Unmet need -- college costs left uncovered by financial aid sources that don’t need to be repaid -- can seem overwhelming. With research and preparation, however, you and your student can be well-equipped to handle it, and scholarships play a vital role in closing the unmet need gap.
Why scholarships are important
According to Sallie Mae’s most recent national study, How America Pays for College 2013, scholarships and grants are now the biggest indicators of how a student will pay for college. Nearly one-third (30%) of the pie comes from scholarships and grants, up from 23% just three years ago, and scholarships were the driving factor of this increased percentage.
Not to mention, “free money” is an apt term when it comes to scholarships: they’re gifts that don’t need to be repaid to the benefactor.
Pair these facts with the decline in parents’ ability to pay for college and the rising cost of tuition, and you have compelling reasons to invest in the scholarship search.
What to ask yourself
Since your student's scholarship search will very likely uncover a number of different types of awards, there are several basic questions to help determine which will be most worth their time to apply for:
What are the scholarship requirements?
There are many types of benefactors, and they each have their own unique eligibility requirements for their scholarship awards. For example, the Undergraduate Research Award from the Mycological Society of America benefits students conducting research on fungal biology and requires a research proposal outline and letter of recommendation from their research mentor.
In this case, the benefactor’s requirements are fairly strict and may not apply to the vast majority of students who have unmet need. Still – students who do meet requirements should seriously consider applying no matter the award potential amount.
When you're facing unmet need, every little bit helps!
What awards are already available at the institution?
A college campus visit is a good way to get an overview of existing scholarships at an institution. (For ideas of questions to ask on a visit, check out The College Board’s Campus Visit Checklist.) Additionally, since scholarships range from academic to athletic to departmental, connecting with the financial aid office will provide your son or daughter with more detailed information.
Supplementing an in-person visit with online research will help answer this question, as well. Colleges and universities post tuition and fees online, and it’s now required by law for institutions that participate in federal student aid to post a net price calculator on their websites to estimate the cost of attendance.
Once you take both into consideration, you’ll have a better idea of what unmet need may look like for your student.
How much is the award?
When searching for scholarships, students should know how much an award will be, as well as when the award will start and end. Some awards, like the $2,500 Aubespin Award from the American Copy Editors Society, are one-time only for a particular year in college. Other awards, like the Elks National Foundation’s Most Valuable Student Competition, offer renewable scholarships good for four years of college.
If your student does earn a scholarship award, it’ll be important for you to also know the frequency of disbursement and other requirements to assure checks get cut on time. For instance, will the scholarship be awarded in one upfront lump sum? Or will the payments be spread out equally each semester? Does the multi-year scholarship require re-application or recertification each year? The answers to these questions are critical to assuring you and your student have a plan for paying for college every semester.
How to start looking
There a number of free resources when searching for scholarships; here are several to get your student started:
The Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars Student Center helps students find local Dollars for Scholars affiliates in your community, as well as matches them with Fastweb’s database of more than 1.5 million scholarships. The best part? Setting up a profile is free!
High school counseling centers can be an especially helpful hub for local scholarships that may not be as advertised on national scholarship search engines.
Your state grant agency provides information on grants, scholarships and other financial aid for college students from the state.
If your student has a particular college in mind, or if there are a number of colleges in the area, a college’s admissions or financial aid website will list internal and external scholarship opportunities specific to that institution or region.
Last but not least, Scholarship America publishes a weekly blog on USNews.com, The Scholarship Coach, which is filled with timely tips and resources for students.
Being equipped with scholarship resources such as these can make unmet need less intimidating. Before you know it, the hard work in applying for scholarships can turn a student’s unmet need into award success!