Start Now Searching for Scholarships

11/20/2009  |  KEVIN N. LADD
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At a time when there is almost nobody who isn’t “tweeting” on Twitter or “friending” one another on Facebook, it is incredible how many people still seem reticent to spend a similar amount of time online finding and applying for scholarships in the most efficient manner possible — the free college scholarship search. Note my use of, and emphasis on, the word “free,” as there is no need to spend money to find scholarships.

Although most scholarships target high school seniors, students can begin finding and applying for scholarships as early as freshman year in high school. For the best chance to get all the scholarships available to them, students should search early and often, using a free college scholarship search service such as Scholarships.com, by junior year in high school.

Discover Financial Services, for example, currently offers as many as 10 scholarships of $30,000 each year to high school juniors. Wait until your senior year to begin looking for scholarships and you are too late for this one.

There is no way each student, and/or their parent, is going to be aware of all the scholarships out there, or even know which questions to ask and what scholarships to seek. Some students and parents may have heard of the Discover scholarship I mentioned, but Discover is a huge company that has their scholarship program professionally managed and marketed. Many scholarship providers can’t afford to have their program professionally managed or advertised, but they are very likely to be listed with scholarship search services, or at least with the legitimate, informative ones.

As an example, let’s take John Smith: an early second semester high school senior with a 3.9 GPA who scores well on the SAT/ACT, is quarterback of the varsity football team and is a pretty good essay writer. His strategy is likely going to be to find either academic or athletic scholarships to help fund his college education and, with his grades and athletic acumen, he may find a decent amount of aid. He and his parents’ first step might be to approach the colleges he wishes to attend to see what kind of financial aid package they can expect with their son’s credentials, maybe even trying to leverage one against the other if he is desirable enough as an athlete, student or combination of the two.

Having gone directly to the schools’ financial aid offices and still needing more than $10,000 per year for tuition, room and board, they conduct a few basic keyword searches for “football scholarships” and “academic scholarships” at two or three of the major search engines. Here, they encounter mostly sites charging hundreds of dollars for their services or sites that feature a ton of textual ads, banner ads, etc. and little in the way of helpful information. They then purchase one of those enormous books that list thousands upon thousands of scholarships and try to find football and academic scholarships that way. This proves quite frustrating, though, as new scholarships are being created and old ones are, unfortunately, being deactivated on a regular basis. Any book they pick up may already be somewhat outdated, and even scholarships that are still offered and listed in their book may have changed pertinent information between the time the publisher checked with them last and the time the Smiths bought their copy.

If they don’t bother to search for scholarships by simply creating a profile on a free service that will find awards, whether athletic or otherwise, for which John is qualified, they could miss out on thousands of dollars in scholarships due to what I would characterize as a rather myopic, perhaps even outmoded, pursuit of college funding. It is very difficult to know what is out there in the way of college funding and, let’s face it, you don’t really care what you win the scholarship for, just as long as you win and it pays for some of your college education. It is understandable that students, both high school and those continuing college (undergraduate and graduate students need money, too), might be a bit cynical about the process and can think of other activities to occupy their time. But if they know there is a chance that a little bit of research, a few essays and some reference letters could mean they end up paying a lot less in loan payments after graduation, they may just find it worth the sacrifice of one or two nights out with their friends, or hanging around playing video games and watching movies. Or, of course, “tweeting” and other online activities, which offer a much lower “ROI”.

Kevin Ladd is a Vice President at Scholarships.com. For more information visit http://www.scholarships.com.
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