Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You Can't Go to College If You Don't Have the Money

Patrick O’Connor is a past president 
of the National Association for College 
Admission Counseling and author of t
he book College is Yours in 600 
Words or Less
I hope I'm not the only counselor who has problems getting students to apply for scholarships.  I know seniors are pretty wiped out at this point, and really don't want to write one more college essay about what they will contribute to campus or how much Animal Farm really meant to them, but it's still my responsibility to get them motivated to write the essays, since the essays can lead to the money they need to actually go to college.

Once I get a grunt of acceptance, the rest is pretty easy.  Here's what I tell them:

Unlike looking for a college, this hunt is really pretty easy.  First, go to look for scholarships that meet your interests, talents, and backgrounds. Your school counselormay have a different site they like more, or a neighbor may have found college cash somewhere else, so ask and look around.

Next, scope out your high school counseling Web site or ask your counselor about the list of local scholarships that are available.  This is the most neglected source of scholarship money, because most people think the $200 or $500 scholarships from the local VFW or the Kiwanis club aren’t all that big. Fair enough—but if it takes an hour to write an essay for a $200 scholarship, that means you’re making the same hourly rate as Perry Mason, and you’re way younger.

In addition, remember that local scholarships have a smaller pool of applicants.  Anything you find on is being seen by tens of thousands of eyes; if you’re in the only high school in town, how many students are really going to apply for the Good Citizen scholarship?

Once you hit these sites, look for scholarships that evolve around the same theme.  For example, a number of scholarship center on patriotism.  This increases the chances that you can write one well done essay on, say, America’s future, apply most of it to six or seven essays, and be a serious contender for each one.  Suppose 3 of those scholarships come your way—you’re now up to $600 an hour.

You’ll also want to ask your counselor if you can fill out one application for all of the local scholarships.  Counselors know it’s a pain to complete so many scholarship applications (and the VFW gets discouraged if only 3 kids apply for their scholarship), so they create their own version of the Common App for local scholarships.  You fill out one app, make enough copies for each scholarship, write a specific essay for each one, and voila!

The last paying for college thing you’ll want to do (you’ve already complete the FAFSA, right?) is take one more look at your college list.  It is wonderful and important to apply to every college you love and dream of, but if they all cost more than the median household income of the US, it may be time to look at more budget-friendly options.

I encourage students to do this in the fall, but if you haven’t done so, now is the time.  It’s way too easy to get caught up in admit letters in April that come with financial aid packages where four years of loans will cost more than a Volt—but instead of being shocked, you’ll say “Oh, this is just too wonderful.  I’ll find a way to pay for it.”

It’s certainly true that things can work out in amazing ways, but when your college payment options boil down to starting out your work life with a car-payment sized student loan or hitting the Power Ball, filling out one more college app now creates a Door #3 that will seem like a deal come April.

And it probably doesn’t require an essay.

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