The key to helping your junior get in and get money for college

Parents of juniors…I want college admissions to be a stress-free process for your teen. Don’t see how that’s possible? Let me share some intentional things you can do to support your teen’s success to help them (and you!) avoid stressing out. The key is to approach the process in a way that makes sense for your teen, beginning with ownership. 

Own the Process 

First off, having your junior own the process (being engaged, responsible and accountable) will take a lot of pressure off you as a parent. But it goes deeper than that. I know from the research, and from experience with my own children that when your teen takes ownership of the process, they:

  • are much more successful in the college admissions process and more likely to get into the top colleges on their ist
  • can be sure they are a good fit for the college, and as a result, 
  • end up getting scholarship money. 

 

The key takeaway is to be sure your teen is in charge so that they are owning the process

 

Now that we’ve established that, where can you and your teen start with finding money for college?

 

External Scholarship Opportunities 

Let’s talk about external scholarships, which are scholarships that are not from the colleges, but from external sources. Oftentimes families are unaware of the other resources that are out there. This year especially, you want to be intentional around external scholarships. Here are five in particular that you may not have considered. 

 

1. Scholarships from Companies

Many companies, including law firms, major restaurants and retail companies offer scholarships. One widely-known example is the Coca-Cola scholarship for seniors which is a very large scholarship. However, your junior can position themselves to compete for that scholarship going into senior year. Also look at some of the companies in your own community that offer scholarships, which you can often find on their websites.

 

2. Scholarships from Civic Organizations 

Another great resource is civic organizations and foundations. Sometimes they are need-based (which require you to provide proof of need) while others involve a contest, where you complete an application with an essay to qualify. Now is a good time to research the civic organizations in your community that offer scholarships.

 

3. Scholarships from Credit Unions 

Credit unions are wonderful community neighbors, and they often will have scholarships as well. Sometimes, there are additional offerings for members of that credit union. If you’re a member of a credit union, definitely check that out! I recommend that you look into these opportunities in junior year; some of the requirements are junior-year specific.  Another note regarding credit unions: if you know that there is a credit union that offers a scholarship and you’re not a member, now is the time to become a member. If you plan ahead your teen can position themselves for that particular award now. 

 

4. Scholarships from Your Employer 

There are a lot of employers that offer scholarships. I believe that NiSource, the energy company here in Columbus, offers scholarships. See if your employer offers scholarships as well. Again, junior year is the time to look into the criteria. 

 

5. National Merit Scholarship Program 

Most students take the PSAT in junior year and their score will determine whether they qualify for national merit. One thing to know regarding the PSAT, is that it is not really considered for college admission. However, when your junior takes the PSAT and scores in the 99th percentile, then they qualify for a national merit scholarship. Have your teen research the criteria for the National Merit scholarship. 

 

Who Can Apply for External Scholarships?

Although you have a junior, be aware that you can apply for an external scholarship beginning at age 13 (keep that in mind if you have younger children as well). If your child wins a scholarship, that money is held and then sent to the college when they enroll. I encourage families with younger teens to apply for scholarships. Not only does it develop their resilience, it also helps to instill that growth mindset that we want our students to have. Plus, they will be adding to their portfolio of writing samples as well.

Top 5 things to do to complete FAFSA for your college-bound senior

Families may start applying for financial aid through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) beginning October 1 and will be able to submit an earlier tax return for consideration. This opening date well aligns the financial aid process with the college application process

There are more and more students who apply during early application deadlines. For example, Georgia Tech’s Early Action application deadline is October 15 and numerous other colleges, such as MIT, The Ohio State University and Purdue have Early Action Deadlines of November 1. Since the FAFSA application is open sooner, it means that when colleges release their decisions in mid-December/January, they may also have enough financial information to make a preliminary decision about any financial aid awards. This can be a sigh of relief for families who are particularly concerned about the financial support that they may receive in order to make college affordable.

Admittedly, when I first filled out the FAFSA for my oldest son, it felt a bit overwhelming. I was concerned about “all the paperwork” and financial disclosure. Completing the FAFSA was so much easier than I expected. So, if you are completing the FAFSA for the first time, I encourage you to 1) wrap your ahead around the fact that you can get through it, then 2) set aside an hour when you can devote time to completing the FAFSA form.

To feel less daunted by the whole financial aid process, you may follow these 5 tips to save time:

1. Create your FSA ID

Prior to even starting the FAFSA, your teen must create a Federal Student Aid ID. This is simply a username and password to fill out the form and update the information in later years. Keep in mind that the student will have their own FSA ID and the parent will also have their own FSA ID.

Please, please remember to write your usernames and passwords to keep in a safe place. (I even took a photo of mine to keep in my phone.)

2. Start the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov

Use your FSA ID to begin applying for financial aid through FAFSA. The FAFSA form has over 100 questions. And no worries, you do not have to fill out the form in one sitting. You can start, stop and return at a later time. Keep in mind though that the information is kept in progress up to 45 days.

3. Add FAFSA deadlines to your calendar

Yes, I’m a big fan of keeping a visible calendar as well as mobile calendar for your teen to stay accountable. Add state and college-specific deadlines to be sure. (The federal deadline is typically in the summer following the academic year so I wouldn’t worry about that one.) Focus on and plan to submit your FAFSA prior to the earliest deadline.

Most financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so apply as early as possible.

4. Gather documents

The student and parent/guardian will need these documents at least to complete the FAFSA:

  • Social security numbers
  • Alien registration number (if not a US citizen)
  • Most recent federal income tax returns, W-2 forms and records of any untaxed income.
  • Bank statements
  • Investment records

Having these documents handy when you’re completing the FAFSA will save you time and give you more peace of mind, for sure.

5. Use the IRS Data Retrieval tool

To speed up the FAFSA application process, you may transfer your federal tax return information directly into your FAFSA with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Within the financial information section, you may click “Link to IRS” to prefill your information. When I tried this first time, none of my information was retrieved. I did, however, receive a notification later from the university where my son would attend stating that my financial aid report would not be finalized until this financial information was verified through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

As I completed the FAFSA, there were checks along the way to avoid mistakes and numerous email notices to keep me on track.

I wish you all the best in this process and please post any questions you have.

Why a Scholarship Search is a Waste of Time

Why a Scholarship Search is a Waste of Time

For some students, getting into college is a challenge in and of itself. Add on top of that finding the money to pay for college and it can feel downright impossible. But let me assure you, it’s not! There are plenty of tools and resources available to help you get into and pay for college. But some students turn to a scholarship search in hopes it will find the money they need.

But is that really the best way?

Scholarship search resources

Every year during this time, I hear from parents who are worried about the costs of college and want more information on available scholarships. I certainly understand their concerns and will suggest these sites to them for a scholarship search:

The truth about performing a scholarship search

But I also point out something else they need to know: these private scholarships only represent a fraction of the monies available to students every year.

In fact, the 2011 Trends in Student Aid from College Board reported that scholarships from private and employer sources (combined) represented only 4% of all student aid. More recently, the total amount of aid that undergraduate and graduate students received from all grants, loans, tax credits, and work-study was $246.0 billion as of 2018-2019. Click here to see more highlights from Trends in Student Aid 2019.

Not to mention, these private scholarships typically require an application, recommendations, and, often, essays! Imagine the time it takes to compile this information.

By the way, here’s how juniors can get the best teacher recommendations before their first college application.

Let’s take for example this popular scholarship: Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Inc.

This program offers 250 scholarships valued at $2,500 – $5,000. Recently, there were 70,000+ applicants for these awards. Hmmm. . . that’s a 296 to 1 odds of winning.

But, if you are indeed one of the 2,200 finalists, you must submit an application, essays, recommendations, and transcripts.

On average, students could spend several hours writing these essays and collecting all the required information. You should apply for this scholarship if you meet the criteria. Keep in mind that you can not apply until senior year when you’re likely spending time on college applications, academics, athletics, and more.

Scholarship opportunities with better odds

For students who may be sophomores or juniors and have a little more flexibility in their schedule and time to carefully write their essays and obtain strong recommendations, you can consider other scholarship opportunities with better odds.

US Bank offers even an online scholarship application that must be used at selected colleges. There are 40 recipients of these $1,000 awards.

Recently, 14,000 applicants. Hmmm. . . 350 to 1 odds of receiving this one.

So, where’s the money?

For freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, here’s where you can really get more bang for your buck and save time . . .

Do well in the things you already do well, i.e. academics, athletics, musical talents, school leadership!

There are so many colleges that are competing for new students. Some colleges are seeking “A” students. Other colleges are seeking quality “B” students. There are even other colleges that are seeking “C” students with potential!

Another set of colleges is seeking those students who will lead community service efforts. The list goes on in terms of great college matches for athletics, musical talents, and future club leaders!

Focus on your strengths

By continuing to do well in your areas of strength, students have access to about 17% of the student aid pie.

That percentage represents monies that come directly from the colleges. For many of these colleges, such as Agnes Scott, Occidental, or the University of Michigan, students apply by submitting an admissions application. So the time you spend completing your application with recommendations and essays benefits your search for student aid.

Being a student that’s a good match for the types of students that college recruits have much more favorable odds than only completing a scholarship search.

For example, the University of Rochester offers millions in merit aid. Ninety-one percent of their students received aid from the university with an average package of $21,000. Their admissions rate is about 35%. Hmmm. . . that’s about 3 to 1 odds!

Those odds seem to be a better use of your time!

Okay, now fill me in. Where have you been finding money for college?

Are you looking for the right college to get in and get money? Click here to check out my free master class.

If you enjoyed this post, don’t miss these either:

Living Off-Campus: Pros and Cons
College Application Checklist
Colleges with Free Laundry: A Time and Money Saving Consideration

This article was updated from the original post from February 4, 2012.

How The Different College Application Deadlines Can Impact Your Student and Financial Aid

College application deadlines are not the most exciting topic to consider as your teen prepares for college during high school, but it’s a very important topic one. It’s important because it can make a big difference in terms of what you pay for college as well as impact your student’s chances on getting admitted.

Each year there are different application deadlines that your teen can use for their applications for college. They sound similar, so it can be confusing to understand how they are different. I’ll explain how they can impact your teen and their college future.

One of the deadlines is simply the regular decision deadline that happens every year,  usually around January. The thing to remember is that application deadlines are very unforgiving, so your teen needs to make sure that they meet that deadline.

Regular decision is a standard deadline, and another deadline you may hear about is the “rolling deadline”. The rolling deadline means that your teen can submit their application at any time. Usually they’ll get a notice back of a decision about three or four weeks later (but sometimes it could be sooner, depending on the time of year).

The rolling deadline is one that doesn’t have a specific date. So, it could start perhaps as soon as October and keep going until the final deadline, which means that all the applications have to be in by that time. Or it can be set to go as late as the spring of senior year.

Now that we’ve covered standard and rolling deadlines, I want to review two other deadlines that can be a bit confusing because they start with the same word. One of these deadlines is the “early action deadline”. Early action is non-binding, which means that your teen can apply to an early action deadline and usually they’ll find out the decision perhaps around December. It gives them a little bit of ease, especially if they do get admitted, because they’ll know pretty much where their application stands. Then, if they want to apply to some additional colleges, they still have time to do that under the regular deadline.

The fourth deadline I want to talk about also starts with early, and it’s called “early decision deadline”. Early decision is more strict because this deadline is binding. Every year, there are a lot of families that will apply under the early decision deadline. With the early decision deadline, because it’s binding, you cannot apply to any other colleges that have any type of restrictive deadlines. You want to make sure that you read the fine print on that.

The early decision deadline is one that the parents have to sign off on. Also, the school counselor will be notified as well. The key thing with the early decision deadline is that it means that if your teen is admitted, they must go to that college, regardless of financial aid. This is where sometimes I will see families who decide to do the early decision deadline, because that’s the only one that a particular college offers for them (either early decision or regular).

Generally with the earlier application rounds, the admissions rate is a bit more favorable. Families that want to make sure that their teen has the best shot in terms of admissions will often go ahead and exercise that option to use the early decision deadline. But soon after, if the decision comes back positive in December, you have a short window of time to withdraw all of your other applications and to submit your deposit to hold your space.

That’s a really serious deadline. Sometimes families will say, “Oh, I didn’t know. I thought we would be eligible for financial aid.” They get a surprise that they don’t get any additional aid and then it’s trying to figure out, “Okay, how do we pay for it?”

It’s a deadline that I wouldn’t take lightly. It’s certainly your family’s choice if you decide to do the early decision round, but know that it means that your teen will be going if they get admitted, regardless of what the financial aid is.

At least with the early action option, you have a chance to look through the financial aid offers from other colleges as well. On the flipside, some colleges will offer only the early decision deadline, and then others may have an early action, or they can also have an early decision as well. So you want to be sure you know the deadlines for your student’s college of choice when they begin applying!

One thing I will add about the very late regular decision deadlines is that sometimes colleges will say the deadline is June 1st. They will be filling those seats before then,  so for colleges that may have a very late regular decision deadline doesn’t mean that you can apply on May 31st still find seats available. It’s a point to keep that in mind when your student is scheduling when to submit applications.

Do you have questions about application deadlines and helping your student get into their dream school? Application deadlines can make a big difference in terms of what you could end up paying. In some cases, it can also make a difference as to where your teen gets admitted. I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions or thought about the process!

If you’re a parent of a high school student preparing for college, I have created a free online training class that answers the most common questions I get from parents: “How to Find The Right College.” It offers insight into the college application process as well as how to get money for college. You can check it out and register for it HERE.

How to apply for scholarships like voting in Chicago

Grants and scholarships for college are keenly on the minds of parents. The first part of this series, “Grants and Scholarships 101 for parents of college-bound teens” helps you get started, by overviewing the differences between grants and scholarships plus who will give your teen money. In this second part of the series, I will share how to apply for scholarships.

As you walk through these 5 steps, please keep in mind that these steps are meant to be repeated at least twice a year. I would recommend following these steps in July and January to best plan ahead.

1. Determine which scholarships – there are numerous websites that have listings of scholarships for your college-bound teen. Here are five websites which I discuss my likes/dislikes about each in the above FB Live video:

Other offline places to check may be your employer, credit union, professional associations, and foundations in your local community.

2. Add deadlines to the family calendar so that it’s visible and serves as a reminder. Also, your teen can add the deadlines to their phone so that the deadline is not missed. (see Tip #4)

Posting the deadline helps with planning ahead.

3. Be prepared to write – Scholarship applications often require an essay (or two). If a scholarship application has an essay prompt, your teen must respond in a clear and compelling way. . . which takes practice and time. Your teen can get help with writing through a tutor, teacher feedback, writing program/camp, and reading for pleasure.

Good writing can help your teen stand out among other applications and potentially win the scholarship!

4. Meet the deadline – there are year-round deadlines for scholarships. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is that if you miss a deadline one month, you can always apply to another scholarship the next month. The bad news is that several of the major scholarships like Coca-Cola are one-time only. When the scholarship applies to a specific grade level, then you miss the opportunity altogether.

Make sure your teen meets the deadline.

5. Apply early and often – Many families wait until senior year of high school to start looking for scholarships. There are scholarships available for students as early as age 13. Yes, your middle-schooler can apply for scholarships that can be used for any college they attend. For a number of those scholarships for younger students, there is a wide age range which means that your teen can apply as soon as they’re eligible. If they don’t receive the scholarship the first time, they can re-apply the next year.

Now, do you get the Chicago reference in the title?

What additional steps should be included here? Please share in the comments below.

Part 1 . . . for parents of college-bound teens: Getting started

How to save time when seeking money for college

save time seeking scholarship money

During a recent FB Live show, I discussed “Grants and Scholarships 101 for Parents of college-bound teens”. Although teens are applying for the scholarships, oftentimes, parents are searching and later reminding their teen about available scholarship opportunities. Scholarship searches on the internet can take a lot of time. My aim in this show episode was to give parents some practical tips that will save time when seeking money for college, especially free money that you don’t have to give back. . . grants and scholarships.

The first of this two-part series on what parents must know about grants and scholarships will provide an overview to help you get started. In the second part of this series, I will discuss what parents must know about applying for scholarships.

Let’s get started by answering 2 common questions that I get from parents:

Is a grant the same as a scholarship?

We often use the term “grant” and “scholarship” as one and the same. Grants are usually need-based, which means that a family may only be eligible to receive the grant based on household income. To determine eligibility, the family may have to show proof of income or submit financial documentation.

“Scholarships” often refers to merit-based awards, which means that it doesn’t matter how much money the parents make. And the term “merit” can be defined very broadly. Some of the “merit” scholarships my students have received have been based on musical and artistic talents, geographic location, community service, even being a boy/girl.

Knowing these distinctions in terminology can help with your online searches.

Who gives grants/scholarships to my teen?

This is a great question because if you don’t know who gives out scholarships then you may overlook scholarships that your teen can get. The source can be different based on whether it’s a grant or scholarship:

Who awards grants

a. Federal – Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to determine eligibility for federal grants, like the Pell Grant.

b. State – depending on your home state, the FAFSA may be used to see if your teen qualifies for any state grants.

c. Colleges – colleges also require FAFSA to determine if your teen qualifies for any grants they offer. If it’s a private college, parents may also have to complete the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile to determine eligibility.

Who awards scholarships

d. Anybody and everybody, like

  • credit unions
  • private organizations
  • employers
  • foundations
  • non-profit organizations

e. Colleges – the most lucrative scholarships my students have received came directly from the colleges. So when your teen is developing their college list, that will play a significant role in how big the scholarship offer may be. My suggestion here . . . don’t sleep on the importance of the college list!

What other tips or places should be included here? Please share in the comments below.

Part 2 of Grants and Scholarships 101 for Parents of college-bound teens: Applying

Last-minute time-saving tips for FAFSA and CSS Profile

When you’re doing anything at the last minute, it always seems to take longer. That is so true with completing financial documents for college. Recently, I was completing FAFSA in support of my son’s college applications. Several of the private universities on his list also required the CSS Profile. (Yes, I was completing them at the last minute.) So that you don’t get as frustrated and waste time as I did, here are 2 key tips to keep in mind when you complete the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile:

Your Teen Leads the Financial Aid Process

The FAFSA and/or CSS Profile are in the name of your student. This means that your teen must have their own FSA ID in order for you to complete the FAFSA. For the CSS Profile, your student’s College Board account is the account name for a parent to submit financial documents. In my particular case, my son’s login used for his SAT registration authorized me to complete the CSS Profile. It makes sense when you think about it although the logistics are frustrating.

Sidebar: This approach to completing the financial documents speaks loudly to a statement I make repeatedly to parents:

Your Teen is in Charge

It may be scary, but very true. Throughout the college admissions process, your teen owns the process. When we, as parents take over, that’s when our teen’s chances of getting in and getting money are jeopardized.

Plan Ahead

The first step in this FAFSA Guide is to get an FSA ID. It takes 2-3 days to obtain this FSA ID because of the required social security number verification.

What happens though if you don’t have 2-3 days to wait to fill out the FAFSA? If you want to start the FAFSA without the FSA ID, then I suggest that you start the FAFSA using your student’s information. This will allow you to fill out the application immediately. If you filed your taxes in the year requested, please use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to save time.

Before submitting the application, there is a place for an e-signature. This would usually be signed with the student’s FSA ID. Your student may, however, sign without the FSA ID, then select the box to verify the information being submitted. The parent can also sign and submit the FAFSA. Later, after receiving the FSA ID, then the FAFSA can be officially “signed” with that FSA ID.

Please create a reminder on your calendar to return to the FAFSA form and add the FSA ID for the official signature. Taking the initiative to add the FSA ID later will ensure that there are no delays in any college funding your family is due to receive.

College Scholarships for Middle School Students

scholarship money for middle school students

Did you know that your child can start getting scholarships for college before they even get to high school?

It’s true. There are more scholarships available to middle school students than ever before!

I didn’t know this until recently either—I was working with an 11th grade student to find outside scholarships for college, and we were doing some independent research.

We had a meeting set up to review our findings together, which revealed some very surprising results.

Can middle schoolers get college scholarships?

I was amazed at the opportunities available to younger students, long before they even started applying to college.

I realized that (as someone who is fully immersed in the college application and admission processes) if even I didn’t know there were so many excellent scholarships available for middle school students, how could the students and their families know?

I began sharing several of the scholarship opportunities I found with families who had younger children.

While we’re on the topic, you won’t want to miss this post, with tips for preparing your ninth-grader for college. 

What I’ve found is while most people wanted to know about these scholarships as soon as their child was eligible to apply, only a small percentage actually followed through with the applications.

Can you guess what happened when other middle schoolers did take advantage of these scholarship opportunities?

Their road to college was a much smoother ride!

Of course, obtaining scholarships isn’t the only important part of the journey to getting into college.

Although it’s still a few years away, here are some tips for supporting your middle school-aged child during the college admissions process.

Scholarship opportunities for middle school students.

If you want to start garnering college scholarships early, check out these opportunities for middle schoolers:

  1. Doodle 4 Google—Contestants can apply for this scholarship as early as kindergarten through high school.
  2. Gloria Barron Prize for Young HeroesThis scholarship goes to young people aged 8 – 18 who have made a positive difference on people and the environment.
  3. Kohl’s Cares—Students are recognized for their volunteer service from 6 years and up to high school graduation with this scholarship that awards up to $10,000.
  4. MathMovesUThese scholarships go to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and can be used for a summer camp or college.
  5. Scholastic Arts and Writing AwardsThis scholarship is the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7 – 12. Students can submit art or writing across 28 categories.
  6. The Angela Award—The Angela Award is a scholarship awarded by the National Science Teachers Association to a girl in grade 5 – 8, who is involved in or connected to science.

This is just a short list of opportunities to help you get started.

I encourage you to do a very specific search on Google to find additional scholarships for your middle schooler. It takes time and diligence to find scholarships and apply for them, so don’t give up!

These efforts can pay off in more ways than one.

What other scholarships would you add to this list?

Need a little more guidance with finding scholarships, college applications, and admissions?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about preparing for college and the college application process, you’ll want to have a look at these articles too:

7 Ways to Support Your Child During the College Application Process
Get In and Get Money: 5 Tips for College-Bound Juniors
Where’s the Money for College? Case Studies of How Students Earned Big Scholarships

This article was originally published on June 29, 2015, and has been updated.

Where you can Go to College for FREE . . . Study Abroad

Lately, I’ve had several conversations with parents who are seeking ways to further reduce the cost of their college investment. An alternative to the high cost of tuition for US colleges is attending college in another country.

Here are 7 countries to consider:

  1. Germany
  2. Finland
  3. France
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Slovenia
  7. Brazil

While it may sound great on paper (or during cocktail party conversations), there are several questions parents should ask to make sure that this option is viable for their teen. These 3 questions capture the overall fit that makes a difference in whether a student is successful in college, in the US or abroad:

  • Is studying abroad for college a good academic fit?
  • How will my teen fit in socially during their college years on a campus abroad?
  • What other financial costs will there be that may offset the tuition savings?

Then the flip-side of these questions will be those questions that the parents must ask themselves, like can they emotionally bear having their teen “so far” away from home. That’s a difficult question for many parents to answer whether they are sending their first or their last child off to college.