With negative economic impacts from the COVID-19 crisis dragging on and on, college financial aid is the new “hot topic.” Excited students and their anxious parents now want to get as much information as they can about paying for college. Although schools, states and the federal government do have a generous amount of money available, some families are realizing that it might not be enough to cover all the costs involved in getting a college degree.
That is when they start to think about the possibility of finding scholarships to help cover their anticipated costs. Some scholarships are large and some are small, but their main appeal is that they can help families pay a portion or all of the bills at a time when money might be especially tight. So then, the question arises as to when the student should begin to look for scholarships.
As with just about everything else in life, there is really no single “best” time to search for scholarships. You can actually begin the hunt as early as age 13, and some organized students do it throughout their junior year of high school. Most students, however, start the process during the summer between their junior and senior years of high school, as part of the college application process. Since that happens to be the timeframe we find ourselves in now, here are some steps to get you started:
• Get organized: Really think about your unique skills and abilities, and look at your circle of influence. These are the places where you will be most likely to find your first hints of scholarship possibilities. Consider trade associations or groups in your field of interest that might want to support young talent. Look for friends or relatives who might work in that area as well, or who might know of opportunities from other clubs and philanthropic organizations.
• Start your possibility list: Create a chart to help you organize your scholarship opportunities. List out the deadline and submission qualifications for each. Allow sufficient time for each. Be aware that some may require letters of recommendation, which can often take some time to obtain, so you will need to build that into your schedule.
• Slow and steady: You don’t want to get yourself so wrapped up in the scholarship side of things that you neglect the application side. Work out a schedule where you spend a certain amount of time every week on each.
• Early is fine: Even though a deadline might not occur until December, you don’t have to wait until the last minute to apply. Knock off the top scholarships on your list as soon as possible, and then keep going.
• Pay attention: Keep copies of everything. Don’t let your scholarship communications get lost among your other notices. Keep a separate file and email address so everything is easily accessible.
It is never too early to apply for certain scholarships, and for others it is also not too late. Some have deadlines after December, and others may be available only to those already in college.
Some scholarships require you to complete the FAFSA for the 2021-22 college year. That will be available October 1, 2020, so by then you’ll want to file your 2019 federal income tax return, apply for an FSA ID, and have all of your financial documentation in order.
We are happy to announce that the CFAA Scholarship Program is now available to help you locate and organize crucial scholarship opportunities. For three months of in-depth, personalized counseling and guidance to help you apply to scholarships that are uniquely suited to you. Visit our website, and be sure to enter your name and email to receive a FREE COPY of “Top 5 Tips for a Successful Scholarship Search.”
If you will be graduating from high school in 2021, you can also sign up to receive in-depth financial aid counseling from CFAA to help clarify your college search. For the latest information, look for my weekly JustAskJodi emails and tune in for my weekly Twitter chat at #CollegeCash every Thursday at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern.