Step one: Fill out the FASFA, and fill out sooner rather than later… I cannot emphasis this enough! Many students miss out on grants and scholarships because they fill out the FASFA too late. Even if you are a high income family, many scholarship decisions now require a completed FASFA. Also, many students qualify for a subsidized student loan. That means the government pays the interest for you while you are in school. If you don’t think that is free money, that can be a savings of up to $6000.00 by the time it is repaid.
Step two: Fill out your FASFA every year! The most important year is a student’s senior year in high school. A study from “Nerd Scholar” found the nearly $2.9 billion of federal grant money was left unclaimed! Thousands of high school seniors eligible for federal Pell Grants (which don’t have be paid back) neglected to complete the FAFSA last academic year. Many students don’t understand their families’ finances or don’t realize that an additional family member returning to school completely changes their financial aid prospects. You must fill it out every year you are in college, or you could be forfeiting up to $9,000.00 per year in federal and state grant money.
Step three: Apply for scholarships, and lots of them! Millions, yes millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed every year. About one in ten students are receiving a scholarship that helps pay their college expenses. The US Department of Education reports that those students forfeit just under $3000.00 per year. The problem is, way more than 1 in 10 students are eligible for scholarships. Students often don’t apply or don’t apply on time. It’s is never too early to start applying. Check with your high school guidance counselor, they have scholarship opportunities available from local organizations. The early bird gets the worm, and the cash!
Attend a FASFA completion event in your community. If none are available, go to a local college and ask for help. At Chatfield, we help lots of students fill out the FASFA and sometimes they end up going to other schools. Colleges who say they care about your best interest….should actually care about your best interest.
Make sure you start your search as a junior, as some scholarships require an application as a junior.
Use scholarship completion sites like www.finaid.org and www.fastweb.com with caution. These sites do a lot of the calculations and heavy lifting for you so that you are only applying for scholarships that you could be eligible for and this is an easy way to apply for a lot of scholarships at the same time. The issue comes after you apply, as some of the less reputable sites sell your information to for-profit colleges so that they can try to recruit you.
Make sure you or your child write two really good essays that they can use for multiple applications. A quick scan of the different applications will let you identify themes to write about. Make sure you use spell check and have them proofed multiple times. A generation of Twitter and Face book has all but ruined the formal writing skills of many students.
Make a list of accomplishments to use across all applications.
Search your local paper’s website for “scholarship awarded” announcements. This will allow you to compile a list of local businesses and organizations that financially support students from your community. This is an easy way to apply money from sources you all already familiar with.
Some schools like Chatfield use a unified application process. Meaning you can apply for 27 scholarships with one application. Start with these.
Parents, please check with your employers for scholarship or tuition reimbursement programs for your child.
Build a collection of recommendation letters. People who may think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread may be terrible at writing recommendation letters. Please gather several. I have met several students who had letters based on categories, so the letters matched the scholarship they were applying for.
Make note of whether or not scholarship opportunities are renewable—can you keep it for year 2, 3, and 4? If so, they normally have a performance requirement, and it is your responsibility to know that requirement. For example, you may have to maintain a certain GPA in order to receive the scholarship in the upcoming years. If not, look for other opportunities to replace that scholarship so you don’t have a shortfall in year 2.
If you are late to the game, don’t give up. Search for colleges (especially open enrollment colleges) for later deadlines. At Chatfield, students have until mid April to apply for fall scholarships, which is much later than many highly selective schools.
Good Luck and get to work!
If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call or email me at the college.
Vice President of Enrollment Management, Chatfield College
513-875-3344 ext 138