With school on break, summer is a great chance for high school students to dedicate time to the college search, including looking for scholarships. The process of finding and applying for scholarships takes commitment and effort, however. Here are a few tips for teens on how to approach the task this summer:
Repeat this mantra: “The scholarship search starts freshman year.” Teens should start thinking about college freshman year—and how to pay for it through financial aid and scholarships. Early on, they should visit the guidance counselor to ensure some of the notable/local college scholarship programs are on their radar. They should also start to browse websites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb.com and the College Board’s Big Future scholarship database.
Talk to alumni who earned scholarships. Word of mouth can be an invaluable search method. Parents should encourage their teens to talk with friends (and friends of friends), older siblings and others in their high school network about how they approached the scholarship search. That could turn them onto possibilities they weren’t aware of previously.
Create a spreadsheet. A Google sheet or Excel spreadsheet is a helpful tool to keep track of any scholarship research. Teens should include the scholarship name, scholarship provider, website, application deadline, criteria/eligibility information, award amount and any documentation required. It’s also wise for teens to include a column for ranking each scholarship in terms of how qualified they think they are (to help them prioritize when they start applying).
Create a timeline. The college application process ramps up significantly junior year, and it can be helpful to use summer break (even if your teen is just a soon-to-be sophomore) to start planning ahead. Many scholarship deadlines fall between October and March, so fall of senior year is a good time to start applying. That means by junior year, teens should have a working list for scholarships to which they plan to apply.
Be open to the possibilities. Sure, that full-ride scholarship that a local foundation gives out to students in your state might be most appealing, but teens shouldn’t disregard smaller scholarships. They are likely to be less competitive and lesser known—and nabbing several of them adds up quickly.
Search online and locally. As mentioned above, there are several scholarship websites where teens can start exploring what’s out there, but every community and every state has local scholarships too. Teens should check out the websites of big employers in town, community organizations and nonprofit organizations. A visit or call to the local library or community center is also worthwhile.
Start working on the essay. For many students, the essay is the most dreaded part of the scholarship application. Teens who are headed into senior year should check to see whether the scholarships they’re considering have released essay prompts yet and start brainstorming ideas. Those who are starting sophomore and junior year in the fall can still use summer to make a list of experiences, role models, life lessons and personal growth moments that could be essay-worthy topics.
Start thinking about teachers who could write recommendation letters. Summer break offers the opportunity to reflect on the year, including the teachers and other mentors who were influential and helpful (great people to keep in touch with). Teens can keep a list of these people for when the time comes to start requesting recommendation letters.
Many teens assume scholarships are reserved for only the top-tier students with impeccable academic and extracurricular records, but that’s simply not true. The truth is, there are many scholarships available for all kinds of students. Encourage your teen to take advantage of the slower pace of summer to do some research and dedicate time toward this effort.