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 Athletes can still Study Abroad at Colgate

According to my campus tour guide, there’s “no such thing as bad weather [at Colgate] only bad clothing!” That’s important for families to hear because many students may overlook this wonderful campus because of its location/weather. Besides . . . there are tunnels to connect the buildings.

Reasons to attend Colgate

Colgate has a lot to offer to students who attend there. It’s a small-to-midsize college with an active student body of just less than 3,000 students.  Colgate students are active in Greek life (40%), engaged in community service (majority), and likely to study abroad (approx. 70%).

My tour guide also mentioned that community service is so important to the undergraduate students there that it’s “hard to leave without getting involved.” One popular program is Sidekicks. This is a Big Sibling-type of program, whereby Colgate students mentor local kids in the area.

One of Colgate’s themes is Global Engagement. This theme is encouraged through a number of different types of study-abroad programs at Colgate. The typical program may last for a semester-long, with courses co-taught between a Colgate professor and faculty in the host country. Students can choose from 26 different study abroad groups, like the Economics group which studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

Study abroad for Student-Athletes

What about the athlete who can’t spend the full semester away? There are a number of “extended study” programs. The extended study is a 3-week long program that begins with the academic class. After the class ends, the extended study abroad is then led by the faculty members who taught the class.  What an innovative approach to reinforcing and applying what was learned in the classroom!

Teens’ concussion risk higher among girls and not just football

One of my students recently returned home from school due to a concussion that occurred during wrestling practice. I was somewhat surprised to hear a) that a tall guy like him was wrestling and b) that he suffered a concussion in this sport, rather than football (his Fall sport)!

We often associate concussions with football, but a recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that students in other contact sports, such as girls’ soccer or basketball, ice hockey, and lacrosse are also at risk. As lacrosse season is about to begin, let’s take note…

Estimates of the number of Americans suffering sports-related concussions have been climbing in recent years. That’s partly because more people are playing contact sports, young athletes are training more aggressively at an earlier age, and doctors are more aggressive about diagnosing concussions. A recent study found that in 2008, there were five concussions for every 10,000 U.S. high school athletes who hit the playing field. That was up from just about one per 10,000 a decade earlier.  . . . .

The other interesting finding is that girls had a higher concussion risk than boys.

In “gender-comparable” sports, girls had a 70 percent higher concussion rate than boys.

via Teens’ concussion risk not limited to football | Reuters.

As a side note, a number of colleges are adding girls’ lacrosse, such as the University of Southern California and Furman.

As teens continue to participate in sports throughout their high school and college years, it’s incumbent on parents, coaches, school administrators, and the broader community to be aware of the symptoms of concussion. Those symptoms, which may occur many hours after a blow to the head, include:

  • Ringing in the ears
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

Let’s keep our teens safe!

SMU reaches beyond ‘Southern’ and beyond ‘Methodist’

Southern Methodist University is a college campus located in the heart of Dallas. I don’t refer to it as an urban campus because the city surrounds an academic culture, spirited athletics, and a thriving social life. Likewise, Dallas is more a business and residential town, than a college town. Beyond having ‘Southern” in its name, SMU boasts a student body from around the US and world. (SMU’s student body is less Texan than other Christian colleges in the state.)

The academic core of SMU focuses on liberal arts and sciences. Students can also major in programs across SMU’s five colleges:

  • Arts
  • Business
  • Education and Human Development
  • Engineering
  • Humanities

Two additional colleges offer post-graduate courses only – Law School and School of Theology. However, undergraduates can study in the law library…nice perk for pre-law students!

Student Life features Greek and Athletics

An active Greek life with over third participation and numerous student clubs keep students busy. SMU has a strong sports culture as does the surrounding Dallas metropolitan area. The sports museum at the stadium features the Heisman Trophy won by SMU graduate, Doak Walker in 1948. Students provided input to the fitness center and it’s quite an impressive facility with a rock climbing wall, billiards, basketball courts, and even a tanning pool! The tour guide stated that “the girls are happy about the tanning pool and the guys are glad that they’re happy.” 🙂

Although the university was founded by Methodists, there are no required religion courses, no required chapel attendance. With the exception of an on-campus chapel (where the most weddings in Dallas are held), there is no semblance of religious affiliation. Just as Federal Express became FedEx, perhaps Southern Methodist University may consider SMU as its official name!

SMU also has a satellite campus in Taos, New Mexico. I look forward to visiting there in the upcoming years.

What if you change your mind about attending/applying to Penn State

If you’re like me, you’re deeply disturbed by the recent arrest at Penn State. The media reports have been alarming and unsettling. Although I’ve heard about the 23-page indictment report, I can’t bring myself to read it. Some things are just better left to the imagination, without all the sordid details. In other words, I don’t want it in my spirit.

A few weeks ago, when I was visiting schools, a young man mentioned that he would be attending Penn State next year. When the news broke days later, my heart sank for this young man and his family. Is he really going to attend? The campus vibrancy and its culture is forever altered. The only good news is that the news broke in early November and there are still many colleges that this young man could still consider.

Given the horrendous nature of these accusations and the fact that the president of the university is out, this family should strongly question whether Penn State is a place where their son should attend college for the next 4-6 years. (Graduation rate: 84.6%) If families are having second thoughts about Penn State, they should contact the university immediately if the student is a committed athlete. You should know whether you are obligated to still attend. Although, it’s hard to imagine that you would still be bound to matriculate.

Once the university’s admissions team learns of your decision, they can offer a spot to another student who may be still eager to attend. About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the hiring and placement records of Penn State. There may be a large number of students who may want to attend Penn State for this reason alone.

As for me and my firm . . . it will be a long time before I can include Penn State on any of my students’ college lists.

Volunteer abroad during Gap Year: Is this an option for College-Bound Students?

In my travels around the country, I talk with a lot of families who are curious about the term “gap year.” It’s a term that originated in Britain and has made its way over the pond in the last 3 decades or so.

What exactly is a gap year?

It is a break in formal education, usually between high school and college where students continue learning through a cultural immersion, volunteer opportunity in the US or abroad, deeper skill development in their sport, arts, language, or academics. It’s a time of reflection and maturity. More importantly, it is a period of purpose and intention.

A gap year is not a vacation, nor a year of hanging out for the sake of hanging out.  The purpose and intentional aspect of a gap year is important because it suggests that the gap year is most effective when it’s planned in advance.

For many incoming freshmen who decide to defer their matriculation to  college, the colleges will grant deferred admission if you outline your plans for how your time will be spent during the gap year. For students who want to have a more competitive application for college, they may apply to college during the start of the gap year and the applicant must state how their gap year time is being spent. So having a plan for how the gap year will be structured is critical for college-bound students.

On our radio show today, we spoke with Andrew MacKenzie and Anna Walker of Africa and Asia Venture in Britain. Gap years have been popular in Britain for many years and their program has been around since 1993! Their program offers opportunities for cultural immersion and volunteer experiences in Africa, Asia, and The Americas.

Several of the topics covered in this discussion included:

  • Benefits of participating in such a program
  • Deferred admission vs. applying to college during their gap year
  • Trends in students pursuing a gap year
  • And of course . . . safety and security measures that families must consider prior to any cultural immersion or volunteer abroad opportunity

You can listen to this podcast on volunteer abroad gap year programs and learn Anna’s tips on travel insurance and resources that families must consult when vetting these programs!


Our radio show is broadcast regularly on blogtalkradio. Please join our Facebook page for show updates. You may also send show topic suggestions or guest ideas to radio at compasseducationstrategies dot com.

The economics of visiting University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati

Graduation Rate: 54:9%

When I visited the University of Cincinnati today, it was my first visit since I interviewed for a faculty position several years ago. I got an offer but didn’t feel like academia was a fit for my personality and work/lifestyle. Although I toured the campus back then, it was still worth a visit this time around to get a sense of the changes and campus culture.

This amazing structure houses the 4 floors of trophies, showcasing UCinn’s athletic achievements

Once I got over the fact that there were approximately 2,000+ other attendees at this Open House, it was time to absorb the presentations, tours, etc. I say that I had to get over it because it is a large, urban university with approximately 20,000 undergrads and just as many graduate students. With so many people there, attendees did not wear name tags, groups had different schedules, and I personally felt invisible. This experience is probably not a whole lot different from attending as a student. My student tour guide had only lived on campus for 1 year and lived off-campus for 3 years. She didn’t have a lot of answers about the campus, but she exuded pride in being a Bearcat. So UCinn can be a large university with tons of visitors at a time and . . . be a perfect fit for the students who attend there.


Throughout the presentations and campus tours, there was a lot of talk about costs. The morning presentation started with a discussion of financial aid. The next presenter highlighted all the “free” things on campus and emphasized all the off-campus activities galore . . . (it certainly made me wonder about the strength of the on-campus community).


When we started on the tour, the guide mentioned the cost of parking, how to save money on textbooks, and other services not

The lazy river and jacuzzi in Rec Center at University of Cincinnati are free to all students
The lazy river and jacuzzi in Rec Center at University of Cincinnati are free to all students

included in recreation center fees. (Massages and personal trainers are an additional fee, while the “lazy river” and jacuzzi are included.)  Perhaps it’s more a sign of the times in Ohio and nationally. . . . the cost of higher education is on the minds of families. I listen to a lot of admissions presentations and campus tours throughout the year. The consistent references to costs stood out. I definitely know that the application fee is $50 and nothing happens to your application without that fee! One other tip is that your application must be submitted by December 1, in order to be considered for Honors or scholarships.


Overall, the visit to the University of Cincinnati was well worth my time. After 2-1/2 hours, there was finally a presentation about academics. It was comforting to learn about those special programs that bring alive the intellectual engagement. The First-Year Experience includes learning communities that give freshmen a chance to form a community among their peers. That’s a plus on a large urban campus such as this. The Co-op Education program was also a highlight. Students in the College of Arts and Sciences must major in French, Spanish, Communications, or English though to participate. This is a great idea because it helps those students to be just as competitive in the job market after college. Also, the Co-Op Education program is 5 years, but you only pay for 4 years!UCincinnati

Graduation Rate: 54:9%

The importance of College Completion, even after the NBA

During this spring, we have had several shows where we’ve discussed sports in K-12 and at the collegiate level. We’ve talked about golf, hockey, and baseball. Everyone knows that I’m a Yankees fan but my guest to talk about baseball was Dan Mooney who played with the Mets so I stay away from the team rivalry and really delve into what these sports mean for students who aspire to advance in high school and college.

On today’s radio show, we talked about the sport of basketball and it was a great time to have this conversation because we’re in the midst of an exciting finals series!!

My guest today was Corrie Blount, who played in the NBA for eleven years, playing with several great teams, including the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. (My entire family are big Lakers fans.)  Corrie has played at every level of basketball . . . high school, junior college, and college prior to the NBA. What I find so fascinating though about his career in basketball and higher education is that he still saw the importance and value of earning his college degree after retiring from the NBA! That’s excellent and a message that I echoed in our program today.

Please listen to our show as Corrie discusses his experiences at Santa Ana Junior College, Rancho Santiago, and University of Cincinnati! He also intimately shared what made him cry . . .

How Corrie Blount decided to Complete College after the NBA

Soccer, Hockey, and Figure Skating from High School to DI College

Last fall, I attended the IECA conference in Cincinnati and went to a presentation on unique programs in STEM. One of the programs featured was a Bioscience program, which offered an opportunity for high school students and post-graduates to gain a more focused experience in the biological sciences. That program is based at the Shattuck St. Mary’s School in Minnesota.

In my research of the school and its other offerings, I discovered that they also have what’s called athletic Centers of Excellence. The programmatic emphases for these Centers are Soccer, Hockey, and Figure Skating. Interesting, huh? These 3 sports don’t typically go together, however Shattuck-St.Mary’s, athletic Centers of Excellence make it possible for athletes in these sports to remain competitive in their sport during high school, and get a top-notch academic curriculum as they pursue collegiate athletics. In our radio show on this topic, you can hear more about what this school is doing academically and athletically for its students. Our guest is Director of Admissions, Amy Wolf, from Shattuck-St. Mary’s. One of the questions I had for Amy related to the culture of the school . . . . When I was in high school, there was an emphasis on the jocks, rather than the academics. It’s a tough cultural issue that many school deal with daily. Listen to the show and find out how they’re dealing with the jock versus student divide!

Radio Show on Competitive Soccer, Hockey, Figure Skating in High School and College

Tiger Woods and Nurturing an Interest in Golf

Back in 1995, I received an issue of my Stanford Alumni Magazine and on the cover of the magazine was a photo of the golf team when Tiger Woods was on the team. At the time, I had never heard the name, although I had picked up a golf club before and knew a little bit about the game. Since then, of course, Tiger Woods has really become synonymous with the sport of “Golf.”

Despite all that has happened in his personal life over the past couple of years, he has really been a catalyst for the growing interest in golf among young people. I recently read that there are close to 300 Division I colleges and about 200 Division II colleges that offer golf scholarships. That’s a lot of opportunities for those who are interested and talented in that sport.

During the month of March on The Education Doctor Radio Show we have talked about athletics (in recognition of March Madness :-)) in high school and the collegiate levels. In this particular broadcast for this week, we focused our show on the sport of Golf. A member of the Pro Golf Association and head of the First Tee of Greater Miami Valley, Brian Parkhurst joined our show to talk golf, nurturing the young player, and playing golf in college. Brian brought some practical information and strategies to make a difference for student-athletes who have an interest in golf and may even be considering playing golf in college. Unlike other sports programs out there, The First Tee offers a unique component to its golf program for ages 8 to 18. You can listen to the audio to find out what is special about The First Tee.