For most, this time of year is filled with holiday cheer, delicious meals, enjoying time with family, and making plans for the new year, but for graduating seniors (and their parents) the reality of a higher education, and the financial commitment that comes with it, is lurking in the back of their minds.
A college education does not have to be a financial burden. In fact, on average 1.7 million scholarships are awarded every year, totaling to over $6 billion, according to the Washington Post. Approximately 1.9 million graduating high school seniors will attend college starting in the fall of 2023, making your odds of securing a scholarship reasonably high. Even better, Texas 4-H gives away $2.2 million dollars in scholarships every year, meaning that 4-H members have an even higher chance of receiving a scholarship for higher education.
In honor of this Holiday Season, or as I like to call it, “Scholarship Season,” I am going to gift you with my top 5 tips for successfully taking advantage of scholarship opportunities.
- FAFSA If you have not already completed the FAFSA process, RUN. Most scholarship applications require a completed Student Aid Report (generated by FAFSA). The sooner you complete this step, the sooner you can begin applying for scholarships. The deadline in Texas for priority consideration for financial aid is January 15, 2023. It may sound intimidating, but once you start the process and have the required additional materials, it takes less than 20 minutes to complete. You will need student and parent social security numbers, and 2021 tax returns including W-2’s.
- Make a list and check it twice! Do your research and create a list of potential scholarships that you can apply for. Make sure you read the requirements and qualifications carefully, you do not want to waste valuable time applying for a scholarship that does not apply to you. Organize your list in order of deadline priority. Mark these deadlines on your calendar and set reminders for yourself. Look through the applications and give yourself plenty of time to to complete the application. Lucky for you, I already have a list started.
- Identify 3 references! Chances are that at some point during scholarship season you are going to need to be able to list references and/or supply recommendation letters. It is best to secure these references and letters at the beginning of the process! Here’s the hard part, who do you ask? Ideally, your references would be adults outside of your family, who know you, your work ethic, and character. Examples could be teachers, coaches, advisors, church leaders, employers or supervisors, or even your county extension agent. It is best to reach out in person or call these individuals to ask them if you can use them as references on your scholarship applications. When asking for recommendation letters you should give no less than 2 weeks notice, and give yourself a few days between the time you ask for the letter to be returned and the deadline to submit your application. You should also supply the people writing recommendation letters with a brief summary/list/resumé of your involvement and accomplishments. In some cases it might be worth asking the people writing your letters if you could use their letter for various applications you will be submitting throughout the year. Make sure you stay on the nice list by sending a personal, handwritten thank you note to the individuals who serve as your references.
- Get your tool box ready. Although scholarship applications can vary greatly, there is a basic list of information you can prepare ahead of time to help you fill out the application. The good news is, that if you are a 4-H member you probably already have a list of the below completed from your record book!
- Leadership Activities/Involvement – create a list with a description of leadership roles you’ve held, activities/organizations/teams you have been a part of, leadership trips/camps/trainings you have attended. Examples: 4-H, FFA, Student Council, Band, Sports Teams, etc.
- Community Service Projects/Involvement – Examples: Canned Food Drives, Donating Clothes, Trash Clean-ups, Church involvement, etc.
- Awards & Honors – A Honor Roll, Top Math Student, Basketball MVP, etc.
- Personal Narrative – this is something that I believe deserves some real time and effort. The point of this personal narrative is not to be able to use it for every essay on every application, but as a starting point and place to pull bits and pieces for the various essays you will need. This narrative should include background information about yourself, brief overview of your involvements and accomplishments, how your involvements relate to your passions and how those passions will translate to your college education and career. You should also include paragraphs regarding your college choice and career choice, goals, and financial need. This narrative will be broad and all inclusive. You may find a couple scholarships that this narrative will fit, but as fore mentioned you will hopefully be able to utilize different paragraphs and sections of this narrative for various essays. Hint: a creative theme for your essays can help you stand out.
- Find people you trust. Scholarship applications can quickly become overwhelming and you can quickly become “blind” to mistakes and redundancy. I encourage finding a couple (the more the merrier doesn’t always hold true in this case) people you trust to look over your applications. Some ideas might include a parent, older sibling, English teacher, counselor, or even your county extension agent.
Merry Scholarship Season,