If you’re a high school senior, ideally you’re in the home stretch of finishing your college applications and won’t have to spend your upcoming winter break working on them. That being said, winter break is a great time to shift your focus to financial aid. In her recent blog post, Andrea Aronson provided a list of websites that offer useful information and resources for financial aid. In this blog post, I will offer advice on and websites for merit aid.
First, I will use the term “merit” to encompass scholarships based on academics, community service, personal characteristics, achievements, etc. Basically, I’m using this word to describe any scholarship that is not based on financial need or athletics.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to be valedictorian or have a perfect GPA or test scores to receive a merit scholarship. If you have a special talent, there may be a scholarship for you! For example, the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest awards a $5,000 scholarship to one boy and one girl who make and wear a prom dress/tux out of duct tape. There also are scholarships for people with certain physical features, such as having red hair, being especially tall or short, or being a member of a certain racial or ethnic group.
The places from which you can get the greatest amount of merit aid are colleges themselves. As you’re researching colleges and filling out applications, make sure to find out what is necessary to apply for merit aid. At some colleges, your application for admission is also used to determine if you qualify for merit aid; at others, there may be one or more additional applications. Furthermore, some colleges require you to submit your admission application by an earlier deadline in order to be considered for merit aid. So be sure to check those college websites carefully.
In addition to looking at college websites, Meritaid.com is a great one-stop shop for learning about merit scholarships offered by colleges. On the site, you can look up a specific college, search by state, and/or input information about yourself and the site will find scholarships for which you’re eligible.
While the most merit aid comes directly from colleges, there are thousands of companies and organizations that offer scholarships in smaller amounts. These often are referred to as private scholarships. In your search for these scholarships, first check with your parents or guardians to find out if their workplaces offer any scholarships for the children of employees. You also should talk with your school counselor and ask if he or she knows of any local scholarships. These may be offered by rotary clubs, veterans’ organizations, professional organizations, and the like. Often, these scholarships aren’t particularly well-publicized and not many students know about them, so your chances of receiving one are higher.
Many high schools have lists of scholarships on their websites and/or publish a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter about scholarships with upcoming deadlines. If your school has such a newsletter, you should find out how it’s distributed (i.e., is it posted on the school’s website, emailed to students/parents, printed and available in the counseling office) and read it thoroughly when it comes out.
Finally, there are numerous websites for finding private scholarships that are offered on a national level. Here are a handful:
Scholarships A-Z (scholarships that are available to all students regardless of their immigration status)
Hispanic Scholarship Fund (scholarships for Hispanic students)
Blackstudents.com (scholarships for African-American students)
Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE is an association of public colleges in the Western U.S. Member colleges offer reduced tuition to residents of other states in the association. Students usually have to meet certain academic criteria and/or have a specific major to qualify.)
If you don’t have much planned for winter break, your scholarship search should keep you busy. There literally are millions of dollars out there; you simply have to find out about and apply for them! Hopefully these resources will help.