The Secrets to Scholarships: How your teen can find and apply for college scholarships

By Meredith Sheldon

Going to college is a life milestone. But, an undergraduate education can come with a hefty price tag. Along with federal loans and grants, there are other ways your children can earn some extra dollars toward their education: scholarships.

College expenses pile up not just from tuition but also from living expenses, parking, textbooks and more. The annual costs of attendance at in-state private and public universities can be costly. Per year, costs for public schools in Florida range from about $21,251 at the University of Florida to about $14,229 at Santa Fe, while per year costs at private universities range from about $45,600 at the University of Miami to about $42,716 at the University of Tampa.

Jessica Velasco, a college counselor and former director of admissions for Northwest University, said there are many ways to seek out a scholarship that is best fit for your teen. Velasco created her own blog to help prospective and current college students afford and receive higher education.

How to Start

Before scholarship hunting, Velasco said it is important that you and your teen know the school to which she plans to apply. Most financial aid and scholarship help will come from the institution, so look at schools in your budget. This will enable you to gauge how much financial assistance your child may require prior to starting the scholarship process. “Sometimes a college might be a great fit, but it might not be a great financial fit,” said Velasco.

Once your child has determined which schools she will apply to, the first step in searching for a scholarship, Velasco said, is for your teen to get to know herself. She should assess her favorite sports, hobbies, interests and passions. Look for scholarships that cater to her specific interests to increase her chances of getting the prize.

Where to Look

Velasco said to start your search by having your student join websites such as Fast Web and Cappex. She can create an account, take surveys and let the database narrow down the best scholarships for her. Velasco also recommends joining the email list serves for these websites to get email updates on new scholarships.

After navigating the web, use resources closest to you. Velasco said certain scholarship opportunities are only available at high schools. Your child should meet with her guidance counselor to evaluate and find scholarships that are unique to her interests and her school.

If your child is in an honor society, a sports team, a volunteer organization and even a church or temple, there are scholarships within those. Velasco said your teen should reach out to her organization supervisors to get the scholarship scoop.

National scholarships via school organizations and companies are great, but Velasco said they are super competitive. The best tip, she said, is to find scholarships with small applicant pools.

How to Apply

Once your teen has found the scholarships she is seeking, the last step is applying. Velasco said it is important for students to really sell themselves in the essay portion. Your teen can do this by highlighting a personal story, scenario or interest that is unique to her. “If someone else could send in that same essay, you aren’t gonna stand out,” she said. “Find something you are passionate about and something you are really proud of.”

Have your child apply to a handful of scholarships that pique her interest, but do not overdo it. Velasco said the important aspect to focus on is the quality of her application. These applications take time, so make sure your child sets aside time in her schedule to work on them. “Think about it like a part time job and dedicate a little bit of time every week,” she said.

While the scholarship process may feel overwhelming, it will help significantly when paying for college. “Every little bit counts,” said Velasco. “Don’t give up looking. They are out there. You just need to spend the time and energy to actually look for them.”