Yes, You Can Afford College: 4 Tips for Getting Scholarships

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Editor’s note: This is the second part in a three-part series about making college affordable.

Looking at that money mountain that must be climbed to get through college is more than intimidating. Luckily, we can break down the job of getting those finances together into simple steps that make getting a college education an achievable thing.

First, we looked at filling out FAFSA. Now, let’s look at scholarships, which can ease your burden, or even pay the whole way.

If you are a parent, the more that you can help your busy students, the more scholarship money they are likely to earn.

Here are some helpful things to know about getting scholarships. Yes, they may require Type-A behavior, but it paid off. My children received thousands of dollars in scholarship money, which enabled them to attend their schools of choice.

1. Document volunteer service

Make sure to prepare your student by encouraging him or her to do lots of volunteering during the high school years. Colleges want to see that their students are well-rounded, active and involved in their communities.

This is very important, especially if you are dealing with a lower grade point average. My son graduated from high school with a 3.3 GPA, but he had completed more than 1,000 hours of volunteer work. This impressive track record of giving impressed several scholarship committees, resulting in some excellent financial aid.

Be precise with your documentation. I learned that my daughter won a $4,000 scholarship in a close competition with another girl because of her precise documentation of her hours — broken into quarter-hour segments.

I recommend keeping track of hours on a calendar for each year of high school, and then transferring the information to a student activity resume.

2. Create impressive student activity resumes

You can create one student activity resume or more, depending on your needs. When you begin to think about all of the activities that your student has been involved in, you may be surprised at how many things they have actually accomplished. Document them.

Highlight academic participation such as National Honor Society membership, but remember that sports involvement shows that they have learned something about team playing and being disciplined.

As I worked with my children to create a high school activity resume, it became clear that we would have to expand the activities into separate resumes for school and volunteer activities. If your child is active in church and is applying to a church-affiliated school, that could be the subject of another resume.

I even created a photo collage of different plays and programs that they had worked in.  

3. Keep track of scholarship deadlines and requirements

This is where you want to kick your type-A tendencies into gear. If you aren’t an obsessive-compulsive person, you can become one temporarily for scholarship purposes. You can begin applying for many scholarships late in the junior year.

I kept a calendar with large blocks that had scholarship application deadlines highlighted in yellow. I attached sticky notes that showed the requirements for each application so that we would know when essays needed to be done. Then I acted like a drill sergeant (a nice one, though) and made sure that they completed everything by the dates due.

I helped by proofreading, sending in the applications — and even typing essays for my exhausted son at 11 p.m. while he dictated to me.

4. Search for good scholarships

The big scholarship websites like Fastweb and Scholarships.com can put you in touch with many scholarships of every imaginable type.

However, local scholarships are more likely to be where you find your best chances. Check the school counseling website. It likely will have a breakdown of all of the local and national scholarships available, as well as showing deadlines and links to them.

Scour local newspapers to see what you can find in your area. Don’t forget to ask your friends and business contacts if they know of any available scholarship opportunities.

Remember to check with the focus colleges for their available scholarships. Many of their deadlines are for February if the student will attend in the fall.

Scholarship attainment can seem daunting, but good documentation and presentation are keys that can give you great success at winning the money that you need. Add careful time management and a little obsessive-compulsive behavior to the mix, and you have a surefire method for success.

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