Many students and parents want to know if college scholarships are worth the hassle.  After applying for a large list of colleges, writing the Common App and numerous supplemental essays, and navigating the elaborate FAFSA process, do you really want to sit down and apply to any number of local scholarships? And will they just reduce my financial aid anyway?  In the end, are scholarships really worth it?  

College Scholarship Money Availability

Some college admissions consultants will tell you that scholarship money is a small percentage of the college aid money that’s available. They’ll emphasize using your time efficiently. And they’ll advise you that chasing around scholarship money is not an efficient use of your time. But actually, there are 1.7 million private scholarships that award a total of $7.4 billion. These are not sponsored by colleges.  There are a number of things to keep in mind about scholarships. First, scholarships provided by large companies that don’t require essays are not scholarships. They are prize drawings. Your chances aren’t good, but the process is easy. Scholarship360 provides some information on such drawings. Institutional merit-based aid is also often referred to as scholarship money. The more competitive colleges don’t offer merit-based scholarships. Everyone in the accepted freshman class is meritorious. These colleges want to provide their funds based on need. However, less competitive colleges like to try to attract better students. If tuition is, say, $30,000, and they give a merit scholarship of $7500 a year, then they are offering four years of college for the price of three. Buy three, get one free!  It’s a discount. And students like to say they got a large merit scholarship. It’s a marketing gimmick.  Your chance of winning an actual outside scholarship averages about 1 in 8. It’s more like 1 in 500 for the large scholarships. But it can be much better. For instance, if you come from a very rural town, and your local church or civic organization sponsors a scholarship, the award may be small, but the competition may be also. Small local scholarships have been known to have only one or two applicants! It’s tempting to look at local scholarships as being a pittance. While college tuition has gone up astronomically (it doubles every nine years), local scholarships have stayed around $1000-2000 typically. But find out if the scholarships you’re eligible for are one-time awards or if they renew every year for four years. That can make a big difference.

Sources of Money

Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) provides its Scholarship Booklet in November. It contains numerous opportunities for VSAC assisted scholarships.  Also, check out College Rank for a list of Vermont scholarships. Your high school guidance office will provide you information on local scholarships. December break is a good time to work on these applications, because college applications should be in. Another great source of Vermont scholarship information is the Vermont page on Scholarship.Com. The large, highly competitive scholarships include Dell Scholars, Coca Cola,and Gates Millennium Scholars, which is a program for minority students. Is an essay required? Small, medium, and large scholarships can require essays. But chances are you can easily adapt the essay from a college essay. Your teachers will certainly adapt their recommendations. 

How WIll Outside College Scholarships Affect My Financial Aid?

Will outside aid displace your college’s institutional grant aid? It can. Colleges are allowed to do that. And they are reluctant to let students get over awarded. And that’s the way it should be. Colleges want to give their grant aid to everyone who truly needs it. But many colleges will displace loan or work-study obligations first. And that also is the way it should be.  Scholarships are worth it if they reduce the debt obligation after graduation. Many scholarships are available for four years of enrollment, and that money can be a significant reduction in borrowing. Schedule a free initial video call for more information about financial aid.