With the high price of college tuition in today’s uncertain economic climate, most students who apply for university admission will attempt to secure some financial aid. The most common form of financial aid is based on need, and is determined by the FAFSA form submitted by the student along with his or her application.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) determines a student’s eligibility for federal loans and other aid packages; much like submitting the application itself, sending in your FAFSA early increases your chances of receiving aid from this limited amount of funding. If you are applying for college entry shortly after high school graduation, your parents’ finances will be examined in addition to your own.
Many colleges and universities offer Merit-Based Scholarships. These are sometimes offered to students on the basis of their academic achievement in high school, or for exceptional SAT scores. Frequently, lower-ranked colleges will offer merit-based scholarships to encourage good students to attend, which improves the quality of the student body, and often makes college affordable for good students with less money. Do inquire about school-specific scholarships through your guidance counselor at school, or through the university’s financial aid office – you may need to do more than just keep earning good grades!
This brings us to Non-Institution-Based Scholarships and Grants – the least-understood source of funding for college applicants. These scholarships and grants vary widely and can be researched in many different ways. Did you know that you might qualify for a scholarship because…
- You plan to pursue a specific major?
- You belong to a specific ethnic or religious group?
- You have a specific career goal?
- You or your family has worked at a specific company?
- You have participated in specific volunteer work?
- You have a disability?
- You can speak a particular foreign language?
- You are an athlete?
- You or a family member is a veteran?
- You and/or your family have experienced a particular hardship (Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, etc.)?
You, as an individual, may qualify for many different scholarships, many with quickly approaching deadlines, so it is important to stay on top of things. Check out some scholarship books, like the College Board’s Scholarship Handbook, or Peterson’s Scholarships, Grants and Prizes. Register yourself on scholarships.com, fastweb.com, finaid.com, or any of the many scholarship websites right away; they may notify you when a new scholarship that fits your profile appears, so don’t forget to keep your profile up-to-date with all of your latest successes! Scholarships listed on these websites are frequently nationwide or international, and receive many applications, so don’t forget to research Local Scholarships as well, such as grants from:
- Alumni of your high school
- Local businesses and corporations
- Community groups, like the Elks, the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, or Masons
- Your local Department of Education
The best way to learn about Local Scholarships to ask your school or the organizations directly in a respectful and mature way – don’t have a parent write or telephone on your behalf!
What do both National and Local Scholarships frequently require? ESSAYS!
Scholarship Essays must not only be interesting and well-written, but must address the specific nature of the scholarship itself, and answer in a clear, decisive way any question that may be asked in the scholarship application. Sometimes these questions are very explicit: “Why do you deserve this scholarship?” To be quite frank, even less direct questions, like “What does being a Polish-American mean to you?” or “What is the most important lesson you have learned as a high school student?” or “How do you think your education has prepared you to enter the field of engineering?” all require you to answer: “Why do you deserve this scholarship?” Persuasion is the goal of scholarship essays. Remember: even though there may be fewer applicants for a specific scholarship than for your favorite college, frequently there is only ONE winner.
Some tips to make that ONE winner YOU:
- Use very specific examples from your life experience (this may help you with your SAT writing section as well!)
- Adhere to the length requirements of the essay – your 500-word essay might be great, but will lose out when the word requirement is 1000 – or 250!
- Learn about the organization that sponsors the scholarship, and not just the basics. You want to appeal specifically to the attitude of the organization. Read the website, get in touch with employees, or, even better, last year’s winner.
- Make sure your style of writing matches the style of the essay question. Some organizations ask light, informal, or even humorous questions, and others are deeply earnest and serious. Don’t mix them up!
- Even if you write one hundred scholarship essays, don’t send out a single one without proofreading and asking a teacher or mentor to read it first.
- Don’t expect to do double-duty with your scholarship essays and win over the deciding committee; they’ll know if you just swapped a sentence or two from your college personal statement!
- Don’t lose out because you didn’t submit a neat, organized, attractive application!
Writing scholarship essays may seem like a daunting task, especially with the busy lives of most students, but remember this: the more essays you write, the easier it becomes. Practice will not only improve your writing, but improve your chances at winning the scholarship you need to afford college.
Colleges want students that have excellent grades and SAT scores, but these criteria are frequently not the make-or-break factors that influence acceptance, particularly at highly selective schools. Colleges have to work hard to keep or make their good reputations, just like students, and therefore need to choose the right students. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that qualified students don’t get accepted to particular schools – but that does not mean that these students are any less qualified than before they got their thin envelope!
Colleges want specific and unique individuals to attend their schools, not walking transcripts! But since colleges probably won’t come looking for you (you’re probably not worried about being accepted to college if they are!), you need to find your special niche yourself.
Remember, even when you get accepted to the school of your dreams, no college acceptance letter guarantees a good education, a good job, or a happy life. Even if you make it to Harvard, there’s no guarantee that your life will be perfect.
Who Gets Accepted?
Today, more students than ever are applying for highly selective colleges; more students overall are planning on attending college after high school, and more successful students are seeking diplomas from big-name schools. This means that many highly-qualified candidates are rejected from the most selective schools. Can you believe…
- Students with perfect SAT scores
- Winners of famous, private scholarships
… all can get rejected from the most selective (and even less selective!) schools?
The Game Plan:
How can you increase your odds of acceptance into a school that is not only prestigious, but that will give you the best shot at an exemplary education? Research colleges thoroughly; sometimes colleges are just looking for someone very specific – an oboe player for the orchestra, a star quarterback for the football team, a speaker of Korean to help improve the language department, or a student council star to take over campus government.
Use your Interview to find out whether your specific skill set is particularly desired by a specific school. Your interview is not only a great way to make a good impression on the admissions officers, but also the easiest way to find out about the kind of students that each college needs. Come prepared, and don’t be afraid to ask very frank questions about the student body. It will not harm your chances; in fact, your serious interest in finding the best match for you can only reflect positively on your application.
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