The anticipation of acceptance letters is at a fever pitch, as students and families wait to hear back from the schools where they’ll continue their educational career. While waiting for responses, though, families can put plans into action, taking the steps necessary to make sure that they’ll have all the financial support they can receive for attending school. The first step, of course, is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as that will help provide schools with the information necessary to put together a potential financial aid application for students.
Private scholarships are another crucial part of planning for college. Surprisingly, millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed each year, mostly due to students not applying for those scholarships. If someone came to a student’s school offering free money, how likely would it be that they’d be ignored? This is exactly what happens with private scholarships. The reason: Many families suffer under numerous misconceptions about scholarships.
Here are five myths about scholarships that might be holding families back from applying for scholarships and why those myths aren’t true:
Myth 1. You have to cure cancer in order to win a scholarship.
Many students and parents believe that scholarships are only available for extraordinary students. While many scholarships are awarded to those students in the top of their class, many other scholarships focus on non-academic qualities, such as involvement in a particular extra-curricular area or membership in a specific organization, just to name two.
Families who realize that scholarships aren’t always about the grades and learn how to focus on what makes their student unique will be more likely to find scholarships that can be very rewarding for their student’s educational plans.
Myth 2. Students must write a new essay for each scholarship.
Most scholarships require a student to write an essay about why they are deserving of that award. While it’s best to tweak an essay to each organization’s requirements, having a core essay that highlights a student’s experience or background will make it easier to adjust that essay to the needs of the application.
Myth 3. Not all recommendations are created equal.
Many scholarships will require a student to receive a letter of recommendation from a teacher or member of the community. While it may seem a good idea to find someone who is a “big name,” such as a renowned teacher or a high-standing community member, it’s more important to make sure that the person writing a student’s recommendation has a personal connection with the student. A city councilman who is a “friend of a friend” might not write the same quality of a recommendation as a teacher or coach who has worked closely with the student and known them for years.
Myth 4. Schools don’t offer many scholarships.
When most families think of scholarships coming from schools, they think of star athletes getting “free rides” to play for a sports team. But many schools offer scholarships as part of their financial aid package for most students. In many cases, the amount of scholarship from a school can make a significant difference in the overall cost of attendance. While public universities, for example, may offer a lower cost of tuition than a private college or university, private schools frequently offer scholarships or grants awarded to students by the school. The impact of these awards can actually make the cost of attending a private school the same, or less, than a public school in some cases. These scholarships can often be awarded based on information reported on a student’s FAFSA.
Myth 5. Federal and State financial aid doesn’t include scholarships.
Another reason to complete the FAFSA is to be eligible for federal and state financial awards. Many families think that the federal and state governments only offer students loans, which must be repaid, as opposed to scholarships, which is free money that doesn’t need to be repaid. Many states, including the State of Iowa, provides many grants and scholarships that benefit students in a wide array of areas.