It seems the kids just went back to school and all of a sudden — Bam! — time to hunt for college scholarships.
Here’s the rub: Students need to apply for some scholarships before they have a good idea of all the costs going to college entails.
Each school is required by law to post a net price calculator on its website by Oct. 29 this year, helping families estimate the full cost of four years in college. Some applications for merit-based scholarships, however, are due as early as Saturday, especially some that are more prestigious or competitive. And there might be a lot of work involved: essays, recommendations from teachers and counselors, plus gathering transcripts and multiple test scores.
But a little preparation today can prevent you from missing a lot of deadlines tomorrow. Some tips from local area guidance counselors:
Strategize: One option is to get out of town. And state. And region. Colleges typically try to maintain regional diversity, so selecting a school far from home could result in more scholarship money.
“Students from the Southeast, if you’re interested in going to Iowa, you’ve got a great shot,” says Terina Isaac, a North Atlanta High School guidance counselor. “Maine and Vermont colleges heavily recruit our students.”
If an out-of-state college sends you information pamphlets in advance, it may be because you’d be a geographical rarity for them. In fact, Isaac says, colleges in Ohio and Maine just sent her essay topics for students to complete for a four-day visit to the schools, transportation included.
“It’s not always the students who are doing the searching. Sometimes the colleges are as well.”
Organize: Once you’ve narrowed your choice of schools, create a timeline, spreadsheet or calendar of deadlines. Zero in on the application and scholarship process for each school.
“Sometimes for the regular [application] deadline, you’ll be automatically considered [for scholarships],” says Joni Towles of Towles Educational Consulting. “In some places you have to complete an additional application or essay.”
Additionally, many schools have a priority deadline for scholarships and early admission of students dead-set on going to a particular school. That’s often two to three months before the regular application deadline.
Prioritize: “You should always apply to ‘rolling’ schools first,” Towles says. Applying early to a college that accepts applications until its freshman class spots are filled, she explains, “does show interest.”
Also, if you apply, say, in early October, admissions offices have fewer applications to process, Towles says, meaning you’ll receive an answer, and possibly scholarship information, much earlier than if you wait until December or January to apply. She says one exception to this is if you’re trying to boost your GPA with first-semester grades to land merit-based aid or if you still need to take standardized tests.
And remember, Towles says, to pick your battles — there are thousands of merit-based awards out there. “You cannot apply for everything that you hear about.”
Collegeboard.com: Search for national scholarships, plus info on standardized tests and more.
Gacollege411.org: Information on Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, plus search for national scholarships.
Fastweb.com: Search for national scholarships.
Collegedata.com: Financial data for freshman, undergraduates.
Meritaid.com: Search by state for a number of merit awards at each college.
Nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator: Average financial aid each student receives, by income groups, for every U.S. college.
– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter