Susan E. Thomas CPA
How can my child find scholarships for college?

Scholarships are definitely a preferred type of financial aid because they do not have to be repaid.

There are basically two types of scholarships: scholarships awarded on the basis of financial need and merit scholarships awarded on the basis of academic, athletic, musical, or artistic ability. Scholarships can come from two sources: colleges and everywhere else.

First, the easy part. Have your child check with the admissions office at each college he or she is interested in to find out what scholarships the college offers. Most colleges offer both need-based scholarships and merit scholarships. Typically students are automatically considered for these scholarships when they apply, but sometimes students will need to submit a separate application that may require an essay, teacher recommendation, or other supporting documents.

One great way to get an idea of how much aid (especially need-based) your child might be eligible for at a particular college is to fill out the college's net price calculator on the college's website. Every college is required to have one. A net price calculator can give you an advance estimate of the amount of aid your child might receive at that college based on your family's financial and personal information.

Besides the colleges your child is interested in, the scholarship world is wide open. Virtually thousands of scholarships are offered each year by the federal government, individual states, and a wide variety of local, state, and national organizations. Although it is impossible to research them all, a tailored search is possible.

Have your child conduct a free scholarship search online. Scholarship websites can save a tremendous amount of time because they automatically exclude scholarships that don't match a student's qualifications, background, and interests. Your child should also ask his or her high school guidance counselor or local reference librarian for information on local scholarships. And don't forget to check with your employer or any organization to which you belong to see if they offer college scholarships.

If your child finds a handful of appropriate scholarships, the next step is to follow each one's instructions and apply by the required deadlines. Most scholarships require an essay, a grade transcript, a description of extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters.

Finally, a word of caution. Only a small percentage of the average student's overall financial aid package consists of scholarships. So, while scholarships are certainly worth researching, such research should not be at the expense of filling out the federal government's financial aid form (the FAFSA) or any applicable college or state financial aid forms.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc, Copyright 2011