College/Academic Scholarships

The most important advice for parents and students seeking scholarships to a college or university comes in two parts. First of all, these scholarships are competitive. Schools are quite selective when it comes to offering financial help to students based on academic performance. Some of the major universities restrict academic scholarships to the top 1 percent or 2 percent of applicants. Other universities only admit students who are in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.

But just because college-specific scholarships are competitive does not mean the student should forget about trying to get assistance from the school they want to attend. If high school or community college performance is up to the university’s standards, parents and students should make a strong effort to get a college academic scholarship, no matter what the amount. This is the second part of the advice. Academic scholarships can lead to additional help later in the college years, in addition to getting the original scholarship throughout a four-year period.

For example, one major university in the Midwest offers several thousand dollars through the office of the Dean of a particular school such as agriculture, history, biology, social work etc. This assistance goes to students in the top 10 percent of their high school class and also considers students with a relatively high ACT score. Nearly all high schools and colleges now recognize this as ACT, but it originally stood for American College Testing program. This independent organization began in the 1950s.

Each college or university will have a financial aid office and in that office there should be one or two people who will be the most experienced with scholarship information. As an example, one smaller university recently announced a significant increase in the number of academic scholarships and in the amount of current scholarships the school offers. This school and several others offer Presidential scholarships with a four-year value of $20,000, $30,000 and more. These are first awarded to students who come to the college or university with a very good high school or community college record. The scholarship is renewed annually based on the student maintaining honor roll status.

Universities also offer Dean’s scholarships meant to encourage quality students to attend a particular school. Some colleges offer transfer scholarships for students who have a top academic record at another university or at a community college. These can put reduce college costs by $5,000 per year or more, depending on the college or university. In fact, one major east coast university has a separate program for community college scholars intended to encourage the best students from two-year schools to finish their bachelor degree studies at this four-year school. This type of scholarship can be a major help to students who had to begin their college education at a community college because of academic standards or financial problems. Most four-year universities and colleges are very interested in attracting students who have improved their academic record at a two-year school after struggling a bit in high school. This can be an excellent source of financial help if the parents and student are interested in a degree from a larger university.

Let’s look at some specific types of academic scholarships. Most of these require no essay, competition or audition. One mid-sized college offers as much as $14,000 in scholarship funds to top students, with much of the assistance coming through a program established by the college’s Board of Trustees. In addition to this program, the college gives additional financial help to select students from that group (over and above the original trustees scholarship).

One obvious source of financial help might be scholarships offered to high school students who are members of the National Honor Society. This organization, established in 1921, recognizes outstanding high school students who not only meet honor roll requirements but also are recognized as leaders and outstanding individuals. Some colleges and universities have scholarships that provide hundreds, even thousands of dollars for National Honor Society students. In addition, many colleges offer additional scholarship money to the valedictorian and salutatorian of a high school class,

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a non-profit group, conducts the National Merit Scholarships competitions each year. Approximately 55,000 students are recognized each year and more than 10,000 of these receive money for undergraduate college study. Colleges and universities may also offer their own additional scholarships to National Merit honorees. Not only that, but some schools offer up to $5000 to students who rank in the top 20 percent of their class and have a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score of a certain level.

Colleges often have scholarship assistance available for a student whose mother, father, sister or brother was a graduate of that school. These awards are often in the $500 to $1000 per year range. But each dollar applied to tuition, books and fees can be of great help to the serious student.

There are also scholarships for the “average” student, separate from those offered to top-ranking high school graduates or students who qualify in another way. For example, there are scholarships awarded on criteria other than grade point average or class standing. Most of these require that the student stand out in some other area, such as community service or extracurricular activities. The Hiratio Alger scholarships help students who have a grade point average of 2.0 or higher but also show a great deal of integrity and character through other actions. The well-known David Letterman scholarship focuses more on creativity than on strict academic performance. But as with most scholarship help, from any source, these are competitive. Though these are not direct assistance from a particular college or university, they are, in their own way, academic scholarships.

Some universities have tried to sustain a scholarship fund based on some area that the school has become famous for. This money is used to encourage students to attend that university and continue to enhance the school’s reputation in a certain area. For example, one west coast university offers as much as $6000 for students who maintain academic standards and are very active in community action programs such as fighting racism, sexism or poverty.

So, no matter which school parents and students choose for a college education, a bit of effort may uncover just the financial help needed to make the degree dream come true.