College Costs 101: The Right Way to Apply for College Scholarships

international student studying in collegeBetween the rising costs of college tuition and the increased concern over student loan debt in America, encouraging your child to apply for independently-funded college scholarships makes a lot of sense. Indeed, every year, millions of dollars of money funnels to deserving students who take the time to seek out and apply for various scholarships and grants.

However, like any money-saving method you (or your children) use, applying for scholarships in the 21st century is about more than just dollars and cents. Between the time commitment that many scholarship applications require and the abundance of college scholarship scams online, it is imperative that future college students and their parents learn about the right and wrong ways to win that scholarship money.

How to Maximize Your College Scholarship Applications

Just like it is important to maximize your deal searches and balance the cost of time with the cost of couponing, getting the most out of the college scholarship application experience is about budgeting your time and efforts rather than getting “anything you can,” regardless of its non-monetary cost.

Therefore, taking a systematic approach to researching, choosing, and applying for scholarships is essential. This ensures that the time spent preparing applications “pays” over the long run. In other words, it is important to identify the right scholarships for a particular student and to prioritize those with the largest payouts and potential over the smaller ones. For example, spending 6 hours preparing an application for a $100 scholarship is not worth the effort.

By following a simple step-by-step plan, students are able to organize and maximize their college scholarship application experience. Here’s an example of a good method to use:

Step 1: Research potential scholarships via one of many free resource websites such as FastWeb or the US Department of Labor’s free search tool.

Step 2: Pay attention to the qualifications for each scholarship found. Only set aside those for which you meet all the requirements.

Step 3: Make a list of the potential scholarships in order of priority. Rank each scholarship based on factors such as total payout, time needed to apply, and application deadline

Step 4: Stay organized by keeping all the materials for each scholarship in a separate folder (either real or virtual) and assign each a “personal” deadline for completion. Note: make sure the personal deadline is a good deal before the actual deadline.

How to Avoid Common College Scholarship Scams

Unfortunately, staying organized is not the only necessity when it comes to college scholarship application success. Every year, upwards of 350,000 students and their families with the best of intentions fall victim to college scholarship fraud. In an effort to increase their chances of winning desperately-needed scholarship money, people seek help from so-called “professionals” who are only out to make their own money. Furthermore, many scholarships themselves are less-than-legitimate as well, causing a time suck and heartache as students face rejection and, sometimes, monetary loss as a result. That is why it is important to know about and look out for common scholarship fraud red flags:

  • Scholarship “guarantees”
    Many fraudulent companies offer to take the burden of scholarship application away from students in exchange for a fee and a “guarantee” of at least one pay out. However, not only do these companies use the same resources already available to you (for free!), but many times the “guaranteed” scholarship they deliver is worth less than the fee they charge.
  • Scholarship “fees”
    The whole point of winning a scholarship is to receive free money. While there are some legitimate scholarships that charge minor processing fees, this is not the norm and should always put the applicant on alert. If there is a fee associated with application, it is your responsibility to research the scholarship and organization further before submitting that fee.
  • Scholarships for “everyone”
    The very nature of scholarships is to identify specific individuals within a niche, be it a field of study, income bracket, extracurricular activity, club membership, or academics, and reward them for that. Any scholarship that claims “everyone is eligible” is a scam. In fact, many of these so-called scholarships are just Ponzi schemes whereby companies charge for an application and then use a small percentage of those collected fees to dole out a few, minor scholarships for $100.

Like any other money saving strategy, paying for college is an exercise in balance and prioritization. Students and their families must weigh the costs of time as well as loans against the potential payouts of scholarships. Also, it is important to note that while private scholarships offer a viable opportunity to pay for college without the burden of debt, they are by no means a guarantee. In fact, despite what some scammers claim, most scholarship and grant money given out each year comes from colleges and universities themselves or the federal government.

For more information on avoiding college scholarship scams and applying for scholarships and aid the “right” way, see the US Department of Education’s official Federal Student Aid website.

What tips/tricks can you offer students on applying for scholarships the “right” way and avoiding scams?

College Costs 101

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  • bb

    I would add that when prioritizing scholarships, you should also look at the number of applicants. For instance, a national company like Coca Cola has a very appealing scholarship program that will draw tens of thousands of applicants. However, a lesser known, local scholarship may offer less money, but you may be one of only a few hundred or thousand applying, which automatically increases your odds of being selected. Lower applicant pool = greater chance of receiving a scholarship.