Are you expecting your child to use scholarships to help fund her education? If so, you need to take an active role in your child’s scholarship strategy and help her create a solid plan. Before you begin, however, it’s important that you set realistic expectations. Very few students receive enough scholarships to cover all of their expenses, so be sure you have a plan that includes other funding, such as savings accounts, 529 plans and income from other sources. The most important thing is to start early; waiting until senior year puts your child at a disadvantage and may reduce her college options. I suggest implementing a plan in the fall of your child’s freshman year of high school, as this will help her develop good habits over time and increase her chances of winning. Here are a few suggestions for helping your child create an effective scholarship plan.
1. Set a Goal
Your child will have homework, school activities, volunteer work, and possibly even a job, so expecting her to spend time every day working on scholarships is not realistic. Instead, set a goal of five to ten scholarships each month, allowing her to work on the scholarships during the weekend or on a specific night each week.
2. Search First – Apply Later
Your child will be much less stressed if she spends one of her weekends (or nights) simply looking for available scholarships. At least once a month, she should check with her guidance counselor to see if there are any awards she may be eligible for, as well as using several free online resources, such as scholarship search tools, Pinterest, Twitter and Reddit. You can also help her locate programs by checking with your employer, bank, church, and membership groups to see if there may be funding available.
3. Be Prepared
This is where you can really help. Although you cannot write essays or complete questionnaires, you can fill out the biographical information required for most scholarship applications and gather necessary financial documents (if needed), such as your most recent tax return. Place the applications in order, with the closest deadline at the top, and attach a quick reference list showing which items are still outstanding (letters of recommendation, essay, etc.). If the application must be sent through the mail, include a pre-addressed, stamped envelope, as well.
4. Review & Review Again
Another way you can help your child is by reviewing her essays and applications for typos. Don’t rewrite or alter her work, but highlight any areas that need corrections. It’s also a good idea to double-check that quick reference list you made for her to make sure all necessary items have been included in the scholarship packet before it is submitted.
5. Reward the Effort
The more scholarships your child completes, there more chances she has of winning, but she may become discouraged if it does not happen after a few months; the best way to keep her invested in the process is to include incentives or rewards. Consider offering her $100 (placed in a college savings account) for every 20 scholarships she completes or maybe a gift card to her favorite store. If she wants to take a cruise or trip after she graduates, consider creating a vacation fund. You can set a specific amount per application ($1 to $10 each), allowing her to earn it over time. I know that you may take issue with the suggestion of paying your child to apply for scholarships, but if you plan to help pay for college anyway, this is a good way to have your child actively involved with helping to fund her education. If she knows there will be some return on her efforts, she is more likely to seriously pursue scholarships and keep up with it over time.
Once your child reaches senior year, she should be a pro at finding scholarships. Be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the spring, and have her research available grants and scholarships offered by the colleges on her admissions list; she may be eligible for some awards based on her grade point average, class rank or college entrance exam scores. Even after graduation, she should continue to search for scholarships, applying every month until she completes college. Hopefully, her persistence will pay off and she’ll be able to earn her degree with minimal student loan debt.
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