Coming into November, many high school seniors are finally getting started on their college admissions essays, or at least giving serious thought as to what they will write. The deadlines are close enough that they’re starting to seem real, but still sufficiently far away that there isn’t a sense of urgency.
Before your teen gets too caught up in the application process, you may want to talk to him or her about applying for scholarships. While scholarship applications do require extra work, they are a worthwhile expenditure of time and effort, as they have the potential to save parents and students significant amounts of money.
In addition to the National Merit Scholarship and university-specific scholarships (which may or may not require a separate application, depending on the school), there are thousands of smaller scholarships offered nationwide by third-party organizations. A given student will only be eligible for a fraction of these, as qualification is often based upon ethnic group, parental occupation, disability, or other factors. However, even with no special qualifying factors, any student will be eligible for at least a handful of offers.
Third-party scholarships are offered by community organizations, corporations, and philanthropists. They range in value from approximately $50 to approximately $50,000, though awards exceeding $1,000 are relatively rare. However, multiple small awards can still make a major impact on tuition bills.
The amount of competition for a given scholarship varies considerably. For large awards, tens of thousands of students may enter; for small local awards, on the other hand, your child is likely to be one of only a few, and may even be the only entrant.
Some scholarship application deadlines occur during the fall semester, but the peak time for deadlines is December, during the same time periods when college applications are due. There are also a number of scholarships which have application deadlines in the spring. The advantage of thinking about scholarship applications now is that your child will have a chance to prepare for the December deadlines before college application crunch time kicks in.
There are several services which compile aggregated lists of scholarship offerings, but the College Board is the one we recommend. Their individually-tailored scholarship search is available online here.