“I got the internship!!!!!” my daughter texted me last week. “I thought this was going to be about outside scholarships,” you thought as you read that. In fact it is.
I don’t talk a lot about outside scholarships because they tend to be far less beneficial than institutional merit aid or financial aid. Not only that, but you’re not likely to find significant outside scholarships through me. That’s not because I don’t care but because most outside scholarships come from sources you know better than I do: your employer, local organizations in your community, or activities or organizations your student is involved in.
One downside of outside scholarships is that schools are required to offset need-based aid other than Pell Grants at 50 cents on the dollar. That means that a student with need-based financial aid who gets a $1,000 outside scholarship will lose $500 of institutional financial aid. This reduction can come from loans, work-study or grants– anything other than a Pell Grant can be reduced, at the school’s discretion.
But outside scholarships can have benefits beyond just dollars. For example, my daughter has a fantastic scholarship through HITEC. She learned about it through her high school computer science teacher. She received it for her freshman year and it was renewed for sophomore year. One of the best things about it is, it’s not just money. Her freshman year she received a laptop in addition to the scholarship, and this year she received a gift card for a technology purchase of her choice. In addition, she has a mentor who connects with her several times a year to help her make career plans. When she spoke with her mentor in January, the mentor asked about her summer plans. My daughter told her she was looking for a job or internship but hadn’t found anything yet. Her mentor told her about the internship program at her company (a Fortune 500 company in Chicago, where she goes to school, and leader in its industry) and encouraged her to apply. She just learned that she’s been hired for the summer at a great salary. Between the technology and the salary she’ll earn this summer, the total award is worth more than double the actual scholarship amount.
Very few students– especially not those without significant need– will win enough outside scholarships to offset a significant part of the cost of college. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply because as my daughter has learned, sometimes the dollars are just the beginning.
Where do you find outside scholarships? Fastweb is the main online database of scholarships. However, those tend to get thousands or even tens of thousands of applications. Most high school guidance counselors keep scholarship lists which will tend to skew towards local organizations where you might find less competition. In addition, check with groups you’re already involved with– including employers, club sports, extracurriculars, volunteer positions, service organizations, etc.– as those organizations tend to look within when it comes to awarding scholarships. And of course, look at whether they offer anything beyond the dollars– but don’t overlook them just because they don’t. Both the laptop and the mentor were happy surprises for my daughter.