January 2003 / Scholarships for High School Seniors

Question Mark
Ask the Superintendent: Scholarships for High School Seniors
Superintendent's Column
Peninsula Clarion
D. Peterson

January 2003

For high school seniors the second semester is a time when the rubber meets the road. This is the time of year that questions regarding post secondary training programs, colleges, the military, and other life options frequently arise. Foremost on everyone's mind is finding money to pay for an education which seems to always be an issue. So, what's a parent to do?

It is never too soon to begin searching for answers to the above questions. One great resource for parents and students is the internet. Although school counselors can provide a much more extensive list of internet resources, the following will provide a starting point:

  • www.mapping-your-future.org and www.ipl.org/teen have tools for helping students narrow down career paths.
  • www.usnews.com provides information on colleges and careers;
  • www.collegenet.com allows searches for colleges by state, major, tuition, financial aid and online applications
  • www.nela.net provides a guide for planning, saving, and paying for postsecondary education.
  • Scholarship and financial aid information can also be obtained through many search engines but the primary starting point should be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) available at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
  • The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education website, www.state.ak.us/acpe, offers information pertaining to student loans, grants, and statewide forgiveness programs.

Beware of scholarship sites asking for money to apply, stating that you have won a contest you never entered, or guaranteeing money, as it is probably too good to be true. The best advice is to apply for all scholarships and awards, even if the dollar amount seems small or the criteria are only slightly met. Every dollar awarded is a dollar not needed from other sources.

As a reader of scholarship and grant applications for many years, I have compiled some tips below that may be helpful for students putting together portfolios:

Keep everything

  • The certificate for helping referee a Boys and Girls Club basketball season will help you remember this item of community service when it comes time to put together a portfolio.
  • Many narratives written for scholarships can be "tweaked" rather than reinvented for a later applications. Last minute opportunities come at very busy times in the school year and if a majority of work is done, the application process will be less daunting. Keep copies of previously completed applications as questions are often redundant.
  • Take the binder/disk or portfolio with you to college as it is possible that you could submit additional applications during the school year.

Remember your audience

  • Each group, offering aid to students, is looking for different traits, accomplishments, and needs. Read the application and selection criteria carefully and make sure to speak directly to those areas that dovetail with the group's mission and expectations.
  • Most readers do not appreciate typographical errors and slang. Do not make them a part of the application.
  • Present yourself in the best possible light. The readers should not have to work hard to learn about you. Use headings and clear writing as you would in other technical documents.

Be real

  • Clear, passionate, believable statements are preferable to flowery, verbose, meaningless language, especially in goal statements.
  • Make sure all items contained in your application are true.
  • Sell yourself. Often your application is in competition with other students who have similar interests, experiences, and goals. Make sure that you highlight some aspect of yourself that sets you apart from other applicants.

Start early and choose your recommendation writers well

  • Ask people who know your strengths if they would be willing to write a positive recommendation letter. Choose people from school, youth activities, and the community - not relatives.
  • Provide the person with a resume and perhaps highlight areas you would like your reference to refer to in the recommendation.
  • Ask the person to write a general letter of recommendation (To Whom It May Concern) vs. a letter for a specific application and ask for multiple original copies of the letter.

Often, parents are at a loss at how to advise their student regarding selection of career and appropriate education for that career, whether the student should choose a narrow or more general field of study, whether a student should go out of state or stay in state for an education, or whether learning a trade is preferable to attending college. Unfortunately, there are not clear answers for any of these questions. Current research shows today's graduates will have several careers in their lifetime. Dependability, a good work ethic, and responsibility are just a few of the skills each student needs to learn to be successful beyond high school and as a contributing member of society. The events along the path to a career are often as important as the career itself.

As with many things in life, a few students will get lucky and without much thought or time actually land "full ride" tuition, immediately get accepted at the school of their choice, and land the perfect job in their chosen career field. However, the majority of students will need to invest time and energy into applying, sometimes multiple times without success, to make their dreams come true.