Well, yes and no.
Academic and sports scholarships are some of the most widely known and sought-after scholarships, but there are plenty of other scholarships based entirely on other things. Enough money to pay for school can be found even if your child isn't class valedictorian or a star quarterback.
If students look hard enough for the money, they'll find it.
What you and your child shouldn't be looking for is a single, big scholarship that will cover tuition (or more) for four years. Instead, change your way of thinking and look for as many small scholarships as your child can qualify for. Many corporations, charities, companies, and other organizations offer small scholarships ranging from several hundred to a couple thousand dollars each.
Considering how expensive a college education is, that may not sound like much. But what if your child were able to land twenty or more scholarships, each averaging a thousand dollars? His or her entire education could be paid for.
Millions of dollars of scholarship money goes unclaimed each year for one simple reason: no one applied for it. Your child can be the one who snags the opportunity.
So how do you get smaller scholarships?
Plan Ahead During ninth or tenth grade (or earlier!), students should be thinking ahead to the kinds of things they'll need to include in a scholarship application. They won't be applying until eleventh or twelfth grade, but a lot of what will get them noticed by scholarship committees will be the activities they're involved in before that.
Encourage them to be part of school programs, look for leadership opportunities, join school clubs, do extracurricular activities, participate in service organizations and honor societies, or do anything else they might be interested in. Keep track of awards they receive, whether they're from scouting, the PTA Reflections contest, or a team or club. Remind them of the importance of recording all their major accomplishments and leadership roles, including club leaders, Church leadership (such as Laurel president), and any other noteworthy experience they have during high school.
Keep a running file of these kinds of items. Your student might not use them all, but he or she won't know for sure until it's time to fill out those applications.
Since a lot of scholarships are based on geography, race, gender, industry interest, and talent, students should also know to jot down anything about themselves that a specific scholarship might look for. They don’t want to miss out on a scholarship aimed at students in the Northwest, or one for students wanting to go into computer animation, or one for female students of Asian descent, if any of those things apply!
Creating Themes When it's time to fill out the applications, your child should pull out his or her file of activities and accomplishments. They should try to find patterns, such as service projects, leadership, ethnic identity, or interests and talents (athletics, science, music, etc.). These will be themes for scholarship applications.
Now students should expand on these themes by writing three solid examples for each one. Each example should describe their actions and accomplishments within that theme. The running file will be useful for ideas.
Examples need to be specific. "Participated in a Sub-for-Santa event" is pretty vague. For a student's participation, that could mean anything from donating a dollar to coordinating the entire event. However, "Spent 45 hours coordinating 15 high school students in a Sub-for-Santa drive, raising $2,400" is much more specific - and impressive.
When describing Church youth callings, they'll need to put the callings in terms that will make sense to members of a scholarship committee, who will not likely be Latter-day Saints. But even if a scholarship committee member knows what a "Laurel" is or what a "priests quorum secretary" does, describing the actual activities and accomplishments will come across better.
Again, callings should be described in actions. Instead of, "Laurel president for 10 months," the following works much better: "For 10 months, acted as president of church girls' group consisting of 8 young women ages 16 and 17. Helped plan and carry out weekly activities that included life skills and community service."
But students should try to be even more specific than that - what specific weekly activities, life skills, and community service projects were they involved in? How did they plan it? How many hours went into a specific service project? The more concrete their examples, the more likely they are to nab that scholarship.
Letters of Recommendation Many scholarships ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, employers, or other adults who know the student well. In order to meet application deadlines, students should be sure to ask for the letters well in advance so the writers have plenty of time to return them.
Reuse Materials Over and over students will find scholarship applications asking for similar items: letters of recommendations, themes, essays, transcripts, test scores, etc. Many of these can be used in several applications, especially if they're kept in computer files that your child can simply print out again. Those things students can't make computer copies of should be photocopied several times and kept on hand.
Finding the Scholarships Locating scholarships can be tricky if you don't know where to look. Here are a few places to start searching:
Start local. Ask businesses, radio stations, rotary clubs, etc., in your own community. You might find a small company with a scholarship that's gone unawarded for years.
Spread the word. Tell family, friends, co-workers, teachers, and neighbors that you're looking for scholarships - and that no scholarship is too small. Someone might come back with a little-known award through his or her employer or some other avenue that you never would have known about otherwise.
Use your student's school counseling office. Many have binders full of scholarship information. Academic counselors can point your child toward other resources.
Search scholarship directories. Bookstores and libraries have many such directories available every year, such as How to Go to College Almost for Free, by Ben Kaplan.
Use online scholarship search engines. Search for "scholarship search engines" and you'll find many great sites. Your student can input scholarship criteria, and the engine will come up with applicable scholarships.
Warning: No reputable organization or website will ever ask you to pay for providing scholarship information. Do not pay a person or website to hunt for you. Chances are you won't get enough funding to pay for their fees, let alone to pay for school.
Don't let your child put off planning for college. And remember that grades aren't everything. If students want to find money for school, it's there for the taking.