The cost of a college education is not going down. According to the College Board, tuition and fees at an in-state public college averaged $10,740 for the 2021-22 academic year. That cost rose to $38,070 a year for a private college.
Numbers like these are enough to send parents into shock.
However, there is some good news: Parents can help offset the cost of tuition and fees by helping their children find scholarships.
Scholarships are preferable to student loans for one apparent reason: Scholarship money is gift money. Students do not have to repay scholarships after they graduate. There are plenty of scholarships out there. Students do not have to be straight-A students or sports stars to qualify for them.
Scholarship America estimates around $3 billion in private scholarship dollars available to college students every year. Students and their parents just need to know where to find this money.
However, how do parents find scholarships? Thanks to the Internet, the search for scholarship dollars is pretty straightforward. An excellent place to start is scholarship search engines such as Scholarships.com, CollegeBoard.com, and FastWeb.com.
Parents and their children will have to enter relevant information to use these search engines, everything from students' grade point averages to their extracurricular activities and interests. The search engines will then return possible scholarship opportunities.
The more information parents and their children provide, the more scholarship opportunities these search engines will return.
Using these types of search engines is just the start. It is also possible to find scholarship opportunities in a more old-fashioned way. For example, high school guidance counselors should have access to plenty of potential scholarships. In addition, guidance counselors might represent the best way for students to find smaller, locally-based scholarships.
These scholarships, often offered by private companies or charitable organizations, rarely have large advertising budgets. Because of this, they can be challenging to find. However, guidance counselors will know about them, and these school professionals can help parents and their children see the right scholarship opportunities.
Incoming first-year students might also find scholarships directly from the colleges they wish to attend. Many colleges offer scholarships. The best place to find out about them is at these colleges' financial aid offices. The professionals working in these positions can fill students in on a wide range of scholarship and aid opportunities unique to their universities.
Targeting Your Search
Does your son or daughter already have a career in mind? If so, that can help you narrow down your search for a scholarship. Most professions boast a trade association. Moreover, these organizations often provide scholarships to students to bring talented youngsters into the careers they represent.
For instance, your local realtor's association might offer a scholarship for students interested in pursuing a career in real estate. Likewise, your state's banking association might provide scholarship opportunities for students interested in working in finance.
Search out these associations, call them and ask about the scholarships they offer. Unfortunately, local and state associations do not always provide the most lucrative scholarships -- some provide gifts of just $500. However, every little bit helps when you are trying to help your child cover the costs of a college education.
You can also uncover scholarships through good detective work. Go to your local library and scour community newspapers. These smaller newspapers often run stories highlighting local youngsters who have won scholarships. Look at the scholarships that these students are winning and the organizations awarding them. You might find an organization offering a scholarship opportunity that's perfect for your son or daughter.
Applying for Scholarships
What if your children are not sports stars? What if they have never racked up straight-As? Don't despair. There are plenty of scholarships out there for a wide range of students.
The truth is organizations award scholarships based on a broad set of criteria. Some organizations award scholarships based on a student's community involvement. Students who volunteer at local nursing homes, food banks, or homeless shelters have a good chance of qualifying for these scholarships even if they do not have a perfect academic record.
Other organizations award scholarships based on religious affiliation or ethnicity.
Moreover, the organizations passing out these scholarships vary widely, too. Businesses, colleges, churches, civic groups, and professional organizations award scholarships.
Applying for these scholarships can take time and creativity. Many organizations will focus mainly on the student's grade point average or extracurricular activities. Others, though, will require students to write essays, provide a resume listing their activities or provide recommendations from influential community members.
Unfortunately, not every organization offering scholarship money is legit. Scammers have found new college students and their parents to be tempting targets for cons.
Scam artists might entice parents and students with a lucrative scholarship offer. But, to start the process, all these parents and students have to do first is send an application fee -- sometimes hefty -- to them.
What happens next? The organization behind the scholarship disappears, along with that application fee. Other scammers use the lure of scholarship money to harvest students' and parents' financial information, the first step to identity theft.
Here's a rule of thumb: Never apply for a scholarship that requires you to come up with an application, processing, or redemption fee. Legitimate scholarship opportunities do not expect students to pay for their awards.
Students and parents should be wary, too, of organizations that suddenly contact them with scholarship offers. Most legitimate organizations offering scholarships do not have to search out students. The students come looking for them. If you unexpectedly receive a call or email message that seems too good to be true, the odds are a scammer is targeting you.
The world of scholarships can be a daunting one for students and parents new to it. However, with a bit of research and much patience, parents and their children can often dramatically reduce the number of student loans their income college freshmen will need. That is something that will benefit children long after they graduate.