If you have a high school student in your family, there is a good chance that you’ve started thinking about college and how to pay for it.
That’s true for us, too. Malcolm, our 16-year-old, just made the decision to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, a joyous milestone that we celebrated with dinner at Bocuse. This classic French restaurant, like all of the restaurants on campus, is both a classroom and an award-winning eatery.
Then my mind started turning over the alarming statistics: 44 million people owe $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and the average 2016 college graduate borrowed more than $37,000 to pay for his or her education.
Yes, scholarships are more important than ever!
Here are five tips from my research into scholarships:
Start early and apply often. Scholarships are not limited to high school seniors.Do your research. Apply to large and small opportunities.When completing your application, answer all of the questions, including the optional ones.Tailor your essay for each application. Stand out by using examples and specifics.Pay attention to deadlines. You can download a tracking tool at http://bit.ly/ScholarshipTrackingTool.There are many college scholarship websites. Most are free and make their money through advertising. Here are the best ones I’ve found:
1. Niche (niche.com) is designed to help you research schools and neighborhoods. It also includes a scholarship search engine.
2. FastWeb (fastweb.com) features 1.5 million scholarships and college preparation articles.
3. Scholarships.com (scholarships.com) offers information about the financial-aid process and boasts 3.7 million scholarships and grants.
4. Cappex (cappex.com) allows you to discover and compare colleges as well as research scholarships.
5. MoolahSpot (moolahspot.com) is a scholarship search engine that includes the ability to build a unique profile to help in your quest for money.
6. Chegg (chegg.com) is an online textbook retailer that has a scholarship section with a listing of 25,000 scholarships.
Many of these sites feature the same scholarships. Pick one or two sites that you like best and begin compiling a list of opportunities. Enter as many as possible into the tracking tool. Then refine the list by carefully reviewing the eligibility requirements, the application dates and other relevant criteria.
Systematically begin applying. A focused effort over four to 10 weeks should allow you to play the numbers game. Remember, every little bit helps. Many small scholarships can add up to significant financial aid.
Durango resident and personal finance coach Matt Kelly owns Momentum: Personal Finance. www.personalfinancecoaching.com.