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Helping Your Child Get Into Their Dream College: Part Two, The Scholarships

This is the second part of a series on helping your child get into their dream college. Part one discusses testing.

College is expensive. Tuition alone costs a monstrous amount, but then there’s room and board, a meal plan, travel costs and let’s not forget text books — yes, some really do cost hundreds.

But one of the best kept secrets when applying to school is that you don’t have to pay it all. You can earn it.

Most students concerned about college try to get a job to help pay for school. Instead of looking for minimum wage work, I focused on being a student. And within only two years, I’d earned $40,000 to put towards my college education.

How? Private scholarships.

Most students and parents assume that they will only earn what their school of choice gives them. They then miss out on the wonderful opportunities that exist through private scholarship organizations.

I'm here to tell you that with the right attitude and diligent hard work, students can make more money studying for your SATs and applying for scholarship competitions than most who have a job all throughout high school.

Here’s how.

The Prep Work:

1. Have your student study the SAT by taking practice tests. I lost count of how many times I actually took the SAT and ACT. The best way to do well is to know how the test is structured. Buy the practice test books and have your child utilize them. You can even sign up your student to receive the SAT question of the day sent directly to their email — if they take this every day, they are getting more exposure to the style and format of the questions.

2. Help them make a resume. Students don’t need to wait until they’re job searching to have a resume. They should keep it on file and have it ready at all times. If they haven’t had much job experience, then they can include any awards or accomplishments, volunteer service, extracurriculars or special skills.

3. Help them perfect the short bio application essay (less than 500 words). This is your student’s time to shine and tell the judges about life experience and what makes them a good contender for their competition. Word of advice: students should not over-emphasize other scholarships they have already won, as some organizations want to identify new potential winners.

4. Guide them to read voraciously. Reading deeply and widely will help students answer scholarship questions and will aid them in writing the necessary short answer essays on the standardized tests and on the grant application forms.

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5. Assist in identifying candidates to write letters of recommendation. It’s helpful for your student to go ahead and ask important people to write a letter of recommendation for them. Consider a wide range of people — teachers, pastors, coaches, mentors, employers etc.

The Process:

Help your student go for it! Here are a few sample organizations that provide generous amounts of money to high school students applying for college. Your student will usually create an account and then submit your application.

A few scholarships:

National Society of High School Scholars - This is an honors society that I joined as a senior after receiving an invitational letter. They have monthly scholarships that your students can apply for and some are quite simple. Not only is this a great way to earn money, but membership is also a good resume-builder.

Distinguished Young Women - I walked away from DYW with $20,000 to be put towards Wheaton College, the school of my dreams. This organization is for girls in their senior year of high school. Students compete in 5 categories: Fitness, Self-Expression (onstage question), Talent, Interview and Scholastics. Not only can this program help you gain money but it is also a thrilling experience and a wonderful opportunity for students to challenge themselves and to get involved in their community.

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) - This organization is for college athletes, so if your child plans on taking sports to school, look into the leadership programs, grants and scholarships with the NCAA.

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) - I also participated in this organization. This program serves to educate young people about patriotism and the fundamental values of our nation. Students compete at several different levels in an essay competition: Post, Regional, State, National. The competition is called "Voice of Democracy".

Siemens Foundation - Siemens offers both a merit scholarship and a national competition for math, science and technology. Applicants create a project and write a research report on their findings to be evaluated by a panel of judges in the selected field. If your child prefers science fairs to literary analysis, Siemens is one to consider.

Ayn Rand Institute - Every year, there is a substantial essay competition in honor of the magnificent writer and political thinker Ayn Rand. The competition for Grade 12 - College is on her book Atlas Shrugged and the winner walks away with $20,000. It's worth looking into.

The Official College Board - This is the organization that releases the SAT. Through them, you can find online questions, study guides and other resourceful materials. There are also merit-based scholarships through private organizations. It's helpful for your student to create a profile with the College Board and browse scholarships that match your needs.

I recently received an email from someone working at my school’s Financial Aid department telling me that I brought in more private scholarships than most students they see. She was asking me how this was possible because they’re always working to make college affordable and she wanted to know my story so that it could potentially help other applying students.

This is how.

In just a handful of hours, any student can apply for a plethora of scholarships. Think about the possibilities! If your child wins one quick-draw $5,000 scholarship that probably took only two-three hours to prepare for, they’ve just made over $1500 an hour.

This is the kind of work that pays off. This is the kind of work that pays for college. Help your child do the research and learn how to apply their strengths. They can work hard and work smart — they, too, can earn $40,000 for college.

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This post was written by Ciera Horton, a unique blend of academic and artistic. She is a writer and world traveler, a lover of old books and swing dancing, and a student at Wheaton College in Chicago.  She shares her culturally-engaging outlook on literature, education and social hot topics for the Christian millennial on her blog, www.cierahorton.blogspot.com.

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