The Real Truth About Private Scholarships

There are many misconceptions about “college scholarships” in the market today. I’ve dealt with this issue every single year for over 20 years. Part of the problem is there is a new batch of students every year, and the other part is the continuous rise in college costs.

Each year parents are led to believe that their college-bound student can pay for college by applying for enough scholarships. Private scholarship search companies do not help with the misconception. They inundate the market with offers to access their website for free monies. Their plea is:

"There are scholarship and grant monies that go unused each year because people do not know how to access them. We can help!"

This statement is NOT TRUE. These private scholarship search companies are only looking to get emails so they can sell the address to other companies. Only 1% of scholarships are available through these private, outside sources. 

The truth about scholarships for college is that most students would be better off analyzing which college can offer them the most money before they even apply for admissions or financial aid. Why? Because the colleges themselves control most of the available college scholarships, grants, and tuition discounts.

However, there is a methodology that can be used by families to increase the odds of their student qualifying for a private sector scholarships. Scholarships and grants from local organizations are more likely to fit the student's profile, and his or her odds of success will increase dramatically by applying for these opportunities.

Besides the internet, here are other places to begin searching:

·         High School Guidance Department

·         Chamber of Commerce

·         Local Libraries

·         Local Community/Technical College

·         Churches

·         Trade Associations

·         Fraternal Organizations

·         American Legion Post

·         Local Pageants

The student's high school guidance department is #1 on the list, and they can help the student identify those scholarships that match the student's qualifications.

THE TOP TEN DO's & DON'T"s REGARDING PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIPS

Private sector scholarships are very competitive. Scholarship committees may only spend a few minutes reviewing each student's scholarship application. With such a finite amount of time to make a lasting impression, it's crucial the student make the most of the opportunity. If the student does not, the application may be on the fast track to the trash.

Here are the Top 10 Scholarship Do's & Don'ts, which can help the student increase his or her chance of winning a private sector scholarship.

The Do's
 

Search in your community first because it is a primary source of scholarships. Find out about these kinds of awards by contacting your local chamber of commerce, community chest, Rotary club and other community organizations; reading your community newspaper, and searching the Yellow Pages under "Foundations."

Choose quality over quantity. Prioritize the scholarships for which you wish to apply. Instead of submitting applications for numerous awards, request those that best fit your strengths, interests, and qualifications.

Understand the purpose of the scholarship. Scholarships may be designed to encourage students to enter a specific career field. 

Follow directions. Make sure you take the time to ensure every "i" is dotted and "t" is crossed. Be sure to include all requested information.

Write an essay demonstrating why you should win. The scholarship application gives the scholarship committee a sense of who you are and what's important to you. Think about what skills and qualities the scholarship judges seek and then describe how you match them.

Get feedback from editors. Editors are the best people to help you write your scholarship essay. Who are your editors? Friends, teachers and parents, and the people who know you best can be great editors!

Proofread. No matter how strong an applicant you are, it would be difficult for a scholarship committee to overlook spelling or grammatical errors. Proofread your application and essays carefully, and have your editors do the same.

Practice for interviews. Ask a friend or parent to do a mock interview with you to help you prepare for the real thing.
Ask your parents for help. Parents are capable of much more than writing the tuition check. They can help you find scholarships, keep track of deadlines and give you feedback on your applications and essays.

Brag a little about yourself. Let your personality shine through in your scholarship applications. Don't be bashful about discussing your accomplishments.

The Don'ts

Don't overlook your high school guidance counselor. Take advantage of the knowledge your counselor has accumulated over the years.

Don't ignore the internet. Use the many free scholarship searches available on the internet to find scholarships that fit you.

Don't ignore small awards. Some scholarships are worth tens of thousands of dollars. You might think you shouldn't bother with the "small potato" awards. However, a $1,000 scholarship $1,000 less than the amount you first needed to come up with to pay for college.

Don't think that you have to be an academic or athletic superstar to win. There are many private scholarships based on leadership, art, music, theatre, community service and more.

Don't be a victim of a scholarship scam. Never pay for a private scholarship search. You can find these scholarships on your own for free.

Don't use the shotgun approach. All scholarship-awarding organizations have different selection criteria. Therefore, the same application won't work for all of them.

Don't forget to answer the question(s) when writing your essay. Scholarship-awarding organizations ask essay questions because they want to know your answer to each. Your work may be well written, but if it doesn't answer each item asked, it's not going to win an award.

Don't wait until the last minute. You may think you do your best work on the day before the deadline. However, if you take the time to review your work, you'll probably see room for improvement. Take the pressure off yourself, and allow yourself adequate time to complete an application.

Don't turn in an incomplete application. Scholarship-awarding organizations receive far more applicants than they can support. Don't give them a reason to take you out of the running by turning in an incomplete application.

Don't think it's impossible for you to win. Every student who ever won a scholarship felt it would be difficult to win. And guess what? They won anyway, and you can, too!

HOW TO INCREASE YOUR ODDS OF GETTING A PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIP

The student’s high school junior year is the best time to apply for private sector scholarships. Waiting until the senior year could disqualify the student.

Furthermore, sending out a massive number of hastily written scholarship applications is the wrong way to apply for private scholarships. This approach will most likely result in a pile of rejections. 

To win a scholarship, you must be selective in the application process.  For every ten awards you find, only one may be applicable.

How can you find the right scholarships? How do you avoid missing deadlines? The following tips can help with your search for private sector scholarships:

Begin your scholarship search during the summer before your junior year, if not earlier. The number one reason most seniors miss the fall scholarship deadline is that they did not start their scholarship search until the following spring. Create a list of the awards for which you want to apply, along with their respective deadlines.

Start preparing in advance. If a scholarship application is due in the fall, make it a part of your homework routine. Work on scholarship applications a little every day. Doing this will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed, as well as ensure you don't turn in hastily completed, last minute applications. Getting the edge on scholarship essays can also increase your chances of winning. Most scholarship essays are only 200-500 words, so you don't need to take a lot of time preparing.

Re-use your college application essays for scholarship applications. You can save yourself time by using sections from your college admission essays when writing your scholarship essays.

Throw your scholarship net far and wide. Search the internet, scour scholarship books, talk to your school counselor and look in your community. Your job is to find as many potential scholarships as possible.

Look for scholarships related to your interests. Examine your interests to decide where to look for scholarships. For instance, if you're interested in computer graphics, check out all of the makers of the software and hardware that you use. Those companies may offer college scholarships.

Focus on your community, one of the best places to discover college scholarships. Many of these scholarships are specifically designed to help students within your community, itself. Therefore, as a resident, you may already be pre-qualified.

Read your local newspaper. Community newspapers often announce scholarship winners. Use this information to learn about local scholarship opportunities and to research the qualifications of past winners.

Ask for help from your high school counselor. Guidance counselors receive abundant information on various private scholarships. Take advantage of their knowledge.

Start eliminating scholarships that don't fit you. Once you have compiled a list of potential awards, eliminate those that don't match your experiences and talents. Each mismatched scholarship you remove means less time wasted and more time spent applying for scholarships you can win.

Prioritize your scholarships. After you have eliminated the mismatched awards, prioritize the scholarships that do fit your experiences and talents. Become familiar with each award, as well as the reasons why the scholarship committee grants the award. The more you know about a scholarship and its sponsor, the better job you can do on the application. It's also important to consider the deadlines of each of your potential awards when deciding for which to apply.

Before you begin your scholarship application, be sure to consider:

What is the mission statement of the sponsoring organization?

What type of candidate is selected?

Who will be judging the applications?

The answers to these three questions can help you to determine how to best approach the application because you will have a clearer picture as to what type of candidate the sponsor may be looking for and how they are determined.

Don't despair if you do miss a deadline. Although it is essential to apply for scholarships during high school, there are opportunities to apply for scholarships during college, as well. Apply for the those with application deadlines you haven't missed, and get ready for next year, when, as a college student, a whole new set of scholarship opportunities will be available to you.

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS YOU MAY HAVE ABOUT PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIPS

Q: How can I find out what scholarships are out there?
A: Your best scholarship research sources include: The internet (try the free scholarship search engine located at http://www.fastweb.com); your local community (contact your local chamber of commerce); and your high school guidance counselor.

Q: Can I apply for a scholarship if I don't know which college I'm going to attend?
A: Yes. You can start applying for scholarships as early as your freshman year in high school. If you win an award before you know which college you'll attend, the scholarship organization either will write you a check with the understanding you are to use the money for college or will give you the money once you decide where to attend.

Q: Should I have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship?
A: In most cases, no. Since scholarships are meant to support students who need funds to pay for college, they usually do not require those same students to shell out money to apply. In most cases, scholarship applications requiring a fee are scams.

Q: If I didn't win a scholarship, can I apply again next year?
A: Yes. Unless you no longer qualify, you can apply for a scholarship again. However, consider whether your application will be dramatically stronger the second time around. If you submit the same form as before, you may be better off spending your time applying for a different scholarship.

Q: Can I lose my scholarship once awarded?
A: Yes. Renewable scholarships are usually contingent on specific requirements being met for the student to keep the award. For instance, a scholarship may require you to continue to attend the same college, maintain a certain GPA, or maintain the same major to get renewed each year.

Q: Can I apply for scholarships while I'm a college student?
A: Yes. One of the biggest mistakes many students make is ceasing to apply for scholarships after high school graduation. Thousands of scholarships for college and graduate students are available. Many students that receive these awards are already in college.

Q: If I win a scholarship, will my college take away some of my other financial aid?
A: Perhaps. Many colleges require you to report the scholarships you win and then adjust your financial aid package. For example, if you win a $1,000 award, the college may decrease your financial aid package by $1,000. If your college has this kind of policy, you may ask them to lower your eligible loan amount, instead of your grants. It's better to receive more in scholarships that you don't have to pay back than in loans that you do.

Q: Can I transfer my scholarship if I go to another school?
A: Perhaps. When a college awards a scholarship, it may only be used at that specific college. If the award is from an organization, you may be able to transfer it to another school. It's important to contact the awarding organization to ask before making plans to relocate to another school.

Q: Should I bother applying for scholarships even if I don't have perfect grades?
A: Yes. Scholarships are available for achievements in leadership, public service, art, athletics, theatre, and dance. Even if the award takes student's grades into account, often they are not the only factor. Scholarship committees seek students who best fit their selection criteria, which may include other factors, such as character, motivation, leadership or involvement in activities.

Q: Do all scholarships require an essay?
A: No, but most do. Essays are the best way for scholarship judges to get to know you on a more personal level that your grades and test scores alone allow. Some scholarship applications don't require essays, however. For instance, many art and music scholarships request a portfolio, project or composition, instead.

Q: Can I win a scholarship if my parents have a high income?
A: Yes. There are two types of scholarships: need-based and merit-based. As the name suggests, need-based awards are contingent on your financial need and your parents' income. Merit-based scholarships require academic or extracurricular achievements.

Q: What is a renewable scholarship?
A: Renewable scholarships can be won for one year and renewed for subsequent years, usually after the completion of another application process. Renewable scholarships are the best kind of award because you can win the money for more than one year