How to Find Local Scholarship Money: Talk to Your Guidance Counselor

By Sam Rosensohn

Scholarship money…

Say it loud and there’s music playing

Say it soft and it’s almost like praying

Scholarship money…

It’s time to get your kids on the hunt for local scholarships. We’re talking free money this week, but before you send them off to look for the money trees, I suggest you heed the words of four sensational area high school college counselors:  Branford’s Douglas White, Hale-Ray’s Donna Shea, Morgan’s Janice O’Brien and Westbrook’s Philip Mielcarz.

Each of these academic guides who could have been money managers encourage students to start by asking their guidance counselors for the list of local scholarships.

They should then identify the feasible scholarships to apply for and discuss with their counselors how best to complete the applications.

White points out that students should not just look for colleges. They should simultaneously look for colleges and scholarships. Now that’s a holy concept.

“Logically, parents should make the money search concurrent and equal in value to the search for college in cooperation with their candidate child,” notes White, the father of two students.

“If a student expects to attend an expensive college, the student should be asking the question ‘How are WE, my parents and me, going to pay for this?’ And any amount of extra money means a lot! However, seniors are very busy.”

This is why so many guidance counselors encourage students to start searching junior year. “We stress to both students and parents the importance of seeking scholarships in the junior year,” says Mielcarz, dean of Westbrook guidance. That’s why we offer students a junior planning guide.”
Hale-Ray’s Donna Shea tells all of her kids to be ready to apply early senior year. “Most of the money that comes directly from schools is awarded for academic merit, talent or need. But, often if you don’t apply early action, or meet specific deadlines, you’re not eligible for that scholarship pool.”

Morgan’s Janice O’Brien points out that a lot of students don’t apply for scholarships, because they don’t see the money end as their part of the college bargain.

O’Brien, who’s been guiding students along the college trail for 26 years and who has seen students overlook local scholarships, says there are a lot of reasons why students don’t line up to chase the money.

“The college process is more overwhelming today than it ever was for students and so students see it as their job to worry about getting into school and mom and dad’s job is to worry about paying for it,” she said the other day from her office.

“Really, she added, it’s very difficult at age 17 or 18 to figure what college is going to cost, and how it’s going to be paid for.”

And yet, O’Brien added, “we were disappointed last year because there were a number of local scholarships that kids didn’t apply to and they would have had a good chance at getting.”

There’s good news in all this for high school juniors and seniors: students aren’t lining up shoulder to shoulder to chase after the scholarship money. What follows are a few points from this powerful group of college guides:

Shea says it helps for students to get a grip on scholarship reality. Student perception runs from the pot of gold theory (all I need to do is sign the application) to the there’s no way I can receive any money with my grades.

She spoke of a student who was in the lower 25 percent of his class and who scored a full-scholarship, because he connected with the right scholarship in the right manner. Once the right scholarship is identified, she says, the essay can make or break the application.

Students, she says, should recognize that scholarship hunting is about identifying the scholarships that they match up with nicely and can acquire, and parents should check to see if their place of employment offers scholarships.

Finally, she wants students to know that if they win scholarships they should seek to have the awards made out to them rather than to the school they’re going to attend. “If a student wins a $5,000 scholarship and if it’s made out to the school that’s he going to go to, the money will be taken off his aide package and he didn’t really get ahead. Try to convince them to make it out to the student, and enjoy the gain.”

Mielcarz noted that “students usually receive in excess of $70,000 from local scholarship money that is available to Westbrook students. The key to getting scholarship help is to start the process early; students should start compiling potential scholarships in their junior year. Make applying for scholarships a part time job and it could pay dividends.”

Start with local scholarships then go regional, after that look for state and national scholarships.

According to the New York Times there are more than 700,000 scholarships available from over 25,000 providers annually. The web site WiredScholar maintains that its database currently contains over 2.4 million scholarships worth over 14 billion dollars.

Since some deadlines are in the spring of junior year, the time to get rolling is now.

A smart way to start searching beyond the backyard for scholarships is to go to the Internet. Take a look at Wiredscholar, http://www.wiredscholar.com; Free Scholarship Information, http://www.freschinfo.com; The College Board, http://www.collegeboard.com; The Wall Street Journal: College Journal, http://www.collegejournal.com/partners/scholarships_search/; The Princeton Review, http//www.financialaid.com; Adventures in Education, http://www.adventuresineducation.org; SuperCollegehttp://www.supercollege.com ; Scholarships.com, http://www.scholarships.com; Petersons, http://www.petersons.com; CollegeNet, http://www.collegenet.com; ScholarshipExperts, http://www. Scholarshipsexperts.com.

As my good friend Al Hoffman, who prepares FAFSAs, that’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for hundreds of families annually, has pointed out countless times: At the start of the college process it’s always about finding the best school; as it comes to the end, it’s always about paying as little as possible – no matter where the student goes to college.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com