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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Searching for Scholarships

Janet Harris, College/Career Coordinator at Rockville High School in Rockville, Maryland

Parents have been dreaming of this time since they walked out the maternity ward holding their little bundle of joy in their arms. The proud dad talks about his son going off to Harvard, Yale or Duke, while his mom beams with delight as she stands their dreaming of him becoming a doctor, lawyer or politician. We watch them as they grow so quickly and wonder where did the time go. It's like the commercials we watch everyday. One minute we are rocking them and kissing away their "boo boos" and the next thing we know they are asking for the keys to the car and money for gas. Everyone is so excited. This is a great time in everyone's lives. Seniors are getting ready for senior pictures, getting that class ring, preparing for their last Home Coming Dance and Senior Prom and finally Graduation Day. And then, all of a sudden, a lightening bolt strikes and everyone is scrambling. His parents are asking each other "What is happening?" "How are we going to pay for this"? How are we going to pay for the next four years for Johnny to attend Duke? He has his heart sat on meeting Coach K, with the other freshmen during midnight madness. He wants to camp out in Krzyzewskiville and get tickets and be a part of the Cameron Crazies as they cheer on the Blue Devils. It’s a tradition he has heard about for so many years and he can hardly wait to get there.

But lets back this dream up a little. When Johnny was in elementary school did mom and dad make sure he was mastering those math drills and learning his phonics? Did they help him memorize his vocabulary list for the week and listen to the new sentences he was now learning to create from his new word bank? Did mom and dad sit down with him and see to it that homework was done every night? Did they read to him and then have him read to them? Did mom and dad stress the importance of a solid education in order for him to secure his future? Were mom and dad active with his teachers to make sure he was being challenged, and not just being given " busy work"? Did they search and find summer study programs to help enrich his education. Did Johnny participate in all of the special programs and tutorials that were being offered at his school, at church or in the community outreach programs? Did Johnny's parents surround him with the foundation he would need to prepare himself to take full advantage of the opportunities a college degree would afford him? His parents are asking did they do enough? But lets look at what Johnny is thinking. Now the reality sits in and he realizes that he is now an official Blue Devil. But will he and his family be able to meet their financial obligation? What will he be offered in his financial aid package? Has he taken full advantage of his educational opportunities over the years? He still had not received the results from his 11th grade PSAT exam but is hoping that he may have scored high enough to receive national recognition. But just in case he doesn't, he isn't worried because he knows he is certainly eligible for financial aid in some form. So he chooses to begin plan B. He begins his own scholarship searches. He knows that scholarships never have to be repaid. He knew that the Career Center was the place to begin his search. The Career Center would have up to date Scholarship books, scholarship announcements and applications, not just locally but nationally as well. Johnny now starts to review his unofficial transcript and evaluates his GPA and current SAT test scores. He was so happy that he had been able to take advantage of an SAT tutorial to prep him for his second SAT exam. That tutorial helped him raise his score by several hundred points. He compares his GPA, test scores, community service, if requested, with the scholarship criteria that he has discovered on registered scholarship websites, books and announcements. He has now discovered a wealth of financial opportunities. He is now beginning to understand why his parents, counselors and teachers had been urging him to always do his best, study hard and always be sure to give something back to the community, in way of service, because it will pay off in the end. He knows there are hundreds of scholarships available not only as a result of his GPA, test scores, but also based on his extra curricular activities. Johnny knows that he can select and apply to each scholarship that fits his profile.

But many of Johnny's classmates have said that it is too exhausting to sit there and start applying for the vast number of scholarships that are available. Many of his friends won't apply which means the odds will shift in his favor, depending on the population that the scholarship is targeting. However he remembered reading an article in the Career Center about a young man that had applied and received so many scholarships that basically all of his financial needs were met. As a result of remembering that story Johnny decided that he was going to apply for every scholarship for which he met the criteria. He knew that as a result of his academic achievements, hard work, extra curricular activities, and dedication he would have a good chance to be the recipient of numerous scholarships. He also reminded his parents that they would need to have their FAFSA filled out and ready to be submitted as soon as possible beginning January 1 at 12:01am. He did not want to take any chances and find out that they had missed the FREE financial aid that they were entitled to receiving.

Students should remember that scholarships vary from small amounts such as $100 to hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout their college career. These scholarships are there to help defray the enormous cost students are facing when choosing their college. There are numerous philanthropic organizations, companies, employers, donors, etc. who want to make a difference in their lives. A $100 scholarship could pay for that math book. you need for calculus. If you collect enough $100 scholarships, your total will be in the thousands. Scholarships will provide monies for tuition, books and fees, and never have to be repaid. There are numerous criteria when selecting students for scholarships. Depending on the type of scholarship the student is applying for will depend on who can apply. Foe example, there are scholarships for students who are first time generation to attend college; scholarships based on ethnicity; religion; financial hardships; strictly merit based; merit based and need; and strictly need; scholarships based on your major; scholarships specific to a career; just to name a few. There are also athletic scholarships (and some of these also require a certain GPA or SAT score). Many times the student will have to write an essay. They can usually use one of the essays that had been prepared for their college application. With some minor adjustments, it will usually be more than adequate. (After all, you know you've written a brilliant essay to accompany your College Application). Then there are the scholarships that the college or university is offering to outstanding students who meet their required GPA's, SAT scores, and in some cases PSAT scores. You may also receive a scholarship based on being related to a graduate of that school. The criteria will vary depending on the scholarship.

Students need to know that there is money available. You don't have to be the #1 student in your class or have received a perfect score on your SAT. (Although that doesn't hurt) But you need to prepare yourself to be marketable. Make sure you have decent grades; test scores; community service and extracurricular activities. And by all means don't forget to list in your section for activities, your involvement with your Church, Temple and Synagogue. Do your research to see what is available for you. There are Scholarship Websites, Scholarship Books, Scholarship Announcements and Applications that the College/Career Coordinators provide to the students and are available in their Career Centers as well as in the Counselors Offices. There is NO EXCUSE for a student not to be able to get any information on any advertised scholarship. However if any student is ever asked to provide a FEE for a scholarship service, they need to RUN, NOT WALK, AWAY. Just as you researched and sought out the perfect college for your perfect match…. you also have to search out the perfect scholarship for your perfect match.

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