Scholarship Myths Exposed
Looking at the “sticker price” on many schools’ websites is enough to give you sticker shock. And it’s not getting any better. In fact, according to the College Board, tuition and fees rose roughly 3 percent across the higher education sectors in fall 2015.
It’s vital to note, however, that those prices are calculated before aid is figured in, and that’s a substantial component. In 2014-15, undergraduate students received an average of $14,210 per full-time equivalent student in financial aid.*
Unfortunately, myths persist that might prevent students from pursuing their fair share. Here are four of them with straight talk on why students should bust them.
1. You have to have a perfect GPA to earn a scholarship.
This is truly a myth, asserts Wivina Ayson Chmura, director of undergraduate admissions at Carlow University (PA). In fact, it’s not unheard of for GPAs that dip under 3.0 to be considered for scholarships and awards. “We look at our students from a holistic standpoint,” says Fowles, “considering the context of everything a student has to offer, including standardized tests results, GPA, recommendations, what program they’re applying to and what talents and diversity they bring to the university.”
Joshua Martin, assistant dean of admission at Southern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) in Texas, adds that they don’t consider just one single variable, such as GPA or standardized test scores. “Some students might have struggled GPA-wise but really hit it out of the park on the SAT or ACT, so we take both into account.”
2. Most kids who earn scholarships are athletes.
Ah, those high school quarterbacks, pitchers or other athletes who we assume are taking up the lion’s share of scholarship dollars. Though it may seem as though lots of high school kids are banking on that tuition, they might be disappointed.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), of the nearly 8 million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 460,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And experts put the number of scholarships at about 3 percent—of all college players. (Others estimate it to be even lower.) The average amount of a Division I athletic scholarship is $13,821 for men and $14,660 for women, and most scholarships aren’t the coveted “all-inclusive four-year scholarships.” Rather, they renew (or not) every year, meaning families might not know if they will be eligible each year.
Schools are quick to point out that athletic scholarships are the minority route. “Academics are our cornerstone,” says Martin.
“We are looking to build classes with high-performing students,” says Gareth Fowles, vice president for enrollment management at Lynn University (FL). “Athletes are prone to be rewarded for their talents, but so are engineers, mathematicians, musicians and educators.”
3. Small scholarships aren’t worth it.
Five hundred dollars from your local Rotary. Five hundred dollars from your parent’s company. Two hundred fifty dollars from the local hospital. These smaller scholarships abound, yet are often overlooked. The myth is that your chances to earn them are poor, but they’re actually pretty good, Martin says.
He suggests students look at applying for these small community scholarships as a part-time job. A $500 scholarship might not sound like much, but if you spent 10 hours of your time to complete the application and were chosen to receive the award, that would be the equivalent of earning $50 an hour. “Show me one other place you’d receive that return on your time,” he says, adding that the process is typically easier for each ensuing application.
Fowles recommends that students focus on a handful of opportunities that look the most promising and really invest the time, energy and resources for the best possible application. “Half-hearted application attempts are unlikely to result in success,” he says.
Every little bit helps, adds Chmura, noting that these small scholarships might pay for books, travel or activities. It might even mean you don’t have to get a part-time job during school, allowing for a stronger focus on academics.
4. If your income is over a certain amount, you won’t qualify for scholarships.
“We hear this concern all the time, and it’s critical to distinguish between merit-based and need-based aid,” Fowles says.
Need-based aid is offered to those students who need financial help based on their families’ income, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Every student should fill out this document, even if they think they might not qualify.
But the other, larger source of scholarships is merit-based aid, which is offered to students based on their GPA, test scores, accomplishments in high school and a variety of other factors that contribute to their appeal as a student.
Fowles encourages students to carefully read the scholarship packet that’s provided because many schools, like his, will include separate applications for those types of programs. And, he adds, sometimes the early bird gets the worm. Funding models do dry up at a certain point and he says it’s important for students to apply for them early on in the decision-making process. “Institutions set deadlines for specific scholarships,” says Fowles, “and they can vary from program to program. If you miss them, you will not be eligible.”
At Carlow University, scholarships and discounts are given at the point of admission and require no additional scholarship application. Chmura says that families should be aware of the wide variety of assistance that schools offer. As an example, Carlow University provides an automatic out-of-state discount and a family discount for students who also have a sibling enrolled as a full-time, traditional student. All scholarships and discounts are renewable as long as a student meets academic progress, which is a 2.0 cumulative GPA or a C average.
Martin reminds students that merit awards are assessed and offered well before socioeconomic level is considered—though he urges all students to fill out the FAFSA. “Ninety-eight percent of our students are receiving financial aid,” he says. “Don’t make the call that you can’t afford the school before we’ve actually gone through the process.”
The bottom line for school funding, says Martin, is that college affordability is on everyone’s mind, and therefore it’s a much more competitive and lucrative environment than ever before.
Five Steps to Finding Money
- FILL OUT THE REQUIRED APPLICATIONS. Every student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (https://fafsa.ed.gov/) to determine state and federal funds for which you may be eligible. Some private colleges require an additional application, the CSS PROFILE, which covers nonfederal financial aid.
- TALK TO THE UNIVERSITIES TO WHICH YOU ARE APPLYING. Find out all your options, from grants, discounts and work-study to merit-based aid that might be provided through your major or other university programs.
- TALK TO YOUR HIGH SCHOOL GUIDANCE COUNSELOR, who will likely be in the know about local and national opportunities.
- CHECK INTO OPTIONS FROM LOCAL CIVIC GROUPS AND ORGANIZATIONS, like the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and Chamber of Commerce; your parents’ place of employment; your church or synagogue; local companies; places where you’ve volunteered, etc. Oftentimes few students apply for these scholarships.
- LOOK INTO AGGREGATE WEBSITES THAT ACT AS A CLEARINGHOUSE FOR NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIPS. Some to check out are: Fastweb.com, Scholarships.com, SallieMae.com, Finaid.org, Bigfuture.CollegeBoard.org and Studentscholarshipsearch.com.