• Simple Steps to Winning Scholarships

    There is a huge amount of college scholarship funds available to high school students. But how do we get that money to benefit our teens?

    A college admission advisor once said, “Students should write college admission letters, but parents should write the draft for scholarship applications.” Shocking, but sensible advice. Teens simply don't know how to “sell themselves” to scholarship boards. They don't understand their own self-worth or value their unique talents enough to be able to write a scholarship application. However, parents clearly see their worth. So, you had best plan on doing some of the work if you want to tap into free money for your teen's education. Here are some simple steps to winning scholarships.

    Start Searching Early

    Scholarships typically pop up repeatedly, year after year. Most are due by December for the following year's college enrollment. So, start searching in the summer of their senior year. There are specific scholarship search engines online to aid you in this task, including:

    http://www.fastweb.com/ http://www.collegeboard.com/ http://www.collegenet.com/

    http://www.gocollege.com/ http://www.petersons.com/ http://www.brokescholar.com/

    You can search for scholarships online based upon a unique attribute. For example, is your teen a member of a minority group, have a unique skill/talent, an active volunteer, the first in your family to go to college, etc. It does take time to search through the available sites, so try to start searching early. Some parents even begin their search during their teen's junior year. You can also sign up for the online scholarship community: http://www.diversityscholars.org/, a program designed especially for students who are from an ethnic minority, receive free/reduced lunch or have no biological parent who graduated from a 4-year college.

    Connect with Colleges

    Did you know that each college offers scholarships? You can call different colleges to learn about their specific packages. Listen closely to the advice of colleges' financial aid officers as they know a great deal. One subject they will all talk about is FASFA - a free, federal financial aid application form. This is the only way that your teen can apply for federal/state grants. Apply online (http://www.fasfa.ed.gov/), as soon as possible, every year.

    Plan Ahead

    Once you find a potential scholarship, focus on the deadline date. You will want the following critical information available weeks before that deadline:

    1) A comprehensive list of your teen's accomplishments. Think long and hard about everything your teen has done in school and within the community that shows commitment, compassion or strength. Include attendance, academic and sports awards, volunteer work, and extra-curricular activities. List each item by date so scholarship panelists can visualize your teen's history of growth over time. You want to paint a clear, positive picture of your teen.

    2) Identify any specific obstacle your teen has overcome or unique program they spearheaded. This reflects personal development and helps them stand out from the crowd of applicants. It can be any type of challenge they have faced and surmounted or any program they have worked on to benefit others. Large or small, it will matter and enhance their chance of receiving money.

    3) Two outstanding letters of recommendation from non-family members. Give the writers several weeks to pen those letters. The writers should know your teen fairly well, but also give them the comprehensive list of your teen's accomplishments so it is easier for them to write a detailed, supportive letter of recommendation.

    4) Official transcripts from their high school guidance counselor. Again, obtaining this critical document takes time, so contact the high school early.

    Be Positively Persuasive

    Scholarship boards will ask why your teen should receive their money or what they will do with a college degree. (This tells them if your teen is a good investment.) Sit back, think for awhile, and then put a positive spin on everything possible. Try to write with hopeful passion and genuine belief in your teen's value and their potential future contributions to society.

    Always keep in mind that you are writing a springboard draft for your teen. Your teen should read what you have written and edit it to make it their own voice before they compose the final document. Don't be surprised if they make major changes to your draft, but at least they will have a solid foundation of ideas to work from and a clear understanding of their value.

    Pull it all Together

    Finally, help your teen complete the total package: their letter, the official transcripts, the list of accomplishments, the letters of recommendation, and any other documents required by the scholarship panel. Make certain it is mailed out at least one week before the deadline as most scholarship boards will not accept late arrivals.

    On to the Next Application

    Don't stop now! Once you have finished that first scholarship package, the next one will be a lot easier. Although you will probably still be doing all of the searching for new scholarships, you can do a lot of cut and paste at this point. Just remember to tweak each application to align with the unique requirements of each scholarship panel.

    It may seem like a lot of work at first, but once your teen receives a scholarship award, the time and effort on your part will be well worth it!

    Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School 4965 South 20th Street Milwaukee, WI 53221

    Phone: 414/304-6100 Ÿ Fax: 414/304-6115 Ÿ www.ronaldreaganhs.org