After completing my senior year of high school and reflecting on the experience of financial aid there were a few things I wish I had known six months ago. Not everything about the process is obvious and the adults in your life play a big part in it, so not only do you need to be prepared but you need to prepare them as well (especially if you have no older siblings who have already been through the process).
1. Start looking for scholarships during the summer of your junior year.
During the first half of your senior year most of your time is spent working on college essays and perfecting them. Taking the time out of your busy schedule to have to find scholarships that you qualify for can be a real hassle. By taking the time out of your summer work and pool partying to find scholarships you can apply for it really lessens the stress you experience during your senior year.
It’s also great to start in the summer because some scholarships have early deadlines. By finding scholarships in the summer that have deadlines such as October 15th you’ll be prepared and have plenty of time to write an essay or get those extra community service hours in so that you can qualify.
2. Don’t be lazy and actually write those essays.
This tip is majorly important. I often found myself not wanting to fill out any applications that required essays because honestly, with all of the school work and college applications I had no desire whatsoever to write any more essays, but that’s exactly what every one else was thinking.
For the applications that I didn’t write essays for, I spent extra time and got none of the scholarships. Yet, if I took the extra time to write the essay, I at least made it to the second round if not all the way to the end and was awarded the scholarships. It’s important that you spend at least 30 minutes writing the essay and another solid 15 proof writing before you submit it. If you only spend 5 minutes writing the essay it’s likely it’s full of mistakes and missing important details you wanted to include.
3. Continually apply to scholarships.
Definitely do not stop applying to scholarships just because you applied to a few. There are scholarships that you can apply to at all times of the year. Some of the scholarships don’t even open up until you’re nearly done with high school or even in the summer after you’ve graduated.
For example, I found a scholarship during April where the deadline was in the middle of May, a time when people think most scholarships are gone. After taking a break from applying for a few months, I got out of the swing of things and it was much harder to begin applying again. Also, there are some scholarships such as those through ROTC for individuals interested in military careers that open up in the spring and you need your teachers help in order to complete them.
4. There are loopholes.
While this may not work for all scholarships some do not actually care about every thing they place in the requirement section. If the company is low on applicants they are willing to accept nearly every applicant they can get, so if you contact them, you may be able to still be considered after applying. For example, some scholarships that are exclusively for Latin@ youth may accept your application if you can prove that you are committed to the same principles as the organization and have extracurricular activities that promote diversity and acceptance of minorities.
5. Scholarships are for almost anything.
There are tall people scholarships, short people scholarships, people with red hair scholarships, people with brown hair scholarships and probably even people who wear miss matched sock scholarships. It’s really good when you are looking for scholarships to google things that describe you in any way shape or form. If you know what major you’re going into there are often tons of scholarships specifically for the major which helps to narrow down the pool of applicants and thus your chances. For example there are scholarships exclusively for women going into engineering which is a very small population in the united states.
All in all, start early on your scholarship search. You’ll never know how many scholarship essays you’ll need to write, but keep on writing them; it’s worth it. A few final words of advice: follow all deadlines, make sure your parents/guardians file taxes as early as possible, and most importantly, try your best not to be lazy.
1. The word "fit" gets bandied about quite a bit. It doesn't mean what people tell you it means.
Fit, you will be led to believe, is whether the vibe of the campus matches up with your student's goals and personality. Some campuses are perfect for save-the-world peaceniks like my daughter; others are better suited for the future engineers of the world. Fit is also sometimes interpreted as "don't apply to schools in New York City if you find cities overwhelming."
But "fit" in the truest sense of the word should probably mean "financial fit." Can you afford it? If you can't, don't let your kid apply. Yes, it's that simple. Would you book a vacation that you couldn't pay for? Buy a car with no way to make payments on it? Rent an apartment that costs more than you bring home each month? No, you wouldn't do those things. So don't do them with colleges either.
Shop in your price range. There is no point in applying just for the hell of it if you can't afford it.
2. Getting accepted to schools is very affirming, but ultimately meaningless.
My daughter has been admitted to pretty much every school she applied to so far. And that's a number I expect will climb as our state colleges announce decisions in the next few weeks.
Sure, it feels great to open the email or envelope and read the news that she's been selected. She certainly worked hard and earned those good grades and community honors. But do you know what they say about college acceptance letters? "That and $5 bucks will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks."
Colleges are businesses. They sell you an education and a degree that will hopefully lead to a job and a means to a livelihood. A college acceptance is Bloomingdale's telling you that you can shop there. Open your wallet wide. And if you don't have enough in that wallet, the acceptance letter is just something to get the fire started in the fireplace.
3. Colleges have some hidden costs.
With so much disclosure, I was shocked to learn about the hidden cost of health insurance. While it makes sense -- and is the law -- that every student carry health insurance, many colleges are quick to reject the idea that your son is still covered under your employer-provided family plan. Instead, some schools adapt the default position that they are going to provide Junior with health coverage -- to the tune of about $2,000 or so a year -- and will charge you for it upfront! Then you have to jump through hoops and prove to the college that he's covered under your plan -- with the same coverages as the school plan -- and appeal to get your $2,000 back. Meanwhile, the school has your money.
Oh, and $2,000 may be a bargain. Stanford University's Cardinal Care program costs $4,680 per year. Given that college students are probably the healthiest segment of our population, how is this even remotely right?
4. Scholarships are the cherry on the cake, not the cake itself.
When a school costs $60,000 a year -- or even $30,000 -- getting a $500 scholarship really isn't going to make much of a difference in your ability to afford it.
I have watched my daughter spend countless hours tracking down and applying for scholarships. Some scholarships require multiple essays, financial forms, and letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors and spiritual leaders. A few of them require as much effort to complete as the college applications. Others are so crazy narrow in who qualifies for them that it becomes a joke. We actually found one scholarship that was for "Undergraduate Jewish students who are orphans and preparing for graduate study in aeronautical engineering." For real. And what's the big prize? With the exception of a few national competitions where students can earn $10,000 a year, the vast majority of scholarships are in the $200 to $2,000 range. For a chance at winning $200, your kid's time may be better spent babysitting.
5. Love and merit aid may not last forever.
Merit aid is a college's way of enticing the best students to accept their admissions offer. But it behooves you to read the fine print. It could mean they love your son now, but plan on breaking up with him next year. Merit aid is sometimes just a one-year deal. Sometimes, it is dependent on a student maintaining a certain grade point average, which seems reasonable enough. But what will happen to your ability to pay for college if merit aid disappears at the same time tuition and expenses likely rise? Just think about it.
6. Beware of Tuft's Syndrome.
Colleges want to appear highly selective and don't want to be rejected by those who they do admit. Having a high yield -- meaning the percentage of the students who they offer admission to who actually chose to come to that school -- enhances a school's desirability. Tuft's syndrome is when a school protects its yield by waitlisting or denying admission to over-qualified applicants. The logic is that the over-qualified applicant likely won't wind up at that school, so why not skip him in favor of someone who has a keener interest in actually attending.
So Junior may get waitlisted or rejected by a safety school where his GPA and test scores vastly surpass the average -- and yet get admitted to a much harder college. How do colleges know they were his "just in case Harvard says no" school? Well, for one, they actually gauge an applicant's interest. Did the student come for a campus tour? Did they ask for an interview or stop by to introduce themselves when the college rep visited their high school?
And, college admissions officers have been around the block a few times. Unless there is some expression of interest or reason shared (mom is sick and I want to stay close to home), nobody likes to be the fourth person you asked to the prom.
As for why this practice is named after Tuft's University, well, we can only guess.
7. Waiving the application fee should not be interpreted as interest in a student.
Silly you, for thinking a college wants your daughter so much that they waived the $65 application fee for her. In most cases, what the college really wants is to be able to say it got a large number of applicants. And there is no better way to do that than to plant the idea that since this is now free, you have nothing to lose. And maybe you don't.
8. At the end of the process, it's best to just go Zen.
For real. The college application process is one of those things where the best laid plans of mice and men may just lead you in circles. Try not to worry about it too much. There are lots of paths to get to a goal. The beauty of picking a college is that if your student winds up not being happy there, the world won't end; he transfers and you revisit the idea of community college which continues to make great sense.
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