All across the country, high school seniors eagerly await the “big envelopes” from their top-choice schools. And when they finally arrive, the initial euphoria is often followed by, “How on earth are we going to pay for this?”
[Get the facts on college financial aid.]
Even students who qualify for financial aid or have money saved for school (or both) may come up short when the tuition bill arrives. Some take out hefty loans, while others opt to attend a less expensive school to save money. Overall, the prospect of paying for school is usually stressful at best. Compounding the stress about paying for college are scholarships. Many students (and their parents) view scholarships as the cure to their college-bill woes: if you can get one, your worries about paying for school are no more.
[Searching for scholarships is always free with ScholarshipAdvisor.]
That’s not entirely true, of course. Granted, there are some students who, based on their talents and achievements in academics, athletics, or another area, get a “full ride” from a college or university. For the vast majority of students, though, scholarships are just a piece of the financial aid puzzle. And thanks to a lot of misinformation — and less than scrupulous companies looking to cash in on student desperation — there are some who wonder if going after scholarships is even worth the trouble.
The fact is, scholarships are worthwhile, and they can help reduce your overall tuition costs. But before you start applying to every scholarship you find, or even worse, spending money for help, it important to clear up a few myths about college scholarships.
[Read more about how to write great scholarship essays.]
Myth #1: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships Goes Unclaimed Every Year
You see the ads all the time: “Get the money you deserve!” “Organizations are sitting on billions of dollars in scholarships — we’ll help you find it!” Usually, these messages come from companies that are trying to lure students and parents into paying for information about available scholarships, most of which can be easily found for free.
They aren’t totally wrong; there is some scholarship money that goes unclaimed every year. In most cases, though, those scholarships are weirdly specific, as in “Money for a left-handed person with blue eyes who was born on a Tuesday and wants to study botany.” However, there are hardly billions of dollars left unclaimed, as most major scholarships are awarded, so don’t believe the hype.
Myth #2: “Small” Scholarships Aren’t Worth the Time
Many local scholarships or awards offered by charitable and civic organizations are for $1,000 or less. Other scholarships are designed for a specific purpose, like taking a particular course. You might see these offers and think “$500 isn’t going to get me very far,” but that’s not the right attitude. Imagine if you won two or three of the “small” scholarships. Suddenly, you have a few thousand dollars — and that’s a few thousand dollars less that you need to borrow. Bottom line? Apply for every scholarship you’re eligible for, because every little bit counts.
Myth #3: You Don’t Have to Report Scholarships to Your School
So you win a $2,000 scholarship from a local business, and they cut you a check directly. While technically, you can use the money for any education-related expense, you still need to report that money to your school.
Federal law requires that you report all private scholarships to your school so they can adjust your financial aid package accordingly. Ideally, they would reduce the amount of your student loans, but you’ll have to talk to the financial aid department to confirm.
Myth #4: College Funds and Low GPAs Take You Out of the Running
Every scholarship program is different. Some require a near perfect academic record, while others will overlook a few bad grades if you have a track record of community service. Some scholarships are based entirely on need, while others aren’t concerned if you have the entire cost of college already covered.
In other words, just because you may not seem like the “perfect” scholarship candidate, doesn’t mean there isn’t a perfect scholarship for you.
[ 8 myths there are about student loan refinancing.]
Myth #5: Scholarships Can Eliminate Your Whole College Bill
As mentioned above, there are some “full-ride” scholarships available. Less than 1 percent of all college students actually receive them though, and most are offered from the college or university directly, not a private source. That doesn’t mean that scholarships aren’t worthwhile, just that you have to consider them as part of your overall strategy for paying for school.
Paying for college requires a bit of creativity and some hard work. If you spend the time seeking out scholarships, though, it could pay off with a lower tuition bill — and a lower student loan balance at graduation.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.