Scholarships are a big part of paying for college for many students and their families. In fact, 50 percent of families reported using a scholarship of some type during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to a recent report by student loan company Sallie Mae.
But some students underestimate their eligibility for award money, and don’t bother applying. Here are 10 common myths about scholarship money.
1. Scholarships Are for Straight-A Students
While it never hurts to have a great GPA, there are scholarships based on a student’s other attributes, such as volunteer involvement or creative abilities – to name a couple.
“Some scholarships require you to be the first person in your family to attend college; others require you to be interested in a certain major,” says Johan Zhang, co-founder of consulting firm CollegeVine. “There’s even a scholarship that requires you to be left-handed.”
2. Senior Year is the Best Time to Apply
Experts say there are a lot of scholarships available to freshmen, sophomores and juniors in high school. But it’s often the case that fewer of these students apply.
“Diligent students can win a lot of scholarship money before they even enter their senior year,” Zhang says.
3. If You Don’t Meet the Criteria, Don’t Apply
College financial experts say students should consider applying for scholarships even if they don’t meet all the requirements.
“Sometimes agencies or foundations are flexible, and if they can’t find the appropriate recipient from the applicants meeting all the criteria, they might loosen the criteria slightly, making room for an otherwise ineligible student,” says Stephanny Elias, associate vice president of finance for student financial services at Curry College in Massachusetts.
4. Only College Freshmen Receive Scholarships
While a number of scholarships are for high school students, there are scholarship resources for students who are already in college.
Elias from Curry College recommends for college students to research award opportunities “using reputable scholarship searches online.”
5. You Need to Have a Special Talent
College-bound students don’t need a “special” talent or athletic ability to receive a scholarship, college advising experts say.
Eulynn Gargano, a college counselor based in Southern California, advises these students to cast a wide net in their scholarship search. “You will become a much more competitive scholarship applicant if you continue to apply for a wide variety of scholarships.”
6. Only Colleges Award Scholarships
While colleges do hand out institutional scholarships to students, there are many scholarships the students can receive from other sources.
“Almost every corporation and organization these days has a scholarship. By checking out scholarship sites, you’ll be surprised to find what is out there,” says Cynda Mullikin, a college consultant at Texas-based Mullikin College Consultancy.
7. Scholarship Applications Take Too Long
The application process for each scholarship is different; some require essays while others require a five-minute video. While some require more time, experts say it’s time well spent.
“If the scholarship is for $2,000 and it takes four hours, my calculations make that $500 an hour that you just earned,” Mullikin says.
8. One Scholarship Can Pay for All of College
While there are a few scholarships that pay for nearly a full ride, such as the Gates Millennium and the Horatio Alger scholarships, most awards tend to offer smaller amounts.
“For many students, looking for local scholarships can be a more effective strategy,” says Zhang from College Vine. “Compared to competitive national scholarships, there are fewer students applying for these kinds of scholarships, and so your odds of winning are much higher.”
9. Only Low-Income Students Qualify
While there are some programs based on a family’s ability to pay, numerous scholarships programs are based on other eligibility requirements.
Many scholarships that require essays, for example, aren’t looking for financial need or grades, experts say.
10. Small Scholarships Aren’t Worth the Effort
Many scholarships award small amounts – usually a few hundred dollars, college counselors say. Very few students, they say, win a full ride.
“A number of small awards of $500 can add up to some significant dollars. If you’re thinking of not applying, it means others are thinking the same,” says Elias from Curry College on increasing one’s odds for finding more scholarship money.
By Farran Powell