Here’s some really good news: Students who are considering an honors program or college are also the very people most likely to be eligible for college scholarship assistance. As the costs for college have escalated dramatically in recent years, funding has become a critical and difficult, albeit educational, part of being a student. Let’s face it: higher education is expensive and getting more expensive with each passing year!
College scholarships: financing your college education
College scholarships provide part of the solution to financing your undergraduate career. Honors students are precisely the ones who colleges recruit most eagerly. Having good students choose them adds to the prestige of an institution. Thus, there is an excellent chance that the school of your choice may provide university scholarships in order to encourage your enrollment and enhance their bragging rights!
Another way to view the next four (or more) years on the way to your bachelor’s degree is to assume that learning will be your primary employment. It is helpful, therefore, to think of student scholarships as part of the salary for undertaking your job of learning. From this perspective, you then have the right, again as a potential honors student, to seek the best pay, or scholarship, possible. Thus, one of your first inquiries, as you examine a potential college setting, should be about the type of assistance that may be provided to you, given your interests, your academic record, and your personal history.
Talk to a financial aid officer or a university scholarships coordinator at the school. Virtually all schools have brochures or other publications that list scholarship opportunities at their institution. Read this literature carefully so that you can ask the appropriate questions. Find out as much as you can about what the scholarship picture is like at the institutions you are interested in. For instance, is it possible that your father’s or your mother’s company may provide matching funds for employees’ children at that particular institution?
In your search for monetary assistance, also visit either your local bookstore or your local public library, where there are books that have several hundred undergraduate scholarships listed in different categories. (Peterson’s College Scholarships, Grants & Prizes is one example.) The Internet is a similarly useful tool in obtaining additional information. In addition, high school counselors have keen insight into resources available at colleges, especially at schools in your local area. These people are the key point of contact between institutions of higher education and high school students.
A word of caution: In general, it is not a particularly good practice to use a private company that promises you, frequently for a considerable fee, a list of student scholarships for which you might be eligible; such lists are often very broad. More important, you can secure the same results by using available high school, university, and published information — at little or no cost.
What do we mean by “college scholarship” anyway?
In the very broadest sense, college scholarships consist of outright grants of financial assistance to eligible students to help them attend school. The money is to be applied to tuition or the costs of living while in school. Scholarships typically do not have to be repaid. They do often carry stringent criteria for maintaining them, such as the achievement of a certain grade point average, carrying a given number of class hours, matriculation in a specific program, or membership in a designated group. At many schools, undergraduate scholarships may be combined with work-study programs or with educational loan programs. Generally, scholarships fall into three major categories:
- Need-based scholarships, which are based on family income
- Merit-based scholarships, which are based on your academic and/or extracurricular achievements
- Association-based scholarships, which are dependent on as many different associations as you can imagine (for instance, the county or even country from which you come or your identification with a particular group)
Frequently, schools have endowed university scholarships (scholarships based on a fund whose principal can never be used), given by alumni or others with a particular interest in supporting Honors students. Merit-based scholarships can come from a variety of sources: the university as a whole, individual departments or colleges within the university, or special donors who want to assist eligible students. This fact is worth remembering as you work with financial aid officers so that they understand the special opportunities that may be available to you as a petroleum engineering, agriculture, accounting, pre-veterinary, or performing arts major.
You also need to understand that merit-based scholarships are typically designed to reward excellent high school grades as well as the very highest scores on such precollege measures as standardized tests (the SAT or ACT). Since taking a standardized test more than once often leads to higher scores, it may be financially advantageous for you to take these tests several times.
Also be sensitive to the fact that many scholarships can be “bundled” together to provide you with a very attractive financial aid package. Equally important, scholarships can also be “bundled” with low-interest-loan programs to make the school of your choice unexpectedly affordable.
Inquire specifically into each of the three previously mentioned categories of scholarships. The association-based scholarships can sometimes be particularly helpful and quite surprising. Corporations or organizations (churches, civic groups, special-interest clubs, even family-name associations) may provide little-known assistance for college students. Scholarship literature is the primary key to unlocking the mysteries of association-based financial assistance (and the other two categories as well), but personal interviews with financial aid officers are also helpful.
Thus, your acceptance to an Honors Program can carry with it not only enhanced educational benefits but also substantial monetary assistance. However, if you are joining an Honors Program for a financial advantage only, you are joining for the wrong reason. Honors education is about broadening your educational experiences, opening an array of academic opportunities, and challenging you to be better than you think you can be. If money is your only incentive in becoming associated with Honors, you probably need to look elsewhere for financial assistance.
Seeking college scholarship assistance
Most college scholarship opportunities require an application form. It is time well spent to make sure your application is neat, grammatically correct, and logical. Correct spelling is essential, as is having someone proofread your application. Keep in mind that if an application requires an essay, few students typically take the time to complete that requirement. So those students who are willing to write an essay do have a better chance of winning that particular scholarship. Always be truthful about yourself in your applications, but, at the same time, provide your most positive portrayal to enhance your chances of being considered. Be sensitive to the fact that most merit-based and association-based scholarships are awarded competitively.
Most important, find out any and all deadlines! It is always wise to begin your search early so that you have plenty of time to work on several applications at the same time. (Much of the information you will have to provide is useful for more than one application.) The summer before your senior year is not too early to begin your search!
Finally, as soon as your plans become firm, do let the people who offer you assistance know whether or not you will accept. Too many students simply assume that a scholarship offer means automatic acceptance. This is not the case! In virtually all instances, you must send a letter of acknowledgment and acceptance.
Cost and choosing a college
There are many elements to consider, such as reputation, programs offered, courses provided, and the school’s success in placing graduates. Visit the prospective school to see if the student profile, campus amenities, and atmosphere of the campus fit your needs and aspirations. But it is imperative that you pay attention to cost. Where can you realistically afford to go, without incurring very large debts that could plague you after graduation? In the end, you must choose the college or university that seems best for you and that fits your family’s budget. Scholarships should play a very big role in your decision-making matrix.
Many private institutions have a great deal of money to spend on scholarship assistance, so you might well find that going to a private college will cost no more than attending a state school. However, even a substantial scholarship from a private school may still leave you with a very large annual bill to cover the actual cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses. Therefore, when you evaluate a scholarship, do so by comparing what your final, projected costs will be. Another factor to consider is the length of time for which the school extends scholarship support. Be cautious about the school that promises substantial assistance for the first year—in order to get you there—but then provides little or nothing in the second through the fourth or later years. The most attractive and meaningful college scholarships are offered for four to five years.
Incidentally, the scholarship search should continue even after you are enrolled at the school of your choice. There are often a number of opportunities for the enrolled student, especially as you prove your ability and interest in a given field. Also, Honors students have been particularly successful in national scholarship competitions, such as the Rhodes, the Gates/Cambridge, the Fulbright, the Goldwater, the Truman, and the Udall. Finally, your earned scholarship may well be applied to study abroad or NCHC Honors Semester Programs.
By Dr. Gary M. Bell, Dean, University Honors College, Texas Tech University