Scholarships: Setting Your Teenager Up for Financial Success in College

When we were kids, it was possible to work hard enough to put yourself through college. As our teenagers start applying for their FAFSAs and getting their acceptance letters, however, it becomes clear to us as parents that things aren’t the way that they used to be. The student loan crisis is so insane right now that graduates may never be able to repay their student loan debt, no matter how hard they try. So how do you get your teenager through college without incurring astronomical student loan debts? The answer is in scholarship applications. If you want to rock financial success in college, you’ll want a dedicated notebook to stay organized and a few helpful tips. Hopefully, these tips will help you and your student accomplish great things.

Get Your Applications in on Time

The first step to getting the most money possible towards your university is to make sure all of your university applications are in on time. Check with the universities your teenager is applying to in order to make sure admissions applications are in on time. You’ll also want to file for federal or provincial financial aid. Here in Canada, that involves contacting the organization that heads financial aid in your province or territory. In the United States, it involves filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Every single school has a different FAFSA priority filing deadline, so rather than check in with each school individually, your best bet is to have your student file their deadline as close to the time when FAFSA opens as possible.

Getting all your applications in on time ensures you receive the maximum amount of federal grants and university scholarships possible. Most schools have no leeway when it comes to applications, and missing a deadline by a day can mean a difference of thousands of dollars in aid.

Understand the Value of Scholarships

Scholarships are the biggest difference between students who are crippled by loan debt and students who walk away with minimal debt—or even loan free.

One truth about scholarships is that small scholarships add up. Winning a $500 scholarship can be easier than winning a $5,000 scholarship, since more scholarship applicants may receive scholarships in the lower brackets. So, while you should still apply for the larger scholarships if you meet the criteria, you should also apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for, even if the denominations aren’t huge.

Many students apply for a lot of scholarships in their senior year of high school and wind up with a large portion of their freshman year paid for but neglect the subsequent years. Throughout your student’s college career, starting in high school, they should be spending 10-20 hours a week filling out scholarship applications. Teach your child to treat scholarship hunting like a part-time job for maximum reward.

Locate the Right Scholarships

So how do you find scholarships to apply for?

Your student’s first stop should be their high school guidance counselor. While some guidance counselors are better than others, in general, their job is to help your student get on the right track to college success. This includes being up-to-date on the best local scholarships in the area, as well as on nearby universities that give specific aid to specific students.

After talking to the high school guidance counselor, your student’s next step should be to a free scholarship tool online, such as ScholarshipOwl or FastWeb. Google “free scholarship search tool” to find scholarship search engines to help your student. Keep in mind that while some scholarships are GPA or extra-curricular focused, your student should search for scholarships even if their grades haven’t always been the best. They may be amazed by what they can find for students like them.

Just keep an eye out for scammers. Your student should never pay to apply for a scholarship. A quick google search of the scholarship your student is applying for can help you locate which ones are legitimate—and which ones are just trying to get information from your son or daughter.

Talk to Financial Aid

The financial aid office at the university your student plans to attend should be your next step in the search for financial aid. No only can they tell you the deadlines for their specific university, but they can also point you in the direction of university-specific scholarships your student may be eligible to apply for. Having a good relationship with the financial aid office may mean that they’re more likely to select your child’s name when choosing recipients to donor-funded scholarships at their school in the future as well.

While everyone wants to find ways to make attending university cost less, until that day, your goal as a dad is to ensure your kid gets through college as debt-free as possible. Helping them tackle the admission and scholarship application process makes a huge difference. It can be hard to push our students to apply for scholarships when they’re busy with their senior year, but when you keep in mind that doing so can spell the difference in thousands of dollars of student loan debt, it’s worth it.