The dad waited in a long line to get to shake my hand. He was beaming.
“We squeezed into a packed high school auditorium to hear you speak about scholarships last year,” he told me. “You inspired my son to go home and apply for 20 scholarships he thought he’d never get. He won eight of them, and now has over $20,000 extra to help pay his college bills. I just wanted to say thanks.”
I beamed back at him. Nothing excites and energizes me like seeing students achieve things they thought they never could. And when they rake in the scholarship money? That’s the best feeling ever.
If you want to maximize scholarship awards for your kids, here are just a fraction of the scholarship strategies I recommend for students and parents.
1. Don’t assume your kid won’t qualify because of grades or test scores.
There are thousands of scholarships available to students with only very average grades and test scores. Ben Kaplan, author of How to Go to College Almost For Free says this: “Many of these programs are entirely ‘grade blind,’ meaning that grades are not used as a judging criterion. Some scholarships only use GPAs as preliminary cutoff points. For instance, if you apply for a scholarship that specifies that ‘applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA,’ once you’ve cleared this hurdle, your grades don’t affect your chances of winning.” Encouraging? Yes.
2. Don’t assume that your kid won’t qualify because your family income is too high.
The vast majority of scholarship applications don’t ask about family financial need at all, whatsoever. (The college money that’s handed out based on financial need is applied for differently.) You can have 10 million dollars in the bank and your child can still win “free money” college scholarships based on his or her own accomplishments.
3. Don’t pass up the small ones.
You might think that “a $1000 scholarship is just a drop in the bucket,” but all those drops add up. Besides, sometimes there’s less competition for the small ones because other people are passing them up.
4. Don’t be casual about the scholarship application essays.
The essays matter more than any other part of the scholarship application. A compelling, highly convincing application essay with just the right amount of emotional pull can often net a scholarship win even when other applicants have higher grades and far more impressive personal accomplishments.
5. Use a scholarship application essay structure that’s specifically made for persuasion.
Unfortunately, the old “introduction-body-conclusion” essay structure we learned in high school is an informative essay structure that doesn’t work for persuasion. (If your child has applied for scholarships in the past and hasn’t gotten them, this may be why.)
What your child needs is a clever, multi-layered organizational structure that makes room for all of his greatest accomplishments without ever making him sound scattered, disorganized, or disjointed.
I teach a one-morning class on this subject titled MAKE THEM SAY WOW: How to Write Brilliant College and Scholarship Application Essays. Subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter using the form on this site and you’ll be the first to know when I’m teaching this scholarship application essays class in your area. (Be sure to whitelist my newsletter email address with your email provider so it always shows up in your primary inbox.)
6. Inspire your child to apply for 10 scholarships every single year.
Yep, I’m serious. It’s a myth that students should only apply for scholarships in 12th grade. Students who hear me speak will apply for their first scholarships in middle school, and then apply for 10 more scholarships every year after that, all the way through grad school. In many cases, over 80 scholarship applications in total!
7. Enrich scholarship applications with ongoing commitment to one heart-wrenching cause.
Scholarship committees love to give money to students who will use their educations to somehow help the world. How can students demonstrate that they are that kind of person? By helping the world right now. Not in a scattershot, uncommitted way — but in a focused, committed, ongoing way over time. Write about that in a scholarship application, student, and you’ll wow everyone.
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP
8. Ease up on your kids’ schedules. Please.
Exhausted students who’ve been run ragged in every club and sport will not have energy left over for commitment to any heart-wrenching causes.
Easing up is OK. Really. Don’t believe me? Read this New York Times article where even the Harvard admissions office laments that the students it’s seeing “seem like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.” Ease up. Please.
9. Consider paying your child $50 for every scholarship application he or she fills out in a quality manner.
Where will you get the extra money to do this? Easy. Use the brilliant “allowance” strategy I explain in chapter 11 of my book LAUNCH: How to Get Your Kids Through College Debt-Free and Into Jobs They Love Afterward. This will greatly relieve stress for your family, and your kids will find themselves eager to fill out scholarship applications.
10. Parents, help your children apply for their first college scholarship when they are in middle school.
Are you stunned that there are college scholarships that are awarded to 7th graders? Brace yourself; there are even scholarships that are awarded to students younger than that. (A list of some excellent ones can be found here.)
11. Parents, read these additional posts I’ve written on scholarships. There’s a ton of good information in here:
12. Learn every way possible to keep college costs down without getting scholarships.
Getting scholarships is a relatively small part of the picture when it comes to getting kids through college debt-free. There are many, many other strategies that parents can use that can end up to be easier and more effective — even if they can’t save up a penny.
Learn about all the debt-free college strategies that have nothing to do with scholarships in this book (it takes only 7 hours to read):
You can “Look Inside” the book on Amazon for free by going to:
(Tell your friends.)
You can see the “Top 9 Questions Parents Are Asking Me About LAUNCH,” here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
Do you have friends who are parenting kids ages 12–22?
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, author, speaker, and podcast host. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.