college scholarship

Increasing Your Scholarship Chances

When I was a kid, I loved watching game shows. I don’t remember the particular show, but once in a while, a contestant would enter a phone booth-sized box with transparent plastic walls. The host would turn on a fan attached to the booth and money would start flying around. The contestant would have 30 seconds to catch as much as she could before the fan stopped and the remaining bills fell back to the floor. 

College scholarships work pretty much the same way. As a high school upperclassman, you have a set amount of time to research and apply to college scholarships. The money may not be flying in front of your eyes, but trust me, millions of dollars are out there for the taking. You just need to reach out and grab it.  

How do you get this money before the timer buzzes? It’s simple. You have to have a plan going in. 

1. Start Early

In other words, the moment you start your junior year (or sooner depending on how ambitious you are), you should start researching scholarship opportunities that match your interests, background, etc. There are plenty of scholarships that are a perfect fit for you, but there are also plenty of others where you have no chance or are ineligible.  

The sooner you start creating ‘yes,’ ‘maybe,’ and ‘nope’ scholarship piles, the sooner you can start preparing your application portfolios. 

2. Keep Up Those Grades and Test Scores

As scholarships are a merit-based form of financial aid (Grants are need based.), the first thing scholarship committees look at are your grades and test scores. In fact, many scholarships will not consider your application if you do not meet their GPA or test score cutoffs. In other words, good grades and scores are your ‘foot in the door’; receiving the scholarship is far from guaranteed, but the scholarship committee will take your application seriously. The same statement is true for every college to which you apply. 

Last, but certainly not least, good grades and scores may lead to automatic scholarships (e.g., lottery scholarships) if you attend school in-state.  

3. Choose an Extracurricular Activity and Stick With It

If you have the grades and scores, you can further improve your scholarships chances by showing your commitment to extracurricular activities. In other words, competitive scholarship applicants participate in 1-2 extracurriculars for a least three years of high school. Long-term extracurriculars show your dedication. Also, if you spend enough time in one activity, you can take on a leadership role. 

Scholarship committees love awarding money to leaders. 

4. Volunteer

There are plenty of scholarships exclusive to high school students who volunteer in their communities. No matter what kind of volunteering you perform, keep in mind my tips for extracurricular activities. The longer you do it, the better odds you have of receiving a scholarship. The same is true for leadership positions or times when you took charge (e.g., You create a new volunteering club.). 

5. Get Feedback on Essays and Other Application Materials

Just about every scholarship asks for an essay. What this means is that no matter how excellent your academic or extracurricular accomplishments, submitting a poorly written essay will dramatically reduce your scholarship odds. 

It’s time to reach out to trusted adults, people who can provide honest feedback on your first draft(s). Take their input and run with it. Even if you’re lightyears ahead of your peers in terms of your writing ability, everyone needs feedback. The same advice goes if you’re submitting supplementary materials (e.g., an art portfolio). And when scholarship dollars are on the line, you should do everything possible to stand above the crowd of applicants. 

6. Partner with Financial Advisers

It’s your job to research and apply to scholarships, but there is much you can’t do alone. For example, you have to have an honest discussion with your family about how much they can or are willing to contribute to your college education. 

After that, you, with your family’s help, should research professionals that can advise you about the best way to cover college expenses after scholarships. Financial advisers can be a boon, but they’re usually pricy…but not for myKlovr subscribers.

myKlovr is proud to announce its partnership with Financial Fitness Group (FFG). myKlovr subscribers and their families receive “a dedicated library of content on topics such as education and employment, saving and paying for college, tuition plans, managing student loans and more.” The moment you sign up for myKlovr, review FFG’s advice right away to learn more about the best ways to ensure that you leave college debt free.

Final Thoughts

Like the truth, the money is out there. It’ll be a lot of work on your end, but I hope that with your parents, teachers, and FFG’s help, you can apply to the scholarships where you have the best shot. 

Good luck!

A Comprehensive Guide to Financial Aid

College sure is expensive. How expensive is it, you ask? Well, the four-year tuition at America’s priciest schools exceeds the nation’s median home price. Yep, some college degrees cost more than houses. Fear not; most colleges are nowhere as expensive, especially public schools where you qualify for in-state tuition. Even so, rising prices mean that in 2019, even ‘cheap’ schools put a financial strain on students and their families.

That’s why you need to spend a LONG TIME researching which school can give you the best bang for your tuition buck. But that’s another article.

Today, I want to talk with you about financial aid and paying for school. Your financial aid journey begins the moment you start researching colleges. Use the following steps to ensure that you can attend the best school at the lowest out-of-pocket price.

Talk to Your Family

Your first step involves determining what, if anything, your family will contribute to your college education. Money can be an awkward topic, but you need to have an honest conversation. The earlier you do this, the sooner you know how much money you need to raise through grants, scholarships, and/or loans.

Fill Out the FAFSA

No matter the amount of money your family has set aside for college, your first stop for financial aid begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA, a financial questionnaire, determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. You can learn more about each of these financial aid opportunities in later sections.

Take a minute to review some essential FAFSA information:

  • Application Deadlines: You can submit the FAFSA for the 2020-2021 academic year between October 1st, 2019 and June 30th, 2020. Of, course, the sooner you file the FAFSA, the sooner you receive your results.
  • Requirements: To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • File as Independent?: Certain applicants under the age of 24 can file as an independent, meaning that the FAFSA does not consider their parents’ finances when making its determination.
  • Materials: When you apply, you need you and/or your families tax returns for the previous year. You may need other records if your family has other investments such as stocks, a business, etc.
  • Determination: The FAFSA doesn’t say whether you do or do not qualify for financial aid. It merely reports how much you or your family can contribute to your education in the coming year. FAFSA calls this amount your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
    • What this means is that at some cheaper schools you may not qualify for aid, but at more expensive schools, you do.
  • Reapply: To qualify for aid under the FAFSA, you must reapply each year using a special FSA ID you receive when you first register. (Don’t lose this ID!)

Now that you know some FAFSA basics, let’s explore different types of financial aid. Each section begins with the kind of aid directly related to the FAFSA.

Research Scholarships & Grants

Federal Grants

If your EFC qualifies you for aid at your college, you may receive a Pell Grant, approximately $6,000. A Pell Grant can go towards any education expenses if there is money left over after you pay tuition, fees, and housing. You can receive a Pell Grant for up to six years if you remain FAFSA eligible.

State Scholarships & Grants

Does your state have a lottery? If so, it might use some of that money to sponsor a lottery scholarship or grant program that pays a portion of your college tuition as long as you attend college within the state. To qualify, you may need to earn a specific GPA or standardized test score. Also, after you start college, maintain good grades to ensure that your scholarship renews.

Even if your state does not have such a program, other financial incentives at the state level may qualify you for special aid. Check with your school’s guidance counselor to learn about opportunities.

College-Specific Scholarships & Grants

As you research colleges, pay close attention to the financial aid they provide eligible students. Schools with large endowments often award generous financial aid packages to students with financial need or those with excellent academic records.

Private Scholarships & Grants

Finally, we arrive at what may be your most significant scholarship and grant opportunity. Navigating scholarships may seem like a daunting task, but like your college search, the effort will have positive results.

If you need some help getting started, focus on subject-specific scholarships and grants, especially if you plan to major in a STEM-related field. Subject-specific scholarships limit the application pool, increasing your chances. They also give you the opportunity to highlight your passions and academic achievements.

When it comes to scholarships and grants, you may come across many scholarship/grant hybrids. These awards have both academic and financial requirements. Some scholarships in this category take applications only from members of a specific minority group.

Consider Work-Study Programs

Federal Work-Study

The FAFSA’s work-study program connects eligible students with part-time employment either on or off campus. This program caps the number of hours students work and imposes different rules for undergraduate and graduate students.

School Work-Study

Many schools offer similar work-study programs to help students pay for college. In these cases, students work part-time for their schools. Some schools reserve work-study programs for students with financial need, while others allow all interested students to participate. In some cases, reimbursement may come in the form of tuition reduction or a meal plan. In these cases, students do not receive a traditional paycheck.

Be Wary of (Most) Loans

Federally Backed Loans

First off, there are two types of loans you may qualify for under the FAFSA:

  • Subsidized Loans: These loans do not incur interest during your time in school.
  • Unsubsidized Loans: These loans do incur interest during your time in school.

Subsidized loans are your best bet, as interest can add thousands of dollars to your loan and lengthen the time you need to pay it back. However, all federal loans typically offer better interest rates than private loans. The FAFSA also caps the amount of subsidized and unsubsidized loans you can take out each year. 

Private Loans

Finally, we arrive at private loans. There are hundreds of lending institutions out there willing to loan you tens of thousands of dollars. “Just sign here,” they say, no doubt like the Devil bargaining for your immortal soul.

Okay, not all private lenders are the Devil, but private loans are – without a doubt – the riskiest form of financial aid that a college student can use. First off, student loans, even the FAFSA ones, never go away, even if students declare bankruptcy later in life. Also, private lenders typically loan much larger sums than federally-backed loans, meaning that young students can rack up massive amounts of debt in a short amount of time.

My advice: be wary of private loans and use them as a last resort.

Learn More About Military Service

Are you thinking about joining the military after high school? If you serve, you qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. In a nutshell, military personnel and veterans with at least 30 days of active duty service receive some tuition benefits. These benefits max out after three years of service. Other benefits include housing allowances and tuition discounts for spouses and children. The law is complex, and many stipulations apply.

Joining the military is not a light decision. Weigh your options carefully and discuss them with adults you trust.

Final Thoughts

You are incredibly fortunate: you have thousands of financial aid opportunities at your fingertips! By starting work now, you can attend your dream college without incurring debt, setting you up for financial, professional, and personal success later in life.

Do Scholarship Programs Like FastWeb Really Pay Off?

With college prices soaring into the $70K range any bit of scholarship money can help. I’ve been exploring several online scholarship programs and wondering if they work. About a year ago I signed up for FastWeb.com. By plugging in a series of details about my daughter’s interest and talents, an algorithm generated a list of matches for independent scholarships. Many were state or city related and they ranged between $250- $10,000. Every day for a year I have received an email from Fastweb informing me about the many scholarship programs my daughter may qualify for.

In most cases, the scholarships required some work from my daughter in terms of an essay or short paragraph. For example, there is a National Rice Scholarship contest that is given to a student who resides in a state where rice is produced, California being one of them so my daughter qualified. In order for her to win, she’d have to write an essay about how rice was important to her life. She laughed at me when I suggested she write about her Japanese class in middle school making omusubi weekly for school lunches. She had no desire to write that essay, but more to the point, she really didn’t have time. She’d spent the year writing essays and supplemental essays for college applications plus all the essays for school. The last thing she felt she could do, was write about rice.

I was overwhelmed as well with the college application process and found myself ignoring these emails. I learned that thousands of kids would be applying for each scholarship so her chances were slim. Many of the scholarships were from corporations like Coca-Cola. Local Rotary clubs offered sponsorships too, but she had no direct connection to them. I did get my daughter to apply to one scholarship from a car company that offered $1000 for a photo with a car and a story. Since my daughter’s middle name is Lark, after the Lark Studebaker, we took a shot at that and sent in a photo and story. We never heard back, not even a generic reply.

Now that it’s summer and exams and essays are over, I am starting to open those emails from FastWeb and encourage her to apply for some small scholarships. Any bit will help to buy books or towards trips home. I’ve also learned about myscholly.com, another scholarship search tool.

It all comes down to time and money. The more time we put into seeking out scholarships, the more they might pay out. For parents with younger students, I’d suggest familiarizing yourself with scholarship searches and maybe prep your child for a couple. Have them start thinking now about how rice is important in their life.

How Important Are My SAT/ACT Scores?

You sit in an auditorium packed to the gills with thousands of high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors from all around the nation. On the vast stage is a single podium, behind it a massive projector screen displaying the myKlovr logo and a single sentence in ten-foot high letters – the title of this article.

I walk on the stage wearing a myKlovr t-shirt and jeans, causing the audience to erupt in rapturous applause. I am, after all, myKlovr’s academic guru. I stand behind the podium and begin to speak:

“SAT and ACT scores are very important. That is all. Now please leave – Apple has reserved this space for their next product launch announcement.”

Without another word, I walk offstage, leaving the audience in stunned, frustrated silence.

I wake up from my dream and sigh. Becoming the Steve Jobs of the education world will have to wait for another day. However, my answer was pretty much on the money: SAT/ACT scores are a crucial component of college admissions success.

In this article, we’ll examine some reasons why your SAT/ACT scores are important no matter where you hope to attend college.

So How Important Are We Talking About?

You’re not just a number in the eyes of college admissions counselors. You’re a collection of numbers and letters. 😉

Yep, for a large percentage of applicants, ten seconds is all it takes for a college admissions counselor to make up her mind, even if she continues reading your application for a few additional minutes. This usually happens to applicants whose grades are in the C-F range, and their standardized tests are lower than the college’s Middle 50% scores for accepted students. This way, many applications go into the ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ pile as fast as if they were rolling off an assembly line.

In other words, good SAT/ACT scores prevent you from receiving an automatic rejection. This situation is stark a contrast to past decades when a good score was all that it took to gain acceptance to a top college or university. Not any more – at America’s top colleges, most applicants have respectable scores and top grades. Today, a high score keeps your foot in the door, making sure that the admissions counselor takes the time to read your essays and recommendation letters.

Not every college admissions counselor has the ‘automatic rejection’ mindset. If a college can afford a large admissions staff, for example, they may read everything in your application before making a decision. But admissions counselors are only human. When no one’s looking, and an admissions counselor has a large stack next to her (not to mention that it’s 6:00 PM and she promised her little girl she’d try to be home early once this week), what do you think might happen?

What if They’re Optional?

Submit them anyway. Everything helps. 🙂

What if My Dream College Doesn’t Require Them?

Yes, many colleges (and not just community colleges) no longer require standardized test scores to apply. Personally, I think that’s a step in the right direction. However, good scores are still important for two facets of the college experience:

  • Course placement
  • Scholarships

Good scores may let you skip introductory-level courses (saving you money) and help you earn scholarships (saving you even more money). You don’t even have to apply for some of these scholarships; you gain some automatically if you live in a state with a lottery scholarship or attend a college with a guaranteed merit scholarship.

So if you like saving money, aim for a high SAT/ACT score.

Final Thoughts

There’s no way around it: good SAT/ACT scores may not earn you an automatic acceptance to your dream college, but they are still rank just under your grades in order of importance. And no matter what, make sure that every part of your application is as polished as it can be.

And since summer break is fast approaching, start researching college tours. The more the merrier!

Spring Has Arrived and So Have SAT Scores

Traditionally the PSAT is taken in the Fall of tenth grade. Some students begin studying for it the summer before. Methods of study can be in the form of a PSAT practice book, online course, private tutor or an in person course.

Merit scholarships are offered for students scoring in the top one percent of the PSAT. The PSAT is a good indicator of how your child will do on the SAT. Some statistics say that SAT scores will rise at average 139 points from PSAT scores.

More and more colleges are putting less weight on SAT scores. SAT’s are not always the best indicator of the student’s ability and more and more colleges are becoming test optional. On the other hand, larger universities might rule out students with lower SAT scores. Each college or university will tell you what the average SAT score is for the students they accept. Lewis and Clark College has a Test Optional component where you send in additional writing samples and letters of recommendation instead of test scores if you are not a good test taker

If your child is leaning towards SATs it’s probably best to have them take the SAT at least twice. The first time they might have been nervous and just getting used to the test taking environment. Do you press them to take the test a third time? There are different approaches to this. One parent I talked to told me their child needed ten more points on his SAT in order to qualify for his dream school in Scotland, so that student has a huge motivation to retake the SAT for a third time.

My son is not a great test taker but he is a great student. He’s planning to take mostly honors classes next year as a junior and we have just had the conversation about SAT prep. As a family we decided that he would be better off not spending lots of time on SAT prep, instead spend that time on getting his GPA as high as he can. He will then focus on applying to test optional colleges.

Studying for the SAT is almost like taking on an additional class that requires daily homework and most importantly self motivation. There is only so much time in the day for eleventh graders. I’d say, pick and choose what is going to show you off the best. Can you add the rigor of SAT prep and not give up the school musical or sports team? If you can, then great, if it’s too much, then something has to give.

Sophomore year is a great time to research colleges and see how much weight they put on SAT’s. And then guide your child in the direction that suits them the best. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in this country and not all require high SAT scores.

Paying for College: A Parents’ Guide

It’s no secret that college tuition increases every year. For example, the cost to attend my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, rose 50% (from $40,000/year to $60,000/year) since I graduated in 2008. At America’s elite private universities, the $60,000/year figure is a common one. Even at public colleges, rising costs have locked out many students whose parents benefited from the same system as young adults. Also, since 2008, the amount of student debt held by Americans has more than doubled to approximately $1.5 trillion. To put that figure in perspective, American student loan debt equals the amount of money necessary to buy everything the United States produces in a single month.

If these trends continue, it is possible that by the end of the 2020s, the United States might have at least one college that charges more than $100,000/year to attend. Even accounting for inflation, the rising costs of college will invalidate many savings plans parents have traditionally used to pay for their children’s college education.

In this article, we’ll discover why paying for college became so expensive before diving into how to best respond depending on your children’s ages. Along the way, we’ll explore how changes in education may dramatically alter your children’s college experience (and save everyone some money in the process).

Up, Up, and Away!

If there’s a story that mirrors the rising cost of a college education, it’s healthcare. Since the 1960s, the federal government began subsidizing health care through programs such as Medicare. More people, especially older Americans, gained access to healthcare, which is great. However, the government does not set rules regarding how much healthcare providers can charge, even though the government is paying. Knowing they’ll get their money no matter what, healthcare providers can increase costs as much as they want.

Now let’s switch out a few words in our story.

Since the 1950s, the federal government began subsidizing college education through authorizing federally backed student loans. Many young Americans, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, gained access to a college education, which is great. However, the government does not set rules regarding how much colleges and universities can charge, even though the government is paying. Knowing they’ll get their money no matter what, colleges and universities can increase costs as much as they want.

Greed certainly has a lot to do with the rising cost of college. Before you start looking for your torches and pitchforks, however, consider two other reasons that college tuition has skyrocketed over the last half-century.

  • Advertising Costs. Once going to college was no longer just for the wealthy, colleges had to learn how to cultivate ‘the best’ student body. In 2016, private colleges paid, on average, $2,232 to attract each member of its incoming class of freshmen. These costs include, but are not limited to sending school ambassadors to events around the nation, and in some cases around the world, to sell their college to high school students. Other costs include traditional advertising techniques such as mailers and a social media presence.
  • Colleges have evolved. The very nature of college has changed since the mid 20th College campuses are not only larger to accommodate more students, but colleges’ financial priorities have shifted from education to research, especially scientific or engineering research that might one day benefit the college’s bottom line.
    • Colleges focusing on research is not necessarily a bad thing. At many colleges and universities, undergraduates can gain valuable research experience, working side by side with professors and graduate students.

Paying for College: The Basics

Important Note: As of the publication of this article, the Congress is considering a tax bill that could dramatically change how parents should save for college. As you continue to read, keep in mind the changes that may soon affect your family’s future.

  • 529s: A 529 plan is a specialized, tax-free college savings plan offered by the IRS. Since 1996, it has been the preferred method for new parents setting up their children’s college fund.
  • Scholarships/Grants: Besides savings, your children may be eligible for a wide range of scholarship and grant opportunities based on their academics, extracurricular activities, and community involvement.
  • Loans: The average debt for college graduates in the United States is $16,900. For some, the figure is much higher. For your family, taking out loans may be necessary. You, as a parent, may need to cosign these loans. No matter what, loans have a dramatic impact on people’s lives. That being the case, process with caution and consider loans as a last resort.

Now that we’ve covered the bases, let’s look at what you can do to help your children, no matter their age, financially prepare for college.

If You have High School-Aged Children

If your children are high school aged, college is only a few years away. Even if you created a college savings account the moment your children were born, you might still worry if there is enough money. Let’s explore a few ways to close the financial gap.

  • Community college is an option. Your children may have the skills and aspirations to attend an Ivy League, but your family cannot afford the costs. Discuss with your children the possibility of attending community college for the first year or two. This way, they will have to pay little to nothing for their education, save money, and still be able to transfer to a four-year institution at a later date.
  • Have your children start saving, too. The benefits of a summer job extend much further than having pocket change. Summer jobs are just as a valuable tool for saving for college.
    • When your children receive their first paychecks, encourage them to put their money in a certificate of deposit (CD). CDs make a bit more interest than traditional savings accounts. Also, your children will not be able to withdraw their money, making it less of a temptation.
  • Research relevant scholarships. As early as your children’s freshman year of high school, your family can begin exploring scholarship opportunities. The more scholarships your children earn will reduce the financial pressure on you and open up more possibilities to them.

Lastly, you may be tempted to tell your children not to consider colleges outside your family’s price range. I don’t recommend this. An effect might be your children adopting a defeatist attitude. (“I’m only going to community college, so why should I take APs or try to get As?”) To avoid this reaction, be honest with your children about what your family can afford, but also stress the importance of scholarships and community college as a stepping stone.

If You Have Younger Children

If your children are middle school-aged or younger, it’s impossible to say what the educational landscape will look like when they graduate high school. Until Congress makes up its mind, the tips in the previous section still apply. However, two trends may make college more affordable for everyone.

  • MOOCs: Over the past decade, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have opened up a world-class education to anyone with an internet connection. Many MOOCs are completely free. Notable academic institutions such as Stanford University and Harvard University offer MOOCs through different online platforms.
  • Online Degree Programs: Having your children attend college online confers many cost-saving benefits when compared to a traditional college education. Also, as the technology advances over the next few years, the educational experience should improve. However, there is much to keep in mind when considering online education as an option for your children’s college education.

Final Thoughts

Figuring out how to pay for college is a stressful experience for parents and children alike. However, the earlier you start working with your children to find solutions, the better the outcome will be.

Saving for College – Is That the Best Bet?

How best to spend money you have allocated to education? Private school? Tutors? Test prep? College fund? Do you take family vacations to broaden your child’s worldview? Do they do summer enrichment camps? Seeds of Peace? There is no one answer. It’s a gamble really.

Suppose you put away money in a 529 account and there is a family emergency, can you take out that money without penalty?

What if your child winds up going to an in-state school and you don’t qualify for financial aid? You might wind up paying more than a private school with a good endowment.

I am finding the Net Price calculator helpful in breaking down college prices. There is one on the website of each college and university. After you plug in your basic household income figures, the college will estimate how much they expect you to pay. That figure is broken down into three separate categories: parent contribution, student work-study, and student loan. These estimates don’t include merit money.

The amount of student loan they expected students to take out is roughly between $3,000 – $5,500 freshman year.

I was relieved when I read the figure. I don’t feel it will put students in too much debt after graduation. It might even be a healthy amount to pay off. I paid off my college loan after graduation every month and it was a real motivation for me to stay employed. I also did work/study when I was in college and felt it was a good way to gain job experience, make pocket money and purchase textbooks.

There are many scholarships beyond merit, but they take time to find. Fastweb.com is a website that guides students towards scholarships. The students are asked details about themselves, their interests and academic strengths. Then a list of potential scholarship matches is calculated. The scholarships range from $1,000 to $20,000. These scholarships in most cases can be applied to any college the student attends. The scholarships are very broad from corporate scholarships offered by Coca-Cola to regional and local scholarships. My favorite being The National Rice Month Scholarship, where students who live in states that produce rice can submit a 500-word essay about how rice has affected their lives.

I receive daily emails from fastweb.com with hand-picked scholarships that my daughter might qualify for. If the student has time, they can fill out multiple scholarship applications every day. Most involve writing short essays. At this point with college applications due in January as well as keeping up with senior year academics, there is not much time for these additional applications. So far, Sydney has just applied for one $1000 scholarship. Hopefully, after the new year and all the applications are in, she will apply for more.

I’m betting we’ll find a college that is not only a good fit for our daughter academically and socially, but a good fit for our family financially.

Back to Top