Scholarship Searching for an Uncertain Future
By Matt Konrad, Content Strategy Manager, Scholarship America
While the start of this school year has been unlike any other, one thing hasn’t changed: the cost of college is still on students’ minds. In fact, when Scholarship America surveyed college students around the nation, we found that 2/3 of them listed paying for college as a major concern for 2020-21—compared to just 40% who are worried about COVID-19 on campus.
Fortunately, scholarship providers are stepping up to provide as much support as possible during this time of uncertainty. As the American economy works to weather the pandemic, companies, foundations, and supporters are remaining steadfast in providing educational assistance. For high school juniors and seniors, now is the perfect time to seek out scholarship opportunities—but keep these three things in mind!
The FAFSA Is Still Vital
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is still the beginning of every student aid search, but there’s been a worrisome decrease in applications since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to this detailed analysis, every single state has seen a drop off in completed FAFSAs, with small towns, rural areas and schools in low-income areas affected the most.
There are lots of reasons why students and families may not be filling out the FAFSA, but it’s important to do so even if you’re not sure what your plans are for next year. Without a completed FAFSA, you won’t be able to access federal student aid (or state aid, in most cases) —and that can also affect your chances at earning private scholarships. Simply put, if there’s a chance you might attend college next year, whether online or in-person, you need to complete this initial step.
Look for Value and Flexibility
We encourage students to apply for as many scholarships as possible, but we also know that you don’t have unlimited time. To get the most value out of your scholarship search, prioritize scholarships based on the impact they can make, and the flexibility they offer.
One term to keep an eye out for is “renewable” —these are scholarships that give you money for multiple years of college, not just one. In some cases, you’ll have to reapply each year, but usually you’ll be allowed to renew your award as long as you meet enrollment and GPA standards. Earning a consistent award amount over multiple years can relieve financial stress and ensure you don’t face a cost crunch after freshman-year scholarships are used up.
As you search for high-value scholarships, you should also take note of “eligible expenses.” Some programs provide funds to be used only for tuition and fees, while others allow you to use your award for supplies, lab or technology costs or living expenses. All scholarship money is good—but these more flexible funds can help balance your budget.
Finally, spend some time researching what happens to your scholarship if your plans suddenly change. COVID-19 has increased the prevalence of gap years, deferrals, and transfers due to campus closures, health issues or financial changes – and some scholarships may be restricted to certain schools, majors or timeframes. Applying for scholarships is hard work, so make sure your effort will pay off even if you end up on a different path.
(Some Of) The Old Rules Still Apply
While your school circumstances may have changed in response to the pandemic, scholarship sponsors are still looking for the same qualities they always have: perseverance, hard work and the ability to succeed in the face of adversity. Whatever your “new normal” looks like this fall, you’ll still put yourself in a great position to earn scholarships by focusing on studies, working to improve and spending time volunteering in your community.
Like millions of Americans, you and your family might also be going into this fall with a changed financial situation—and you may worry that your FAFSA information doesn’t reflect your new financial need. If this is the case, don’t hesitate to mention it in your cover letter and your application!
As we’ve seen in the last few months, the struggles of the economy haven’t dampened the enthusiasm or commitment of scholarship providers. Companies, nonprofits and individuals are doing all they can to keep students on track, especially when their families face job losses, reductions in hours or medical bills. If you’re working hard to achieve your college dreams, there are still scholarships out there to help you make it happen—and we wish you all the best when it comes to applying and earning them.
Scholarship America is a non-profit organization that helps students fulfill their college dreams. Since 1958, Scholarship America has distributed $4.3 billion to more than 2.6 million students. The organization works with partners to lower barriers to a college education and give students the support needed to succeed. Learn more at scholarshipamerica.org.