For high school students dreaming of attending a college or university, the financial aspects of higher education can be daunting. Thankfully, there are scholarships that can make a college degree a reality for many.
To help high school students -- and their parents -- navigate the scholarship waters, we turned to Julie Shipp of Timpanogos High School in Orem. She oversees scholarships, colleges and careers in the school's counseling office, a position she's held for three years. With her help, the 2011-12 Timpanogos graduating class was awarded more than $3 million in scholarships.
Shipp says planning and preparing to earn a scholarship need to begin as early as freshman year for students. Here are her tips for getting started:
1 Get involved. "Find things that interest you and get involved in more ways than one," Shipp says. "Be active in something you are passionate about."
Students can join academic clubs, play sports or focus on extracurricular activities such as leadership and service, she says. These areas of involvement can lead to scholarships down the road, whether it's an athletic scholarship or one for, say, women interested in science.
2 Good grades and high test scores = academic scholarships. Although most scholarships are awarded to seniors, good academic performance is important from a student's freshman year on. "A good ACT score plus a good grade point average equals academic scholarships," Shipp says, noting that, on the flip side, even a low grade or two can disqualify a student from an academic scholarship.
She also says it's important to be well prepared to take college entrance exams such as the ACT.
Shipp suggests students take the ACT several times during their junior year and at the beginning of their senior year in order to receive the highest score possible.
3 Don't overlook needs-based scholarships. Besides awards for academic or athletic achievement, colleges award scholarships that explicitly take financial need into account. "Needs-based scholarships are based on financial situations, which are determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are also diversity and multicultural scholarships, and even those for students who will be first-generation college attendees," Shipp said.
Even better, she says some colleges will "stack" scholarships -- allowing several concurrently, to cover a variety of expenses -- so be sure to check with individual colleges on what they offer and accept.
4 Keep a "brag list." Academic achievements are important, but evidence of leadership, service and community involvement is becoming critical for many scholarships. "The University of Utah's application this year is based on a holistic approach," Shipp says. "To get into the Ivy League, these items are a definite must. There are scholarships at most schools for showing great leadership skills. Keep track of your accomplishments and things that you are involved in. Be sure to include dates, hours of service and a brief description of the event. This is very beneficial when filling out applications, as well as resumes."
5 Search online. Shipp says most high schools will have a scholarship Web page, but she also recommends students sign up with several scholarship search engine sites, such as cappex.com, fastweb.com, scholarships.com, zinch.com and utahfutures.org.
"Utah Futures site is from the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority. It not only lists scholarships, but also has interest surveys, college information and career profiles," Shipp says. Note that you should never have to pay for FAFSA and scholarship searches. They are all offered for free. Scholarship "opportunities" that ask students to pay are likely scams.
6 Don't make the most common mistakes. Missing a deadline or submitting an incomplete application can easily keep you from receiving a scholarship. "Deadlines are crucial in the application process, and earlier is always better," Shipp says. "It's also essential to provide all the information asked for on the application, and do it correctly."