-2014 FAFSA for the upcoming 2013 Fall semester. The majority of colleges and universities have strict deadlines that must be met to be considered for financial aid. Missing these deadlines can have disastrous effects on your financial aid award letter.
Almost every institution of higher learning also has internal scholarship programs that can be accessed as additional sources of financial aid. All in all, the old adage “the early bird gets the worm” holds true. A lot of institutions have grant and scholarship programs that are awarded on a first come first serve basis.
File FAFSA BEFORE Filing Your Taxes!
Another bit of useful information for students and parents is that you can actually submit your FAFSA without having filed your taxes. On the FAFSA, when it asks you if you have submitted your 2012 tax returns, simply select the “I will file my taxes” option. Then once you have submitted your 2012 returns, simply log back into the FAFSA with your FAFSA pin and complete your tax information. If you have filed for an extension, this lets you submit your FAFSA while your taxes are still being processed.
Today is May 23, which means that many of the deadlines for the Fall 2013 semester have already been missed. It is not too late however to continue applying for more scholarships and grants to help earn more money for college. Applying for free money for college will help you avoid taking out student loans and avoid the burden of paying back student loans after you graduate. By taking advantage of the financial aid available on your campus you can maximize your changes of that elusive “free ride” to college.
You can check the local public library or your local high school guidance office for excellent scholarship opportunities. I encourage you to apply for as many of them that you qualify for!
- Submit your FAFSA early!! (As early as January 1st)
- Submit your FAFSA even if your taxes have not been filed yet
- Take advantage of ALL scholarships and grant programs by being one of the first students to submit their FAFSA for the upcoming school year.
- Contact your financial aid office if you have any questions, they will be more than happy to help you.
I was recently given a copy of the anthology – Share or Die – Voice of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis. The book is a collection of stories, mostly written by young adults, about what it is like to grow up in Generation Y (Born after 1985) and try to find employment post-graduation.
I don’t normally review books here at Money for College Project, but this book is an exceptionally interesting read. Many of our readers are in Generation Y, or are just outside of it and can find very relevant lessons in this book. If you are interested, you can pick up up here: Share or Die: Voice of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis
Never a Better Time to Become and Entrepreneur
I have said this many times before: During college, or the period right after graduation, is the best time to start a business. Your expenses and responsibilities are as low as they will likely ever ben in your life, and a business started in your early twenties can set the tone for the rest of your life/career.
Gen Y is graduating into a very unique economic climate. The world is trying to upright itself after a global economic recession and traditional jobs markets are still faltering. The barriers of entry to starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur are lower than they have ever been.
The Internet has brought the world together, and therefore you are able to connect with like minded people from around the world to share ideas, brainstorm, and plan. You can reach targeted customers quickly and efficiently through online advertising and social media. You can sell digital products online or become an affiliate for someone else’s products. Start-up companies are even partnering with large corporations to head their research and development wings. Did you catch that? Large corporations are outsourcing the future of their business to the sharp minds of Gen Y!
It is our time!
Pack Up and Travel the World
Another main point in many of the stories shared in this book is the call to to pack-up your things and travel while you can. There is a lot than can be learned from travel, and from personal experience, I can attest that many important life lessons and perspectives can be gained by getting outside of your comfort zone. In particular, I learned a great deal about how the U.S. is viewed in other parts of the world.
I think it is very important to understand that there is value, beauty, and power in the world outside the shores of the U.S. It is very easy to get an superior imperialist attitude living here, and this perspective will aid you in your career moving forward. it may also open up opportunities to connect with new and exciting people and places. It might even turn into a job if you meet the right people along the way!
The Bottom Line
graduating from college and striking out on your own in 2013 is not easy, but there is hope. In fact, the future is brighter than it has been for some time and now is as good a time as any to start your future.
Start a business, travel the world, pursue your goals, just please….don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.
Get up and make it happen!