LendEDU's Guide to College Scholarships

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Out of all the methods available to pay for college, scholarships have become the most attractive. The rapidly rising costs of higher education have made affording college difficult for everyone.

Scholarships can be a great way for anyone to help reduce college costs and save for the future. With scholarships, students have a set amount of money to use for school. Students are never required to pay scholarship money back. Scholarships are a gift, and for some students, it can mean the difference between taking out a student loan for school and emerging from school with no debt at all.

While scholarships should certainly play a role in a any student's financial planning, the market for scholarship funds is tough, and receiving a scholarship is not guaranteed for all students. The information provided in this guide is aimed to help students and their families understand their scholarship options a little better, and perhaps make better choices as a result.

The Scholarship Market

While all students should consider applying for scholarships, not all students will be awarded scholarship funds. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, only 7 percent of undergraduate college students receive scholarships.

While anyone is eligible to get a scholarship, the NACUBO suggests that applicants with the following characteristics have better odds:

  • Students age 15 to 25
  • Enrolled in a 4-year institution
  • Middle income background
  • Attending school full-time

Only 20,000 students each year, or roughly 0.3 percent of all students, will receive a full-tutition scholarship that will cover all their costs. Regardless if you are the star of their football team or the valedictorian, the likelihood that you will receive a scholarship covering the entire cost of tuition is low.

Types of Scholarships

No matter who you are or what you do, it's likely that you can find a scholarship that matches some part of your life. There is wide variety in the scholarship market. Whether you are an accounting major who likes to play chess, or an all-star football player, you will most certainly find a scholarship that matches your academic and individual profile.

According to the College Solution's Lynn O'Shaughnessy, the largest source of scholarship funding comes from the colleges themselves for the students who attend their schools. She reported the distribution of scholarship dollars as depicted below:

With 73 percent of scholarship funds coming directly from the College, students and their families should consider average merit scholarship amounts when applying to colleges or universities.

Common Scholarship Awards

While some students think that a scholarship should help cover the entire amount of their college education, the average student will not recieve a scholarship covering all the related educational costs. As a result, students will usually see a gap between what their scholarships cover, and what is owed on their tuition bill.

According to Sallie Mae, in 2012, 35% of students attending a public four-year university received an average of $5,785 in merit scholarships while 55% of those attending a private school received an average of $12,274. Among the more generous private colleges, families pay the same, or less than they would if their student instead attended their public, state university

Most scholarships are only awarded once, and the average scholarship award ranges from $100 to $10,000. Some scholarships may be distributed periodically to cover ongoing expenses and may need verification of school realated expenses. Common verifications include receipts for textbooks or proof of rent.

It is good practice to save all educational related receipts. With rapidly rising education costs, some scholarships are having a tough time keeping up. Be aware, you may need to apply to many different organizations to have a strong shot.

Step-by-Step to Applying for Scholarships

While applying for scholarships is time consuming and tedious at times, scholarship funds can really add up for some students. Say for example you spent 20 hours applying for scholarships, and received $400 in scholarship funding. Well, you made $20 per hour for your time. Not bad for a college student. Anyway, we wanted to share a few good steps when applying for scholarship funds:

1. Research the organization in advance. Understanding the values and affiliations of the organization can help applicants better target and tailor their responses to scholarship application questions.

2. Read all of the application instructions.

3. Find similar applications. Many scholarship applications may have similar or even identical questions. You can save time in the application process by reusing your responses.

4. Take your time with each response. Rushing through any one application or question may force you to leave money on the table as a result of mistakes. Confirm that you properly address each question before submission.

5. Ask for a second opinion. A parent or friend might spot grammatical or spelling errors you missed.

While these steps seem obvious, we just wanted to act as a reminder.

Essay Tips

A strong essay with personal, interesting, and passionate stories can really help you win scholarship funds.

Here are some tips for writing a great essay:

  • Use an outline. Create a general structure for the essay with the key points clearly stated.
  • Use real examples of how an experience impacted you. Discuss the lessons you learned and how they have shaped you.
  • Skip the exaggerations. If your experience isn't real, you should not include it.
  • Be ready for a question about your weaknesses or a failure. Use this opportunity to be very honest, show how a failure helped you grow.
  • Proofread your essay. Proper grammar and punctuation show reviewers how meticulous and thorough you are.
  • Get others to review your essay. A different point of view can really make sure that you are clear.

Take your time! Writing a scholarship essay should take time, don't rush through any of the questions.

Letters of Recommendation Tips

You can differentiate yourself as a scholarship candidate with letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are written on your behalf by people who know you and can attest to some aspect of your work, academic studies, skills, or character.

Most often, scholarship reviewers will request letters from people outside of your family. That being said, you may consider coaches, teachers, bosses, or family friends. Follow these tips to get the best out of your letters of recommendation:

  • Select relevant people. Its obvious to select people who only have good things to say about you, but make sure the people you approach possess in-depth knowledge of the relevant qualities you exemplify in your application.
  • Make it easy for people to complete the task. Provide the name of the scholarship and any other important guidelines. You could even write a portion of the letter yourself. Include envelopes and postage if the recommendation must be mailed.
  • Provide examples of your accomplishments. The more examples the writer has, the better the recommendation will be.
  • Follow up. Thank the recommender in person or with a note. A short followup email shows your appreciation for the person’s time and positive recommendation.

Spotting Scholarship Scams

The goal of getting a scholarship is to get free money. Scholarships are such an attractive option because they are free! Still, many common scholarship scams try to present their services for a fee. Some of the common scams include the following:

Application Fees – Scholarship providers and organizations are in the business of giving you money. As such, these providers have no need to ask applicants for application fees or other expenses. These expenses are all accounted for before money is ever awarded. The application fee is one of the most common scholarship scam, deceiving thousands of students every year.

Advance Fee Loans – Many college loans offer affordable interest rates. Some, however, offer some rates that are almost too good to be true. All they ask is that you pay a small fee before you receive the loans. In these common scholarship scams, the loan never materializes. Legitimate education loan providers may charge origination fees, however, these fees are paid upon the disbursement of loan funds. Most of the lenders we work with at LendEDU do NOT charge origination fees.

Other Award-Related Fees – To reiterate, you should never be asked for money to learn more about a scholarship award, to apply for an award, or to have an award dispersed. Remember, you should never pay any money to apply or receive a scholarship.

When organizations give scholarships it requires a quite a bit of funding and time on their part as well. While you are looking for college funds, if you come across scholarship offers with spelling errors, no telephone numbers, award notifications by telephone rather than in writing, verbally abusive representatives, suspicious return addresses, and other characteristics that differ from recognized legitimate financial aid providers, these are likely scholarship scams.

Other Options

Even if you don't get a scholarship, or the amount of your scholarship is below what you expected, that doesn't mean you won't be able to afford school. In fact, students that do not receive scholarships have plenty of other options available including federal student loans, private student loans, and work-study programs.

At LendEDU we aim to bring all of these options to the forefront for students.

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