Higher education can be an expensive endeavor, but there are a variety of funding opportunities, including loans, grants and scholarships, that can help offset or in some cases completely cover the cost. It is ideal to obtain financing options that do not have to be paid back, which is why scholarships can be so appealing. However, scholarships can also be very competitive, so students and families should start the search process early and be ready to do their homework.
Creating a portfolio. When students get late into their high school years, it is past the time to be creating a new academic and social profile. By the sophomore or junior year, students have established a fairly clear record of academic successes or struggles; good grades and high test scores often can increase the chances of getting a scholarship. Students who are involved in extracurricular activities, sports and volunteering, may be more qualified for certain scholarships.
Guidance counselors. Students and parents who are unsure of where to start looking should ask the high school's guidance counselor. Generally, guidance counselors can help families search for scholarships and assist in filling out appropriate paperwork.
Financial aid officers. Once students start to narrow their school choices, they may begin communicating with financial aid officers at their desired institutions. These are individuals who are trained to help students put together a financial package that will make it feasible for them to attend. Hunting for scholarships may be part of the process, which includes applying for and enrolling in school.
Books and search services. Searching for scholarships can be done individually, as students and families can conduct Internet searches and utilize scholarship search databases. Students can apply for scholarships based on a number of factors, including grades, the desired field of study and, in some cases, ethnicity or other sociological factor. The key is to utilize the student’s strengths and look for opportunities that match up with those abilities.
Doing the work. Ultimately, looking for available scholarships is not always the hardest part of the process. Rather, students and parents must have the patience to fill out forms, write essays and solicit letters of recommendation. The key is for students to apply for as many scholarships as possible, even if they are not sure they will receive funds. Too often, students do not even get a shot at scholarships because they are unwilling to put in the work. Tally Hart, senior adviser for economic access at Ohio State University, notes that the key to getting scholarships is often the same as schoolwork: People need to meet deadlines.