Whether college is several years or a couple of semesters away for your child, learning more about scholarships can be an important part of their preparation. Scholarships can pay for a significant amount of their college education, and in some cases, they can even cover all costs. However, they often go overlooked, so it is important for your child to learn as much as possible about how to find and apply for the right ones.
You can learn a lot about finding and applying for scholarships online, but parents should be careful about turning kids loose on the internet even for educational activities such as this one. It can be helpful to talk to other kids online about college, but your children should also be cautioned about giving out personal information and being aware that not everyone may be who they claim to be. Digital literacy becomes even more important when it comes to actually completing applications because it may be necessary to share sensitive information. Letting your child do some or the bulk of their own research is a good learning experience, but make sure they have the internet equivalent of street smarts to manage it on their own.
Despite the safety concerns, one of the great advantages the internet may offer your kids compared to your own experience is the ease of finding opportunities. They are never too young to start this search, and there are a number of sites that can specifically help in finding scholarships online in addition to looking at what specific schools may offer. It's a good idea for you and your kid to start getting familiar with various options and how certain databases work sooner rather than later. This can also give you a sense of what the requirements are, allowing your child to tailor their high school experience to match those requirements.
Your child will be more successful in their search if they understand the different types of scholarships that are out there. Most are merit-based or at least have a merit element to them, but some will be need-based. They may offer anything from a few hundred dollars to full tuition. Some come from colleges and universities themselves, but there are many other types as well, including organizations that offer them and foundations set up by individuals.
Some are offered to individuals who are part of a specific group, such as women, the first in a family to go to college, or children of military families. One reason it's such a good idea to be diligent in the search is because some have such narrow parameters that few people apply for them each year. There might be one that is specifically for someone from your county who is planning to study horticulture, and your child might be one of just a handful of students who is doing so.
Have a Strategy
A great way to help your kid without actually doing the work for them is to work with them on developing a strategy for identifying the right scholarships and applying for them. It's easy to become overwhelmed with just the sheer amount of research that is needed and with how many applications may need to be completed. One thing you'll notice is that some applications are relatively minimal while others require extensive essays. Looking and applying for scholarships can quickly become a full-time job, and your child likely has plenty of other demands on their time.
It may be helpful during the research phase to create a basic spreadsheet that includes such information as how much money is being offered, the deadline, and what is needed for the application. Then, applying for a mix of well-known, big-name scholarships alongside some smaller ones that are less well known and that might offer a higher chance of success even if the dollar amount is lower, is a good strategy. Be sure to give anyone who needs to write letters of recommendation several weeks of lead time at minimum.
Keep track of when various applications have gone out and what the responses are. Set a goal of a certain number to apply for each week, and be sure to mix them up in terms of the effort required. Not every application will require an essay, but enough will that this can seem like a significant hurdle, and your child can only write so many. Unfortunately, repurposing essays can be a mistake because prompts will differ, and the more concrete and specific an essay is, the more it will stand out.