by Robyn Stewart, former financial aid officer at College of the Holy Cross
Families that have the most success paying for college are the ones who approach the process as a family. Most people agree it is important to start talking to your children early about the importance of attending college, but what about talking about how to pay for it?
Let’s face it: looking for additional funds to cover college costs is like a part-time job, so it is wise to start as early as you can. Despite this well-intentioned plan of action, most of the families I speak with start searching for scholarships during their senior year in high school.
Consider what would happen if you started looking for scholarships when your child was six years old? How about when your child was ten? Most families aren’t thinking about college at this point, and with less competition, your chances may actually be better at securing one of these scholarships than if you wait until your child reaches high school.
Scholarships for Elementary School Students
- Just like with your high school age children, early searches can be done at the national level. Does your little one want to save the planet? Action for Nature runs the annual Eco-Hero Awards for students as young as eight years old.
- For almost 25 years, Google has held its now famous annual Doodle for Google contest, where all entries address a specific question and incorporate Google’s logo into the design. The good news is that your doodlers can be as young as kindergarten to enter the race!
- Kohl’s holds an annual Kids Who Care contest to recognize student volunteers as young as six years old.
- The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes acknowledges individuals ages 8-12 who have made a difference in their communities.
Scholarships for Middle School Students
- Keep searching as your child enters middle school. This is a time when you’ll find even more opportunities for early scholarships. There are many awards that encourage students to pursue careers in a STEM field. Maybe your math-crazed kid wants to enter the annual Math Counts competition series geared students who want to participate in fun and engaging math related activities.
- The Angela Award, sponsored by the National Science Teacher Association, awards money to a young girl who has demonstrated a strong involvement with science inside and outside the classroom.
- For young females with an interest in engineering and a talent for writing, the Engineering Girl Writing Contest provides an opportunity for students to submit an original piece that highlights the value of engineers in society.
- If your student excels at writing, maybe consider an essay competition? VFW Patriot’s Pen essay contest, Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, and the Maryknoll Essay Contest are examples of writing scholarships open to younger children.
A Family Affair
It is important to involve your child in the scholarship search process. Don’t overlook opportunities in your local community as you search. Make sure to regularly check your local paper or hometown blog. Other places to search include parenting magazines and online parenting groups and communities.
One last reminder if you are counting on early scholarship search efforts to yield big results: because your student may not be ready for college for several years yet, you will want to double-check how the scholarship donors actually award the funds. We have found that some scholarship providers contact the student closer to entering college and disperse a check made out to the school the student eventually attends. Other donors will give award winners a timeframe in which to use their scholarships, and some organizations have fine print about the type of institution where the money can be used at. At these young ages, students will require a bit more hand-holding during the scholarship search process, but the rewards can be great!