Your students are likely already well aware that scholarships can be an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to college affordability. However, they may not know exactly how to go about finding right-fit scholarship opportunities. Add in the fact that students are also juggling the college application process, schoolwork, and extracurricular activities at the same time, and the process can start to feel overwhelming.
This underscores the important role that you play in guiding students through the process. Here are 5 best practices for CBO leaders helping students find and apply to college scholarships.
1. Start Early
Introduce students and their families to the financial aid and scholarship process prior to senior year, when possible. Clearly outline what the process will entail and what support you and your organization will provide, then invite parents to join you in holding their students accountable to their deadlines. Advise students to begin setting aside time each week to work on scholarship applications.
2. Set the Tone
Ask students to share their “why.” It can be difficult for students and their families to stay motivated in this marathon. Why do they want to go to college? What would earning a scholarship mean to them? Helping them identify their motivations helps them commit to doing the work as the year gets busier. This is a great time to share scholarship data from past students in your program. The more you can help a family visualize that scholarships help minimize out-of-pocket expenses, the more realistic this process will feel to them.
Remember, scholarships are available to students beyond high school graduation. By starting early and continuing their search every year, your students will maximize their chances of success, and may decrease their overall college costs. Remind them that the more “free” money they earn (also known as scholarships and grants), the fewer student loans they may need to borrow.
3. Recommend Reliable Resources
Encourage 9th-12th grade students to create a profile on Cappex as thoroughly as possible. The more complete information they provide, the better we can match them with opportunities uniquely available to them.
Don’t forget about local scholarships provided in your backyard either. Keeping scholarship applications and information visible year-round will support your commitment to access and affordability for students. Create a running list of local companies, high school alumni associations, and philanthropic organizations offering scholarships to students in your area. And you don’t have to maintain your local scholarship database alone. Join forces with younger students, fellow staff members, and even other CBOs in your area to research available scholarships.
It’s important to keep in mind that while some institutions automatically consider a student’s scholarship eligibility with their application for admission, others may require a separate scholarship application. As you help your students build their college lists, highlight the colleges and universities that require a scholarship application, and take note of the scholarship application deadline which is often earlier than the admissions application deadline. (Tip: It’s a good idea for students to check the outside scholarship policy at the college where they ultimately enroll to maximize the funds available to cover college costs.)
4. Provide Organizational Tools
Fast-approaching deadlines can make scholarship applications feel stressful. Recommend a few methods to help students take note of application requirements (including essays and letters of recommendations), award amounts, and deadlines. For your more “analog” students, encourage them to create a folder or binder dedicated to scholarship and college applications that their family can help them manage. The tech-savvy students you work with may appreciate virtual application trackers to stay organized. Ask students to share their documents or project boards with you and their support team regardless which method they choose. Try setting an early, internal deadline to review application materials prior to the official due date. Don’t miss out on money because you missed the deadline!
5. Offer Essay Support
Ensure that your students understand how to effectively answer a prompt. Often, students struggle to showcase their strengths when comparing their journey to another student’s. Reflection exercises, verbal brainstorming, and interviews with the student or their family can generate essay ideas. Enlist the support of other staff, and/or outside volunteers, to serve as essay coaches. Direct them to look out for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, while seeking to maintain the student’s voice and perspective. A single, well-written essay can be used for multiple scholarships, but let your students know that slight revisions may be required to fully answer each essay prompt.
Looking for more resources on college affordability? Check out our webinar for students on how to find and apply for scholarships.