financial aids

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!

What is the FAFSA and Why Is It Important?

The Free Application For Federal Student Aid otherwise known as the  FAFSA report  is the gatekeeper to college and university financial aid. Each family must fill out the report every college year. The first time it’s filled out is the year the student applies to college. The reports open on October 1. The application is FREE to fill out for all families and every college and university uses the same application so the application only needs to be submitted one time. When submitting you will select which colleges you would like the report to be sent. Additional colleges can receive the information at any time.

The FAFSA report determines the family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on several items such as bank accounts, income and properties owned. Students are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA report, but the language and details may not be something the student understands, so parental support is important. Some parents end up filling out the form for their student, especially the first year while the student is focusing on their college applications. But educating your student on financial documents not only makes them aware of your family’s financial situation but also gives them an introduction to similar applications they eventually will take on.

With the inherent costs of college, it’s not a bad idea to talk early about the reality of your family finances and how it will affect paying for college. There is nothing worse than your child getting into their dream school then later find you can’t afford to send them. Letting your child take part in these realities of finances will be helpful to all of you.

Several things are important when preparing the report and I suggest doing the worksheet beforehand. Make sure you have gathered all the items needed before starting as it will be easier than stopping and searching for figures. It’s a good idea to keep a log of specific figures that won’t change such as the year you purchased your home, the price you paid, the address of your employer, social security numbers.

I left myself an entire weekend day to fill out the FAFSA. That sounds intimidating, but it was necessary for me to gather all the info, fill out the worksheet and then fill out the online form. It’s not the easiest process in the world, but not the hardest either. The hardest part for me was realizing that my child was indeed heading off to college.

Once you fill out the report and submit, you will immediately receive an email from FAFSA with your EFC figure. This is the figure the colleges use to determine how much financial aid they might offer your student.

You will need to apply for financial aid each year your student is in college because family finances could change. Make sure you mark this on your calendar. And if you happen to have one student in college, your EFC will change for the second child since you are already paying one college tuition.

Gardening With the Net Price Calculator

With our FAFSA report and CSS profile complete, I started to dig into the Net Price Calculator. Each college and university is required by law to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. About 200 are sponsored by the College Board. The College Board saves your information and makes it easy to estimate your “Calculated Family Contribution.” The other colleges require you to put in basic income and family information.

Once I unearthed our Calculated Family Contribution for our top ten schools, I looked up, bug-eyed, from the computer.

“Give me the rose and the thorn,” my daughter said, using an expression from her counseling class at school.

“Okay, your top school wants to give you a really decent amount of aid. Your second choice, zero aid. Ouch. And your third choice something in between.” The rose, the thorn, and the stem.

But now I wanted to dig deeper. I started checking out lots of schools. Schools we’d never even considered. At the end of the day I think I had looked at about 40 schools, spent over six hours and too much caffeine. It was addicting.

“That’s nothing,” a dad of one of my daughter’s friends told me the next morning. “I ran the numbers for eighty-five schools and I’m still searching.”

The majority of colleges were around the same amount, but there were extremes. I called the top three choice schools asking how accurate those calculations were. The first school told me if my amounts entered were accurate then their calculation would be accurate. The second school, offering us no aid, suggested my daughter might be eligible for merit scholarships, which are not a part of the Net Price Calculations. And the third school said their final package could vary from their calculations based on other factors. I asked if they could tell me what other factors those might be. They said no.

My daughter is planning on applying Early Decision to her top school. This is very tricky since it’s a binding contract financially and I will have to gamble that those estimates are correct. I wonder if it’s better to hold off and have her apply regular decision so that we can weigh the options? Or have her apply Early Decision to her third choice which indicated the best financial aid package, but with unknown factors attached?

We have a week to make up our minds. The Early Decision deadline is November 1. It’s a gamble, that’s for sure. So with a week to go, maybe I’ll rustle around in those rose bushes some more.

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